Winter Steel

19 01 2016

I belong to the Downriver Walleye Federation and last week the editor asked me if I would write an article about steelhead fishing for the monthly newsletter.  I thought they must be really hard up for content since out of almost 400 members I know I’m the only one who fly fishes for steelhead.  I told him I would since I know how difficult it is trying to get an article from anyone when I was the editor.  So without further ado here it is.

Winter Steel

 

 

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2015, the Year in Review.

10 01 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times……

I have never read Charles Dicken’s classic “A Tale of Two Cities” but that opening line pretty much summed up 2015 for me. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  In April, I had one of the greatest fishing experiences of my life in the Florida Keys.  In August, I came to the realization that I would never be able to fish with my father again.  Like I said, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

One of the high points of 2015 was my foray into swinging flies for steelhead. I had actually started a few months earlier on my 50th birthday.  I learned a lot over that weekend on the Grand River in Ohio but I never did connect with a fish.  I did manage to catch one in February on the Muskegon River and that “Tug” was enough to get me hooked.  Several trips on the Huron and another on the Muskegon and I ended up with 7 steelhead for the year – a lot more than I had ever imagined I would catch, especially the ones I caught on the Huron.  This river doesn’t get much of a run but it does get enough fish to warrant a few hours whenever I get a chance.  Living only 10 minutes away doesn’t hurt either.  I learned quite a bit during these quick trips.  I never realized how important water levels and clarity can play when it comes to steelhead.  Valuable lessons that I should have already known, especially after this past walleye fishing season.

I got a late start to my walleye season this year. My boat sat up north at my parents waiting to be repaired.  I would head up on the weekends to help my Dad out but his health kept getting worse instead of better.  Eventually we got it fixed but by then it was the height of the Silver Bass run.  Around mid-June I finally made it out and started to put some fish in the freezer.  I wasn’t exactly hammering them but I wasn’t getting skunked either.  That was more than I could say for a lot of other people.  There was a lot of chatter on the message boards this past summer about how difficult the fishing was.  No one was catching any fish with any consistency.  Of course the theories started up about how the fish weren’t there.  My favorite being because there were so many anglers this Spring, they caught all the fish.  I’m not kidding, some people actually thought that.  Not surprising though, whenever fish aren’t being caught the first thought is a lack of fish.   Rarely do people ever look at the one variable that 9 times out of 10 dictates success.  Weather.

Last winter was one of the coldest Michigan had ever seen.   With the cooler temps, lack of rain and no NE winds the water remained ridiculously clear in the Detroit River, all summer long.  Walleye are an ambush predator and with the water being as clear as it was I firmly believe they just stayed put or hid in the weeds or channel edges until it got dark.  The fish were always there, they were just in a neutral feeding pattern throughout the day.  Fish were caught but not like they would be if the water was stained.  So instead of adjusting tactics people just threw out silly theories.  Me?  I changed tactics and didn’t even start fishing until after dark.  I must have been one of the few people that thought this way because I rarely saw anyone else out fishing after dark.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get out as much as I wanted because of work.  I had to stick to weekends or overcast evenings.  I could have gone out during the week but getting up in the morning for work would be rough.  I was having a hard time at work all year as it is, being half asleep wouldn’t have helped any.  Even though it was a short season I did all right.  Lost more fish than normal but that was because of the fish being so neutral from the clear water.  They would just suck in the lure if it was on their nose.  I lost all of these fish right at the boat.  Once it got dark they went into attack mode and hammered lures.  In the daylight though?  Forget it.  It was rather frustrating but eventually I put it all together and put fish in the freezer.  I also managed to save a few bucks because I wasn’t even launching until after the ramp attendants had gone home for the day.  I only had one casualty for the year as well.

busted lip

Before I ever got the chance to even catch a walleye I got the opportunity to go fishing for something I always wanted, Tarpon.  How it came about was pretty much by chance and a surprise.  Susan and I were sitting around watching TV when she told me she wanted to go back to the Florida Keys.  A few emails later and I had a couple of trips booked to go fish the flats.  The first day didn’t go so well for Tarpon.  Overcast skies and wind made spotting them difficult and even when we did they couldn’t see the fly with the dirty water.  The following evening was a different story.  Very little wind, clean water and hungry Tarpon made for probably the most memorable 3 hours of fishing I had ever had.  The one part that stuck out the most and I talk about more than anything was what my guide told me.  As he was telling me where to cast my fly he said I needed to listen for the sound of a bowling ball hitting the water.  As if on cue I heard the splash and he said “That”.  That splash is the sound of a tarpon popping a shrimp on the surface.  For the next 3 hours I listened for that and whenever I heard it I would flip my fly in that direction with the hope of another strike.  13 times it happened that night and 3 came to the boat.  I cannot even describe the rush when a 40 pound Tarpon hits the fly.  It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Tarpon 3

