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Are You a "Blue Liner"?

Mike Clifford

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This is something I used to do from the very first time I opened up the grandaddy of all map books.

What is "blue-lining", you ask?

Poking up named and unnamed creeks represented by thin, blue lines on the pages of a tattered gazetteer.


These little streams represent equal parts adventure and risk--there's no telling what you'll find in those journeys upstream. Sometimes fish. Sometimes snakes or other inquisitive inhabitants.


Tom Reed is a blue-liner. In fact, he's one of the few people who truly understands what it means to be a blue-liner, and that blue-lining is only a little about the fishing, and a lot about what lies beyond that next bend, over the next rise or "up that little wash."


His latest book, "Blue Lines," hit the stores recently.

Sure, it chronicles his adventures in the West, but it can't be any different than our own journeys into the unknown.



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Yeah, most of it is going to be private property.

What I've done a great deal of is fishing directly beneath the roads going over them.

Most of it is in farmland anyway.

IDOT owns that little piece of property.

Amazingly, tons of fish inhabit the creeks around bridges.

Smallies, rock bass, chubs, shad, Largemouth and catfish.

Have seen giant cats in water a foot deep and 6 feet across.

Caught a 3+ lb. LM from the same.

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I became a blue liner this summer. I decided that instead of pouting when the Kish was unfishable, I'd head to the SW Wisconsin Driftless area and chase trout. The beauty is that pretty much any stream in Wisconsin is fair game to wade. The law says if a stream is EVER floatable, even during floods, then it is considered a navigable public water. You can access at a bridge and start wading as long as you stay in the water. Plus, the DNR up there has acquired tons stream easements that allow miles of access including the land on both sides of the creek.


There's nothing better than heading out into new areas with the Gazetteer and finding one new stream after another.

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Shoot, back when I was single and footloose, I was doing my best to fish any stream that I thought might have smallies. It was a lot different back then, politely asking a farmer for permission generally did the trick and at times a call to his neighbor to get permission for me to keep going. Now, it's different with lots of the farms now subdivided. I've had folks threatened to call the cops on me for coming up thier drive to simply ask permission.


Lord, some of the notes I scribbled on my maps from back then.


I'll be checking out the book.

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I think this is why I prefer the smaller rivers. I'm forever wondering what's around the next bend or even what kind water is just up ahead or going back to a spot after a few years and not recognizing it because the last few floods completely reshaped the flow. Cool stuff!

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For me, even better than when the rivers change is when they don't change.


Much better fishing. Stability.


The best kept secret I found this year is a decent size creek in spring entirely in river canyons. Drains really quickly. Nearly dry in summer with pools separated by lack of water fall. Since there are no adjacent farms, there is very little silt. Some of the pools are like small lakes or large ponds. People see bone dry to nearly bone dry river bed and pass on. Big mistake. Loaded with fish life.


Changing river channels means silted over microrganism and fish left high and dry by floods and habitat changes. Find the more stable body of water and you'll have more consitent bass populations. Seems bass can take low water MUCH better than high water.

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