Halloween Steel

3 11 2015

Several months back I booked a steelhead trip with Drew Rosema and Feenstra Guide Service.  At the time, I figured Fall temps would have set in and the run would be in full swing.  As it turns out, I would be early, a few weeks early.  A lack of rain and warm weather had everything starting late by a few weeks.  I couldn’t cancel the trip and I didn’t want to anyways.  This weekend was my 51st birthday and I wanted to go fishing.  I was hoping there would be a few around and fortunately for me we did get some rain the week before.  I would find out later that it was just enough to get the flows back to normal but it was better than nothing.

I met Drew around 7:00 am at a roadside park and from there we drove to the ramp.  We launched his boat and soon we were headed upstream.  He told me that they have had a few fish in but not the numbers they are used to this time of year.  The water temp was in the range he liked but the lack of rain hasn’t brought in very many fish.  The few that are in are staying put in specific holes, mostly behind gravel beds feeding on any drifting salmon eggs deposited by what few zombies were left in the river.  We would fish holes like this throughout the day casting egg sucking leech patterns.  When we would fish a run or hole that wasn’t near a gravel bed I would use a small sculpin pattern.

We set up at one of the aforementioned gravel beds and started fishing.  Today I was using a Scott 13-6 Spey rod with an intermediate line.  I had never cast a rod this long or with this type of line before but after a few pointers from Drew I was laying the fly where it needed to be.  It was still dark where we first started so this stop was more about practice instead of fishing.  Once the sun started to rise and we could see better, we moved on to the next spot.  Drew anchored the boat downstream from a gravel bed that still had a few rather nasty looking salmon on it doing their thing.  I started drifting a small egg sucking leech along a seam that fed into the hole behind the gravel bed.  Just as we were about to finish up and move on, I hooked into a little 10 inch steelhead.  Not exactly what I was looking for but it was a steelhead.  I brought him in quickly and released him none the worse for wear.  We repeated this process a few more times before we stopped at a hole I know all too well.  The same hole I caught my first swung steelhead back in February.  Drew switched out the leech for a small sculpin that he tied on a cotter pin.  I got into position and let it work.  Drew and I were talking about the work the Army Corps of Engineers had done on the shore to prevent erosion while I cast the fly.  As I was making my 5th or 6th drift my fly got bumped and I got dead quiet and serious.  Drew asked if I had just had a hit when the fish came back and smacked it a second time.

Hit, Set, Airborne…….

I didn’t have to answer him.  After the first 3 or 4 jumps the fish took off upstream towards me instead of downstream.  Not that it mattered, with a rod this long I could keep pressure on him while I reeled in line.  He made a few more jumps and a couple of short runs but after about 5 minutes or so he was in the net.  A few quick pictures and he was carefully released to fight another day.  We fished that hole for another 20 minutes but I didn’t get any other takers.  As we were moving on to the next hole it started to rain, and rain, and rain, and rain some more and then, just for good measure, it continued to rain.  All day long as a matter of fact.  This rain was kind of bitter sweet.  I don’t like fishing in a downpour but an all day rain would help bring in more fish.  Not that it was going to do me any good today but I was planning on coming up and fishing again on 11/14 before I go deer hunting.

We tried a few more spots but it was to no avail.  We covered a lot of water but the earlier spots were the only ones that produced any fish.  Around 12:30 we called it a day and headed for the ramp.  I wasn’t going to complain, that’s two trips now and I have caught fish on each of them.  Swinging flies isn’t about numbers.  If that was the case, I would be plugging or drifting spawn.  This method is the most challenging but the strikes are the most exciting.  I’ll keep at it and one of these times I will catch more than one on a trip.  I just wish my Dad could have joined me for one of these trips.

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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.