4-18-03 - Good Friday lives up to its name!
Rivers Fished: Root River, Pike River, Oak Creek
Fish Caught: 2
Outing Date: 4-18-03
Weather: Cloudy all day
Air Temp: 40's to 50's
Water Temp: 36-38F
Water Level: slowly dropping
Water Color: moderately clear
Fish Species: Steelheads & Really Big Brown Trout Smolts!
Pattern Fished: Black
Heron Spey, Glo Bug,
Estaz Egg, Krystal Egg Sucking
Pattern Color: Black & Silver, Orange / Cotton Candy, Orange,
Green Head on the ESL
Fishing Quality: Improved
WHOOO HOOOO! This was *the* day! Things started
off slow, with me meeting a former student who is an avid hunter
but wanted to try fly fishing for Steelhead. We planned to meet
early at Lincoln Park on the Root so I could show them around (it's
an easy enough meeting place & starting point). We were supposed
to meet around 5:30 or so...I got a late start and wasn't on the
road until sunrise! But during the drive I spotted a nice Kestrel
and also noticed that the Redwing Blackbirds had reappeared.
Doug had also brought along his brother (Keith)
and his nephew (Ryan). They had been there since about 6:00 AM,
fishing below the riffles downstream of the weir I got there around
7:00; didn't seen any Steelhead, but the suckers were rising everywhere!
We took a brief walk up to the weir so they could see what was up;
the sanctuary was FULL of Steelhead The gates on the weir were down
as well and many more fish had been passed upstream as of the 14th,
so we decided to go to Colonial Park at 8:00.
That turned out to be a total BUST. There were
no fish to be seen, and an angler about every 30 feet on the "gravel".
I bet there would've been fish redding up if there hadn't been all
these anglers STANDING ON THE GRAVEL!
We gave it a good shot all the same, fishing the
deeper runs for the most part, but at 9:00 I called it and we headed
downstream to Island Park. Things were better here; less people
and at the very least some smolts and suckers to annoy us. As we
got in I noticed that one angler had a nice hen on a stringer. We
worked the riffles while Keith and Ryan floated spawn in the bend
a bit downstream. I managed several Skaminia smolts, all preferring
the Estaz Egg over a similarly sized and colored glo-bug. I did
also land a rather LARGE Brown smolt that arguably was already LEGAL...right
around the 10" mark. Looking back I should have shot a picture
of it before I let it go...would've been nice to show you all the
differences in a brown vs. Steelhead smolt.
By 10:30 I was convinced that the action was going
to be minimal on the Root...the water was 38F when we arrived and
had stayed there since early morning. I asked Doug and kin if they'd
like to see a new stream, and they did, so we headed to the Pike.
I started looking upstream to see if there was
anything on the redds, but a quick walk turned up nothing but a
significantly reduced number of suckers that were holding, not spawning.
Water temps were they key perhaps, only 36F. We ran into a couple
other anglers who had come from all over the place; they had seen
4 Steelhead move through, all bucks.
Well, I was pretty anxious to at least get them
into some fish, so I watched and coached as the three set upon a
hole filled with suckers. Doug got it down in no time, landing several
both faired and fouled. Those that were fair were sucking up his
little orange glo-bug.
Doug, Keith and Ryan were pretty worn out by 12:00,
so they packed it up and called it a day. I also chatted briefly
with the guys we had met earlier, and asked Dan(?) from Lake Bluff
to try out MP's Antron Bug in Herring this coming Monday (when he
planned a trout outing). Hey, let me know how it goes!
I moved downstream to the newly-finished bridge
at A & 13th street. A couple guys were working the bridge, so
I set in above. I sighted a large silver fish holding a pool immediately
below the riffles, but she was SOOOO spooky. I had no chance...she
was gone by the time I was prepared to toss my first line! So I
walked down to see what was up with the guys at the bridge. Turns
out there was a pair of fish immediately below the bridge that they
were trying. Marty Kovarik (an Outdoor Writer) had family just up
the road and they were enjoying a morning of fishing; Marty was
guiding his son into the pair with a chartreuse crankbait. The fish
showed a bit of interest, but didn't get "mad" and make
a bite. After watching this for a bit, I opted to go downstream
from the A bridge.
