Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Closing Week in SW Wisconsin

September is always a great time to be on the trout streams of SW Wisconsin.  The leaves are turning colors, the hopper bite is fairly consistent, the stinging nettles and insects are waning and the brook and brown trout are getting ready to spawn and getting all colored up and aggressive!  What else can one desire in life?

Click on any of the pictures for larger views

Unlike the spring and early summer, cracking the hatch code in September tends to be fairly easy.  Put on a smaller hopper, an ant or a beetle and chances are that you will find an eater.  Jon who was there earlier in the week did see a few defined hatches of really small BWO's in the size 20-24 range, but it was much more straight forward when I was there...

If you feel like "thinking outside of the box" try any attractor pattern that you have had kicking around in that fly box of yours for the past few years.  Chances are that it just might work.  The purple parawulff seems to do the trick every time for me and this year that was THE fly again.

Good things come in small packages

The week prior to closing this year featured warm days in the low 70s and cool nights in the 40s.  Perfection!
The water was low and super clear.  Once again I was reminded that a stealthy approach to the streams was necessary and that longer casts produced the most fish. Sloppy approaches meant seeing fish fleeing from 50' away...

Clear water means 5 or 6 X and long casts...
The wind was down and the Sage TXL-F  3710-4 (7' 10" 3 WT) was again the absolute perfect rod!  I absolutely LOVE this rod!!!  You can comfortably pop a small hopper 30-50' if you need to, or can gently drop a beetle 15' upstream to a sipping trout without spooking it.  I fished some of my old favorites, and they all felt "clubby" next to this slim, light weight TXL-F.  I also have to say that I really like the Umpqua Trout 9' 5X leaders in these conditions - they are pretty darn supple yet turn over flies pretty well and the material seems to disappear under water.  If you are newer to this game - the 7 1/2' Umpqua Trout Leaders are a bit easier to use and turn over a bit better.

As usual - I am compelled to say that no matter where I have been around this big beautiful world - I am utterly blown away each and every time I return to the creeks in Wisconsin.  They are alive, intimate and really are among my favorite places to recharge, unwind and fish!  They open back up the first Saturday of March 2013, and you owe it to yourself to check them out.  I leave you with a few more pictures of the last week of another magical season......

Tight Lines- Andy

If you keep your eyes open - you can see cool stuff!  Does anyone have a clue what animal this was?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September on the Kankakee

Will Winans shares the following thoughts about one of his favorite local fisheries, the beautiful Kankakee River: Will fishes and Amber takes some great shots!  As always- click on individual pictures for larger images.

Last week, my good friend Amber drove through Chicago for a visit, en route to New Hampshire.  Amber, being from Western Montana and having guided white water for several years in the Flathead and West Glacier, has introduced me to countless Western rivers.  I saw her visit as a good opportunity to show off some of the water that I fish here in the Mid-West. 
We spent a day floating the Kankakee River, my go to fishery for day trips and summer smallmouth for as long as I can remember.

September is one of my favorite months to fish the Kankakee and this year has been no exception.  The smallmouth bite has been fierce.  Fish are aggressively feeding before water temps drop and things slow down for the Winter.  The Kankakee, along with most local rivers this year, is low but exceptionally clear. 

 River grass and weed beds cover large stretches of the water but provide great cover for fish and filter much of the silt that clouds the water.

As usual, baitfish and small crayfish patterns have been the ticket for pulling fish out of runs and away from weed beds.   Dry flies and soft hackled nymphs, with a little persistence, produced a few fish for us in the early morning.   

I definitely accomplished my goal of showing an old friend that there’s more to Northern Illinois than endless suburbs and smog.   Here in Chicago, we might not have the Blackfoot River or the Bob Marshall Wilderness in our backyards but if you get a chance to spend a day on one of our local smallmouth rivers, just imagine a few mountains on the horizon and you won’t know the difference!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A week at Alaska West!

 Alaska West Aug 24 - 31 2012

A few clients and I just spent the final week of August at Alaska West, on the beautiful Kanektok River, located in way south west Alaska.  As it turns out, we were there for the final week of their season, in search of Silvers, Dollies and of coarse rainbow Trout.

