Here’s some footage from a trip I took last year in April to the upper reaches of Gordon Creek in Dane County, Wisconsin. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from my home.
Archive for the ‘Gordon Creek’ Tag
Stephen Rose and I got out over the weekend to a creek that has baffled and battered us for some time now. This creek doesn’t give up its fish easily. There may not even be that many fish in this creek, but it is certainly enticing. It is a beautiful place, not far from home, with lots of fishy-looking spots. Others who’ve fished it have reported successes and failures. It is popular with fly fishermen, probably because of the many “improved” areas that allow a person to cast a fly rod.
Stephen got a few strikes but couldn’t connect. I got one fish on a wooly bugger. The fishing that was had would not make a very good extreme fly fishing movie. But, like you’ll hear from many fly fishermen, it was a beautiful experience.
I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Yesterday was about the nicest fishing weather you could ask for. My good friend Stephen Rose and I hit a local coldwater fishery named after the man who spearheaded saving spring creeks in the Midwest by working with farmers to change their planting and plowing practices to reduce runoff in the Driftless area hills.
We worked with hopper patterns from daybreak till about 10am. All told we had 5-6 fish caught and released, the largest of which was about 8-inches, all browns.
No wonder the hoppers were working. There were grasshoppers everywhere, and not just a few had hopped right in to the stream. The baffling thing for me was that I didn’t see one grasshopper get slammed by a trout. I’m talking real, actual grasshoppers now, not imitations. Stephen and I both thought the trout would be nuts to turn down these tasty fat hoppers, but perhaps they’d eaten their fill? I don’t know. And why would the hit an imitation but not the real ones?
I decided to find out, Nick Adams-style.
What did I find out? First, Grasshoppers are surprisingly easy to catch by hand when there is still dew on the grass and the sun hasn’t warmed things up yet. Just pretend you’re a Praying Mantis and snatch one off a tall blade of grass.
Second, the most secure way to hook a hopper is through the collar behind their head, as shown in the photo above. Even though this looks fairly bomb-proof, I still lost a bunch of hoppers while casting. Extra-smoot casting is a must.
Third, the anecdotal evidence suggests that rudimentary hopper patterns are as effective as real hoppers for catching fish. I only tried this for about an hour, but much of my time was spent collecting hoppers and losing them while casting.
During trials with the actual hopper shown in the picture above, I was casting and drifting this bug happily, but not getting any bites. On the third or fourth presentation I noticed how perfectly the bug was drifting in the current. I couldn’t believe the finesse I had suddently obtained in drifting a dry fly past a likely holding spot. As the hopper drifted beyond the holding lie I retrieved to make another cast but found that the hopper continued its incredible drift. My relationship with that grasshopper had come to an end the moment my tippet had hit the water, about fifteen seconds before my retrieve. Oh well.
I did end up taking a fish on an actual hopper. It was about 8 inches long and had the hook nicely placed in its lip. The hopper was in the fish’s stomach, so that made me feel good. At least the fish got a meal for his trouble.
Yesterday I hit the world-renowned Gordon Creek. I decided to take both my spinning rod (w/ a Panther Martin lure) and my fly rod along.
The idea was to use the spinning rod sparingly if the fly fishing was slow. So, the first five casts I made into Gordon Creek were with my spinner. I pulled out five trout, from eight to twelve inches long. Nice! “The fish are hungry today!” I thought to myself.
I took a short walk back to my car to put the spinning rod away, figuring the fly rod would land me enough fish to keep things interesting.
Off I went with fly rod and fly box in hand. I tied everything but the kitchen sink to the end of my tippet and in two hours had only one fish bump my fly. There were hoppers in the tall grass, so I tried a hopper. Scuds, Pink Squirrels, Wooley Buggers, Adams. Nuthin.
So, either I stink at presenting flies to fish, or spinners are much more irresistible to trout.
I had a discussion early this year with Nick Volk at On the Creek Fly Shop in Cross Plains, discussing spinning vs fly fishing for trout. I asked him “Nick, am I ever going to catch as many trout on flies as I can on spinners?”. He said, “You’ll catch more on flies.” He was adamant.
I hope Nick is right. I want Nick to be right. Casting a fly rod is so much fun, and catching fish on a fly rod is so much fun too. Fly fishing has everything going for it. Except I can’t seem to catch many fish on flies.
Perhaps it’s time for a fly-fishing-for-trout hiatus. Spinners seem to be the ticket this time of year. The flies do seem to work well on the Bluegills, however…
I had a very enjoyable Sunday. My boys and I had breakfast downtown and spent some time walking around our incredible capitol building (perfect for our incredible state, don’t you think?).
Back at home we enjoyed the first warm day of spring and planted some veggies in our garden with mom, flew kites at the park, and enjoyed ice cream treats on the shore of Lake Wingra.
Then, at about 3:30, I bid farewell to my wonderful family and headed west in my new 1994 Toyota Previa, known affectionately as “Jay Ford Thurston” with Stephen Rose riding shotgun.
After a short stop at the “Cold Comfort” Farm to ask permission to walk across a field (we were summarily denied by the farm owners girlfriend, who told us “He doesn’t even let me go back there!”, but who was also very friendly and helpful and told us an alternate route to the stream), we were at our stream du jour where we saw some fish rising to midges, BWOs, and maybe some mayflies. Try as we did, nothing would take the artificial versions we offered.
