Posts Tagged ‘Wildwood Lake’


Yesterday, I took a vacation day and headed for the lake…

Many anglers are attracted to the sport to be close to nature; to escape the rat race of modern life and return to a simpler time of existence. I am no different. Outside of my wife and daughter, nothing in life makes me happier then the smell of prairie grass and open water with the sounds of a splashing fish filling the air.

Yet, for some reason I find the act of completely separating myself from society to be a difficult matter. No matter how far I hike and wade into the wildlife areas; I find leaving my iPhone behind difficult. When I am fishing on a weekday, the phone will ding and vibrate every few minutes with work emails, text messages, and social media updates. Wrapped up in a plastic bag to keep it dry, the phone has a nesting place on the inside of my fishing vest; there to remind me that no matter how peaceful my immediate surroundings look; the cell phone tower, the roads, the modern life I seek to leave behind lies just beyond the tree line… just beyond my vision.

I guess maybe I am addicted to my phone. Or maybe that being reminded every few minutes that someone relies on me for something is reassuring. I am not sure which…

While wading through the water yesterday, I heard a ding between fishing holes; so I gave in to the irresistible erge and checked my messages. Sandwiched between the meeting requests and FYI emails was the notice of a student death…

As a 30 year old working in higher education, these emails always stop me dead in my tracks. They do not happen very often; but in my young career, this is not the first one I have received. I feel way too young to be receiving these emails; and working in higher education you would hope that these would never happen. But they’re called unexpected events for a reason…

I enjoy fly fishing because the sport drives me out into nature. I feel a vivid and interactive part of something much larger then myself. Being in nature assures me that there is a higher power in life; whatever that might be (I believe in all loving paths to “god”). That the circle of life moves on whether or not we notice the wheels turning; whether we can see these wheels past our offices, our iPhones, our jobs, our modern lives…

As I took a seat on a rock mid-fishing trip, the vastness of life fell on me all at once.

After a few moments, I gathered myself and waded on.

With each cast, each bite, each fish came the vibration of life… down the fly line, through my rod, and into my soul. When someone I know dies, I think the shadow of that event is very similar to the affect that modern life has… That it pulls the shades down over the larger meanings in life.

I think that modern life causes us to get caught up in frivolity… and we waste time worrying about things that ultimately do not matter. Similarly, the finality of death causes us to forget that life is much larger then we can possibly realize.

Luckily, I was fly fishing when I read the news. The vibrations of my fly rod reminded me of the larger things in life…

I wish nothing by my sympathies to this young man’s family… and the knowledge that life is a big circle. When one thing ends; another begins…

Fly fishing reminded me of that.

And with the release of a fat happy bluegill getting ready for the winter months, I am able to climb out of the water and back into modern life…

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Today, I got out of bed at 5:20 AM.

Those of you who knew me in my youth must be shock at that statement. I used to sleep into 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning. But one of the gifts that fly fishing has given me is a knowledge of all the wonderful things that happen as the sun comes up. I have spent my whole life watching and looking at sunsets. They can be quite beautiful…

But they represent they end of a day. An almost pessimistic thought… the end.

Wanting to get up and fishing early early in the morning would have once been a foreign thought to me. I have always been a night owl, and my life and social life before fatherhood had taken place at night. As such, it would seem that fishing at the end of the day would be more comfortable for me. It often happens after all the day’s activities have come to an end. There would be no reason to rush to the lake; I could take my time on the water, and fish clear into the dark. Many times the only thing waiting for me after fishing is bed.

However, here is something that fly fishing has taught me about life:

Getting up early to fish has taught me to enjoy watching the world wake up. And this has become special to me…

Capture

It’s not that I have never been up in the morning and watched a sunrise; but enjoying one is something I have found through fly fishing. I my quest to find and catch fish, I have been refining my tactics any way I can. In the heat of the “dog-days” of summer, the best time to fish is at sunrise or sunset. Often the windows of good fishing are only at these times in the height of summer; and the feeding periods of fish can be intensely short.

