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Fly Fishers, 
            Welcome to my 2015 Newsletter. 

Fly Fishers,  

Welcome to my 2015 Newsletter.  

     Please NOTE: this is my final annual mailing of paper literature. My mail-order Fly Catalog and complete Guiding Literature will remain on my website at www.richosthoff.com.  

     Why the change?
We’re in the process of adding a variety of features to the website, including fly-fishing video clips, fly selection guidelines for various fisheries, photo galleries, frequent Driftless Area updates, and more. Putting the emphasis squarely on the website opens many exciting options and will speed development of the site. I think you’ll like what you see in the near term and the long run.

     The enclosed business card has my contact information. If I can help you with anything—from putting together a fly order, to a scheduling a guided outing on the spring creeks of western Wisconsin, to planning your next fly-fishing trip in the Rocky Mountain backcountry—give me a phone call (that’s the quickest, surest way to reach me). When I’m busy, I’m slow in reading and responding to E-mail messages.  

     If you’d like to receive E-mail notification as newsletters, fishing reports, video clips, and other new features appear on the website, just visit the site and sign up.  

     Also, watch the website for announcements on my upcoming Book and Video series, Fly-Fishing Driftless Area Spring Creeks with Rich Osthoff. The book and supporting video series are packed with potent Presentations, Strategies, and Flies for the Driftless Area. This is a big, multi-faceted project that I’ve been working on for two years and hope to complete by spring of 2017. As publication nears, I plan to run sample video clips, plus the entire 11,000-word Preface for FREE on the website. The Preface frames many of the innovative concepts, skills, and strategies detailed in the book and videos, and by itself is an eye-opening primer to fly-fishing Driftless Area spring creeks (you won’t want to miss it). I think you’ll find that the book and videos combine to offer a breadth and level of Driftless Area fly-fishing instruction that’s simply not available anywhere else. And if you don’t fish the Driftless, you’ll still find many fresh and dynamic insights into the nature of small-stream fly-fishing, which is a fundamentally different game than fly-fishing big water.
     My new video presentation on fly-fishing the Driftless Area was a hit at fly-fishing events this winter. Contact me if you’d like to schedule a program for your club or show.  

     Regarding Delivery Time on Fly Orders:
Guiding now dominates my time from late March well into June, leaving few tying days in spring and early summer. That’s also when I receive the bulk of my fly orders. Please order flies well in advance when possible. I still fill many orders on short notice, and whenever possible I’ll get flies to you for specific trips. Don’t hesitate to call to check on current delivery time or to check the delivery status of a fly order you’ve already placed.  

Recapping 2014:

     The winter of 2013-2014 saw record cold with abundant snow. The ‘ol Polar Vortex put the skids on my guiding and personal fishing in March.  

     April and May were relatively cool and wet with Blue-Winged Olives hatching almost daily well into May. My Flara Dun in BWO version is a tough and convincing BWO imitation that saw extensive “tippet time” and took fish steadily for most clients. Even when your BWO dun imitation is fooling fish, it’s worth running a nymph dropper, like a Chocolate Emerger or small Pheasant Tail nymph, because the dropper is a good bet to trigger larger trout. For the second straight year I took a brown of nearly twenty inches on a size 18 Chocolate Emerger (nymph) during a BWO hatch.  
     Scattered sunny days in May produced mediocre hatches of black and charcoal caddis. In May we hit many fine cranefly hatches, including the single heaviest cranefly hatch I’ve ever seen in the region (on a soft, hazy morning). In the Driftless Area, you don’t need realistic (and fragile) cranefly imitations. My Fox Squirrel Beadhead nymph (size 12) tears ‘em up subsurface, and rising trout nail my Cow Elk Caddis in size 16, especially when tied with a buttery abdomen (the most prevalent cranefly body color in spring). I’m happy to tie the Cow Elk Caddis in custom body and hackle colors not listed in my fly catalog.  

