Friday, November 25, 2011

Travelling the Autumn Trail for Musky ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 5... Oct/Nov, 2011)


   I would’ve driven the 14-hour round-trip every weekend this fall to fly fish for Musky.  When autumn arrived and plans were made, something unexpected would occur and the trip would be cancelled… again and again.  I gotta tell ya, this fly angler had needs which weren’t being met.  I got so desperate I was willing to pay for some hard-core, all-day action, but the services were denied me (jeez, I’m happy this is fishing we’re talking about!) .  Actually, the Musky guides were already booked.

   Finally, the probability of trips for the weekend prior to Halloween and the first weekend of November began to look brighter, but I remained skeptical until actually on the road.  WI-bound!  The weeks of frustration were coming to an end. 

   Last year’s goals for this year were to land a Musky outside of Wisconsin and outside of fall –which I just realized is my favorite fishing season.  Another goal was to watch Mike, a friend of mine, land his first Musky.  While I’d be thrilled to land hundreds of Musky in the great state of Wisconsin, I also fish MN, IL, and IA waterways.  My goals hadn’t been unreasonable.  However, by late September goals were altered to simply being able to fish for the toothy critters a couple of times.  Also, Mike had put aside the bulk of the fall season’s fly fishing for his other passion, falconry.  When plans did come together it was late fall and we were back around Hayward, Wisconsin.  After watching those around me boat the fat, toothy critters, I happily changed goals again to simply being able to land a Musky outside of the WI waterway in which I’ve landed all my Musky.  And then yes, this one goal also changed…

   During the whirlwind pre-Halloween weekend, I spent a 14-hour round-trip on the road listening to books on cd.  Then, with friend and Arrowhead Fly Angler guide Ouitdee Carson, we sandwiched in a Saturday of fly fishing followed with a night’s entertainment at the Musky Ball.  On that pretty fall day, Ouitdee and I put-in at Crowley Dam and we fished the Flambeau River.  It was cool to watch my buddy pull his pontoon down along a steep, staired path most other boat-owners could not follow.  I got to fish immediately below the dam but my intermediate line simply didn’t cut it in deeper, fast-current waters.  Next, I rowed downriver while my friend painted water with a new, perch-colored ‘Supercharger’ fly.  Within 15 minutes we boated a Pike and a few casts later, he landed the only Musky of the trip.  It was hooked in fast-current, shallow water but at the tail of a deeper seam.   As usual, we fished later than planned and finished by trailering the pontoon in the dark.  That night, we learned from other anglers that even a Musky follow that day had been hard to come by.  My buddy had done well. 

   Quickly, we cleaned up, tried to wake up, and then headed to Boulder Lodge for Musky guide Brad Bohen’s Musky Ball.  My friend wore casual attire while I dressed as a Musky Fly, complete with bug eyes and a hook.  The night was made up of food, friends, music, beer, and a tad of moonshine.  Not having seen Brad all year, I gave him a hug and accidentally poked his –oops!- with the ‘hook’ protruding from my costumed belly.  Sorry Brad.  During the evening, we watched a tall white rabbit do the smooth groove on the dance floor & noted that ‘Eddie Munster’ could simply replace his pointy ears with a guitar and be mistaken for AC/DC’s Angus Young.  We were also drawn outside to a campfire set in a circle of pines and listened to a bearded Scottish fly angler tell his riddles. 

   The following morning, my friend headed back home to his family, I explored some Hayward area waterways, and then made the long trek home, recalling the new memories and grateful for the chance to make and share them.  


   Late Friday I was back at Boulder Lodge, outside of Hayward, WI.  I spent a night which would ensure me not to sleep in –I car-camped.  Saturday morning I drove to meet buddy Ouitdee at the Spider Lake Café, which is the point of where this fish tale begins.  Let’s summarize:  On Friday, Ouitdee fished Chequamegon Bay for Smallies.  On Monday, Doug, another fly angler from Duluth, and me went to the Brule River in search of Steelhead.  Ouitdee was already there.  The MN-WI guide was enjoying his 100th day this year of fishing.  By Tuesday, we were all either home or… ahem… bound for home.  However, Saturday and Sunday were all about Musky and those who love to chase them.