Being on the water at the right time can definitely mean the difference between a great day and getting skunked.

Working in academia in the fall means the my work schedule is running at full capacity. Top that off with a young family and a three year old at home, and my evenings are often spoken for. Thus, my fishing addiction drives me out of the house to hit the fishing “window” at hours of the day a younger me would have baulked at.

Getting up at 5:20 AM means going to bed earlier, prepping my fishing tackle the night before, driving impatiently to the lake, and setting my gear up as fast as possible in the dark. All so I can be on the water and in place as light begins to break across the water.

This entire process seems counter intuitive to me… shouldn’t I be going faster when fishing at the end of the day when there are precious few minutes of light left? Shouldn’t I be more relaxed in the morning knowing there is a whole day ahead of me?

The whole world seems upside down…

I sense this as I wade into the water; a brand new feeling that not noticed in previous years of my life. Each time I stop and watch a sunrise as I am standing waist deep in water, an epiphany presents itself again. The optimism of a brand new day.

In the slow and lethargic pace of an evening fishing I pessimistically pretend that if I ignore the sunset, the day won’t end. But prepping my gear the night before and the excited pace to get out on the water early presents the optimism and excitement of a brand new day. This little realization relaxes and sooths me; as I watch the sunrise give birth to morning.

When I used to live the night life, I would always stay up into the early morning hours. Sometimes I would not go to bed until the hours I now wake up to fish. I never used to see the sunrise. I would only see it set…

And you never realize how depressing a world of sunsets can be. That is, until something grabs your soul and leads you into the morning sun…

And even the littlest catches can sometimes be the biggest events of the day…

Anglers may start their lives by chasing fish… but somehow they always hook up with something more.

Even if the fish are not biting.

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Who is Jaques? Read my Freshly Pressed article, “The One Who Got Away”, to get caught up!

For the first time since I first laid eyes upon Jaques, I decided to go back after her.

This week I purchased a tent for Little E and me (she is super excited to camp under the stars like on an episode of the Fresh Beats Band), and I headed out Wildwood Lake armed with my meager camping gear. I hiked back along a trail on the lake, located a campsite on the shallow end, and pitched my tent. As I was pitching my tent, I spooked dozens of small frogs from the shore and into the weeds. I tied on my trusty foam frog fly. About an hour and a half before sundown I waded out into the water in search of my advisory.

I can’t explain why I waited almost two months to head back out after Jaques. The first experience with her was so emotionally draining that I am pretty sure I was not able to handle a heart break like that again. I have spent the mean time fishing other bass waters, perfecting my presentation, and working on my ability to play large fish. Now that graduate school is completed, and with my recent success fighting a large catfish on Wednesday, I felt prepared for my next encounter.

The shallow end of Wildwood lake is only 2-3 feet deep in most places. The lake has weeded up for the first few yards around the shore, but has open water for the remainder of the area. Infinitely wadeable; and, as the fly fishing mantra goes “match the hatch”, allowed me to present my foam frog in a way that precisely mimicked the action of the frogs I spooked into the water.

Infinitely wadeable being most important… as I popped the intertube on my belly boat and almost went down with my ship Friday night…

I fooled around with a Clouser Minnow on my 5 weight rod first, catching a little bluegill.

This allowed another angler to sneak into the spot where I believe Jaques might be hiding. As I stood waste deep in the water, I watched as he cast a giant plastic frog back and forth across this spot with no avail. We had a quick chat about our similar strategies regarding top water frog fishing. As he headed off, he wished me better luck then he had.

Not four or five casts into the same spot, albeit from the water instead of the shore and with a fly, I managed to snag a little bass.

Something about watching a bass explode through the surface of the water onto a tiny handmade fly intoxicates me. It is one of the most addictive experiences I have ever encountered. Even though I now have a couple of years experience with this type of top water fly fishing, my heart still skips a beat when the fish strikes.

