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Love of fly-fishing

Author fished Wolf River as a kid

By Greg Seubert

Dave Karczynski cut his angling teeth as a kid on the Wolf River.

“I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but we’d always go up to Fremont at least four times a year,” he recalled. “For a kid, they were the best days of the year. We had 12 days when we’d fish the Wolf River system and we looked forward to those four trips.

“Once my parents got a cabin, we were up there all the time,” he said. “The first trip of the year was always white bass. Then we’d go and fish the bayous for pike, panfish, bass, catfish. We really did it all. It was like the Holy Land for us.”

Karczynski’s father, Stan, still lives on the Wolf south of Fremont.

“When my three boys were youngsters, we came up to Fremont three or four times a year to fish and have fun,” Stan said. “We would stay at resorts like Templeton Bayou, Pine Grove and Red Banks. After many years, we bought a home on the river where my boys became enthusiastic fishermen.”

Writing about fishing
Fast-forward a few years and Dave Karczynski has turned that love of fishing into a pair of recently published books, From Lure to Fly: Fly Fishing for Spinning and Baitcast Anglers and Smallmouth: Modern Fly Fishing Tactics, Methods and Techniques.

“I learned to fish on the Wolf River system,” said Karczynski, who teaches creative writing and photography at the University of Michigan. “It taught me a lot.”

Although he’s been fishing for years, he admitted he’s a late bloomer when it comes to fly-fishing.

“I started to notice all these tributaries coming into the Wolf,” he said. “I was driving my car once and saw all these beautiful, clear streams and thought, ‘What’s up with this?’

“I had no idea there were trout in those streams,” he said. “I did some research and sure enough, they were there. I kind of got into fly-fishing as a way to explore some of these smaller tributaries on the Wolf River system. A floating line and a lightly weighted fly is really nice for that small water.”

Those tributaries include the Tomorrow River, which starts in Portage County and becomes the Waupaca River once it crosses into Waupaca County before emptying into the Wolf east of Weyauwega; the Little Wolf and Pine rivers; and Flume and Comet creeks, which flow into the Little Wolf in northern Waupaca County.

“I had to teach myself fly-fishing in my early 20s after my whole childhood of spinning and bait-cast fishing,” Karczynski said. “I was intimidated and the terminology really threw me off.”

That led to From Lure to Fly: Fly Fishing for Spinning and Baitcast Anglers.

“This is for the person who maybe got a fly rod for Christmas or has one in the garage,” Karczynski said. “Fly-fishing has been associated with trout. You don’t need to start with trout, especially if you live in the Central Sands region around Waupaca.

“Trout are a really hard fish to catch on a fly rod,” he said. “It would really be sadistic to try to start fly-fishing for trout on the Tomorrow or Waupaca River. There’s a whole chapter in this book on fly fishing for musky. We have pike and musky, carp, smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, salmon, steelhead and panfish.”

Fly-fishing for musky?

“I think every musky angler should be somewhat competent with a fly rod and have one in the boat to convert a fish that’s not eating,” Karczynski said. “It’s the one presentation that musky probably hasn’t seen that week or maybe in its life. They’re very light, they’re made of deer hair and they swim great in the water.”

Words of advice
Karczynski offered some advice for anglers with a fly rod.

“If I would have one message, it would be, ‘Man, don’t cut your teeth on trout, anything but trout until you get your casting down,’” he said. “If you have a boat, kayak or canoe on a lake or pond, you don’t have to worry about your cast. Just go catch some bluegills and focus on that. I started fly-fishing in those nasty, small, eat-your-fly-every-cast rivers and it’s a miracle that I stuck with it.”

Although many anglers associate fly-fishing with trout, Karczynski said a fly rod can also be used for smallmouth bass.

“Smallmouth bass fishing with a fly rod kind of came next for me,” he said. “The Wolf River system is a really awesome smallmouth system. In high-water years, the big smallies leave the lower system and spend most of the year in the upper. They’re really fun to take on a fly rod.”

What makes going after smallies with a fly rod exciting?

“There are times of the year when you can be most effective by far with a fly rod,” Karczynski said. “Late fall, you’re always going to catch more with spinning tackle and a heavy jig. In August, when the rivers are low and the bass are in really shallow water and they’re very spooky, it’s really hard to present something with a spinning rod that’s quiet enough for the bass. When I fished with my brother in August, he’s throwing heavy-weighted jigs that are splashing down pretty hard and making a sound. I’m throwing a grasshopper pattern fly to bass in 6 inches of water against some brush. That’s my favorite time to fish smallmouth with a fly rod. I do it all the time, but when the water is low and they’re tucked in hard-to-get-to places, you can present a substantial meal very quietly with a fly rod and it’s a lot of fun.

“This past year, I spent a week wading and fishing the Little Wolf,” he added. “Another reason I like fly-fishing is you do a lot more wading and it slows you down and really makes you look at the river. These fish are tucked under wood and you had to get your fly to kind of kiss the wood. Then, they’re downstream, they’re big and the current’s pulling. I like the challenge of having to get the fish out and not lose it. Just because you’ve hooked it doesn’t mean you’ve earned it. You have to take the next step and fight the fish.”

Smallies on flies
Karczynski teamed up with Tim Landwehr, owner and operator of Tight Lines Fly Shop in De Pere, to write the book on smallmouth, which can be found in nearly every Wisconsin river.

“What this book really tries to do is focus on the top of the water column, the middle and the bottom and talk about times and situations to fish all three places and how to do it,” he said. “The goal of the book is to give the fly angler all of the tools that they need to read their water. Rather than do this, this and this, here’s a set of calculations that you can make. Whatever smallmouth water you’re looking at, you should be able to decode it and say, ‘OK, the fish are either here or here. I know how to approach this and this is what I’m going to do.’”

The book also covers different flies that can be used.

“Different flies do different things,” Karczynski said. “They sound different, they move different, they’re going to appeal to different fish in different situations. It’s really about what fly do I choose for this situation and less about matching the hatch. It’s more about where the fish are in a given body of water. In a nutshell, it says to the reader, ‘Here’s how to choose a fly based on where the fish is in the river.’”

Karczynski has taken several large smallmouth on a fly rod over the years.

“The nice thing about smallmouth fishing in this area is the bigger smallmouth tributaries have a little bit of a stain to them,” he said. “You can kind of get close to the fish and you don’t have to have a huge cast. The first time you take a good fish on a fly rod, you kind of black out because it just feels so different, especially smallmouth. I no longer black out now.”

Back to Fremont
Karczynski returns to the Fremont area whenever he can to – what else? – fish.

“I’m always fishing my secret honey holes that I’ve discovered slowly over 15 years,” he said. “I like the smaller places that are less fished. If somebody can’t put a boat there, then you know that automatically removes the vast majority of people. The question is how do you get to fish that aren’t fished for a lot?

“If you can find bottom sections of tributaries to the Wolf where boat traffic starts to disappear, that tends to be really nice water,” he said. “All of the tributaries hold smallmouth bass on the Wolf. Pick one and find out where the boat traffic ends and the wading begins. That’s where you’re going to find a really nice stretch of water that has a lot of fish – good-sized fish – and doesn’t get fished a lot.”

Karczynski said he isn’t asking anglers to abandon their spinning and bait-casting rods for a fly rod.

“I’m not asking people to give up their other tackle and only fish with a fly rod, but there are times when it’s a really nice tool,” he said. “Fly-fishing has made me a better angler because now I have multiple perspectives on fish and how they eat and how they move and how water affects those things. Why not learn all the tools?”

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