Tight Lines 2010 Guides year in review.
It’s October and it’s hard to believe I’m writing yet another Guide Year in Review. As I look back on the last couple years, I notice a common thread. Every season we run into some sort of adversity that our guides need to overcome. In 2008, it was heavy winds; 2009, marked the second coldest on record and this year – HUGE water. I have never seen the river with that much water in it. To give you an idea just how much water; I guided this spring’s pre-spawn with 590 cubic feet per second and this September saw the river spike to 10,300! Who knows what next season will bring. (Shop joke ”year of the locust”) I think the best testament to our guides is that through it all, the guys are still finding fish, and lots of them. I hear what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I am however looking forward to a “normal” season.
This year it’s official, Bart and I are getting old. Gone are the days of us sleeping on picnic tables, in random parks, or packing 5 grown men into a wee little camper. When all this got started it was just Bart and I and we did what we needed to do to make it work. This included sleeping on picnic tables in random parks and wondering how many mosquito bites one could endure. So this season we rented out a 3 bedroom apartment with hardwood floors a “real” bathroom and air conditioning. When I asked Bart-O about it he simply said “YES, I don’t care how much it costs.” No going back for any of us. The new pad had some visitors this summer: Videographer RA Beattie stayed with us and shot smallmouth footage for his new film “Off the Grid”, The SIMMS website, and the Fly Fishing Film Tour. He shot some amazing stuff that is very representative of the great fishery we have. The Shop is excited that the Midwest finally got some good press.
Every year new things are learned and new experiences are shared. This season I saw fish still actively feeding even when the water jumped from 1,700 cfs to 5,700 cfs. I had Kim McCarthy and Bill Heart in the boat; the three of us watched the water at the boat ramp move past us at record speed sending downed trees, and debris from above. The bass still ate and ate well. Go figure! I watched bass actively feed on Hendrickson spinners with Bob Harrison and Mike Rock. I watched Lynn Langenfeld land yet another GIANT smallmouth. I learned that I could eat an 18 oz steak at the T n T five nights a week and still not put on any weight if I row seven days a week. I found out that some people like Tom and Anne Rodhouse and Vance Webb catch and land tons of big smallmouth every time they come. I also learned that you can feed a smallmouth a popper almost any day if you can find the right water. It’s these things that are the best part about being a guide.
This job has become such a huge part of who I am and has made me more aware of my surroundings than anything else I have ever done. I can tell the arrival of late summer by the blooming of the cardinal flowers. I can tell my season is coming to an end when I see the first night hawks swirling above the river. The river becomes a part of us. I would like to thank all the guides who live together in harmony most of the time. I would also like to thank all the customers that I have become close friends with over a decade of guiding the river, and to the guys at the shop for keeping it all together. It is definitely a team effort to keep 7 guides working and the schedules straight. Finally I want to thank Sarah. If it wasn’t for her the shop would not exist. She believed in me and we built the store together. It will be 10 years in business on Feb. 1, 2011! We look forward to sharing many, many more with all of you.
Tight Lines, Tim Landwehr
Once again, it was a strange summer from a weather standpoint. We started the summer off with water levels that were half of the all-time recorded low, only to move into July and have more water than we’d ever seen. August showed us some stability and September brought flood-stage water levels once again. I jokingly told Tim that based on the trend of last year’s cold water and this year’s high water; expect frogs and locusts for next summer. In all seriousness, we’re due for a “normal” summer one of these years. Because of the fluctuating water levels and shifting weather trends, there were days in which we were forced to dig into the bag of tricks just to put a handful of fish into the boat. Tough for the psyche, but it truly does make one a better guide. This year also brought a huge change for Team Tight Lines. We were lucky enough to have a great apartment rented out to us for the summer. We went from a tiny camper in the woods to hardwood floors, cable television, a full kitchen, central air and a real bathroom. I’d like to send a huge Thank You to Mike and Debbie for renting their place to us. It was so great to go back to a place that was actually comfortable (and big enough for four guys and two dogs). Movin’ on up!There are a lot of memorable moments that stick out in my mind for the 2010 season, here are just a few…
-My two days with Mike C., in which he closed the first day with an 18, a 19 and a 21 and then got ants the second day. Talk about your stars being aligned. I don’t know if I’ve even had a single guy catch that many fish in a 48 hour period!
-My day with Dave H. on the lower. We put something like seven fish in the boat that were nineteen inches or better, nearly all on ants and hoppers! Dave landed one of the biggest fish of the day when I heard the fish slurp the fly behind the boat. Who needs eyes when your guide can hear?!
