visual update

After another super-busy summer smallmouth season, things are finally slowing a bit.  In a couple days, smallmouth rods and reels will be replaced by musky gear and switch rods for steelhead. Really enjoying this cooler weather, Wisconsin football and time back home!  Here are some shots from the last couple months on the smallmouth rivers... I'll add more soon.



June 27 Report

I can't remember a June ever going by so fast.  It seems like last week we were just moving into guide camp and here we are, a week out from 4th of July weekend.  I think the first month of the smallmouth season always goes by the fastest... Everyone is so excited to be back up north and the days seem to just melt off the calendar.  I did not have my laptop with me most of the month, hence the lack of posts.  After the 4th weekend, I'll bring it up and keep things updated (hopefully).  I also upgraded my camera lately, from a Canon 40D to the new 6D.  Excited to start shooting with a new lens/body this week.

The smallmouth fishing has been full of ups and downs throughout the month of June.  To me, this is normal.  Most of the fish are getting set in their summertime patterns and are recovered nicely from the spawn.  The water levels and temps are great for this time of the year.  The weather, however, has been all over the map.  It seems like we're getting storms and/or rain just about every other day. These fronts and changes have had fish hot and cold, on and off, good then bad.  For the most part, I'd say that the fishing has been very good, but I'm looking forward to things stabilizing as we move forward.  With the rivers dropping, the terrestrial fishing has really been picking up!  Smaller poppers and Chernobyl ant-style bugs have been great.  Our dragon and damsel flies are popping like crazy right now and the smallmouth are keying in on both the nymphs and the adults.  Banks with damsels in the grass = Active fish!

Have a great 4th of July week(end) and good luck on the water!  More reports and pictures to follow...


5/22 report

Last year's pre-spawn smallmouth trips consisted of super-high & cold water and some pretty lethargic fish. This year was quite the opposite.  After guiding 10 days of pre-spawn trips, all I can say is that it was strange.  We had incredible winds, a 77 degree day, snow flurries, rain, fish on poppers, young bass that had already hatched(!)... The list could go on.  Most of those are fairly typical for spring in Wisconsin and it definitely keeps you on your game early in the season. Conditions and the moods of fish change so quickly.  Not shockingly, the Murdich Minnow and the Boogle Bug were the two stars of the week.  The frog diver got some solid work done, but it's hard to match the consistency of those neutrally buoyant minnow patterns and the best popper in the biz.  Off to enjoy some time with the family before the summer craziness sets in!  Thanks to everyone that fished with me this spring... It was another successful pre-spawn!


5/4 smallmouth report

Monday was my first day guiding smallmouth for the 2015 season.  Sandals in the boat, sun on our faces, a cigar and even some fish on poppers!

The same water conditions that made spring fishing tougher than usual across much of the state (low and warm water) has actually been a blessing for the smallmouth rivers.  Instead of dredging low-and-slow with ultra-heavy flies and long fluoro leaders, we're fishing unweighted minnows and even some topwater stuff!  Water temps on most of the rivers are in the sixties, although after the next few days here, some will drop to the mid-fifties.  Cooler days and some rain will slow things down just a bit, and I'm alright with that.  It's also nice to not be fighting the ridiculous high water that we've had the past two years.

Our hot flies on Monday were:
-Murdich Minnow (gray/white)
-Bad Hair Day (clown Rapala scheme)
-Bad Hair Day (perch colored)
-Boogle Bug (Solar Flare)
-Game Changer (pearl w. red throat)

Most of the fish, despite the warmer-than-usual water temps, were still located in slower water.  The eats ranged all over the map, from uber-aggressive to slow and deliberate.  The key was to just keep covering water and vary the retrieve of the flies.  The neutrally buoyant flies are killer right now because you can pause them and they won't sink right to the bottom.  You want a fly that can stall out and breathe (undulate) right on the nose of that pursuing fish, triggering a strike.


