"Sometimes, you just need to go downstairs and waggle a rod..."

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fly Focus: Mini Madame X

I first heard about the Madame X at a fly fishing expo I attended back in the late 1980s. I don't remember much about that expo, but I know it took place somewhere in downtown Minneapolis, my dad got lost trying to find it, and Doug Swisher was one of the big name speakers who was there that day. Mr. Swisher is famous for writing and co-writing several well known fishing and tying books such as Selective Trout and Emergers. He also starred in several fishing and tying tutorial videos that Scientific Angler and 3M put out back in the day. On the day of the expo, I watched him tying flies and selling his namesake materials.
Doug Swisher
I bought some of his stuff, and I watched him tie a Madame X, and maybe some other flies that haven't stuck in my brain over time. He went on and on about what a great fly the Madame X was, and being the impressionable kid that I was, I absorbed everything he talked about, and then went home and promptly forgot it all.

Fast-forward about 20 years to a day on a very popular trout stream that I used to frequent. I had been having a slow day, catching a few small to medium sized fish on smallish dry flies, which was my fly of choice back then. I was making my way upstream as the day went along, and around one of the bends I ran into a guy who reported the catching of two 18"+ fish out of the next pool. I saw him land one of them. Of course I asked him what he caught them on, and he showed me a rather large deer hair and rubber legged dry fly that was very similar to a Madame X. I was flabbergasted! How could such a large and garish fly catch such picky fish?!?! I did not believe the guy, or at least I didn't want to believe the guy...

It took a while, but eventually I did tie up some Madame X's of my own. Mostly in sizes 8 and 10. I didn't know what the fish would think about them, but I did reluctantly start to fish them. First I fished them on sunfish, and they slayed them wherever I went. Big, bruising sunfish wanted to murder the Madame X. It was awesome. It was so awesome, in fact, that I decided to try them on my favorite trout streams.

Size 14 Mini Madame X
They didn't always work, but sometimes they did, and they oftentimes caught the biggest fish of the day. I would cast them upstream and twitch them like a grasshopper; I would cast them straight across and mend line to get them to drift motionless for a while; I would cast them downstream slightly and strip them back in quick, short bursts like a streamer. They really worked! Sometimes....

After a while I tied some up in smaller sizes, like 12s and 14s. On these smaller, Mini Madame X's, I would usually switch out the rubber legs and instead use some Flexi-Floss. I liked the sheen of the Flexi-Floss, and it seemed to have a little more twitch to it. They seemed to work just as well as the bigger ones. Sometimes even better, especially for sunfish. Just the other night I slayed a bunch of nice 'gills on a size 14 Mini Madame X. They battered it into submission, so now it just looks like a few random strands of deer hair and a chewed up piece of tan Flexi-Floss on a hook. I need to tie up some more, so you might as well watch me do it...

Mini Madame X Pattern Recipe

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size 12-16
Thread: 8/0, whatever color you'd like
Tail: Deer hair
Head and Wing: Deer hair, tied on bullet-head style
Legs: Flexi-Floss, one strand on both sides of body.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Dream" Lake

As I mentioned in my last post, (Click Here To Read It) , there is a certain little lake near where I grew up that my Grandpa and I would frequent back in the mid-1980s. It was right in front of everyone, yet I don't remember seeing anyone else fish it back then, and I know I haven't seen anyone fish it since then. Back in the 80s it was full of scrappy little largemouth bass which averaged about 10 inches long. We caught a few that were bigger than that, but not many, and a few smaller ones too. But most of them were right around the 10 inch mark, and there were a lot of them.
I was hoping to find a bunch of these...
We had a great time fishing there, my Grandpa and me. We probably brought my older sister with some of the time, and maybe even my mom, too, but all of my memories are just my Grandpa and me, catching bass after bass on hot, sunny days.

That was 30+ years ago. My Grandpa has been gone for almost 25 years, and despite driving past this lake thousands of times since the last time I fished there, I hadn't really considered stopping to fish until recently. But for the past several months I've been thinking... Could all of those 10-inch-long bass have grown up to become 10 pound bass? Could those 10 pound bass have had babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies which have also grown up to be 10 pounders? Perhaps!

