Saturday, January 30, 2021

Canoe Fly Fishing Customization for the Everglades National Park Backcountry 2021

David is one of my very best friends.  So when he moved back home to Wisconsin to have his growing family be near his extended family, I understood, but grieved nonetheless.  To maintain and enjoy the bounty of his friendship, we try to get together when our calendars and lives allow and that, perhaps, has not manifested more perfectly than in the occasional "epic fly fishing trip".

These trips usually combine many of the things we love - beautiful landscapes, good music, camping, road tripping, and adventure. Just before he left VA for WI, we experimented with a small trip to the Shenandoah National Park to fish for Brook Trout on Big Run (see Big Run Farwell:  Once back in WI, we took the trip bonding to a new level by fishing in and around Fernie, British Columbia for cutthroats and bull trout - truly epic and also bar setting (see Fernie Stoke:  This past fall we camped and fished for our first steelhead in the famed waters of the Bois Brule in Wisconsin (see First Foray....:  Even as we fished in the snow and cold of the Brule, we talked of our next adventure and, coaxed by our able guide Nambini, our minds returned to the Everglades.  Before fishing the Elk, Bull, Oldman, Upper Elk and Fording Rivers in BC, we were supposed to fish the Everglades and Keys, but the mosquito-borne Zika virus posed too much of a threat so we abandoned that trip for another time.  2021 is the time!

Nambini jacked us up with stories of snook around Chokoloskee so under his influence, we jettisoned the Key's portion of our former trip and focused solely on the 'Glades - Chokoloskee and Flamingo.  Checking the adventure box, we decided to fish it, except for a first guided day, by canoe with camping in the backcountry around Flamingo.

We found a guide, got fly recommendations and started tying, and I pulled my old, circa 1975, Sears aluminum canoe from its decadal resting place in the backyard woods.  It was a mess.

Not knowing how to clean an aluminum boat,  I followed my wife's suggestions and bought a heavy duty scrubbing pad and some "Bartenders Friend" cleanser.  On one sunny winter day, I went to work.  The initial result were promising...
I kept going and took confidence from the results.
Scrub, rinse with a bucket, scrub somemore.  Slowly, but methodically, the dents AND the beauty of this old warrior revealed itself - battered bateau metamorphosed and was renamed "Silver King!" 
When not in shade, and the sun is shining on her, she's blindingly sexy!

The next step is to convert the "King" to a fly fishing utility craft.  She's missing the bow and stern eyes for attaching rope.  I have one; i'll have to search her resting place for the other.  In the meantime, after searching on the web and lurking on Pintrest, and after some brainstorming sessions with Great Outdoor Provisions Company staff in Virginia Beach (, I sketched out a plan for a dirtbag fly fishing customization - to store and lash camping gear, protect and stage multiple rods, dampen sound from dropped items, clip paddles, and keep tools and smaller gear handy.  Here's what I did.

Rod Holder

For the trip, we will be primarily after snook, redfish, and tarpon (baby and the big ones if we happen across them).  Of course, we'll throw at anything that swims!  This will require an arsenal of rods - an 8wt. for reds, a 9 wt. for the snook, and an 11wt. for the big fellas.  I plan to have the 9wt. at the ready and store the others but wanted them rigged and ready at a moment's notice to take advantage of any opportunity.  After some consideration, I decided I wanted a rod holder that would protect the rods, but also keep them out of the way.  I also wanted them secure in case we tipped the canoe.

I had some old PVC sewer pipe lying around so I cut sections and drilled four holes to be able to lash them with paracord to the undersides of the canoe thwarts.  After cutting, I also smoothed the edges with a drummer tool.  Here's an example of one.

Here's what it looks like with three sections.  (Yes, I've cleaned the inside of the canoe since this picture was taken.  R&D is messy work!)
This setup will easily handle two rods facing forward and two facing back from the front seat.  My buddy and I are both right-hand casters so our lines should be in the air over the water, but nevertheless, this will keep the spare rods down and out of the way. Here's the view back from the front seat.

Padded Thwarts

I do plan to pad all the aluminum thwarts with pipe insulation and cable ties to keep from scratching up the rods as they rest on and move around - like this. (The rod butt will rest here.)
I also bought some elastic bungee cord and some extra carabiners which I'll secure to the thwart and wrap over the rod and reel and then clip on so the stored rods won't get tossed from the canoe if we swamp it.  I'm bringing extra pipe insulation and a role of duct tape to pad the front bulkhead and gunnels - again to protect the rods as they rest in the ready position while we paddle.

