Monday, June 13, 2016

Fly-Fishing Central Wisconsin: Brook Trout on the Plover River

In my last post, I alluded to the ratio of drive time to stream time (DT:ST), and what my drive time limit would be for a finite amount of fishing. Once again, this past weekend, I pushed my own limits further than they have gone before, and found myself driving for an extended length, in both time and distance, in order to fly-fish on a far away body of water for a short period of time that many would find unacceptable. The original plan was simple - my brother-in-law, Alan, and I would meet up after work on Friday and drive up to his dad's hunting cabin in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Wisconsin. We'd be hauling Alan's side-by-side in the trailer behind us, and once we arrived, we would have two solid days of trout fishing and beer drinking, exploring the Plover River and getting into some fish. However, due to some family issues (that I don't find the need to go into on my fly-fishing blog), my arrangements changed to where Alan and I would have to drive separately because I would need to be back in St. Louis by the early afternoon on Sunday. My two days of fishing were cut in half, but even with that change in the DT:ST, the trip and the long hours of driving were well worth it.

The Plover River is about seven hours away from St. Louis. If you're driving in the dark, in the rain, with one working headlight, it's more like eight and a half hours away. The drive itself (about 99.9% interstate) is fairly easy, but one can go mad with nothing but Illinois farmland to stare at for so long. Last year, I found myself in the Colorado Rockies (where I did some fishing that I still haven't written about). Emily's dad and I were standing in the parking lot of a hotel in Boulder, Colorado listening to Cardinals baseball on KMOX AM 1120, a station whose 50,000 watt antenna is located about 900 miles east near Pontoon Beach, Illinois. In my drive up to Wisconsin, I figured I'd be well in range of KMOX, and that listening to the Redbirds would be a great way to kill a couple of hours on the road. I was passing El Paso, Illinois (about 175 miles from the antenna) when the signal began to fade and finally gave out. I was able to pick up Mr. Shannon's voice on another frequency, but I had to wait until the sun went down to pick the original signal back up. I was able to catch the end of the game all the way north to Madison, Wisconsin (about 350 miles from the antenna). Just goes to show that the Rocky Mountains can act like an hell of a satellite receiver for AM radio signals.

By the time I had passed Madison, the weather turned nasty and the last few hours of the drive truly seemed to drag. People out on the interstate that night were driving like a bunch of hooligans and weirdos, and I was out among them, so what does that say about me? Alan had left St. Louis a few hours before I did, so he was already at the cabin by the time I rolled in around 1:30 in the morning. I fell asleep on a couch staring up a stuffed black bear, not unlike the black bear Alan and his dad had captured on their trail cam this time last summer, not 200 yards from where I slept.

F***. That.
The next morning, Alan and I loaded his dad's canoe onto the side-by-side's trailer, and drove to the river's access point that Alan's dad suggested. There we found a freshly crushed giant snapping turtle, about the size of a 1980s Yellow Pages, that in its life looked like it enjoyed eating brook trout, house cats, and possible small to medium sized horses. I'm sure it took about 3/8 out of the car that had run it over. I felt safer knowing that this snapper no longer haunted the waters we were about to explore, but nervous that it's mean older brother might still be out there, ready to take a sizeable bite out of my waders, foot, leg, and life insurance policy.

The stretch of Plover River we were covering that day was fascinating. As we paddled upstream, the flow and volume of water seemed to change at every pass. Straight deep channels would lead to wide shallows with hardly any current or cover, perfect for spotting rising trout and trying your luck at dry flies. We hit shallow rapids that we didn't have a chance at overpowering, and had to walk the canoe, and our cooler of beer through the Wisconsin forest for a stretch. The forest itself seemed much more ancient than anything I've encountered in Missouri. Rather than being undergrown with sticker bushes and honeysuckle, the Wisconsin forest seemed very wide open, with a floor covered in thick moss and ferns. It gave me some solace in knowing that at least I'd see a bear coming, but at the same time, the bear could just spot me that much easier with no ground cover.

The mosquitoes there were the thickest I've encountered anywhere in my life, but not quite as thick as the layer of deet I had sprayed myself in. Alan's dad claimed one summer night, the mosquitoes were thick enough to set off his car alarm. A slight rain in the morning eventually gave out to blazing sun, and finally to mild cloud cover. Eventually we came to a stretch of the river that was too overgrown with trees and large boulders to navigate with the canoe, and the forest itself had banks too steep to try to navigate on foot with the boat. We decided to shore the canoe for a while and try our luck wading the river there.

I found the brook trout eager to strike at many varieties of flies, but just as quick to spit them out. I cannot count the number of times I had a strike on a dry fly, or how many times I saw my indicator wobble and sink, but the fish had already spit the hook before I could set it. The trip was not in vain, however, and both Alan and I were able to land a few decent sized brook trout, approximately 5-7 inches in length. I've read that the Plover River does hold some good sized browns as well, but they did not make themselves known to us. The brook trout, however, were not shy. I found their coloring incredibly striking, with bright orange fins with black and white tips, and red polka dots scattered along their body. The few I finally did manage to net were caught on my tried-and-true white floss jig, a fly that has become a staple of my fly box and a regular character in all of the stories in which I actually manage to catch fish.

We floated downstream back to the car, and tried to re-fish the spots we had hit earlier that day. By that point, the sun was high in the sky and we were beginning to get uncomfortably hot. We got back to the car (and the dead snapping turtle), and took off a short way down the road to try and hit another access point on the river before the end of the day. The stretch we found was deep, fast, and narrow. It was hard fishing and we didn't stay for long. The mosquitoes here, deeper in the wetter, more bog-like woods, were too thick to tolerate, so we were soon back on the road looking for alternate access. The further upstream we went, the more narrow the river turned, until eventually it was passing under the road in culverts, impossible to fish.

Dells of the Eau Claire River
We ended the night by making a quick sight-seeing stop at the nearby Dells of the Eau Claire River and getting a large Mexican meal from a place called "Freddy's." Alan, his dad, and I told fishing and hunting stories and gorged ourselves on burritos and tacos. I crashed early, tired from the long day of fishing and the long day of driving before that. I awoke at 4 AM the next morning to hit the road, and found the sunny drive back home much more enjoyable than the trek upstate. I averaged about 85-90 MPH for most of the trip home, and made it there about two hours ahead of schedule. I came home with photos, a farmers tan, surprisingly few mosquito bites, and another species of fish under my belt that I could write about.

Plover River, Wisconsin - June 2016

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