Sunday, January 27, 2008


A treatise on the lost art of “reading a stream,” from an out-of-print title The Boy’s Complete Book of Fresh and Salt Water Fishing (1949) by Oliver H.P. Rodman & Edward C. Janes, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., pp. 70-74.

"We found that in lakes there are certain spots where we are always apt to find fish--the coves, weed beds, bays, and ledges. So in streams there are definite places where fish tend to lurk. This is true to such an extent that an experienced fisherman on his first trip to strange waters can tell almost instinctively which stretches will be productive and which will be barren. This knowledge is called streamcraft, and a thorough understanding of the subject will often spell the difference between success and failure.

This past season, I was fishing a trout stream near a village where I formerly lived. This is heavily-fished water, and by the time I had an opportunity to fish it, in the late season, it had been pretty well pounded. I whipped run after run and pool after pool with both wet and dry flies and when, at length, I returned to the car, I had one nine inch rainbow.
I started to take down my tackle and then I chanced to glance at the water below the bridge. It was a flat stretch of uninteresting-looking rapids and I had never bothered with it before. However, it was a warm, bright day and it occurred to me that there is a possibility that the fish might be lying in the rapids. Rainbows in particular, like swift water in the warm weather. I tied on a nymph and waded into the stream. Moving across the slippery rocks to get into position to reach a boulder pool downstream, I suddenly slipped into a hole nearly up to my hips; and as I did so, I saw a nice trout dart from under my feet. By my careless blundering I had ruined a good hole which one would never have suspected was there in a cursory inspection of the stream. I moved more cautiously now, for I began to realize that there might be other hidden pockets in this stretch. There were, too--for from that 200 yards of fast, shallow water I took six good rainbows, as well as losing two and feeling a couple of missed strikes besides.

As I waded along, I discovered pocket after pocket--in clefts between boulders, along the shore and under the bank.
Apparently most fishermen had passed by this stretch of rapids as I myself had often done until this particular morning. And so I added a new, productive area to my fishing waters, another chapter in the book of this particular river. I feel confident that when the water is warm another year I can duplicate my performance of the past season.

Along similar lines, was an experience on a well known brown trout stream. I had fished this river for several years and felt that I knew it thoroughly--that being back in the days before I had learned that the more you fish, the less you know.
I took and old fisherman along with me on a trip to this stream one day. It was a new water to him, but his experience was so great that he had seen every combination of trout water it’s possible to behold. We left the car beside a ruined dam and I led the way upstream past the old mill pond shrunken now, since the dam had gone out, to a flat sluggish shallow. “Where do we start?” the old fisherman asked. “We have to get above the old pond,” I explained. “This stretch is no good.” “Who said so?” he wanted to know. “Why?” I replied in surprise, “Everybody. You can tell just to look at it.” “Anyway, I think I’ll try it,” he said, inspecting the water carefully. “I’ll be along soon.”

I smiled to myself as I watched him clamber down the steep bank and lay a wet fly on the calm, shallow surface. My smile disappeared, at the smashing wallop which was almost immediately forthcoming from a two pound brown trout.
“It was just luck,” the old fisherman said modestly as he held up the husky fish, “but then I noticed some rocks under the surface, and quite often you’ll find a deep pocket behind them where the trout like to hang out.” I knew it wasn’t luck. “There’s a couple more likely spots here,” the old man went on. “Try drifting a fly past that clump of alders and about mid-stream. Let her sink deep.” I followed his instructions humbly and a moment later I was fast to an old soaker of a brownie. Truth compels me to admit that I lost him after a short, furious fight when he parted my leader on a sharp rock. But the point is, he was there and the old man knew he was there. I told him he could smell the trout, but I knew now that it was his deep and abiding knowledge of streamcraft that enabled him to look at this apparently barren stretch of water, which most people passed by, and realize its possibilities.

Fish do not lie in a stream haphazardly. They are where they are for three very good reasons--food, comfort and security from their enemies. The first factor, food, causes them to be in spots where worms, insects, and other favored items of diet are swept along by the current, for while in lakes the fish must seek their food, in the streams, they have only to wait for food to come to them. The second factor, comfort, makes them seek spots where they can keep cool in summer or warm in spring and they don’t have to battle the full force of the current as they lie in wait for food. The third factor, security, places fish in deep holes, under overhanging banks, in tree root dens and behind boulders--dark, shadowy hiding places where they are less visible to preying birds and animals.

Food and security are the two fundamentals of streamcraft and when you find a place which affords both you will practically always find a fish. On the other hand, by fishing in those places which afford neither food nor security, you will only be wasting your time. Stand upon the banks of a stream and you will notice that the current does not flow evenly across. The swiftest flow will be noticeable usually in the middle of the stream or along one side. You won’t find fish in the very center of a swift flow, but, rather, along its edges, where the current dips under a bank or into pools, at a sharp bend in the stream, in the quiet water below big boulders, into debris-littered eddies--these are the places to look for fish. Also in pools at the end of glides and rapids.

There are other spots--caves and boulder dens--which are not apparent to the angler during the high water of early spring. For this reason, it’s a good idea to study your favorite waters at different times of the year, especially in late summer when they are low and such hiding places are revealed. Contours and currents will give you, with experience, an idea of what sort of bottom lies beneath; and you can extend this knowledge from your familiar local trout stream to more distant strange waters. You can, with practice, learn to read a stream as you would read a book.

