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Recent Trips

New Water

Question: How often do we go back to the same fishing spots over and over again?

Answer: A lot…Too Much…

Fly Fishing for Smallmouth BassIt must be human nature to return to the comfortable environs where one has traveled previously. Fishermen and hunters are notorious for fishing and hunting – memories.

My brother and I recently tried an entirely new river system for smallmouth bass.

It’s a finicky watershed that drops very quickly in the spring to early summer making navigation almost impossible by mid June. We were watching it closely after hard rains had colored it and filled it with water.

Last week my brother reported it was down and clear. For river fishing fanatics, that means go time!

We planned a mid-week trip, as we generally do to avoid competition. We picked a specific stretch after questioning some locals, hoping for a 4 – 5 hour float in a canoe, which is generally what we go for.

We always anchor when someone hooks up, so if the trip takes alittle longer, well that’s OK.

Early in the season in Minnesota, we hit tributaries of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers that offer some great action before the lose their water and are “un-floatable”.

On most rivers, large and small, we carry both fly rod and spin rod outfits. You never know on a particular day if the fish will prefer flies, top water plugs, buzz baits, streamers, etc. So we go well armed for any eventuality.

Also, the sternsman, in a canoe, can fire off quick casts on slow sections with a spinning outfit that would be very cumbersome to try with a fly rod. Usually the bowman, is flogging away with the fly rod. We switch about every hour or after the frontman has hooked up several times or is tired.

This river was perfect, this day. Just enough water for us to glide over most of the large rocks that bespeckled the riverway, punctuating stretches of riffles and runs, slowly meandering through forests and fields.

Early spring is also a great time to be unmolested by biting insects that can really raise hell on small rivers in just a few more weeks.

One remarkable aspect: All the action was top water!

I’ve seen this before and it’s something for which we all pray. I started out with a “tried and true”k jointed Rapala and then a Murdich Minnow streamer. No takers.

I then put on a Chug-Bug (my go to top water spinning plug) and caught a nice fish while steering in the stern of the canoe. My brother saw that and switched to a white blockhead popper. Then things started to happen. It so happens the fish were mainly looking up this day and we were more than happy to oblige them.

The average size of the smallmouth was very respectable – about 16″. We caught very few fish under this length and several over, up to 18″. We lost a couple of bigger fish. On most trips you’re always going to miss some fish, drop hooked fish, and occasionally land some, if the fishing gods are with you.

We would encounter periods where we wouldn’t get a bit for 1/2 hour and suddenly hit two or three fish in rapid succession. This is all pretty typical on a good day’s fishing.

The weather was ideal, about 75 degrees with no wind to complicate fly casting.

We also hit enough rough water to appreciate the experienced canoe skills we’ve garnered over almost 50 years of canoeing. If you’re on tricky water, it helps to have an experienced bowman who can help steer and call out hazards.

Without rain, and if this river dropped only 3 – 4 inches, our trip would have been a lot different.

As it was, we lucked out on this new water, which is always a crap shoot, but ALWAYS worthwhile.

So quit hammering the same tired spots, rivers and lakes over and over and explore a bit in your area. Try that little lake you’ve been thinking about for years. Drop into that little stream or river and give it a shot.

You just might find your new favorite place to fish!

Bum Trips – A Tough Pill to Swallow

We’ve all had them. Bum fishing trips. If you haven’t…you will.

I booked a DIY bonefishing trip to a far flung locale in the lovely Bahama chain. It is touted as an overlooked destination, not flogged to death like many of the Bahama’s more famous bonefish havens.

I received excellent information from the booking agent Vince Tobia with Cattaraugas Outfitters of New York representing a number of exotic outposts, and in this case: Great Inagua. Every communication from Vince was very professional, timely and detailed, helping me understand exactly what as in store.

We made the arrangements well in advance and I tied all the flies needed to handle bones, barracuda, and baby tarpon. And had a number of rods to handle any circumstance including a NuCast 8+ and 10 wt rods. I also used a Blue Crush Saltwater Fly Reel.

We finally arrived at Matthewtown, the only settlement on the island (an outpost for Morton Salt). We were met by our charming host Henry Hugh who did a great job of providing for our needs, cooked meals, and helped in other ways.

The lodging was comfortable given it’s very remote location. We were provided a small truck to drive around to all the fishing spots accessible by road, as part of the package deal.

Sounds good right? The best parts of the trip were seeing many exotic bird species, including the gaudy West Indian Flamingos now allowed to flourish on remote parts of the island.

Weather: No Problem
The weather was typical for a week long trip with a couple days of perfect light winds and bright sun. Other days were windy, typical for the Caribbean, but we had good viewing skies with few pesky clouds, most of time. This is critical for bonefishing and any type of site fishing, especially in saltwater.

We were given a detailed map showing all the “drive-to” locations for bones and baby tarpon. Included one day was a guided trip where we followed a local for several hours in search of tarpon.

pissed150The Main Problem? Fishing was Lousy!
One of the main issues: I am admittedly a beginning bonefisherman. I have caught bones in Grand Cayman, Roatan, Mexico & Belize, but never really been on a bonefishing trip, per se.

