Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- Canadian Speck Edition

HHrrraauuuupppphhhggggghhhh@!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat! It’s Monday morning already? It must be time for coffee.

Have you ever had one of those crazy dreams that was so vivid it seems real? I had one. It involved bears, big brook trout, crazy Canadians and getting stuck way too far out in the bush. It went kind of like this.

I got back from my two weeks vacation in Europe to cold fall weather- cold enough I had to kick the heat on. Couple this situation with a little post-vacation blues and I was seeking a remedy.
Now the cure to most things that ail me is a camping trip in the UP, but then a friend from Sault St. Marie Canada got ahold of me and asked if I wanted to go bang around the bush and look for big brook trout- specks as they call them up there.

I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but that Canadian backcountry is pretty close to where I live, closer in fact than where I was headed in the UP. It only takes me two hours to get to the bush road by the time I’ve crossed the border. It is beautiful country consisting of the low mountains of the Canadian Shield
home for the weekend

I’ve always wanted to explore the Algoma backcountry but it is very intimidating if you don’t know the area. There’s thousands of lakes and hundreds of miles of the worst roads you can imagine. There’s lots of bears and no cell signal. Not every lake holds fish and so you could spend a lot of time searching empty water. But my friend Paul is a local who has spent years exploring the backcountry, and he is a big brook trout specialist. This was the chance of a lifetime and so of course I leapt at it.

It took me less than two hours to get to the rendezvous point- the Trading Post north of town. I bought a license and then Paul showed up. We loaded my gear and parked my car. Then it took two and a half hours to drive to where he has his fall camp set up. It’s not that far, but that’s how bad the roads are. They are washed out, boulder-strewn and poorly maintained. I’d never get my car in there. 
We saw two bears on the way in, which I took as a good sign.
badass bush machine

Paul has a nice camp set up with a trailer and all the necessities we needed to be comfortable in the bush. He even has a homemade propane heat exchanger to heat water to wash your hands and dishes and even shower if you want to. We were joined soon enough by Paul’s friend Pete, who rode in on his RZR ATV- a wicked little bush machine if there ever was one. These guys had their machines set up with racks for little canoes and jon boats and even mounts for small motors-  very efficient systems for negotiating the bad bush roads and worse trails into the lakes.
me and Pete in the RZR

We got up Saturday morning and hit the road in search of Bog Lake (names have been changed to protect the innocent fish). It only took 15 minutes to ride up to the turn-off, but from there it got sketchy. We drove past several lakes down some of the roughest trail I’ve ever seen and made our way into one small lake. We launched the boats, but when we didn’t get a bite in the first half hour they were ready to leave. Paul’s GPS showed we were on the wrong lake.

We then banged into the worst access I’ve ever seen. Both machines got stuck and we had to winch them out repeatedly. This again was the wrong lake, but we had worked so hard to get there that we launched the boats again. We trolled around for nearly an hour with no bites and then had to repeat the process- load the canoe, jon boat and gear on the bikes across a boggy outlet stream, winch the bikes back through the muskeg bog, then make our way out. Everything was covered in mud- us, the gear, my camera bag. What a mess.

We were headed to another lake they knew had fish when Pete hit the brakes. He had spotted a nearly invisible trail. We hiked a ways down it and there it was- Bog Lake. Despite how wicked the trail was they managed to get both bikes with the gear down it. Best of all, when we got down there we found a 16 foot boat stashed on the shore, big and stable enough for all three of us. We launched the boat and started casting and trolling. I was throwing streamers while they trolled spoons and spinners.

We hadn’t gone far when Pete hooked up. I grabbed his other rod to keep it from snagging bottom and another fish grabbed it. A double-header is a great way to get started on a lake. They were beautiful brookies, about a foot long or better, fat and colored up for the fall. At a beaver house a little further down Pete missed a monster speck. From there on the action got pretty consistent. We would troll for a few minutes and hook up on a fish, then stop and cast and catch a few more. The fish averaged 16-18” with a couple twenty inchers thrown in the mix. The males were into their spawning colors, flame orange with vivid orange, white and black fins, and glowing blue and red spots. It was amazing.
Pete with the double

amazing colors
Paul with a good fish
one of the better fish of the day

me with a good sized hen

I’d like to say I killed them on the fly but I didn’t. I switched streamers as much as I could but couldn’t get a follow. I caught a couple using their spinning gear. We stayed for a while and caught some nice fish, but their buddy Sean was supposed to make his way in to camp and we wanted to go catch some walleye for dinner. We kept three specks to eat as well.