The one person who would have appreciated my fishing tales this year more than anyone else was my Dad. Unfortunately, my family lost him to cancer in early August.  He was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer in February and I was still hoping he and I could have gone out one last time.  It never did happen and towards the end even my stories weren’t registering with him anymore.  After his death my desire to go fishing went right out the door.  It just didn’t feel right going out knowing I couldn’t call him afterwards or send him any pictures.  I just couldn’t see the point of going.  If I couldn’t share the experience with him why bother?  When I told him about my first steelhead on a fly I tied he was so excited.  All he talked about was how when he got his strength back we would both go fishing for them on the AuSable.  That never did happen and every time I go fishing now I can’t help but think about those lost opportunities.  It still bothers me to this day and it’s the main reason why I go fishing by myself.  I really don’t want to share the experience with anyone else.  My father shared so much with me my whole life and now that I am getting to try things I have only dreamed of, I can’t share it with him.  Hopefully it will get better in 2016.

So to sum up 2015 it was the best of times and the worst of times. I caught fish, I lost fish and I lost my lifetime fishing partner.  I did manage to learn a few things along the way.  Understanding what to do depending on water clarity is huge.  Daiichi hooks are ridiculously sharp.  Wool gloves and spey casting do not go well together and most importantly……if you have a chance to go fishing with your father, do it.

Dad (32)





New Year Steel

2 01 2016

Happy New Year to me, well sort of.

My original plan was to go steelhead fishing New Year’s Day.  I got up around 7 and walked into my tying room to get my stuff.  I grabbed my sling pack and then reached for my switch rod.  That’s when it dawned on me that I left it in the back of my Escape.  No big deal except for the fact that it was at the dealership getting repaired.  Back to bed I went.

The next morning found me at the dealership at 8:00 am to retrieve my rod.  I feel better now.  From there I went back home to put on my waders and get the rest of my stuff.  I would have liked to have started earlier but with it being overcast it wouldn’t make much difference.  Actually I was more concerned about getting out before everyone else.

I arrived at my usual spot around 10:00 am to find only a few cars in the lot.  I rigged up my switch rod and headed upstream.  Water levels  were about the same as the last time I was out.  Clarity was a lot better too, which was a good thing since I tripped over a log and went for a swim the last trip.  This time I should be able to see anything before I fall over it.  I carefully waded in and started to swing my leech pattern through the run I have been fishing all season.  I was hoping to pick up a fish today since the last one I caught was back around Thanksgiving.  I fished the run for about an hour and caught nothing.  I walked out and headed towards the trail back to the parking lot.  As I was standing there I was debating which way to turn.  Left back to the warm car and dry clothes (my waders leak) or right to another spot.  I chose right, literally.

I approached the next hole about 300 yards farther upstream.  I surveyed the area to decide where I wanted to start.  I saw a log mostly submerged on the other side and thought that would be a good place to start.  It was, on my 3rd cast he hit…….and stopped.  I didn’t know what was going on.  I felt the hit, the rod was bent but nothing was happening. No jumping, no drag burning run, no head shakes, nothing.  I was just standing there staring at the line wondering what the hell was going on when he finally realized he was hooked and decided to take off.  We did the back and forth thing for the next 5 minutes or so.  I would gain some line on him and he would take off downstream.  Eventually I got him close and attempted to grab him by the tail.  If you have never tried to land a steelhead by hand let me tell you something, it’s just as hard as it sounds.  It took a couple of tries but eventually I was able to grab him by the tail and get him under control.  Normally I try to get the hook out of the fish and back in the water as soon as possible but I had to do some surgery first.  This fish had a lamprey on him.  I saw it as I was bringing him in and I was determined to get that blood sucker off of him.  I carefully pulled the lamprey off and chucked it up on shore.  A quick inspection didn’t show very much damage so I got the hook out of him and sent him on his way.  After that my hands were numb with cold so this time I turned left and headed back to the car.  I wasn’t going to complain.  I got 2016 off to a great start.  I had just landed my personal best steelhead for the Huron River.  He was released unharmed and I managed to keep from going swimming this time.

If you look a few inches past the pectoral fin you can see where the lamprey was latched on.

If you look a few inches past the pectoral fin you can see where the lamprey was latched on.

The fly, or what’s left of it.

The Fly