Rebirth

26 03 2017

There was a time when I loved dirty water.  It meant that all the jiggers on the Detroit River were screwed and I could be a show off and catch fish all day long.  I still enjoy those days but not when I’m steelhead fishing.  The odds are already against me swinging a fly and when that sight window is decreased down to a few inches my chances of success are practically nill.

I didn’t think it would be to bad but the run off from the golf course upstream was like chocolate milk.

Huron on the left, golf course creek on the right.

Since my chances for success were pretty bad I decided to stay home for the rest of the weekend to tie flies and watch a new DVD I picked up, Spey Daze.  Just like the tile states it’s a DVD about spey fishing, more specifically spey fishing the Great Lakes for Steelhead.  I didn’t have much choice since I also busted my switch rod taking it out of the car.

This wasn’t a how to video, it was more about the history of the steelhead and salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.  Granted all the fishermen were spey casting but a lot of the interviews with biologists were about the great salmon experiment and how invasive species changed the Great Lakes forever.  Some would find the history pretty boring but not me.  I was fortunate enough to be raised during the Salmon boom.  My Father and Grandfather would take me on their trips to the Manistee river, in the late 60’s, when I was 3 or 4 years old.  This set me on a path of hardcore salmon fishing that lasted until the crash on Lake Huron in 2004.  While I watched I started to day dream about all the Chinooks, Cohos, Steelhead, Lakers and the occasional Brown my Dad and I caught. Spring and Fall from Sanilac to Harrisville, we hit it hard.  Weekend trips to Harrisville spent sleeping in the back of the station wagon eating Spam and canned soup heated up on a single burner Coleman stove. Day trips to Harbor Beach in the same Crestliner aluminum boat that I use for pulling wire on the Detroit River today.  I was a lucky kid, though it was pretty much a done deal that I was going to be a fisherman.  When my mother was in labor with me on Halloween of 1964 my Father and Grandfather were in Owen Sound Canada fishing for Steelhead on Georgian Bay.  The postmaster came out in his boat to track them down and tell them I was on my way.  Fortunately, they made it back in time. I can only imagine what my Grandpa was saying on the drive back.  Knowing him he probably said I was going to be a girl because only a woman could ruin a perfectly good fishing trip.

Years later, after my Dad retired, we kind of lost our edge.  We still enjoyed fishing but the excitement of a new trip dissipated.  We had more fun taking out people who never caught a salmon before and seeing their reaction the first time they hook into a 20 pound screamer.  Even that didn’t last long since the Huron population crash happened a few years later.  After that we concentrated on pulling wire for walleye.  I, on the other hand, started looking for something else.

The more I watched the DVD the more I realized that experiences and memories are more valuable than anything else.  I can barely remember the number of fish caught on a trip but the uniqueness of that trip sticks out.  The Bald Eagle the flew overhead, the beaver that swam right past me, the mink I was watching run that bank when a steelhead swam up and crushed my fly.  Creating those memories has become more important since the passing of my Father and Susan.  Going through all their stuff and assigning a price tag to it made me realize just how unimportant “toys” really are.  Memories are a different story.  I can still remember sitting in my Grandpa’s lap as he taught me how tie a clinch knot.  My father talking me through landing my first salmon on a Ping-A-Tee at Harrisville.  The look on Susan’s face when I came back to our hotel room to tell her about the tarpon I caught on a fly.  Those memories will never be taken away from me.  They won’t be donated to the Salvation Army or sold on E Bay.

This is why I chose to fly fish for steelhead.  Many don’t get it but I don’t care.  The ones that do, understand.  It’s not about the numbers but the experience.  I don’t catch many but I can remember every fish.  I can remember the weather, what led up to that fish, what fly I caught it on and the feeling of satisfaction I felt when I brought it to hand.  This is my rebirth, to create those memories that can never be taken away.  To fish places I have never fished before.  To try and create that one fly that will make the difference.  To be able to help someone along the way and to able to share the experience.  That has been the hardest part about dealing with their death.  My Dad and Susan were my two biggest fans.  Both were always so excited to hear how I did, to be able to tag along when they could and to be a part of the planning for the next trip.  I’ll never get that back but they will always be with me in spirit when that next fish hits.

