Pre-Tax Day Smallmouth Weekend.

16 04 2019

Back when I was in Alaska, one of the guys I was fishing with mentioned all of us getting together to do a Smallmouth weekend with Schultz Outfitters.  At the time I didn’t think much of it because I figured it would never happen.  Well a couple of months later it was happening and next thing I knew I was paying my part of a deposit.  The man in charge reserved 3 guides and boats for the 6 of us on April 13th and 14th.  A few years back this would have never happened.  The DNR recently made bass fishing a year round sport as long as it was CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) during what was traditionally a closed season.  Since that change the guides at Schultz Outfitters have put in their homework and figured out a program to consistently catch these pre-spawn, cold water fish.

The first day I was fishing with Mike Schultz himself and Ken Fugate from my Alaska trip.  Mike told us we were right on the cusp of the fishing exploding.  Water temps were 50 degrees and the fish were really close to taking off.  Problem was that with so little rain that the rivers were low and clear.  Throw in the forecasted clear skies and it was going to be tough.  We were throwing an articulated fly called a Swinging “D”.  I have fished these flies before and the key to making them work was giving the line a hard strip and then letting the fly pause in slack water.  The pause is when the fish would come up and grab it.  If it was still moving the bigger fish would just ignore it.  Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t make it happen.  The Northern Pike sure liked it though.  I managed to hook 4 of them on Saturday.  Throw in the two smaller bass and I was beginning to question why I agreed to this.  Ken wasn’t having any problems.  He managed to land one that was around 19 1/2 inches long.  The other people in the group were catching big fish as well.  All except for me.  To say I was getting frustrated and discouraged is an understatement.  The only excitement I had was when I made a bad cast and buried the fly into my skull.  Mike was able to get it out but it was a bloody mess for a bit.

The next day was a completely different story in several ways.  Different guide, different river and different conditions.  Saturday was blue skies and sunshine.  Sunday was overcast skies, a rain snow mix and a temperature drop of around 30 degrees.  It pretty much rained the whole time we were fishing.  My guide (And Casting Instructor) today was Jay Wisnosky, also of Schultz Outfitters.  Today we were headed to a stretch of river the guides call The Land of The Giants.  I was a little more optimistic today but still cautious.  A cold front, like we had going on, can shut fish down.  About an hour later I got my answer.  I hooked and landed my new personal best Smallmouth, on a fly, at 17 3/4 inches long.

I was feeling much better now.  These fish are powerful and trying to land one on a fly rod will put a strain on the arm muscles.  After a few quick pics he went back into the water.  These fish take between and 15 to 20 years to get to this size.  Because of this extra care is taken to make sure they are unharmed and able to fight another day.  I asked Ken if he wanted to take over the front of the boat and he passed.  Yesterday we switched back and forth between the front and back of the boat, today Ken didn’t want to switch.  He was having a hard time staying warm and just wanted to sit in the back.  We tried a few more spots with only one smaller fish to show for our efforts.  Jay switched out my fly for a crayfish pattern at the next hole.  He told me to do the same thing I was doing all morning.  Cast towards the bank, let the current pull the line forward and let the fly sink.  Give it a twitch every now and then and repeat.  About half way through the hole I hooked and landed my new personal best Smallmouth at 18 1/2 inches.

After this one I thought for sure Ken would want to get in on the action but he still passed on it.  I was starting to feel guilty for catching all the fish but he said don’t worry about it so I kept at it.  We had a quick lunch after this one.  Hard to eat a warm meal when it is raining on you.  After lunch we drifted downstream to yet another hole and I went back to swinging my fly through the run.  This time I was using a Circus Peanut, similar to the one I lodged in my skull yesterday.  I managed to hook another fish in the 17 inch range that was scarred and pissed off at the world.  Jay was telling me to strip line in and I couldn’t.  The fish was having nothing to do with me and was determined to stay on the bottom.  Eventually I was able to get him up, netted and released without any damage to anything other than his pride.  Or mine, since I had such a hard time getting him in.

Farther down the river Jay switched out my fly back to the crawfish pattern I caught my new PB on. For some odd reason every time I switched flies I caught a fish.  Kind of goes against my theory of constantly changing flies but I wasn’t going to argue with the results.  It made sense though.  At this next hole the bank was lined with tree stumps or root balls and the bottom was covered with rock and boulders.  I started casting and as we slowly drifted downstream I could see a rather large boulder under water.  I was able to time my cast so that the fly drifted over the top and behind the boulder.  My eyes bugged out of my head as I watched the fish come up from the bottom and inhale the fly.  I buried that hook and the fight was on.  He did not want to come out from behind that boulder but once he did the current caught him and he took off downstream.  Eventually I was able to turn him towards me and into the net.  Jay measured him at just a hair over 19 inches.  A new personal best, again.

