HEX TIME……………………………Eventually.

1 07 2019

About a month ago my friend Dave and I were talking about heading north to do some fly fishing.  Due to a lot of prior engagements and bad schedules our first open weekend wasn’t until the end of June.  A lot later than I would have normally wanted to go but there was a chance we might be in time for the Hex Hatch.  It usually starts up about this time of year but our very wet Spring has kind of delayed things.  We were hoping that the recent heat wave might trigger some activity anyways.  Fishermen……always optimistic.

We arrived near the Manistee river around 9:30 pm on Friday night and immediately went to one of the several access points to check for activity.  There were a few anglers camped out at the first point doing the same thing so we moved upstream about a mile.  We walked down to the water and watched and waited.  Then we watched and waited some more and, just to be sure, we watched and waited again.

Nothing…….

No hatches, no spinners, no surface activity.  We saw a few mayflies buzzing around but that was it.  This was depressing.  Add to that the high water levels and I was becoming a lot less optimistic.  We hung around until sometime after 10 before we headed back to the cabin.  Once there we got all out gear sorted out and ready.  Dave’s son Dave showed up about the same time so we made plans for the morning and went to bed.

Morning came and it was going to be a repeat of yesterday, clear blue skies and a sunny 80 degrees.  Not exactly ideal fly fishing weather.  Still, we were hoping the heat would warm up the mud and get the hatches going tonight.  Until then we were going to spend the day drifting nymph, wet fly and streamer patterns until sunset.  We got to the first access point around around 9:30 am and got set up.  Dave and his son were going to head upstream and nymph fish while I headed down and swung streamers.  I was going to finally get a chance to use my Redington Hydrogen 4116 Switch rod for what it was designed for.  I tied on an olive woolly bugger and waded in.  3 seconds later I was wading back out to try and find a different area to cross the river.  All the rain had the river flowing high and fast.  No need to get wet just yet.  After a little maneuvering I was able to get across and I started to swing my fly through the deep shaded bend on the opposite shore.  I would let the fly sweep all the way across the river to the opposite bank and let it dangle and then give it a pulse every so often to try and trigger a strike.  I repeated this process for the next few hours until I reached a point in the river that was too deep for me to wade.  A problem I would have all day.  Once I go out I walked back up to the car and dried out.

Can you guess which side of my waders leak?

Since it was near noon time I dug out the cooler and got things ready for lunch.  Dave and Dave would be back soon and hungry since we all skipped breakfast.  They arrived about 30 minutes later and fortunately Dave sr. had better luck then I had.

The Brown was about 17 inches long and grabbed a small wet fly.  It turned out to be the best fish Dave had ever caught on this section of the river and it would be the biggest fish of the day.  As a matter of fact it would be the only fish worth talking about today.  His son, like me, didn’t catch anything.  After lunch we headed upstream and kept at it.  I was determined to catch something and I wasn’t about to give up.  At the next spot upstream we suited up and once again I had to find another way across.  Sometimes being 5′ – 3″ really sucks.  Eventually I was able to get across and I started over again.  I had lost my original fly, along with a few others. at the first spot so now I was trying a Lady Caroline.  It was a scaled down version that I tied just for this type of fishing.  I only hoped it would work.  The only activity I had at first was a few kayakers that showed up just as I was starting to work a bend in the river that had a large blow down in it.  I figured there had to be a few fish hiding under there.  I waded out to the middle of the river as much as I could and the kayakers quietly paddled behind me instead of through the hole.  I thanked them for their courtesy and started my approach.  I made my first cast and watched the fly drift down into the depths of the hole.  I waited patiently and then it happened, or should I say it didn’t.  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  I though for sure something had to be lurking under that tree.  Guess I was wrong.

From there I waded further downstream to another spot that looked promising.  I spotted another cedar tree that had most of it’s branches over the river, providing shade and cover along with an undercut bank.  I started my swing on the opposite side of the river and let the fly drift down under the tree.  As it drifted across the center I felt the tell tale tap of a smaller fish.  I expected this happen all day but this was the first time.  The Brook Trout in these rivers tend to hang out in the middle, on top of the gravel, and wait for something to come by.  Why it took until almost 3 pm to experience the first tap was beyond me but at least I knew something was interested.  Nothing happened after that so I stripped the line in and made another cast.  Just as the fly reached the tips of the overhanging branches I had a hit.  Nothing monstrous but he was on.  I skipped the little brown in, took a quick pic and sent him on his way.

Not very big but I’ll take it.