When we got to camp Sean was there enjoying the campfire. We launched the boats to find some firewood and catch some walleye (pickerel in Canadese). We caught a few but didn’t keep many, as Paul also had 4 steaks to cook. We went back, built a roaring fire to ward off the cold (it never got out of the 40’s all weekend) and cooked steaks and fish and had a great time.

The next morning we got up early, made some coffee and headed back to Bog Lake. I was with Pete and we launched the 16 foot boat and got going. Pete caught a fish almost immediately, but my mission was to catch one on a fly. I had a hunch that I could get these fish to hit a mouse. As soon as I switched from black to white I got a smashing strike. Swing and a miss. Then a smaller fish launched out of the water after my gurgler. We crossed the lake to a rocky point that held fish the day before. Pete hooked up on his first and second casts on very respectable fish. I threw my gurgler out and it got smashed immediately but I trout set and missed it. I threw right back to the spot and when fish came up again and missed the fly I played my cards right and waited. Sure enough, it turned back around and engulfed the fly. Fish on.
proof you can do it on the fly

Pete's big fish

crazy colors

It was a beautiful hen 18 or 19 inches long. I didn’t get very good shots of her though, because at the same time Pete was hooked up on the biggest fish of the weekend, a fluorescent colored male that was nearly 4 pounds. I snapped a couple shots then helped Pete land and photograph his fish. It was amazing- colors so bright it hurt to look at him and just a great fish. The trip was worth it just to see that fish.

We didn’t stay too long after that. Sean wanted to cook up a big breakfast and we had camp to clean and close up. We had a great camp breakfast and hit the road by 2 o’clock to make the long ride out. Paul rode the bike out to save his truck a beating, so I drove his truck down the crazy boulder-strewn washed out excuses they have for bush roads up there. It was a ton of fun. I was home by 7 pm.

I can’t thank Paul, Pete and Sean enough for their hospitality and for showing me some great fishing. These guys are fishing machines and their knowledge of the bush would take years to figure out on my own, if ever. We’re already talking of future trips. They say there are lakes in the area with BIG specks in them.
Sean cooking it up for breakfast

So that was my crazy dream. But hey- my coffee is finished and it’s time to go to work.

Let’s get after it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- I Bid Thee Adieu. . .

. . . Fair Innsbruck.

Yaw- AWn, stretch, scratch, repeat. I have awoken to a beautiful sunny morning in Innsbruck. I get to enjoy one last day with my lovely daughter. She's not awake yet, as we went to Lake Lans again last night and had a little cookout and fire. It went on pretty late, so I have a few minutes to share some coffee with you before she wakes up.

I am of  course at the sad, reflective part of my trip. Every trip abroad is a revelation, and it takes time to chew over everything you've experienced. I like how life in a different country is like your own life but slightly skewed by the Butterfly Effect. . . A butterfly died millenia ago and so here, now,  the cars and roads are smaller, the food, architecture and music are a bit different and peoples faces are a touch inscrutable. You go back in your time machine to the US and everything is normal. But if you take that same time machine to Australia then everyone speaks English, but with a funny accent, and all the animals are weird or dangerous. Take it to New Zealand and you're on the set of Lord of the Rings. Take it to Africa and who knows what you'd find, but I'm sure it's not the safari you're imagining.

And so time travel and the Butterfly Effect are real. It has already happened. All we have to do is go out there and experience it. The results aren't always happy either. Step off that machine in the wrong place and you'll find warfare, famine, drought, Ebola. You find that the alternate universe your daughter lives in isn't all butterflies and unicorns. Take the wrong time machine, like a couple couple hundred people did on Malaysia airlines and it gets shot out from underneath you, blown to smithereens by a conflict of which you are not a participant and you probably had no idea you were skirting. Imagine- your last thoughts would be about how uncomfortable your seat is, how bad the Hungarian man next to you smells, and that you wish you had the guts to chat up the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty in the yellow flowered sari who boarded the plane after you and fixed you with a calm, enigmatic stare as she walked by. She probably doesn't speak English anyway. . .