Upon arrival, we had part of the afternoon before dinner to walk and wade on our own around camp. Within a few hours I had hooked more salmon than should be legal, and again was reminded why Alaska still ranks as one of the best fisheries in the world. The trip hadn't officially started, and yes, my arms were sore!   You just don't realize how "alive" and "thriving" of a fishery Alaska has until you you experience it first hand!
The weather in Alaska this year has been very different than much of the lower 48's, colder than "normal" and wetter than "normal".  This week proved no different- it was cold and wet the majority of the time and the 2 sunny days felt special.  Apparently the fish could care less about the weather-  and were more than eager.  The right gear is a must for any Alaskan adventure.  The Simms Guide Jacket and the Simms G3 Guide Jacket literally saved my hide yet again!  One last product pitch - The Simms Fall Run Jacket is one of the BEST LAYERING PIECES EVER MADE and insulates while wet.  I lived in mine 24/7 on this trip

 The Kanektok drains into the Bearing Sea , and has a world class reputation for incredible runs of all of the major salmon species.  The Silvers, or Coho as they are known around here, are the last major migration of the season and were present in mind boggling numbers.  Most were dime bright, still carrying sea lice and full of energy.   If you have ever seen the Deneki website (parent company of AK West, BC West and Andros South) and read their own description of the fishery, I can tell you that the tag line "You will catch fish till your arms are sore" is 100% accurate!  Especially if you are there during the silver run!!  A 7 or 8 wt fly rod is perfect for this species, and I can not say enough about the 9' 7 wt Sage One- it was my go to choice and infinitely useful for steelhead fishing around Chicagoland as well !

Jim G hoisting a freshie!
Father and Son striking a pose
Dime bright hen with sea lice attached!

Those who have fished at Alaska West also know that the resident population of leopard rainbows makes this a special fishery as well.  Unlike the Bristol Bay drainage which lies east of here, the rainbows are more often than not "river resident" fish and wear a coat of color that is unlike anything that I have ever seen!  They are not found in numbers comparable to the rivers of the Iliamna drainage, but they make up for it in their vigor and beauty and then some!  As I have mentioned before, my absolute favorite "western" or bigger river trout rods are the Sage 691-4 TCX and the Sage One 691-4.  These rods just make the difficult casts seem easier and the impossible casts seem possible!

Guide Jakob Lunde holding one of our sight caught bows
Jim Prybylo and guide Trevor with another beauty!
A "gagger" fish makes the guide and clients happy!

No bears- but lots of foxes!
In spite of the long, cold and wet season - things ran very smoothly at Camp Alaska West.  All of the walled tents had functioning heaters and were dry as a bone.  Beds were made and things were much tidier at the end of each day's fishing.  The showers had hot water and the port o potties were cleaned daily.  The staff was still enthusiastic and genuinely concerned about everyone's happiness.  The guides were still excited and worked long hours with a smile and enthusiasm which were genuine.  The food was hearty, plentiful, fresh and delicious.  Everything worked!  That is something that is impossible to fake - and a huge shout out to the entire staff is in order!  Having been to Deneki's Andros South Lodge, I can tell you that their staffing sets them apart from other lodges and organizations!

We principally fished the Kanektok, and one smaller river that they have exclusive access to called the Arolik - what a gem!  In spite of the lack of daily fly outs like other lodges that I have fished at in Alaska, I still pretty much felt each day, and each "section" of the river, made for a great variety of conditions, scenery, and fisheries.  

Jim Grusecki poses with a great bow held by "Wiggler"
 We floated the main river up high and down low in search of "gagger sized rainbow".  We walked for miles on back channels and small branches, sight fishing for rainbow.  There were place to nymph flesh flies, throw sculpins, and even venues for mousing and wogging.  We were always within minutes of another Silver Salmon spot.  It never got stale- on the contrary - the guides knew how to keep it fresh. 

As close as we got to seeing bears
An important distinction of this fishery is that we saw hardly ANY bears.  There are fresh tracks and fresh signs, but the fact of the matter is that the bears are super weary of people in this part of Alaska (my guess is that the local hunting pressure keeps the bears at a safe distance)  We saw a total of one "group" all week - and that was way upstream on the Arolik.   If you want to fish side by side with bears all week, there are plenty of spots in the Bristol Bay Drainage that I can share with you.  IF you have not fished Alaska due to being afraid of bearsor if you have a phobia of bears- have I got a place for you!!

Pete Viau, a new fishing buddy hoisting a toad!

Yet another really cool feature of Alaska West is their "Father/Son or Daughter" special that they feature.  They allow parents to bring a kid (no matter the age) at half price and make a week of bonding more economical.  There were 3 father/son teams at camp that week and I loved seeing all three of them having an unforgettable experience together!
Father/Son team New York
Father/Son Reinertsen

Another aspect of all Deneki Lodges that I really like is the clientele that they attract.  Alaska West is no exception.  My experience was enhanced by the fellow anglers looking for the real deal- and the other 15 guest that week were a pleasure to get to know and share a vacation with!  I never once heard about a stock position or had to endure a laundry list of "the most incredible experiences of my life" the entire week.  Good folks and hope our paths cross again soon!
Guide Ben Paull holding another impressive bow

Male Dollies color up in the fall - and are a hoot!
Flesh eater on upper river

No matter your skill level, or lack there of, this fishery has a lot to offer you and as importantly, a guide staff that is prepared to make it happen.  I can not imagine a better fishery to take a rookie to.  Silver Salmon make for a lot of action and drama.  If they were not so plentiful, one would take pictures of every perfect one!  If you are looking for a challenge, trust me, there are solitary rainbows in gin clear water, tucked in between snags and salmon, that will frustrate you.  There are rainbows there that will have you practicing your knots, because they are not supposed to snap 12 lb Maxima- but they do!!

