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.

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Early Adventures in Fly Fishing for Musky

It is pretty awesome when you move outside your fishing bubble and meet new people. You never know what you might learn. For instance, I learned I have a wadable stream not to far from where I live that supports a healthy musky population. I also learned how to tie articulated flies (which, by the way, big brown trout also seem to like). 
The musky season in Wisconsin runs May through December. I didn’t start my search until the last days of November. The last couple outings were in snowy cold weather. 
I essentially spent time looking for dark water. Deep pools where big musky might be waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. 

Lots of bushwhacking and exploration over several short trips yielded no follows or fish seen. 

Dead Dear Run is one of my favorite spots on this new found stream. Named as such for obvious reasons. 

Lots of frozen guides and cold fingers until finally… finally…

I caught my first musky on the fly. He took it right at my feet. It was so fun to watch. No too big. Maybe a little over 25′ (though, naturally, he gets bigger every time I tell the story).

Big hunks of meat for these big toothy fish. 

Here is @normalicious showing off his o’pros dragonfly rod holder. they are handy in certain situations. I like when standing in a stream and tying on a new fly. Sometimes line get’s caught up in it, but in general, it is a nifty too to add to the arsenal. easy stocking stuffer too. 

One last outing this season. For real this time.

Last Saturday, I got in two more hours before season ended in Minnesota’s East Coast/Wisconsin’s West Coast.
Courtney, @SculpinArmy, and hopscotched our away from run to run, pool to pool and tree stump to tree stump.
The overcast skies and mild weather were comfortable conditions for swinging large flies made of buck tails and rabbit strips.
We found plenty of easer smaller trout. Nothing spectacular, but fun. I was getting ready to announce, “You know, it is just great to get out one more time.  It doesn’t matter if we catch any big ones…”
photo credit: Courtney Morris, @SculpinArmy

photo credit: Courtney Morris, @SculpinArmy

And that’s when I had a nice take. I was throwing an articulated streamer tied by Courtney. Light in color, fast in action.
19 inches of browned butter sauce and black peppercorn. 
photo credit: Courtney Morris, @SculpinArmy

photo credit: Courtney Morris, @SculpinArmy

Now that is how you end a season of fishing in the Driftless Area.

photo credit: Courtney Morris, @SculpinArmy


On the Stream, Work Attire and All

I had a long break this afternoon so I took an hour to explore the closest stream to the office. 15 minutes from my door I have fishable water. That is pretty darn awesome.

The stream I fished is called Johns Coulee and is a tributary of a larger area stream. There are plenty of small pools that could hold fish. There are also plenty of trees as the entire section is wooded. However at the right time of year one can easily find reasonable casting room at the pools. I fished this section of the stream because I thought the headwaters were likely to be back to normal water levels. We had almost 5 inches of rain and some areas with up to 10 inches last week. The water level looked good however I think most of the fish were pushed out of their pools with the high flow. 


It was clear the water had been out several feet at one time. I think this is an important stream for reproducing fish and as a fish refuge because of its consistently cool temperatures (58 degrees today) and good coverage. However I can’t imagine one having a productive afternoon fishing Johns coulee  Creek. It is a pretty stream.

It was great to be out on a cool early fall day. Great sun and strong brisk wind.  
The biggest problem I have now is picking the burrs out of my dress socks. 

8/9/16: Hopper Coulee Creek

I was able to get out for a few hours this week. I chose a stream that was well-known in the area and considered a class one stream.

There are a lot of access points along the stream at it is clear there have been plenty of stream improvement projects. 
I did notice that one of the landowners updated their fencing which blocked off one of the access points and made a section of the stream a little difficult to pass. 

Some of the signs were a little confusing indicating a possible harvest season but at the same time catching release only fishing. There was also a survey box asking about fish caught and kept. 

I must say, I didn’t realize the Black and Yellow Argiope lived in Wisconsin. The spiders are harmless but I must say the thought of accidentally walking face first into one of their webs is frightening.

I had a lot of luck casting hopper invitations. The grasshoppers are everywhere this time of year and even is the water temperature approached 65°, the fish were still seizing the opportunity to take my fly. 

