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Recent Trips

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.


Tough Luck Smallmouth

We executed a three team assault on a regional tributary of the Mississippi yesterday on July 31. We’ve been smitten with high water for the second year in a row in the Midwest and rivers have been clearing and fishable for only the last three weeks.

Bruce Miller Smallmouth - Minnesota

Bruce Miller – 20″ Smallmouth on a Hopper.

The river we fished is quite rocky and fast moving. The stern canoeist must concentrate on positioning the entire length of, what is generally a 4 – 5 hour float. This river has roads that cross it every five miles or so making it perfect for multiple sections to be fished by several boats simultaneously.

All three (two men per canoe) teams fished a different section on this relative small river that allows one to periodically hit either bank depending on the target water.

This was a highly technical and well organized (by yours truly :=) maneuver that required canoe drop-off and car placement, like a military exercise, to ensure everyone had the correct vehicle awaiting them upon take-out.

Everyone caught a few fish early in the trip and experienced slow fishing as the day unfolded. We generally fish in the afternoon on most Minnesota rivers. We find fish in varied moods early in the afternoon and often taking top water later in the day.

Let’s put it this way, the most exciting thing I saw was a pair of young lady tubers in bikinis – one was built for power and the other for speed.

When starting out on a river float, I always start with a popper. My thinking is: If they’ll hit top water right away, why not find out right away, so as to enjoy top water action the entire trip. If they don’t go topside early on, I’ll either go to a streamer of hopper pattern.

Yesterday was one of those “head scratchers” with the weather perfect, hoppers all over the banks, and relatively clear water. I’m beginning to question the relative health of the fishery, since this little river used to be dynamite and has drifted into obscurity over the last 6 – 7 years with very little fishing pressure.

The only patterns that worked with any consistency yesterday were smaller hopper patterns and small hopper poppers. We threw streamers, poppers, and variants. Small terrestrials was about the only thing that worked. ​

The didn’t want the larger ​Mega Hopper Poppers, but instead took #6 sized Big Trout hoppers and smaller hopper poppers found in the ​FlyBass Big Trout/Bass Hopper Assortment.

When the smallmouth fishing gets tough, ALWAYS pull out the foam hoppers either dead drift or lightly impart some subtle action – it may be your only chance at moderate success when the going gets tough!


Baby Tarpon – Campeche, Mexico

Crpd400I’m staring out the window dumbfounded by the 1 1/2 feet of snow and high winds. This time last week, we were spanking tarpon in Campeche, Mexico. The baby and juvenile tarpon fishing of Campeche is not a complete secret in the fly fishing world, but it deserves more recognition.

I heard about Campeche six years ago at a fly fishing show and vowed to visit one day. That trip happened last week beginning 6 December, not exactly prime time for the flocks of northern snowbirds, but it turned out to be well timed. We experienced the coldest early December ever in the Midwest and there we were, basking in 80 plus degrees and hammering fish. Further, the weather was excellent with light winds during our fishing time.

We booked through Tarpon Town Anglers and Raul Castaneda. This was the best guiding/outfitting service I’ve ever used – anywhere! Raul did everything in his power to ensure we had a pleasant stay and great fishing. The prices were reasonable and fishing was awesome. We stayed at the Ocean View Hotel and were dropped off right infront of the hotel each afternoon when done fishing.

The mornings would find us close to shore and the endless coastal mangroves, creeks and rivers, to sight fish for tailing/rolling baby tarpon in the 5 – 10 pound range. It was very much like bonefishing, visibly seeing moving fish and trying to intercept them with the fly rod. We hooked a bunch and landed a few – pretty typical with tarpon of any size. These fish required an eight weight fly rod with floating line since they were in 2 – 3 feet of water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt midday we would move off shore if the winds were light (which they were 3 out of 4 days) and search for schools of larger juvenile fish. Our guide Juan was excellent at spotting fish and we found lots of moving fish each day. There fish required a nine or ten weight. I used a 10 NuCast Smokin’ Hot Fly Rod coupled with a new Blue Crush Saltwater Fly Reel (from NuCast). I found the ten very handy when trying to land these juveniles in a prompt fashion.

These off-shore fish go about 10 – 30 pounds and were extremely powerful. Just like their big brothers off the Florida coast, juveniles hit, jump and run like the big boys, but you can land them in 10 – 15 minutes and go back for more! Did I say land? We probably landed one our of every five fish we hooked in four days of fishing.

We probably averaged (my wife and I) hooking 15 – 20 fish per day and lost most of them. Raul says the months of January through May are best for big numbers, but we thought the fishing action was superb in the beginning of December. Flies were somewhat standard, including Red/White Deceiver, Black/Purple Death, Cockroach, Weighted Toad Flies (weighted w/barbell eyes), and Gurglers in Tan and White.

I can’t wait to go back again and many of my friends are licking their chops after hearing stories and watching some of our videos.

Early Fall River Smallmouth Fly Fishing

KleverCloudsFly Fishing for Mississippi Smallmouth in Early October

Yesterday we fished a section of the Mississippi north of Monticello, MN. The forecast called for some heavy weather in the offing, but we hoped it would go north of us.

You can get a glimpse of the funky cloud formations behind my partner who’s holding a 19″er. 

With the water temperatures in the low 60’s, things have not transitioned to late fall patterns, but we needed to slow down a bit.

Gone are the days of frantically stripping in a streamer to entice a fish. These fish preferred either a dead drift or slightly twitched fly. 

We staked out on known sections along the shoreline that provided definition and varied water types.

We focused, as usual on natural rock wing dams and other protrusions, with accompanying eddies and defined current brakes.

Two retrieves worked fairly well:

1. Cast quartering upstream, mend the line, and dead drift with occasional twitching; and 
2. Cast across, let the fly swing down river and slowly strip it back in.

Most of my hits came when stripping up against the current allowing time for the fly to drop back down. Hits came on the drop, as usual. 

Even with a wild weather system moving in, fish were fairly responsive to gray and white bunny flies with pearl estaz toward the head of  the fly which also sported large bead-chain eyes. This pattern was not as flashy as a traditional Murdich, which was our “go-to” summer fly. This more subtle presentation seemed more to their liking on this day.

Finally the system turned the wrong way and, as the lightning approached and the winds came up, we hopped in the canoe and headed back to the landing just before the deluge. 

Lessons learned: While many believe smallmouth will head into deep holes this time of year, many fish were still in the deeper runs. This required the use of split shot to get the flies down. We prefer using split shot to Clouser-type jigs, since the split shot allow a fly to move more naturally in the current. We positioned the weight about 6 -8 inches above the fly on 8# test tippets and this worked well. 

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