These Blurry Days

This photo sums up August trout fishing for me…

August is hot. August is humid. You are bushwhacking through nettle and wild parsnip with sweat on your brow, burning your eyes and fogging up your sunglasses. Finally, your choice to wet wade seems so like the best decision since you switched to fly fishing. The cool water surrounds your feet and legs. You swing your hat through the cold water and slosh it back onto your melon while chills run down the back of your shirt.

You're tempted to even take a drink… But you don't. You know better. You won't give in to swishing out your mouth until later in the day when you really get thirsty. (Don't worry, you most likely will not get giardia.)

I don't get to fish cooler early mornings or twilight often these days due to being blessed with a 3 year old and 10 month old, so I take the time on the water without reservation. When I get to spend it with another angler, it is an added bonus. I like seeing water from another's eyes. And in the heat, sometimes it is nice to just watch someone else cast.

These blurry days of August are intense, but they are also brief. There is a maple tree outside my office that always gets a jump on changing her wardrobe. She just can't wait to put on the blaze orange and marshal in the colors of fall. I saw the first orange leaf today. And though I'm tempted to wish for fall, just as I'm tempted to take in even the smallest sip of crystal cool spring creek water, I want to savor this hazy heat. It doesn't last long. If you are going to lust after colder days or take that sip from the creek, be prepared for weather cooler than you'd like and diarrhea that may be relentless. Take a dip in the spring, and enjoy it; don't drink it. Giardia isn't worth it.

giardia
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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.

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.