Tidal stages are key in understanding the movement of these fish. Most of the locations were touted as best fished at low tides. This makes since as the fish are shallower, making them easier to spot. However, with drive-time being at least an hour between spots, the tide does have a tendency to change constantly and we were not always there at optimum times.

We fished for five days. I hooked a total of six and landed two small bonefish. I expected to do this easily in one morning’s fishing. My wife and I drove everywhere, trying to find flats holding fish (while we were there) with little to no luck.

Although the accommodations were very nice for a “hard-to-get-to” location ( to put it nicely), I became increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of fish.

I’ll put most of the blame on me, not understanding where the fish should be when, etc. But my expectations were SOOO high, it was really a big letdown. I assumed with all these unfettered fish, we’d have many opportunities whether there at the perfect time, or not. Other anglers at the Inagua Outback Lodge at the same time – were repeat customers and caught some fish, but I got the feeling not a lot.

Finally toward the end of the trip, we found a flat with some fish and hooked up a few. By that time I was pretty disenchanted with the whole thing.

We ran into some other anglers who had booked through a local (the only) guide on the island and done fairly well for the week. This told me the fish were there, but these anglers accessed the areas via boat and not car, as we did.

As a relative beginner bonefisherman – to do it again, I’d go to a location where one could rack up some numbers (even if the fish were smaller) to gain experience and employ a bonefish guide.

Once I understand the game better, I might try a DIY trip again. If you ARE an experienced bonefishing angler, I would recommend Vince Tobia with several destinations of which to choose.

Don’t Be A Patient Fly Fisherman!

Be The Impatient Fly Fisherman!

One of the worst mistakes fisherman make is staying with a presentation what doesn’t work. Just because the fish hit a particular fly one day, doesn’t mean a whole lot when you return a week or month later.

The last two days, my brother Bruce (brucemillerartist.com) and I hit two sections of a Mississippi tributary that was really low.

BigOldRedEyeEnhanc350Most folks would eyeball the river from a bridge and declare it unfishable or unnavigable due to the low water and matted weeds on the surface.

We fished it anyway.

In late summer many of these rivers get too low to float cleanly and require dragging your watercraft over rocks and reefs.

This gets very old, very quickly.

Thus was the case on our trip, except there were enough pockets of holding water and enough hungry fish to make it worthwhile.

The key was changing presentations throughout the days.

Just because the fish slam poppers for an hour or two, doesn’t mean they’ll hit them with gusto all day. Fish go through different mood changes (much as humans) throughout the day and require different approaches to consistently stay on fish.

We had to switch between subtle topwater, like small hoppers and gurglers when the poppers fell out of favor. Sliders and small divers also provided action for a period of time, but these fish would only stay on one pattern for an hour or so, during a 5 hour float.

We had to switch multiple times throughout the day. If the fish didn’t hit a fly after no more than ten minutes, or if we had lookers – but not takers, we’d quickly change.

Many times it took awhile to discover the new preferred fly. Sometimes we’d go back to one that worked earlier to discover they liked it again….for awhile anyway…

High Water Hassles

The weather around the country seems to be heading for extremes. Some parts of the U. S. are parched with wild fires and historic droughts. Some of these areas, like in the south and west are then subject to rain deluges resulting in flooding and water damage.

Here in the Midwest, we seem to avoid some of these weather extremes. However the last couple of years have dealt us extremely cold winters and cooler wet spring and summer periods.

While this may all be cyclic, I’m hoping the wet cycle will end soon.

This season we river fisherman have been smitten with high water resulting in later than normal seasonal fishing. We normally fish larger rivers, like the Mississippi, in earnest beginning in late June and work these waters diligently throughout the summer into late September. This gives us at least three full months of river fishing and some folks squeeze an extra month in October for river smallies.

Normally when August and September arrive we are fishing low clear water and putting up solid numbers of out-sized bronzebacks.

Not this year.

Here it is early Autumn and we have spring-type water levels due to relentless rain cycles that just won’t quit. At this point the moisture doesn’t due anyone any good. The farmers have difficulty getting into the fields and the corn won’t dry naturally. Sugar beet harvest time is here and that process is slowed again owing to wet field.

We took an ill advised trip yesterday on the Big Muddy (Mississippi). That morning we’d gotten hit by a major storm that left a minimum of 2″ of rain. The morning mellowed and we decided to go.

Bad move.

BR250Upon launch, we had predictably high water, but there was the added pleasantry of floating debris from the storm. Tree branches, leaves uprooted weeds – were all in play.

In addition, the fish were tight-lipped and we managed only a handful of smallies on a four hour float. The section of river fished is far better than what it yielded this day.

The only pattern that seemed to produce were, not surprisingly, overhanging wood and noise-making flies and lures.

With the turbid conditions, we had to alert the fish via sound and water disturbance to let them know we were there. Visibility was quite limited so noise-making was a must – and that meant big poppers.

Next time we have a major storm, I’m going to wait for at least 2 days before returning to a river.

At right are brothers Ross and Bruce Miller with a super 19″ that ate a Blue Foam Popper.

 

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