Iowa Hawg Hunt 2015

All smiles in the beginning.
     For the last 6 years I have attended the Iowa Hawg Hunt.  It's not an actual "Hawg Hunt," it's a musky outing put on each year by the Capital City Musky Club of Madison, WI.  The event is held at the beautiful Pleasant Creek State Park in northeastern Iowa.  It makes for an early opportunity to get out and try your new fishing gear before the Wisconsin musky season opens.  It always has great anglers in attendance, and the fact that the lake is just down the road from my parents farm, I get to enjoy a low cost weekend away.  I have fished the event a number of different ways in the past.  From inside buddies boats, in a borrowed canoe, from the shoreline, and even chest deep in a pair of neoprene waders.  Despite the myriad of ways I've employed to catch muskies in this little man made lake, I had never caught a musky during the actual event.  This year though I knew the outcome would be different.  I was gonna spend this year chasing the top predator in the lake from my new Slayer Propel kayak.
2015 Native Watercraft Slayer Propel
     This year I had all the advantages of kayak angling on my side.  Also for the first time I had technology with me in the form of my new Garmin unit with side scan and down imaging.  In my mind I was unstoppable, at least until the weather changed as I arrived at the lake.  Yup, the weather went south in a hurry.  Rain, lightning, and heavy winds started to churn up the lake.  Soon it was a frothy white capped mess.  I wasn't horribly worried though since I had come to Iowa prepared for the worse.
Life jackets only work if you wear them.
     As I donned my dry suit and struggled to get the damned thing zipped shut, I thought of the last words my wife had told me as I pulled out of the driveway back in Wisconsin.  "The weather is supposed to be bad so maybe this isn't the best time to test out your new boat."  She was probably right, but I just had to try out the new kayak.  I decided I would just paddle out and try and stay close to shore.
     The wind was whipping the YakAttak flag violently back and forth as I zipped up my PFD.  Dragging the kayak down to the waters edge I started to hear that little voice.  You know the one that warns you when you're about to do something that years of evolution says you shouldn't.  I pushed off from shore and lowered the propel pedal drive into the water.  The waves were coming up over the deck so quickly that I had to pull my scupper plugs to keep the boat from filling with water.  Working my way across the lake I thought,  "This isn't really that bad."  In fact the kayak was fine, the issue was with the pack a day smoker in the cockpit.
Right before turning the corner and heading out across the main lake.
      I was getting tired fast, really fast.  I struggled to catch my breath as the waves worsened.  When my right leg cramped up I decided maybe it would just be better if I paddled since this was the first time I had used the pedal drive (new boat).  This made it easier to get across and soon I was casting at some stumps I only found because of the Garmin unit.  When my phone alarm went off, I turned around started to make my way back across the lake.  As I rounded the corner to make the main crossing I realized that the wind had really picked up.  I thought about calling it and just beaching the kayak.  "I could just call my parents and have them drive me back to my truck" I said to myself, of course I didn't do that, and soon found myself exhausted in the middle of the lake.  I was digging hard in an attempt to keep the kayak nosed into the waves.  In fact I was working so hard to keep the boat upright that I failed to notice the crowd gathering on the dock.  I found out later that day that they were about 2 seconds from sending out a boat to help me in.  It was easily the craziest weather conditions I have ever paddled in and after lunch I decided to load up the kayak and just fish from the shoreline.
St Croix makes some amazing fly rods.
     After loading the kayak and gear into my Silverado I noticed my St Croix fly rod in the back seat.  I had almost forgotten that I brought it with me.  While assembling the 9 weight one of the other participants said, "Are you gonna try and catch one on a fly rod in this wind?"  "Yup, good casting practice on days like this" I replied.  It's true, if you want to get better at casting flies in a nasty head wind you have to actually go outside and cast on those ridiculously windy days.  After the morning I had in the kayak I was wiped out as I wandered down the shoreline.  I fired off a short cast and as I was stripping in the line I noticed a shadow coming in low and slow behind fly.  It was a musky, not a big one, but it was interested.  My heart was pounding!  The fish must have decided he wasn't hungry, because he soon turned and headed off for deeper water.  "What are the odds?"  I thought, the fish were tucked up close to shore this whole time.  As the afternoon wore on I ended up with a total of 5 follows, easily my best outing so far (fishing wise).
     We all gathered at the shelter at 6pm to see who caught what, look at the pictures, and hand out some awards.  Geoff won the outing with a beautiful 40 incher and Shane came in a close second with a nice 38 inch fish.  The day ended with a lure raffle and musky sing along.  This event is an absolute must if your in the Midwest and live to fish for muskies.  Be sure you make plans to join us in 2016.  I am positive there will be some big fish, big laughs, and a few larger than life fishing stories.
Geoff in red took first, Shane was a close second.
     Tight Lines.