     Throughout spring and early summer frequent showers kept streams nicely stained, creating excellent Bugger conditions. On Easter Sunday, April 20th, my only non-guiding day in a 20-day stretch, it drizzled all day and I fished nothing but a Conehead Bi-Bugger, enjoying my best day of the year for Driftless Area browns of 16 inches and up. Over the years I’ve had a lot terrific Easter Sundays, with no other anglers around.  
     On the morning of May 14 in Grant County, and again on the morning of June 1 in Vernon County, my clients and I saw streams go from normal flows to way over their banks in less than two hours as heavy storms dumped 5 inches of rain in narrow valleys. In the June event, the South Fork of the Bad Axe took another 5-inch shot of rain that night. I took some impressive video of chocolate torrents pouring out of ‘dry’ washes, and of tree trunks bobbing along like twigs. Interestingly, in the May event we had good afternoon Bugger fishing in a neighboring county where streams were dirty but not blown out. And in the June event my clients had good wet-fly fishing until the stream blew out , and I had excellent nymphing that evening in a neighboring county.
     I also saw smart phone photos of two large timber rattlesnakes taken along Driftless Area streams in Vernon County in 2014, including one on a stream that I frequent. Both snakes were easily over four feet long and nasty thick through the body.  

     From mid June through the close of the Wisconsin season at the end of September, dry weather prevailed. Most dry summers are also hot, but in 2014 summer temps across the Driftless were quite comfortable for trout and anglers alike. Moderate temps combined with a wet spring that sustained decent flows, made for fine summer fishing.
     Personally, I had my best Driftless Area fishing of the year in July and August, when my guiding calendar was full of holes and streams were largely deserted. When air temperatures are moderate, it definitely pays to fish the Driftless in July and August; large trout remain aggressive, and anglers are few. When summer temps are moderate, keep in mind that I’m usually available to guide on short notice.
     My brother Eric and I had our first red-hot terrestrial action on July 13 on a small Grant County stream. We shot hours of video as nice browns launched on hoppers and crickets. Many fish were taken on narrow, grassy chutes within a few yards of the rod tip. Terrestrial fishing remained strong through September, although true to form, trout responded best to hoppers in July as the naturals were just coming on. My advice: as soon as you start seeing even a few “oddball” hoppers, start fishing imitations because Driftless trout attack hoppers most aggressively before everybody and their brother starts fishing them. In recent years I’ve had surprisingly good hopper fishing in the Driftless as early as mid June—more than a month before most anglers even think about hoppers. By mid August I find that trout generally grab a cricket with more gusto than a hopper, partly because as summer wears on, trout see a lot more hopper imitations. That said, in the three seasons that I’ve been fishing and refining my chunky, foam Splat Cricket, it has become my best Driftless Area terrestrial. In size 10 it’s the rare dry fly that is hefty enough to tuck cast right on target with a resounding splat, which pulls trout from under grassy banks (and I’ve seen trout on smooth flats charge the Splat Cricket on impact from twenty feet out).  

     On July 25th after a day of guiding, I had an evening that I wish my angler had hung around for. I had just an hour to fish, so I “cherry picked” a dozen LUNKER structures scattered over a mile of pasture (and quickly bypassed all other water). I nymphed a heavy fish or two on almost every structure fish, including a brown of nearly twenty inches that I managed to get excellent video of from hook-up to landing. They all took a size 12 Fox Squirrel Beadhead. On September 14, that same fly, (Fox Squirrel Beadhead, size 12), produced another heavy male brown of about 21 inches. I take most of my top-end Driftless Area Browns on Conehead Soft-Hackle Bi-Buggers, but I also nymph good numbers of “top-end” Driftless Area browns (17 inches or better) on the Fox Squirrel Beadhead. It fishes well on a dead-drift tease or swing, and for sheer numbers of strikes it’s my best prospecting fly for the region. I also tie Beadhead Squirrel nymphs in colors not listed in my fly catalog. The color variation I fish the most is the Gray Squirrel Beadhead—it has a gray squirrel abdomen, a band of black squirrel behind a copper beadhead, plus copper wire ribbing, and a black Krystal Flash tail.
     During spring hatches of black and charcoal caddis, we fish the Gray Squirrel Beadhead subsurface as a pupa imitation in sizes 12 to 16, and larger trout than are showing on the surface just crush it.
      Another nymph that fished like gangbusters in 2014, especially in clear summer flows, was my Beadhead Pheasant Tail Midge in size 16. We’ve long fished the this fly in sizes 18 and 20, and while the strike rate on high-density trout waters (such as Timber Coulee) is phenomenal, those small hooks often tear free as strong browns shoot under cutbanks and LUNKER structures. In experimenting with larger versions, I find that size 16 has considerably more hook-holding power, but still generates many strikes. Size 16 is not yet listed in my fly catalog, but feel free to request it. Regardless of hook size, I personally fish the PT Midge exclusively in beadhead versions, and mostly in black pheasant.  

