Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fishin' With Sasquatch

Clearly the best way to rekindle a 7 month old stale blog about fly fishing in the driftless area of Wisconsin, is to write a post about spin fishing in the Northwoods.

A while back, in November of 2012, I made the trip to Bayfield county to meet a very fishy and very hairy gentleman called Sasquatch. For 3 days I chased this secluded legendary monster upstream and over ridges in the snow, rain and 20 degree temperatures with nothing to show for it besides a tiny par marked rainbow and a brief hook up with a chubby steelhead. The latter only happened after I swallowed my pride on the last day and followed the lead of my host, tossing a spinner.

It was Sasquatch's gratuitous string of photos featuring gigantic lake run browns and salmon on DTA that inspired me to drive 5 hours north the first time. Then, after disappearing into the woods for 2 years, a fresh batch of his photos started appearing and I was convinced that I had to give this another shot. Sasquatch was more than happy punish me with exhausting hikes into and out of the valley once again.

I showed up at his farm two hours before he got off work. He'd informed me of his absence, but allowed me to make myself at home. He hadn't left me alone though. Two cats, brothers Yowie and Yayho, treated me as though they had been expecting me. Yowie decide at one point that it would be fun to leap from the coffee table to my sweatshirt, clinging there while I stood tapping my phone. Eventually they lost interest in me and went about their business of chasing mice behind the walls and knocking things off the tables.

It was too late to fish when Sasquatch got home so we drank some local brews and caught up. I had arrived Thursday night and planned to fish Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday morning came with perfect fishing weather. Gray skies and an occasional shower.

Chequamegon Bay
Unlike my last trip up here, the temperature remained mostly in the forties and fifties. After pausing at an artesian well near the bay to collect some water, we started off at a spot that Sasquatch referred to as an easy "old man" spot. And it was. A very easy walk down a mowed trail to a bench overlooking the creek from the bank. Like most of this river, the banks were very high here, and we walked down stream a bit where it was possible to wade in.

Spinners in a fly box. Pure madness.

This trip, I opted to start off on Friday with a spinning rig, and transition to a fly rod on Saturday, provided things went well on Friday.

We slipped into the sandy bed of the creek. By my usual driftless standards, it felt more like a river. The average depth of this water was thigh high. The flow was also stronger than I'm used to. Besides the alternative fishing gear, Sasquatch insisted I leave my net behind. He never used one and instead beached his fish on the many sand bars along the river's length. This first hole however lacked such a feature.

I started the proceedings and chucked my #3 Vibrax spinner into the deep outside edge of the bend. I retrieved it at a pace the produced just enough drag to engage it's propeller action and then sent a second cast just a little further upstream. After a few cranks of my Pflueger, the line went tight and I felt a stiff resistance as I attempted to pull my lure free of the imagined snag. Head shakes began and I witnessed a spiraling flash at the top of the water. Sasquatch shouted something exciting sounding and after a few seconds the hooks came unclipped. It was a silvery coho salmon. One of the biggest fish I'd felt in a while if ever.

During next dozen casts I'd see some follows and and experience some brief hook ups. I tightened my drag after the last disconnect. The loose drag was keeping me from a deep hook set. I also changed to a #4 Vibrax. A bigger hook was in order. Within a few casts I had another really nice coho on. As I mentioned earlier we had no nets and in this particular part of the stream, there were no beaches for beaching. I walked the fish backwards and with 'Squatch's guidance, lead the fish to a slightly less steep area of the bank where my partner was able to corner the tiring salmon and hoist him onto the bank. We taped her at 22".

I located a "priest" and gave her head a poor bonk followed by a few good bonks and imagined my cooler full of salmon meat.

We moved further upstream and I kept out front on point. Sasquatch was determined to put me on lots of fish this time around. It wasn't long before I hooked into something big again. The fight was over quickly but not be for a huge reddish fish leaped out of the water to throw my lure. It was a king salmon, the first Sasquatch had seen this season. This meant that kings were just now beginning to run, he explained.

Several bends upstream, Sasquatch confirmed the presence of the kings as well as a couple more fat coho salmon. The fight of a king salmon is intense. While the cohos are heavy, they typically fall into the same barrel roll pattern at the top of the water. The kings liked to jump though, showing off their beautiful reddish purple scales that faded into greens with black speckles at the top of their bodies.

Fishing with Sasquatch is like making a guest appearance on a miniature version of one of those "living in the wild frontiers of Alaska" shows that are so popular right now. I was thankful for my REI rain jacket and fresh Orvis waders. Sasquatch on the other hand... lets just say he has a rope for a belt (seriously, look at the pictures!). He said that a few more degrees would of had him wet wading. He might as well have been with the amount of water he poured out of his waders at the end of the day. Not to mention his rain soaked sweatshirt and dreadlocks. But, you will never meet a person more happy and comfortable on the river. There was no doubt he had everything he needed for a successful day of fishing.

Eventually, we made it to the last hole of our stretch. Once again, Sasquatch let me have it mostly to myself. By this point I'd caught 3 species of salmonids: coho salmon, brown trout and rainbow trout. The last two fish were far to small to feature on this post full of monster salmon.

However, there is another creature that roamed these waters this time of year. A legendary, fierce fighter known as a steelhead. Basically a lake run rainbow trout of formidable proportions. Thanks to the guidance of Sasquatch and the mercy of the river I was able to meet one.

The violent energy in these fish cannot be overstated. The line made ripping sounds as it slashed mathematically though the water. Shortly after catching the 23" fish above, I hooked into a second, larger steelie that I lost at my feet. It snapped my 12 lb test. An error on my part to have such a weak line on for these fish (a net would have been nice too... ehem ;) ). Both fish went aerial and sounded like bowling balls landing on a lake as they reentered. 

The walk back took almost an hour and we took turns carrying a stringer fashioned from a shoelace and a stick. Like I said, this is how the 'Squatch rolls.

Back at the farm, we cleaned our catch and fed the entrails to his ducks and chickens. Being a college town, Ashland has at least one good brew pub, the Deep Water Grille where I treated myself to an excellent white fish sandwich and more local brew.

The next day was to be my fly rod victory day. But, it would not be. We went back to spots that were dynamite the day before, but now had human tracks all over. The weekend had arrived, and the pressure was on. Even the mighty 'Squatch seemed off his game, a sure sign that things had run afoul. We would not leave the river empty handed though. Mr. Squatch managed at least one nice coho and a smaller king, which made a great sandwich for me later that night.

We half heartedly made plans to go disc golf instead of fishing on Sunday, but in the morning, I made the decision to just head back home. Sasquatch had generously given all of his fish to me. That meant 5 2-footer salmons were sitting in the melting ice of my cooler eager to be filleted and vacuum sealed.

We talked plans for my next visit. I will probably shoot for the middle of the week next time, and show up a month earlier in September. This will give be a better chance at those monster lake run browns!

King salmon steaks
The full haul
The end result