November 19, 2008

Operation Flyrod Buffalo

I just got off the road for the season.   What to do on my first day home?  Most of the area lakes are getting locked up with ice; some folks will likely be out ice fishing as early as next week.  As for me, I'll wait just a bit, but before I do anything, I needed to hit the river, one last time.

Operating out of the Roughfisher Command Post, I grabbed my cold weather gear and braved the near gale force winds as I headed down to the Brownline Depot. The honkytonk sounds of The Hag, and some cheezy-ass Doogie Howser inspired stylings of Brent Midland era Grateful Dead, circa 1980, filled the cab of the war machine on the way down to the Depot. It was going to be a cold sumbitch today, with highs in the mid 20s and sustained winds in the mid to upper 20s, gusting to the mid to upper 30s. I adorned my Patagonia BDU and settled in for the expedition.

The view from shore at the Brownline Depot, USA
The view from shore at the Brownline Depot, USA.

After I rigged up my service weapon with a Cannonball Caddis, I took the bank and performed some quick recon. Surveillance indicated high flows and icy conditions. The shallow sand flat was now inundated with water, and consequently, several platoons of Charlie. I laid my first cast out on the water, right in to a pod of fish. The first few retrieves resulted in foul hooked fish. Charlie was in here so thick that it took everything I could do to avoid snagging fish. After a few false hookups, I connected with a target, Cyprinus carpio. This was a big fish. Unfortunately, after a several minutes, the fish turned in to the heavy current and headed down stream. I turned it once, only to have it work his way back downstream again. The fish made a hard charge downstream towards some bridge piling, it was now or never, I had to get this fish turned before it entered no man's land. As I pulled the fish up to the surface it turned laterally, only to have the hook pull free. I was disappointed, as that was likely the biggest carp of the season on my line. I quickly resolved, as there were still many fish to encounter back up on the flat. I tied on a lighter caddis pattern, to reduce foul hooking, and launched my line back in to the pack. I ended hooking probably the smallest bigmouth buffalo I've caught to date. Rinkydink.

A little dude.
A little dude.

Looking for something a bit bigger, I tied on a big piece of meat, the Darth Clam. Utilizing a skagit cast, I bombed my fly out to a current seam about 20 or so yards away. I needed to negotiate a section of adjacent slack water, so I heaved a few stack mends to keep my fly from dragging. Since the water was cold, I knew the bite would be subtle. The previous fish were sluggish on the fights, so I knew I needed to use the force to detect any strikes. After what I imagined was a brief hesitation, I stripped my line in only to find some resistance. I set the hook. I had a chunky buffalo on the line and did everything I could to keep this fish from turning downstream like that carp. I eventually subdued the beast and landed it. Mamba Jamba!

A hell of a beastie
A hell of a beastie.

The wind was howling out of the Great White North something fierce. Even skagit casting, I was having difficulty getting my casts to lay where I wanted. I tried to keep my aerialized line low to the water, to avoid having my running line get ahead of the front taper. Casting was definitely challenging, the wind was relentless.

I fished a stretch of fast water, in hopes of finding some redhorse. While I didn't manage to dredge up a Greater Redhorse, I found myself hooked in to a silver redhorse. Even thought this little guy was a runt, I love these fish.

A petite silver redhorse.
Silver redhorse.

I recalled reading the National Weather Service forecast this morning, and allegedly the highs were supposed to be near 34 for the day. Well, they lied. The temp never once budged above 26 degrees, and I constantly fought my rod guides from freezing up solid. I even had a microfilm of ice form on my line at times, fresh after a treatment of Agent X. You know it's cold when your landing net can stand up on its on, upside down.

It was cold, damn cold
It was cold, damn cold.

Even with pocket hand warmers and heat packs, wet hands equaled frozen hands. After handling that redhorse, and the ass-pounding wind, I told myself that after the next fish I was out of here. I fumbled around with my fly selection, careful not to let the wind find its way in to my fly box and take sail of a few nights tying worth of flies. I dug around for a giant zebra midge pattern I tied earlier this fall. I pinched on a small bit of shot to get the fly down and fished a current seam adjacent to the main channel. After a couple drifts, my guides iced up, and I had difficulty roll casting my fly back on to the water. I managed a half decent cast and watched my line drift awkwardly against the current. I sensed something wrong with the force, and strip set the hook. I found resistance and tightened my line up snug. I pulled back on my rod and lifted the fish. Another tank buffalo. I slowly worked the fish towards shore, admiring the beast for all of its beauty. What a specimen. This buffalo was nearly the same size as the one I caught earlier. I struggled to get a good grip around this fish, as it had some serious girth. I finally manged to get my hand around its thorax, and lifted the husky fish for a pose. A grand beauty.

Another fine beast on the fly
Another fine beast on the fly.

I ended the expedition successfully, and on my terms. Always a satisfying feeling. There's rumor of temps rising above freezing next week; just enough of a tease to pique my interest. Though it sounds tempting, this was likely my last outing for the season. Braving the harsh conditions paid off with some beefy fish, some of the largest of the season. All in all, I ended the season on a good note, leaving with some highlights to reminisce over, and promise for next season to daydream over the winter. This marks the changeover to my fly tying period, and the start of hard water season. I'll have plenty to keep me busy with until next spring. See you on the ice.

- the roughfisher