I Believe I Can Fly……..

2 10 2017

Anyone reading this might wonder why I led off with this.  I’ll get to that and trust me, it is appropriate.

Earlier this week my friend and fellow handliner Dave, asked me if I want to head up to the Manistee River for one last crack at the trout before the season closed.  Like I need to be asked?  Friday night found us headed up 127 to his own version of the Holy Waters.  We would be fishing an area that is flies only and the legal minimum length for a Brown Trout was 18 inches.  Not that this mattered since neither of us were planning on keeping anything but an 18 inch Brown is an impressive fish.  There were smaller size restrictions for Rainbows and Brookies but in all the years that Dave has fished here he has never caught either.  In other words it was Browns or nothing.  This was fine with me since I have yet to catch a Brown on a fly.  Caught plenty of the lake run version but never a true river Brown.

After breakfast Saturday morning we drove up to our first spot of the day.  We were the only fishermen there, not surprising since Opening Day of the Archery Deer Season was the next day.  There was lots of Quad traffic on the roads as hunters checked on blinds but for us there wasn’t a sign of anyone on the river.  Once we got our gear in order we made our way down to the river’s edge.  Dave was casting small soft hackles and headed upstream.  As for me I was going big.  I broke out my 6wt, 11-6 Redington Prospector and a 3 inch Olive Sculpin pattern I tied up for this purpose.  I could have scaled down and given myself a better chance of catching any trout but I wanted something to brag about.  The stretch I was fishing had a lot of bends to it so I had to move from one side to the next so that I could swing my fly through the deeper runs and holes. Fortunately for my vertically challenged self, the water levels were down a bit and I could you wade from side to side without much issue.  Trout Unlimited had created a lot of holding habitat in the past and I was concentrating my efforts towards those sunken logs, especially the ones in the shade.  It was chilly morning so the sun felt good but I would have welcomed a little cloud cover.  Nevertheless I went through my usual routine.  Cast, swing, drift, dangle, take two steps, repeat.  Of course while I was doing this I was studying the next run, checking out the scenery, listening to the birds and generally just relaxing.  I’ve had to much unnecessary drama in my life the last week and I really needed to unwind.  It never ceases to amaze me how time on the water can make all my problems just disappear.

How can any self respecting Brown refuse that?

After about an hour of this and no action I was beginning to question my strategy of Go Big or Go Home.  I hadn’t heard from Dave so I had no idea if he was doing any better.  I know there were some decent fish in the area.  When we first started we spooked a 20+ inch fish from under a log near our entry point.  I kept at it though, thinking eventually something would take a swipe at my fly.  During this interlude of me questioning my tactics I noticed two birds hauling ass my way.  I couldn’t tell what they were at first until the trailing bird finally caught the lead bird.  A goshawk had just exploded  a Robin directly in front of me and landed in the tag alders on my right.  I stood there in amazement of what I had just seen and watched the feathers all around me float down to the river.  That was when it happened, my cast was now in the “dangle” mode and an over zealous brown grabbed my sculpin.  Now normally, when I’m swinging streamers, I try to wait until I feel the weight of the fish to set the hook.  That way I know he has turned and once I apply pressure I can usually hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.  This hit was not when I was expecting it so of course I set the hook and let the 11′ – 6″ rod do it’s thing and by that I mean it proceeded to yank that little 7 inch Brown completely out of the water and send him flying upstream and back into the water right next to me.  By then he came unhooked and swam away trying to figure out what the hell just happened to him.  One second he thought he was going to get himself an easy meal and the next he is flying through the air like a bird.   I just stood there for a moment taking it all in and feeling a little ashamed at what I had just done.  I know better than that.

After that the rest of the morning was pretty uneventful.  Dave managed to land a few smaller fish and I managed nothing.  We spent the rest of the day continuing to work our way upstream.  We found one spot that was rather interesting.  When we first got there we could see some fish holding in a pool behind a blow down.  We were trying to figure out how to get to them when we began to question if they were even trout.  Eventually we saw the forked tails and realized they were suckers.  When we turned around to leave I spotted a pair of Adirondack chairs at the edge of the river.  Someone must have brought them down so we took advantage of that person’s hard work and generosity and sat there for a bit to take in the scenery.  After a bit we hit the river or at least Dave did.  I headed downstream but most of the area was too deep for me to wade or to mucky. After about half an hour of trying to find a spot to fish I just gave up and went back to the car.  I grabbed my book and sat in one of the stream side chairs and read while Dave fished.  He managed to hook into a better fish but it got tangled up in some logs (the beavers were really active on this stretch) and lost it.

Dave’s First Manistee Brookie

The suckers

Dave’s Brown

The rest of the day provided very little action.  We made one more stop just before dark.  There were several hatches going on of Ephrons, Blue Wing Olives and something so small I had no idea what it was.  We did see a few fish rise to this but nothing to get to excited about.  I did manage to catch a wood turtle here, I almost stepped on him as I was walking upstream.  He was covered in tan colored leeches, which of course I had nothing resembling that in my fly box.  We fished until dark and then called it a day.  A warm meal and bed sounded pretty good right now.  We planned on trying again in the morning anyways.

He doesn’t look impressed.

