Minnesota Cabin Fever

In Minnesota, from November to mid-March, it’s rare that I’m able to spend quality time fly fishing on the river. And even then, it’s rare that I’m able to have a really enjoyable day due to the fierce winter conditions of Minnesota. This is why I plan a trip during the late winter or early springtime each year to visit some friends in North Carolina. It helps bridge the gap between “fly tying season” and “fly fishing season”. Whether it’s the Nantahala River, Duke’s Creek or the Cherokee river, or even some new water I’ve never fished in North Carolina, it’s always a fun way to ring in the new season.

In 2022, it seemed that Mother Nature had different plans for me. My friend and I were checking the weather reports in advanced, and it was predicted terrible conditions for the 36 hours we planned to visit. While it was 60 degrees every day for three weeks leading up to my fishing trip, for the short time I would spend in North Carolina, the temperatures dropped into the teens overnight and peaked at about 24 degrees during the day. What luck eh?

Well, us Minnesotans are a tough breed, and I was still going to make the trip. At the very least, it would make for a good story. And I had company with my friend John joining for the adventure.

Here’s a video I made to show the harsh conditions we had to endure.

March 12, 2022 in the southern mountains of North Carolina.

Even when comparing this to fishing for steelhead in the early Minnesota springtime, my friend John and I both agreed this was comparable or even worse than the harshest conditions we’ve fished up on Minnesota’s North Shore. What’s the worst weather conditions you’ve ever fished through?

The Trico Hatch

Every year from starting in late July through the end of August, I head out to Wisconsin’s Rush River to fly fish during the Trico hatch.  This amazing hatch can be brilliant when you catch it right.  Thousands of small insects (smaller than 1/2 a finger nail) flit about in the air, mating and then becoming part of the great circle of life.

Eager trout start rising everywhere like water boiling.  It is quite a scene to witness. However, fun and frustration are two adjectives that quickly blur together while fishing. Due to the tremendous amount of available food on the top water, my fly offering is more likely to be taken randomly than due to my own skill level.

With that in mind, over the years I’ve developed some techniques that seem to work well for me:

  1. Stay low and quiet. This is true for all fly fishing, but even more so for this hatch.
  2. Start with nothing bigger than 5x tippet.  If 5x isn’t working, go to 6x tippet.  If 6x isn’t working, then go to 7x tippet.  There’s a company that makes 8x tippet . . . (http://www.shop.trouthunt.com)
  3. Keep your leader long, at least 12 – 15 feet.
  4. Size 22 flies are NOT too small.  In fact, they may be too big.
  5. There are actually quite a variety of tricos in the air, so grab some out of the air and find your best approximation.
  6. Don’t be afraid to drop something really small off that trico, like a size 22 emerger with a little sparkle in it.  Sometimes, a smart trout will take that offering to conserve energy.
  7. If you are targeting rising fish, as opposed to prospecting, then try to time your cast to land in the feeding lane when you think the trout will be ready to eat again.
  8. Have fun, try not to get frustrated, and change your setup frequently until you find what the trout are looking for.

I’m off to the Rush River tomorrow to go after one of my favorite hatches.  What’s your favorite fly hatch?


Maybe I’ll get one of these colorful brook trout tomorrow . . .

Spring Steelheading

Where to begin? I’ve had so many good fishing trips since my last posting, it’s hard to break it all down. Well, we’ll start with the last Steelhead trip of the year.  Each year, my buddies and I venture into the wilderness of Brule, Wisconsin to fish for the magnificent Oncorhynchus mykiss. A steelhead is essentially an anadromous rainbow trout. That’s biologist-speak for a fish that migrates up a river for spawning from a lake, ocean or other large body.  Steelhead are known for their challenging fight and acrobatics. They generally drive fly anglers nuts because of how hard they are to catch on an artificial fly. For a fly fishing fanatic, there is no greater challenge than landing a fresh chrome steelhead.

With the usual suspects (Adam, John D. and John M.) visiting me to take a chance at fly fishing glory, we headed to our usual steelhead hunting grounds on the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin. This year had been a particularly good year already for us steelheading, as shown in this picture of John D. landing a nice steelhead in the early season (he landed another large one later that day as well).

john steelhead 2016

The real hero of this story though is my brother Adam, who broke his 5 year long skunk of not catching anything on the Brule River, and brought more fish to hand than I can count. This year was unique because we caught some browns and brook trout in addition to the skip jacks and chromes. The highlight was when my brother had his first “real steelhead” tighten his line.  This is the type of fish that is at least 20 inches and pulls out your line so fast, you barely have time to check if you remembered to set your drag.  Unfortunately, it outsmarted him before landing it, but now he knows what we mean when we say we’ve got “steelhead fever”.  As for the rest of us, we landed plenty of large brooks, browns, smaller rainbows, and plenty of skip jacks (teenage steelhead), and I had two chrome brutes on that danced in the air, winked at me and loosed my barbless hook.  It was disappointing not to land a big one on this trip, but a few dozen fish later, we had plenty of stories to share with each other at the “Crow Bar”, the local watering hole.  Now it’s time to start getting ready for the fall run!