Gear Cover/Tangle Blocker

Next, I thought it would be a good idea to craft a cover for the gear we're carrying so that stripped or cast fly lines don't drop into the gear, lashing, stored rods, etc. and snag just when we hook that tarpon of a lifetime.  Of course it will not provide any waterproofing protection as the gear could get wet from water that sloshes around the floor after getting in from the uncovered sections, but my hope is that it will provide some sun protection and again, give us a clean deck.

I took an old heavy duty tarp, measured it to fit with some overlap, and cut it out like this.

I've since reinforced the cut edges with heavy duty duct tape and bought a grommet set to add some tie down points where they don't currently exist.  Hopefully, this set up will allow us to tuck everything away giving us clean, snag-free surfaces fore and aft.  I'm still thinking about the best way to secure it.  Stand by....

Plan Execution

What's to follow is the execution of these plans for testing once we hit the water in April.  Check back every couple of weeks for new additions to this post for progress on the canoe, equipment purchases, etc.  I'll write a separate blog on the trip and post-trip evaluation of these modifications.

Friday, November 6, 2020

First Foray into the World of Steeheading - Bois Brule, Wisconsin Day 6: Monday, October 19

Our final day to fish. Crazed for another bite, we had pre-packed the night before and awoke in the pitch black to prepare for one last shot at landing chrome. The mood was solemn but guardedly hopeful. One last cup of oatmeal; one last cup of Starbucks Via. We let the air out of sleeping pads. Psssssst. Commited. 

We crept out of the campground before first light and made our way to the parking lot that would lead us to Birch Pool where we had both caught fish and we had seen others caught. We figured that was our best shot only having a few hours to fish before going back to break camp and head to the airport. We were first to arrive at the pool and took up position, me on the near and David on the far shore. As light began to fill in, we cast. I know I wanted a pull so bad, I was somewhat manic. I cast over and over, in the bubble stream, in the slow back eddy, way out in the tailwater. I adjusted the distance between the strike indicator, the lead weight, switched trailing flies; I pulled out every trick in my limited steelhead arsenal. David was not having any better luck. With time running out, we swapped shorelines for refreshed luck. We fished for another 45 minutes and then threw in the towel. It was not meant to be. Later, in retrospect, we realized that our fish , and all the ones we had sen caught at Birch Pool, were caught in the afternoon. So then we wondered if some pools, because of depth and temperature, worked better at different times of the day. Hmmm. So much to learn! We headed back to Cooper Landing Campground for one last time. We took down and stuffed the tents, and packed away our rods in their tubes. I wrapped my wet boots in a garbage back, threw in my waders, and repacked my rolling duffel for luggage check-in. I crammed my carry-on to save on checked baggage weight (49 pounds, even with wet stuff!). After 4+ days of steelheading and cold-weather camping, my fingers were dehydrated, cracked, sore, and beat up. 

But it was so worth it! As David steered the car towards Minneapolis, the skies darkened and it snowed intermittently. It was in the high 70's in Virginia Beach, but in Wisconsin, the plows were out and at the ready. 


The drive gave us time to reflect on what an awesome trip this had been. I was overdue visiting the region of David's upbringing and that he loved so much. We got to explore new water and an area, now familiar, that he will have the opportunity to return to over and over again, hopefully with his son and daughter, hopefully with all of us! I cherish David's friendship and am grateful for the times we get to spend together. I'm paraphrasing Norman Maclean, I know, but... In certain matters pertaining to the universe, all good things, trout as well as eternal salvation, come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art is bound by abiding friendship, that does not come often or easily. 



First Foray into the World of Steeheading - Bois Brule, Wisconsin Day 5: Sunday, October 18

Sunday, our last full day of fishing left.  Each day, we were getting up earlier and earlier so we could be first to the trailhead and first to plumb the depths of the pools.  We were getting up around 5:15 in the dark.  

David did a masterful job of getting the water boiling and we hurriedly made our coffee and oatmeal so we could get on the road.  My left hip and leg were still smarting from the fall the day before, but I could walk and so I could fish.  The mind is a powerful thing!
 Getting skunked the day before made for a good break from the nymphing and today we were committed to swinging flies.  Shit, I had 30-50 or so flies in the box, MOAL flies of all colors, a variety of sculpin flies including one recommended by the Brule River Sportsman Club members, tied specifically for that purpose and a wallet full of sink tips, half sink tips, etc.  Time to get busy with it.

Steve drove from Duluth to meet us again, but only had the morning to fish.  Based on his recommendation, we decided to explore north, starting at McNeil's landing and working toward Lake Superior.
David and I jumped into the car and made our way north. 

We met Steve before the sun came up and donned waders in the thinning darkness.  I think, based on the trail we took, we ended up near Dark Hole.  David fished the bend, and I followed the trail along the bank downstream.  Steve stayed ahead of us, moving to some holes where he had had success in the past. 