     In August and September I invested a half-dozen all-day wading stints to legally fish various streams that run for several consecutive miles through private properties without public access. My son, Dale, or brother, Eric, teamed up with me on some of these adventures, and we dropped a second vehicle at our exit point to eliminate many miles of road walking back to our starting point at the end of the day. In Wisconsin this is the only way to legally access streams where private property owners deny anglers permission to walk stream banks. All you need is a legal entry and exit point, which can be miles apart, plus enough time and ambition to wade everything in between. Public road bridges, public fishing and hunting easements, state and county lands, and private lands that you have permission to cross, all qualify as legal points to enter or exit streams. Wade fishers can legally exit the water briefly onto private property to bypass wading obstructions, including trees, rocks, fences, culverts, beaver dams, deep water (and, by my interpretation, nasty mud flats). I rarely guide this form of fly-fishing, but there are quite a few such opportunities in the Driftless. Personally, I use the wet wading law mostly to scout. If I find water that I want to fish regularly then I invest time knocking on doors or contacting absentee landowners to see if I can gain permission to cross private land, which makes for quicker, easier access.  

     In 2014, as in 2013, the fishing slowed in late September. My clients and I had better fishing with less competition for a couple weeks either side of Labor Day. The lesson, waiting to fish the Driftless until the last weekend or two of September, along with everybody else, is not necessarily the best bet.  

     Nothing is law yet, but significant changes are likely in store for Wisconsin’s Driftless Area streams in 2016. The most likely changes:
     -Catch-and-release fishing with artificial lures only will begin on January 1 (instead of the first Saturday in March).
     -The Monday-through-Friday trout-fishing closure preceding the opening of the “regular” trout season on the first Saturday of May will be eliminated. (The “early” catch-and-release season will likely remain open for the five-day period preceding the regular season opener).
     -The “regular” trout season, including bait fishing and trout harvest where legal, will run through October 15 (it now runs through September 30).
     -Trout regulations will be “simplified”. Likely changes are reclassification of trout streams into three categories (instead of the current five), an increase in the regular season bag limit on most waters, and a reduction in the amount of special-regulation, artificial-only water.
     Look for DNR announcements by late summer 2015, regarding new regulations for 2016.  

     In August 2014 my son Dale (now 21), my daughter Dana (now 18), boyhood friend Wayne Eslyn (now, well, let’s not go there), and I fished the Bighorn River at Fort Smith, Montana for a week. It was Dana’s first lengthy shot at the Bighorn and she caught lots of nice trout, mostly on my Beadhead Pheasant Tail Midge in black in sizes 16 to 20. For many years running that’s easily been our hot summer pattern on the Bighorn. Between hatches we drift the PT Midge near bottom as a prospecting nymph. And when trout are rising to midges and black caddis, we fish the PT Midge just subsurface to visible risers. If you’re heading to the Bighorn, I’d be happy to tie you a supply and discuss how we rig and fish it. By the way, the Beadhead Pheasant Tail Midge (in black or natural) is one of my Rainy’s contract flies, and can be ordered thru any fly shop that carries Rainy’s flies. I personally tie all PT Midges that I ship to my fly customers.    

