Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trip Summary - Bennett Spring, May 2015

If you read my last post about prepping for this trip, my brilliant plan of partying late into the night on Friday, and waking up early on Saturday worked with moderate success. For one thing, I found myself on the patio of The Royale bar at about 1:00 a.m., knowing full well I needed to wake up in two hours. The original plan was to wake up at about 3:00 a.m., quickly pack and leave, and get to Bennett Spring by about 6:30. Patrick, whose family I was staying with, ended up having to do a quick business trip to Iowa late in the week, so he was riding with me now, and I'd have to pick him up in the Grove before heading towards Lebanon.

When I finally wandered into bed at about 1:30 a.m., I was a little too exhausted to set my new phone's alarm clock. What I thought was 3:00 a.m., was actually 3:00 p.m.. Android phones used to tell you how long you have until your alarm was set to go off. Apparently that feature was too useful so they decided to scrap it. I awoke, with a shock, at 4:00 a.m. with a text from Pat, a full hour past what I was planning on. Worst of all, I still needed to pick up Patrick at 4:00 sharp. So after a few muffled curses, a quickly packed car, and a thermos full of coffee, I shot over to the Grove as quickly as I could to pick him up. All told, I was only 15 minutes behind schedule, and looking back, the extra hour of sleep was a lifesaver. Still, there was no way we were making it to Bennett fast enough to gear up and make it into the stream by opening bell. Oh well.

The drive down from Saint Louis to Lebanon, however long, is fairly pleasant. Once you get past Rolla, you can begin to appreciate the landscape of southwest Missouri - rolling hills, beautiful bluffs, lots of small streams and rivers. The weather forecast for the weekend didn't look great. There was always a threat of rain, or even thunderstorms, but on the drive down, all we had was a slight drizzle. Patrick and I spent the time waxing poetic about the jackasses we went to high school and college with, where they are now, and what they've done with their lives. Pat's been my best friend since I was six years old, and with everything like law school, careers, mortgages, weddings, wives, and dogs taking up a lot of our respective free time, it was nice to spend a long car ride and fishing trip with him and do nothing more than shoot the shit and try and catch some trout. Plus, he's getting married this time next year, and has asked me to be his best man (along with his brother, Phil, who we were meeting at the spring). Nothing quite like a three hour car ride to exhume some embarrassing speech fodder.

This pic of Pat and me isn't fishing related. We just look cool in it.

We rolled into town at about 7:00 a.m. and met the rest of Pat's family at the lodge where we were staying, Larry's Cedar Resort. Our suite was very nice, with two bedrooms, bathroom, living room, and full kitchen. Best of all, the lodge is right on the park's border, and has a full fly shop, Larry's, right on the same parking lot. The fly shop saved my butt twice that weekend, but I'll get to that.

Bennett Spring Map

After buying our day tags, Patrick joined his dad, Kevin; his mom, Liz; and brother, Phil, whom were already at the stream and had started at the north end of Zone 2, just south of the Whistle Bridge. I saw that above the dam was surprisingly uncrowded, and decided to try my luck there first. I tied on the Root Beer Dry Emerger pattern that I had tied to many of in preparation for this trip. Wading out to the center of the stream, I thought I felt little cold, damp near my right knee. I was praying that my waders weren't leaking. It was going to be a long, cold, wet weekend if that was the case.

The Root Beer Emerger
Root Beer Dry Emerger

Surprisingly, after only a few minutes, I did get a strike and had a fish on the hook with my emerger pattern. The battle was short and sweet though, and the trout managed to quickly roll the hook out of its mouth. If that wasn't bad enough, it was becoming clear very quickly that the cold, damp feeling in my knee was not my imagination, but it was in fact my waders leaking.