Now I was really wound up.  I was just hoping for one decent fish and instead I landed my 3 biggest, on a fly. to date.  By now though it was 4:30 pm and we had been on the water for almost 6 hours of wind driven rain.  We tried a few more spots but not much happened.  I managed to land one smaller fish and that was it.  I had had enough, as did Ken, so Jay just rowed for the take out point.  I wasn’t going to complain.  I was more sore then wet but I still had an hour drive home after Jay got us to our cars which were an additional hour away.

So that was my weekend.  One day of blue bird skies and the other a total opposite, both in weather and results.  During dinner Saturday night there was talk of making this a yearly event.  I’ll admit I was ready to bow out after Saturday.  After Sunday I changed my mind.

 

 

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Inaugural Handlining Trip for 2019

11 04 2019

It’s been a long winter.

Last Tuesday (4/9) I made my first handlining trip for the 2019 walleye season.  Last year at this time the water was filthy dirty and full of fish.  This year the water is super clear and the run has just started.  I had been hearing a lot of hit and miss reports all over the river.  Seems like their are a lot of smaller groups of males in the river.  If someone can find a group and stay on them a limit can be caught.  If not, then it makes for a long day.

Knowing that I waited unto after 8:00 pm before I even launched the boat.  After a brief chat with some visiting anglers from Grand Rapids on where everything is I was on the water around 8:30 pm.  The sun was just starting to set and I wasn’t expecting much to happen until later on.  It had been windy all day long and it was lying down nicely now.  Just a slight breeze out of the west.  Near perfect conditions, all I needed was for the walleye to cooperate.  Around 9 I got my first fish of the night.  I caught him up by the Edison Power Plant discharge, an area I don’t normally fish too often.  I hung around the area for about another half hour and picked up two more fish.  Fishing wasn’t as fast and furious as I wanted so I headed downstream to where I originally started.  A few minutes later and number 4 was in the boat.  I was hoping to be done soon but the walleye had other ideas.  The next half hour was head shakes and a lost fish at the boat.  He charged my prop and got tangled up with my short lead.  Off he came as I was flipping him  over the side.  I got my lines untangled and back int he water.  As I sat there grumbling and disgusted for losing a fish that way I had another hit.  There was a lot of weight to this one so I slowed down some and turned the boat into the fish.  Once I got my shank out of the water I saw why there was extra weight.  My top and middle lead were going in different directions and there was a walleye on each line.  I got the middle lead fish in first and then brought in the long lead one.  Once I got the lures out of the way I compared sizes and tossed the smaller one back.  First trip of the year resulted in a 5 fish limit and no lost lures.  That is until I started to put stuff away.  As I was putting lures away I disconnected a #11 GFR Rapala and instead of laying it on my console, I chucked it over the side like I was getting it back into the water to fish.

It’s been a long winter.





Back to the Alley

26 03 2019

A few weeks back the Office Manager for where I worked told me I had an extra vacation day left over from 2018.  I could have sworn I used them all up but I wasn’t about to argue with her.  I had to use it before March 31st so after a quick phone call I booked a guide to fish Steelhead Alley on March 25th.

This would be my third guided trip with them and my second with guide Josh Trammell.  He had sent me an email a few weeks back to tell me about dates he had open.  I wanted to pick his brain some more about the Naknek river in Alaska so I booked a second trip with him.  I was looking forward to fishing again but I knew conditions were going to be tough.  A lack of rain has kept a lot of the rivers low and clear.  The Grand, on the other hand, had a good flow but the water was dirty from issues with a dam farther upstream.  The plan was to start at The Grand and maybe head over to The Chagrin later.

Josh picked me up bright and early on Monday morning and we headed to our first spot.  It would turn out to be a spot I fished once before, about 4 years ago, but completely forgot the name of the park.  Now I have the location saved for future reference.  There were a few other anglers on the river so we headed further downstream.  Josh stopped and talked to two anglers and asked if they were ok with us fishing down from them about 50 yards.  They said no problem and away we went.  As i said before the water was dirty, less than a foot of visibility.  I was going to have to bounce the fly off their nose to get a hit.  I started swinging my streamer, through the run, and hoped for the best.  After the first attempt we switched over to a heavier sink tip and a different fly.  It didn’t make a difference so Josh rigged up my other rod with and indicator set up.  This is not my preferred method to fish but I wanted to learn how to do it since I have a few spots where this would be the best presentation.  I started over again, at the head of the run, and worked my way downstream.  We were getting kind of close to a log jam and Josh told me to make a couple more drifts and we would move back up.