Orvis Fly Fishing 101 Class

     Want to give fly fishing a try?  Not sure where to start?  No problem, all over the country Orvis stores are giving free beginner fly fishing classes.  The classes are called Fly Fishing 101 and they will teach you the basics of casting, gear selection, setup, and where to find the fish in your area.  Also they're FREE!!!

     Orvis of Madison is currently offering free Fly Fishing 101 classes on the following dates.
  • May 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23, 30
  • June 6th, 13th, 20, 27th
  • July 11th
     Class size is limited to make sure you get the best 1 on 1 instruction possible.  I recently attended one of these classes and I can honestly say that my fly fishing would have advanced much quicker had I attended one of these classes when I was first starting out.
     To sign up or get more information about the Fly Fishing 101 classes call Orvis of Madison at (608)831-3181 or email retail-madisonstr081@orvis.com, they will help you get signed up for a class.  Better yet stop into the store and say hello, careful though their enthusiasm can be contagious.
     Tight Lines.

Slayers with Assistance

    While fielding questions at both the Madison Musky School and Canoecopia, I noticed that a lot of paddlers wanted to know more about my stand up assist bar.  Most of the questions started with how the kayak they had bought didn't come with one, then quickly turned into asking where they could get one and have it installed?  I could relate to this since neither of my boats had one when I picked them up.  I first saw a stand up assist bar on a Hobie kayak at the Madison Fishing Expo, then I saw one on a Jackson, and a Wilderness kayak at Canoecopia.  Long story short I decided that I wanted, no needed an assist bar on my Native Watercraft Slayer Propel.  I headed down to Rutabaga Paddlesports to ask the all knowing Scott Hamstra about his thoughts on the use of a stand up assist bar.
     Arriving at Rutabagas I quickly found Scott and mentioned wanting a stand up assist bar, a big smile filled his face.  You see Scott is like me in that he likes to outfit and tinker with boats.  He quickly explained the advantages of having one installed on my boat.  He explained that besides the obvious advantage of having the "assist" when standing, you can also use it as a place to mount things, secure your rod or paddle, and it can help with stability when encountering a rouge wave or boat wake out on the water.  Soon he had a couple of different options in my hands (he's good at his job) and before I knew it, I was headed out the door with my wallet a little lighter and the Casting Brace by Jackson Kayaks under my arm.
     Once I had it at home I started the general placement and fitting process.  Basically I got a notepad and a cup of coffee, headed to the basement, and setup the bar unmounted.  I just kind of stared at the kayak and soon a couple of things came to the front of mind .  First, was that the bar needed to clear the Propel Pedal Drive when it's in the up position.  Second, I needed to decide whether or not to attach the Casting Brace to the integrated track system on the front of the kayak.  I decided that since I am constantly moving my GoPro camera mounts, the assist bar would need to be hard mounted to the kayak.  It was at this point that I discovered that even though the assist bar comes with all the necessary mounting hardware for its intended brand, I was gonna need a couple extra pieces to mount it on my kayak.
The bracket sits to low to be able to mount with the included factory hardware.
     As you can see in the picture above, the track on the Native Slayer sits in a channel about a half inch below the top of the kayak.  Since the assist bar uses removable push pins to raise and lower the bar, the bracket needs to be raised level with the track to allow it to lay down correctly.  I remedied this issue with some 1/2 inch delrin spacers and four 1 3/4 inch stainless steel bolts.
Delrin plastic and stainless steel, we wouldn't want it to rust.
     As far as the actual mounting goes it couldn't have been easier.  Using the brackets as a guide, mark your holes with a center punch and then drill them out with a 3/16 inch drill bit.  You can attach the nuts and washers easily on the Slayer by removing the square cover to access the interior of the kayak.  The whole thing probably took all of 20 minutes to do.  Would have been even quicker if I hadn't dropped one of the nuts inside the kayak causing a good 5-6 minutes of excessive swearing while I struggled to retrieve it.
     The final product looks great and so far it has worked really well.  It looks like it was made for the kayak.  It follows the lines of the Native Watercraft Slayer Propel very well and has proven easy to setup and take down while on the water.  I did have to make one change from my original setup however.  My kayak makes a lot trips through doorways as a by product of my seminars.  The stand up assist bar kept unfolding every time I turned the boat on its side.  To remedy this problem I attached a small plastic rigging hook with a well nut to the kayak so that I could use the front deck bungees to strap the bar to the kayak when transporting.  This should also help cut down on excessive noise from the bar slapping the kayak hull in rougher waters.
