Okay, so that's not exactly how things went down, but.... I was out on Lake Calhoun last night in search of a few bass and maybe, just maybe, a tiger muskie or two. Well, got out there, fired up the trolling motor and I got a little lesson last night. Actually, I got taught a few. First, 3/4 full on the trolling motor battery monitor means roughly 12 minutes of trolling motor power before the system gives out. Okay, my fault. I got lazy and didn't plug in the charger the night before. So, fishing buddy Jacob and I drifted around on Calhoun and eventually made our way into Lake of the Isles. That's when we welcomed a canoe up next to the boat. The guy in the canoe had a handgun, a patch on his shoulder and a big smile. Conservation Officer Thor Nelson was busy paddling Calhoun, Cedar and Lake of the Isles, stopping folks to make sure they were following the rules of the lakes. Great to see him out. Found out he's a fellow ringneck hunter. I won't be surprised if we hunt together this fall. Oh, and in case you are wondering, we passed our boat inspection. Proper fishing licenses, plenty of life vests, a floatable and a fire extinguisher WITH a full charge. He did stop by later in the evening as we trailered the boat to tell us to get our navigational lights up a bit earlier next time we're out. No later than sunset. I'm happy whenever I see Department of Natural Resources officers out and about. Frankly, I wish there were many, many more of them in this state. I remember reading a letter awhile back addressed to the state from CO Roger Lueth. He was a seasoned conservation officer close to retirement. In his letter, I remember him stating that Minnesota was 45th out of 50 states when it came to the ratio of conservation officers per hunter/fisherman. Crazy if you ask me. Especially when you think of the resources we're trying to protect in this state. Earlier this spring, I was also stopped over in Wisconsin by a first year officer. Great to see him out as well. I chuckle a bit because he walked out of the deep woods along a fairly remote trout stream. I remember thinking, "he came out of nowhere." "Where the heck do they come from?" And yes, I passed that inspection as well. Anyway, CO Nelson, consider this a "thanks" and I'll get my nav lights on before the sun hits the horizon next time.
So, here's a trick question for you. What the heck does the scientific study of entomolgy have to do with fishing? After all, aren't great fishermen those who know exactly when to use a Fluke, Daredevil or Mepps? Not really, in my opinion. Let me explain. Who knows, maybe you'll learn something. I had two fishing companions out on the Mississippi River the other night on a smallie trip and I had expected us to witness a rarity right at sunset. Something that could be both entertaining and a bit of an education. Lou, Wayne and I caught plenty of fish that evening. We got them on both conventional and fly gear. But right at sunset, as the Ol' Miss started to darken, the guys noticed a lot of bugs suddenly buzzing around. As the skies darked even further, more and more bugs popped. Soon enough, we found ourselves drifting downstream in what looked like a snowstorm. Witnessing a major bug hatch on a river or stream is quite an experience. We we watching Whtie Millers hatch. We could also hear the fish eating them up. If you can time a fishing trip to a major hatch, you can catch a ton of fish. The key there, you need to be fishing with something that mimics (almost exactly) what the fish are eating.
A year ago I was lucky enough to fish Michigan's Pere Marquette on the second night of the river's famous Hex hatch. Monster Mayflies pop and the big trout eat them as soon as the bugs die and fall back to the water. See, that's essentially a Mayfly's existence. For about a year, they live on the bottom of the river in the muck. They're called nymphs. For some reason, come some set time each year, the bugs all hatch at once and pop out of the water and flutter skyward. The next few minutes are about as good and as bad as life gets. The adult Mayflies do what adult Mayflies do (procreate) and then they die. So, just a few minutes after flying up, they spin lifeless, back to the river. That's when the food chain gets kickin' . See, fish gorge themselves on the buggy buffet of dead mayflies. Fishermen throw flies that look like Mayflies and catch monster fish. On the Pere Marquette, it's the one chance to catch a big fish. Exactly what we did. You essentially cast, in darkness, to the sound of fish eating bugs. Small fish jump out of the water and you hear a splash. Big fish slurp. Hear that gurgle, throw a few casts to that big fish and suddenly, BOOM! Big fish on. Fishing in complete darkness can be intimidating at first. Get used to it and you'll get used to the big rewards. Learn about bug hatches on your local rivers AND lakes and you'll become a better fisherman! I promise.