steelhead to smallmouth

Unfortunately, I think the spring steelhead season is all but done for me.  With our lack of precipitation and last weeks' warmer temps, most of the area Lake Michigan tributaries have crept into that 55-60 degree water temp range.  This week shows us in the 60s and even 70s and that will bump up water temps another 5+ degrees.  Suckers have been in for a couple weeks and are already clearing out of a lot of rivers.  Yes, there are still some fish around, but I need to start focusing on smallmouth season.  The plus-side is that I got a lot of really positive reports on the steelhead rivers in the UP and the Lake Superior rivers.  Some of those rivers are just getting started, so with a relatively short drive you could find yourself in a whole new ballgame.  I will be swapping out steelhead lines for smallmouth lines, organizing big fly boxes, greasing drift boat-trailer bearings and packing things up for smallmouth camp.  There's no doubt we've had a tougher-than-average spring when it came to inland trout and steelhead, and I for one am ready for smallmouth to start crashing big baitfish patterns and divers!  I'll be doing a post soon on some of the new smallmouth patterns that are on the market... A couple really exciting ones in the mix!


4/21 report

Spent Sunday trying to get a steelhead on a swung fly... on film.  Might as well have tried to film a Sasquatch playing ping-pong with FDR.  Woke up at 3:40am, drove a total of 239 miles, made countless casts, lost my lucky hemos and got one lazy bump that I suspect was a smallmouth. Conditions ranged all over the place... One river was covered with a 4 weight switch rod and a 2.5" long fly, the next required a 7 weight switch, 10' sink-tip and a big dark fly.  There were fish around, but the 70 degree temps and high, sunny skies had them unwilling to come out and play.  No one that we talked to had hooked anything other than suckers, pike and smallmouth.  But, that was just that one day.  This weather change we're experiencing right now will not only drop the river temps, but the precip will bring in the remainder of the steelhead that haven't run yet.  I'm welcoming the overcast skies, cool temps and rain.  This should be the last good week of steelhead fishing before I transition into full-on smallmouth season.

This is also the last week that the early trout season is open before the mandatory week-long closure that precedes the regular fishing season opener.  Get out and fish!  This week will be great.  It's going to be windy, cooler and there's a great chance for precip.  The blue-winged olives will be popping this week, although you may have to search for stretches of river that aren't hit by the wind.  The cloudy days will make the fish less spooky than the high and bright sun.  Caddis were also reported last week across most of the SW part of the state.


4/17 quickie

Reports keep pouring in... And there's no sense to be made of it.  Bottom line - Go Fish!  The steelhead rivers south of Manitowoc are fishable and according to most reports, full of fish.  The progression of pre-spawn, spawn and drop-back will happen quickly this year, with temps across the area reaching into the mid-70s today.  However, next week will bring us back to spring conditions a bit with temps in the 50s and some rain/wintery mix in the forecast.  Sunday is supposed to rain and I hope it dumps on us like it did last week!

Some of the tributaries could give up smallmouth through the weekend!  We're seeing water temps in the low-50s already and with today and Saturday's forecast, you can easily get a smallmouth on the fly this weekend.  Next week's low temps could slow things a bit, but we're well on the way to our pre-spawn smallmouth season.  I'd focus on the slow edges, bays, eddys and backwaters first, working low and slow with streamers.  Bottom line = Find the water that will be the warmest right now.

Yeah, steelhead hate wood (actually overheard one day, whilst a self-professed steelhead expert preached finding spawning gravel was the "only way to get 'um")


warm spring weather = lack of blog posts

Apologies for the brief absence... The last couple weeks has involved trout fishing in western Wisconsin, steelhead fishing in eastern Wisconsin, alumni basketball tournaments, little league meetings and a little work at the fly shop.  The days are getting longer and the weather is absolutely perfect.  People aren't even staring at me strangely when I wear shorts and flip-flops anymore!  I love this time of the year... the biggest problem I have is trying to find enough time to enjoy it all.

Now, a few reports:

Western WI - The rains we got last week were a gigantic help across the entire state.  Most of the rivers along the western side of the state were getting very low and clear... Unusual conditions for this time of the year.  Things are better now, but as dry as some areas were, I hope we continue to get some spring rains here and there.  Olives are popping on days when it's been overcast and the slightest drizzle (even humidity) occurs.  Small nymphs like Rainbow Warriors, JuJu Baetis, small scuds and tiny black Pheasant Tails have worked well.  As the water has warmed, fish have been located in water that has a bit more current, which also helps to conceal our silhouettes and movements.  Be patient, stay low, lengthen your leaders and don't barge in.  Stay back and watch the water for ten minutes and you'll like see feeding/rising fish.

