January 1. Winter trout season opener.

I lost a glove, broke a net, caught some great fish, and discovered why wing trout fishing in southeast Minnesota and the driftless area is amazing. 
New Year’s Eve was spent quietly with my wife, Ryan Secrest, and a fly tying vise. 
New Year’s Day began 16deg with a biting wind and a 2 mile hike through the snow. 
I’m thankful for the easement and property owners who have left this land undeveloped. 
The fish were generous and willing to take nymphs and streamers. 
Now, the big question is, when I got back to get my glove I lost somewhere by the stream, do I bring a rod?

A quick outing yields my first native Minnesota brookies

A couple weeks ago, I ran out in the middle of the day Saturday during nap time and squeezed in a couple hours of fishing on a small driftless region stream. It is a property stream that has had habitat improvement by the DNR and is located accessible through an easement by the landowners. 
Like many streams in the area, you need to hike for a while to get past the heave cow traffic and water that probably gets more pressure. The water was a bit low, but it still seemed to be running nicely. I brought my Hexagraph and was throwing mini hoppers. Hopper season is probably about done with the fall on our doorstep. I easily could have used the tenkara rod, and probably will in the future for streams this size. It is just so convenient, and easier to manage with tall field grass. 
The one purchase this summer (besides the Hexagraph) that I am very happy with is the pair of Simms wet wading stockings. They have been so great. I haven’t worn waders since moving back, because these have been so comfortable and the water hasn’t been too cold. 
They are well constructed and easy to clean.
A good option for wet wading. I bought mine with a gift card to Bass Pro Shops. 
I was pleasantly surprised to see this small waterfall. I’m not sure if this was habitat improvement by the DNR or natural. Either way, it was gorgeous. 
What was special about this trip was that I was able to land my first Minnesota Brookie. They are the only trout native to Minnesota, and I fell in love with them in Virginia. I caught two in the same pool including this handsome fella below. 
There are lots of spots like this stream, where, after a mile hike, you find yourself in a valley that seems very isolated. You can see an oxbow in the stream on the left hand side. It winds back and forth throughout this small valley. 
I’m hoping to get out and find some spaced like this in the winter. I think they would be gorgeous. 

The Root River State Trail

We were planning on heading up to my parent’s cabin for the weekend, but a last minute change in work schedule meant we stayed local. I’m glad we did. 
I’ve been wanting to take Sara and David down to Lanesboro for a while. The town is nested in a small river valley, in the 1970s Minnesota converted an old railway along the Root River to the Root River State Trail. It is long trail system (I think about 40 miles plus it connects to the Harmony-Preston trail?) with gorgeous views of valleys and the river. It passes several towns on it’s way to Houston. 
The plan has been to connect it to La Crescent, Minnesota which is on the Mississippi River. There, it would be able to connect to the 100+ miles of trails in starting in La Crosse Wisconsin. This would be so amazing. I found some a master plan presented in 2011 by the Department of Natural Resources that laid out the details for the 18 mile extension to La Crescent/La Crosse. It seems it all hinges upon unanimous land owner permission as well as funding. I’d imaging those are big hurdles, but it would be quite an amazing project. The 1st phase of the Wagon Wheel Trail (which is the connecting La Crescent portion to the Root River Trail was completed in May. There are 2 more phases to that and it seems the progress is quite slow, though, the few articles that I have found including a post on the City of La Crescent Facebook page seem optimistic. 