The picture below is exactly why I love summer. I've been working a lot lately and was looking forward to a weekend off. Katie and I packed the Jeep, hitched on the Triton and headed to the lake Friday evening. Katie's 22 weeks pregnant, so she's more into the relaxing on a chair thing, versus zipping around in the boat all day. So, we invited a few friends up and made a summer weekend of it. Brandon hadn't fished bass on Gull before so he and I set out at sunrise and started throwing tube baits. First hour was slow, then we got into the fish. Funny, but the "fishing strangeness of the '08 season" seems to be continuing. I can catch a ton of bass on Gull. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the really big fish. Talking to a few other people in the area, they've been hitting the same wall. Maybe it's our weird weather this year? Maybe it's just my lack of bassy talent...Who knows. Good job to Brandon on landing biggest fish of the weekend. Katie and I had a chance to spend a little time alone. Great to see her out enjoying cool water on a hot day! She's a champ considering she's 23 weeks pregnant! Today's fishing tip? When the fish get a little bit picky, I like to slow down my presentation. Give 'em a chance to hit your bait.
As promised, here is an update on the river trip with Sporting Artist Bob White. Chris Niskanen of the Pioneer Press wrote up a great story for the Sunday newspaper....
Chris Niskanen: The art of fly fishing
MONTICELLO, Minn. — When I gave a great tug on the oar, Bob White's drift boat tipped uneasily to starboard, and I had visions of his easel and the artist himself toppling into the Mississippi River.
He turned and smiled.
"Sorry," I said.
"No worries,'' said the sporting artist from Marine on St. Croix. "I'm getting the timing down, too. When the boat's not rocking, it's easier to put paint on."
I was manning the oars on one of the most unusual fishing trips of my life. For the next four hours, I was rowing White, also an accomplished fishing guide, down the Mississippi River from Monticello to Otsego just north of the Twin Cities.
With his easel clamped to the bow, White was painting a landscape of anglers fishing for smallmouth bass on one of the world's greatest rivers.
Bill Sherck, "The Man About the Woods," television celebrity often seen on the "Minnesota Bound" show, accompanied us. His cameraman, Steve Plummer, was filming the adventure for an upcoming segment.
Our subjects were two fishermen from Tupelo, Mississippi: Richard Warriner and David Irwin, and another from Corinth, Miss., Sandy Williams. The friends were in Minnesota to catch bass and to help fund a good cause.
Sherck and White offered the guided fishing trip — with a personalized oil painting to boot — for the fundraiser Hooked on a Cure, which raises money for the internationally known St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Warriner paid several thousand dollars for the trip and painting during a fundraising event last September.
Now we were all on the river, along with guide Bob Bickford of White Bear Lake, in search of smallmouth bass. Because I was rowing White's boat, I had a front-row seat to see his painting unfold from beginning to end.
I asked: Would he rather be fishing or painting on a beautiful day on the Mississippi?
"Why not do both?" he said with a grin.
I scanned the boat. On board, there was tackle box filled with about 3,000 flies and a fly rod.
White stood in the bow of the boat with a piece of white Masonite board clamped to his easel and a palette of oil paints and varnish. It was a steamy morning; a handful of shore anglers gave us curious glances as we drifted lazily down the river. While Sherck rowed another boat and Williams and Warriner began catching bass, throwing fly line and top-water flies to the shore, White dabbed paint to the board and concentrated on capturing the lush green forest and translucent clouds that foretold the afternoon's vicious thunderstorms.
"I might be the only artist on the river today who has to worry about getting bugs in his paint," White said.
He worked quickly.
White's craft, a Boulder Boat Works drift boat, provided a stable platform. These flat-bottomed boats are being used more often on rivers such as the Mississippi and St. Croix because they draw little water and can be rowed with ease. Our flotilla was made up of three drift boats. With a pair of shark jaws painted on its bow, Bickford's boat is hard to miss prowling the local rivers.
"Rock ahead!" White said.
"Yep, got it."
White also guides anglers on the river and in northern Wisconsin. He said the Upper Midwest is the destination for anglers hoping to tangle with river smallmouth.
"I have people who fly in their private planes from Boulder, Colo., to fish for a few days," he said. "The fly fishing in the Upper Midwest is world class."