The bass will pounce at the exact moment that you least expect them to. Often they will come almost completely out of the water. Incredibly violent, the bass will consume the entire fly in one gulp as it comes through the water. As it lands, the water splashes high into the air; and the line vibrates as the bass tries to shake the life out of the frog under water. And all of this happens within a few short feet of where I am standing. To be standing so close to such an efficient predator when they strike inspires both fright and excitement all in the same moment. When my heart resumes beating, I set the hook instinctively. And as the hook strikes home, the rod doubles over like you are trying to pull a brick through the water with a piece of sewing thread.

A brick that thrashes about, still angry about being fooled into taking a fly.

Having success with a little bass lifted my spirits. It took me over 45 minutes to work to the secret spot where I believe Jaques to be hiding. Fish after fish turned over on my fly, but hook ups where few and far between. Nothing in life worth the effort ever seems to come easy. But that makes the payoff so much better.

I actually cast to the spot where I felt Jaques was hiding several times. As I worked my way to the spot, I could see something feeding on the surface. My heart beat quickened, and continued through quite cast after quite cast.

Until, unexpectedly as always, there was a violent explosion on the water.

As the hook struck home, I could feel the line race out of my hand. I didn’t get a good look at the fish and don’t know for sure; but the way it fought suggested that it could only be Jaques…

Instantly, the fish bolted for the weedy cover. Trying to maintain pressure on the fish and feed it line for it’s run with my right hand, while trying to frantically reel up my slack line to “reel up” the fish with my left hand, was a daunting task. Each reel of slack line felt like an eternity, and I was sure that I would not be able to maintain pressure on Jaques. Losing pressure would mean a slack line; the perfect opportunity for her to throw the fly.

As I got Jaques reeled up, she was on a bee line for deeper water. “Perfect”, I thought, as this would allow me to keep up the fight with out worrying about getting snagged up again. But as that thought floated through my mind, she took an abrupt U-turn, headed fast for the weeds again. I lowered my rod almost into the water to increase the pressure on her and stop the run.

Nothing.

Not having enough time to adjust the drag, I palmed the reel in a desperate attempt to stop Jaques from heading into the weeds. As she got closer, I pressed my hand harder onto the spinning fly reel. As she reached the edge, I pressed so hard that I stopped the reel completely…

Suddenly, I was in a game of tug-of-war with my legendary fish. A very bad place for a fly fisherman to be in with such light tackle…

After a few short seconds, my rod leaped limply backwards. The line slowly fluttered over my shoulder as my tippet gave out to the pressure. And Jaques escape back into the depths.

I only had two of my trusty foam frogs left from my winter’s tying session. Jaques claimed the first one, and I tied on my last. I desperately cast to the spot where Jaques had disappeared to. But just like my first encounter, I knew these efforts were in vain.

After several minutes of desperately trying to find my fish, I continued down the bank. I had many small bass turn over on my small foam popper, but none seemed interested in holding on. As the sun set, I slowly worked my way back to my tent. When I returned to the spot where I had lost Jaques, I cast my final frog a few times into the general area of the first fight. One cast landed perfectly on the edge of the weeds. After a few seconds I started the retrieve back to me. As the frog popped back toward me, I saw the massive wake of a large fish come up behind it. My heart skipped with excitement as the fish burst through the water on my fly…

But as I set the hook, the rod popped back and the line limply flew over my shoulder again. The knot between my tippet and leader disintegrated on the hook set; my final foam frog disappeared into the night.

Wildwood Lake seemed intent not just to defeat me, but to rub salt into the wound by claiming my last frog fly.

I climbed from the water after dark and into my tent. As I laid there, I came down with a mind numbing migraine headache. This was not helped by the infinite chorus of crickets, cicadas, and an outspoken young man on the boat that decided to anchor for some night fishing just off my camping spot; playing an interesting mix of all musical genres at high volume with plenty of bass, all the while wondering why the fish weren’t biting…

By midnight I had been beaten down to all that I could handle. Wildwood had defeated me again.

