The Zumbro

David rested in the car while we drove from La Crosse to Rochester. Cake pop coursing through his veins, he was ready to run when we got to Quarry Hill Nature Center. Unfortunately, the center doesn’t open until noon on Sundays so we just hiked around, looking for snakes, fish, birds and all other beasts possible.

Sun and bugs out it in full force, we found our way to my parent’s condo for a lunch nap.

After nap, my goal was to get him on the banks of the Zumbro River, or the “Scumbro” as we so affectionately called it growing up.

 

The Zumbro really gets a bad rap. Due to extensive flooding, the city of Rochester did some major reworking of the river (and I suppose the dam used to cool the coal plant). As such, it slowly flows through Rochester with muddy bottoms and seemingly nothing but geese crap and carp… Scumbro it was and probably still is in some ways, but if you get just a little out of down town and the city, things really start to get interesting. The river curves and tumbles through forests and fields. As it is pretty wide, the forests don’t do much damage to the aquatic life.

 

A great bike path follows the stream and if you head down south near Mayowood, you can follow the path and jump down to the river banks.

The size of the clam shells here are astonishing. You could make a mean chowder out of these fellas. The crayfish are everywhere and around every bend there is a photo op of a great stream.

 

And form David’s perspective, this warm water fishery is perfect for barefoot wading and rock throwing.

There are plenty of people who know about the good fishing, canoeing and kayaking in the Zumbro. But I think if the down town ZUmbro looked anything like the rest of it, The name “scumbro” could easily be wiped from our memories.

The love/hate relationship with the Driftless in July

The rush of spring is over now. The fervor with which we hit the streams has settled. There is new water to explore, but this is often when folks start to stay off the streams. Maybe its the heat, but I think it is the height of the brush. The weeds start reaching their peak around this time.

It is not uncommon to be head high searching for the stream. This leads to slow trekking and the potential for falls into muskrat dens, slips down muddy banks and trips over logs.

It also leads to great less pressure on the fish, great terrestrial action, and good cover to sneak up on the honey holes.

Of course you can wet wade as the temperatures usually allow and walk through the stream to avoid the wild parsnip and nettle.

One thing is for sure, a year fishing the driftless will either break you or hone your casting. You’ll be high sticking, roll casting, bow and arrows and side casting to tight spots from even tighter cover.

I suppose July is like winter in that way. The extremes of the conditions keep a lot of folk off the water. Once fall comes and the weeds start dropping (after the awesome August/Sept hopper action), the streams get hit hard again.

For those willing to do the work, hungry trout await.

Bugs were everywhere last satruday morning, but the big rain events kept the water stained enough that few trout were rising. I’ve been seeing Hex around more often lately but have yet to see one actually on the water and not on the sidewalks. This little mayfly rode back home with me on the bill of my hat.

The Gift of the Timber Rattlesnake

In La Crosse, Wisconsin, if you drive up Bliss Road and past Grandad’s Bluff turning left on County FA you pass Hixon Forest Park. Past that, you’ll continue on the ridge to Rim of the City Road on your left. Take that past several large houses with expansive views of the river valley. You’ll reach a cul-de-sac and the there lies entrance to the Rim of the City park.

rim of the city

Some times I go up here at lunch to pick up trash. This is an easy access place that has great views. No biking is allowed, which is controversial. Ironically, the more exclusive a place (not allowing biking) allows more folks privacy to come and drink, graffiti and trash the place. Therefore, this makes for a good place to go and clean up.

It was a gorgeous day yesterday. It was beautiful to look out over the city and river valley.

I walked past a couple groups of kids lounging in hammocks. Enjoying their wide open summer days. Utere, non numera – Use the hours, don’t count them. They were living up to that.


Listening to some music, I was strolling back along the path about 200 meters from the house. In my periphery, my attention was draw to motion ahead.

I saw a snake and immediately could tell by the head shape this was not a rat snake.



This gorgeous timber rattler stopped when it saw me, and then, without rattling, slowly slid across the path and into the underbrush. It was so amazing. A gorgeous adult specimen.


I feel pretty luck to see this awesome snake.  (Here is the video) I posted some pictures on instagram and one commenter said they would have “sent him to meet his maker.” I tried to make a lighthearted response and then went on to say bites are really rare and if they see one, they should let it slide on by. They may have been exaggerating.  But I still find it sad. This was an awesome snake. If someone else had walked across it, it might have died. I’m thankful I got to see it and it went peacefully into the underbrush.

A tourist in my own backyard: a day with Rich Osthoff

Since moving back to the driftless, I wanted to spend a day on the water with a guide. I wanted formal instruction and to come ready to learn. I have many weaknesses and fly fishing. The things we are most uncomfortable with are often the things we do the least. It is a vicious cycle. Avoidance perpetuates the weakness. My weakness if wet flies and nymphs.