The Rainbow Warrior Give-Away

This blog post is long over-due.  Thanks to my friend and fishing buddy, John Matulis, I finally landed my first rainbow trout (non-steelhead) in Minnesota.  And then I proceeded to land a few more!  John moved to Rochester, Minnesota from New Hampshire just recently, and he has been exploring the driftless area in effort to give me a reason to drive down to visit him.  He’s been scouting out the White Water River, and I finally found some time to join him in our pursuit of tight lines this past fall.  Well, the river did not disappoint.  After showing me around, John placed me right into his “pot ‘o gold hole” (affectionately now called JPOG) and with the help of a Rainbow Warrior fly, rainbows started crushing my flies.  I joked that I found rainbows at the end of the pot o’gold, rather than the other way around.  It was a great outing for my first time fishing in southeast Minnesota.

Lance Egan, a competitive fly tier from Utah, has invented many flies that produce staggering amounts of fish.  Two of his flies that I fish the most are the Frenchie and the Rainbow Warrior.  In particular, the Rainbow Warrior has been a deadly fly for me wherever rainbow trout are around.  There’s something about the flash and color scheme that seem to drive these fish bonkers.  Here’s my favorite video for how to tie the Rainbow Warrior by Tim Flagler at Tightline Productions:

As an added bonus this week, I’m giving away five size 16 Rainbow Warriors to one person drawn at random (tied with a tungsten bead, and the barbs mashed).  Post a comment on my blog and you get entered into the drawing.  Post a comment on multiple blog posts and you get two entries (maximum of two entries).  In my comments section, leave a comment and your email and I’ll announce the winner one week from today.  The winner will have five Rainbow Warriors mailed to the address of his or her choice.  Happy commenting!



Rainbow Warriors

Land of the Noonday Sun

I’ve now been to the Nantahala River in North Carolina three times.  It definitely won’t be the last.  This time I had the pleasure of fishing with professional guide, friend and fly fishing enthusiast Clint DePriest.  Watching Clint fish reminds me how much I still have left to learn. You can check out his website here: https://www.facebook.com/noondayfishphoto

And go ahead and look him up: Noon Day Fly Fishing on http://www.tripadvisor.com.

The weekend marked another trip full of amazing fish, good food and relaxation.  Of course, some people wouldn’t call standing in cold water, climbing incredibly steep cliffs, and hiking around a valley relaxing.  Plenty of fish were landed, and new scotch was sampled!  I was fortunate to be able to shoot enough video to capture the weekend.

One of my favorite parts about fly fishing is exploring the unknown in search of those more challenging fish.  What do you like most about fly fishing?  Post it in the comments section below.

The Fish of 10,000 Casts – Muskie on the Fly

This past weekend, my brother and I, along with two of our best friends, went on a guided drift boat trip in search of the “fish of 10,000 casts”, also known as the Muskie.  We headed to musky territory in Wisconsin, really the epicenter for this type of fishing.   Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) is part of the same family as pike.  Its genetic lineage is unchanged dating back to prehistoric times, so you feel like you are hunting something fierce.  The Muskie is the apex predator in its environment, and to catch one on a fly rod is truly an awesome feat.

The name, Muskie, comes from the Ojibwa word for “ugly pike” (maashkinoozhe).  It’s definitely an ugly fish.  But it’s also extremely hard to catch, puts up a good fight, and makes for fantastic photos.

This is the background for the epic trip I had in store for myself and my friends.  We were all fired up, none of us ever having been in a drift boat with fly rods.  Our guides were Brian “Lucky” Porter (www.faroutflyfishing.com) and Chris Willen (chriswillien.com).  Lucky has guided us before, and it was our first time meeting Chris.  Derek and John went into Lucky’s boat, and Adam and I went into Chris’ boat.  This is our typical Davies versus Coleman competition of course, albeit a friendly competition of pride and honor.  With regards to our hosts, I have to say that both of guides were amazing, and they really know their stuff.  After a brief introduction to the world of Muskie casting (with heavy rods, and special bank shot lines), we shoved off the shore looking for glory in the depths of the river.

OK, full disclosure: we got several Muskie eats but we did not put one in the boat.  This is apparently very common in Muskie fishing (hence, the fish of 10,000 casts).  At least, this was what I kept telling myself.  My ego and pride were definitely hurting despite the good luck with the bass.  It was a beautiful summer day though, with great friends and good conversation.  Just because we weren’t able to catch any Muskies though didn’t mean we weren’t able to catch some awesome fish.

