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.
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?
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:
Stay low and quiet. This is true for all fly fishing, but even more so for this hatch.
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)
Keep your leader long, at least 12 – 15 feet.
Size 22 flies are NOT too small. In fact, they may be too big.
There are actually quite a variety of tricos in the air, so grab some out of the air and find your best approximation.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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!
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
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.
When I moved to Minnesota, I started fishing the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wisconsin (the Kinni, as the locals call her). This is a typical Midwest small to medium stream in the heart of the northern driftless area with beautiful, naturally reproducing brown and brook trout. It wasn’t until after a couple years of exploring the Kinni that I realized there was another gem about 15-30 minutes further east called the Rush River. From Baldwin all the way through Martel and Ellsworth, the Rush River winds through beautiful farmland with ample natural trout and seasonal hatches. In particular, the Trico hatch, BWOs and Sulfurs are very healthy hatches on this river at various times. Both the Kinni and the Rush are subject to large changes in water flow following rain storms and showers. This brings me to the point of this post.
A lot of fishermen shy away after a rain storm, but I’ve found that sometimes I can have a wonderful day on the river after a storm with a little strategy and the right flies. After the most recent Minnesota and Wisconsin deluge, I decided it was time to put thoughts into action. The river was running higher than usual, and was fairly ruddy, but it was not dangerous to wade (I hear my dad in my mind saying “safety first Michael!”). At the first hole I went too, I struck out big time, including losing my whole rig within five casts. Not the epic night I was hoping for. However, after adjusting my rig a little, I started catching fish after fish as I went upstream from hole to hole, with virtually no one else on the river (ostensibly scared off by the recent storm). After all, the fish do have to eat, regardless of the weather. I was already into double digits for the night, and then the fishing got relatively quiet. The biggest trout I had released so far was 10 inches (with a range of fish caught from 4 inches to 10 inches, both brookies and browns). I had about a quarter mile walk back to the car, so I figured I would tie on a Stimulator and hit the same pools and riffles on the way back. On my way back, I noticed a section of river I had previously ignored because it was difficult to get too, but the storm had padded down all the grass and made access much easier. No sooner had I made a few casts then I was doing my best to pull in a nice 15 inch brown, which is more of a rarity on the Rush. This was a fun fish to land on my newly minted Helios-2 (4-Weight) with CFO reel; this was really the first fish to challenge this rod. A lot of people shy away from Orvis for a variety of reasons, but Orvis makes fantastic gear, is committed to environmental conservation and their customer service is superb in my experience. I have products from Orvis that are over 20 years old, so I am a loyal customer. I released this brown, as I do all my fish, counted my blessings and continued my walk back to the car, grinning from ear to ear about the last fish of the night.
Caught this beauty on the Rush River before dark after a stormy couple days.