A cool thunderstorm rolled through, a large deer was spotted, and the peanut butter and jelly tasted better than ever. Best of all, we found new territory, complete with rock cliffs and incredible water. The only thing missing were the fish tugging on the line.
I did manage to fool a nice fat brown trout out from under a log in about the most beautiful riffle-into-a-bend pool up against a cliff wall that I’ve ever seen. I will forever have the moment and the image of that place burned into my memory, but I can’t share it with you because I didn’t have a camera and my phone had lost its charge. Perhaps that makes the experience all the more sweet, helping me remember that those things done in life but not caught on film still did happen.
And here’s a plea:
Stephen has been a busy man lately. But I miss his voice on this blog. So if you’re reading this now, send a thought out into the ether to ask Stephen to post some photos of our outing last night, and to write some words about the experience. We were both there yesterday evening. Stephen, did you know that this blog is not currently being considered for any awards? You don’t even need a picture of a fish to make a post! Hell, I just put images of my kids in downtown Madison in my posts (and aren’t they great?)!
Here are some photos of locations and fish on a recent outing in Dane County. I’ve been told by Todd Opsal of On The Creek Fly Shop in Cross Plains that the fish are still sluggish and that with warmer weather, we’ll get more active trout. None the less, these outings are good for my soul!
With schools closed and three young boys beating down the walls of my house, I decided to temp fate and drag them all out to the countryside to check out some spring creek scenery. I’ve fished Gordon Creek a handful of times, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to visit the upper reaches of the drainage. Fish were spotted and my boys had a good time playing by the water’s edge (or in the water depending on the wardrobe). The creek ran clear and looked about like it does any time of year. I suppose this is a nice thing about the headwaters of a spring-fed creek. It’s reliably consistent.
After half an hour on this upper section – the younger boys really wanted a campfire and a couple of hammocks hung, and this was not public land – we headed down the road a ways to a spot where this sort of thing would be possible. So, here we are enjoying s’mores and the bubbling of Gordon Creek. The water was chocolate milk and was running deep.
My 8-year-old son Bode can fish the pants off me in our local lake. He catches Crappies, Bass, Bluegills, and Perch so fast I can barely get a cast in for myself. When we take one of his friends along to fish, he’ll outfish them 5-to-1. In May we fished some Bluegill spawning beds and he caught 40 fish in an hour.
In other words, Bode knows what it’s like to have success fishing.
A few weeks back Bode had to get a tooth pulled. It was a baby tooth that wouldn’t come loose and the adult tooth coming in was not going to wait. So, the dentist shot him with Novicaine and yanked that tooth out. This made Bode a little upset, so I offered to take him fishing in the evening.
Instead of doing the usual lake fishing I proposed we go to a trout stream. He got waders for his birthday this spring but hasn’t really gotten the chance to use them. Bode resisted the change in routine, saying “Will we catch fish dad? Because I know we’ll catch fish at the lake.” “Absolutely” I said. “I know a spot where we’ll catch fish for sure!”
So after dinner we got in the car and drove out west toward Mount Horeb, then south toward Daleyville and on down County Highway A to Gordon Creek. We tried a couple of sections where the creek passes below bridges at various road crossings. We found beautiful riffles, made perfect casts, felt fish “bump” our lures, saw fish following our lures.
But no bites, no fish to hand.
Bode’s disappointment became more and more pronounced as the evening wore on and by 9pm it was evident that I should have listened to his simple desire to catch fish. We were skunked, and we wouldn’t have been at the lake.
Did I ask him to go trout fishing because that’s what I really wanted to do? Did I ask him because I wanted him to experience the peace of the stream, the bats gliding and swooping over the water. Did I have a picture of him catching trout one after another, planting a seed in him that would grow into a love of small streams and strong-willed trout? All of the above are true.
It just didn’t work out that way. So, we’ll go back to the lake and catch more panfish. Not too exciting, but certainly satisfying to an 8-year-old boy who just wants to catch fish.
This morning we hit the road late. At 5am we headed out of town towards the Iowa County Line. Lately we’ve been leaving at 4:30, so it was nice to sleep in…
We went on back to Gordon Creek, but this time fished a wooded section. Boy the woods are the place for me. The HI (Habitat Improvement) areas just don’t hold the fish I’m looking to catch. The HI areas seem to hold lots of 8” trout, which is okay, but, I don’t know, they’re a little small.
Once into the woods with rods and PM spinners ready, casts were made into pools both narrow and large, on bends and below riffles, in tight spots and in clearings. The recipe for success is pretty consistent: Find deep water and make a perfect first cast. These two elements will generally yield at least one fish if not more from any given section of a stream.
The trick is that first good cast. Whipping a 7’ long rod through the air in and amongst tree limbs and tall jewel weed sometimes ends poorly, with the $5 lure stuck in any variety of places. Usually the lure is sitting in a tree branch directly above the hole that’s holding the fish you’re after, so crashing and thrashing your way up to the lure to free it from the branch is a disappointing choice to have to make.
Anyway, this morning was all about success. Well, it started slow but like I said, once we were in the woods we were happy fishermen! The sky was overcast and there were raindrops on and off. The first catches were of smaller trout, followed by a 12” keeper. As we proceeded deeper into the woods upstream we sussed out larger fish in the 15” to 17” range (maybe bigger, we didn’t have a measuring tape).
At any rate they sure were fun to catch. There is something unlikely about fooling a large fish into thinking the shiny thing spinning through the water with nasty hooks on it is something the fish should strike, but they do, and it’s pure joy for me and my associates!