After that not much else happened.  I continued to fish downstream and once again I reached another point where I couldn’t wade any further.  I walked back to the car (jumped a fawn along the way) and started over.  By now the sun had set a little further and created more shade on the different bends of the river.  I repeated the process and only managed a few more bumps and one smaller brown.  Once I reached my earlier walk out point I walked back to the car again.  By now Dave and his son were back along with a few other anglers.  They had already camped out on a few spots on the river in anticipation of the upcoming hatch.  It was now around 9 pm and we decided to do the same thing, once we had something to eat.  Dave sr. headed downstream while Dave jr. just waited in the car.  I think he had had enough of today.  He did manage to catch one fish though.

His father and were were still holding out hope though.  I have never fished a hex hatch before and I really wanted it to happen tonight.  Dave and I both walked downstream, picked out spots and waited, and watched, and waited, and watched, and waited, and watched, and waited………..

Again, nothing happened.  I saw a few mayflies hatch (one flew about 3 feet before it was pocked off by a bird) and Dave so what appeared to be a bit of a spinner fall.  Only sporadic rising trout though and by 11:00 pm we had both had enough and walked back to the car.  We had been out for almost 13 hours and most of that time was in the water.  The other anglers, who had camped out earlier, reported the same thing.  Very few insects and only a handful of rising fish.  Back at the car I peeled off my wet clothes and we headed back to the cabin.  during our drive back we discussed many theories as to why there was so little activity.  Cold water, late Spring, Lunar shifts, Chinese tariffs, Lions poor draft choices, you name it, we tried to place the blame on it.  The one theory that did make the most sense though was the amount of debris in the water.  There was so much stuff coming down that we felt the trout were just plain full from eating every worm or insect that washed down the river from the rain.  Seemed plausible to me so I was sticking to it.

The next day we were just plain beat.  Dave jr. had to get back to Grand Rapids and his father and I needed to get home as well.  Before we did that though we did some scouting for new areas.  One of which looked very promising.  So promising that I am planning a late September fishing/hunting/camping weekend in the area.  Until then I have a lot of research to do to try and figure out this trout spey fishing thing.  I know there were fish in the river but I couldn’t get any of them to cooperate.  I’ll tie up some wet flies in the mean time along with a few more streamers.  My casting is getting much better, as long as I am fishing river left.  I probably have to tweak my presentation some.  I think I may not have been getting deep enough with the high flows.  If the trout were being lazy my fly might not have been getting close enough to them.  I should have swapped out to a heavier MOW tip at one point but I got lazy.  Next time will be different.

 

 

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Squeak

10 06 2019

Back when I was a wee little fly tier I used to tie deer hair mice for one gentleman.  Every year he would go on a trip to the AuSable, with some of his friends, to go fishing for Brown Trout at night.  I would tie him up 2 dozen mice and 2 dozen Houghton Lake Specials.  One year, he invited my Father and I to tag along but unfortunately we were unable to make it.  I was always intrigued about this type of fishing but never got the opportunity until this past weekend.  My guide in Alaska, Tim Schut, told me he was going to back in Michigan for a few months before he went back to Alaska.  After working through our conflicting schedules we were able to arrange an evening that worked for both of us.  I met him at our take out point on the Upper Manistee around 6:30 pm.  I wondered why we were meeting so early since ‘mousing” was done during the dark of the night.  He told me we would park the boat downstream and wait to see if we would get any type of an insect hatch.  That and eat dinner.  Dinner was great (grilled steak and asparagus) but a hatch never really materialized.  Tim said most of the Spring had like this.  Light hatches and when they do happen the insects fly into the trees instead of spinning out and landing on the water.  We only saw a few trout rise and most of them were small.  No big deal, that wasn’t why I was here anyways.

Around 10:00 pm we started downstream and started fishing.  Tim would tell me which side of the river to cast too and slowly retrieve the mouse pattern across the water to create a wake.  He told me to let the current swing the fly downstream and across and make long, steady retrieves to keep it moving.  Seems simple enough except that I couldn’t see the shoreline and I had no idea if I was making a wake or not.  The only time I could see was when there would be a reflection on the water from the light of an occasional cabin.  Tim had also told me that no matter how close I think the trees are to add 3 more feet.  The closer I could get the mouse to the shoreline the better.  He also said don’t worry about hooking the trees, it’s gonna happen.  If I’m not catching the trees it’s obvious I’m not landing the mouse close enough to the bank.  With all that in mind we went about our business, for 3 hours.