-“Wursday” with the Rodhouses. Oh yeah, and the very angry musky that assaulted Anne’s popper and Tom’s Swimming Baitfish.
-Dennis and Laura’s awesome day. Dennis and his kids had drawn the short straw on three consecutive trips in regards to weather. Dennis, we finally got a nice day and the fish responded. Of course, we couldn’t get through a trip without some rain. We also dubbed a previously uncharted channel the “Kennedy Canal”.
-Guiding the barefooted wife of a guy (who was nearly dead from alcohol poisoning) up through the woods to a trail so that she could go call 911 to try to save his life. Her feet were so covered in poison ivy, nettles and cuts. There was a lot of cussing and I think she swore that if he lived, he was in the deepest s&%$ ever. He lived, and I’m sure he’ll think twice about drinking half a bottle of JD in the sun, in an inner tube, with no water to drink!
-“Tell me those aren’t eyes.”
Once again, Thank You to all of my customers for making it another great season. Whether it was our first time together or our tenth, I look forward to each day and what we may find on the water. Bart, Hunter, Tim Nelson and Todd, you guys are the greatest to work with. Most people have jobs in which they can’t wait to get away from their coworkers at the end of the day. Not me. Heading back to camp to wash our boats, crack a beer and listen to some random jam-band is truly a reward at the end of a long day. You guys rock. Charlie, Jim and Kim… you guys make the wheels go around in the summer. Getting us gear, booking trips or just calling to facetiously ask us if it was windy or rainy up there (when you knew damn well that it was), we appreciate you guys and all that you do. Thank you to Tim and Sarah for letting us all do what we do. It’s an honor to work for Tight Lines and I’m looking forward to 2011. And lastly, thank you to my beautiful wife, Kristy. It’s not easy to juggle work and two kids while I’m gone all summer, but you do it. You’re the best and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As another season sputters to a close and I sit and down to write this recap, October winds howl, rain is falling, and I have steelhead on the brain! Much like any other season, I got to spend lot of nights with a stellar group of guys, all pulling on oars like rented mules, and spending our off hours getting ready for “tomorrow” as fast as possible, so that we might take advantage of a few moments of quiet time and shared beers. Don’t take this as a complaint however, I love what I do, and have done it for long enough now to know that it is a major part of who I am.
The season started off with a visit from RA Beattie and the crew from Simms Fishing Products. We filmed some great stuff right before the water went off the charts, and what a time was had by all. Talk about a stellar group of fishheads-they showed up in camp and five minutes later it seemed as though they had always been around.As for the season…WATER!!! We went from a spring that had us guessing whether or not we’d actually be able to float boats in August, to an onslaught of rain best described as biblical in proportion. I have run the bigger rapids on our rivers for many years without a second thought-this year was different. I saw full-sized trees, root ball and all, grinding down the river. Yikes. My usual lunch spots were underwater most days, and spots that I have always been “ace in the hole” no longer followed the tradition. Despite this, fish have to eat right? So we pushed up our sleeves and started rethinking our approach. It’s amazing how productive and fun the boulder flats that normally can’t support a minnow get when 3 feet of water flows over them!
So here is the spot where I throw down some amazing stories about huge fish and cool eats and savage battles and all that testosterone driven banter, right? Ok, I’ll do it. Bob Harrison, aka “smallmouth whisperer” put on an end of day rally the likes of which I’ve not seen before. In sight of the landing on a marginal day fish-wise, he loads up for bear on a popper flat that felt “right”, and boy did he knock em’ dead. Three row arounds later and something like 9 fish over 17” to hand, we said uncle. No more deserving an angler was in charge of the rod (a Winston IM6 9‘ 7wt that I love very much) than he. Thanks for everything Bob! I also got to experience Tom and Ann Rodhouse knocking the heck out of monster bass day in and day out and never quitting, never tiring, and never wanting to go in at night! My kind of people! The list could go on, but more than anything I know that it will. As much as clients have fun fishing with us, our delight comes back tenfold. In my opinion, there is nothing cooler than watching an otherwise reserved angler unravel at the fury associated with a serious smallmouth who suddenly becomes unhappy with his meal choice. And we get to see it a lot. So to all my clients, keep the experiences coming, I love every one!!! And to the boys I share quarters with (which by the way was much better than a trailer this year), it’s a pleasure, an honor, and a hell of a lot of fun!!!
