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)

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Thanksgiving Weekend Steel

2 12 2015

Thanksgiving vacation.  Most people are thinking about family, friends, food, football and eventually shopping.  I, of course, am only thinking about how much fishing I can get in over the next couple of days.  My original plan was to go out every morning, for a few hours, before any family obligations or chores.  It didn’t work out exactly how I had planned but I was able to get out every day.

My multi-day fishing excursion got an early start.  Our office closed up early on Wednesday so I hauled ass home, grabbed my stuff and headed for The Huron.  I only had about 45 minutes but that was enough to warrant the stop.  Water levels hadn’t changed much from the previous weekend and there was still a good stain to it.  I swung one of my leech patterns until dark but nothing happened.  Oh well, I still had the rest of the weekend.

Thanksgiving morning found me back on The Huron along with a few other fishermen.  When I arrived at the parking area there were already two trailers and several other vehicles there.  I rigged up my switch rod and headed upstream.  The first place I stopped  had a couple of people there so I kept walking further upstream.  I found another access point and waded in.  I was casting into an eddy that was caused by a tree that was mostly submerged.  It must have had a few branches in the pool because I got hung up and broke off twice.  Either that or I found the underwater cache for the guy that is doing this.

Hope he isn't an Angry Beaver

Hope he isn’t an Angry Beaver

 

As I worked my way downstream the other fishermen moved out and I just kept working my way down.  I fished the area for a couple of hours with no success.  By now it was approaching 11:00 am and I needed to head home.  I had a few things to take care of before heading to my brother’s for dinner.

Black Friday found me back in the water once again.  I didn’t know what to expect for today.  It had rained on and off during the night so I expected the water to be up some and colder.  The forecast called for rain all day today as well.  It was already overcast when I started, I was just hoping that it would hold off for a few hours.  It didn’t.  About an hour into my casting I started to question my sanity.  Here I was, waist deep in 45 degree water , getting rained on and casting a fly to a fish that I don’t even know BAM, AIRBORNE, FISH-ON!!!

Just that quick everything changed.  One minute I’m debating quitting and the next I’m debating staying out longer.  First things first though.  I had to get this fish in.  It was a smaller steelhead, probably in the 18 inch range but still full of fight and a lot of fun.  After several jumps and a couple of short runs I was able to get her close and get a hold of her tail.  A few quick pics and she was released to grow and fight another day.  I caught this one on another egg sucking leech pattern, just like all the others I have caught on the Huron.  I stuck around for about 30 more minutes but by now my legs were getting numb and it was time to head home.

Airborne

My kind of Black Friday Deal.

My kind of Black Friday Deal.

 

Saturday found me back in my usual spot albeit a little closer to shore.  The all day rain raised the water by about a foot and dropped the water temp by about 3 degrees.  I didn’t know what to expect for today but since I reached fanatic status I had to try.  There was a lot of boat and foot traffic today.  I had several people come up to me from behind to see how I was doing and around 5 or 6 anglers in boats troll by.  One boat had my friends Larry and Dave in it and Dave took a second to take this pic for me.

wading

No fish today again, I’m figuring the high water and temperature drop has them on lock down.  Didn’t hear of a whole lot of any fish being caught by anyone and those that were caught were small.

Sunday morning I slept in and made plans to go out in the evening.  I didn’t see much use to trying again in the morning with the water levels being what they were.  It didn’t matter though.  The water was still up, the water was even colder and I struck out again.

Monday was going to turn out to be a repeat of Sunday, sleep in and go out in the afternoon.  The fish results were the same but a had my usual visitors and a bit of an accident.  I started off at a new run and fished there for about an hour.  No fish, more boat traffic and the permanent park residents stopping by to check on my success.

usual visitor

I worked my way down to a different run and started to cast.  I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and as I was making my forward cast I hit a branch and pulled my line right across my face.  Of course that Daiichi hook was attached at the end and it stuck right into my right cheek.  Of course this all happened while I was waist deep in the river, the current is pulling the line downstream and pulling on the fly in my face.  I can’t see how deep the hook is but I got a pretty good idea just by the feel from my numb fingers.  I could feel that the barb was just under the skin so I pushed down and pulled.  Out came the hook.  All that was left now was a little clean up and a bandage.

doctor

Now any normal person would have probably walked back to his or her car and called it a day.  Not me, I’m not right in the head.  I just waded downstream a little farther and started casting once again.  Not that it mattered, I didn’t catch anything.  You would think the fish gods would have taken pity on me but apparently they feel I haven’t paid enough dues yet.  I think they felt that younger fishermen needed their divine intervention.  A watched 3 anglers in their late teens/early 20’s land one from their boat.  It must have been a first fish for someone because they took a lot of pictures.  So many that they lost track of where they were and drifted into shore.  By then it was approaching 5:00 pm and I needed to get home.  The Schwan man was dropping off an order between 5:30 and 6:30 pm and I needed to be home.  I was happy though.  I got a lot of fishing in over the last 6 days and I even managed to land one. That fish brought my total to 7 steelhead on the swing so far this year.  Not bad for my first year and I still have the whole month of December.  Hopefully I put the hooks to the fish instead of myself.