In spirit, mind, and body…

I packed up all my camping gear in the middle of the night and headed for a bottle of Tylenol PM and the quite comfort of my own bed.

Make no mistake, I will be back out to chase Jaques. I love challenges, and Jaques is proving to be just that. The challenge of fly fishing drew me into the sport in the first place.

Besides, what good is a legendary advisory that surrenders so easily?

See you again soon Jaques…

And next time I’ll pack the Tylenol PM.

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Guess who is in it… check out page 3!

Okay, not the biggest of publications, but still cool none the less… And a great organization providing fishing opportunities in my beloved Cornhusker state.

Check it out…

Capture

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Every fisherman has this story… now I do too.

Fishing Wildwood Lake Tuesday was a great experience. Not too breezy, not too sunny. Alone on my float tube, I slowly worked down the bank; casting to shore and slowly pulling the line back in. The only sounds were those of the lake, the chirp of a song birds, the occasional cacophony of geese across the lake, and the occasional splashing of a crappie or bluegill pulled to hand.

Nirvana.

Exactly why I enjoy about being on the water.

Until one cast; which was not unlike any other of that day. That is until the gentle tug at the end of the line.

Even the strike was nothing special. Instincts took over as a set the hook and started trying to pull the fish in by hand. Only this fish didn’t move toward me.

It started heading the other way.

There is no second guessing when you have a nice fish on the end of your line. Your rod doubles over in a way that is unmistakable. The fish goes on a run and starts pulling line through your hand. This fish did not take off fast; instead it swam off with a slow and steady pace. I could feel the arrogance of this fish by his gait; he knew that I was not simply going to pull him to hand.

Big fish are special. And they are played on a fly rod differently. You don’t simply muscle them to hand as you would a common catch. You have to play them; to finesse them; to slowly cox them into coming to you. In a way, you have to build a relationship with the fish…

I rapidly reeled my slack fly line off the water and “reeled him up”; a mark of achievement for any fish. I moved the rod right and left, suggesting to the fish which way I would like him to go as he slowly steamed toward hiding spots and snag ups. The truth of this fight was that the fish was in control. We can only make suggestions on how we would like the fight to go; and luckily the fish do not know this. If they did, we would never catch trophy fish.

As I slowly turned the fish away from a snag I was rapidly adjusting the drag to keep enough pressure on him to tire him out; but not enough to break the line. My right hand was slowly directing his direction, the left one was reeling when the fish would come in; and turning the drag as he would run. I started paddling the float tube backwards to open water. Here he would have less places to hide.

As I kicked my feet backward, the fish sensed the movement and saw his chance. He turned with a flash and headed right for my float tube. I reeled furiously to keep the line tight. As he approached me, I was afraid that he would break the hook off on me… the ultimate of embarrassing endings. I was not prepared for the fish to charge me. I was so furiously reeling to keep the line tight, I couldn’t even try to turn him…

When he was a few short feet from the boat, I did the only thing I could think of… While continuing to reel as fast as my hands would let me, I snapped the rod high up into the air; raising my arms as high as they would go…

And when I did, the head of the largest bass I have ever seen shot out of the water and rested on my knees…

In a moment now etched into my mind, I stared down the wide open throat of this largemouth bass. I could have put my entire fist in his mouth and not touched any part of it. I stared deep into his eyes, and I could only say one thing…

“Oh my God…”

I can only imagine that this fish thought the same thing.

As I uttered these words to my self, the fly broke loose from the fish’s jaw… and flew up and over my head. As it did, the fish dropped back into the water…

The whole scene took less then half a second… but felt like an entire lifetime.

