the fishing life...
Iced-up Ghost Lake
As a child we took at least two trips to northern Wisconsin every year.  One with just the guys late in the spring called father-son weekend, and another later in the summer that we called family camp. These trips were spent entirely on the Chippewa Flowage a huge 30,000 acre conglomerate of lakes and bays where we fished for bass, crappie, and musky.  Coincidentally I associate northern Wisconsin and it’s dark tannic waters with big warm water fish and not cold water fish like trout.  Boy was I mistaken, at least partly.
The Namekagon
The Namekagon River is a National Scenic Waterway managed by the National Park Service and flows dark, cool, and wild for 90 miles before merging with several other streams to form the St. Croix (also a wild and scenic river).  Fresh off chilly winter temperatures during Wisconsin’s early trout season (March 15 – May 14) while the Namekagon is still flowing cold and saturated with oxygen big brown trout and native brook trout linger in the main branch before the warm summer ambient temperatures force them to relocate elsewhere.  I’ve heard that during the summer months they are nearly impossible to find.  Where they go, I do not know, I do not eat green eggs and ham.  I do not eat them Sam I am…but probably into the lakes and groundwater fed tributaries, that would be my guess…
John's cabin
We stayed near Cable, WI at a good old friends cabin on Ghost Lake.  Good old friend probably doesn’t do John justice.  John has been a part of my family’s life and mine since I was little and is 100 percent responsible for my infatuation with the Upper Peninsula.  He acquired the nickname “bad uncle” for introducing my brother and I to Glenfiddich and cigars at a young age.  John is a connoisseur of the Northwoods, wine, whiskey, and scotch and he has indoctrinated my dad, brother, and I in all of it.  So naturally the first night at the cabin when my dad asked for some Jameson, John brought the fireworks.
The fireworks
It is tough at times, well a lot of the time, to be patient with big Paul.  Sometimes I think I am getting better, sometimes I think he’s getting better.  Then, just when I think we’ve made some real progress, he’ll blow all assumptions out of the water.  The morning scratch that, the afternoon after our whiskey bender we stopped and scouted several spots along the Namekagon for access (thank you Jon Jacobs!).  The weather forecast was terrible for the day, so when it turned out to be 70 degrees and sunny I wanted to get the waders wet and take advantage of it.  On the other hand Big Paul wanted slippers.

One thing you need to know about the old man and I is that we are both annoyingly impulsive, dad especially so.  You would think after 27 years of being exposed to his mode of operation I would be use to it but it’s bizarrely difficult to anticipate his level of procrastination.  The night before, I vaguely recall him (remember the whiskey…) babbling about wanting a traveling pair of Ugg slippers because he keeps forgetting his others at home.  So, when the sun emerged as we arrived at a beautiful access spot along the river and he didn’t grab for his waders I put it together, we weren’t scouting the stream and looking for a good stretch to fish, we were slowly inching closer and closer to the slipper store.  Coy fellow.  I love him.
Big Paul animated
After a detour that took us on a failed slipper mission and the revelation that my dad’s answer to shortening his pant hem was to staple it (pretty genius actually…) we eventually hit the stream.  Hearing size 12 and 14 stoneflies were about the only thing going we looked for rising trout but didn’t see a thing so we decided to throw some meat.
John casting a streamer
The water was high, running around 300 cfs (almost twice the summer flow) and flooded well over the banks.  Steep cuts and inundated tag alder made perfect holding refugia for big browns. 15 minutes or so in I saw a flash from the bank and almost instantly my rod doubled over as my heart blew out my chest.

I started getting into streamer fishing out in Washington chasing salmon and steelhead and aside from fishing big terrestrials in late summer there isn’t much like.  The flies are big, which means the fish are looking for a serious meal and when they strike you feel it.  After a long fight I ended up loosing the fish when I repositioned my rod in some slacky water.  No words, just regret.
About to lose a fish
After some cooling down time, I waded back up stream (the fish had taken me 50 or so yards down river) and started swinging again.  Not knowing what to expect, certainly not another big fish after all the commotion the other had made, I hooked into a super 17-18 inch brown.  It was sweet redemption, the nicest brown I had ever caught on a Wisconsin stream.
Beautiful redemption
We went back the next day.  This time I waded up stream and John went down.  Seeing how hot the streamer I used the night before was, I tied up a green pattern to mimic a bookie and swung that for the day.  I worked a really nice stretch of water with great depth and cover but I didn’t bump a single fish.  My dad and I had just talked earlier about the importance of confidence in your fly.  Doubting your fly can be like trying a gateway drug, soon you start to doubt everything.  Your presentation, your methods, before you know it your passed out in the bathroom wondering how the hell you got there any why your mouth tastes like diesel fuel.  Okay I'm exaggerating, the point is it’s a slippery slope.  Needless to say, not feeling a single fish throughout the entire run I was beginning to have my doubts, maybe green wasn't the way to go...maybe the fish yesterday were flukes...  Then, just as I thought the wheels had come off I felt a big thump toward the end of some fishy water.  Zeeee! My drag reeled and I was in business.  Back on my feet I landed a heavenly 20-21-ish brown.
The next day
It felt good to be back in Wisconsin.  It all came together, snow, ice, humidity, thunderstorms, the sweet scent of pine duff and decomposing red and white pine pulp, dark coffee stained water, a phoebe’s morning call, birch forests, sugar maples tapped for syrup, leather leaf and Labrador tea, the list goes on… the Northwoods are one of my favorite places in the world.  Tomorrow we will be heading to my dad’s favorite place, the driftless area, to meet up with one of my favorite people, Josh Mattila.

04/15/2011 11:04

Patching my waders tonight so I can get out there.


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