Bobber Down.

Just that quick our laid back, taking it easy, enjoying the time on the water demeanor changed over to shock and panic.  The shock was hooking a fish, the panic was when it took off towards the log jam.  I was able to slow him down and after a few minutes we had him in the net.

After a few pics and a strong release I started back over.  Nothing happened so we moved on to a few more spots on The Grand.  During lunch we decided to move on to The Chagrin.  This was a river I had never fished before so I was happy to fish a new area.  The more spots I can get logged into my mental data bank the better my chances will be for future success.  Conditions on the Chagrin were the exact opposite of The Grand.  Low, clear water called for a different approach and a little more stealth.  The first few spots we tried yielded nothing.  Josh had one more area to try and we made our way there.  We started off with the indicator rig but soon switched over to stripping a small white streamer.  Josh told me this would be the best way to cover a lot of water quickly.  After I tried that through a few holes and runs we switched back to the indicator rig and worked one last hole.  We were going to start back upstream but two other anglers had shown up and set up in the first runs we fished.  That made this the last spot of the day.  It was do or die time and it wasn’t looking good.  I drifted the egg fly pattern through the same ripples over and over again.  Josh told me one more drift and then we would have to get going, otherwise I would get caught in the rush hour traffic around Cleveland.

Bobber Down.

We were both shocked.  I must have drifted that fly through the hole 30 times and on the last one the fish decided to grab it.  What’s even more funny is that the fly itself was just a bit of cream colored yarn.  Nothing else.  Sometimes these fish can be so smart and other times the biggest dummies.  I wasn’t going to complain though, at least not to much.  This fish was a little bigger and feistier than the last one so I took my time.  He was staying in the hole and there were no log jams to worry about.  After about 5 minutes we got him in the net.  A few quick pics and he was on his way.  Mission accomplished.  We packed up and Josh took me back to my car.  We chatted for a bit as I got my waders off and promised to keep in touch.  I had a long drive home and I was feeling it after doing a lot of walking both up hills and against currents.  My doctor told me I need to exercise more anyways.

Any yes, I did get stuck in rush hour traffic around Cleveland.





Come on Spring

25 02 2019

Normally Winter doesn’t bother me.  This year though, especially the last month, has been a royal pain in the ass.  Record cold, freezing rain and Cyclone Bomb winds have played havoc with my fishing.  I don’t mind some bad weather but this is getting ridiculous.  I’ve been tying all these flies but I haven’t had much of a chance to try them out.  I’ve run out of boxes to fill so tying has taken a back seat for now.  I did pull out all my old reloading stuff though.  Figure I’ll load up every round and casing I have and then sell all my reloading equipment.  I need to start minimizing all my stuff so I figured this would be the best way to start.

I did take a break Saturday afternoon and took some time to go swing some flies for a bit.  I drove by the river earlier in the day out the level and it appeared to be dropping.  So far so good.  A few hours later though and it had started to rise.  but the time I was done the level was up enough to where I couldn’t wade my usual.  Even worse was the fact that one of my spots had filled in with silt during the winter.  Instead of a firm sand bottom I was now wading in about 6 inches of muck.  I figure it is all the run off from the golf course.  Even though the visibility was good upstream the creek flowing out of the golf course was pure mud.  I am leaning more and more towards getting my boat or kayak rigged up so I can better access some runs and holes.  We’ll see how the Spring run goes.  I may not bother if I’m doing well on the Ohio tribs.  I currently have a trip scheduled for the North Shore of Lake Superior come April.  If all goes well I will be able to check another lake off the list.

Until then here are some of the new patterns I have been tying up.





They Do Exist.

17 12 2018

January 2nd, 2016.  That was the last time I caught a Steelhead in The Huron River.  For awhile I was beginning to think that I would never catch one there again.  Even the other die-hards that I know have been struggling these last few years.  Unstable weather, poor returns, early freeze-ups, all have combined to keep my success at an all time low.  I was doing so badly I resorted to driving to Ohio to improve my odds.  That was my original plan this past Sunday, drive to either Conneaut or The Grand but late night rains in Ohio changed my mind.  Instead I figured I would hit The Huron in multiple locations.  Hopefully I would find one cooperative fish.