Man, the Brule is a beautiful river!

I think, just beause I had so damn many, my first fly of choice was a M.O.A.L. fly.  I started with a brown one, then switched to a white Rio "Make It Rainbow" fly.  David's casting technique was good and he was throwing beautiful loops.  Mine was more pedestrian, but I was quartering to the opposite shore well enough.  The pace and rhythm of the casting are mesmerizing.  We made our way towards Lake Superior, step by step.

Along the way, I stopped to capture the willow shoots coming out of this tree trunk - pretty cool.

We continued north approaching one of the many Island Holes.  I made many casts, sweepng the fly right along the edge of the debris pile, but to no avail.


Just below Island Hole, as I worked a long run, the line did come tight and a big fish broke the surface with a big splash.  

He took an olive sculpin spey fly but instead of waiting, I think I tried to set the hook and pulled it out of his mouth.  The fish immediately came unbuttoned leaving me swearing like a sailor.  I spent a fair amount of time swinging in the same area.  "Where there's one, there's two."  I got no love, and, much as he tried,  David got none either.  Downstream we went.
I was on the steep, high west bank as I walked, and finally picked my way to some good looking water around Harvey's Hole I think.  After a short while, I headed back upstream to meet David and Steve, since Steve had to leave midday and our lunch was back in the car.  As I made my way back, I couldn't help but admire the mosaic of fallen leaves among the other plants.
We had our lunch and bid farewell to Steve.  The clock was ticking and we were running out of new real estate so we took our cue from our guide Carl who told us that fish were being caught and there might be less weekend crowding south of our Copper Range Campground, near Black Landing.
This part of the river looked very different - very narrow, closed in; the water was slow moving.  Nothing looked to promising, so David and I split up.  I tried to cast to a section near a log jam but with no luck.  The water was deep next to the shore.  This combined with lots of overgrown vegetation along the shore made it difficult to cast.  It was a beaver-infested quagmire!  I snagged and lost my rig in a tree on the recoil.  I re-rigged the leader, two nymphs (back to that), split shot, and Air-Lock strike indicator and moved upstream hoping to find better water.  Walking through the swampy thick growth was time consuming with a 12' rod!  I eventually did find one good looking stretch, but came up empty handed.  I found David and he had been having similar luck.  We decided to bail (no pictures) and reconsider what we might have done to Carl to have gotten that "recommendation".
We made it out alive, and headed back to camp to have our last meal around the campfire.  We boiled water and "made dinner" and enjoyed the fire as a field mouse darted in and out of the shadows to grab bits of fallen chips.  
After a long and arduous day, with some excitement on the swing, and after the food and beer settled in, it was finally time to let sleep in.  We would make one last ditch effort to finish with a bang.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

First Foray into the World of Steeheading - Bois Brule, Wisconsin Day 4: Saturday, October 17

Saturday, we parked on the west side of the river near where Route 13 crossed the Brule.  We figured if we hit it early, we'd work our way upstream where there were a lot of pools with no other access nearby and try to reach Bozzo Run, maybe ever Trail's End, before having to hike out before dark.  
David had warned me that the weather was going to throw some precipitation at us today - starting with snow and then perhaps turning to rain.  Classic steelhead weather!  We didn't have to wait long before a steady light snow started coming down.   

 It did put a nice blanket on the trees and the shore and reminded this Virginia Beach-boy that I was lucky to be in the woods in Wisconsin.   
We continued to hopscotch our way upstream, passing Hair Pin Bend, Island Pool, and Magic Bob's.  The snow picked up, but we didn't pay it any mind as we tried to repeat the magic of the day before.  We continued to nymph, not ready to to switch tactics and swing big streamers. 
As the snow transitioned to rain, my old Patagonia SST jacket began to wet out, but we just keep on fishing and moving, casting, mending, drifting, and moving.  
At one point I had to get down a steep slope and the exposed clay trail presented a clear and present danger.  Even though I was careful and had anticipated vegetation grab bars to make my way down, I started slipping and could not slow my roll.  I tried to protect my telephone pole of a rod, but in the process, came slamming down on my hip - of course on the side where I've had hip replacement surgery.  I was banged up!  I limped along and tried to just ignore the pain.  
By midday, the rain had stopped.  I met up with David and we took a break and had some lunch.  He showed me how to catch snowflakes...