     As you can see the mounting of a stand up assist bar is pretty simple.  Most anglers could greatly benefit from the use of one.  The ability to stand comfortably in your kayak will help ease back pain, improve your sight casting game, and can act as a nice support point when moving around on your little plastic boat.  With many available aftermarket options their is sure to be one that will fit your brand of kayak.  If you have any questions or comments leave them below and I will do my best to answer them.  Or, you can go right to the experts over at Rutabaga Paddlesports.  They'll answer your questions, show you the products, and help get them installed correctly on your kayak.
     Tight Lines.

Driftless Perspective

"This is a better fish!" he says as the hook set lifts the trout from the water.  I've learned to take fish size with a grain of salt as we wander the streams of the famous Driftless area.  The little trout was to be fair a bit bigger, but not really what I would call better.  I'm on the water with Tristan, author of the blog The Caddis Hypothesis and fishing manager at Orvis of Madison.  Getting a whirlwind tour of some of his favorite Driftless streams.  I am once again ill prepared for our trip.  I still never seem to have the right flies with me, and I'm sweating bullets due to an over analyzing of the mornings weather report.  It's currently 67 and sunny and I'm wearing neoprene waders, long underwear, and heavy wool boot socks.  Add to that the fact that I'm a moderate to heavy smoker and it's all I can due to keep up as we cover mile after mile of class A trout stream.
Another perfect cast to waiting brown trout.
     As we meander through countless riffles, pools, and undercut banks I get a lesson in trout habit, or lack of habitat.  "Did you know that the DNR projects a total disappearance of Brook Trout in the next 50 years?" he mentions, "That's the only native Salmonaide in WI and we might lose it before our grand kids get the chance to catch one."  The whole idea of losing a fish species in this state blew my mind.  Coming from a musky background all I am used to hearing about is how well the stocking programs are going.  That catch and release is affording many anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy fish.  Yet here we are on a beautiful little stream only an hour outside of Madison and I am being told that soon a native trout species might disappear from the end of our lines forever.  It still breaks my heart just thinking about it, want to know more click here.  However I'm not out here for brook trout, we are looking for wild browns.  
     Back at the car Tristan hits his maps and starts rattling off his suggestions for the next creek we should fish today.  Reeds, Hornsby Hollow, Bear, Springville, and many more I can't remember.  He is a walking encyclopedia of trout streams and information.  Best part is he doesn't even know it, so he is a pleasure to fish with.  Nothing is worse than fishing with a guy that "Knows Everything".  He makes casual recommendations on what fly to use and where I should make my cast.  Things that he believes will help ease the learning curve for a new trout angler such as myself, and it's helping.
     At the next stream we enter the water and go through that awkwardness that comes from both of us being anglers that mostly fish solo.  You know the who should cast new water first thing.  When I am guiding I don't fish so the client always gets the best shots.  When solo I just start fishing, oblivious to those around me.  Tristan kindly lets me cast into each pool first, once I snag or break my fly off in a tree (it's pretty technical casting) he moves up and catches the fish.  Why he isn't a guide I'll never know, but when he drops a fly in a riffle the fish pay attention.  Walking behind him as we move up stream he points out all the restoration that the local Trout Unlimited Chapter has done to improve the habitat.  Lunker bunkers, limestone embankments, and grading are being done on a phenomenal scale on creeks all over Wisconsin.  Shockingly, most of it is being done on the backs of an army of volunteers.  Anglers like you and me that want to see this resource survive.
     As of this writing I still haven't caught my wild brown trout.  However I am starting to get the hang of fly fishing, and my eyes have been opened up to a lot of great angling opportunities I didn't even know existed.  More so I guess I have been learning a lot more about fish habitat and the importance of observation when I get my chances on the water.  I'm pretty sure that soon enough I will catch my first wild brown trout.  Until then it's nice to know that people like Tristan and the folks at Trout Unlimited will be keeping tabs on the creeks, so that my grand kids will get a chance to catch one too.
Tristan with a beautiful Driftless brown trout.
     Tight Lines.