   The weekend weather predictors proclaimed clouds and wind, & this was true, except Sunday was more windy than expected.  Ouitdee and I debated which water to fish Saturday and if we should chance different put-in and take-out spots for the pontoon should the wind get out of hand.  We decided on a ‘safer bet’, electing to meet at the café for breakfast, then fish a single area of the West Fork of the Chippewa River.  As soon as we met at the café, plans changed and we headed off for new waters, bigger fish, and the fun of fishing with MCO Musky guide Brian Porter and his friend Chris Willen.

   Porter and I manned the oars while Chris and Ouitdee wetted flies.  Soon, Chris was yelling.  Each boat was rowed to shore and soon a 40” fat Musky was nestled in a cradle.  Porter directed the landing of the toothy fish, ensuring it had very little out-of-water time and that it was handled carefully while pictures were taken.  I was impressed by the thick-bodied fish and the guide.  During the course of the day, Chris landed 2 Musky, Ouitdee brought one to shore where it threw the hook just shy of being cradled, and Porter, who rowed more than he fished, capped the day by landing another thick-bodied lady that was 44” in length.

   The wind seemed to get brutal each time I rowed.  I was thinking of this when my friend voiced the same thing, somehow allowing me to feel better about the situation.  In retrospect, I guess I’d rather have the wind kick up when rowing than when casting with a fly tied on a 5/0 hook.  However, on the homestretch of the trip, Ouitdee rowed and the wind kicked up again, this time giving very little mercy to my friend, and to Chris in the other boat.  At this time, I was using Chris’s rod; a 10 wt Loomis which seemed more like a 12 wt, with 500 grain sinking line and the largest profile, articulated fly I’ve ever seen.  The wind and the large fly necessitated increased attention paid to the timing of my casts.  While I left the water that day the only angler without the sweet stink of Musky on her hands, we all left the water with body parts intact (aside from Chris, who was surprised to find his hand bleeding after one of his Musky encounters) & a desire to hit the water again tomorrow. 

   Chris and Porter stayed overnight at a friend’s cabin.  Porter later told me, “We got one little musky and some pike that Sunday, saw a couple others and lost a decent musky“.  Saturday was THE DAY to be on that stretch of water & I’m still pumped to have had the opportunity to fish it & to see those well-fed ladies.

   Meanwhile, Ouitdee and I headed back toward Hayward.  Along the way, I silently changed (again) my Musky goal for the year, and suggested to my buddy where we should fish on Sunday.  It was the West Fork of the Chippewa.  It was the last day that we would fish together in 2011 for Musky.  It was also –I hoped- the last day I had to tote a bottle of ‘Mosquito Wine’ onto his pontoon.

   During the previous trip, I’d scouted out our potential put-in at the West Fork and the then-current water-level.  The season had been dry but while the water was as low as I’d ever seen it, I thought it remained very fishable.  As re-enforcement of this, I watched at a distance as two men in a drift boat landed a fish.   

   So, on that November Sunday, after a Spider Lake Café breakfast, we went in search of West Fork Musky.  Ouitdee hit the oars first.  It was windy and chilly.  I had my West Fork ‘Hang Time’ fly on the line and asked my friend to keep the boat in a particular stretch of water.  Soon after I had my first Musky of the year!  It was a ‘micro Musky’ but nonetheless, my revamped goal of simply landing a Musky this year –even on the water where I’ve landed all my Musky- was met.  The Musky was released and I took the oars.  Within 4 casts, Ouitdee landed another Musky in the same stretch of water!  We traded on the oars, conquered the wind –again and again- anchored and fished together, and then finally my buddy hooked another fish!  I was rowing and could see it was large for the water in which it lived.  Ouitdee reported it to be about 40” and was ‘ugly’ & scarred.  While rowing to shallow water and excitedly looking forward to seeing this ‘ugly’ toothy critter, it threw the hook.  I was not happy, but my wise friend, who always seems to be happy, remained unfazed.