Tributaries - Four words about sum it up... All over the map.  From the Manitowac south, many rivers are still a bit high and stained.  Fish were caught last week before the big rains, but not real consistently.  Once the waters recede, it will be game on for a short period.  To the north, some rivers have already receded to low levels and are warming very quickly.  Some fish are done spawning and in the process of dropping back, others haven't entered the rivers yet.  Either way, a variety of fishing tactics and water types will produce fish.  Swinging to cover water will definitely work, especially with the water warming up.  Most of the fish I did see on Monday (spawning or not) were extremely spooky.  Wear drab clothing and approach low and slow.  I'd also recommend smaller streamers and nymphs in low water situations and fluorocarbon down to 3x.  The nice thing is that the rivers are in such a wide array of conditions that with a short drive, you can find the type of water you like to fish. Walleyes are also thick in some of the rivers.  Drew and I floated last Sunday and saw gobs of huge walleyes that were in from the bay.  One ate a streamer, the rest seemed more intent on finding a mate.


4/1 driftless report

After four days in the Driftless Area, we returned home tired and slightly sunburned from our first multi-day fishing trip of the season.  I'd been hearing reports of low water and skittish fish for several weeks and those observations were confirmed upon arriving at the first river on Friday.  With no snow on the banks and low water, walking and navigating the streams could not have been easier. The fish were definitely wary and spooky, but absolutely catchable.  I realized right away that a longer leader, fluorocarbon and a white strike indicator would be necessary.  I fished nymphs for about an hour at the first river - a small tungsten scud paired with a midge larva.  A couple fish came to hand, but nothing like the usual fast and furious action that we'd normally experience this time of the year.  After switching to a small leech pattern, the fun began.  Paired with an indicator and slowly twitched, the violent strikes had us giggling like little kids.  Even though the water was low, the temps had the fish mostly located in the slower, deeper runs and pools.  The leech pattern on a longer leader was just the ticket for this type of water.  I don't think I fished anything but a leech for the next three days, with wind and rain making the act of casting small flies a tremendous challenge.  Monday was the first truly nice day, with temps in the 50s and low winds.  When we pulled up to the river, I glanced downstream and saw a small fish rise in the glassy water.  It was 9:37.  Rising fish this early was a great sign.  I pulled on my waist-high waders and grabbed two spools of tippet, my hemos, floatant and my small dry fly box.  That's it.  At first, the fish were only rising in the slowest water and wow, were they spooky.  I managed a couple fish, knowing that the frequency of the rises would only increase.  Around noon, the fish were coming up on the edges of the runs and in the faster water, making casting to them and approaching them much easier.  I landed another handful of fish over the course of an hour and that was enough to make my trip.  I'd forgotten how tricky it can be to hook a fish on a #20 dry fly!  Too quick, too slow... I demonstrated them all.  The Driftless rarely disappoints.


3/15 report

Scouting on Sunday, I found a mix of ice and open water.  Even though it'd been in the 60s and above freezing for a while, the deep shade that some rivers are shrouded in kept some of the northern rivers in ice.  The ice on a couple of the rivers had broken up, but because of the small size and sharp corners, ice jams were abundant and creating impassable dams for the fish.  One of the rivers we scouted will need another couple weeks before it's open and free.  We need as much sunshine as we can get and we definitely need some warm spring rains!  It is still early, but with all the snow gone, pushes of fish will occur quickly unless we start getting some rain to bolster flows. None of the rivers (that were open) appeared to be experiencing above average flows, although they were a little stained. Water temps ranged between 33 and 35 degrees.  I'd definitely be focusing on the rivers from Sheboygan and south for now.


march 11 report

After kicking around a couple of the local tributaries yesterday, I don't have a whole lot of positives to report.  I swung flies from 11am to about 4pm and did not hook a fish.  I did see what appeared to be a few smaller (16-18") rainbows porpoising later in the day.  Most of the snow in the area is gone, which is a good thing from a runoff/blowing out perspective.  However, there is still a lot of ice on most of the rivers.  Actually, with the exception of a couple areas near dams, everything was still frozen solid.  I was pretty shocked to not even see a hint of an open channel on a couple rivers. However, with the forecast showing sun and temps way above the freezing mark, it won't take long. I'd like to see a couple warm spring rains, but it doesn't look like we'll get that anytime soon.  With no snow left, the rivers should warm pretty quickly when the ice does go off.  The levels will also drop fairly rapidly.  It's a tough game to play if you're not able to be out regularly... You want to be there when it's still a bit high and just a touch of color to the water.  39-45 degree water temp is what I like to fish.  That window this year, with all the snow gone, could be very small.  I hope to get out this next week a bunch and will have more updates.  I left my DSLR at home and got a few shots on my iPhone...