Walleye Karma

     Let me start off by saying, I am not much of a walleye angler.  I don't really have anything against the species per se.  I just don't spend much time trying to catch them on purpose.  Sure, I sometimes catch the occasional lone walleye. I've just never been able to catch multiple fish in a single outing.  Even this post isn't really about catching walleye.  I just wanted to try and catch a few walleyes this week to break up all the months of panfishing through the ice in Madison.  Still I didn't technically catch any walleyes on this trip.  What I did get though was a crazy story, and it goes something like this.
     While lounging about at work last night I shouted over to my buddy Richard, "I hear they are catching tons of walleyes below the Jefferson Dam."  I wasn't sure if this was really true, but I did see a picture of a guy with a walleye in his hands on Lake-Link.  "Who's they" he yelled, "Nevermind! I'm down" he said.  "I've never caught a walleye."  We decided to meet up at my place and you could tell by the rod and reel combos we were loading in my truck that we had no idea what we were doing.  Still we were confident that we would soon be knee deep in Sander vitreus (that's the Latin name for walleye, I checked on Google).
Richard working the river after a crazy cast.
     Arriving in Jefferson we found a place to park and wandered down to the dam.  The locals gave us little more than a passing glance as we setup our gear on the only available spot and started casting.  Richard had me cracking up as he worked out the winter off-season by firing errant casts all over the river.  I couldn't quit laughing each time he crossed my line or snagged his lure on the bottom.  We were having a great time even if the fish weren't cooperating.  Other people were catching fish, some with great frequency.  All we were doing was missing strikes, losing lures, and cracking jokes.  Shockingly, we were once again the loudest guys on the shoreline.
     Then true to form I snagged a branch while teasing Richard about his casting skills.  I didn't want to lose the chartreuse Echotail on the end of my line so I started doing that little dance we all do when we snag the bottom.  You know what I mean, the walking back and forth, violently shaking the rod, almost swearing little dance?  Finally, I decided that it just wasn't going to come loose so I tried to break the braided line with the classic "Tug of War" style technique.  Heaving back on my line it suddenly came free.  I reeled in and noticed that it was a little heavier than normal.  Lifting the lure from the water we saw that it was stuck on a small branch that was covered in old fishing line and lost jigs.  That little branch was so covered in lead and monofilament that it even had a little dead walleye on it.
     Freeing the Echotail from the branch I resumed casting when Richard says, "I don't think that fish is dead."  "Why is that?" I asked without turning around to look.  "Well you know, it's breathing."  I looked back and he was right!  I grab my pliers and quickly went to work freeing that little guy from the tangled mess of jigs and line.  He had 2 jigs in his mouth and 1 in his side and he was none to happy about it.  Soon I had him separated from the branch and back into the water.  He quickly took off for the depths leaving Richard and I with nothing more than the big dopey grins on our faces.  Walking back to the truck later he said, "With karma like that it's no wonder you catch so many big fish."  To which I replied, "If you thought that was impressive you should have been there the time I saved that baby duck from the big snapping turtle," but that's a story for another time...
This is what a happy walleye looks like.
     Tight Lines.

