2-14-04 - Valentine's Day (Brook Trout) Massacre
Waters Fished: Lower Swiss Valley, Bailey's Ford,
Spring Branch, Fountain Springs, Twin Bridges, Little Turkey
Fish Caught: 6 for 7
Outing Date: 2-14-04
Air Temp: Around 25F
Water Temp: Swiss Valley = 32F, Bailey's Ford = 42F
Water Level: Normal
Water Color: Crystal Clear
Fish Species: Brown Trout, Brook Trout
Pattern Fished: Tucker
Nymph, Griffith's Gnat, Micro Jig in Black & Yellow, MP's
Survivor Brassie, MP's Survivor Stoplight Nymph
Pattern Color: as per pattern
Fishing Quality: MIXED
That's it, I've had enough of ice fishin, I'm done,
I'm throwing in the towel. I cave, I give in. I can't build another
rod. I can't tie another fly. I've had it with no fishing...I'm
going to IOWA!
First a side note; no pictures but they are coming
(and are stunning!)...see tomorrow's report for the reason why,
and check back on this weekend's reports AFTER the 23rd of February.
I tried to get up early, but 8:00 am wasn't what
I was hoping for! By 8:45 I was leaving Lake Geneva, heading west
on 50 to eventually make my way to the as-of-yet unexplored trout
waters of Southern Iowa. Well, OK, not Southern Iowa, but rather
the southernmost counties that have trout water in them! Instead
of something like 3:45 total driving to get to our usual places
farther north, this drive timed out to be around 2:30 to Dubuque!
By 11:30 I was on the first stream, Lower Swiss Valley.
The park was closed; walk-in only! Snow shoes would
have been a welcomed addition to my fishing arsenal! I trudged through
snow that was mostly mid-shin deep; looking to my left I see nothing
but signs saying "Park Boundary, Do Not Enter, Private Land"
or something to that effect. So I have to walk all the way in from
the main road to the first park road crossing before I even get
to water that isn't trespassing. Needless to say this Iowa Trout
Stream, probably the closest to the house on Lake Como, is frozen
over! I found one little stretch of open water going over the road
crossing; the temp came out right at 32F (big surprise). I made
a few drifts even though I knew it was futile.
My initial hopes dashed, I wasn't ready to give
up. I knew that despite the cold weather, streams like Trout Run
were most assuredly open, so I looked around for other likely spots.
I was drawn to the Manchester Fish Hatchery...fish hatcheries in
this area are always situated at springs which provide constant
temperature water....no doubt I'd find open water in this area.
My next stop was not at the hatchery, but actually
downstream quite a bit, at Bailey's Ford. Surprise Surprise, another
park closed for the season, Walk-In Only, and a downhill walk in
(promising an uphill battle later).
Bailey's Ford was my first chance at open water
for the day. Right off the bat this area reminded me of Roaring
River Park in Southwest Missouri, but better in that there were
some really scenic areas. I worked a decent distance upstream, casting
every pool, never sighting or spooking a trout. From experience,
I've found that not finding trout in Iowa is NOT a good sign, so
I opted to hike back out and keep trying other rivers.
The next stop was upstream at Spring Branch; around
1:30 pm. Some folks were milling around in the Hatchery, but no
one was on the water. I walked up to the stream, looked down, and
dropped my jaw as a large, easily 20" trout spooked but casually
slid under a rock. MANY MANY more trout maintained their lies! FINALLY,
I quickly got on the water and started working
a pool that held at least a dozen fish...it didn't take long to
realize that MOST of the fish I was looking at were not stocker
rainbows, not stocker browns, but BROOKIES! Yes, there were browns
lurking, at least a couple large ones were sighted. NONE took my
fly. Almost ALL the trout gave my Tucker Nymph (size #18) a look.
What was going on? Many repeated casts finally got an aggressive
strike from one of the smallest trout in the pool...I *almost* landed
what revealed itself to be a brookie!!! @#$%^^#$% - you should all
know that I love brookies!
On the off chance that I had overpressured the
pool, I quickly turned and plunked a cast at the extreme tail of
a pool...no sooner had my nymph hit the water and a feisty brown
whacked it! Gorgeous if not large....at least I had eluded the skunk
I continued to move downstream, working the NUMEROUS
undercut banks (man-made lunker structures). Talk about awesome
habitat improvement; THIS is what MP's Tiger Trout Stream should
be! Still no bites, only slight interest from each fish! It dawned
on me; I had started out the day without adding tippet...specifically
2 feet of Pline's Flourocoated 2lb. went onto the
end of my line, then I tied in a #20 chartreuse midge, kinda like
a brassie but basically just yellow dacron on a scud hook with black
thread (one of my 3 WFF 2004 Survivor Swap patterns). As the dropper,
I reattached my #18 Tucker Nymph.
