“This is not something you normally say when you are fishing with flies,” thought Kyle Zempel, “but thank God for the wind.”
What Zempel, the owner of the Black Earth Angling Company and our guide on this short trip to the Wisconsin River, meant was that without the calming influence of the wind, we would have stayed in our sweat ponds. The midday temperature had soared in the 1990s and while it is tempting to call this stifling heat “unreasonable” for Wisconsin in June, the definition of “of the seasons” has become increasingly slippery nowadays.
However, in a way, the tropical conditions were suitable for the environment. This Wisconsin expanse is broad, interlocking, relatively shallow, with dense forests and almost completely undeveloped. Sprinkle some hippopotamus around and maybe one or two elephants, throw away the distant noise of a lion and some chatter of monkeys being filtered from the tops of the trees and you would have no problem imagining that you would have descended into a river somewhere in Africa. .
Or, by adopting another frame of reference, if you were to replace the densely arranged willows that grew along the water’s edge with mangroves, it would be just as easy to imagine that you are in one of those remote dwellings in the Bahamas – yes I think the west side of Andros here – which seems to have no beginning or end.
It is simply a very cool place (even when the sun goes down with the hammer and is hotter than hell), just as much a river of sand as water. Phenomenal wildlife habitat, too: My fishing partner Winston Ostrow identified 43 different species of birds during our day in the river, many of the smallest, wildest – American reds, blue-gray catfish, vireos yellow – only by their vocalization. Hey, they do not call it Sage of Driftless.
At this point you are probably wondering What about small mouth fishing? Well, the short, trip-specific answer is that it was very good. Lots of very aggressive fish, lots of “eat” with pointed wraps (all on the surface or just below it), lots of high-speed and alluring action – so much fun that you find yourself looking over your shoulder to see if the cops are coming .
(In fact, some DNR guards He did show up but, seeing that we were fly fishermen, they did not even try to check our patent. They asked us how it was going, made fun of some with Kyle and left on a motorcycle.)
The somewhat longer and more general answer is that this may be the most unique sea bass fishing in the world. It is definitely the most unique I have ever known. The first rule of small-mouth fishing, iron enough to have the force of law, is that they are a rock fish. Find rocks – rocky outcrops, rocky reefs, rocky shores, rocky whatever – and you will find small ones.
Photo: Kyle Zempel.
This makes perfect sense when you consider that while the small sea bass is an opportunistic predator that enjoys a varied fee, its favorite menu choice, so far, is lobster. And where do lobsters live? On the rocks, of course, snatching in and out of cracks with that fierce savage attitude, common to the whole tribe of aquatic crustaceans.
This smallmouth rocks equation is true everywhere in the small country – but not in lower Wisconsin. You can travel many miles of river there without seeing the number one rock, and while I’m sure there are lobsters in the ecosystem, a pretty little one aiming at a belly dinner is likely to starve before finding enough of them to make a meal.
But if lobsters are rare, bait fish, especially emerald glosses, are extremely abundant. And Wisconsin low-river sea bass have evolved not only to include but also to hunt in package. This, too, is unique in my experience — and I caught my first little bass in 1965. Waiting in ambush from some sort of secret place — the branches of a fallen tree, say, or below the edge where it falls a flat or strip of sand and the current covers it – they will be thrown over a transitional school with murderous intentions and savage savagery, causing the water to foam as they pursue their prey without remorse.
Photo: Kyle Zempel.
Excuse me, I left a little there. Writing for the little mouth has that effect on me.
Kyle Zempel called this phenomenon the “Collision” and in about ten years since he was a pioneer of fishing, the term has become synonymous with small-mouth fly fishing in low Wisconsin. (You can find numerous videos of this spectacle from Googling “smallmouth the crash.”) If you’ve ever seen blue fish or ribbons “flipping” bait fish into salt, this is exactly the deal. Throwing a fly simulator anywhere near a small crashing mouthpiece is like throwing a lighted match into a can of gasoline. An explosion is inevitable.
The small mouth bump usually shoots up and down a specific part of the coastline or structure at sea, and here comes a great piece of technology called “Spot-Lock”. Also called the “GPS anchor”, it basically gives the command Stay! on a bow-mounted trolling engine, which responds by adjusting thrust and direction as needed to keep the boat still. With Spot-Lock, Kyle can position his boat – an extremely stable center console, powered by a 65-horsepower Mercury aircraft (the only way to get into these shallow, barrier-filled waters) – wherever he wants without having to raise it. anchor whenever he makes a move.
Photo: Kyle Zempel.
It’s pretty sweet. And it’s a devilishly effective way to help your sports keep their flies in the danger zone of the little mouth. (Yes I saw it High weapon re-boot.) As an old-school old boy, I fished Dahlberg Diver-type riffs all day; Winston, for his part, tested a number of models before settling on Crease Fly, which, not coincidentally, is Kyle’s “go to”. There is a reason for this: it works. It’s also easy and cheap to connect, and also surprisingly durable – a winning combination for a fly fishing professional who needs to keep a sharp eye on the bottom line.
I got confused with some northern peaks, too, fish coming out of the bank like Javelin missiles aimed at Russian tanks and absolutely exploding in a Chartreuse Dahlberg (and it finally cost me one of them). They are among the smorgasbords of the species that populate lower Wisconsin; The day before Winston and I were fishing with Kyle, his client had landed an 18-inch white bass, the largest “white” any of us had ever heard. Walleyes are another fairly common catch, especially in the fall. There are also some muscles around, but the only time you see them, according to Kyle, is when they are trying to prepare a meal from a small mouth that someone is bringing – a meeting that tends to end very unhappily for the little mouth.
Some delightful non-game species also thrive in these waters, including paddle fish, some varieties of linden, and something called a needle sucker that is a dead buzzer for a children’s permit. “Leave the sand,” Kyle calls them. However, he has not figured out how to catch them.
Lower Wisconsin River Collision Camp (photo: Kyle Zempel).
If you think sand is a recurring theme here, well, understand this: Leopold hut, the former chicken coop that was the weekend break for Aldo Leopold and his family and served as the setting for his immortality. A Sand County Almanacstands just a few clicks above the river from where we entered. I do not know that Leopold has fished much in Wisconsin, but I have no doubt that if he were here he would shake his head in approval of Kyle- and that he would admire the devil from the ethics of respect, for the river and his resources, which Kyle brings to his work.
“I keep waiting for this to age,” Kyle said at the end of the day as another small mouth exploded one of our flies. “But it never happens.”