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9-17-06 - The fish make their last move before daylight sets in.

9-17-06 - First King of 2006 - we're cookin' with GUMBO!

Waters Fished: Root River, Oak Creek, Milwaukee River, Pike River
Fish Caught: 1 lost, 1 landed
Outing Date: 9-17-06
Weather: cloudy, cool and breezy
Air Temp: 60's
Water Temp: Oak - 64F, Milwaukee 68F, Pike 70F
Water Level: Root 750+, Oak 8cfs, Milwaukee 190cfs, Pike 35 cfs
Water Color: Root = mud, visibility 0", Oak Dirty, visibility 6", Milwaukee stained, visibility 12", Pike Muddy, visibility 6"
Fish Species: King Salmon, Smallmouth Bass
Pattern Fished: Eggs and Buggers
Pattern Color: Red Eggs with Chartreuse wings produced both fair fish.

This was completely a surprise trip. Bob (aka. "Gumbo") was back in town and had planned a charter trip with Capt. Rich Gorske. Unfortunately, the 24 hour forecast called for a small craft advisory and heavy thunderstorms...not a good mix for salmon fishing on the big pond. So, responsibly, the trip was cancelled but Bob was still in need of a Salmon Fix!

Saturday evening (and all day Sunday) I had planned to be catching up on reports, but instead I found myself scrambling to gather up my gear for Salmon season. I drove up to the lake house, swapped some gear, headed out to do some scouting (and had nightfishing been legal I would've been SLAMMING THE FISH - @#$@#!!). Around 11:00 PM I met up with Bob at the Days Inn Riverside, overlooking Horlick Dam on the Root. With a flow of over 1000 that night, and still up at 750 when we woke up the next morning, it was safe to say that the Root was the ONE PLACE we would not actually "fish".

We started our morning off at Oak Creek, getting on the water only minutes after legal fishing time started. Upstream on the "dam pool", I counted over 25 anglers all "hoping" for a shot at the few salmon that were stuck there. Shortly after we arrived, all around "good guy" Mike Otte showed up...he slid in downstream to fish for a couple salmon at the tailout.

As always, that first hour generally proves to be one of the best, and this early season trip proved no different. Bob patiently repeatedly covered the "sweet spot" at the head of the pool, fighting the urge to cast to salmon that were moving around in the still water. We saw a nice fresh hen run upstream mostly OUT of the water, only to see her come back down to hang out in the deeper water a short time later.

Gumbo hooks up!
(Copyright © 2006 Mike Otte)

We're moments away from landing it.
(Copyright © 2006 Mike Otte)

Oak Creek is still lush and green.

Bob works a bend on Oak Creek.

45 minutes into our time on the water Bob's persistence paid off with a solid hookup. Mike ran over to grab the camera as I readied the net. The fight was in Bob's hands now.

It was definitely a good fight, the fish making short runs, thrashing a gaping mouth at the surface, bulldogging, you name it. Bob got thrown for a loop when he realized the reel I had on was left-hand retrieve (a more traditional setup, but even I learned and still often fish a right hand retrieve).

The fish made a run for the shallow riffle upstream...I moved in with the net, ready to capture the beast in the shallow water where I would have a definite advantage. As the salmon roared to the foot of the riffles it came to an abrupt stop....Bob had clamped down on the reel! The 15 lb. Pline Fluorocarbon leader stood up to that abuse. When the fish turned, he pulled the leader over some rocks and that is the point at which the leader gave way.

It was a great first battle...sure, some mistakes were made. I'm not writing about them here to criticize Bob in any way...he did what he did to keep the fish out of the riffles and rocks (to protect the leader). It's a judgment call that you never quite know how it will turn out when you make it. That, and chalk it up to enthusiasm over the first salmon battle of the year combined with a reel that retrieved on the wrong side ;)

Bob and I made our way downstream and hit every likely spot that was open. We only saw 1 or 2 salmon however. After rejoining Mike on our first pool, which was now also being fished by three lines floating marshmallows, we decided that Oak's good fishing prospects were likely concluded for the day.

Bob definitely has his opinions, and one that I cannot argue with is his love for the Milwaukee River. After seeing how Oak Creek was shaping up, I believed we could fare no worse to the north, allowing Bob some time on his favorite river.

While gearing up, we ran into John McClelland who I've spent time with on the water in the past. He was heading downstream to scout things out...he had already landed a nice buck a bit further upstream from where we dropped in. I also got to meet an acquaintance of John's, Chris, who's a local artist formerly from the west coast and an enthusiastic angler.

After chatting, we headed down and found the water almost entirely empty. One lone angler was in the "sweet spot" here. As we made our way down to the water, he gave up his spot as he was pretty much done for the day anyways, a very generous gesture that was totally unnecessary. I'm sorry that I've forgotten your name (it takes a while sometimes), but hey, thanks again.