Cheers, Bart and Marley
As I write this season in review, I am realizing how much I sound like a broken record when talking about the spring creeks. Better hatches…..more fish….blah, blah, blah, but it seems to be true on an annual basis. Due to the tremendous efforts of conservation groups with Trout Unlimited leading the way, the fishing in Southwest Wisconsin has become world-class. If I were to pick a few phrases to sum up the 2010 season they would be: more easements, more habitat work, more bugs, more fish, better fishing.
March was similar to most in the past. The fishing was good when the weather was warm and there was some water in the rivers. When the water was low and it was cold, the fishing was slower. Pretty typical for that time of year. I got lucky a few times and ran into some good midge hatches, but like most springs, the big show was in April.
I spent the last three weeks of April guiding the creeks this past season. Fortunately, I was able to trade my wet, cold tent for some better boarding. My now good friends Steve and Deb Bentz, owners of the Mayfly Lodge, put me up for that entire stint. They own a beautiful place that overlooks a piece of the North Fork of the Bad Axe. Prime real estate to say the least! To this day, I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality. Not only did I stay there, but several of my customers got to enjoy the place, as well.
As for the fishing, well, I got to deal with the entire gamut of what Mother Nature has to offer in April. Everything from snow flurries to mid-eighties all in the span of three weeks. This dramatic fluctuation of weather certainly impacts the trout fishing, but the great thing about the spring creeks is that a change in technique will make a difference under most any circumstance. I’m a firm believer that some fish will eat at any given time. This year was no exception. Fortunately for us, it seemed as though fish were looking up more often than not.
Though a number of great trips were had, sticking with the extreme weather theme, I’d like to briefly talk about just a couple of them. I fished three days with Don Larmouth in early April. We had some very cold weather…….basically like winter set in again. One day of the three was particularly cold and windy with occasional snow. We began the day nymphing a couple pools. We hooked a few fish, but I was holding out in hopes of some dry fly fishing. We had lunch just below a flat that is a great producer when there are bugs on the water. Don and I joked about the “big olive hatch” we saw in the morning that consisted of one bug. Our luck changed for the better shortly after lunch. The flat became alive with rising fish. Midges showed in good numbers and Don got into the risers. Don has seen better days as far as his health is concerned, but his tenacity as an angler is something to be admired by anyone that considers themselves a die-hard fly fisherman. I will never forget the last hour of fishing that day. It was about an hour after we should have left. We were cold and tired. Don’s balance was coming and going after lots of activity. I asked him if it was time to head back to the lodge. He looked at me and said, “Well, we should, but I’m not going to”. He just couldn’t leave the risers. It was an inspiring day, to say the least.
On the opposite end of the weather spectrum, I had a couple very warm, sunny days with a gentleman named Vance. These were a couple days when the stars were perfectly aligned for me as a guide. Vance was a pleasure to fish with and he could get the job done. We saw about as many rising trout as we could handle. The hatches of olives and caddis were just outstanding. We were catching fish hand-over-fist steadily both days. I don’t think we went more than fifteen minutes without a hook-up on the first day. It was just amazing!
One particular moment really stands out. I had Vance fishing two dries in a small pool that had some rising fish. He made a cast and there was a big explosion. As soon as he set the hook, I saw two separate flashes. He had hooked the first and only double on dries that I have ever seen. After some struggling, the dropper fish broke off, but the fish on the point fly was landed. It was a fourteen inch brook trout. What a day!
Overall, it was another wonderful spring on the creeks. I’m already excited for next year. Thank you to everyone who fished with me in the 2010 season. Enjoy the off-season. I’m looking forward to fishing with some of you again in 2011.
If there ever was a season to tell me it’s not about the fish but instead about the people, this was it. That is not to say the fishing isn’t important—it has become more important than ever at a point in life when time is precious. But so have the people. My summer days were split between time with my daughter and time on the water with old and new friends. I was lucky; I didn’t feel a need to compromise between the new most important thing in my life over the past two years and the other an important part of my life over the past 20 years.
High water and rain might have been what many people thought of the northwoods rivers this summer, but truth be told our rivers flowed close to ‘normal’ (compared to long-term records). That didn’t make challenging smallmouth fishing any easier to take—but it did make me appreciate every fish that much more. It also made me appreciate my waterproof fly boxes, which quickly paid for themselves in saved work (no fly drying at the end of the day). Still, despite tougher conditions, months later my best memories always return to evening popper fishing in the shallows and, long conversations and joke-telling under the big pines of the Menominee while waiting out the strong summer rain showers. I only hope we all get the same chances together again next year.