   The wind continued to challenge our boat, but we continued on.  We explored skinnier water and Ouitdee had another ‘micro Musky’ try for his fly.  My friend then took the oars and we started to head back.  He rowed back through a narrow stretch of water and Ouitdee pointed out a weed edge, asking me if I saw the small opening.  I told him yes and he asked me to cast to that opening.  I double-hauled and my fly, a modified Supercharger in reds, yellow and black, hit the opening.  Two strips later, I gave two very hard strip-sets to ensure that the Musky that hit my fly remained attached to that hook.  It wasn’t huge and it wasn’t fat, but it sure could fight.  I put the fighting butt in my gut and did not give any slack while Ouitdee rowed to the shallows.  I saw the fly at the corner of the fish’s mouth while Ouitdee clamped the Fish Grip on its jaw.  At that point the Musky again began to fight, tossing the fly, but the fish remained ours to photograph and to release. As we neared the landing, I attempted to use all my senses to feel and to remember the weekend.  At one point the sun lit the trees and water and all seemed to glow with a golden hue.   
   Well, reader, you’ve read how I whittled down my Musky goals and, in the end, how the Musky I finally landed lived in the same waters in which I’ve landed all my Musky.  Perhaps you think I might be disappointed?  On Columbus Day, 2009, I fished for Musky for the 1st time.  It was on the West Fork.  It was 32* & light snows made land & trees appear lace-covered.  The guide worked hard to put me on fish but they simply were not feeding.  Yet, I still remember it to be one of the most satisfying days I’ve ever had on the water.  Since then, whenever I’ve been on that water, I’ve landed Musky.  Ouitdee is a guide and has fly fished since he has been a child.  Prior to Sunday, he’d never fished the West Fork and it is always my thrill to provide him with the rare, new fly fishing experience.  I can’t imagine ever landing a ‘trophy-sized’ fish out of this water, but one at least has a good chance at a ‘micro Musky’.  We did more than that.  And on that Sunday I accomplished another goal of getting Musky ‘doubles’ with my friend and mentor.  It was for this reason I’d been carting around a bottle of wine on all of our Musky trips.  And, near the end of the day when the sun was ready to set with a golden hue on our season’s Musky adventures, WE also landed that single, final fish.  It was a fish which wouldn’t have been landed or even hooked without both anglers helping each other, carrying out specific roles and communicating well.  Yes, we celebrated doubles and goals met, but in the end we really celebrated life and a strong friendship.    

   So, readers and fellow fly anglers, I wish you tight lines and even tighter friendships!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anger Meets Ignorance on the Brule ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 4, Nov 7, 2011)