I floated over the same spot three more times searching for this fish again. Each time I set the hook and made that first pull of line, I hoped for the same initial run of that big bass. And each time I made the second pull and realized I had another common bluegill or crappie I was let down. After I grew tired of paddling the float tube, I even went back and waded the spot where I caught him…

The angler in me knew he was long gone. But my soul held out hope…

The only thing I remember about the rest of that trip was how the distant flock of geese came in closer. Their cacophony raised in volume; almost as if nature was mocking me…

I was finally forced off the water by an impending thunderstorm. As I walked from the lake, I knew that I would be back… this month, this summer, this lifetime; until I finally catch and bring this fish to hand.

And a fish this magical needed a name… Jaques. (Why? Read some Shakespeare and find out…)

Now I have my story of the one that got away. Here’s to a lifetime of chasing Jaques…

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I am usually so busy at work that I don’t take very many vacation days. Not an issue, nor am I complaining. I love my job.

But I am about to max out my accumulated vacation days. And I have to use them, or lose them. My boss sent me and a co-worker an email this week that contained the following:

Gentlemen – what incredible team members you are!

And even though we find it difficult to ‘do without ya’ – YOU NEED TO GET AWAY!

YOU both deserve your deserved time!

Knowing how much you love fishing, I hope that you will watch the weather and as the opportunity presents itself, to find a way to BE GONE!  Even if it is a day here and there…

So I took her advice… and spend Monday and Tuesday this week “on vacation” at the lake…

Where else would I go?

So here are couple quick updates of those trips…

Day 1, Monday: Holmes Lake Park; Lincoln, NE

I had a couple of errands that I had to run on Monday, including spending part of the morning at the DMV. After that experience, I needed some fishing! (And it wasn’t even a bad DMV experience; comparatively speaking…)

I decided to fish Holmes Lake Park in the middle of Lincoln. It’s normally a crowded lake, but it holds a special place in my heart. I used to live down the road from it, and this is the lake I taught myself to fly fish on.

And it’s the closest lake with stocked trout…

I wasn’t planning on trout fishing, I thought the stockers would be long gone. I was just hoping to get into some bass, crappie, and maybe some nice bluegills.

I started off the trip with a nice little bass I plucked out of some timber. Always fun on the fly rod…

But as I was working my way around the lake, working all the “bass-ey” spots I could get a fly to while wading, I ran into a pleasant surprise…

I managed to hook into a nice rainbow trout… about 14 inches long!

Normally the trout are around 10 to 10.5″ when they are stocked… meaning this guy has probably been in the lake since the November stocking. The state also stocks the fish clear on the other side of the lake, way back in a cove… so I was surprised to find him clear over where I was fishing.

This particular trout was a big one as far as the stockers go… but he looked like he had narrowly escaped a larger fish that tried to eat him for lunch… he had bite marks on both sides.

Even though he is a put-and-take fish, I let him go. Nature might have the deck stacked against him this summer with it’s warm water; but he definitely won’t make it if I take him home…

As I continued working my way around the lake, my astonishment continued… I kept hooking into trout!!!

I ended up the day with 1 bass, 4 rainbow trout, and 1 bluegill…

And a nasty sunburn on both forearms…

Day 2, Tuesday: Wildwood Lake; Agnew, NE

Tuesday I had more time on my hands, so I decided to take the float tube on her maiden voyage for the spring! I spent the whole trip to the lake, and most of the time floating on it, singing “I’m On A Boat” by the Lonely Touch… Google the video and you will understand…

And I also packed the sunscreen this time… and a long sleeve shirt to protect my already burned arms…

The morning started off with a nice crappie…

And a lot of bluegills in the 8″ range… fun little fighters!

I like fishing Wildwood because it has a good bass population. I managed to get into a few small ones while I was on the water…

Break out the scales on those guys!!!

I also had a ton more crappies!

And finally, one really nice 9″ bluegill… I am closing in on that Master Angler Award for bluegill…

Overall, it was an awesome day on the water! But the real story of the day was what I did not catch…

That is the story for my next post.

Stay tuned! And until then, tight lines!

E

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