     In late July/early August 2015, Dale, Dana, and I are planning a few weeks of backpack fishing for golden and brook trout in the Bighorn and Wind River ranges of Wyoming on various alpine lakes that are purportedly fishing well.
     Both kids will leave home for college in the fall. For two years Dale has been commuting from home to UW-Baraboo, and will transfer to a four-year UW campus, probably to major in English with a teaching certificate. Dale has been hooked on backpacking and fly-fishing the Rockies from his first trip at age 11. He’s a truly “quick study”; his fly-casting and presentation has developed more in less time on the water than anyone I’ve seen. Now that Dale is out of competitive sports, he’s fly-fishing the Driftless Area more on his own, which I encourage because it forces him to make his own observations and adjustments, rather than lean on me. (Dawn took one look at some recent video and told me, “He fishes just like you,” and she made that sound like a bad thing). Dale talks of possibly relocating to the Rockies after college and wants to travel abroad, particularly to New Zealand. That’s become a point of envy for Dale because a fine and generous angler who I Split-Fish guide about 10 days a year in the Driftless, has graciously offered to take me to the South Island of New Zealand for about 10 days of fishing in January 2016 (he’s been there many times). I’m telling Dale, that if I can learn some of the ropes, and if he commits to editing lots of video this summer (he’s good at it), we’ll put New Zealand on our bucket list.
     Dana is looking at small private colleges. She’ll likely pursue accounting and continue to run and high jump. Academically she is tops in her class and doing well on the scholarship front. For the fourth straight year Dana was first-team all-conference in cross country (she ran at the state meet again). And in track she’ll be after her fourth consecutive conference high jump title.  

     My cocker spaniel, Libby, and I had good bird hunting in fall and winter. At age 9 Libby is covering less ground, but once she cuts the track of a running rooster she’s as much fun to follow as ever. We bagged our share of roosters on various public lands. From Christmas thru January we had surprisingly good ruffed grouse hunting on public forest near home in central Wisconsin. Typically Libby flushed a half-dozen to a dozen grouse on afternoon hunts of three to four hours. I’ll be surprised if grouse drumming counts aren’t on the rise in the central forest region in spring of 2015.
      On opening morning of the Wisconsin gun deer season, I shot a buck and a doe traveling in tandem on a remote chunk of county land along a Driftless Area trout stream. Wayne and I spent the rest of opening weekend hauling my deer out of a nearly vertical ravine in ankle-deep mud, destroying my deer cart in the process (I’m glad Wayne didn’t shoot anything in there). I missed gun deer hunting in far northern Minnesota for the fifth straight season after hunting there all but two seasons from 1990 through 2009. We’ll keep after the birds as long as Libby is up to hunting regularly—but with her slowing down I could return to the big woods of Minnesota any season now.  

     I’m late writing my annual newsletter this year. And suddenly, spring is HERE.
December and January were relatively mild in the Driftless Area. Every big snow went north, south, east, or west. February and the early March were unusually cold (Madison recorded the fifth coldest February on record). And March began with a week of sub-zero nights.
     BUT, as I write this on March 10, the 10-day fishing forecast could not be better (and catch-and-release just opened). Daily highs will be in the fifties to low sixties for an extended period, and the snow will be gone from the Driftless by the time you read this. With stable stream flows and a bunch of warm, sunny days on tap, we’re looking at exceptionally prime fishing conditions for mid March. Trout metabolisms are about to rev up quickly.
     I have plenty of openings on my guiding calendar in March and the first week of April, which suddenly looks like a terrific window. If you’re itching to get out a bit earlier than usual, give me a call.
     At just $125 a day, my popular Split-Fishing option is the best guiding value in the Driftless Area.
In Split-Fishing I split fishing time with one angler at about half my regular guiding rate. Ironically, in Split-Fishing anglers generally catch more fish (when I’m involved in the fishing I can quickly zero in on productive presentations and keep the angler covering water at a productive clip). Details on all of my guiding options are on the website.
           Good fishing to all in 2015,

  -Rich Osthoff

Home Phone: (608) 847-5192.
Cell Phone: (608) 547-9075.