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9-12-06 - Just before the WI border, the IL skies are dark but there's not much rain.

9-12-06 - THE MOST INSANE RAMBLING REPORT EVER! (Might as well be fly fishing on a concrete parking lot)

Waters Fished: Pike River
Fish Caught: 0
Outing Date: 9-12-06
Weather: NIGHT, cloudy
Air Temp: 60's
Water Temp: N/A
Water Level: RISING (crested at 600 cfs+)
Water Color: Mud, visibility 0"
Fish Species: King Salmon
Pattern Fished: Flying Bunnies, Large Eggs
Pattern Color: Would it really have mattered anyways?

BY FAR this was the most outrageous 1 hour of fishing I've EVER HAD. It all started with a plan the week prior for Jim and I to meet up in WI for a bit of early season nightfishing. FATMAN was already on the board with a couple kings for the year (and then woosh, back off to Finland for work). Jim and Matt J. had been out and each landed fresh salmon. Looks like we're getting an early start this year!

A big downside to 2006; a day before sitting down to write this report it was brought to my attention that the nightfishing regs on the WI Tributaries was changed for 2006 - the nightfishing closes starting SEPT. 15th! By now hopefully the word has gotten out - I'm writing this report 45 minutes after everyone had to get off the water on Sept. 14th! To make the story short - in the 2006/2007 Trout Regs (the one salmon and trout anglers are pointed towards), the tributary nightfishing closure is listed as starting Oct. 1st (as it has every year prior that I've been fishing the tribs). However, FATMATT noticed that the GENERAL Hook and Line Regulations listed the closure as starting on Sept. 15th. A phone call to the DNR Fisheries Dept., plus 2 emails back from area Conservation Officers all confirmed our worst fears. Basically, the Trout Regs are "IN ERROR", and the closure starts early this year (and every year going forward for the time being). So not only was this nightfishing trip the most insane time I've ever spent on the water, but it was my ONLY opportunity to nightfish the local tribs during the Fall Run of '06!

Here's how it went down - I left Chicago after work around 5:15 PM and drove like a madman for Wisconsin. It had been drizzling throughout the day, nothing serious, just looked like good fishing. Had I bothered to check a forecast, I probably would have never left my house.

30 minutes into my drive I get a phone call from Jim - Gerry has beat us to the rivers and it's downpouring. The Root has jumped 3 FEET in a minute, basically a FLASH FLOOD. This isn't sounding good. Of course, this could be a localized event, so I press on and we're staying in touch on our cells.

By the time I was in Kenosha, just a few miles north, it looked like the rapture was upon us.

To call the Pike River "swollen" is an understatement.

The water is up at least a couple feet.

As I'm crossing the WI border I call Gerry - he and Jim are standing underneath the Rt. 38 Bridge by Horlick Dam on the Root. The water was flowing over the dam in the main channel when they got there, but by the time I called it was spilling over the entire width of the dam. A call later that evening to Matt G. informed me that downstream, some of the drainpipes (we're talking a couple feet in diameter) that normally just trickle water were blowing out NOTHING but air even in the tubes! Water was coming down in virtual waterfalls from the road above according to Gerry...meanwhile it was just a drizzle where I was. By the time I hit Kenosha the "drizzle" had turned into a monsoon.

In situations like this we often end up calling it a day, but I hadn't driven this far to give up without at least a glance, so I headed to the Pike River to see if it was doing any better. I stopped upstream and found the water was muddy and the bases of streamside trees were covered. I called Gerry back and told him the Pike was a bust. He and Jim got on the road heading out of Racine.

I stopped at a 2nd bridge, no different. Jim called back and inquired about conditions...he was just a wee bit curious and was actually coming down to the Pike to take a look. Considering half of the trip's purpose was to simply get to hang out with Jim, he picked a meeting spot and I headed to it.

Almost all of the way there, I came to another bridge, this one a bit low-lying compared to most of the bridges in the area. To put it lightly, the river was roaring over the road..the bridge was flooded out. I looked at it a bit as a car in front of me pondered the same thing...can I make it?

We both turned around, but another SUV, a bit braver perhaps, barreled on through. Seeing how low the water was actually over the road, I knew that if he could make it without incident, I would have no trouble in the new vehicle. I turned around and drove towards the water. Seconds before my tires hit the flood, I saw movement...what...a SALMON IS SWIMMING ACROSS THE ROAD!

I punched the accelerator and got on the cell phone, calling Jim....pick up...pick up. Voicemail...DAMN! I dialed again. DAMN - VOICEMAIL! @#$@#$@!! I rolled up to Jim's truck, he's standing at the tailgate...maybe gearing up or gearing down, I can't really tell. I'm hyperventilating. "Jim, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS! I FOUND THE FISH!" He didn't get it at first. "THEY'RE FUCKING SWIMMING ACROSS THE ROAD JIM." He still didn't quite grasp what I was getting at. "LET's GO JIM, there's SALMON FISHING ON THE ROAD!". I must have looked like a maniac...wide eyes, voice crackling with excitement.