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Evolution

5 03 2016

About a week ago I was listening to a podcast by April Vokey. She has been interviewing people who are instrumental in the fly fishing world. One interview in particular really got me thinking. The person stated that he cuts the point off of the hook when he fishes for steelhead. The thrill for him now is proving to himself that the fish was there. He has no desire to hook, fight and then land the fish, especially if it is a wild Pacific Northwest Steelhead. This really struck a chord with me and got me to question my own motives. I started to ask myself, when did I evolve from racking up a body count to just enjoying the experience?
Before I get too philosophical, I suppose I should try to explain where I am going with this. I’m not going to bash anyone who decides to keep a legal limit whenever they go out. I’m also not suggesting that anyone who keeps fish is not out there for the experience either. I’ll be honest; there aren’t many walleye that I release, unless of course it was a pre-mature release 20 feet from the boat. I guess what I am trying to figure out is when did I start to care more about being out fishing and not so worried about catching?

When I was a wee little tyke, catching bluegills with my Zebco 202 at my Grandparents cottage, all I cared about was catching as many as possible and the bigger the better. It was all about bragging rights and showing my father and grandfather that I could catch fish just like them. As I got older it wasn’t so much about trying to impress them as it was trying to show up the neighborhood kids. They may have been better at baseball but by God I could catch Largemouth Bass all day long on a Panther Martin spinner. That continued on into my foray as a boy scout. Campouts were all about fishing and who could catch the most. Summer Camp at D Bar A held a point contest every year for wildlife. We could get points for any fish entered. I racked up such a body count that they instituted a new rule the following year. Troops were only allowed to count 3 fish toward their total. In retrospect now the amount of damage I did, and other scouts, to the population was probably pretty bad. I doubt very many of those fish ever survived the catch and release process.

Back then though it was all about the numbers, Catchin’ and Killin’ as my one friend put it. We had to be in that top 10% that catches 90% of the fish and we were relentless. We spent many a night on the beaches of Harrisville tight lining salmon. Was it legal? Yes. Was it ethical? Nope. Yes, these fish were going to die anyways and none of them were ever going to get the opportunity to spawn. Technically they were a controlled experiment to keep alewife numbers low. They were past that point in their usefulness so hauling them out of the water like we were was no big deal, at least that is how we viewed it. Back then I could only go salmon fishing a few weekends a year. The anticipation was more of a drug than the actual catching. As with all addictions the high eventually wears off and in this case it was cold turkey, the salmon disappeared. I had to replace it with something else so I went full bore on walleye. Again, it was back to the take no prisoner’s attitude and catch as many as legally possible. Eventually, I honed my presentation to the point of where days of not catching a fish were pretty rare. In a word I got bored. I was catching walleye pretty much whenever I wanted. I wasn’t forced to do all my fishing during the Spring run when everyone out there is an “expert”. As long as the ramps are open I could come and go as I please. I was spoiled. Many view the annual run as a once a year event, to me it became a nuisance. Too many boats and too many fishermen. I would go on select evenings but never the weekend or during the day. I began to long for more peaceful times when it would just be me and the fish. I wanted that serenity that other writers could so poetically put into words. It didn’t happen overnight, it just built up to one year when I decided I had had enough of the craziness.

This desire to get back to a more simple way of fishing led me to my next adventure, Steelhead.

I don’t know what it was about these fish but for some reason I just decided that I was going to catch them spey casting and I was going to release everything I caught. I have no idea what brought on this revelation but I made up my mind that this was going to be the way to do it. I bought a 11-9 switch rod, learned how to cast it, tied up some flies and once again I was relentless. The big difference this time around was that it was no longer about the numbers. Now all that mattered to me was landing 1 fish and releasing said fish to fight another day.  Racking up a body count was no longer the end goal.  Relaxing and enjoying everything going on around me was now that goal.  Granted, that hit or “Tug” has become my new drug but standing in a river and peacefully swinging a fly downstream became more important than filling a cooler.  Hassle free fishing was what I was after.  So much so that I don’t even take my boat, I just put on my waders and start walking.  I know there are better holes that are accessible only by boat but that is more of a hassle when I’m only going out for an hour or so.  Success for me is no longer measured by numbers of fish caught.  I guess as I got older I began to realize more and more that our fisheries are a fragile resource and they can’t be taken for granted.  I know that my releasing a few dozen fish a year is not going to make or break a fishery but it gives me peace of mind.  Come to think of it, that is what I desire most now.  That peace of mind that can only come through fishing.





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.

IMG_2462





Washago Pond Hog Tied Bluegill

12 09 2014

Went back to Washago pond the other night to just play around for a bit.  Action was pretty slow with only a few smaller fish caught.  I did see some decent surface action farther out on the pond then I could cast.  I’ll have to bring my waders along next time and see if that helps.  Only thing of interest was the way I caught this one bluegill.  Somehow I was able to wrap the leader around his tail when I set the hook.  He was basically hog tied and I brought him in backwards.  I haven’t done this to a fish since my salmon tight lining days on the beaches of Harrisville.  He was released none the worse for wear to fight another day.   

If you look closely you can see the leader going from his mouth and around his tail

If you look closely you can see the leader going from his mouth and around his tail





Labor Day Weekend Fin and Feather Extravaganza!

5 09 2014

It’s not to often that I get to combine my favorite past times in to one weekend but when the opportunity presents itself I take advantage of it.  Or in other words, when opportunity knocks……Shoot!

It all started on Friday evening.  Earlier in the week I had made plans to meet up with my friend Dave and his son on the Huron River in Dexter for some smallmouth fishing.  We  had talked to some of the guides at the Huron River Fly Fishing Festival a few weeks earlier so we thought we would give it a shot.  Dave had arrived earlier since I had to work so I met him on the river.  Fishing was slow but we gave it our best shot.  I ended up catching one small fish on a foam hopper pattern I tied up the night before.  Dave caught one as well but I can’t seem to remember what on.  I think it was a streamer patter of some kind.   I didn’t stay long, I still had to pack for my trip north.

The next morning I was up bright and early for my first stop, Auburn Michigan and my friend Barry’s house.  We were going crow hunting so after a quick bite to eat we were on our way.  Our first stop was near Sanford lake on some state land.  We heard crows off in the distance so we took up hiding spots and turned on the caller.  The crows never came in so we packed up and moved on to the next spot, sort of.  When we got to the end of the road there were several crows sitting out in the middle of the road.  We turned around and set up again.  This time they came in but to far out of range.  After a short ride we set up in another area and a couple of crows snuck in behind us.  Barry was able to knock one down and that was it.  Just as we were packing up the storm clouds started to roll in and the rain came down.  Oh well, so much for crow hunting.  I said my good bye’s and headed up to my parents in Oscoda.

The next morning found my father and I on Lake Huron in hopes of catching a few salmon.  We set up about a mile out from the river and ran spoons and plugs.  There weren’t many boats out, only about a dozen and most of them out on the horizon.  We gave it our best shot but all we really did was wash lures.  Around 10 we headed in for breakfast.  A little later, as we were putting the boat away, I heard some crows mouthing off across the street.  I quickly grabbed my stuff and took a short walk.  I found a small group of scrub oaks to hide in and then turned on the crow distress call.  It didn’t take long and soon I had a crow in range.  1 quick shot and he was on the ground.  I missed a second one flying behind him and quickly re-loaded.  A couple of seconds later 2 more came in and after 2 shots they were both down as well.  I love early season stupid crows.  The remaining crows quickly left the area so I gathered everything up and headed home.

The following morning found me standing waist deep in a small inland lake for the early Goose and Teal opener.  This was the first early Teal season in Michigan in almost 50 years and I was going to give it a try.  I had shot both teal and geese in years past on this lake but without doing any pre-season scouting I wasn’t expecting much.  I did have plenty of wood ducks and mallards fly around me but no teal or geese.   It was a pretty uneventful morning except for the part where I waded into a hole up to my neck in mucky water.  What Fun!

After a hot shower and some lunch I had my Dad drop me off at Foote Dam so I could try some more smallmouth fishing.  I took the fly rod along but with the wind picking up I decided to stick to tossing tube baits into all the log jams.  Fishing was pretty easy with lots of smaller bass in the 8 to 10 inch range.  Not exactly the size I was looking for but I was catching them pretty regularly.  Eventually I did find some bigger fish but unfortunately I lost them at the side of the boat.  I still need to remember to set the hook harder.  The main thing is that I was catching more and bigger fish and learning more about the river.  When I first started fishing here all I caught were rock bass and 1 smallmouth.  since then I haven’t caught any rock bass and more smallmouth.  Now I am catching more and bigger fish.  Hopefully soon the bigger fish will out number the smaller ones.  I may even use my fly rod more once I get a little more confidence with the area.  This trip was cut short though by the rain.  About 30 minutes from where I was going to be picked up the clouds opened up and down came the rain, in buckets.  A wet ass twice in one day.  What Fun!

That was the last of my fishing any hunting for the weekend.  Home was a long drive away and I was tired.  I would make a few stops along the way but eventually I got home around midnight.  I had a long day of doctor’s appointments ahead of me and I needed some sleep.  It won’t be long and squirrel, grouse and woodcock will be open and I will be headed north again.  Until then I’ll get some rest and prepare.

Huron Sunrise Dam Water Stupid Crows Smallie





A year in a life – March

5 03 2014

This is it, the month I have been waiting for.  All my preparations are finally going to come into play.  The all out assault can begin.  Oh wait, that was last year.