This proved to be a smart, and yet incredibly frustrating decision.
I had switched up to a Krystal/Pearl ESL with chartreuse head at
this point. As I slowly and quietly waded downstream, I spotted
two ghostly white forms rapidly moving upstream in my direction.
I released the ESL from the hook-keeper and made a quick toss...it
drifted by without ANY distracting power on these torpedoes. By
the time I was ready for the second cast they had already moved
upstream from me...foiled by excitement my second cast fell short.
Stripping out copious amounts of line, I made one last cast landing
no more than 3 feet in front of them. Not so much as a look...these
fish were on a MISSION and it had nothing to do with eating.
I was trembling with excitement that quickly subsided, I worked
the pool below the shallow stretch without so much as sighting another
fish or even a wake. On my wade back up I discovered that some of
the fish that Marty & his son were fishing had left the holding
spot under the bridge and were rapidly moving upstream. Opting to
give them some space, I packed it up at 1:30 to go get some lunch.
A quick bite along the way helped me get to Oak Creek at 2:30.
A quick temp check showed 37F. Upstream by the dam proved to be
the sucker spawning grounds of the century...the water was boiling
in an orgy of sucker-sex! Not for me, so I headed down, and at the
first bend below the wall the sucker-concentration went from "carpeting
the bottom" to "nothing"!
My walk downstream helped me spot a pair of fish holding by a logjam
immediately upstream from a redd. The water was ULTRA CLEAR AND
LOW. This was going to take some mad-skill....similar to the patience
it took last week to get my first steelie! I crossed downstream
extremely cautiously and set up on the exposed creekbed. I sat for
a moment and tied on a Black Heron. After a couple minutes the pair
had not moved, and I began tossing. They showed LITTLE interest
(big surprise). A father and son appeared to my left from upstream...I
asked them to be quiet and slow as I was fishing some very spooky
fish. They obliged me without incident. Just then another teenage
angler approached from downstream. I turned to him and asked him
to be quiet. He asked why, and I told him I was fishing a pair of
fish. He asked where, and I responded, "Where I'm casting!".
He wanted to cross, so I asked him to cross slowly downstream (as
I had done). The moment he stepped into the water a mighty splash
arose from his boots, and my pair vanished under the log.
So you think I'd be upset..and you're right. But I maintained my
calm. I knew that if I waited out this incident the pair would return.
But then, the teenager gets up on the log jam and is standing right
over where the pair must now be hiding. He asks, "Where are
the fish?". I just replied, "under your feet". I
stood up from my crouched position and tried to explain to him in
my calmest voice that if he ever hoped to catch a Steelhead here
he was going to have to be quiet and stealthy...the fish are REALLY
spooky. He muttered something to me under his breath as he walked
past me...I swear to all of you I now understand why there are fist-fights
on the rivers.
"Screw this", the fish would be spooked for a long time.
I crossed back and continued downstream, where I found an angler
fishing a pool. He had just taken a nice female on a Muddler Minnow
and was looking for the male he had seen trolling around the pool
with her. I passed as quietly as possible and continued downstream.
I didn't find my next pair of fish (again, not redding, but fresh)
underneath the downstream bridge. It took all of two casts to spook
them. One fish held for a while and I stalked him with all my patience,
but each cast of the spey pushed him one pool further downstream,
until eventually he silently slipped back into slack water. I continued
to travel further downstream without sighting any more fish, and
turned around. The hike back up showed me NO more fish, and those
fish that I HAD seen were still in hiding. At 4:00 PM I left Oak
Made it back to Lincoln Park on the Root about 4:45 PM to scout
around. I really wanted to go BACK to the Pike, but I figured that
if the Root had NOT risen in temperature through the day, then the
Pike would not have either. A temp check in Lincoln came up 38F
STILL. Alright, at least I found the warmest water in the three
tribs I had checked out. Of special note; by 5:00 PM there was probably
50-70% fewer anglers on the Root than there had been in the morning.
