Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Driftless Wisconsin, After Action

First, I caught fish. In five days, I brought 26 to hand.

It rained four-and-a-half inches the week I was fishing. It showed. Conditions for me were hard.

My fish were all cookie-cutter 8" to 12" aggressive little beasts which tells me I was a split shot or two away from some of the nicer fish I saw landed.

I had fun. I'll go again in a heartbeat.

It was cold. One morning was thirty-four and wet. That's tough for mid-May around here. It isn't unexpected. Coffee was a morning treat and I tried to make sure my companions had some hot brew waiting as soon as they roused.

We had morning warming fires, too.

 My tent on the left. Dirk's in the background center.

Both tents lived through a sixty mile-an-hour squall a half-hour after being put up. Dirk's snapped a fiberglass pole that was easily repaired. I have to say the Cabela's outfitter's model he had was a lot tougher than I thought. Dry, too. Nothing duct tape and a splint couldn't fix.

Above, the campground at the West Fork Sportsmans' Club.

We saw plenty of this: chocolate milk.

Bohemian Valley here. I've a hundred pictures just like this of seventeen other streams. Heartbreakers, really.

Nice public lands down on Tainter Creek.

Dirk fishing the cliff face on the stream from above. He's a commercial fisherman and a fly shop owner. He did well. Here he is preparing to pull a nice fish out of the hole.

I learned just watching him fish. I learned watching him not fish, too.

Another perspective. We fished the rain (fourteen hours of it) on Saturday. I came back and fished another six hours on Sunday and pulled eight fish from here.

One of my choices in the mud. The next cast pulled a fish out on it.

A better image of the hillside from Sunday. The water had cleared considerably. That pool is eighty yards long, twenty-five wide, and barely moves.

After facing mud, I was willing to try and fish my most difficult environment: the long slow pool.

I worked on technique, rested the pool, worked again. I had success.

We did a lot of scouting. Regrettably, this is the only shot I have of Dr. Don that wasn't of his back. I have several of his back bending down to unhook a fish.

He's leading a scouting party here.

Obligatory cow shot. Coulee is at the left just out of frame.

I fished the Driftless in perhaps its worst state short of flood. I still caught fish. I had fun.

I lived five days in a one-man tent and saw it shrug off a tremendous spring blow.

I wore wool and Capilene every day.  Half our party bailed halfway through the outing due to weather.

I'd go back tomorrow.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Fishing Companions

United States Department of Agriculture picture at left.

I've got some new fishing companions. This week I'm going over to Viroqua and the Driftless area as you've read here.

Cows feature in that landscape. Sometimes, they feature in the water.

I'm behind on many things but I'm making an adventure trip -- though the adventure is only in going someplace I've not already been.

Next year's big trip: the Upper Columbia.

There are only so many days. Those you spend fishing aren't counted against the total.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Trip Planning

At left, British Map from 1776 surveying part of New York from 101st to 118th street with information on the rebel disposition and location.

Rebels. Heh, heh.

I've got a big outing to the Wisconsin Driftless coming here shortly and I'm beginning to gather my stuff.

It is a camping outing so the camp gear is ready, warmed-up, and can be loaded from the "ready pile" in the corner of my library into the new trout car in fifteen minutes. More problematic is the food prep and staging ... and the always treacherous "state of the flybox."

Is anyone ever exactly ready for an excursion?

John Gierach writes about this topic _Trout Bum_ or _Fly Fishing Small Streams_ or _All Fisherman Are Liars_ or ...

What the hell, just read 'em all. He's covered enough for most a decade of long winters.

I'm pretty sure I'm recalling a passage from _Small Streams_ where he discusses at length the evolution of his fly box and the travel set-up he embraced at least in this mid-to-early career phase of his writing when he did a great deal of road time to various spots with various fly-fishing luminaries. All the fishing partners who made it into his writing are renown for catching trout out of a mud-puddle.