A mid-summer break took me to Silverton, Colorado, for a family trip. A small cabin on the Animas River seemed like something out of a movie. My brother-in-law, ready to give fly fishing a serious go, and I spent time on the Animas and a local mountain stream. The Animas gave us a few browns on a guide trip near Durango, but more importantly showed us some great country and a good lesson in high-stick nymphing from a great guide. But our afternoons on a brook trout stream in the mountains were halcyon days. With water barely ten feet wide and two feet deep, we watched brookies and cutthroats rise to our dries all day long. We needed that for different reasons—for him to see fly fishing at its best and for me a reminder of my first love born on a northwoods Wisconsin stream (Prairie River brook trout nearly 20 years ago now). My brother-in-law is from Colorado, but up near Grand Junction, and he knows the outdoors and many other things, well. A good man, it would be nice to fish with him more often; we’ll have to find a way.
I have the best guides and ‘boss’ in the business to call my friends. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family—even the little one added ‘fishing’ quickly to her new vocabulary; I know how lucky I am. They’ve all let me stay in the mix for quite a few years, and I can’t thank them enough for it. See you in 2011.
The end of another guide season…. I always put off writing this letter, like putting the boat cover on and sliding her into the barn, or tucking the popper box away in the closet. It just isn’t something I want to come to an end. There are so many memories from the past few months, but a few particular days stand out. I had an epic day of ants with Leroy and Ian. We had eight doubles! The fish were hitting Chernobyl Ants like it was their last meal. One day a friend, John, and I had to go to the emergency room for wading-related stitches. I also sat out the WORST electrical storm with Dave and his grandson. It lasted an hour and a half and there was lightning all around us.
Certainly the best part of guiding is sharing memories with so many customers throughout a summer. This summer I took out a couple from Chicago that was new to fly fishing. These three days turned out to be some of the most memorable days of guiding I had. It was their first time fly fishing, and at times it was very difficult, but we shared in some great laughs and they caught some truly unforgettable fish. That trip made me remember why I enjoy being a fishing guide. This year also marked the arrival of a new boat, a new Ford F150, and me with a fu manchu! It was a summer of high water, with the river levels changing daily. Despite the varying conditions, the fishing was very good. Well, fall is rolling in. The nights are getting colder. Sage and I will be chasing down some birds when we can. Winter hasn’t even arrived yet, but we are both already looking forward to pulling the boat out in the spring. Until then, cheers from the both of us, and more importantly, tight lines.
Hunter and Sage
2010 came and went in a blur. I was only on for a handful of trips this season with high water and cancellations being the name of the game, so I only have a few things to mention here. My wife and I do this a lot – we call it “high/low”. Usually at the dinner table we pick something from our day that we each remember as a high and something that was a low. On the best days in life, you are struggling to choose between the top high points because there were so many and you cannot really remember a low that stands out. So, here goes for the guide season of 2011. The low is really not much of a low, but it likely went something like this, though it only happened a couple of times. I had prepped a gourmet lunch complete with fresh fruit and planned on presenting fresh ground, hot coffee…..the kind of lunch that the other guides always say “Geez, what is Polacek gonna bring this time, a Panini sandwich maker and a key lime pie?!”. I tied perfect knots to perfect flies and cleaned the Clacka spotless. The river was flowing perfectly and the fish were eating poppers all day long….etc. Then it would happen. I would get a phone call from Tim. Tim would leave me a sheepish message informing me of the client’s cancellation. Often guests were concerned about high water. It wasn’t really much of a low because I would just head up anyway and fish with a friend or a fellow guide that had the day off. Yeah, it’s beyond in the blood when invariably, this group of guides would rather put off “laundry month” after rowing guests for a week so they could go fishing! That makes it easy to identify the high of the season.
After a tough year with some other stuff, a few things were always consistent – the kinship and camaraderie of this group and the quality of the fishery. Even when things were challenging and the fish were laying low for a period, the ensuing “eats” were memorable. That said, there was one outing that was particularly noteworthy. Nate and I ran a section of the river that was around 6X normal flow “against all odds” to try and drum up a muskie on something big and hairy. After we launched, they opened up the roller gates at the dam. A guy in a white hardhat and orange vest came down and stared at Nate’s drift boat. He gave me a look that I cannot describe. He introduced himself as a dam-operating engineer and said “good luck”. We didn’t know if he was referring to the fishing or our fate. We just went at it with low expectations. The river was huge. I kept the tip down and reefed Charlie’s “Black Mamba” fly into the maw of a big pike. Later we laughed at how hard it was to throw sailfish flies, like the Pole Dancer, and Nate proved big smallies would blast it with abandon despite water temps falling to the 50’s. It was a nice finish to a crazy year for me when just letting go of how you “think it should look” yielded surprising results. Thank you guys for everything.