A driftless area guide, author and fly tier is Rich Osthoff. If you watch his youtube videos, you’ll see good size fish caught on primarily nymphming techniques.  This was the guy I needed to learn from. I scheduled an entire day with him. I saved on cost by doing a
“50/50” deal where he fished some of the day to. This worked out great because I was able to learn by watching in addition to doing. And lets face it. It is hard to fish for 10 hours straight.

At our first stop we ran into a friendly beekeeper. Nice guy who knew the area well. We were in for a hot day. 95 degrees, all sun, and big winds. Perfect for fishing 😉

The turtles were very active in early June and this day was no exception. Walked by this big snapper burring some eggs. Keep digging ma’am.

Rich showed me how he would approach his our first pool. We essentially used small nymphs (size 16-18) all day. It proved to be a wise decision.

After a couple missed fish from our first pool, we moved on.

We spent a lot of time reading water. Looking at structure and seams. Discussing casting techniques and tenkara. He fishes a “no line” technique a lot which would be similar to that with tenkara or czech nymphing. Again, this was great because when I tenkara, I almost always use dry flies, again because I’m uncomfortable with sub surface stuff.

It was early on at a long slow run when Rich gently lifted his size 16 zebra midge up before recasting that he hooked into a healthy driftless fish.

It was the biggest fish I’d seen caught all year in person. We ended up seeing several more of these hefty 20″ fish.

The day got hot but so did the fishing. I caught easily 40 fish during the day and vastly improved my subsurface game. I had one 15″ fish but the bigger ones were more shy in the bright sun.

At our last stop, when all was said and done, I washed off in the freezing waters pouring out of this spring. It amazes me to see how such clean cold water can flow freely in this place. Perfect way to cool off after a hot and sweaty day.

The drive home was relaxing. I pulled off once to quick fish another spot and watched some big fish rise to unseen insects.

If you every find yourself in the Driftless Area and are looking for a guide, Rich definitely knows his stuff, and I’m happy to recommend him (I’m receiving nothing for this endorsement and do it out of my own free will). And of course, you are always welcome to call me. I’m slowly cataloging the area for more and more spots to fish. So much water.

Retiring a fly reel

I bought my first fly reel when I was 16 years old. Essentially it was the one I could afford that seemed built sturdy. I fished off and on throughout my teens really began fishing hard the last 12 years. I have not taken good care of this reel. I accept that responsibility. I used it in the salt water and I don’t think I ever greased the moving parts. Over the last year it’s began grinding and I’ve lost some screws. It has had a good career. But I think it is time to retire.

I went to one of my local fly shops in Viroqua, Wisconsin: The driftless angler

This is a great shop with good intel and a nice inventory. After debating price ranges and feel, I settled on an Echo Base Reel. The reality is, in the Driftless, I don’t need much. Simply something dependable. Something functional. And money saved there can be spent elsewhere. 

And by elsewhere, I mean a new net 🙂 I’ve been eying the Rise nets for a while and when that sweet net caught my eye near the checkout counter, I couldn’t help myself. 
The only trouble is, my son is claiming it as his 🙂

The fish are all around you

Living along the Mississippi River in the driftless area leaves no shortage of fishing opportunities for all seasons. We have hundreds of miles of trout streams at our fingertips. And if you get creative and are willing to explore the warm water fishery, the opportunities seem limitless

This week I went for a short walk exploring one of the tributaries of the Mississippi River. I had Intel from a friend that there were fish gathering at a confluence of streams.

It turns out Hot Dish and I stumbled onto a pack of wild gar. they didn’t put up the Best Fight but man are they a cool fish


Latest book: Lost in the Driftless by Tim Traver

I started this book a couple weeks ago and I’m slowly making my way through it. And so far it has been an interesting read. The author is trying to explore the culture of trout fisherman and the differences between the conservation based catch and release flyfisherman and there were all worm fisherman who is catching to eat. I’m only a couple chapters in so it’s too early for me to say if I agree with his assessment. Regardless, so far it has been insightful and I’m looking forward to finishing it. Have a feeling that his conclusion is going to be that we need all types of fishermen to best protect the viable resource. We need good land management to protect habitat. And the more people that enjoy resource, The more awareness there can be with regards to protecting that resource.  That’s my guess where this is going.


I’m thing is for sure, I love fishing the driftless. Things are in full bloom and the banks are getting sick fast. Pretty soon casting will get really difficult. But the great thing about high grass and streamside brush if you could sneak up the holes easier and swing your tenkara rod into a deep pool Full of unsuspecting fish.