16 inch small mouth bass

16 inch smallmouth bass

I landed a 16 inch smallmouth bass to break open the skunk, and both my brother and I had a few more eats without setting the hook.

This helped us ease into lunch time, and we finally felt we were getting the hang of the new casting style.  There is a figure eight maneuver you are supposed to do with your rod at the end of the line strip to try to entice a Muskie to strike, and honestly, my brother and I thought this was somewhat comical.  That is, until a Muskie came out from the depths of the water like the movie Jaws, causing me to forget all my knowledge, jump back, and pull my rod upwards, removing the hook from the musky’s mouth without setting the hook.  The guide was right to chastise me, but that moment in an of itself was enough to get me hooked for life.

I have to say a few things about our guide, Chris Willen.  This guy is amazing.  He was great company in the boat, extremely knowledgeable, and he gave us great direction and put us in the best position to catch fish.  I highly recommend him to anyone interested in testing their mettle with big game fish like Muskie.  Brian “Lucky” Porter also did an amazing job for my friends John and Derek, and having known him from our prior steelheading trip, I highly recommend him as well.

The next part of the story is really what elevated this trip to epic status.  Chris told us a story about some awesome fish previously hooked at the next hole, and sure enough, right after my fly hit the water, something big and fierce attacked my fly.  In my shock, I didn’t quite strip set the hook properly, but to our amazement, the fish then proceeded to follow the fly again, and Chris started yelling: “it’s a hot fish, get your flies back in the water quick!”.  The fish skirted away, but Chris told us we were going to have a do over with this fish, and we reset, rowed backwards, and informed the second drift boat behind us (Derek and John) that we were waiting to give it another go.  After ten minutes of chatting and planning, we were ready to get serious.  Sure enough, within five casts to that same exact hole, BAM!, a huge northern pike flew out and grabbed my fly.  This time, I stripped like a mad man and we brought a 35 inch pike right into the net.  We went ashore and got some amazing videos and photos.  It was truly an epic catch.  We released this apex predator back into the river, so it could continue to live its life at the top of the food chain.  A pike that big doesn’t even need to worry about Muskie since it’s almost as big as them now.

Here I am with guide, Chris Willen.

Here I am with guide, Chris Willen, holding the prize!  That’s 35 inches of Northern Pike there.

I landed another smallmouth bass, and we had a couple other Muskie eats with no hook sets later in the day.  We think a small northern pike also took a pass at one of our flies, but that would be it for the fishing.  After we brought the boats in, we all got to reminisce and recount the tale of the large Pike we were all privileged to see.  The story lost none of its gusto when we added a couple Old Fashioned’s, some Single Malt Scotch and a ton of Bavarian food to ease ourselves back into the real world.  Stay tuned for the video I’m editing, and remember to SET THAT HOOK!

Fly Fishing Purism

My grandfather fished dry flies, wet flies and streamers.  And he was deadly at it.  The same goes for my father, although he incorporated nymphs and emergers in his own arsenal.  Always on the artificial fly.  Always barbless hooks.  I think something about this technique makes you a better fly fisherman.  You develop that sixth sense that tells you when to set the hook at the faintest line twitch, the softest shudder, or that quick flash in the water as the fish turns over.

This is what my father always referred to as purism or “being a purest” when it came to fly fishing.  No strike indicator or split shot was needed.  No hopper-dropper, thingamabobber, Czech lines, or drifts boats.  It would be man (or woman) wading into nature’s home court, with the most primitive tackle handled in the most elegant way.  I was brought up learning to fish this way, and I think it really helped my brother and I hone our skills before we started introducing newer technical aspects of fishing for our own personal arsenal.

I’ve got to be honest though.  There’s nothing like making a trout rise to a single dry fly.  But then again, I’ll do everything I can to catch a steelhead or that “fish of 10,000 casts” . . . muskellunge.  These fish are so hard to catch, I’ll take any advantage I can get.  For me, I just love being out on the river, with dreams of the last fish and thoughts of the potential next fish drifting through my thoughts.  Whether it’s with split shot and jig hooks, or with a single barbless #12 Hendrickson (tied Catskill style of course . . . ), the way that you fly fish says a lot about your personality and style.

And then of course, as my family always says, it’s almost as much fun looking at all that cool fly fishing gear as it actually fishing with it.  I’ll continue to be an active participant as fly fishing evolves with new products and materials: bamboo, graphite, switch, Tenkara, anodization, disc drag, weight forward, sink tip, beads, flashback, tungsten, brassie, woven, jigged, choked, articulated . . . fly fishing is evolving like any other art form.  So embrace all the new tactics and toys, and fuel your fly fishing addition with the next big thing.