Wait a minute - TWO posts in one day?
It Just Takes One Fish….
As great as the overall 2010 family vacation to northern Wisconsin was, the fishing was very below average on the whole. There were days when it seemed like something was telling me to just sit at the cottage and drink beer. I had can't find the fish problems, found the fish but they don't want any fly I throw at them problems, boat trailer problems, get the boat trailer issue solved but the sudden severe thunderstorm that comes up as you're launching the boat chases you off the water problems, clipping the prop on a shallow boulder and bending all three blades on my brother in law's boat problems.... Needles to say, by 8 days in I was doing quite a bit of talking to myself!!!
It was strange this year; I think the fact that we came up a week later than usual, combined with the early spring and low water levels in Sugar Camp Lake really shook things up. I can typically sight cast to smallies of the end of our dock, but it was a rare moment to even see a fish this year. I caught one on a hex dry the morning after a sparse hatch, and blew a shot at a second.
The rest of the week was spent guessing (and guessing wrong) at what they were eating and blind casting to ghosts. I tried everything in my smallmouth box: clousers, leech patterns, hex nymphs, hex dries, and numerous incarnations of woolly buggers....all produced nada. Ten days in and I had managed just that single fish.
Week 2 I took a side trip to a fly shop in Boulder Junction - We Tie It Fly Shop (www.wetieit.com). I had found it on the Internet a few years back, but also had it recommended to me by a variety of random people. It is a great little fly shop owned by terrific people - Bill Sherer and his wife (I believe her name is Dawn). If you are ever up that far north it is a must stop! Bill is a northwoods guide that has really done some pioneering work on taking Muskie on the fly. At any rate, the day I wandered in Bill was on the water, but I spoke at length with Dawn about a variety of topics: the low water levels in northern lakes, fishing for muskie on the fly, but mainly about the lack of interest I was getting from the fish. She sold me an original pattern Bill had tied called the "tongue depressor" - so named by a client of Bill's who is a doctor. I would best describe it as a woolly bugger variation, tied on a size 4 curved shank 3x long nymph hook, weighted to ride hook point up, and trimmed to look like a spoon. She said it was Bill's go to fly for smallies. I bought a few and set off to do my worst.
I made a few casts off the end of the dock that evening but no one was home - just another skunking. I reeled in and decided to get up early and see what the morning had to offer.
The alarm went off at a too early for vacation 6:30am. I debated on whether to just screw it altogether and go back to sleep, but finally got up and threw some clothes on. I looked at my reflection in the mirror while brushing my teeth and reassured myself that you can't catch less than zero fish. As I walked down to the dock the question, "Do you really want to do this to yourself again?" kept floating in and out of my head. I managed to brush it away and decided I could at least work on my double haul and hopefully something productive would come of this.
I stripped off some line and cast it 20 feet off the end of the dock. I spent several seconds trying to tune the faulty drag (another pain in the butt I encountered on this trip) on my reel, unintentionally letting the tongue depressor settle to the bottom. I finally got my drag set, gave my line a small strip, and was very surprised to feel the pull on the other end. It set the hook and the line went tight - VERY tight!
I raised the rod tip and was amazed at the weight on the other end of the line. “I think I have a pike or a muskie…” was my first thought, and I was waiting for the line to go slack as it bit through my leader (I’ve had that happen a few times – I still need to hook and land one of those guys when I am actually fishing for them). Just then I felt the fish bolt up from the bottom. I was frantically stripping in line to keep the upper hand when the fish broke the surface. “Holy S**t!!!” were the first words out of my mouth; the smallmouth bass looked like a whale breaching as it went airborne, hitting the water broad side with a loud “smack” and sending up a cannonball-like splash!
The fish immediately dove for the lake floor and took line as I watched my 5 wt turn into an inverted parabola. He then went for open water, taking more line in the process. I gently palmed the reel and slowed the big fella down, then began working him back to the dock. He came to the surface and followed my coaxing until he was about eight feet from the dock. At that point, he saw me and decided the fight was not done yet! This time he swam right at me and the dock, catching me off guard and shifting the advantage to his corner. I lifted the rod and reeled in line as fast as I could, but not quick enough to keep him from swimming under the dock.
This time it was me bending my rod to the breaking point as I tried to bulldog my quarry out from under the platform, and also to keep him from wrapping the line around the pilings. “No way am I losing this fish!” I thought to myself as I debated jumping into the lake to give myself a better rod angle to fight from. Suddenly, the brute appeared from under the dock, made a half-hearted run to open water, and threw in the towel.
I lifted what was easily the biggest smallmouth bass I had ever caught from the water with an ear to ear grin! This guy was a trophy for any lake, but in Sugar Camp where the average smallie is 14”, this fish was a leviathan! It measured in at 19+ inches and weighed in the three pound range! “Wait ‘til I show the guys this behemoth….”
That’s when my next conundrum hit me: early morning, nobody awake, no camera, no picture, just another fish story….s**t….
The “I’ll always have the memory” thought was in my head for a split second before my mind went into crisis mode and promptly wiped it away!
“What if I leave the fish hooked and in the water and my rod on the dock? I can wake somebody up, get back down here, bring the fish in and get the picture!”
“What are you thinking, dumbass!?! By the time you get back, the fish AND your rod and reel will be long gone!”
“Right…stupid idea. The fire bucket! Yeah, the fire bucket! I can put water in the fire bucket, put the fish in, grab somebody, get the picture, and let the fish go….it’ll be perfect!”
We keep a 2-gallon bucket on the deck for grabbing lake water to put out our evening fires. I grabbed the bucket, filled it with lake water (all the while still holding the fish), and put the fish in. Now this is what I should have got the picture of! The fish was just a bit large for the bucket - like 4-5 inches of the tail sticking out of the top of the bucket too large! It would have made any fish conservationist cringe. I thought about trying to find another receptacle, but figured that would just be more stress on the fish.
Now, up the dock, inside, up the stairs, into the bedroom, and “Jan, you know I love you very much….”
Yup, had to wake up the wife on her morning to sleep in!
“…you know I love you very much, and I wouldn’t wake you up unless it was urgent.”
“What is it?”
“I need you to get up, grab the camera, and come down to the dock and take a picture of me and this fish…”
“What! Are you serious!?! You woke me up to take a picture of a fish!?!”
“Yeah….just come look at this fish and all your questions will be answered. Hurry up, too! I’ve got it in a bucket….”
“Just come on!”
So the fish was photographed (minus the top of my head, which has become commonplace in 90% of my fish pictures and is now somewhat of a joke in my household) and released, stressed no doubt, but unharmed. The “tongue depressor” now goes down in my book as a Hall of Fame smallmouth bass fly. I did catch two more fish with it in one more day of fishing, tripling my total catch on all my other flies in 10 days of fishing. I will add it to my tying repertoire and have several in my smallmouth box before I return to Sugar Camp Lake next year. I am still married, although I am now in debt without a foreseeable end. And, despite the poor overall fishing, 2010 in northern Wisconsin will always have a special place in my memories!
Buddha Post Script:
The Tongue Depressor is a great go to fly (I prefer them in black and olive)