Tag Archives: Bass

How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the Tampon Fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I like the Meat Whistle because it has a lot of movement in the water and it sinks fast, knocking against rocks and looking reasonably like a crayfish or madtom or sculpin.  The fish only like the Meat Whistle a little.

I like the Hairy Mary because it’s easy and looks reasonably like a half-drowned dragonfly.  But the fish would only sit underneath the Hairy Mary, looking sullen, then depart.

I like the Home Invader because, aside from the lead eyeballs, nearly all the materials can be found in a farm lot.  I like the homespun look of the coyote fur collar.  I like that with pale yellow marabou, some gold and pearl tinsel flash, and barred ginger hackle you can make them look almost exactly like one of the thousands of stonerollers grazing Ozark stream bottoms.  But only dinks chased the Home Invader today.

The Tampon Fly is none of those things.  It looks like nothing; it just wiggles.  It casts like a sack of dead kittens and takes ages to reach its destination.  It’s dumb to tie.  There is no jarring strike or surface explosion.

But it works.  And sometimes, when nothing else will- that’s good enough.

 

 

Wednesday Night Ties: Swap flies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s an odd thing, tying flies for strangers all across the country and getting a dozen or so in return.  Time and tedium accumulate, as you crank out one after another as close to identical as you can- and mine aren’t nearly so nice as the articulated deer-hair concoctions others will make.

It’ll all work out, though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Jumping the Gun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Water warms slower, and I know when I see the empty parking lot I’m early.  Too early.  The big, gravid females move first, and I’m still too early for that.  Maybe the fish are stacked up at the mouth, waiting for the first warm spring rain to ascend.  That doesn’t help me.

So I walk the banks and wade shallow riffles looking at the empty hulls of long dead freshwater mussels.  They fish, too.  These living stones house their young in envelopes of flesh that mimic prey, twitching them on the stream bottom, enticing fish to bite.  The larval mussels clamp down on gills and fins, getting a free ride upstream or down.  It’s as bizarre and fragile as anything you’d see in the Africa or the Amazon; Attenborough should narrate.

Image

Wednesday Night Ties: Smallmouth goodies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wednesday Night Ties: Found objects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I told myself I’d tidy the tying table in stages, sorting everything and working through the pile of hooks and materials that had accumulated during the cold months.  Tonight it was bass bugs- from top to bottom, stuff that will hopefully draw a few smallmouth come May.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last Best Streams: #355

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tea-stained is probably appropriate.  Really the dark, red-tinted water reminds me of rough garnets picked up on some trip of my father’s when I was a child.  Or the color of tobacco juice, if you’re feeling less romantic.

The river drains more than half a million acres of forest and swamp still drying out from the last Ice Age.  Twenty-five million board feet of timber, mostly white pine, was harvested from this place in the late 19th century.  Trees running two to four feet in diameter, hauled out with oxen and horses on roads made of ice to the frozen rivers, crashing through come spring and drifting down to some of the world’s largest sawmills.   The timber rebuilt Chicago, and fueled the growth of Midwest cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Saint Louis.

Think of dams and Wisconsin doesn’t come immediately to mind.  The big ones out west on the Colorado, the Columbia, even the impoundments of the Cumberland and Tennessee valleys.  But those big sawmills needed dams and when the timber was gone they sold the rights to nascent power utilities; the structures became a permanent fixture on the landscape.  The upper end of this watershed was spared inundation, and in time its hills grew back in pine and maple and birch.  The men who made their houses from old growth took their children into these new forests to hunt and fish for smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskellunge.  As word spread of the trophy fishing people came from all over, non-native mystery snails and rusty crayfish and zebra mussels left behind as mementos of the region’s popularity as an outdoors destination.

Damn pretty, though.  The swift water and big, two billion year old granite boulders remind me of places back home sharing the same ancient geology, just swap the white pines for shortleafs and the paper birches for rivers.  There’s deer, turkey, turtles.  Baby cranes that look like something out of the Pleistocene.  Flowers I’m unfamiliar with, as though Banksy stenciled a sunburst onto a dandelion to make you look twice at the familiar.  Clouds of milkweed that are pinker than the kind at home and another variety with large, pale pink flowers that look alien and downright menacing.

 

 

And there’s the fish- smallmouth bass that snub fancy flies of rare hairs and craft fur I’ve tied specially for the occasion.  I sit on a boulder and crack a beer, drink half and take a nap, wake up and notice the stiff mottled backs of a few large and many small Northern Hogsuckers as they nose for algae and diatoms on the bottom.  There are Clouser minnows in my pack, yellow-eyed jobs with shredded bronze mylar sandwiched between a tuft of coyote hair from a trapper I knew back in Wyoming and a hank of hair from a fox squirrel’s tail, a fat male I shot out of my grandfather’s woodlot some time back.  They’re perfectly serviceable if not a little ragged.  Homespun.

They work.