If you have been following along then you know that Vickie and I were in Decorah, Iowa where I was doing some fly fishing for various species of trout. A few hours north and a bit east…and we parked our camper in Hayward, Wisconsin. Now it’s an understatement to say that they take their fishing seriously up here, up being just south of Lake Superior. One of the first things that we did when we got into Hayward was to visit the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. You might know the museum if you saw it, the show piece is a big musky (143 feet long and the largest musky in the world). If you’ve been to the museum then you know that you literally walk up into the mouth of the ‘great beast’ and look down on the other many large sculptures of various fish species. Either way, if you ever get the chance, stop in as the museum in quite fascinating.
One other highlight of downtown Hayward was The Hayward Fly Fishing Company. Just a half block off of Main Street put the shop right in the midst of tourism and shopping; for many they stop in and stroll past flies, waders, nets etc…like I might in a shoe store. Now I won’t go as far as saying it was a religious experience but this was one of, if not the best fly shop I have been to. Not only was there a large selection of streamers…great big meaty flies for big fish that like to eat heartily…but the one and only employee was a special chap. We started talking and not only did he give me some prudent advice but we found out we had lots in common, like our love for German Wirehairs. One thing led to another and after purchasing a few flies for patterns for my own tying…maps were talked over, circled and I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling, a feeling that gave me some confidence for going out on the local river.
That local river is the Namekagon (try this…Nay-Muh-Kay-Gen) as I had a hard time saying it at first. I have read about this mystical river in many magazines and couldn’t wait or even believe that I was going to get a chance to fish it. I would get up the next morning with my Creek Company Voyager and float gently down the tea-colored water, it was that simple. Somewhere around midnight I heard the first rumblings of what would be one of the worst storms we have weathered while in our camper. I even sat for about 10 minutes watching Vickie’s phone to see if the radar looked like a tornado might be on the horizon. By morning I wasn’t just glad we had survived the night but was wondering if there would even be any fishing.
We loaded up the truck with all the necessities, drove about 15 minutes east of Hayward to Stinnett Landing. I unloaded all of my gear, boat, rods, etc… and jumped into the tannic waters of the Namekagon and headed east where five hours later and about five miles downstream…Vickie would pick me up. The first fifty feet was exciting as it was a set of rapids that on a normal day might have been placid, but a few hours after two inches of rain…well, it was boiling. Me and the boat went through unscathed and immediately I stripped off about 30 foot of fly line and made my first cast. The boat was now in an eddy and being pulled around the outside of a ‘bowl’ that I was floating upon. I quickly made another cast ahead of me, bang, there on the other end was my first smallie of the day, a real chubby 12 incher. Could it be this easy? I headed down the chute into the main beam of the stream; stood up in about three foot of water and with the boat surrounding me began making cast to structure on the outside of the stream. Once again my line became tight and I had hooked up with a fourteen inch smallie…and in the current it was quite a struggle to land. Two fish, less than ten minutes. Wow…what a day it was going to be; for the next four hours I casted, over and over and didn’t have another single bite!
We drove back to the campground and all I could do was try and figure out what had went wrong. The only thing…it had to be the weather. I’d take a few hours off and try it again; as luck would have it I planned on being back on the stream by 5pm and as I shoved off it started to drizzle. Most folks think that rain is bad but it is better in many ways. All I know is that in less than five minutes I had hooked and landed a nice 15 inch smallie…and things just felt better. Now I know that sounds ‘fishy’ but I can tell when the bite is about to happen.
I could hear rain rolling my way and I knew that in a minute I wasn’t going to be damp but soaked. I made a nice cast in and under an overhanging limb, made an upstream mend which stalled the fly out right in from of a downed log. Even through the tannic water I could still see the silver, shad colored fly…then it disappeared. What happened next was one of those experiences that as a fly-fisher, well you don’t get to enjoy often enough. Down river went my fly and line, the drag was screaming and I had no way to stop what was on the other line. Years of catching fish, even a few big ones…helped me keep my calm. I looked for a shallow spot to jump out of the boat, I would need a place to try and land the fish…if it ever decided to come back.
A few minutes later I finally gained ground and could see that I had hooked a true ‘pig’ of a smallmouth bass. Frankly until then I wasn’t sure if it was a musky, pike or something else. I continued to let the drag on my reel do the job and in time was able to reach down and lip an 18 inch bass. Now, I have caught longer, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more robust and round smallie before. It was a true beauty and a trophy. I snapped a few photos and then used my GoPro to film the release of the fish under water (I had the GoPro running and was able to capture the entire hooking/landing of the fish as well).
Before I hit the pick-up destination I had one more treat remaining; I was able to hook, catch and then release a 25 inch pike. Wow…this had been one of those days that I truly don’t think I will be able to forget. That’s what the outdoors will do and to be on one of the great rivers in Wisconsin…well, this was an adventure that for sure will help me to always Enjoy the Great Outdoors.