The Quest Begins

9 11 2017

Last Saturday (11/4) began my yearly 7 month quest to chase down my unicorn, my white whale, the cause of many sleepless nights and untold fortunes spent on equipment.  Steelhead.

Too Dramatic??

I was fishing The Muskegon River this weekend, east of Newaygo and west of The Croton Dam.  It’s best to fish this river by boat but I didn’t bother hiring a guide this time and I didn’t bring mine since it really isn’t set up to fish this river.  I was hoping I could find one cooperative fish so I headed to an area where I had seen people fishing from shore in the past.  When I arrived at the parking area I was the only one there.  At first I thought it was great that I was the only one but then I wondered why.  Was the river blown out?  Was it too dirty?  Was it to warm?  Only one way to find out so I suited up and started walking.  Once I got to the river I surveyed the area, spotted a few seams and waded in upstream of them to begin  my cast.  I wasn’t 5 minutes into my run when a guide boat showed up and started fishing just ahead of me.  I expect this since it is a popular river and it was encouraging that a guide, someone who is supposed to know the holding areas, was fishing the same run I was.  Unfortunately, after an hour neither of us hooked into anything.

I repeated this process for the next 4 hours.  Fish the run, get out, warm up the legs, switch flies, walk back upstream, wade in, continue.  Each time I took another crack at it another guide boat would show up and fish near me.  It was encouraging knowing that I must be fishing an area that holds fish.  It was discouraging to see that no one was catching any fish.  The only thing that broke up the monotony was during one of my breaks the local Conservation Officer pulled up.  I was sitting on shore debating what to do next when I saw another boat coming downstream.  I recognized it as a DNR boat so I got up and walked towards the water.  A he pulled up I got out my license, he checked it out while I asked him a few questions about the area.  He told me fishing had been good up until today.  It was slow all up and down the river.  After about 10 minutes he was on his way and I was headed back upstream for one last try.  I wish I could say I hooked one on the last cast during my last drift but it didn’t happen.  Oh well.  I will say that I am really impressed with my Sage Pulse 13-6 Spey rod.  Now that I could cast it on a bigger river I could really push it’s potential.  I won’t be entering any casting competitions but I could easily make 100+ foot casts.

When I got back to the campground I took a walk down to the ramp and fish cleaning station.  I saw plenty of filleted 30+ inch steelhead in the dumpster.  It was an encouraging sign of the run for this year.  I only hope that I can hook into one.  I’m still waiting for that 10+ pound chrome male to smoke my ass.

Next up, The St. Mary’s River.

 

 

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The Tug is the Drug.

1 03 2015

6 Degrees

Brrrrrrr

Brrrrrrr

Sometimes I really have to question my sanity.  One of the reasons why I don’t like to ice fish is because of the cold and a fear of falling through the ice and getting wet.  So what do I decide to do?  Stand in a boat on an open river where the water temp was 32 degrees and my chance of falling in was even greater.  To top it off I was even paying for it.  To be fair though the guide did give me the option to reschedule.  I thought long and hard about it considering the area hadn’t seen a day above freezing all month.  I was surprised so much of the Muskegon river was even open.  The temp was supposed to get above 20 and I figured that since it had been so cold that the fish hadn’t seen a lot of pressure.  I was right about that but it also meant they were very lethargic and I would have to bounce that fly right off their nose.  Pretty tall task for someone who has yet to even hook into a Steelhead with a fly.

I met my guide Drew Rosema of Feenstra Guide Service at the Pine Street launch west of Croton Dam on the Muskegon River.  He already had the boat in the water and was letting the engine warm up.  I got my gear together and we were on our way downstream.  While we motored down he told me that he and Kevin Feenstra were out the day before and that they had some good opportunities.  Didn’t exactly know what that meant but after talking with him throughout the day I got the feeling they didn’t catch anything.  That wasn’t giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling and today I needed a few warm feelings.

Drew rigged up my rod for me and changed my leader around to allow for a better presentation.  He said the fish were kind of skittish and a lighter 8 pound leader would be better.  I wasn’t about to question him, what did I know?  After the leader was done he tied on a small olive colored darter pattern.  He told me that during the cold winter months a small natural fly works best.  So much for all those big gaudy flashy things I tied up.

Drew took my rod and gave me a quick instruction on the presentation.  Wouldn’t you know it, as he was letting the line feed out he had a hit.  The fish was only on for a second but it was definitely there.  He handed me the rod and told me what to do.  I only hoped the fish was still willing to hit again.  As luck would have it he wasn’t.  As a matter of fact 5 more hours would pass until I even saw a fish.  By now I was getting discouraged and cold.  Drew was trying every spot he knew, he was determined to get me into a fish.  As we were passing under a Bald Eagle Drew saw two steelhead on the bottom.  He told me we would swing back and take a shot at them after one last hole.  We anchored above the hole and I went through my routine once again.  Cast the fly perpendicular to the boat and let it drift back until it was directly behind the boat.  Drew would then lift the anchor and let the boat drift back a few feet and drop anchor so I could make another cast.  This was the same routing we did for 5 hours all afternoon.  It was 5:00 pm and I was thinking more about dinner and then it happened.

WHAM!!!!

That fish hit like a freight train and it caught me completely by surprise.  Instincts took over and I set that hook and let the fish run.  Drew was just as surprised as I was but soon we got our wits about us and the fight was on.  I had never dealt with a fish this large before on a fly rod and reel and I felt like a total rookie.  I’m used to spinning reels and disc drags, this was a little different.  The bend in the rod was going to control how much line was going to be let out when the fish decided to run and he did just that, run.  I stood there and just watched the fly line and then the backing peel off that reel.  Even worse was that we were at the head of a pool that turned into shallow rapids, an area we didn’t want him to go into.  I lifted back on the rod some more and that slowed him down.  As I was reeling I moved forward into the boat so that Drew could net him from the stern.  After a few more short runs near the boat I finally got him into position and into the net.

Mission Accomplished.  We kept him in the net and in the water while Drew got his camera ready.  A few pics later and he was carefully released to fight another day.

1st Steelhead

Drew asked if I wanted to end the day on a happy note and I agreed.  I wanted to land a fish on the swing and I did.  I was very appreciative of the fact that he was willing to stay out longer if I wanted to.  We were supposed to end at 4 and I was already running over.  Great to have a guide who is more concerned about the client catching a fish instead of the time.  We then pulled anchor and got ready for a very cold boat ride upstream.  We had drifted down several miles and it never really did warm up.  I don’t think it ever got above 20 and for most of the day and we were in the shade where it was even colder.  No matter though, I had my fish and I am hooked.  I asked why this method of fishing is so popular when there are more effective ways to catch a steelhead.  Drew told me the Tug is the Drug and now I know why.  Just like handlining that tug is addicting and I am just that……addicted.

If anyone is interested in fishing for Steelhead on the Swing contact the people at Schultz’s Outfitters for the rod and reel.

If you want to hire a guide to fish the Muskegon River I highly recommend the people at Feenstra Guide Service.  Drew was the best and I am already looking at my calendar for a return trip, sometime before walleye fishing starts back up again.  I’ll never give up my roots.