Finally my curiosity got the best of me. I sneaked away from work yesterday and stopped my car on the busy road that abuts the lake. It looked fishy, but there was no sign of fish. I rigged up my 8' 4-weight Unstructured Glass rod and tied on a silver Wooly Bugger. If something was in there, I was sure it couldn't resist a Wooly Bugger.
It looks fishy, doesn't it?
I stood along the side of the lake, just off the road, and scanned the water for a sign of life. Suddenly, there was something swimming around, just out of reach of my longest cast. It was a small, dark fishy looking thing, probably the great-great-great-grandbaby of the bass I caught so many years ago, I told myself.  I quickly got my fly in the water and made several fruitless casts. But then another fishy form appeared a little bit closer. I made a cast that was too far to the right. No good. I made another cast that was too far to the left. No good.

Then I made a cast pretty much right on the nose of whatever it was that was swimming around out there, and bang! I excitedly pulled in line, hoping to see a bright green bass dangling from my Bugger. But no, it was not a bass at all. It was not a sunfish. It was a feisty little bullhead; I think it's the first one I've caught on a fly... When I looked back at the lake, there were dozens of bullheads about the same size as the one I caught, swimming around, eating bugs off the surface of the lake.

I have an appreciation for bullheads, having kept two of them in my aquarium for several years. I think they are about the best aquarium fish you could want, requiring little maintenance and even less attention. But, I was hoping to catch some enormous bass on this fishing trip, so a lake full of bullheads did not bring about a sense of excitement. In fact, it made me want to go back to work. So much for this "dream" lake...Maybe I'll try it again in another 30 years...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Top 10 Spots I Want To Fish

I spend a lot of time thinking about places I want to fish. I guess that's part of the charm of this sport, daydreaming about far-off places that may or may not have bigger fish than you are used to. In my daydreams they are all monsters...

I've been quite a few places already, and the fishing has always been at least adequate, but not necessarily any better than it is back home. I've taken several trips to Colorado, fished in the Ozarks, been to Yellowstone, and fished for migratory trout and salmon in Great Lake tributaries. All the trips have been memorable, but the fishing hasn't always been great. I've been skunked in some very famous destinations. Still, as a lifelong fly fisherman, I can't help but think that there are more and bigger fish in other places, so I have put together a list of my Top Ten Spots I Want To Fish Some Day.

In no particular order, they are:

1. That one little lake I used to fish with my Grandpa 35 years ago that was full of 10" long bass. I haven't seen anyone fishing it since, even though it's right there in front of everyone's faces...

2. That lake I drive by every time I take the 2-year-old up to my mom's apartment on Mondays. It looks super fishy, but I don't know how to get access...

3. That trout stream out West that flows through the golf course...

4. The pond on the 18th hole of the golf course I used to work at. I think there are bass in there...

5. That one tributary to my favorite trout stream that is full of brookies...

6. That one trout lake that I caught all those rainbows in up near the Canadian border. Maybe next time I will catch one of the elusive splake that are supposedly in there...

7. That one urban lake that used to be filled with giant sunfish, until the one year that it wasn't, causing me to not go back since...

8. The Bighorn...

9. That smallmouth river that makes me feel either brutal or brilliant whenever I have fished it. In my daydreams I am always brilliant...

10. Pretty much anywhere that has fish...

Well, that's my list. I hope you weren't expecting me to give up any secret spots. I would be silly to do that here on the internet, where anyone could come along and read it. I might be willing to sell my soul for clicks on the ol' blog, but I'm not stupid...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


As I wrote about back in early December of 2017, (Click Here to read Boo!) I won a John Irgens-built bamboo rod at my Trout Unlimited Chapter's Holiday Banquet. It was super exciting to win something, but I am not a bamboo guy, and the bamboo rod I won was not an everyday kind of a rod, being a 6'6" long 2-weight. I wasn't really sure when I would fish with it, but tonight I finally took it out of its tube and hit the favorite local water with it. And I gotta say, it was pretty fun!

First fish on the bamboo rod

My quarry tonight were bluegills, something I figured the diminutive bamboo rod could handle. I fished with a size 10 Foam Rubber Spider, and the rod handled it just fine, as long as I didn't try to make any 50' casts. Thankfully there were a ton of hungry 'gills close to shore, and every one of them put a nice bend in the rod. My wife was nearby, and whenever she saw me fighting a fish, she assumed I had a brute on the end of my line. She was always surprised at how ordinary all of the fish turned out to be...
A very ordinary bluegill put this nice bend in the rod. At least my 2-year-old was impressed!