I wasn't having much luck above the dam, so I decided to go find the rest of the Eckelkamps further downstream. It was at this point that the adrenaline was wearing off and the hangover was kicking in. To put it simply, I wasn't feeling my best. At the northern end of the park, I found the Eckelkamps and waded in to join them cast up and across the stream to do some nymph fishing. Wading deeper only acerbated my problems. It wasn't just my knee that was leaking. It seemed that old rip along the crotch was back with a vengeance. I found myself exhausted, hungover, shivering, wet, and worst of all not catching fish. I was shivering so hard that the tip of my rod would not stop moving. It was no small wonder that the fish weren't biting. It was maybe ten in the morning at this point, and I needed a break.

I must have been a sad looking sight. A big bearded guy, sitting on the back-hatch of his wife's Prius, waders half peeled off and jeans soaking wet. The thermos full of coffee was my salvation, along with the banana and chocolate doughnut I had forgotten about on the drive down. I tried to do a shot of whiskey to bite the hair of the dog that had bit me, but I was too far gone at that point. I sat there sad and miserable for about 15 minutes, until I decided to man up, dry off, and get back in the water. The coffee had warmed me up, the sun was beginning to come out, and at this point I was already soaked, so I had nothing to lose.

The dam at Bennett Spring
Patrick fishing at the bottom of the dam.

As soon as I was waist deep, my waders began to fill back up with water. It took some mental control not to convulsively shiver, but then the sun began to come out, and I was warming up. Plus, some young punk kid was fishing next to us in his swimming trunks. I'm not about to be outdone by this kid. I was nymphing using a few different patterns. I tried a brownie, and a pheasant-tailed nymph. I wasn't haven't any luck with the flies I was using. Every member of the Eckelkamp family were consistently pulling trout in at this spot. I couldn't seem to catch anything there no matter what I was using. 

We broke at about noon to go back to the lodge to get some lunch. At this point, my waders looked more like water balloons. Water just kept pouring out of them as I peeled them off. Luckily, Kevin being the true sportsman that he is, had brought a spare pair of stocking-foot waders. All I needed was to rent a pair of boots from Larry's Fly Shop, and I was back in business. Up at Larry's, I bought a few of those John Deere jigs, a couple of red jigs that looked similar, and a few white thread jigs. I've had more luck with the white thread jigs than any other fly, so I always like to keep a few on me. A great portion of the success I had the rest of the weekend was due to Larry's Fly Shop. They had me covered with both wading boots, and the flies I needed to actually catch something.

I bounced around the park the rest of the day, and still didn't have much luck. By mid-afternoon, I was ready for a shower and a warm meal. Lucky for me, Liz had made a whole crock pot of spaghetti. The closing bell doesn't ring until 8:15, but I was done by 5:00. With a belly full of spaghetti, and a responsible amount of whiskey, I passed out pretty early.

The next morning, I was up bright and early, and thankfully, no longer hungover. I started the morning off below the dam, and was using one of my brand new John Deere jigs. It didn't take long before I netted my first trout of the trip, a small, 8-10 inch rainbow. I released him, and the second trout of a similar size that I caught under the dam. Catching a few fish that early in the morning truly took the pressure off of getting skunked, and I believe this positively affected my fishing the rest of the day. 

Jake and Pat geared up

One change I did make to my fishing, and this was purely through watching how Kevin and Patrick did it, was how I played and landed trout once I had them on the hook. Rather than trying to use the reel to pull them in as quickly as possible, I tried stripping the line by hand. I would hold my fly-rod straighter, and if the fish was swimming in the opposite direction, I wouldn't try to over-power him and risk tugging the hook out of his mouth. Rather, I slowed down and let the fish wear himself down, and then strip the line in as he swam closer to me. I've been fly-fishing for a couple of years now, and I'm still baffled each and every time I'm able to net anything. I kind of hope that feeling never goes away. 