...and then got back to work.  
The pools are not marked so when we ran into the few other anglers we saw, we'd ask them if they knew where we were.  No one did.  When we ran into one pair and asked the question, they replied that they had walked from the next parking lot to the south so they figured we were both about half  way in between.  That would put us at Bozzo Run or maybe Little Dutchman.  We thought it was getting late and we would need an hour to make it back to the parking lot, especially in my gimpy condition, so we turned around.  David took this picture at Pyramid Rock, the one place we did know where we were.  Perhaps I selected the wrong photo, because from the right angle it does look like a pyramid.            
We continued north and I was somewhat dejected by my skunk.  David had caught a brown trout early so his string had not been broken.  Limping, I negotiated the couple of stream crossings and we made it back to Route 13.  We got out of our waders, and me out of my wet layers, and the car pointed itself to the Hungry Trout Inn.  They were out of the local beer on tap, so we had to get cans of lager for me to medicate.  Empty as on previous nights, I had wet jackets strewn about in the vain hopes they would dry.  
We got "Waino" burgers and fries again...
 ... and because it was still early, we played a couple of games of pool to burn some time before returning to the campsite and our sleeping bags.
 Before departing, I took a few pictures of the bar to document the gestalt of the place.
 Even thought the nights were in the low 20s, I was never cold.  I had purchased a silk sleeping bag liner and they say the liners add 5-10 degrees of warmth to any bag.  I'm a believer and would strongly recommend one for any cold-weather camping trip. 
We collected tinder for the breakfast-making fire, and then retired hoping that I would be able to walk and wade ably the next morning

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

First Foray into the World of Steeheading - Bois Brule, Wisconsin Day 3: Friday, October 16

Day 3

Today, we were on our own; fishing without a guide and using only the techniques and skills we had learned the day before with our able teacher Carl Haensel,
Based on some intel from David's college roommate, Steve, we parked off Tikkanen Road at the Bachelor's parking area. 
Steve said Bachelor's Bend was a good place to fish, so we headed downstream in that direction.  Turns out the day before was the "warm" day.  With clear skies overnight, the morning air was in the 20s and, along the river, the grass still wore a coat of frost. 
Here's the set up for the day - Vedavoo sling, Fishpond net, Echo rod, and a Rio Switch line on my trusty Tibor Riptide reel.
I think this was my first experience fishing with ice in the guides.
 There was an older gentleman at Bachelor's Bend, so we keep moving downstream.
David worked the bubble line on Long Run...
 Down below, I caught a little brown to get things started. 
In the cold, it was slow - at least for us.  As we walked to stay warm, we stopped to enjoy the signs of wildlife in the north woods.  I think David said this pattern in the tree bark was the handiwork of an ambitious woodpecker.
We made it to Trail's End and there were a bunch of downed trees and logs that provided structure next to the holes at the bend of the river.  If not for steelhead, this was supposed to be prime habitat for brown trout.  So I set up shop and started to cover the water with casts to put my nymphs deep in the pools.  The tools that our guide Carl had given us the day before paid off and I hooked into a nice fish.  I called to David downstream, but I don't think he heard me so I fought and landed the fish, barely, solo.  It was terrifying but also rewarding!
 David came back upstream to check on me just as I was landing this male and he snapped some pictures.  Spectacular!
 Turning the steelhead on its side really gave a sense of his girth; this was a solid fish!

 The release...
 The pattern and colors of the scales are a wonder!
After all the excitement, we retired to the bank to have lunch.  For today's fare, David had arranged for a delectable streamside charcuterie of soppressata and aged cheddar from Driftless Provisions.  Yum! 

The only thing that could have made this better perhaps would have been some warm glug wine.
We have to document at least one selfie per trip.  No so photogenic for me, but I was happy to be there! 
One of the mantras of the Bois Brule seems to be, where you catch one fish, you may very well catch another, so David stayed at Trail's End to try his luck while I moved downstream.
As I made my way to Little and Big Dutchman, I snapped a few pictures of this beautiful river.

 It was getting late in the afternoon, and Steve was late in leaving the river.  His wife had texted him to question if he had not fished enough already that day.   We all heard that dog whistle and hustled upstream only to find David tied into a nice fish.  I grabbed the Fishpond net and after a few misses, got the hen in the bag.
The mantra is right; where there's one, there's two!  We worked our way back to the parking lot and snapped one more picture of Bachlor's Run, leading up to the Bend.
 David posing at one of the river crossings...
 One last picture of the beautiful surroundings before leaving the river.
Once back to the parking lot, we executed one of our long-standing plans.  We stealthily deployed a "flybrary on the back side of the parking lot kiosk sign and stocked it with a few swing and nymph flies. 
"Need one, take one.  Have one, give one" For more information, see:
We decided to use the early hour to our advantage, and headed back to the Hungry Trout Inn for a socially distant dinner.  We split a pizza that was massive and we washed it down with some cold local beer.  
Back at camp, we collected tinder for the morning fire that would prep our oatmeal and coffee, and then hit the hay.