This was my opportunity to "test my theory" and try my
luck in Quarry Park. I got in at 5:15, the water still 38F. I walked
down past the 2 large rocks before finding two anglers sitting on
shore in the middle of the riffles. I swung the Black Heron through
the upper stretches, and as I approached I asked them if they were
waiting for the run to settle down. They had been there a while
and were just waiting for one of their buddies to show up, so they
were glad to let me fish the run. These guys told me about a large,
30" male that had been in the run; he had received the nickname
"Scarface" as he was mean and yet crusty. They had landed
"Scarface" once on Thursday and twice today; he had not
been moving from the riffle.
They watched me fish for a little and then (I guess) saw their
buddy and hiked out. Shortly thereafter I saw a crusty Steelhead
face poke out of the water. SCARFACE! That was probably all it took
for me to get confident...I KNEW there was a Steelhead here and
he had the reputation for being on the bite!
I swung every inch of the riffles and popped my first hard-hit
in the GUT of the run at 5:45 PM. I expected "Scarface"
to be on the end of my line. The fish on the end of my line was
definitely a Steelhead; it rolled and thrashed at the surface and
was zipping line off my reel as it went downstream in the current
sideways. The Steelhead walked me all the way down to the end of
the riffles before I finally beached it...a gorgeous and pretty
chromey hen! She was definitely spawned out (see the "sunken"
sides of this fish in the photos). It took a bit to get her to settle
down to be photographed, and it took even longer (probably 10 minutes)
to get her revived.
Just after releasing her a friendly angler came up behind me and
we chatted a bit; I gave this gentleman "Rich" one of
my spare Black Herons as it had just brought me some great luck!
He moved downstream to fish some of the other riffles.
I continued to work the same stretch, slowly getting back into
position. Granted, I made at least 3-4 frantically excited phone
calls....probably gave me some time to settle down and let the run
"cool" as well. I started again at the midsection of the
riffle, working the head of the gut down, inch-by-inch. At 6:45
PM I got my second SLAMMING HIT from immediately behind a boulder.
A small fish literally ROCKETED out of the water at least 2 feet
into the air...and every time it landed it flew out again. As I
brought it over to my side of the river, it cartwheeled head to
tail to head to tail to head to tail to head again and again! This
fish did NOT want to be landed. Every time it got in close and looked
like it had given up it would suddenly jump into another violent
escape attempt, thrashing wildly. This happened 3 or 4 times before
I finally got it to shore. At a mere 13-14" in length, I was
shocked. I had never seen a Steelhead this small in the rivers (excluding
smolts); the fish also had decent color and looked considerably
more like the rainbow trout we catch out west. I knew that the WDNR
began stocking ARLEE Rainbows along the Lake Michigan Shore in 2001,
and I was totally convinced that this fish was an Arlee trout.
This feisty critter was in NO mood to be photographed, I actually
had to chase it down 2 more times in the water! Furthermore, it
was bleeding. I took a look, and fortunately the blood was from
the jaw of the fish, not the gills. I took NUMEROUS images of this
fish, especially every fin-clip I could find (for later identification
purposes). Once the bleeding stopped, I attempted to revive this
little guy. If he was a Steelhead this is the kind of fish that
feeds, goes back to the lake and comes back HUGE. Conversely, if
this was an Arlee that had taken up residence in the River, perhaps
he'd stay around a while and maybe even make it through the entire
summer. Examination of fin-clip records after this weekend proved
that this little guy was a Ganaraska!
Well, he did revive just enough to get away from me and tumble
downstream. Hopefully he shrugged it off later. I fished the run
a bit more, but didn't see "Scarface" reappear. As sunset
drew near, I knew I'd have to leave quarry (or risk being locked
in). I ran into Rich again on the way out and informed him of my
good fortune with the Black Heron. Hopefully he has tried it and
turned a fish or two since then! Still eager to see what exactly
was going on, I headed to the Pike at 7:30.
I got to the Pike at 7:45 PM, not really enough time to do any
fishing so I quickly scouted and took a temp. Water was STILL 36F.
I spotted a LOT of movement in the pools below the riffles at A,
but it was SOOO dark that I couldn't say if I was seeing suckers
or steelies. Perhaps I'd find out tomorrow!