Trip Report by Mike Lutes
In Matt’s recent article about early season fishing in the Wisconsin Driftless region, he mentioned how he caught the only fish of the day. Naturally, I did what any good friend of 40+ years would do and went fishing without him the next time! Conditions were a little more favorable, with the sun shining, light winds and temps on the warm up. The downside was the snowmelt had the water running a little higher and faster than ideal, and the flow of cold water into the creek from the snow melt can make the fish listless.
There was a somewhat steady hatch of some tiny bug, but no surface feeders. Just as well as I refuse to fish flies that small. Leech patterns are often touted as a good early season pattern in Wisconsin, but I find them useful year round. Sticking to the conventional wisdom I tied on a leech. I was once again fishing the Tenkara Times 1st Step 360 with #4 level line.
I had probed some promising runs with no response whatsoever from the fish. There is a horseshoe on the creek that for some reason I had skipped over in the past. I took a moment to strategize and thought if I could get the leech to drift under a rock in the bend of the creek, I might be able to provoke a take. Well, my cast was slightly off and the leech drifted a few inches to the right of the rock…but that was close enough!
A large, kype-jawed brown swam out to take the fly. We all love it when a fish have an aggressive take, but there is something to be said for the lazy confidence of a big trout. Now, I should say that I really like fishing with the Tenkara Times rod, but it is not my favorite for fighting big fish. It has become my go to trout rod, but I would not think of using it for chasing smallmouth. I think it is easier to fight big fish with the stiffer American brand rods.
Landing big fish on a softer tenkara rod is a slightly different skill set. This patch of creek was also an oddity as it is a short section of public land in between two sections of private land, so I was hemmed by electric fences on either side of me. Since I couldn’t muscle the fish in, I had to steer him up and down the short section of creek until I could coax him into the landing zone. And then land him in my aging, broken Tenkara USA tamo.
I kept him in the net, in the creek, while setting up my phone for the photo, grabbed a quick shot and released him. I am a lousy fish photographer. There have been several instances in the last 5-6 years where I catch my largest trout of the season in the earliest stages of Wisconsin’s trout season. That is possibly because I mostly chase smallmouth from May-September, but it has been an interesting theme.
I have found that the two things in life that engender the most self doubt are parenting and fly fishing. Within a few minutes of catching that fish, I started questioning my fly selection, my reading of the creek and my overall skill as an angler. I switched to my version of the killer bug, kind of a cross between a traditional killer bug and the Wisconsin-classic pink squirrel fly. No luck. I found a Panther Martin on the side of the creek, so I took that as a sign from the creek spirits to switch to microspoon from TenkaraBum. No luck with that either.
When I used to bird hunt more, I would refer to days where no birds were harvested as “a well-armed walk”. Not sure what the fly fishing equivalent is, maybe a well-equipped walk? Either way, the rest of the outing was unproductive, but I will savor the thrill of landing that fine fish for the rest of the season. And I’ll invite Matt next time.
Mike Lutes is the former co-owner of Badger Tenkara, a practicing emergency physician and father of 5. He chases smallmouth with tenkara gear as often as he can.
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