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A Year in Review - 2021

There was seemingly little special about 2021 except that it was a bit more of a return to normalcy. I fished with friends more often, I traveled a bit further from home (but not all that far), and I fished smallies at least a couple of times. It was a lot of things that 2020 was not. To be perfectly honest, I got a little bored this season and I feel a bit ashamed in writing that. I think it has weather and COVID-fatigue related but also I need to be better about trying more new things, even if I am fishing the same places as usual. It is too easy to do the things I know will work and I need to spend a bit more time trying some things I am maybe not as skilled, experienced, or comfortable with.

Maybe this is mostly anecdotal, but our weather has been rather nuts, yet there is a predictability to it. We experienced a pretty mild winter with snow falling fairly late in the winter. Early June was crazy hot. A few hot June days have been fairly standard recently but the first half of this year was downright awful. This year it came a little earlier and lasted a little longer. The summer was warm relative to the average and this has been the recent trend. And early August brought another 100+ year flood, a term that has lost all meaning around the Driftless.

I am going to break the season into four parts - the catch and release early season which runs from the first Saturday in January up to the "frying pan opener"; May and June make up "hatch season"; July and August, at least the early part of August, are sort of the mid-summer doldrums; and September through the end of the fishing season (now October 15th) is the fall season when the temperatures - both of the air and water - are more conducive to the trout and the angler.

Early Season - January through the First Saturday in May

Fishing was a pretty vital escape from work life which, in a word, sucked, during COVID. So I fished more than usual in the early season - and the fishing was pretty good. We had a pretty mild winter and not much snow until late into the winter. It allowed me to fish a little more often but the streams were quite low and clear and could be pretty tough. I know at least a few times, even fishing streamers I was going to lighter and longer leaders. Normally I am fishing 3X and 4X tippets and leaders that are 7.5 to 9 feet long to fish leeches and other streamers. I was often down to 5X and 12 foot or longer leaders this season.

I do not remember any thing extraordinary about January or February other than I had one really good dry fly day on a sunny February Saturday. March was tough but spectacular. We did our annual "opening weekend" trip early in March and had some really solid but difficult fishing. The highlight of that was fishing with about six of us together, everyone catching fish and needling each other. No spring break was certainly a bit of a bummer and one of those things in hindsight was probably a bad idea. The stress of dealing with COVID restrictions and issues on campus rather necessitated a break for us and the students. While the fear was rather credible that students would travel home or to spring break destinations and spread COVID there or bring it back with them; a break would have been really nice. This fall they built in a "mental health day" on Monday, October 18th but obviously they did not have the trout angler in mind or Friday the 15th - the last day of the season - would have been a much better choice.

April and the Grannom caddis hatch is the hatch event I look most forward to every year and this year did not disappoint. It is our best hatch and I had a couple of the best days of dry fly fishing (is there really any other kind?) I have ever had this spring. Fish were plentiful, fat, and a bit challenging with the low water. I remember sneaking out on a weekday afternoon with my friend Ben and having a really good day of fishing. We did not hit the Grannoms in great numbers as I had the previous weekend but it was one of those days where the fishing was never "on fire" but just consistently good. Then work got in the way as it tends to do at the end of a semester.

Prime Time - May and June

If I had to pick a month to fish for trout, it would be mid-May through mid-June. Yeah, I cheated a bit, so sue me. Typically this period of time has the best hatches and some of the most pleasant weather of the season until September and October. I missed a fairly nice week in late-May as I had a chance to finally get to see family and watch a bunch of my nieces' softball games so I took my COVID escape. Then beginning of June this year was BRUTAL. I am too lazy to look it up right now but the first 11 days of the month brought La Crosse at least half a dozen record high temperatures for that day. I was reminded of my two summers in Oklahoma - I did not enjoy Oklahoma's weather either.

The crane flies never really happened, at least not for me. Water got really warm, really quickly. Even some of the not-so-usual suspects got into the high 60's (Fahrenheit) - probably due to the changes to the streams in the 2018 floods which created a lot of wider and shallower streams and removed some shade trees in places. But on the bright side, the Women's Fly Fishing Clinics (for more...) happened again and that was a really good time. Despite the warm weather and water, we had some really good fishing by heading to some smaller and more shaded streams. The fishing was a bit more up and down than a typical May and June, mostly due to the weather, a dearth of precipitation, and a lot of sun. I spent a lot of time looking at Drought Monitor. I have to say that the beginning of June and the terribly hot and dry weather was really tough on my morale.