It’s a beautiful time to be out on the water. The streams in the driftless area are easy to wet wade. 
What is amazing is that I probably only fished three quarters of a mile of the stream in the several hours I was out. There is just so much water to explore in my area, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do it all. But I’m up for the challenge:)

The Beginning of My Driftless Wisconsin Exploration

Even before my recent trip to British Columbia which resulted in big fish on streamers and bountiful drive flyfishing, I think I have developed a natural expectation to always find fish each time I go fishing, even if it is a new stream it unfamiliar area.

I think the same held true when I went out fishing for a couple hours on Tuesday morning. I had a little bit of time to spare forgetting my son to his doctors appointment, so I found a stream on the map that was designated as class one waters meaning that it is capable of sustaining populations of naturally reproducing trout without the need for stocking, and I headed out the door. Much to my chagrin I found myself cornered into a valley where a bridge was out walking my way towards the stream about another 15 miles down the road.

There was a stream that had been meandering along the road as I drove through the cornfield blanketed valleys. It didn’t look like a large stream, but presumably there were fish. I just had trouble finding access points. Eventually the stream went under the road and I noticed an old beat up sign on the telephone pole stating “public fishing grounds.” That was the sign I was looking for. I charged around through tall weeds in raspberry tickets to find a stream slightly murky and shallow. The water was cold and there were definite signs of stream improvement projects, but this look like a section of stream that had been forgotten and possibly had a little too much cattle traffic.
I found another section and walked through the designated access point over the fence and pessimistically explored this text stream through the farm field. There were a few small runs but the depth of the water and pour clarity increased my doubt that I’ll be catching any fish in the stream. I waved to the farmers he drove past smiling. With his grin because he knew my efforts were in vain?
As it starts to get hotter and closer to noon, I knew it was time to go. I also started thinking how I don’t really have the right to have such high expectations for myself when heading out fishing on an unknown stream in a location that is, though not foreign to me, still new. The Wisconsin area of the driftless region is somewhere I’ve never fished before. There are literally, hundreds of miles of streams in the counties that surround me. I will never explore them all. As such, my approach to new streams really must be that of a person seeking exploration and education of new waters as opposed to grip and grin glory.
Driving back, I had my tenkara rod and fanny pack in the trunk. I decided to just pull off the road anytime I could see new sections of the stream to see how the depth and clarity changed as I got further downstream. 
I pulled off at one bridge where there was a small damn creating a large pool downstream and a slow deep section of water upstream. The sun was high and the buzz of grasshoppers getting louder. After about five minutes of watching the water, I saw what may have been a rise.
A couple minutes later, with a heightened level of where Ness, I saw what definitely was a fish rise.I grab my gear out of the trunk and started charging through the grass that was easily up to my chest.

I pulled a respectably small brown trout out of the stream pretty quickly. Man did it feel good to catch my first Wisconsin trout.
I watched the stream a little while longer. There were ants and Beatles grasshoppers and caterpillars everywhere. This is hands-down terrestrial season. And then I saw a large arise about 30 or 40 feet upstream. I had a mini hopper tied on, my last one. 

That was then that I got to feel the addictive shockwave that makes fishing with a tenkara rod so fun. I landed a healthy 12″+ brown.
Now, it really was time to go. I had decided I’d beat the odds. I was fortunate to catch one fish on the day like that, but I caught two and one of them was pretty nice fish.

I went home and found the stream on the map. It is classified as a class to stream, meaning there are some naturally reproducing trout but the stream still requires some stocking. The section I had found was very slow and deep water. I imagine this section is a perfect one for naturally reproducing brown trout that like to slowly swim up and sit dry flies. The water is so slow moving that it definitely choirs 4X or 5X tippet. 
Driving home I decided I was going to make an honest effort to approach each stream with humility. As a Minnesotan transplanted to Wisconsin, I’m a foreigner in a strange land. Therefore, I’ve got to approach these Sconnie streams respectfully. They are a strange breed after all. 

Quick Trip to Lacrosse, Wisconsin

Our future home is the Mississippi River Valley area of Lacrosse, Wisconsin. We have been making quick trips over there to check out housing options. 
On today’s adventure we stopped in the Pearl Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet treat (it was amazing) and I noticed a friendly vehicle parked nearby with several trouty looking stickers. I think living in the heart of the Driftless Area is going to treat us well. 

The blog activity should pickup a little bit as well once we have more time to explore. Visitors welcome starting July 2016!