UPDATE: Everything looks peachy. If you’re having any troubles viewing the message board, clear your browser’s cache and try again.
The website had to be moved to a new server today and in that move the message board was temporarily incapacitated. Its database is still intact and I hope to have the board up and running soon. Thanks for your patience.
Let the fun begin. All southeast MN streams are now open for the catch and release winter season. As opposed to selected streams in previous years. Don’t be afraid, there are clearly fish to catch (be sure to scroll down and read that whole article).
Questions on winter trout fishing? Stop by the message board…
I can’t remember exactly when it was I first saw a picture of a trout being held in a “Ghost Net”…probably a couple years ago…but I do remember thinking, “wow, that net is cool. It really makes the colors in that trout pop”. Soon I started seeing more and more great “in the net” trout pictures that actually looked really good thanks to the clear rubber ghost netting.
Then one day I was in my favorite fly shop and noticed they had my net…a Wolf Moon Oxbow...that had the ghost netting installed on it. We called up Bill at Wolf Moon and sure enough, he could sell me a replacement bag for my net, so I ordered one up. It only took me a year to get around to installing it, but it’s done now, and I’ve formed some opinions on it
-Pics taken of trout in the ghost net can actually look really good. The whitish, blueish, clearish, translucent netting really brings out the color in the trout. Pics of trout taken in the standard black mesh netting never really can look good.
-You can’t get your hook caught in a rubber net like you can in a fabric mesh net. I had several “hook holes” in my old bag from forcefully removing stuck hooks. “Cockle burrs” and other “sticky” plant seeds can’t get stuck in the rubber bag, either.
-Rubber is easy on the fish’s slime coat…but so is soft mesh…so this one is a wash.
-The ghost netting is a fair bit heavier than mesh. Of course this isn’t going to keep you from using it, but it is noticeable.
-It doesn’t lay nicely on the back. The rubber is too stiff to lay down properly, and so its common for the net to swing around when you bend down…more-so than a standard net does. With my longish Oxbow net, my fly line seems to get caught on the handle more often now when wading deeper, because the handle sticks out at a greater angle from my back.
-Fish seem to be able to flip out of the net a little easier, particularly larger fish. The biggest fish I’ve netted with the ghost netting has been around 15 or 16 inches and so far this hasn’t been too much of an issue, but I get the feeling a 20 inch trout would give me some trouble. In the past, the Oxbow net with standard mesh handled 20 inch trout with ease. 12 to 14 inch fish are no problem, though.
I don’t regret putting the ghost netting on my Oxbow, but if I had to do it again, I’m not sure I would. It certainly has its pros and cons.
“Not long after I took up fly fishing, as a teenager, I began to look upon those who fished the Royal Coachman and Parmachene Belle and other such garish and unnatural flies as…well, gullible.
I unconsciously counted myself among the new breed of fly fishers who understood that trout eat insects and crustaceans and tiny fishes and that flies should imitate these creatures in look and movement at all times.
When I’d hear chatter about the magic of red floss and peacock herl in the Royal Coachman dry fly I’d just smile a sympathetic smile of wisdom. Oh poor, ignorant fools, I’d think.
Now I think differently. Now I think, Oh what a poor, ignorant fool was I”
As we can surmise from Skip Morris’ comments above (Thanks Skip!), attractor dry flies have been around a long time…and have been looked down upon by many an “ignorant fool” over the years. On a more positive note, many of us- mainly through the teachings of great tyers/authors like Morris, LaFontaine, Swisher, et al.- have found out how effective these great flies can be…even here in the Driftless.
So, what are some good attractor dry flies to use on Driftless Area streams and rivers? That list would be a long one, so I’ll highlight a few I’ve used, and a few that have been mentioned by other folks on the MN Trout Forums board.
First on my list…mainly because it is probably the first attractor dry I ever used…is the Yellow Humpy. I’ve caught many trout on this fly, which has its origins in the Rocky Mountains, but catches fish here, too! The Grizzly Wulff is a similar fly that I’ve used with success as well.
Next on my list would be the mighty Madam X. This fly is without question the father of many of the more modern attractor dry flies that use “X-pattern” rubber legs. Doug Swisher knocked it out of the park with this one. To this day, I can clearly recall a large trout slowly rising out of a deep pool to inspect my Madam X, only to turn away at the last moment! More on that later…
Of course I must mention my own creation, the Slurpster. Obviously the intellectual progeny of the Madam X, this fly has proven to be a very effective and quite durable fish catcher. This has been my “secret weapon” for around a decade now, and I’ve just recently declassified it. Trout typically take this fly with a slow SLURP, and the rises are often dramatic. Makes for fun fishin’! I tie this fly in tan, olive and black, with black being my favorite.