Jim got it and moved towards his driver's door. I rolled up my window and turned around...Jim simply couldn't move fast enough for me (even though in reality this whole scenario probably lasted less than 10 seconds). We were probably driving a touch too fast but it still seemed like we were moving like molasses.

I pulled the hybrid up to the flood, off to the side of the road, turned on the brights, put the window down, turned on the hazard lights, jumped out of the car and slammed the door. Jim pulled up behind me and got out. I begged Jim, "GO FISHING!"; in true Jim style he said, "Nope this one's all you...I have my salmon, I just wanna watch". I grabbed whatever heavier rod I had in the car...happened to be an 8 wt. rigged for Pike Fishing with 3 feet of 30lb steel leader and 2 flying bunnies..."Good Big Flies" I thought. "They'll sink fast too".

Jim didn't budge on the "fishing" part of it, so I handed him the camera. As I scanned the water, I wondered how long it would be before some sort of Authority Figure rolled up and asked us what the hell we were doing (especially with our cars standing in a no parking zone in front of a flooded bridge). When Jim and I caught the first movement at the tailout immediately upstream of the pavement, all those thoughts were shrugged off. "Hell, I'll take whatever citation they want to give me...I'm FISHING!" I said to Jim, "If you're not fishing, take PICTURES!" and handed over the camera.

(Copyright © 2006 Jim K.)

Two casts and drifts in the slower tailout upstream and my line went tight. My drag roared. In seconds I found myself looking down at the reel, realizing that I was looking at only backing in the dark of night. Somewhere way upstream a fish jumped...I felt the extra "tug", barely saw the breach and touchdown, but heard the splash. OK, maybe I just filled the sound of the splash in with my mind because I don't think I stopped laughing and screaming like a madman for at least a minute.

After the jump I eased up on the pressure and the fish turned to swim downstream. I reeled as fast as I could, taking up line but trying not to jolt the fish..."come to papa....that's it, nice and easy". 20 feet upstream from the tailout, the fish turned and held in the current. Time to put the hurt on this one!

(Copyright © 2006 Jim K.)

I pulled back to put more pressure on...he turned and again started coming towards me. He turned again and stopped right at the very lip of the tailout...I got my slack up just in time for him to slide over the small fall. IT'S OFFICIAL...the fish is ON PAVEMENT!

Things quickly went really wrong. It was now clear that the fish was foul hooked in the dorsal. Thinking about it now, considering the conditions, I can entirely accept that most likely I don't think ANYTHING would have bit in the mud we were best any fair fish would likely be flossed. Of course, I wasn't thinking about any of that right then and there, because the fish was now in the fast current moving across the road. The fish was going DOWNSTREAM. It probably only took 2 seconds for him to go from one side of the street to the other, through the guard railing on the bridge and down into the swirling mass of water below.

I was STILL connected, my flyline now being run through a square hole with a raging torrent of water running through it. There was only one way to land the fish and retrieve my flies...someone would have to walk out into the, pass the rod through the railing and grab it on the other side, then fight the fish to shore downstream. I was standing at the water's edge, on the pavement, in Jeans and a pair of shoes. I looked to my left where Jim stood in chest waders and felt soled boots.

To sum it up, "The answer's NO" ;) OK, the fish is fouled anyways, now that we know that I really should just pop the fish off and move on. Did I mention that I was using a 30lb test steel leader? I dropped my rod top and repeatedly pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled..finally something gave way. When I retrieved my line, I had broken off the 30lb test MONO LOOP at the nail knot.

Maybe I'll get lucky? There's now way I'm not going to at least TRY!
(Copyright © 2006 Jim K.)

I spent the next 20 minutes in the car rerigging. My hands were shaking, my breath was short, my hands were shaking, my breath was short, and my hands were shaking. Jim and I spent at least another 45 minutes watching fish swim upstream across the road and come to rest in the tailout. Sometimes one would go the other way. I plied the waters of the tailout where we noticed movement, but never connected again. Meanwhile, the water rose a good foot. Jim noticed that a big eddy had developed so I swung my flies in there for a bit...we thought MAYBE there might be some fish making a rest stop in this calmer water on the road.

In the end, it simply came down to the reality that the chance of a truly fair hookup was minimal, and we had seen enough salmon swim across a road to keep the image in our minds forever. Oh, and the lightning flashing above didn't make me want to stick around either. I'm pretty confident that Jim and I will NEVER see something quite like this again in our lifetimes. You can't buy an experience like this at ANY price. But you better bet that if there's a torrential downpour with the threat of flash flooding during a tributary run I KNOW where I'll WANT to be! Somehow I think this is just about the furthest thing anyone could ever envision when it comes to "Fly Fishing" - heck, I'm still bewildered thinking about it now. Hardcore? Insane? Lunatic? Whatever - maybe catch and release Great Whites on a fly rod would be the only thing more bizzare (coming winter 2010). I think this freak night on the water has done me for the year ;)


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