Roundup 2012 was an experience I will not soon forget. After the hectic madness of the previous roundup with a "Minnesota Bound" film crew in attendance, this one was much more relaxed and enjoyable. And the weather was fantastic.
As always, folks trickled in on Thursday night. Old friends greeted each other, and there were a few new faces to welcome, too. All the early-arriving folks got their tents set up along the river.
The next morning, it was time for the traditional Root River Float Trip from Lanesboro to Eagle Cliffs. All of the floaters loaded their paddle-craft onto the top of their vehicles for the short drive to beautiful, historic, downtown Lanesboro, MN.
Heath and Stark got the ball rolling. Stark couldn't wait to get on the water with his dad.
While the boats were being launched, roughfishers played in the rapids below the Lanesboro dam.
There was a good mix of canoes and kayaks. Launching your boat is easy at the Lanesboro access, you just have to wait your turn.
Tony, Mitch, and AvidFly hit the river in this sweet red Bell canoe.
Ruffie, the plush sturgeon that is the roughfish.com travelling stuffed animal mascot, bravely strapped himself to the front of Corey's kayak for the trip down the root. Ruffie has travelled all over the world, to Holland, Laos, all over the USA, and Canada. But he'd never been on a Root River Float Trip! Now he'd get to see what all the fuss was about.
Stark is all geared up and rarin' to go!
So am I! With some boats already headed downstream, there wasn't time for a group photo of us all. There were a lot of people floating - biggest turnout ever for the float trip, I think! Then, it was time to shove off. The first part of the river is pretty fast, and boats disappear down river as soon as they hit the rapids.
Heath and Stark hit the rapids in their green canoe. There are three minor rapids at the beginning of the float. In high water, they can be ... interesting. But this year, they were just plain fun.
I'm not sure, but I think Eric Kol may have run these rapids naked and solo in his see-through canoe. What a showoff.
Anywhere slow enough to stop your boat is a good spot to fish.
But the first section of river is so fast that it's hard to find a place to stop and fish. Rich executed a perfect eddying-out maneuver to pluck a trout out of the bottom of these rapids, before paddling back to the flotilla.
Ruffie and I pulled up next to him and caught a couple of fish there, too.
Then, the river flattens out. Warmwater fish were caught, including rock bass, bluegills, and white suckers.
Downed trees are always fish magnets. This giant sunken cottonwood tree is no exception. There are some huge fish lurking around this tree. You just have to figure out how to catch them!
Frogchaser took the opportunity to take some incredible photos of the Root River and its abundant wildlife.
Like this newly-hatched golden stonefly. There were golden stones fluttering all over. Stoneflies are clumsy fliers, and they smack the water enough to make fish-attracting ripples. Fish were rising to them, but none of us had bothered to bring a flyrod. If we had, we could've caught trout and mooneyes on dry flies.
The flotilla mobbed up closer together. Apparently, Eric Kol decided to put his shirt back on at this point. Got a little bit chilly, maybe? We were getting close to the first island.
As usual, the islands of the South Fork were choice places to fish and hang out during the float. This island produced golden redhorse, northern hogsuckers, white suckers, brown trout, and rainbow trout. It's always a struggle deciding whether to move on to the next spot, or to keep fishing. The group moved slowly down the south fork, and finally congregated at the confluence.
This is the confluence of the North Branch and the South Fork, where the Main Stem of the Root River begins. From here on down, it's a warmwater stream, with fewer trout and more redhorse.
As usual, lots of folks stopped on the sandbar at the confluence. It's a great spot. The north fork has black and greater redhorse, plus tons of mooneyes, and the south fork is filled with trout and hogsuckers. Below the confluence, there are sturgeon, channel cats, carp, quillbacks, and all the wonderful species of the Mississippi. It's an amazing combination. The Root River State Trail crosses the river right over the sandbar, on a picturesque old railroad bridge.
It's a serious fishing spot, and only a short run downstream to the campground. But don't forget: there's still a couple of good islands down below, plus a great sturgeon hole.
It's also a tough place to land a boat. A triumphant Gary successfully pulled off the ultra-elite "lean over and flop onto the sandbar manuever" and was very proud of himself.
Finally, the float was over and we arrived at camp. Folks shouted greetings from the riverbanks. Some even ran down the bank to offer the floaters a beer, a congratulatory handshake, or a piping hot bratwurst, smothered in brown mustard and raw onions. OK, nobody actually ran down the riverbank to give me a piping-hot bratwurst smothered in brown mustard and raw onions. But this sort of behavior is highly encouraged.
The campground at Eagle Cliffs is really the best fishing spot on the river. As the floaters removed their boats from the river and refreshed themselves, the hardcore fishermen got down to business.
Superfrog had the campground totally under control.
A really big northern hogsucker was caught, and kindly took the time to pose for a picture on a riverside rock before being released to fight another day.
There were a lot more tents in the campground.
Everyone fished into the evening, using whatever rod-holders they could find.
After nightfall, Eric Kol connected with a specimen shovelnose sturgeon.
The next morning, everyone was up at the crack of dawn. It was sunny and warm. Eminent native fish biologist, Konrad Schmidt, along with his faithful canine companion Saber, joined us. He helped me identify some minnows from the Root, including some carmine shiners. All the Micronians went nuts for the tiny fish.
Frogchaser had fun catching fish with her new micro-pole in the riffle below camp.
Doctor Flathead caught a sauger. Doc and Mongrel's daughter split it and it was gone in minutes.
Then it was time for the Species Derby! All the contestants gathered under the roughfish.com flags, filled out their nametags, and stampeded out onto the river to catch as many species as possible during the 3-hour contest.
The competition was intense. Every fish hooked could be the one that wins the contest. The strategies used were varied - stay in one spot to maximize your fishing time? Or hop from spot to spot, trying to pick off the dumb and aggressive fish in every hole?
Frogchaser scored early with a feisty white sucker.
But the river was blanketed with expert anglers.
Gary caught a huge hornyhead chub - but micro species don't count during the contest.
The three hours of the Species Derby are the only time during the roundup when I actually get to relax a little. But too soon, the contest was over and the judges tabulated the results.
It was a tie. Eric Kol and DT both had caught six species.
We went into sudden-death mode. The two anglers agreed on a fishing spot, and the started their epic duel. First to land a fish, wins.
DT hooked and lost an unknown fish, and then ....
Eric Kol landed a little smallmouth bass. The contest was finally over. Eric Kol was the new roughfish.com species derby champion.
It was a tough battle, but DT conceded like a true gentleman, vowing to take that trophy next year, no matter what it takes. Normally, the previous year's champion gets to hand off the trophy to the new champion. But Tyler W, the 2011 champion, was not able to attend the roundup this year. In 2011, Tyler had barely eked out a victory in a sudden-death fish-off with Rich. So it was decided that the sudden-death runner-up Rich would hand off the trophy in Tyler's place.
Rich was very reluctant to hand over the ultimate prize that he had so narrowly lost the year before. "So this is what it feels like" he muttered, with a challenging gleam in his eye. "Dude, just hand it over." said Eric Kol.
Finally, the Champion took posession of the elite Silver Redhorse Trophy. His name was woodburned into the back of the prize. With this stunning victory, Eric Kol became the second roughfisher to ever become a repeat champion of the Roughfish.com Root River Species Derby.
Then, all the other winners picked their prizes. There were some really amazing art posters on the table, along with great fishing gear and a lot of stuff that made people happy.
And then we fried sucker balls and ate some really delicious food. That's all I have. Tall tales were told around the campfire, and lifetime memories were made. Sunday, we reluctantly packed up to head back to our respective lives. But there's always next year!