Sunday morning found us even farther upstream but on the same river.  The section I was going to work had a long bend in the river, almost 300 yards of sunken logs on the left downstream side and all in the shade.  I figured I had to get something here.  In order to increase my chances I cheated a little.  I tied a 12 inch dropper line onto my sculpin and attached a #12 soft hackle.  If I can’t go big I figured I could at least catch something small.  This time though I vowed to not send anything small flying through the air.  I waded in and started my routine once again.  Unfortunately the only action I had was a small 5 inch brown that grabbed my dropper fly.  As promised I didn’t send him flying, I just merely skipped him along the surface as I lifted my rod.  As I reached down to pick him up he came off and quickly swam for the nearest cover.  I did see a few bigger fish as I worked my way around an island but they wanted nothing to do with what I had to offer, the snobs.  Dave didn’t have much luck either so after we got out of our waders we packed up and headed home.  Not the most successful trip in terms of fish caught but I learned a lot about this section of river, found some new access points and tucked them away in  my memory for future dates.  One of these times I’ll time it right and actually catch a fish worth bragging about.

Not a lot of color for this time of year.



A Change of Pace

19 05 2013

Every year during the month of May my boat and Schaller reels get a break from fishing.  Not because I need a break but because I don’t like catching Silver Bass.  I love to fish but Handlining is strictly a walleye thing.  It wasn’t designed for catching Silver Bass.  They are a take a kid fishing with light tackle thing.  During this time I usually pursue other types of fishing, more recently it has been out of my kayak.  This year it would be something else.

I don’t really remember how it came about but Dave Fitch, a fellow handliner, asked me if a ever went fly fishing.  I told him it had been awhile but I learned how to cast a fly rod when I was about 10 years old and I also tied my own flies.  Next thing I knew I was invited to a weekend fly fishing trip on the AuSable river up near Grayling.  I was a little worried at first.  I hadn’t caught a trout on a fly rod in over 30 years.   I was going to be a little out of my comfort zone.  I would be trading in  my 30 pound test leaders and a 5 inch long Rapala’s for a 2 pound leader and a #16 Adams.  This could get embarrassing.

I arrived in Grayling Friday night and gave Dave a call to see where he was at.  He and his friend “Corky” had just come off the river and they would be back at the cabin shortly.  I had some time to kill so I took a walk down to the AuSable to just relax.  A few minutes later Dave’s truck was pulling in and after meeting Corky and his son Spencer we were on our way to get something to eat.  During dinner the whole conversation was about where to go tomorrow.  Apparently the local fly shop had said that the stretch of river we were supposed to fish was too high and fast.  This same topic carried over into the morning at breakfast.  Eventually it was decided to at least go see what the water was like on the lower AuSable.  Turns out it was the right decision.  The water level was up but when we arrived the fish were feeding so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to try here.  A few minutes later we were back at the truck and gearing up.  We headed upstream for a bit and then waded in.  I spotted a few trout rising not to far away and slowly worked my way to them.  I made my first cast and just like that I caught a tree.  This was going to be a long day.  I re-tied and soon I was flipping the fly in the general area of the rising trout.  I took a little practice and some patience but I was finally able to catch my first trout in over 30 years.  Granted it was only a 5 inch brook trout but it was a good start.

That is basically how the day would progress, catching a few small brook trout in between snagging the fly eating trees behind me.  I did find out one thing that really bothered me.  Apparently the tendonitis in my right wrist was worse than I thought.  The more I cast the more it hurt.  By the time evening was setting in it hurt so much I could hardly hold my fly rod.  I just gave up and waded to our walk out point.  I figured I would just sit and relax until the rest of the group had showed up.  I really wasn’t missing much, I hadn’t caught a fish in the last few hours and I didn’t even see many fish rising.  Eventually the rest of the group showed up and we stood around discussing the lack of trout and bugs.  Around 8:00 pm that all changed.  the bugs starting hatching and the fish started feeding again.  Ten minutes ago all was quiet but now their were fish rising all around us.  We all piled back into the river and started casting away.  I soon remembered something I learned about trout fishing a long time ago.  Trout can be the most finicky damn fish known to man.  The 4 of us tried just about every fly we had and I think we managed 1 fish in the next hour.  There is nothing more frustrating than watching a trout rise and grab a fly right next to mine.  You would think that even one fish would make a mistake and grab mine by accident but no……..

Around 9:00 pm the hatch started to slow down and the fish weren’t rising as much.  Time to call it a night.  We still had to put things away and get back into town before the the local eating establishments closed up for the evening.  I was tired and I’m sure the rest of the crew was as well.  All day wading fast water can really take a toll on the body.

Even though I didn’t catch any monsters, nothing new with me, it was still an enjoyable way to spend the day.  Sure beats fighting with the Silver Bass.  One final thought, it just goes to show you how helping out a fellow fisherman can be rewarding.  I have never fished with Dave but because I helped him, answered a few questions and gave him a few tips he invited me along for this trip.  If I had just ignored him none of this would have never happened.

I first Brookie in over 30 years.

My first Brookie in over 30 years.

All to myself and no fish.  Did see a river otter though.

All to myself and no fish. Did see a river otter though.

Handliners....even when trout fishing they never use a net.

Handliners….even when trout fishing they never use a net.