I like a limited fly box like a lot of anglers but I'm also afflicted with a taste for the shiny, the new, the exotic.

I have about as much control over my fly box discipline as I do over my impulse to buy fly rods. I lived for fifteen years with a very serviceable (though slightly heavy)  fiberglass 6wt in an unusual 8'8" configuration. My dry flies during this time were often large and bushy (summer fishing, and usually late summer fishing). My wets were heavy leaden beasts to dredge the bottom of fast waters ticking over boulders (I remember thinking once that there had to be rivers somewhere that had stones on the bottom smaller than basketballs). My streamers were all-purpose black or olive beasts in #4 or #6.

It was however years before I knew one could "strip" streamers instead of just hovering them on the drift. That tells you there was a grave deficiency in steelhead exposure in my early angling experiences.

I used "the rod" on every sort of fishing I encountered. I did use it to cast #18's on the White River and it would work. I've put 3/8 oz. jigs on 20' of 2x tippet and caught walleye for dinner in holes of a river the outfitter said held big trout. I put the "big trout" story down in the books as credited to cheap Canadian moonshine spiked with vanilla extract to try and mask the essence of kerosene.

You think guides are broke, try talking to an outfitter.

I eventually killed the rod -- with a little help -- when the tip completely de-laminated about the third time it had been shut in a pick-up door.  No, I don't leave my rods anywhere near a hinged automotive appliance but sometimes you might say something across the camp like "bring my rod from that birch over there" as you drown the coals and your buddy is obliged to remember something out of the truck after picking up your rod and ...

He did loan me his new Scott rod all rigged up as a consolation for ruining my "only" rod -- an act simultaneously conveyed with the scolding that I out to know better than to bring only one rod and the pained expression of giving the keys to your new Ferrari to your son on prom night.

I resisted the urge to slam the Scott wand in the tailgate. My 6 wt. rod had undue sentimental valuation.

Fly fishing opportunities dried up significantly after that trip anyway as I too became "poorer than an outfitter with an aviation fuel bill due." For the record, I can't afford another ex-wife.

Somewhere in here is a confession that while I have tied all winter long to fill my soft-hackle and flymph collection, I've waited until now to seriously address small nymphs and scud. I have to tie a couple nights this week and increase my load of "hackled scud" in chartreuse and the olive-threaded variant of a no-hackle "pink squirrel."

I've got enough hare's mask and possum to do the job.

I could use some more partridge-and-yellow in #15 just to be comfortable.  

Couldn't we all?  


Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Image at left courtesy Barras as hosted on wikicommons. I believe Bowser there sums up the spring to date here in Michigan.

The South Branch of the Au Sable is back to its tricks of setting forty-nine  year high-flow records.

I'm to get nearly three inches of rain in the next forty-eight hours here on Mill Creek.

The Huron is deep in the trees. The new rain will make it crawl its banks.

I'm ready to throw streamers but high water, high wind, and low temperatures seem a lot closer to fall steelhead than spring Hendrickson trout.

Looks like I'm working as an ink slave this weekend instead of perfecting my dry fly delivery.

It might be time to look at the Douglas SKY 6wt, though. That'd be a good excuse to throw streamers all weekend.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Town Corner Lake Campground, Black River

A note: the information I find on state forest campgrounds is somewhat insufficient. There are public domain descriptions and a lovely set of facts published by the DNR; but, I find woefully little physical information as to those things that matter: layout, privacy, scenery.

I want to know that my campsite is not merely a road turn-off. We have those in Michigan: campsites that are merely turnoffs from the county road. Seeing one makes me wish for better pictures on the DNR site. Perhaps, any pictures at all on the DNR site might help. Surely they have a couple interns who can take some snaps in summer.

When I am king ...

 The Pigeon Forest surrounds the Black River. As such, the roads are indeed forest roads. They'd recently had their spring maintenance when I arrived but the roadside -- for there are no ditches -- showed evidence of some  fall/winter adventures which may have buried more than one hunter's truck.

