I love writing these end of the year reviews because I get to remember all the great days on the water in the previous 365. Since we started Eau Claire Anglers five years ago, this was without a doubt the best year yet. From cold winter days chasing trout to hot summer smallmouth to big fall muskies, 2019 was really special, in part because of the great fishing we had this season, but in a larger part because of the fantastic people who joined us on the river.
The year began in January as it always does with the opening of the Wisconsin catch and release season for trout. Record setting snowfall made the miracle of fishing open water seem all that more special. Winter trout fishing isn't for everyone. Cold hands and ice in the guides are a part of it. Some days are just too cold to fish effectively. But when it's just right, it can be some of the most magical trout fishing of the year. If you are looking for a new way to experience trout fishing, give us a call and we'll be happy to show you the ins and outs of winter trout.
As fantastic as winter trout fishing can be, it's always nice when spring arrives and you can put the gloves and insulated waders away and just enjoy the sun on your face as you wade one of the small trout streams around Eau Claire. Most of these streams have high numbers of brown trout and beautiful native brookies. While most of these trout are modest in size, every now and then a really big one arrives. The thrill of catching a large trout on a small stream is hard to describe.
When May arrives and the season opens for smallmouth bass on most of our rivers (it's open year round on the lower Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers), we launch the drift boats and get after them. Many of the rivers in Wisconsin had higher than normal water levels this spring, but with seven high quality smallmouth rivers to choose from, we were able to find fishable water for almost all of our scheduled guide days.
Prespawn smallie fishing was as good as we always hope it will be, with some fantastic days for high numbers of large fish. There is just something really special about being on the river when the trees are budding, the grouse are drumming, and the wild turkeys are gobbling. Add in a bunch of hungry prespawn smallies, and some great company in the boat, and the day is about as perfect as you can get. We had a bunch of exactly this kind of day this spring.
The end of May is the beginning of musky season here in the Northwoods. What a thrill this year's opening weekend provided, with a group of seven anglers all putting a fish in the boat. Opening day traditions are a part of Wisconsin culture and we are excited to be a part of this with a bunch of skilled anglers from several states traveling here for a weekend of floating the river and throwing big flies to muskies. You never know exactly how a day of musky fishing will turn out, so it was music to all of our ears to here whoops of joy early in the morning on opening day. Those whoops would be repeated multiple times before the weekend was over.
The muskies continued to eat well into the month of June. What a thrill it was to help first time musky fly anglers hook with their first musky on the fly.
The rest of June, July, and August consisted of that enjoyable summer pattern of waking up, meeting clients and hitting the river chasing smallmouth. Some days were a challenge--what would fly fishing be if it were easy?-- but most were a joy, with days spent fishing with wonderful people in a beautiful Northwoods setting. We fished a fair amount north of Eau Claire, but it was a real treat to have water levels that allowed us to spend a lot of days close to home on the lower Chippewa, where the fish average just a little bigger.
I love guiding during these months. Smallmouth bass are close to the perfect fish to catch on a fly rod. They demand that you put your fly where it needs to be, but they also reward good casting regularly. What can I say about the way a smallmouth fights that hasn't already been said. They are, in the words of The Big Lebowski's Walter Sobchak, "a worthy f-ing adversary."
As summer wound down and the days grew shorter, we once again turned our attention to muskies. Wow! This season was nothing short of spectacular. Muskies make a guide's life difficult, eating on their schedule instead of yours. Fittingly, we had a few days that reminded us that sometimes the fish hold all the cards. But, on far more days than not, the muskies decided to play ball.
Conditions were often tough. We fished hard through day after day of cold, rain, and wind. The overriding lesson can be summed up in the words of a wise client, Mike McDonough, when he said, "Never bail because of weather." On trip after trip, those words were proven true. Sometimes water levels make fishing impossible, but a little wind or snow is all part of the experience. Our clients were some tough hombres, and the fish seemed willing to reward their diligence.
We love musky fly fishing. It is our passion and we wake up in the morning in the fall with no greater goal than to chase these fish on the beautiful rivers around Eau Claire. 2019 exceeded our expectations. What a year!
The season ended in November with some amazing fish. Each year, the rivers seem to send send us out with days like these, days that remind us why we tie flies all winter, why we obsess about water levels and weather systems, why we feel so lucky to spend days on the river with people who feel like we do.
Thanks so much for fishing with us in 2019! Happy holidays! We hope to see you again in 2020!
-- Stephen Wisner