   With a smile, I greeted the landowner who had called out to me, expecting a ‘how is the fishing going?’ type of question.  Oh no, this guy was mad. 
   Doug and I had headed out from Duluth, MN, the morning of Nov. 7, 2011, to the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin.  For me, it was day 3 of fly fishing.  2 days of Musky followed by a final day of hunting for ‘Steel’ on a great river.  I dig multi-species trips & Doug loves to fly fish for Steelhead.  I was happy to be fishing with him.
   At the Red Gait parking lot, I saw buddy OC’s Yota.  Soon after, we found him at Howenstein Hole.  We talked and he told us what to expect upstream, including that when we got to the state park sign it would be private property & we would have to stay off the land but could still wade.  We thanked him and headed off to find holes of our own to fish. 
   We fished, crossed the river a couple of times , discovered one hole which had a huge blanket-topped picnic table bordering its shore, and near another hole I re-discovered an old enamel stove I came across last year when fishing with OC.  My guide friend has fished these waters with clients & is very respectful of others & the law, so I knew this hole to be accessible to the public.
   After rounding a couple more bends in the river, I discovered a property with a richly-colored golden-brown cabin on it and a vehicle in the drive.  It looked peaceful and it was here I discovered the private property signs posted on its neatly-trimmed border.  So, I backed up and left the trail staying 20’ clear of the posted property and respectfully staying out of eyeshot.  Despite the friendly IL neighborhood where I live, I still like the opportunity for privacy on my tiny property but find it difficult unless I remain indoors.  It is easy to appreciate another’s desire for privacy.
   Doug soon came by, he crossed the opposite riverbank, and we fished a hole large enough for two.  No fish.  We elected to head back for a late lunch.  I returned to the trail and it was here we met the ‘Angry Landowner’.  He informed us that as ‘sportsmen’ we were to respect the rights of the property owners.  I assured him that we saw his signs and had not crossed on to his property.  He told us his property extended beyond the signs to the ‘pipeline’ and he was not required to post signs but as ‘sportsmen’ we should be aware of the rules and not be disrespectful of the property owners.  He threatened us with law enforcement and fines unless we left his property.  He asked us, ‘would we want him on our property?’  Doug replied that currently, he’d say no.  We assured him we had been leaving and would continue on.  Doug asked how far the pipeline was. Landowner replied it was obvious.  Becoming angrier, he ordered us off of the trail and into the water, advancing toward Doug.  Doug told him to back off and we waded downstream.  Angry Landowner followed on the trail for a short time.
   Back at the Red Gait parking lot, which is where the pipeline and the trail to the river are located, we again met up with OC.  He was finishing off a beer left-over from our previous 2-day Musky trip. Dang!  I thought that beer was in my CRV.  No fish, angry landowner, and no beer for lunch.  What a day.
   We ate and told our tale to OC.  We realized we’d never seen a state park sign and it was still very unclear where the landowner’s property ended and state property began.  With no more than 1.5 hours of fishing daylight left, OC told us we could head back down the trail toward the Sauna Hole.  However, he cautioned us that part of the trail was again on private property (posted) but as long as we remained on the trail, the landowner didn’t mind others accessing the property.  When we came across the signs and entered the property, I admit to being a bit anxious.  However, I trust my friend and continued on.  The recommended hole was already being fished.  We found a nearby hole.  Near dark, we returned to the first hole and Doug and I again shared it.  The inside shore of the hole was banked by the trail and the owner’s very cheerful-looking sauna.  Now bankside, Doug watched me fish as the remaining sunlight was replaced by moonlight.  Another angler began to fish upstream of me.  Doug and he conversed.  As I left the water, the other angler moved on.  Doug told me the angler was also the property-owner.  I wish now that I hadn’t been so involved in fishing to stop and say hello.  I certainly would’ve thanked him for allowing us to share this section of the Brule River with him. 
   Overall, I believe both Doug and I would claim to have had a good day of fishing on the Brule, although we neither caught nor hooked any fish.  I’d also claim we experienced some ‘adventure and education’ on the Brule, again not due to any appearance of fish. 
   I learned that I need to have more knowledge of the waterways I fish.  While I wouldn’t recommend the Angry Landowner’s approach, he did further my education on the matter, so I appreciate crossing his path.  Other than employing a psychic or a land surveyor during fishing trips, I’m still clueless how to know when un-posted land is private property but I intend to learn more. (If something clear-cut presents itself, I will add it to the end of this post.)
   I think many people would label the ‘Angry Landowner’ a jerk or worse, and consider the ‘Happy Landowner’ to be a great guy.  I simply think of the Angry Landowner as, well, angry and very frustrated.  I feel badly for the guy.  I imagine he put down a large chunk of dough to buy his riverside retreat; a place to escape.  Perhaps all he wanted was a place in which he could leave civilization behind.  Alas, he bought property on the Brule, a river well-known for its Trout and Steelhead fishing.  No more can he stop the 2-legged human animal from entering this rich land than birds, bear, and deer.  A few will knowingly trespass and, I believe, many others -like me- who are ignorant, will accidentally cross his property lines.  This man, who paid a high price for property and peace will never truly get the peace he wants.
   I imagined to myself, what if Angry Landowner grilled brats outdoors on occasion and invited the stray angler over for a meal?  How many people from how many places would he meet and how many stories would he hear?  Or what if he just conversed with those crossing his land and wished them well?  I do know he would receive true ‘respect’ and while he would still find others on his property, responsible anglers would help ensure his property was cared for and avoided by the irresponsible few. 
   I believe both the Angry Landowner and the Happy Landowner deserve respect for their property rights.  The Happy Landowner, and those like him, are also deserving of kindness and gratitude from those who are allowed to enter their land.  But to answer the Angry Landowner’s question:  Yes, I would let him enter my property.  If I should ever realize my dream of owning a cabin with a little boat on a fish-filled waterway in which I give keys to all those who have offered me kindness and instruction in my fly fishing journey, I would give the Angry Landowner a key.  Indirectly he did teach me about fishing. But more importantly, I wish this man more experience in feeling the kindness of others.   
   The morals to my tale:  1) Learn the rules of the waterway.  2) If you should err and meet this angry man or another like him, tell him he is right and give him your kindness and understanding no matter what he expresses to you.  Returning a river of anger creates a dam; little penetrates either side but bad things spill over.  Continued streams of kindness may alter the course of the river.  Take the high road.  You may be sent below the trail to wade in the river, but the river is beautiful and only you can remove yourself from the high road.