So now we have an idea on what flies to use, now how about when, where and how? Well, there are no hard and fast rules on any of these, so I will simply describe what has worked best for me over the years.
When: I typically start having good luck on attractors around the end of May. By this time, there typically has been some major hatches of various caddis and mayflies, and terrestrial insects are active. All this adds up to trout being more prone to “look up” for their food. Good fishing on attractors will last throughout the entire remainder of the season…even in the “dog days” of summer.
Time of day: I’ve had good luck at pretty much any time of day, although the best times are of course the best times for any type of fishing: morning, evening, and overcast days. I do remember going out very early one morning (on the water right before dawn) and finding many fish rising. I could catch virtually all these rising fish on a Slurpster. They would take it without hesitation. What a great morning.
Where: For whatever reason, I’ve had my very best luck on attractor dry flies on “unimproved” trout streams, and streams with a good population of larger fish. On streams that have high populations of smallish trout, it may be wise to go with smaller attractors, such as a size 14 Yellow Humpy or Royal Wulff. For some reason, the big Madam X dries get more “false rises” than the smaller patterns. I”m not sure why. It could be just the streams I fish…I am working on a smaller rubber-legged patterns for streams like this…
How: It’s been my experience that large patterns like the Slurpster and the Madam X fish best on a dead drift with no hint of drag. It often happens that trout follow these patterns for several feet as they drift along before deciding whether or not to take. 9 times out of 10, when the fly starts to drag, they turn away (see big fish memory above). Long drifts aren’t always necessary, but I’ve been surprised more than once by a trout that takes the fly after it has drifted for long time and I’m about to pick up for another cast.
Smaller, bushy hackled flies like the Humpy, Stimulator, etc., can be fished dead drift, but twitching or skating them can also lead to some violent strikes and more takes. My guess is that these patterns look more like some kind of hatching insect, and so giving them “life” can be an effective method.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the “why” to fish attractor dry flies: because it’s FUN! To paraphrase David Letterman: “If fishing attractor dry flies doesn’t drop ya, ya ain’t hooked up right!”
It’s interesting to me that two of our sport’s most iconic “hatch matchers” also were enamored with “attractor” dry flies. After all, attractor flies are, in a sense, the opposite of these tyer’s well known hatch matching patterns. This little observation should stand as a lesson of balance for all us Midwestern fly fishermen.
Doug Swisher, along with coauthor Carl Richards, wrote the classic book “Selective Trout“. In it they describe a new fly they invented, the now legendary “No-Hackle” (not a very catchy name!). This fly is the epitome of hatch matching flies.
Okay, so these guys knew/know their bugs. But they also studied and came to understand the importance of pure “attraction” in regards to dry fly design and what triggers a trout to take a fly. Swisher invented the Madam X. Not only an awesome fly in its own right, but also the prototype for many subsequent attractor dries. LaFontaine wrote two books dealing with attraction: “Trout Flies: Proven Patterns” and “The Dry Fly: New Angles“. While less well known than Swisher’s Madam X, LaFontaine developed several innovative, effective attractor dry flies, such as the “Double Wing” and the “Air-Head”. Gary’s daughter Heather also designed a great attractor dry, the “Mohawk“.
It’s my observation that many angler’s here in the Driftless tend to overlook or marginalize the attractor dry fly. If there is not a hatch going on, many of us default to dredging nymphs. If we see an occasional rise, we may tie on whatever hatched recently, generally going smaller if the fish won’t take our initial offering. Of course, these methods do catch fish. But I’m here to tell you that if you are not fishing attractor dry flies, you are missing out on some fun, and maybe some nice trout!
I think we hit a nice window for stream conditions in southeast Minnesota today. There’s still a lot of snow on the ground and temperatures are finally more seasonable. In other words, runoff will be getting underway shortly. We hoofed it through some deep, ripening snow, and it was a great workout getting into and out of the river valley.
I regret not having a thermometer handy on today’s trip. Since we didn’t start fishing until the afternoon and air temperatures were around 40 degrees, there was enough melting snow to cool the water. There wasn’t enough to affect levels of clarity. The stream was crystal clear and low. That’s not going to be the case by the middle to the end of this coming week, I’m afraid. While stream conditions won’t be the greatest later this week due to continued melting Monday the 10th, additional snow Tuesday the 11th, and the return of 40s Thursday and Friday, it sure beats a rapid warm up and flash melt.