Shelf ice like this was breaking up all over the place.  One even brought down a tree that had limbs trapped in the ice when it broke.  

Beware the 'bergs.  Massive sheets of ice were floating everywhere yesterday on a couple of the rivers.  Watch out for this in the spring as it's breaking up... It can get dicey pretty quickly.  


opener report/f3t

I attended both the De Pere and River Falls showings of the 2015 Fly Fishing Film Tour and had a great time at both events.  Thanks to everyone that attended these shows and another tip of the hat to the folks that worked hard to bring these events to town and make them run smoothly.  Both were run flawlessly.  The films themselves were good this year, but not as good (overall) as other years.  It's getting harder and harder to find original and exciting content that hasn't been done ten times before. The list of fish species that haven't been caught (and filmed) by fly anglers is shrinking and new/original content will continue to be a challenge.  Quality will set films apart, which is a good thing.  Thanks again to all who came out!

Shaking off the haze from the night before, Saturday greeted us with the warmest temps of the year and bright sunshine.  It was time to trout fish.  Michael, Drew and myself ate breakfast and headed to one of the local rivers that I grew up fishing.  I was genuinely surprised at how much ice was on the river.  I know that February was cold, but Februarys are always cold.  The runs and riffles were open, but the slow water areas were ice-covered.  With water temps that low, that's definitely where the fish would be found.  We fished a handful of the slower runs that had decent depth and did not hook a fish.  For early season fishing, it was still too early in the day to be dejected.  We kept plugging away, yearning for that first fish of the season.  By the tenth run I'd fished, I remarked that any fish would be cause for celebration.  Between the three of us, we did not move a single fish in the first four hours.  Big streamers, small streamers, nymphs of all shapes and sizes... Nothing.  We made the move to another river early in the afternoon and were relieved to see far less ice on the water.  The result was the same.  The banks were crawling with little black stoneflies, midges and baetis.  Oddly, we did not see a single trout rise.  It was like a Twilight Zone episode... All those bugs around, warm spring sunshine on our faces, familiar waters, and not a single trout to be found.  We didn't even see any fish in the river.  Normally you can walk up on a pool and spook some fish around, but even that was not the case.  The part that got even more bizarre was when we hiked out to the trucks and I texted my buddy who had been out on a different section of the river - Between 13 anglers (most of whom are very good anglers), they did not hook a single fish!  In all the years I'd fished those rivers, I could never recall anything like this ever happening.  I mean someone should've snagged a trout... or caught that random dumb fish that didn't get the memo.  It just didn't happen.  After licking our wounds Saturday night, we headed back out again on Sunday.  Chris and I made the walk to the river and it was even more pleasant than the day before.  The winds were down and the sun was warm. Unfortunately, the results were the same.  We fished everything in our boxes in water that ranged from 12" deep to 7' deep.  Fast and slow, deep and shallow, light and dark... It didn't matter.  Every angler we talked to said the same thing - That they hadn't heard of one single fish being hooked. Now I was legitimately pissed off.  I knew that there were fish around and that at some point, they had to eat.  We walked even farther than the day before and finally, in a run underneath an overhanging tree, I managed to hook and land my first trout of the season.  I've never grinned wider after catching an 11" long trout.  And that was it.  We fished for another three hours and could not manage a single hookup.  We talked to probably 7 or 8 other anglers and it was all the same story.  Nobody had hooked anything.  My only hypothesis is that the water was just too cold, but there had to be more than that.  Maybe the perfect storm of cold water, barometer, and something else?  People reported catching fish from the lower Driftless Area all the way up to the Namekagon, which had to have water at least as cold as the rivers we were on.  It was definitely a strange weekend of fishing.  Things will only continue to improve.  This week is going to be unseasonably warm and the little snow that we have will be gone by midweek.  Once the snow is gone, the rivers can start warming and it will be game-on.  I'll probably make a run later in the week to the local steelhead tributaries to see how they're doing.  It'll be a while yet until they're clear of ice, but it's always fun to get over to the lakeside and see them again.


hank patterson on nymphing

Good stuff here from HP...


f3t reminder

Just a reminder... If you haven't gotten your tickets for the Fly Fishing Film Tour in De Pere, there are still tickets available.  Don't wait too long, you won't want to miss this event!  Also, I heard a rumor that even though the website says they're sold out, there are still some tickets available for the River Falls F3T at Lund's Fly Shop.  Give them a shout if you're interested in attending that show.  Here's a link to their site for more info.