Anyway….. We rented bikes and a trailer at the Little General Store – it is first come, first served, but they have a large inventory and it doesn’t seem like they run out.  
Thankfully, David wasn’t threatened by being caged up in the chariot. 
I took some dangerous selfless along the way. I didn’t realize we wore matching shirts until now….. Apparently, we are that couple 🙂
This is a pretty bridge that crosses at the confluence of the South Branch Root and main Root River.  On another trip, we will hopefully canoe or kayak down this stretch. 
Mommy rocking the trailer!
We lucked out with 75+ weather and almost no clouds. A gorgeous day with the leaves just starting to change.
We walked around downtown a bit and stopped for ice cream. David hasn’t really tried it before, but it appears Superman is his favorite flavor. I can’t blame him 🙂
There are great amenities making Lanesboro a nice town to make a home base if one was thinking about a weekend trip or vacation to the area.
Downtown Lanesboro has art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and more. Very cute. 
It is hard to beat that for a Saturday. All in all we spent about 2 hours biking which included a short break in Whalen, Mn. We probably biked about 10-12 miles total. We are lucky enough to live about an hour away from this awesome trail. We may have to do it all again if the opportunity arises. 

Fish with your Family

Saturday morning, we all jumped the car for a family outing. We decided to hike/fish a stream in a nearby valley. 
After looking at google maps, I had a high hopes there would be cows and farm equipment nearby that would be like a gold mine to my son. I was right. Mom had him most of the time in the carrier, but the last 1/2 hour was spent exploring. There were crickets, a frog, feathers, flowers, cows, tractors and rocks. it was a 19 month old’s dream. 
I caught plenty of chubs, but no trout. The pockets of fishable water were pretty stretched out, so the opportunities were limited. My goal was just to show David a fish and I did. He didn’t seem to impressed with the fish, but he liked the outing. Hopefully we will get out a couple more times before the season ends. 
For now, I’ve got an awesome new fishing buddy. Maybe I’ll have to buy him a tenkara USA Rhodo, so he can start learning the ropes. 
Sara shot this. I love it.

Good Days

I love good days. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lazy. Some are long. Some flyby and they’re gone before you know it.

Saturday was a good day.

We enjoyed a night in on Friday, and Saturday morning we walked to the park after a fresh pot of coffee and a quick breakfast. I had to run into work for about an hour but made it back in time to play befor a midday nap. While Sara and David slept, I went for a long run. Longer then I’ve run in a couple years. 9.75mi. It just felt so good to be out in the hot August sun, so I kept going.  I came home to a well rested house, and we headed straight to the neighborhood swimming pool for a hour of water play under the fountains and bubblers. We walked home in our suits and the little guy in a diaper and towel drinking a bottle of milk. 
The next stop was the Salem Glen Winery just 15 minutes south of Rochester. All the grapes are grown on site. The property rests on a hill where the observatory waits for nightfall. The wines were wonderful. Typically I think most northern wines end up being very sweet, but these were much more of the traditional variety with something for everyone. My favorite was the Marquette. It was dry, cherry flavored and peppery. Sara liked the LaCrescent and the Cygna. 
David paired his milk and matchbox cars with cheese crackers. He is wise beyond his years. 
He quickly moved onto the red wagon and explored the grounds. 
Not in the mood to cook dinner and hankering for smooth custard, we stopped by Culvers on the way home. A satisfying dinner was topped off with a game of Choo-choo while standing in a wok. Sara and I still aren’t quite sure why David enjoyed this so much, but good things don’t always need explaning. We just rolled with it. 

Tempting fate with a day that was already perfect.  I rushed out to the stream after putting David to bed. I haven’t used my new rod yet and I wanted to fish a section of the stream I hadn’t tried. I had a limited window before dark so expectations were low. 

However, this day could do no wrong. The Walton Powell Hexagraph casts beautifully. I was tossing a mini hopper into spots I shouldn’t be able to. It felt like all I had to do was look where I wanted to cast, and I could make it happen. Still, I hadn’t seen a fish in the 30 minutes I was there and darkness was upon me. 
There was a downed cottonwood that was creating some great structure, but it was the type of structure you normally pass up because it is understood you will lose every fly you cast anywhere near the tempting pools. (It brings to mind ships wrecked on the rocks after hearing the sirens call.) Today, however, a last chance at a fish seemed well worth the risk. 
I ended up walking out on to the cotton wood, balancing on the beam, mid stream. I landed the fly in a stretch the size of a 10-gallon bucket and the fish hit immediately. He hid under two trees before I finally got him to the surface. My balance got me so far as to net the fish before I fell backward chest high in the cool water. On a hot August night, with a big brown trout in your net, it is hard to be upset at something like that. I laughed because Sara had just gotten me a new waterproof case for my phone.  I smiled because I couldn’t think of a better way to initiate my Hexagraph. 