The rest of the day I spent bouncing between a few spots. My favorite was the bend in Zone Two just east of the rearing pools. It was a shallow, wide stretch with medium sized rocks and gravel covering the stream bed. As if taken directly from a fly-fishing how-to book, a few larger rocks were sticking up through the surface of the water, and the trout tended to crowd around these. I would stand perpendicular to these larger rocks and cast upstream. I'd have a jig, either my white thread favorite, or the John Deere pattern, and let the flies naturally bounce off the bottom rocks as they went downstream. I did have an indicator on, not so much to view strikes, or even keep my jig afloat, but simply to let me easily spot where my fly was in the water.  The water itself was very clear despite the on and off rain, so I was able to see the fish take my fly.

There was one trout who was hanging out in front of one of these large rocks, and he consistently refused my white thread jig. I must have put it right in front of his face a half dozen times, but he simply wouldn't budge. I've been trying to be more patient and change my flies less on the stream, but this guy really had my anxious. I tied on a John Deere jig and casted it perfectly upstream. Sure enough, the stubborn rainbow hit my John Deere on the first pass, and instantly broke my tippet at a wind knot. Even though I didn't land him, there was still a feeling of satisfaction in finally tricking him into taking a fly.

Zone Two - Bennett Spring
Fishing Zone Two - Bennett Spring
That's where I had the most success. I tried dry fly fishing closer to the spring mouth, but I found it difficult to spot my fly on the water. If I did use a fly large enough to see, like my size #14 Royal Wulffs, the flies were then too large for the fish to take. It was frustrating so I didn't stay up there long. On Sunday, I caught a total of eight trout. I kept two of them and cleaned them in the stream (had to use Kevin's knife though-forgot mine at home). It was the first time I had cleaned a trout in over a year, so it was satisfying in some primal, savage way. Honestly, I tried keeping a third, but he hopped out of my net when I was fiddling with my stringer. 

At the end of the day, Pat and I packed everything back into the Prius, ate some leftovers, and said so long to Kevin, who decided the fishing was too good to leave and stayed an extra night. Overall, it was a fantastic trip. A big thank you to the Eckelkamps who let me crash their family weekend. It was my most successful fishing trip to date.

A successful haul - Bennett Spring

Now I feel like I have a good, working knowledge of Bennett Spring - what spots to hit, and what flies to use. This is incredibly convenient because I'm actually going back down there tomorrow for another fishing weekend. This weekend, my wife is skipping town to go to some hippy music festival with her college roommate, so I'm taking the opportunity to really log some hours on the stream.

It also works out that this weekend is the first annual Trout Fest, put on by the Conservation Federation of Missouri. There will be prizes for catching marked fish, and other activities throughout the weekend that I'm looking forward to. They're having casting competitions for both distance and accuracy, that I'm sure will be very fun to watch (if I'm not too busy fishing). They're even showing A River Runs Through It on an outdoor inflatable screen Saturday night. So although the park may be crowed (and with the wonderful weather forecast, I wouldn't be surprised), there should be a lot of fun things to do.

The timing seems to be working out perfectly. My dad has never been to Bennett before, and he's been asking for a while that I take him down there. He even wants me to teach him how to fly-fish. Now, I love my dad, but I've never taught him how to do anything before, especially something somewhat athletic. I'm hoping it goes better than when he coached me in little league (batted last, played right field), or when he tried to teach me how to ride a bike (Pat taught me when I was 14). It's funny, because this feeling of nervous optimism that he learns quickly must be how he's felt about me my entire childhood. Time is a flat circle. If I manage to catch some more trout this weekend, I'll be very happy. If I somehow manage to teach my dad to fish, and he catches some trout, it will be a goddam miracle.

My sister Laura, her husband Alan (a fellow fly-fisherman) are also coming along. They're bringing their three-year-old daughter Ella, and our four-year-old nephew Mikey. Both Ella and Mikey caught fish at the Wetlands for Kids Day back in April, so the bar is set very high for them. They're both fishing prodigies.

The Voss Family at Wetlands for Kids Day
Mikey and Ella: Fishing Champions
It should be another great weekend of fishing. Now I just need to pack.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You May Also Enjoy: