The Alley

27 11 2017

As I stated on my last post I  was going to fish some of the rivers known collectively as Steelhead Alley over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I wasn’t leaving until Friday afternoon so I had a little free time before I left.  I was originally planning on doing some fishing on The Huron but my mother changed that plan for me.  She said she wanted some fresh walleye so I begrudgingly hooked up my boat Thursday morning (11/23) and went walleye fishing instead.  The sacrifices I make for her.

I got to the ramp around 8:00 am and got everything ready.  The temperature was a balmy 29 degrees but it was supposed to reach a high of around 38 later in the day.  I wasn’t planning on being out that long.  I was hoping to be off the water after only a couple of hours.  A SW wind and below freezing temps makes for a cold boat ride downstream.  I had received a tip that they were catching a lot of fish farther downstream than I normally fish so I set up there at first.  Turns out that would be a waste of about 45 minutes.  I didn’t catch anything there so around 9 I headed up to my normal stomping grounds.  Grandpa always told me, never leave fish to find fish.  One of these days I might listen.  It didn’t take long and I had the first one in the cooler.  That fish was followed up by 3 more.  I was debating heading in because my hands were getting cold and sore.  I told myself I would quit at 10:00 am and a few minutes later I had number 5 in the cooler.  By 10:00 and 18 seconds later I was headed for the dock.

Water was dirty today or as I like to call it a nice handlining shade of grey.  Very few weeds and a temp of around 41 degrees.  Temps are supposed to stay in the upper 40’s all this week.  If I was going to be around next weekend I would go out again for sure.  The 4 smaller walleye were full of emerald shiners and the big one on top was full of gizzard shad.  The walleye were definitely in “let’s eat” mode today.  On to the Alley.

I had booked a trip with Steelhead Alley Outfitters about a month ago.  Five years ago I didn’t even know there were Steelhead runs on any of the Lake Erie Tributaries of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Since then I have fished them sporadically without any luck.  I was hoping that would change with this trip.  I just had to wait to find out which of the dozen or so rivers I would be fishing.  My guide, Nate Miller,  called me Thanksgiving evening to tell me what river and what time we would meet up.  He told me he would pick me up at my hotel at 5:30 am (The Sadist) on Saturday morning.  The reason why he was picking me up so early was that he wanted to fish a specific stretch so we had to get there before anyone else.  That part of the plan worked but it didn’t prevent anyone from showing up afterwards and camping out on both sides of me.  I had the river all to myself for about 45 minutes.  Around 8 two eggers showed up and surrounded me.  One upstream and the other downstream at the end of the run I was fishing.  As expected the person downstream started catching fish so his partner moved down to where he was.  He hooked into a fish on his first cast but it was short lived, his rod broke during the fight.  Some may think how terrible that is but not in this case, I call it Karma, river etiquette rule #1 is don’t low hole someone.  He went back to his car to get another rod which opened up a little more water for me.  It didn’t help any though, I swung several different streamers for about an hour with no takes.  I could hear Nate talking on his phone with another guide and he was mentioning breaking out the indicator rod if I got desperate.  I told him I was getting to that point.  Normally I will stick to swinging but watching these other guys hook fish pretty much at will was getting to me.  I switched rods and started casting.  My first cast was crap, I’m not used to casting a float with an egg fly on the end.  My second cast wasn’t much better and it wasn’t more that 15 feet in front of me.  Didn’t matter though, 3 seconds into the drift and it was Bobber Down.

I felt so ashamed that I didn’t want my face in the picture. lol

I played around with the indicator rig for about another half hour until the other guy showed back up and moved right back in downstream.  Nate asked me if I wanted to move on to a new spot and I agreed.  He knew of another place further upstream that would be a bit of a hike.  He said there would be other people there as well but we would have about a mile of good water to fish.

At the next spot Nate asked me if I wanted to take both rods.  I said nope, from here on in it’s swing or die.  I know guides want their clients to catch fish but if I was worried about numbers I would have bought a center pin setup instead of a spey/switch rod.  For the next 5 hours I worked several runs and holes with still no  luck.  We talked to a couple of other guys who were swinging flies and they weren’t having any luck either.  They said that the day before they hooked into 12 but nothing today.  Sounds like the story of my life, always a day late.  Never the less I continued on and kept at it.  We set up on one last run and I was bound and determined to make the most of it.  We switched my streamer over to a bright orange one, hoping it was obscene enough to piss off at least one fish.  About ten minutes in I was starting to strip in my line to make another cast when I had a hit.  I set the hook and the fight was on, for about 20 seconds.  After the initial run the fish started shaking his head and that was when the fly pulled free.  I didn’t know it at the time but Nate was filming all of this with his phone.  It wasn’t until I got home that night when I saw the footage of my overly dramatic response to losing the fish.  This happens but considering I haven’t caught a steelhead on a fly since Jan. 2nd, 2016 this hurt.  My window of opportunity was quickly shrinking and the odds of me landing a fish was growing slimmer by the minute.  After I composed myself I waded back in and got back to business.  After about 20 minutes Nate told me to move back upstream and start over.  Now any normal person would have reeled in his line and fly before wading back up.  Not me, I left the line and the fly in the water, put the rod over my right shoulder like a rifle and proceeded to walk upstream.  Two steps later…..WHAM!  I spun around, set the hook and yelled to Nate to get the net because we weren’t going to screw around with this one.  A couple of minutes later she was in the net.

Redemption

After we released her we headed in.  After almost 8 hours of wading 42 degree streams in and on/off all day rain I was whipped.  I had 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of me as well.  I was happy, I ended my no steelhead streak, unfortunately my never losing a steelhead streak ended as well.  I had my first multiple fish day.  I learned a lot about the rivers in the area, specifically how flow rates dictate which one to fish.  This is a vital piece of information I needed to help increase my chance of success.  Since that day I’ve uploaded all the Steelhead Alley rivers I could to my Fish Head app.

As for Sunday, I just slept in.

Next up, The Manistee and the Pere Marquette.

 

 

 

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A year in a Life – June

16 06 2014

The Second Coming.

Now I’m not going to start reciting bible verses by heart or quoting scripture but June to me is all about the Second Coming. Or in this case the 2nd run. That’s right, a second run of walleye into the Detroit River. Shortly after the silver invasion heads back out into Lake Erie a smaller run of walleye leave Lake Erie and head back upstream. Many old timers used to tell me about this and it never really made sense to me but since I started keeping more accurate records and paying closer attention to the fish being caught I started to notice a few trends.

The first thing I noticed was that when June and July rolled around I started catching smaller fish, lots of eaters in the 15 to 18 inch range and more sub-legal fish. I never thought about it before but I started to wonder why I rarely catch any sub-legal fish during the Spring run? The other thing I noticed was that some of the fish I would catch would be really dark in color (resident fish) and others would be very light in color (migrants) , similar to the light tan colored fish caught in Lake Erie. Inquiring minds wanted to know so I asked our local fisheries biologist what was up.

He told me that the Detroit River experiences a smaller run of walleye mid summer and it lasts for several months. Mainly smaller immature fish that move in to chase the smaller baitfish, in this case minnows, goby’s and eventually smallmouth fry. The bigger mature fish head east (Ohio) and north (Canada) to deeper and cooler waters. Now I don’t know what they are chasing in Ohio but I do know that in Canada it is smelt. As for the smaller versions they stay in the river and load up on shiners. Now there are local fish that stick around through Silver time but the lower river fills up with “Eater” walleye, especially on the Amherstburg side.

I can’t wait for the Second Coming. This is when I really go into attack mode and stock up the freezer. I will catch more fish in June or July than I will in March, April and May combined. That first couple of weeks after the Silvers leave is a feeding frenzy. Fishing is easy and can be fast and furious when conditions cooperate. Give me a little stain to the water and early morning fishing can be a riot. This is when I break out the spoons and I give the walleye a steady diet of them. Walleye are gorging themselves on shiners and I am trying to oblige them. On numerous occasions I have found bunches of dead minnows in my cooler that the walleye have caught coughed up. Upstream fishermen will be running spinners and Rabble Rousers but in my area it’s spoons, spoons and more spoons. I’ll even run them at night, usually on my kicker, and still catch fish. The worst part about this is trying to get to that point. It’s not like I can get a message from the Fish Gods declaring that the Second Coming has arrived. I have to go out there and find out the hard way if the Barbarian Silver Horde has left. Sometimes I get lucky, most times I don’t. The reward though can make it very worthwhile. Just remember in the daylight hours think small. After you find a few dead minnows in your cooler you’ll know what I mean. Spike Spoons and size #5 and #7 Rapala’s.

Oh, one other advantage to this time of year. No more long lines at the ramps or sharing a spot with 100 other boats. All those once a year guys have put their boat away for the year or have headed out to Lake Erie. Most mornings or evenings it’s half a dozen boats at most and I pretty much know all of them. Just the die hard River Rats that know all about the Second Coming.





2011 Results

23 04 2012

For several years now I have been participating in a fishing survey for the Michigan and Ontario DNR.  It is designed to give fisheries biologists an idea of the fishing success of anglers along with growth rates and locations where fish are caught.  The area is basically the Huron Erie corridor and it is broken down into specific grids.  I have a book where I have to keep track of how long I fished, where, what I caught, if I kept or released the fish and if I kept the fish how long it is and what it weighed.  It can be a bit of a hassle at times but it has provided me with some valuable information.

At the end of every fishing season the Michigan DNR sends me an envelope so that I can mail the book in for evaluation.  Once they are done with it they mail it back to me along with a new one for the following season.  Along with the new book I receive a stats sheet that lists all the data the DNR pulled from my work.  Normally I just kind of breeze through it but this year I took the time to actually read all the data.  One thing I have to do is make a better effort to make sure I write my “K” for kept and “R” for released a little more legibly.  I know I didn’t release 27 walleye last year.

One of the data metric’s the DNR records is fish caught per rod angler hour.  This is a number I really never paid any attention to and never really understood, until last week.  At the last DWF meeting the guest speaker was Ohio Fisheries Biologist Travis Hartman.  He spoke about the research that the Ohio DNR has been doing over the years and one of the topics he brought up was fish per angler rod hour.  He said that in the hay day of the 80’s the number was .45 fish per hour and recently it is .5 per hour.  He went on to say that this number relates to some fantastic fishing.  That helped put my number into more perspective for me.  My number for last year was .992 fish per hour.  This tells me a few things, the first being that I am doing a lot better than I thought.  I always figured I had a below average catch rate compared to all the reports I hear on Lake Erie.  I hear a lot of people catching limits but now I have to wonder how long it takes them to do that?  I know of one person who is always catching limits but he will stay out all day to do it.  If that is what you enjoy more power to you.  I don’t think my body could handle being out in a boat all day.  The second thing this tells me is something I have always known.  There are still plenty of walleye to catch in the river long after the spring run.  A little work and pre-planning can help you catch fish in the same locations they are caught in the spring.  The tactics may change but the results can still be the same.  I’ll never catch the monsters some of the Erie fishermen catch but I get my fair share of eaters.  I guess it all comes down to what you want to accomplish.  Hogs or piglets?

One other result that I checked out this year was the average size and weight of the fish I caught.  For 2011 the average length and weight of the walleye I caught was 19.5 inches and 2.5 pounds.  These were mostly male fish there were part of the 2003 hatch.  It amazes me that 8 years later most of the fish being caught are still from that year class.  Some of the fish were from other year classes but the majority are still part of the 2003 class.  Good thing we had that phenomenal year otherwise the fishery could be in rough shape.

The Smallmouth fishermen should be happy as well.  I caught a lot of fish ranging from 3 inches long to 20+.  Looks like those guys are going to have some great fishing for years to come.

Can’t say the same for the Muskie fishermen.  Only caught 1 last year, then again I have been avoiding the areas where I have caught them before.

The books do make for some interesting reading during the long winter months.  I’ll take them out and go over them every once and a while to reflect on seasons past.  I’ll think about those days, who I was with, what we caught and generally anything that made the trip memorable.  After all, that is what it is all about.