Fast forward to 2014 and the never ending winter.  This one has been so bad that I can’t even tell my kids that I used to have winters like this all the time when I was their age.  Not anymore.  The last time we received this much snow was during the winter of 1880/81.  That’s right, over 130 years ago.  To top it all off the Great Lakes are nearing 100% ice cover.  This has never happened in my lifetime and probably never will again.  The latest 10 day forecast shows a couple of days just above freezing but the nights will still be in the teens and 20’s.  All this means is that I won’t even get the boat in the water until the end of April.  I’m beginning to wonder if the lakes in northern michigan will be ice free by the trout/walleye/pike/muskie opener on April 26th.

Once things do break up I will be in full attack mode.  That means fishing new areas and using techniques I don’t normally use.  Normally handlining doesn’t start to heat up until the surface temps get above 40 degrees.  That could be the beginning of May at this rate.  In the mean time I may have to do some jigging to put some fresh fish in the freezer.  Early on it is more snagging than actually jigging but the alternative is doing nothing.

Once temps creep into the right zone than it will be a steady dose of Rapala’s in various sizes and colors until those other things show up.  Then it will be Pencil Plugs at night and weekend trips to the St. Clair river.  I might even throw in a early trip to Sanilac, Lexington or Oscoda to see if I can catch any Atlantic Salmon.  If not it will be a full court press on the walleye.  This summer will be that same thing.  Come July my weekend excursions will be lots of trips to Amherstburg to pull wire when the weeds and wind cooperate.  If not then it will be Bottom Bouncers or jigging in the same area.  The fish are there all summer it’s just a matter of getting the right presentation to make them hit.  Normally all I will do is pull wire but when the weeds are bad it will be Bottom Bouncers or jigs.  It’s a lot easier to deal with the floating weeds moving with them instead of against them.

Hopefully I will be able to use some of my owed favors for a trip or two on Lake Erie.  I usually make one trip a year but the last few have proven to be very daunting.  Engine problems, rough water, horrendous weed conditions and a lack of fish have made the trips more trouble than they are worth.  I know some people say it’s just good to be on the water but I won’t say that.  Getting bounced around a boat while constantly clearing lines for weeds while catching dinky white perch is not my idea of a good time.  I’ll stay home and go to Plan B.

I’m starting to feel like those people on Alaska The Last Frontier.  Got to fill the freezer before winter sets in.  Winter isn’t even over and already I am planning on how to fill the freezer.  I never realized just how much I miss having fresh fish.  I pulled some walleye out the other night and part of it was freezer burned.  I still ate it but it wasn’t quite as good as what I am used too.  I may have to start keeping a few steelhead, salmon and bluegills to help stretch out the fish diet.

Oh well, it will start soon enough.  As for now I will still plot, plan, scheme, dream, swear, complain, beg, pray and anything else I can think of until I finally hit the water.





So Long Marty

21 07 2012

My father’s best friend and fishing buddy Marty passed away last Thursday 7/19/12. My Grandfather, Father and Marty covered a lot of water together. As I got older I started to tag along on these trips and once my Grandfather passed away it was the three of us. We fished from Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan and on the sunrise side of Lake Huron by Harrisville and Oscoda all the way down to Lake Erie. “Stosh”, as my dad jokingly called him, was the butt of a lot of jokes from both of us. No matter what kind of donuts he would bring we would always complain about him not bringing a certain kind. On one trip we complained about not having lemon filled donuts. The next time out the whole box was lemon filled. Of course we wanted glazed that morning. We even gave him a hard time about the brand of pretzel rods he brought. Then there was that silver Heddon Shark pole and oversized Diawa reel. Oh the crap he used to get from us about that thing. It was all in fun and I can’t help but smile as I type this. Every trip my Dad put together Marty was always there, rain or shine, warm or cold, salmon or walleye, it didn’t matter. We even made an ill fated trip to Cedarville one year for fresh water herring and that was a disaster. Didn’t matter, Marty went and afterwards he was willing to go again on the next trip. As the years passed the fishing trips together became less frequent. I was busy with school, work and raising a family. Trying to plan a weekend for all 3 of us became more and more difficult, especially after my Dad moved up to Oscoda. Unfortunately these things happen but at least we have those fond memories to fall back on.

As my Dad and I fished tonight we talked and joked about all the fishing trips the three of us made together. The fish we caught, the ones we lost, the little old lady that was inadvertently terrorized in the outhouse by flying frogs. Marty will be missed but never forgotten.

Marty Tarlowicz 12/16/1933 – 07/19/2012