Would I go back?  In a heart beat and actually we have dates reserved for our next hosted trip to Alaska West Aug 23-30, 2013.  We have 7 spots left and would love to have you along for the adventure. In addition to hosting a trip there, we also act as a booking agent for all of the Deneki lodges including Alaska West - See more details here.

Salmon can be taken home fresh or house smoked - all trout are released.

Dollies galore
One of the countless braids ready to be explored

A particularly memorable battle....

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Epic Smallmouth Bass Trips

What to do when the weather turns HOT?  Fish Smallmouth!!

Will Winans and I hosted two smallmouth bass trips to the Menomonee River in June- and without hype- experienced some of the better fishing and scenery found anywhere.  Honestly - I travel a fair bit, and would be hard pressed to name a better fishery or overall experience.  This place ranks alongside the storied waters found pretty much anywhere, but is a hell of a lot closer and easier to get to!

By clicking on the pictures below you will get to see what we mean!

The beauty up there is stunning- click on all pictures to see larger images!

The best part about smallmouth bass is that pound for pound, they flat out fight better than most freshwater fish and remind me more of saltwater predators!  In addition to being fairly plentiful in the midwest and 100% native- they love warm temperatures and they love to eat on top.  

Doug Mullen with a solid beauty!
Why travel that far when we have the Kankakee, the lakefront and other productive waters like the Upper Milwaukee and Fox/DuPage Rivers so close?  

The size of the fish, the utter lack of development (on certain sections of the river) or fishing pressure and the eerie beauty of that part of the world make it VERY different.

  Since 80-90% of their forage is crayfish, it's logical that they would respond to yellow poppers and 5" shad imitations.  Couldn't quite pin down Timmy (Owner of Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co. and head guide) on why that is the case, but logic dictates that everybody and apparently every fish likes to mix up the diet every once in a while! 

 Chartreuse or Yellow Boogle bugs ( a type of popper) seemed to be generally the fly of choice for our group, but Will's did pretty well on white and olive ones as well.  

We fished them like this: 20-50 foot casts toward shore or structure, an initial "pop" and then a 5-10 second dead drift.  Lift, haul, repeat.  

The smaller 14-16" fish usually crashed them- the larger 17-20" fish usually sipped them down with barely a ripple.

 I have to tell you that my absolute favorite two rods for this are the Sage 691 TCX and the Sage 790-4 One.  The 6WT TCX is a streamer/popper throwing machine- probably the most efficient rod that I have yet used!!   I prefer using the Rio Tropical Clouser Line when smallmouth fishing because the line is super stiff and that overweight head loads that TCX perfectly!   The Sage One 7 WT loads a little deeper, and is a more pleasant casting tool and fights the larger fish a bit more efficiently.  The  Rio Smallmouth Taper WF7 on the 790-4 Sage One seems magical.  Stiff enough to cast well and turn over poppers and Murdich Minnows, that is a pretty money line.

Ken Hammer with a beautifully barred smallie
Ben Kweton and guide Nate- 2 big boys with a big fish!

 Since I love to streamer fish and like to confound guides, I spent a fair bit of time throwing streamers when poppers were working especially well.  There is nothing prettier than retrieving an undulating 4 or 5 inch streamer, such as the Murdich Minnow or Umpqua Swimming Baitfish a foot below the surface and seeing smallies charge up from below and inhale the entire thing in a nanosecond.  I guess that is why I have thrown streamers during PMD hatches out west - the tug is the drug....

If I remember correctly, Timmy and Nate were telling us that a 19-20 inch smallmouth can be well north of 16 years old in that river system and weigh north of 5 lbs!  Imagine what an average fish has had to survive through to attain such a size!  This place is special- as are the fish.

Will's 20" club fish (20 1/2")

My 20" club fish (20 1/16"......)
Doug's 20" club fish  (20 1/8)

A shout out to our guides from Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co., Timmy, Nate, Hunter, Michael .  These guys are all superb, interesting and highly skilled guides.  To a man, each gets crazy excited by almost every fish, and are passionate about the waters they call home.  For them to be able to row a boat for 8 or 9 hours a day in that heat day after day, and remain as upbeat and professional as they do speaks volumes about them.

Timmy & Nate sporting cool hats!
Michael hoisting another one for Judy

Hunter shows off Ken's catch

We will have dates for our 2013 trips soon and hope that you can join us!  Below are a few more pictures!

Tight Lines!

Andy Kurkulis

Skip Gordon - big dude hold BIG fish!
Chris Santiago and Andy "double up"
The floats are breathtaking!
Tom Scorza gets it done!!
I do love streamer fishing!

Nate causes all to have box envy...