Bart and I will be manning the Tight Lines booth at Central Wisconsin Trout Unlimited's "TroutFest" this weekend in Winneconne.  The show runs from 9-4 and is free to everyone.  There will be speakers throughout the day talking on a variety of topics, as well as guest tyers, vendors and outfitters.  This is the last show of the season for us, then it's on to open water and warmer days.  One week and counting until the early trout season kicks off!


soon, very soon

The temps continue to hang in that "stupid to go outside" range, which is alright as it's been a much milder winter than last year.  With the trout season opening in two weeks and steelhead just around the corner, I really feel like we're past the worst of it.  The next couple weeks are busy with speaking engagements, two Fly Fishing Film Tour nights, a tying demonstration and hopefully some fishing. I'll be in western Wisconsin for the early trout season opener and if these temps stick around, it'll be a lot of bank-sitting and coffee drinking and not as much fishing.  Hopefully we get some warm weather and don't have to deal with too much slush and ice.  Either way, it will be great to be out again on the spring creeks... The scuds and midges have been waiting patiently in my boxes!


2/11 report

I had to take advantage of the last of the "warm" days before we get an arctic blast this weekend. When I left the house, the sun was out, the winds were down and it felt like it was going to be a perfect day.  Of course, it never works out that way.  When I got to the river, the sun was gone, flurries were starting and the winds were really starting to rip.  I packed a bottle of water and some granola bars, knowing that I was going to be walking a long ways.  The shelf ice along the banks made the walking easy.  It was like walking a sidewalk with a couple inches of snow on it, cutting my walk time at least in half.  I fished four specific spots hard, swinging through them twice with different flies.  I did have a couple small plucks on one swing, but they did not feel like a larger steelhead or lake-run brown.  Most likely a planted trout from the TU stocking last spring.  By the time I decided to call it a day, my guides were completely frozen solid and my waders were a layer of ice from the waist-down.  I love that.  You can look at it from two perspectives; On the one hand, I walked three miles, got wind burned, didn't hook a single fish, lost three flies, twisted my knee when I broke through a layer of ice, burned a quarter-tank of gas and lost feeling in my fingertips.  On the other hand, I got some fresh air, got some practice casting, exercised, enjoyed the bird sightings and at least gave myself a chance at catching a fish.  That's what winter fishing the Great Lakes tribs is all about.  You can't go into the day expecting to catch fish and marking it as a failure if you don't do so.



Just a note...

I'll be giving a presentation on fly fishing for muskies at TroutFest on February 28th in Winneconne, WI.  This is a free event hosted by Central Wisconsin Trout Unlimited.  For more info, click here

I will also be presenting "Badger State Steelhead" on February 23rd to the Badger Fly Fishers in Madison, WI.  For info on the Badger Fly Fishers and their venue, click here.

Both the Badger Fly Fishers and Central Wisconsin TU have great groups and their meetings are always a treat.  Many of their members are long-time customers of ours and I look forward to joining them for their monthly meetings.  Both of these presentations are open to the public... The more the merrier.  What else is there to do in February?


new look

This summer will mark my ninth season guiding for Tight Lines Fly Fishing.  We've moved locations once.  Employees have come and gone.  Families have expanded.  Business has grown.  The one thing that had remained constant was our Tight Lines logo.  A company's logo definitely becomes it's trademark... It's image.  It's what people think of when they hear your name. Our logo was awesome, but Timmy took a chance and is going to roll with a new one for this year. And I dig it!  Shop friend (and creative genius) Eric came up with the design and Tim emailed it to all of us to see what we thought.  The response was unanimous... Let's do it.  It's a fresh new look and I'm looking forward to rocking it in 2015.


the countdown continues

31 more days...