It's fifteen miles from paved lane back into this campsite. Be advised that your minivan may not be the vehicle to drive should you get caught in an inch or more of rain. In many places, the road is carved deeply into the forest floor and shows signs of holding a great deal of water.  Above left, the entrance sign.

The campground is sited on the edge of Town Corner lake. There are several of these deep pocket lakes in the Pigeon River country (the area is known colloquially for the Pigeon River and not the Black or Sturgeon which also flow through the timber).

The above panorama gives you an idea of the stunning beauty of these forty to eighty acres pools. In summer, this campground would be a delight. The water was forty-three degrees when I was camping. That's a great deal of "brisk" liquid mass by the campsite. The morning breeze did make the hot coffee a special treat. Wih a wool sweater and a down vest, I could appreciate the slight morning breeze over a hot tin cup of brew (annodized aluminum, actually.  Olicamp make a fantastic field mug. It is the old enameled camp mug improved. Really. ).

There was a hard freeze Friday night as well.

There is well water -- off campsite 4.  Only a dozen campsites are at the campground and they're well spaced. About two-thirds are on a quarter-circle directly above the lake. Campsite 1 is in a dell right opening right onto the water yet directly at the entrance, It would have a lot of traffic and thus dust rolling by throughout the day. Still, a special site.

 A typical large camp site pad. Some are quite large as shown here. Others are merely generous. None are small.

Fire pits and picnic tables. No hang posts. Be advised.

Lake in background. The lake's edge is ten yards down a hill from the campsite's back edge.

 Above, site 11 after I set-up base. I expected a little drizzle Friday night so I deployed the tarp for a dry vestibule near my tent if I chose to sit and smoke a pipe.  I carried a small tarp and did not rig for serious wet weather. Sunday was due for more than an inch of rain starting around dawn. Monday would see more of the same. I took off on Friday to make a camp in early afternoon and explore. Saturday was trout opener and I planned to fish all day.

The lake from the back of campsite 11 on Saturday morning. Stunning.

The ducks were back though I didn't catch any in this picture. I suspect wood ducks down along the back corner of the lake for I saw a pair fly out low across the water.

The woods are full of bird survey solicitations. These are the first I've seen and I'm impressed.

The Pigeon Forest is home to a large number of migrating songbirds and the survey will yield interesting data about density and population. This particular sign is a couple miles from the campground though there is one in the campground itself and at least three others within a half mile.

 Obligatory camp cookery shot. Supper Friday evening was a "field risotto"  of  smoked sausage, peppers, onions, and celery  seasoned with garlic, cumin, and paprika. Think "wilderness creole rice." The risotto is surprisingly easy to master over a fire: saute the rice thoroughly before you start adding the liquid; and, then add the liquid in three batches stirring well at each addition.

Wonderful meal. Pita packs small and cleans up the pan as well. I eat out of the pan when camping alone.

 Opener breakfast. Cleaning water boiling. A mug of strong coffee from the second pot staying warm as I snap pictures. Biscuits baking in the Banks Fry-Bake at rear.
Cat-Head biscuits. The photo is a little bleached. They're golden on the bottom and a nice uniform brown on top. The tips of the tops haven't started to darken to dutch brown yet.

Key: don't knead the mixings past incorporating the liquid. I use water in the field because I make the dry mix with powdered buttermilk, butter, and a touch of not-lard (concession to the physician ... not-lard) and store it in the cooler when car camping. I add water to the gallon bag, smash it around, let the dough sit a minute, one more smash to make sure the dough holds together, then scoop out four nice cat head sized  biscuits. The crumb is perfectly light and uniform.

Fifteen minutes in the kitchen prepping the food makes a big difference in the quality of chow at the campsite.

I hope this helps other folks thinking of dashing to the Town Corner Lake State Forest Campground. The Black River fishing is good and the campsite is far enough off the beaten trail to be a dependable weekend dash destination.