I started off at Dodge Park but I wasn’t able to fish the spot I wanted.  When I rounded the corner there was already someone there.  I went a little further upstream and started working another hole.  I left there and headed downstream and fished another run.  While I was there a boat trolled over the hole, stopped to bring in their lines and then punched it and took off upstream.  Talk about a “Dick” move.  I got out and headed back to my car.

Next up was Labo Park.  Once again someone else was there and he was set up at the second bridge drifting spawn.  I started upstream and worked a hole just ahead of him for a bit.  I didn’t stay long though, as I was walking along I slipped in the mud and landed on my right arm.  I cleaned myself off as best I could and headed for the car.  While I was putting stuff away a fellow fisherman stopped to see how I had done.  his success had been pretty much like mine all season.  He told me another friend of his had only caught 10 fish so far and he claimed he catches over a hundred a year.  Every year I run into someone who makes that claim but I seriously doubt it.  Based on what I see and hear I have to wonder how someone can catch that many over a few months.

Anywho, after he left I drove back upstream to try one more spot.  As I approached the boat launch area there was a trio getting their boat ready to head out.  I grabbed my rod and waded downstream.  I had high hopes for this area today.  The water had been to high for me to reach the log jam on the opposite side but since it had dropped about a foot I knew I could today.  I waded out to the middle of the river and started casting right on the edge of the foam.  I was keeping an eye on the other boat and hoping they would go downstream behind me BAM….FISH ON.  Just that quick I ended an almost 3 year slump.  It was a smaller fish and it really didn’t have a chance against a 7116 Redington Chromer.  I landed her quickly, took a pic and sent her on her way.

While I was getting myself organized another boat had shown up and parked right on top of the run I was fishing.  “Dick” move #2.  After that I headed for home.  I had muddy gloves and a jacket to clean and I needed to organize the back of my car.  I had flies, leaders, clothes and garbage all over the back and I needed to clean things up.  I have a couple of 4 day weekends coming up and I plan on taking full advantage of them.





The Alley 12/01/18

3 12 2018

Earlier this year I told myself that I was going to put more effort into Steelhead fishing.  Ever since my last successful Huron trip (1/2/2016) I have been half-assing it and not really trying.  I was putting more emphasis on what fly I was using instead of working on my mechanics or presentation.  With that in mind, I made the effort to get my Switch rod and line combos tuned in and practiced whenever I could.  The week in Alaska helped a lot but I should have devoted more time to using my two hand rods.  I’m to the point now where I just need some fine tuning on my casting and presentation.  As with walleye fishing, it doesn’t matter what fly I’m using if I’m not putting it in the strike zone.  Now that walleye fishing is pretty much over for me it’s time to concentrate on Steel.

A few weeks back I contacted Patrick Robinson of Steelhead Alley Outfitters (SAO) to set me up for a full day guided trip.  Pat put my trip together for Alaska and I have already fished with the owner, Greg Senyo, and one of their guides.  I thought about getting a trip booked with my previous guide, Nate Miller, but I wanted to learn more and I figure time spent with other guides would be beneficial.  So I just let Pat decide and he signed me up for a day with Josh Trammell for Saturday, 12/1/18.

Josh kept tabs on the flow rates throughout the week and told me the day before we would be fishing Elk Creek in the morning.  SAO fishes the Erie tributaries from The Vermillion in Ohio to Elk Creek in Pennsylvania.  Flow rates determine which rivers are fishable so the guides pay attention to them daily.  I was doing the same thing and I figured we would be fishing the creeks in the NE corner of Ohio.  Josh told me where to meet him Saturday morning at 6:45 am and from there we headed towards Elk Creek.  SAO has access to some private land on the creek which is nice.  This river can get very crowded but with it being deer season more people were hunting instead of fishing.  Once we got my 7 wt Chromer rigged up Josh pointed out where to start fishing and I did just that.  The first run didn’t produce anything so we moved down to the next run.  At the end of the drift on my 5th or 6th cast I started to go through the motion of giving the fly a couple of “pulses” to try and entice a follower.  I do this by just pulsing the rod back and forth while the fly is straight downstream from me just dangling in the current.  As I was about to strip line in I had a hit.   It caught me completely off guard and instead of keeping my rod parallel to the river with my hook set I did the Orvis straight up and out of his mouth hook set.  Just that quick the fish was gone.  I regrouped and about 5 minutes later I had another hit.  This time I did everything right and I drove that hook home.  A few minutes later my first fish of the day was in the net.

