HEX TIME……………………………Eventually.

1 07 2019

About a month ago my friend Dave and I were talking about heading north to do some fly fishing.  Due to a lot of prior engagements and bad schedules our first open weekend wasn’t until the end of June.  A lot later than I would have normally wanted to go but there was a chance we might be in time for the Hex Hatch.  It usually starts up about this time of year but our very wet Spring has kind of delayed things.  We were hoping that the recent heat wave might trigger some activity anyways.  Fishermen……always optimistic.

We arrived near the Manistee river around 9:30 pm on Friday night and immediately went to one of the several access points to check for activity.  There were a few anglers camped out at the first point doing the same thing so we moved upstream about a mile.  We walked down to the water and watched and waited.  Then we watched and waited some more and, just to be sure, we watched and waited again.

Nothing…….

No hatches, no spinners, no surface activity.  We saw a few mayflies buzzing around but that was it.  This was depressing.  Add to that the high water levels and I was becoming a lot less optimistic.  We hung around until sometime after 10 before we headed back to the cabin.  Once there we got all out gear sorted out and ready.  Dave’s son Dave showed up about the same time so we made plans for the morning and went to bed.

Morning came and it was going to be a repeat of yesterday, clear blue skies and a sunny 80 degrees.  Not exactly ideal fly fishing weather.  Still, we were hoping the heat would warm up the mud and get the hatches going tonight.  Until then we were going to spend the day drifting nymph, wet fly and streamer patterns until sunset.  We got to the first access point around around 9:30 am and got set up.  Dave and his son were going to head upstream and nymph fish while I headed down and swung streamers.  I was going to finally get a chance to use my Redington Hydrogen 4116 Switch rod for what it was designed for.  I tied on an olive woolly bugger and waded in.  3 seconds later I was wading back out to try and find a different area to cross the river.  All the rain had the river flowing high and fast.  No need to get wet just yet.  After a little maneuvering I was able to get across and I started to swing my fly through the deep shaded bend on the opposite shore.  I would let the fly sweep all the way across the river to the opposite bank and let it dangle and then give it a pulse every so often to try and trigger a strike.  I repeated this process for the next few hours until I reached a point in the river that was too deep for me to wade.  A problem I would have all day.  Once I go out I walked back up to the car and dried out.

Can you guess which side of my waders leak?

Since it was near noon time I dug out the cooler and got things ready for lunch.  Dave and Dave would be back soon and hungry since we all skipped breakfast.  They arrived about 30 minutes later and fortunately Dave sr. had better luck then I had.

The Brown was about 17 inches long and grabbed a small wet fly.  It turned out to be the best fish Dave had ever caught on this section of the river and it would be the biggest fish of the day.  As a matter of fact it would be the only fish worth talking about today.  His son, like me, didn’t catch anything.  After lunch we headed upstream and kept at it.  I was determined to catch something and I wasn’t about to give up.  At the next spot upstream we suited up and once again I had to find another way across.  Sometimes being 5′ – 3″ really sucks.  Eventually I was able to get across and I started over again.  I had lost my original fly, along with a few others. at the first spot so now I was trying a Lady Caroline.  It was a scaled down version that I tied just for this type of fishing.  I only hoped it would work.  The only activity I had at first was a few kayakers that showed up just as I was starting to work a bend in the river that had a large blow down in it.  I figured there had to be a few fish hiding under there.  I waded out to the middle of the river as much as I could and the kayakers quietly paddled behind me instead of through the hole.  I thanked them for their courtesy and started my approach.  I made my first cast and watched the fly drift down into the depths of the hole.  I waited patiently and then it happened, or should I say it didn’t.  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  I though for sure something had to be lurking under that tree.  Guess I was wrong.

From there I waded further downstream to another spot that looked promising.  I spotted another cedar tree that had most of it’s branches over the river, providing shade and cover along with an undercut bank.  I started my swing on the opposite side of the river and let the fly drift down under the tree.  As it drifted across the center I felt the tell tale tap of a smaller fish.  I expected this happen all day but this was the first time.  The Brook Trout in these rivers tend to hang out in the middle, on top of the gravel, and wait for something to come by.  Why it took until almost 3 pm to experience the first tap was beyond me but at least I knew something was interested.  Nothing happened after that so I stripped the line in and made another cast.  Just as the fly reached the tips of the overhanging branches I had a hit.  Nothing monstrous but he was on.  I skipped the little brown in, took a quick pic and sent him on his way.

Not very big but I’ll take it.

After that not much else happened.  I continued to fish downstream and once again I reached another point where I couldn’t wade any further.  I walked back to the car (jumped a fawn along the way) and started over.  By now the sun had set a little further and created more shade on the different bends of the river.  I repeated the process and only managed a few more bumps and one smaller brown.  Once I reached my earlier walk out point I walked back to the car again.  By now Dave and his son were back along with a few other anglers.  They had already camped out on a few spots on the river in anticipation of the upcoming hatch.  It was now around 9 pm and we decided to do the same thing, once we had something to eat.  Dave sr. headed downstream while Dave jr. just waited in the car.  I think he had had enough of today.  He did manage to catch one fish though.

His father and were were still holding out hope though.  I have never fished a hex hatch before and I really wanted it to happen tonight.  Dave and I both walked downstream, picked out spots and waited, and watched, and waited, and watched, and waited, and watched, and waited………..

Again, nothing happened.  I saw a few mayflies hatch (one flew about 3 feet before it was pocked off by a bird) and Dave so what appeared to be a bit of a spinner fall.  Only sporadic rising trout though and by 11:00 pm we had both had enough and walked back to the car.  We had been out for almost 13 hours and most of that time was in the water.  The other anglers, who had camped out earlier, reported the same thing.  Very few insects and only a handful of rising fish.  Back at the car I peeled off my wet clothes and we headed back to the cabin.  during our drive back we discussed many theories as to why there was so little activity.  Cold water, late Spring, Lunar shifts, Chinese tariffs, Lions poor draft choices, you name it, we tried to place the blame on it.  The one theory that did make the most sense though was the amount of debris in the water.  There was so much stuff coming down that we felt the trout were just plain full from eating every worm or insect that washed down the river from the rain.  Seemed plausible to me so I was sticking to it.

The next day we were just plain beat.  Dave jr. had to get back to Grand Rapids and his father and I needed to get home as well.  Before we did that though we did some scouting for new areas.  One of which looked very promising.  So promising that I am planning a late September fishing/hunting/camping weekend in the area.  Until then I have a lot of research to do to try and figure out this trout spey fishing thing.  I know there were fish in the river but I couldn’t get any of them to cooperate.  I’ll tie up some wet flies in the mean time along with a few more streamers.  My casting is getting much better, as long as I am fishing river left.  I probably have to tweak my presentation some.  I think I may not have been getting deep enough with the high flows.  If the trout were being lazy my fly might not have been getting close enough to them.  I should have swapped out to a heavier MOW tip at one point but I got lazy.  Next time will be different.

 

 

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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.