The remaining factor, comfort, depends upon temperature as it does humans. In the high, cold roily waters of spring, you will find fish lying in the deeper, warmer water, feeding near the bottom. Later on, when the air and the water have warmed to late spring temperatures, the fish become more active, lying in shallower water and moving about freely in pursuit of minnows and insect hatches. Still later, when the waters have warmed uncomfortably, the fish will often come right into the rapids where there is more oxygen in the waters, or else they will seek the cool spring holes around the mouths of feeder rills. Therefore, where you fish depends in part upon the weather and the time of year.

Keep these factors in mind--food, hiding places and comfort--and you’ll be able to catch fish throughout the season. "

Friday, January 25, 2008

Great description of a brook trout

This is one of my favorite descriptions of a brook trout, from Ted Leeson’s 2002 book Jerusalem Creek: Journeys Into Driftless Country. Guilford, CT: the Lyons Press, pp. 87-88.

The indigenous trout of the driftless area is the brook trout, and if its common name accords well with the place of countless little creeks, the scientific designation is more fitting still: fontinalis, “of the springs.”

The brook trout is often said to be the most colorful of all trout species and I will concede that it is colorful, almost improbably so, decked out in the kind of composite chromatics you might expect from a committee of hyperactive first graders turned loose on a box of crayons. It is, however, imaginatively done, and the only species of freshwater fish I know of that would not look out of place among the phantasmagoria of a coral reef. It possesses the most magnificent of tails, broad and square and elegantly proportioned, like the sail of a clipper ship.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Interview with Mat Wagner of the Driftless Angler

Mat Wagner runs an excellent fly shop in Viroqua, WI called the Driftless Angler. As you surmise from the shop’s name, it sits planted in the middle of the “driftless area” of Wisconsin, home to myriad spring creeks and a host of brook trout. Mat was kind enough to answer a few questions this off season. The Driftless Angler Fly shop is located at 106 S. Main in Viroqua, WI 54665. You can reach the shop at (608) 637-8779. Its hours are as follows: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM Friday and Saturday and 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM Sunday. Trout Fishing Western Wisconsin thanks Mat Wagner for his help.

TFWW: It’s been said that the curse of owning a fishing shop is that you never have time to fish. How often are you able to tear yourself away from the shop and wet a line?

Mat: It is true that fly shop owners do not get much time to fish during the day, however we do get to fish at prime times, first and last light if we plan accordingly. I usually get out to wet a line at least 3-4 times a week. Not full days, but a couple hours each time. Enough to keep me from twitching while listening to how good the fishing is from customers.

TFWW: Viroqua finds itself situated among some pretty great trout waters. What’s your favorite stream of the driftless area and why?

Mat: I love the tiny streams that look like trickles most of the year, but if you time them right can be phenomenal fisheries. Anywhere that I can pull trout out of a tiny waterway is special to me. Out of the big named waters, I am partial to the Timber Coulee system not only for its reliability, but for the variety with the main branch and all the tributaries.

TFWW: Much has been written and talked about concerning the floods that hit southern Wisconsin last year. What’s your take on the impact these floods had and will have in the future?

Mat: Floods are an overall positive thing. Mother Nature flushing the toilet, really. The flood cleaned out a bunch of sand and silt, re-carved the bottom and created incredible spawning habitat and insect habitat that may not be immediately evident to the angler, but within the next few seasons it will!

TFWW: What’s been the best selling fly at the Driftless Angler over the past few years and is there a fly that you recommend that often gets overlooked?

Mat: Too many anglers overlook midge pupae. Our spring creeks are LOADED with midges and they can be an incredibly effective pattern when fish are fussy or just do not seem to be feeding. The best selling fly is easily John Bethke's pink squirrel. One of the 'magic' flies that seems to represent everything and that fish love.

TFWW: How did you personally get started fly fishing?

Mat: I started fly tying before fishing. I was 13 and bored so I took a fly tying class at a fly shop near my house and was hooked after that. Luckily a good childhood friend of mine loved to fish so we spent a good deal of time on the creek just down from our houses catching trout.

TFWW: What would you consider the specialty of the Driftless Angler? What sets it apart from other fly shops?

Mat: What sets us apart is that we focus on information. We are not the style of shop that looks down on people if they do not have the 'cool' gear or ask questions we have answered a million times already. We want people to be out and fish and enjoy it as much as we do and will do our best to keep up to date on exactly what is happening in the area and share that information freely with everyone.

TFWW: What percentage of the shop’s business is devoted to its guide service?

Mat: I'd say we under emphasize our guide service right now. There is myself and a couple of part time guides who take people out, as well as working with local established guides. This being our second year, we will push the guiding and teaching services a bit more.

TFWW: Why do you do what you do?

Mat: I do what I do because I love what I do. I get paid to fish and take people fishing, what can be better than that?

TFWW: Do you think that trout streams in the driftless area are improving? What can be done to do more to improve these streams?

Mat: I know trout streams in the area are improving and continue to improve. I think the biggest hurdle to the streams in our area is to educate the public as to what we actually have here. I have talked to too many local people that never realized what a unique fishery they have out their back door.

TFWW: What are your best selling products at the Driftless Angler?

Mat: We're a fly shop and we carry lots of flies for the area. We work hard to integrate local patterns and ideas into our fly bin so that everyone can find something cool or different and catch fish on it! We're a destination fly shop, so what we sell the most of is what people need on stream, flies leader tippet tools etc. We have also received many compliments on our logo and have sold a few T-shirts with the bug on them too!