Bob as you may know is definitely into swinging speys. This early in the season, it's my opinion that speys aren't going to typically be very productive...well more so that a "swung" presentation may not be the way to go, at least not if you're looking to MAXIMIZE your POTENTIAL. Bob and I spent the next hour covering the water, working the seams, perfecting his high-stick dead drifting techniques. Right off the bat Bob landed SEVERAL smallmouth bass on a #10 Chicago Leech. They were starting to get annoying, like chubs, so we upsized the bugger in the combination to a #2 Chartreuse Speybugger, a fly after Bob's own heart.

You could tell Bob was kinda in need of a break...it had already been a long and early morning. He turned to me and said, "I need a proof of concept. Take this rod, and prove to me there are fish here". Had it not been Bob, I probably would have declined, but in this particular instance I could see where he was coming from.

There it is, the first King Salmon fairly landed for 2006's fall run!
(Copyright © 2006 Bob Brown)

He's put back to hopefully do battle again.
(Copyright © 2006 Bob Brown)

Bob and John works the riffles and seams, looking for more salmon.

Bob and John again patiently fishing.

The Pike is also gorgeous and is probably just below "ideal" flows!

Hindsight being what it is, Bob should've stuck it out a bit longer. Only 6 or 7 casts in I hooked up for a wild ride...no doubt a salmon at the other end of the line. I shouted downstream to Chris, "FISH ON" as my fly line moved directly into the water he was working. I looked down, and peaking out from underneath the butt of the fly line was backing.

It took a LONG time and a lot of finesse to stand my ground and bring the fish back up to me. Usually I don't get involved in such long distance battles, but I simply wasn't in the mood to start running through the river downstream after the fish. One of the key things I noticed was the amount of pressure all that 9wt. Spey Line put on the fish as it maneuvered through the water. I eased off the drag just a bit and at one point fed out some line to take off MOST of the tension...the move paid off and brought the fish back towards me. I scrambled taking in line, and when pressure was reapplied the fish made a 2nd downstream marathon run. Repeat the process and finally the salmon was coming within reach. Bob broke out the role reversal, grabbing the net and landing the exhausted salmon. He took some pictures, I spent a few minutes reviving the fish, and we got back at it.

John showed up, his downstream excursion was a bust, so he joined us as we worked the water for another hour. His observations from his earlier spot eventually nudged us to go 'check it out'. Afterall...if you're told that there are 3 steelhead milling around in a spot that you know about, you'd want to go check it out too. On our way out, we were interviewed by the DNR Creel Survey...not Dennis...a new guy I haven't met before.

Well, we did check it out, but the pool in question was being fished and we didn't want to butt in. We did get one quick shot at another salmon that was on the move, but otherwise we didn't find the amount of fish I would have assumed "should" be there.

Lunch was mentioned, as well as "well, what next"? Bob had a LONG drive all the way back to St. Louis...in the end it took some convincing perhaps but we made our way down to Kenosha. Get some of the drive out of the way now, fish a bit longer...sounds like a win win to me.

Bob and I again worked a lot of likely spots, but despite the rumors and observations from friends who'd fished the Pike earlier in the day, we had a hard time locating any fish! Muddy water conditions didn't help. Kids swimming in a prime hole didn't help, and a family fishing the "wrong" part of another good spot kept us away from the "first choice" water.

Eventually Bob was thinking it was time to start the drive, but on our way out I noticed that one of the good spots had opened up. Bob gave it a go. I noticed what I thought might possibly perhaps maybe was a fish and instructed Bob to fish that area. Nothing happened. Ultimately, Bob handed me the rod and said "give it one more whirl". I said, "OK, 5 casts and we're gone", knowing that the time was starting to be a crunch.

So I took 6 casts, and on that sixth cast I hooked up very briefly with a fish. It was likely fouled as it quickly came off, but it was the "proof" I needed to spur Bob to just fish a LITTLE BIT LONGER. I did my best to locate the fish, but couldn't, and in the end, our time simply ran out.

To sum it up, between looking at the Root River weir numbers and the conditions we experienced on our Sunday outing, it IS still "early season". All the tribs are still quite warm at this time, so perhaps this is the ideal time to catch and KEEP a few salmon while they're still "fresher"...I can't be sure that the one we released made it in 68F water. Right now the fish aren't in thick, they are scattered about and they will take some effort to locate. Your chances for success are probably comparable to steelhead fishing in the spring around the peak of that run. We've all put in a good solid year of work and family, so if you've been waiting for fall to arrive, well, it's time to start getting out and looking for those first fall run fish of 2006. It will all be over with in a short month or two - salmon season is NEVER long enough! I'm looking forward to getting out on the water with Bob again in just a few weeks from now!

  MP 

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