In a half hour or so I landed about a dozen fish, and missed a lot more that were just nibbling. It was a fun way to christen my bamboo rod, and I think I'll bring it out again in the near future!

Gear used: John Irgens 6'6" 2-weight bamboo rod; Maxcatch Avid 1/3 weight reel; Size 10 black Foam Rubber Spider with chartreuse legs.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Fly Focus: Spearfish Special

For years I had heard all of the virtues of the Pheasant Tail Nymph. Everyone said that it was one of the best all-around nymph patterns you could use. They said that it was easy to tie and a deadly fish-catcher. But I had never had much luck with it. Of course, I wasn't much of a nymph fisherman back then. Fishing with nymphs was not as visually stimulating as fishing with dry flies. Not that I was a dry fly purist or anything, but I was mush more adept at fishing dries than I was anything else.

Still, I liked to tie nymphs, and wanted to become a better nymph fisherman. So I tied a lot, and tweaked the standard patterns to try to find some that worked for me. It was while doing some of this tweaking that I decided to add a CDC hackle to standard nymphs to see if it helped. I figured the barbules on the CDC feather might trap tiny air bubbles under water and look like an insect getting ready to hatch.

I tried my CDC nymphs often around here in western Wisconsin and SE Minnesota. I never had much luck, so I stuck them in my nymph box and forgot about them. Then, on a trip out to the Black Hills, I was fishing a stretch of Spearfish Creek which had a beautiful riffly stretch, and I could see trout cruising around in the crystal clear water, eating nymphs all afternoon long. After many fly changes I finally put my Pheasant Tail Nymph with a CDC hackle on, and caught a big bruising brown on my first cast. That fly continued to slay the trout all day long, and my confidence in it grew exponentially. I decided to call my fly the Spearfish Special, since that's where I first had success with it.

Since then I have had great luck, not only with the Spearfish Special, but with all of the nymphs I have added CDC to. My CDC-Enhanced Hare's Ear is an absolute killer! But that's a fly for another day. Let's watch how to tie my Spearfish Special now...

Spearfish Special Pattern Recipe

Hook: Daiichi 1560 or other 1X-Long nymph hook, size 12-18
Bead: Copper or gold, sized to the hook
Lead: 6-8 wraps of .020 lead wire
Thread: Rust colored 8/0
Tail: 6-10 ringneck pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Copper wire, size Small or Brassie
Abdomen: 6-10 ringneck pheasant tail fibers, wrapped forward
Hackle: natural dun colored CDC
Thorax: Peacock colored Ice Dub

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My Weekend With Alice O'Brien...

The family and I went camping over the long Memorial Day weekend. We went to a local State Park about an hour from our house called William O'Brien State Park. This Park is somewhere around 2,000 acres, so it's a good-sized park, and it's eastern border is the St. Croix River, which is also the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, at least in this part of the state. The St. Croix is a good-sized river, best fished from some sort of craft, like a motorboat, canoe or kayak. I have none of those things, so my fishing was relegated to a small channel that leads from a boat landing out to the main channel of the St. Croix, and a small man-made lake within the Park called Lake Alice.
Lake Alice at dusk

Named after William O'Brien's daughter Alice, Lake Alice is shallow, fairly narrow in width, and completely crammed full of small sunfish. I don't think you could cram any more sunfish into that lake with a shoehorn. They are everywhere, and 90% of the sunfish I saw were 4 inches or smaller. I did manage to catch a couple of bigger green sunfish, but for the most part the little guys would beat the bigger ones to my fly.
First fish on my Scott F803/3 rod, a nice fat Green Sunfish.

Another nice one.

Finding mostly small fish in Lake Alice, I moseyed over to the channel that leads to the St. Croix, and had much better luck, at least on the first day. The water was low, there were a lot of big rocks and downed trees providing cover for the fish, and big bluegills were abundant. I also saw a bunch of big carp swimming around here and there, but none of them were interested in my flies. The fishing was a challenge because of all the trees and other vegetation lining the banks, but my roll casting skills kicked in, saving the day. After catching 20 or so fish in a little over an hour, I headed back to our campsite and had a fun evening with the family.
A big ol' bluegill from the channel.