So in the intervening week I've been running around the Innsbruck area, taking the tram to the top of the mountains, eating meals at small restaurants, and sneaking out to the bier gartens when I  get a chance, to take notes and write a little. It has been very cool and rainy, which has put a damper on some of our plans.

Saturday we got sick of the cold and wet. The Inn Valley  was solidly locked in fog, and storms hugged the mountain peaks in every direction. So we got up early and drove to Italy.
Roman arena, Verona central square

We set our sights first on Verona, home of the Capulet family and the setting of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, the soap opera of its day. As soon as we had crossed the Alps and into the lovely Dolomites region of Italy the skies changed and the air warmed. By the time we reached Verona it was over 80 degrees and beautiful. I won't go on at length here; only to say that it is a lovely city with a Roman arena at its center, still in use, and not far away is the home of Giulietta- Juliet to you and I.

We were still feeling restless however, and one place kept simmering in our thoughts and boiling over in our conversation- Venice. It was only an hour's drive from Verona, and we could hear it calling to us. We had to go.

One of the pleasant surprises of this trip was that driving here is not as difficult as I thought. India translated the signage and helped navigate, and I drove like a crazed local rather than a timid tourist. We never got lost, even without a map of Italy. Miraculous I'd say, given my reputation.
at the wheel in Italy

Venice is everything you hear and wish and dream it to be. It is a carnival and side-show, It is Disney for adults. It is a carefully orchestrated spectacle as dreamed up by Las Vegas, visited by perhaps a million tourists daily. Three cruise ships were in port, towering over the skyline of the old city. Venice only stinks if you don't know what a salt marsh smells like at low tide. At high tide it simply smells of saltwater, leather and tomato sauce. Despite the crush of tourists, the occasional beggar, the Pakistanis and Bengalis pushing roses and knick-knacks in your face, Venice is everything you dream of- quaint, old, rich history, gondoliers, narrow alleys and canals with laundry fluttering overhead,good food if you search hard enough. It is the kind of place I could spend a week on just photography, searching every canal and back alley for the perfect lighting and forgotten piece of architecture. There are still buildings that are only reachable by water. I highly recommend you take your time machine there.
with my daughter in Venice

St. Mark's square

Which brings me back to the fishing. The Inn River has been blown out by continuous rain my entire visit. It is famous for its large grayling (Ashe) brown trout (Bachforelle) and Huchen. Huchen, or Danube salmon are believed to be a progenitor of brown trout and Atlantic salmon. I would have liked to fish for them.

It was not to be so. I don't fish these conditions at home, and the locals weren't about to take me out on what they saw as a fool's errand. Couple that with all the arcana of local custom and law and we ended up going to a high alpine stocked lake to fish.
our little group

I didn't mind either. The season for brown trout in the smaller local streams had closed the end of August. This lake we went to was stunningly beautiful, with aquamarine water, mossy dark forests, and steep mountains surrounding it. It was also full of fish. They cruised the shorelines in the manner of trout not used to seeing a lot of flies.

We hiked to the far end and I rigged up. Lawrence, the license holder from the local fly shop, had brought me a pair of cheap plastic waders to wear. I rigged up my rod, and because the flies and activity looked the same here as on the lakes at home I tied on a pair of flies without consulting my guide. I hooked up on my fourth cast. Everyone shouted encouragement from shore and India took photographs.

It was, of all things, a rainbow trout native to California. It wasn't huge, just a decent fish. I caught two more on successive casts, then a fourth before the fish got wise and moved off. Then my right leg sprung a leak and filled with glacial melt. Then it began to rain and so I went to shore, chatted with Lawrence, opened a beer. I took off the waders and Simon tried to patch them. Then he wanted to fish, so I handed him the rod and coached him a little. Simon has fly fished before but was a little rusty. It didn't take him long to start throwing loops like a pro.
hooked up

Austrian rainbow

The fish and the weather had other plans. The rain seemed to make them tight lipped and selective. We wandered back to a bridge over the lake near a chapel. Trout were rising in every direction. Mayflies that looked like Isonychia began to hatch and flutter. A herdsman with his cattle came through. He was wild looking, with his leather pants and vest, Tiroler hat and matted long hair. I resisted the urge to photograph him. You can't steal everyone's soul. Simon landed a small fish and then removed the waders and handed the rod back to me. I went to the other side of the bridge to where the casting was more open and a lot of trout were cruising.

