Fly Fishing The Namekagon On The 4th

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Sometimes you have an inkling…you know that something might be the case but you just won’t let your mind take you into a full blown reality; then, when faced with the facts of the matter it somehow just seems wrong. I’m not sure if you have been there along with me mentally…but this past July 4th found Vickie and me in Trego, Wisconsin. We had left the small community of Decorah, Iowa very early that morning and weaved and dodged our way north through parts of Minnesota, then north and a bit east up to Trego where we found a camp spot just a few feet from the Namekagon River (which I would be fishing for the next couple of days).

Back to my initial quandary…I knew it was the fourth of July, I also knew that there was a possibility of there being ‘others’ out on the river…but let’s just say that my jaw hit the ground, almost literally, when we pulled into the parking area at the access point known as Earl. Picture busloads of folks lined up, one behind the other, big yellow tubes with “Jack’s” on the side, all ready to hop in the cool waters of the Namekagon and head in the same direction that you want to fly fish? Wrong was the only thing that kept going through my mind (maybe a bit of mad as well)…but I know that they have the same right to the river as I do and thus I grabbed my blue Voyager float boat, 8 weight fly rod, my GoPro camera, a bottle of water and a box of flies and shoved off; over the next couple of hours I was asked so many questions about fly fishing, what I was fishing for, how hard it was to casts…I will quit with that short list and just promise you that every inch of my patience was tested!

The truth is that I was there and wanted to fish so badly that I was willing to put up with about a thousand companions on the river…and yes, it was that good!
Fly Fishing Namekagon - smallmouth bassThe Namekagon is a special river; it is very tannic in its color (tea colored) and gets that way from the many tannins that are washed from the surrounding forests into the water. From above, it looks black…but let me assure you that it is very clear and I might add…quite cold. Cold enough that it makes for a perfect smallmouth bass fishery and on this day ‘smallies’ were my quarry.
From the Earl access back down to our campground would be about 4-5 river miles and depending on how good the fishing is…I can usually fish it at about 1.5 to 2 miles per hour. This day was going to take me almost six hours; somewhat in part to ‘my companions’ on the river…but mostly due to the fact that I would land four large smallies over 16 inches, to do so in a strong current is no simple feat and one in which both patience and experience is needed.

The funniest thing-through the years I have fished for and caught some of my best fish with crowds of people along on the water. Oddly enough one of the few intelligent questions I fielded on my venture came from a male ‘tuber’ who asked me if the fish would respond with all of the ‘traffic’ floating down the river. I was standing in about four feet of water at the time and was holding a hefty 16 inch smallie between me and my boat and in the water…just waiting for the stream to clear so that I could take a nice photo (minus the tubers in the background). I simply smiled, raised up the dark bronze colored fish and grinned; at that point the guy shook his head and smiled!
Smallmouth bass from Namekagon riverMy moment of the day came as I was floating, making short casts into and under overhanging trees. The truth is that these fish, while very camouflaged, simply won’t venture out into the sunlight for a meal in fear of an osprey or eagle swooping down and snagging them for a meal. I was on river right, which put my tuber companions to my left…my eyes focused on a spot under an overhanging limb that simply screamed big fish; I only had a window of maybe a second to ‘pop’ my fly line in far enough and avoid getting hung on the tree limb (which in moving water usually means disaster). The second that my sink tip Rio fly line hit the water I could see the end of the green running line accelerate downstream. Without hesitation, and frankly without even thinking…my instincts took over and I strip set with my left hand, what I felt next is hard, heck it’s impossible to describe to you unless you have done it…the force and power behind this fish as it ran downstream was worth each and every long day I have ever had fly fishing.

I immediately reached on top of my head and turned on my GoPro Session…the next few minutes were a quiet struggle as I fought this fish in and out, left then right; all while trying to keep it out of the surrounding limbs as well as the passing ‘tubers’. Twice I felt like I had it licked and was ready to haul it in when it sped back downstream. As I said above, only patience and experience…along with a lot of Godly luck…helps at times like these. What was only about four minutes finally ended with me landing a truly gorgeous 18 inch river smallie that at my best guess was somewhere between 3-4 pounds. At that very moment I was on cloud-9 and I might add, all by my lonesome. Not even my river-mates could dampen or spoil a moment such as this. On the day I landed a 15, 2-16’s, a 17 and the above mentioned 18 inch smallmouth…”Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause”!


If you haven’t ever experienced a river like this…please don’t wait any longer…there really isn’t any bigger thrill; when combined with a long list of God’s creatures…it is an experience that you won’t soon forget and will surely leave you Enjoying the Great Outdoors.


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