After a few pics and a successful release I made my back up to the start of the run and started over.  On my next cast I had another hit as I was mending my line.  Needless to say I didn’t get a good hook set with the slack line and my rod being pointed upstream.  I fished the rest of the run anyways with no further luck.  While all this was going on Josh was on the phone with another SAO guide who was out with a Father and his 9 year old son.  They weren’t getting into any fish and he was checking to see how we were doing.  Josh asked me if I wanted to fish another river and I agreed.  Josh told them they could have the hole and we moved. on.  I found out later that the boy (Augie) ended up catching his first steelhead from that hole.

While we fished the next run Josh asked me if it was okay for him to point out a few things on my cast.  I said “please do” and he told me to slow down some and quit forcing the cast.  Let the rod do the work and keep that line at a 45 degree angle to the river.  He went on to tell me that when I cast straight across I get a big bow in  my line and the current will point the fly head on to the fish instead of to the side.  A side view of the fly will produce more strikes then a head on shot.  This is what I wanted, to “tweak” my presentation.  That run didn’t produce anything so we decided to try Conneaut Creek next.  That was fine with me since it was west and closer to home.  We stopped along the way and picked up my car before we drove to our next stop.  There were more fishermen here than at Elk so we headed upstream and away form the crowds.  The first two stops didn’t produce any fish and we were running out of time.  We tried one more hole and I started casting.  I was about 20 minutes in when Josh told me that after a few more casts we would be BAM. AIRBORNE, FISH ON!

 

Talk about a last second fish.  After a couple of pics we sent her on her way and headed in before the rain really started to fall.  After getting rained on all last weekend I wasn’t looking forward to it happening again.  I went 2/4 today, all on the swing so I wasn’t going to complain.  After today’s lessons (leaders, line management, presentation, reading water) I feel confident that I can be a little more consistent with my success.  Of course a lot of that will depend on the fish.  Steelhead are nothing like walleye.





Thanksgiving Weekend Steelhead

26 11 2018

If there was one thing that was consistent about this weekend it would be the rain.  It started sometime early Saturday morning and continued on into Sunday.  As a matter of fact, it changed over to snow when I convinced myself I should just go home.

I knew the weather was going to be miserable but even though it was going to rain I knew that the area wouldn’t be blown out.  With the gates controlling the flow it wasn’t going to matter how much rain we got.  Unfortunately, the October rains gave an estimated 2 trillion extra gallons to Lake Superior.  All that water has to go somewhere so the gates were wide open.  The concrete berm I normally stand on to fish certain runs was completely under water.  Not that it mattered, trying to wade to it was completely out of the question.  I got spun around more than once by the increased flow and not so sure footing.

Knowing all this I still went out.  I have yet to catch a Steelhead here and I definitely won’t catch one sitting in my hotel room watching the Wolverines get their ass handed to them.  I figure one of these days my timing will be perfect and I’ll catch one.  As it turns out it would not be this weekend.  I could see fish rolling around and I saw a few swim by me both they were all salmon.  I figured they were either Atlantics or small Chinook.  Around noon I managed to hook one as I was stripping line in for my next cast.  Based on the color I thought it was a small Atlantic.  I was wrong.

Wasn’t expecting a coho but there she was.  Nothing like the ones I caught in Alaska but it was still better than nothing.  After I released her I waded back to shore to let my legs thaw out for a bit.  While I was there I talked to a local angler who was also taking a break and smoking a “Recreational Cigarette”.  He told me that the Steelhead have been slow but there were a lot of salmon in the area.  He had also caught a couple of Coho and an Atlantic.  He also told me that the gates will be turned down on Dec. 10th.  He told me that he expects the fishing to be good for a few days after that, even if gets any colder.  I doubt I’ll drive back up though.  I may stick to the Alley or some west side rivers.  I like fishing this area but those 6 hours drives get old after awhile.  After a 20 minute break I waded back in and resumed fishing.  I was joined by another fishermen who set up downstream from me.  He was chucking a pink spoon and I watched him catch one Steelhead and about half a dozen salmon.  The fish are in but they were in a pool that I couldn’t reach.  If the levels were down a couple of feet I could.  Then again the fish might not be in that spot as well.  After about 6 hours of 40 degree water and rain I packed it in.  A warm meal sounded better than subjecting myself to any more abuse.  Besides, I still had tomorrow morning to try again.

Well I tried again Sunday morning.  I should have known something was up when I arrived and I was the only vehicle in the parking lot.  I tired for a couple of hours but when it started snowing I decided to give up.  I was going to have a long drive home and I wanted to get ahead of the storm that was expected to arrive later that night.

I did manage to catch one fish, lost a couple of flies and I was able to stay dry for most of the weekend.  One of these years I’ll catch it just right.  I’m not going to hold my breath until then though.