It took some doing but I finally got a small trout to take on the dryfly (thank you John Sheets for your red quills). It was nothing I had ever seen or caught before. They called it a Seeforelle, but it was not a brown trout. It is some sort of sea-run species which they said gets very large. I caught another and then of all things an arctic char.
Simon and the cows


Arctic char

We then left and went back to Lake Lans. Simon and I cast around a little and nearly hooked up on two huge carp that came up for the dry fly. We cooked meat and vegetables and one of the rainbow trout over a brazier. Simon and India played a guitar and sang. It was the perfect way to end summer, and a trip to Austria.

Well, my coffee is done and I'm sure you need to get to work. I have to get ready to board my time machine.

Let's get after it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- Our Man in Innsbruck Edition

Yaaauuucchhhhhhh!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. It’s Monday morning- Labor Day for all of you in the US, so happy Labor Day everyone! The weather will continuously go south for the next nine months, so you had better get a barbecue in today while you still can. And being Monday, let’s have some coffee.

Well, if you are as out of touch with this blog as I have been you may not realize that I am coming to you live from Innsbruck Austria. That’s right, I am in a beautiful Alpine valley surrounded by high mountain peaks and streams full of trout. I’m in the middle of a two week visit with my daughter (India is her name) who lives here.

Which begs the obvious question- Have I gone fishing yet?

No, but plans are coming together, and it could happen today even. Simon is working on it. Daniel’s family (India’s boyfriend) actually holds the license for a stretch of the Sill river.

the River Sill
The rules for fishing here are arcane at best. It’s not like in America where you go buy a license relatively cheaply and then find some public water. Here all of the water and fishing rights are private, and you need permission, membership, hereditary right, or to pay for a day on the river in order to fish, and it can be quite expensive. We did go up the mountain the other day to a lake, the Lanser See (Lake Lanser), also owned by Daniel’s family, to enjoy what little nice weather we are having. It was full of little fish that look like bluegills to me, but it also has pike, carp and even Wels catfish.

Hanging out at the Lanser See
and dinner after

So up until now I’ve just been enjoying reconnecting with my daughter, sightseeing here in the valley, eating the exquisite central European food, a diet that seems to consist of bread, butter, cheese, cured meats and honey. We toured some silver mines down the valley, deep under the mountains. It was the kind of unique thing you would never find in America. You ride a tram that is barely wider than a person with the rock walls inches from your head and body, with water pouring from the ceiling all over you. It would be a liability and OSHA nightmare in America, but they don’t have the same concept in most of Europe.

street scene in Hall, Austria

I really enjoy the oldness of everything here, the winding layout of the cobbled streets and narrow alleys that twist between medieval buildings. There is a church every few hundred feet, and each one is really old, ornate, stunning, or all of the above.
inside a church

We spent the day in Munich yesterday. My daughter works as a tour guide there. I was supposed to tag along on her tour for the day, but they didn’t have enough people for the tour and so we followed another guide for a time, listening to stories of Hitler’s beer hall putsch and scandalous stories about the Bavarian kings before we broke away to do our own thing. She lived in Munich for two years before coming to Innsbruck and her intimate knowledge of the city is allowing me to see and experience things I could not as a tourist.

They are having an exceptionally cool, wet summer here, and so we spent a couple of hours over lunch in a fashionable diner while it rained, drinking coffee and talking. We had an appetizer of goat’s cheese drizzled with honey and sprinkled with herbs served with toasted artisanal bread- the kind of thing you don’t see much of at home and what makes it worth coming here for. Our meals were similarly memorable.

We then made a tour of the beer halls. We explored the Hofbrauhaus quite thoroughly without ordering a beer, but then we made our way to the Schneiderweisse establishment and drank a couple of their exquisite wheat beers. We walked around some more before stopping off at the Augustiner beer hall and drinking a Dunkel. Once again, more fantastic beer and just a cool local place to hang out, have a bowl of delicious soup and get out of the incessant rain before taking the bus back to Innsbruck.

So I’m sorry this weeks MMC is more travelogue than fishing report. Hopefully I’ll get out a time or two this week. It’s just a matter of coordinating schedules at this point, as all of India’s friends work, and getting access likewise takes work. It will happen.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your Labor Day and get out fishing. My coffee is gone, it’s time to rustle up some breakfast and then go for a run.

Let’s get after it.