This colder weather has bitch-slapped the roughfish bite and called me out as having no game. I flailed in my last two attempts to make a fish to angler connection. My shot at Big Stone earlier in the week left me nothing but a few snagged cornstalks and a chill to the bone. My whitefish outing was typical of their short-lived spawning run, a day late and a dimebag short. How much more abuse can a roughfisher take?
High flows suck in the fall. There has been mad precip in the region this fall; Fargo and Grand Forks have reported it as the wettest fall on record. The rivers are swollen and running high in their banks. Many are near or at flood stage. This isn't bad in the spring, because fish are running and are plentiful. They're at least willing to bite and getting all horned up for the spawn. But the fall is a whole different bag. Fish are retreating to winter refuges and are generally unwilling to bite. Many fish go in to a state of torpor during this period, in order to conserve energy in the cold water. Fish are not concentrated and can be difficult to locate, giving off the appearance of a "dead sea". The biggest pain in the ass with high flows is trying to get your fly down.
Short of chucking out an anchor pattern, I could not get my fly down deep enough. Fishing alongside the northwoods for whitefish did not allow for back casts, and my 8 weight wasn't going to handle an additional 600 grains on a skagit cast. I heard reports from other anglers that they feared the run was over, and that fish were coming few and far between. I could live with that. Hard to get fish to move off their redds to take a fly if they're not there. Then, in one fell swoop, the day got worse, much worse.
I mentioned last week that there were snaggers harvesting fish uncontested. Sickening. After I got my rods broken down and put away for the long ride home, a pair of anglers drive up and ask about the bite. After I tell them that I think the run is over, the get out of their truck and head down to the river. They proceed to chuck out heavy hardware and jerk their rods back, in efforts to snag fish. Disgusted, I start to walk away, relieved that the majority of the fish are gone. I hear splashing, only to turn around and watch them snag a beaut of a whitefish. Damn. I watch them snag a few more fish before taking off in a foul mood. Not only were there fish still in the river, these assholes are busy snagging fish out in the wide open. The situation is hopeless.
I know the numbers game. One. That's the number of game wardens that work the area. It is prime in the middle of deer season, so the warden is busy taking care of unethical wood ticks illegally baiting deer. The other problem is that whitefish and other underutilized fish species do not get any respect around here. If the warden won't even bust people illegally spearing our coveted state fish, the walleye, out of season, why in the hell would he care about people snagging whitefish? It pisses me off.
All fish are created equal.
I would have called TIP (Turn In Poachers tip line), but unfortunately I know too well how the system works and know it would be a waste of time. Personal confrontation is out of the question, as there are way too many whacked out dickheads that couldn't be convinced that what they're doing is wrong, and would think nothing of messing a brother up. It's not worth it.
Bottom line, I need to get my shit together and watch the run close next year. I have contacts up there in the know, and need to use them. Next, I have to get back to the vise and tie up some beefy ass patterns that will hug gravel; Tight. Finally, I will pray to the rain gods to take it easy next fall so that high flows don't kick my ass again. Brownliners might not be the fastest learners, but you'd think we'd figure it out one of these seasons.
- the roughfisher