Not all days are good, but when one comes along it pays to relish in it. It even felt good to walk back to the car soaking wet. So good I tried to give my very best Breakfast Club fist pump to the sky, fly rod in hand. 
Another one in the books, I guess. Tomorrow, we start all over again. 
Here is to another good day ahead of us. 

Painting Through Prosek: Atlantic Salmon

On December 9, 2012, I painted the Arctic Char. It was my first painting since college. It was the first painting in the “Painting Through Prosek” series. At the time, I thought I might be able to paint every fish in the book. That didn’t happen. That being said, I think I painted 31 different fish from the book Trout: An Illustrated History by James Prosek. I also painted a speckled trout, a couple brookies and brown trout, two red drum tails, and a quail.

This project ended with the Atlantic Salmon. It is such a powerful and beautiful fish. These amazing sea-run fish, return to home waters to spawn. Some make the trip more than once. Most do not.

Salmon have been an important species to may people for many reasons. Some salmon runs have long since disappeared from interruption of their path by dams. This is just as true for the Atlantic Salmon as it is for their West Coast cousins.

I chose to go outside my comfort zone and paint something other than the body colors. I drew some of the structure of Prosek’s fish in pencil to help guide my brush. I think this was a great way to end this project. 

I’m not sure what comes next. I have Prosek’s book, Trout of the World and Ocean Fishes. But I was thinking of something else.

This July, we are moving back to Southeast Minnesota for the year. I’ll be at the edge of the Driftless Area. I might try to find representative flora and fauna and paint those in a Driftless series. Just a thought, for now.

Driftless exploration continued….. Heart of the Driftless

Unfortunately, I lost my copy of this film. Heart of the Driftless is a great flick from Third Year Fly Fisher. He has made his rounds at the Fly Fishing Film Tours. This is a great film dn now available for download digitally.

Oh man. Look at that tall grass along those tiny streams. It’s a jungle out there.

The Unique Driftless

I’m going to continue posting Driftless Area related material as we get ready for the move. Next up is a short documentary exploring the many different unique attributes of the Driftless Area by exploring how it was made. This is less than 30 minutes and pretty darn awesome (effigy mounds, rattle snakes, caves, arctic aged plants and more).

One point the video makes that I think can be extrapolated to many unique resources is that, lots of times, local residents aren’t aware of how special or unique their own back yards really are. As such, it doesn’t occur to them to protect or preserve it.

One gentleman perfectly shows this when asked what the Driftless Area is he he responds,
“Is it a desert?”

Driftless Love by Winona Fly Factory

Man. I’ve been away too long. With my head down I seemed to have missed Justing over at WFF has been back at it. I’ve always enjoyed following his blog as he fishes my home waters. Now, with renewed interest I can read again as I will be heading back that way for at least a year come July. 
He is a strong advocate for the treasure that is the Driftless Area. Last fall he presented this video compilation for the Citizens Watershed Summit. 
Great work, Justin.

Painting Through Prosek: Von Behr Brown Trout

No apologies for the decrease in posts, from me. I’ve been busy with an amazing 8-month old and traveling for interviews. This time next year, I’ll be exploring new waters. 
On to the painting…
This one has been a long time coming. One of my first attempts at painting was of a brown trout, and, man, did I struggle. I’ve gotten a little better control of color now, and I’m much happier with this result. I went for the warm colors of the colorful, small-stream browns when they wear yellow bellies and are sprinkled with red and black berries. 
Now, here’s a question for you…. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get some shirts with these on them??