Mid-Summer - July and August

July is generally not a great month for trout fishing around here - but it is a great month for Smallmouth Bass. August fishing tends to be better as there is the option for Tricos in the morning and the terrestrials have grown a little larger and generally more active. It turned out to be a pretty good year for hoppers despite a rather significant early-August flood (part I and II). As I was looking for photos to add, it occurred to me that I fished a lot more this summer than I had thought. The first memorable trip was a day trip down to the Lower Wisconsin River to meet my friend Ben for a day of bass fishing. It was one of those days where it was a bit rainy or overcast the entire day and the fish were moderately cooperative. In addition to the Smallmouth Bass we were after, we caught a couple of White Bass and a Largemouth Bass in the main channel, a real oddity. Highlight of the day however dinner at the Dorf Haus in Roxbury and my Sauerbraten (and conversation with Ben).

Highlights of the mid-summer season were largely not (exactly) fishing related. I had a chance to hang out with a number of different friends. The Coulee Region Trout Unlimited Stream Girls day was a great success, a lot of fun, and a chance to hang out with Mike, even if we never fished that weekend. That I camped and did not fish a lot happened a few other times this year and I am quite alright with that.

The low point of the summer was another significant flood that again damaged streams, agricultural lands, and infrastructure. We went from a below average year for precipitation to an above average year beginning in late-July and continuing into August. Making up for lost ground can happen a little too quickly but the dry ground generally made this year's floods much flashier. Two or three days after the floods hit, not only were streams fishable but they fished really well. The light bit of remaining stain helped hide the angler and made the fish a lot less spooky than they had been. Like most significant floods, some stream reaches got rearranged, others were hardly affected.

And lastly, the Last Hurrah for 2021 was the Friday before school started and was a wonderfully overcast and occasionally drizzly day. While the day was just into September, I am counting it here as the Last Hurrah is always the official end of the summer for me. The fishing was pretty solid - never great but consistent until it slowed down and we decided to call it a day and go make some dinner. I got to share a favorite stream that Mike, Ben, and Chris had not fished before and Ben shared an amazing venison rack of ribs, some equally wonderful Argentinian chorizo sausages as an appetizer, a few sides, and a nice red to wash it all down. Another great Last Hurrah was in the books. Until next year...

Fall fishing - September through Mid-October

After a really great Last Hurray, it was officially fall to me and I have been a bit less into fishing. I had all intentions of fishing on a wonderful Friday afternoon early in the semester but as I drove along Highway P along Coon Creek and Timber Coulee, apparently half the trout anglers in Wisconsin had the same idea that afternoon. I really had my heart set on fishing a particular stream to see what the early August floods had done to change it. I stopped and talked to the guys that just fished it and they fished it after another group had gone through. Instead of fishing, I headed to the West Fork Sports Club to see friends that were hanging out for the Wisconsin Fly Fishing Message Board conclave. We spent the evening around the campfire and I headed back home to sleep in my own bed for the evening.

The next day, I decided to camp at Avalanche for the evening and had a chance to fish for a bit with a friend I have not seen (in person) for some number of years. Fishing was slow but we caught a few fish, including a Bluegill on a dry fly on the West Fork. I assume it was one of many fishes that got washed out of Jersey Valley Lake when the 2018 floods ripped that dam open. A nice campfire with Patrick and Betsy, George and Jacci, and Warren and myself completed the evening before we got up to grab breakfast together the next morning. I had plenty of time to fish on the way home but ended up bagging it. Then had another fishing-less weekend or two to follow.

Driftless stream in fall
Last day of the season - fished the afternoon with a good friend and could not have choosen a nicer fall day.

The easy going beginning of the fall gave way to the craziness of the early semester. Piles of grading and preparation meant that weekends were mostly work - or the Wisconsin Trout Unlimited State Council meeting in Westby. But I did get out for the last day and it did not disappoint, though my ability to set a hook on fish eating my hopper disappointed plenty. But if there was one theme this year, fishing is better with friends - enjoying conversation, some good food, and in this case, a bit of beer.

Last day of the season
Great way to end the season, some Ben-made goodies and a Turtle Stack Black Lager.

I do these reviews as much for me as anything so I try to add some nice photos for you and maybe an interesting tidbit here and there. Hopefully a few years from now these are still up and I can reminisce a bit about each year and some of the fishing trips.

I hope you had a good a 2021 season as I did.

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