The three anglers from Mississippi were discovering the beauties of the river we share. Warriner marveled at the clean water and smallmouth living in Minnesota's portion of the river. "Where we live, the river is two miles wide,'' he said.
Williams was discovering how to outsmart the bass, at one point landing a trophy over 17 inches, punctuated with a little war whoop from Sherck's boat.
By lunchtime, I had succeeded in keeping White and his painting on track and out of the drink. He was itching to make a few casts, so I rowed for another half hour while White threw Shenk minnow fly to shore and eventually landed a smallie.
We traded places and with a swimming minnow fly, festooned with white tinsel, I was soon tangling with a 16-incher. The fishing got better as the afternoon heated up. "What a terrific day,'' Warriner gushed later.
A few nights later, I slipped up to White's studio over his garage. It was late, and the artist stood the dim light shining on the easel. The smell of linseed oil and turpentine hung in the air, but when we moved closer and studied his completed painting, with three anglers moving downstream in small boat under cottony clouds, we were transported back to a hot afternoon of bass fishing on the Upper Mississippi River — bugs and all.
"A few of them are still there," White said. "I just painted over them."
Chris Niskanen can be reached at email@example.com.
Sometimes a fishing trip just catches you by surpise. We’ve all had ‘em. You know, weather that’s downright crazy or fish that simply refuse to bite for days on end. Here we are, off in the middle of South Dakota’s nowhere crossing the state from Spearfish Canyon in the far west to Roy Lake in the far Northeast. 65 mph on country roads with the Triton Allure in tow. Once we arrived at Roy Lake, we planned to shoot our third South Dakota story. A state park and secret smallie fishing hole piece. The shoot just proved to be one of those experiences a fisherman doesn’t easily forget. We pulled in late Thursday evening and got a perfectly comfortable camp set up at Roy Lake State Park. Tent sites 11 and 12 sit on a grassy knoll away from the rest of the park right against the water on the East side of the lake. Really, the perfect site, outside of the bugs. Whomever said Minnesota’s home to the world’s worst population of ‘squiters hasn’t ever visited sites 11 and 12! Anyway, we grabbed plenty of shots of the blaze orange sunset over still water, cracklin’ campfires with tents in the background, even a few of the Triton Allure parked along shore for the night. Photojournalist Aaron Achtenberg and I bedded down next to the campfire and faded away for the night….
Next thing I knew, I was wide awake as I heard four or five repeated slaps on the full moon-lit water. I took a peek outside and noticed a beaver cruising around the boat trying to figure out what was blocking his nightly route. A few angry slaps of his tail to let the other creatures know we were around and he drifted off into the night. Back in the tent, I had a heck of a time getting back to sleep. See, we had a full moon and the Hex hatch was on. Big bugs we had noticed on the tents before we retired for the night. I could hear the carp and bass slapping on the glass-still water sucking up those big bugs most of the night. Next thing I knew, my alarm was chirping and I hopped up 5:15 a.m sharp, grabbed a quick shower and tried to dry at least a little of the heavy morning dew off the boat before our guests showed up. We invited Joe Horner and his wife, Lori, on the boat for the morning.. Joe’s a local guide around that Northeastern area of South Dakota and we set out to try and hook a sizeable few smallmouth bass. After pitching jigs and plastics up on rock structure for a half an hour, we were starting to wonder if the Hex hatch had put a hex on our morning of fishing. Not one bite. Add to that completely still conditions and sunny weather and temps rising toward 85 degrees, I figured we had been jinxed for our last South Dakota shoot. That’s right about the time I felt a little resistance on my line and set the hook on a sizeable fish. Picture this. Fog lifting off still water, the sun on the tree line and a rod heaved over as the slab of a smallie jumped repeatedly out of the calm water. He measure out right about 19 inches. Not a trophy, but pretty darn big when you realize just how thick Roy Lake’s fish get. So went our morning. We must have boated 8 or 10 respectable fish by about 10 a.m. and had one of those mornings a fisherman never forgets. Thanks South Dakota Tourism for a great trip! Three great stories shot in three days! Now I’m back home, washing a few clothes, getting my gear situated and ready for our next trip. Feel free to call in on Monday Night to Outdoor Live WCCO radio Monday Night. I’ll be there, along with co-host Mike Max, talking the outdoors and taking your questions. If you’re out of the Minnesota market, tune us in at www.830wcco.com