May Fly Madness at Orvis of Madison

     Mark your calendars and get ready for a night of fly tying and fishing tales.  Orvis of Madison will be hosting May Fly Madness, a late night fly tying event on May 1st from 6:30-8:30pm.  Come meet up with other local anglers and get an inside scoop on the hottest patterns on your home waters.  All popular species will be represented with a list of guest tiers that is sure to excite.
     As always you'll be able to see some of the best rods and reels in the industry, and it's your last chance to grab the accessories you need to enjoy the May 2nd opener.
     So be sure and make plans to attend what is destined to be an event to remember!!!
     Tight Lines.

Hawg Trough Tune Up

     Being new to this whole kayak tournament thing, I've noticed that almost all of the events approve of the Hawg Trough as a measuring device.  This makes a lot of sense since they are easy to find, fit on a kayak, and eliminate all of the arguing and guess work that goes into judging an event that rewards points based on total inches of fish.  Since I'm already signed up for this years Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Tournament Series I jumped online and ordered one from the fine folks at Cabelas.  Once it arrived I opened the box and was shocked at how hard it was to read.  Looking at pictures online I noticed that many of the Hawg Troughs I saw in tournament photos didn't look like the one I had bought.  After sending out a few emails to some friends in the Florida kayaking scene, I found out that since mine was stock I would need to customize it a bit to make it easier to use in a tournament application.  The changes they recommended are easy to do and the end results are definitely worth the extra work.
     First you need to make the Hawg Trough easier for the judges to read.  Using a black permanent marker go over the ruler marks so they stand out against the plan background.  This will make it much easier for anyone looking at the photo to determine the length of your fish.
I found this first step to be extremely boring and tedious.  One trick I figured out to make this whole process go quicker was to use a business card as a straight edge to draw against.  Don't worry if you screw up a line, you can easily remove the marker by scrapping the plastic with a sharp blade or by applying a little bit of nail polish remover.
     The next step was to make the thing float (it's kayak fishing).  The Hawg Trough has 2 channels in the back so I drove down to the hardware store and picked up some 1/2 inch Caulk Backing.  The half inch size fits snug in the grooves, so just cut it to fit and press it in place.
While I'm thinking about it, you might want to add some super glue to hold the foam securely in place.  The foam didn't come out while I was floating it in my bath tub, but my tub doesn't have the same wave action as Lake Michigan.
     The final step is to add a tether to the end of the Hawg Trough.  I used an extra paddle leash with a carabiner clip I had lying around in the basement.  I'm pretty sure this would be considered a necessary step.  I seem to lose everything that isn't strapped down in my kayak while out on the water.  The Hawg Trough floats, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't paddle away from it if it were to fall overboard.
     That's all it takes to get your Hawg Trough ready for tournament use.  Now I just have to get my head around the idea of purposely taking pictures of small fish.  For most species I chase, I don't take a photo unless they're over 30 inches.  It's a bragging rights kind of thing.
     Tight Lines.