That night some thunderstorms rolled in, dumping a couple of inches of rain on us and all of our stuff. Not a big deal, but all that rain water eventually ends up in the St. Croix, along with all of the rain from the dozens of tributaries upstream. So for the rest of the trip, the channel that had given up so many nice sunfish that first day became high and filled up with quite a bit of leafy debris. The fishing got slow, but that was OK because there are tons of other things to do at William O'Brien State Park.
Our wet camper, after the rain.

We went to several naturalist programs as a family, we went on some hikes, we rode our bikes, we saw a ton of wildlife, and we sat around and sweated a lot. Did I mention it was between 92 and 100 degrees all weekend? We also got to listen to the hum of approximately 4 billion Spring Peepers in the wetland across from our campsite every night as we tried in vain to fall asleep. Ah, the joys of camping!
This was exciting! A large Fox Snake outside the Visitor Center.

A fresh, tiny Painted Turtle.

A momma Painted Turtle laying her eggs in the dirt, hoping to make more fresh, tiny babies.
One of the 6 ticks we found on ourselves over the weekend.
We had many campfires, despite the oppressive heat.
Don't know why there was a purple haze around this campfire... pretty cool though!
Trees at night.
More trees, this time through the campfire smoke.
Did I mention we found 6 ticks...?
The Wife and 3 of our kiddos, underneath the falls on Osceola Creek.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Trout Trip Twenty-Eighteen

My buddy, Bryon, and I just got back from our first annual trout trip, which I have titled Trout Trip Twenty-Eighteen. That name is rather boring, I know, but some of the other names we came up with were downright silly. Like "Scott & Bryon's Excellent Adventure" and "Two Guys Trouting". My personal favorite might be "Guys Waggling Rods", but if you, my faithful readers, type that in Google to try to find this post, I don't want to think about what else might pop up on your screen...

Going through our fishing stuff before we wet a line.
We left the Twin Cities on Friday morning and headed south to the Driftless region of Minnesota. We set up camp in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, which has three quality trout streams running through it. The biggest of the three is the South Branch of the Root River, which gathers two tributaries, Canfield Creek and Forestville Creek, inside the Park. If we weren't so gung-ho about fishing we could have hiked over to see where Canfield gets its start as it bubbles out of a small cave, or visited the "town" of historic Forestville to witness a reenactment of life back in the 1800s, or taken a tour of Mystery Cave. But we didn't do any of those things. We fished, we ate, we napped, and then we fished some more. That was our entire weekend, and it was awesome!
Bryon was happy we got the camper set up.

Our first glimpse of the South Branch of the Root.
My first rod of the trip, my Sage 476 SFL glass rod.

Both Bryon and I caught fish throughout the weekend, but I wouldn't say the fishing was terrific by any means. We were expecting, and hoping for, some good insect hatches, but there weren't many insects at all. I was thinking there would be caddisflies hatching in the afternoons and maybe some sulphur mayflies in the evenings, but that didn't happen. Sure there were a few bugs flying around, and tons of swallows and other birds eating them, but trout rising to them were few and far between. So we nymphed and swung Wooly Buggers most of the time. Nymphing worked some of the time, the Wooly Buggers worked some of the time, and nothing worked some of the time. I guess it was a lot like fishing is supposed to be!
My first fish of the weekend.

The terrain reminded me of the Black Hills. I was expecting to see a Rocky Mountain Sheep around every corner!
Second rod of the trip, my Scott F754/3. What a sweet rod!
A beautiful brownie.

Bryon with a nice brown.
Some more beautiful scenery.
Bryon's first ever brook trout!

Third rod: Orvis Fullflex A 7' 5wt
I won the prize for smallest fish of the trip. Yay?
This would have been perfect dry fly water, if there were any insects hatching...
Even on fishing trips, sometimes you just need to sit around and look at the woods...
Hardy Fibalite 7'6" 5wt.

Bryon showed me some small trees that had been rubbed by deer. Later I saw this big tree which I assumed had been rubbed by an elephant...
Sage 586 LL, with my Mushroom & Swiss Bugger which had gotten completely chewed up.

 Bryon caught me catching a fish on video. I didn't realize what he was doing until I turned to look at him at the end. I think I played it pretty cool...

After two and a half days of fishing and trudging around Forestville State Park, Bryon and I were pretty worn out. We both must have been pretty out of it on the way home because we missed several turns...Finally we made it home and rejoined our normal lives. We are already starting to talk about Trout Trip Twenty-Nineteen. If it happens, read all about it right here!