Midge larva continue to be the most frequently hit fly, today’s was green, but tan, black…I’m sure quite a variety will get the job done.
With 50% of January so far having sub-zero temperatures, it was great to break in the 2014 winter trout season on a relatively mild day. Temperatures topped out around 36 degrees this Sunday afternoon, the wind wasn’t terrible, but, as usual, the gusts seemed to time well with your backcast. By 12:30pm there were midges on the snow and there were a few risers in pockets. Still, the fish were fairly tight-lipped. 5 fish were brought to hand, including one very nice trout at 16″. 4 of the 5 were caught on a tan midge larva, the other on an orange scud. Water was clear, sky was partly cloudy, and the beer was cold.
It was a fun day, and great to shake off the cobwebs of winter with a good friend on familiar water. And I’ll confess, one of the highlights of the day (aside from catching a good-sized fish) was sitting on a snow bank and soaking in the warm afternoon sunshine while someone else did the work.
There is positive news in the long range drought outlook, and hopefully the active weather pattern of frequent storm systems stays consistent through late winter into spring.
The US Drought Monitor provides a weekly update to overall drought conditions. Today’s drought status doesn’t show much improvement across Minnesota, nor should it, but recent trends in regards to precipitation have been good. Below is today’s updated drought monitor. Note that while 100% of Minnesota is in drought, there’s been a marked decrease in percent area in severe to extreme drought (D2-D4). There is usually minimal change this time of year since our moisture is either not present or sitting on top of the ground in the form of snow. Recent rainfall has actually helped a little, even though we’ve got a deep frost layer.
Minnesota along with much of the Midwest are in a long term drought, so relief from this drought will be a long process.
You can see there is a considerable moisture deficit over the past 6 months, and precipitation deficits actually stretch all the way back to August of 2011. In that 18 month period, precipitation deficits range from 5 to nearly 20 inches across southeast Minnesota reporting stations.
On a positive note is the recent precipitation trending above normal for winter, even if snow has been below normal, we’ve had unusual amounts of rain for winter. Call it what you will, but it’s moisture, and the middle of winter is typically the driest time of the year for us. Hopefully trends continue. Images below show the departure from normal in the last week and the amount of precipitation in the last 30 days.
And the groundwater monitored is finally making a comeback after the lowest recorded level in that station’s history. I’d have put a southeast MN station on here, but levels haven’t been updated since November.
Despite recent silence here (come on, it’s freakin’ cold outside), I’ve been at The Disaster the last few days.
Looks nice and tidy, doesn’t it? Heh. My organized friends are cringing…plotting….oh wait, here’s another view of my poorly organized space.
OMGerd, that’s terrible. Loose flies, hook piles, pheasant tails on top of wood duck feathers…or are those mallard feathers? Idunno.
It’s entirely possible that I may be a fly-swap coordinator’s worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not the worst – I’m not that guy who comments on everyone else’s flies on the forum for weeks on end and then when the deadline nears, makes excuses like, “my dog ate all my TMC 3761 hooks and I’ve been in the emergency room for 64 hours!”, or “I’ve got really bad diarrhea and my kids are sick, or something!” No, I don’t think I’m that guy, but there always seems to be that one guy (or gal, let’s not discrminate) who hits the deadline and then loafs a few supremely-crappy flies to the swapmaster, keeping all the other worthy participants out of a dozen new, sweet flies until they’re all darn good and ready. I don’t think I’m that guy…
Anyway. Here’s my line of thinking (which may or may not have led to one particularly bad semester of college). If the deadline is February 1st, that means I tie my flies on January 31st and turn them in by the close of business on February 1st! It’s like e-bay…or filing your taxes…wait until the final seconds and then snipe before the cut off.
Okay, not really – but close. I sincerely had no idea what to tie for a swap of “southeast MN flies” without just handing over all my scuds and pheasant tails. I figured I had to tie up something that was a) effective around these parts and b) something that was truly effective and wasn’t a scud, one of my crappy midges, or a small pheasant tail…because that would be cheating. So, I tied up a baker’s dozen Shillinglaw Emergers for the swap. If you’re new to either fly fishing for trout around southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and southwest Wisconsin or new to fly tying, you owe it to yourself to read Ross Mueller’s Fly Fishing Midwestern Spring Creeks. The Shillinglaw Emerger is one of the marquee flies in his book, and I always make sure to have at least one in my fly box from March through September. This year, I will have many more on the ready, tied in a supremely crappy way, by yours truly.
I’ll post the nice recipe of my crappy version soon…because I’m a “helper”…