Maybe a slight exaggeration, but not by much, 5
casts and 5 healthy stunning brook trout later I finally came out
of the hypnotic state that was caused by landing the first of those
5 STUNNING brook trout! Definitely NOT stockers; 2 females followed
by 3 males, all in spawning coloration! I MAY have been pulling
a Jimmy Houston...who knows how much whooping and hollerin' I did...chalk
that up to the surreal moment.
Simply a fantastic little bite there, all thanks
to simply changing from mono to fluorocarbon the looks turned into
bites. In under 20 minute I had landed 5 stunning brookies, larger
than those at Paradise Springs. I knew then and there I'd have to
title this report the Valentine's Day Brookie Massacre (although
they were all released extremely quickly)...a massacre of catching,
Finally I looked upstream and noticed I had now
been joined by two other anglers fishing the pool I had just hammered.
I kinda decided they weren't going to have much luck unless they
knew the Fluorocarbon tip...turns out they had never heard it, so
the spool of line was tossed across stream and then back. They were
going to head downstream (which looked really promising); I figured
I was BLESSED already so I'd let them have at it...I'd go upstream
(afterall, there's at least one huge brown and plenty of other trout
Well, turns out that there was also another angler!
Not wanting to disturb him, I opted to look further upstream...got
a follow from another small brown but the population of fish wasn't
nearly as nice as downstream of the hatchery (the water wasn't as
clear either...perhaps some cows had crossed further upstream?).
To me my day was already complete after this moment
on Spring Branch. At that time I was considering this might make
MP's Secret Stream #2, but then again with C&R only on all trout
under 14", and artificial offerings only, to me this is more
of a "Paradise Springs" situation - talk about it all
you want, the fish will remain and only become wiser! BTW, all of
the trout in Spring Branch are planted as small fingerlings, which
means they are all stream reared (so in my eyes, pretty much wild
trout, they look it!). So despite that 14" minimum size, I
highly recommend a FULL catch and release ethic on this stream.
Bring a Camera, get
a replica from Rich in NY if you really catch a fish that's
worthwhile. If you want trout to eat, or you like to fish big damaging
lures (i.e. lots of treble hooks), just hop 3 minutes downstream
to Bailey's Ford and harvest your bag limit of Stocker Rainbows!
So for the sake of all your fellow anglers, I was kind enough to
share this "secret spot" with you all, respect my wish
that if you fish here, CPR ONLY! And for the record, I know someone
somewhere a long time ago mentioned that I should check out this
stream...I know it was a long time due, but thanks for that generous
tip (even though by the time I had decided to fish this stream that
tip was long gone from my conscious memory)!
I probably left Spring Branch around 3:00 PM; one
interesting observation here was all of the trout that were warming
themselves in the sunlight...I saw some brookies pushing 15"
sitting in INCHES of water just warming themselves! Ya know, the
water had to be at least 42F (Spring Branch joins up to make Bailey's
Ford); I even made a mental note that I really should take a water
temp reading, but never ended up doing so. I took this opportunity
of a sunny day to keep exploring...next stop was Fountain Springs
(I figured "springs, heck, another patch of open water).
Disappointingly, Fountain Springs was frozen over!
To make matters worse, the road was not maintained, I wasn't about
to take the "Bitchin' Camaro" through shin deep snow to
see if there were springs (and open water) down the road! Immediately
adjacent (just a couple minutes of backtracking) lead me to Twin
Bridges. Sadly, it was basically frozen over as well, and heck I
couldn't even find access! My day was not going well.
I was somewhat torn...I could have called it a
day, so on that notion I continued back towards Dubuque, stopping
at the Little Turkey (also frozen over). The last stop on the list
would've been Bankston. Time for a hard decision, go look at another
stream that is probably also frozen over, or spend my remaining
time back and Spring Branch? I opted for the later choice...
This time I started all the way up by the highway....fishin
in a trout stream underneath a 4 lane highway suspended maybe 40
feet above is a neat experience. The trout were not as dense here,
but I spooked up a few browns of respectable size. Too spooky for
my tastes, I headed back downstream. Spent some time trying to get
to the stream at another access, but when I was up to my knees in
snow I decided the first, original location might be the best.
With maybe an hour to go, and a renewed optimism,
I went back to work some of the pools I had tried before. By this
time I was out of Tucker Nymphs (I only carry a couple a day...gives
me the opportunity to try fishing OTHER flies). I tried a micro
jig drifted and jigged by the undercuts that were holding some of
the big trout I had spotted earlier...not a bit of interest came
from any of the fish. So back to nymphing, this time tying on another
Survivor Swap pattern; a red-bead-head nymph. NO LUCK AGAIN, not
As the air made a decided turn towards "below
freezing", I noticed a few risers. GRIFFITH'S GNAT time! Unfortunately,
there was no interest in this as well....nor could I see any hatch
coming off, or emergers coming by in the crystal clear water. The
air temperature continued to plummet as the sun went down behind
the hills...my line iced up, tip-top frozen, and I was no longer
able to stay warm even when moving. OK, NOW it's time to call it