Cast, plop, drift, retrieve, cast again, catch tree, retrieve fly, cast again, swat mosquito, catch tree behind me, retrieve fly, stare at the stars, question my sanity, cast, plop, drift, retrieve, repeat.

This was the bulk of the evening.  I got to hand it to Tim though, he was doing his best to keep me positive.  If I was doing something wrong with my cast he would help me correct it and made sure I was casting in the right direction.  After a few hours I was starting to get frustrated because I was convinced I was doing something wrong.  Tim assured me I wasn’t.  He said it is going to happen, we just need to find a hungry fish.  He compared it to Spey fishing for Steelhead.  He said there are a lot of fish in the water, we are trying to find the one with the attitude.  Around 1:00 am the sliver of the moon set below the horizon and then it got really dark.  Tim switched out the fly to a jointed rabbit fur mouse of his own design.  It makes a very distinctive sound when it hits the water.  Also, he tied a pair of dumbbell eyes to the back of the hook to get the tail end to sink a little.  That did the trick because about 15 minutes later it happened.  I heard the splash, felt the weight and did nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  The one thing I have read over and over is that when a Brown hits a mouse, never set the hook until the weight of the fish is felt.  Tim stressed this as well.  When I hear a splash and I think a fish hit, DO NOTHING!!   A Brown trout will swim up and strike a mouse to kill it and then swing back around to finish it off, much like a shark will with live prey.  He told me that many people lose the fish because when they feel the hit they do the straight up Orvis hook set and send the fly into the trees.  If a fish hits and misses he will come back around.  Tim had told me of instances where he had a Brown hit the same mouse multiple times before he was finally hooked up.  Relax and wait, easier said than done but I did it and once I felt the fish turn and the weight on the rod I pulled back on the rod, across my body and parallel to the river.  FISH ON!

I almost lost this one.  I was so startled that the line slipped through my fingers as I was trying to strip him in.  I was able to keep a bend in the rod and the pressure on and about a minute later he was in the net.  My first Brown on a fly, my first Brown on a Mouse and my first Brown over 20 inches.  To say I was happy would be an understatement.  After a few pics we sent him on his away and got back to business.  I was feeling a lot better now and Tim made sure I didn’t get ahead of myself.  He reminded me not to get twitchy and remember to DO NOTHING!  I firmly believe this is where Spey fishing and Handlining so much benefits me.  When jigging or casting a lure, the second I feel anything I set the hook.  With handlining, once I feel a fish I wait for him to get those initial headshakes out of the way.  With Spey fishing I wait until the fish takes the fly and turns away.  I’ve been able to condition myself to not get so crazy with the hook set.  I still get a little twitchy from time to time but for the most part I can take it easy.  So much so that on the next fish I never even knew he took a swipe at the fly.  There was splash in front of me and Tim asked if I had a hit.  I told him I didn’t feel anything but he was convinced a fish had taken a swipe at my fly and missed.  I told him I didn’t even hear it and it was right then that he hit it again.  This time though he didn’t miss and he immediately went airborne.  Time got the light on him so we could watch his aerobatic display. He was smaller then the first fish but he was definitely a lot more active.

It still amazes me how the same species of fish can have suck drastic differences in their spots.

After that not much happened.  The temperature was starting to drop and by 2:30 am there was fog on the water.  Time told me trying to catch fish when the fog is out is damn near impossible.  I made a few more casts but nothing happened so around 3 we pushed on to the pull out point.  That last mile Tim kept his headlamp on so he could maneuver the river (how he was able to in the dark was beyond me) and show me the fish we would spook.  I probably saw about a dozen Browns in the 20 inch range cruising around in the shallow water.  I was told that this section held some big fish but I always doubted it.  Not anymore.

All in all it was a good night.  Mosquitoes weren’t a problem.  Caught my first and biggest brown trout to date.  I didn’t bury a hook in the back of my head but at one point I did bounce the fly off my hat.  Only bad part now was the drive home on no sleep.  Next time I’m bringing my camper and taking a nap before I head home.  Driving home on deer infested roads with no sleep is a dangerous combination.  Speaking of deer, they make a lot of noise running through the water at 2:00 am.  So do bears, we think we spooked one when we came around one bend.  We could just make out the silhouette of a lone tree shaking back and forth.  As we got closer we heard of lot of crashing as whatever it was ran off.  So it was either a bear or Bigfoot.  Didn’t hear any tree knocks so I’m sticking with a bear.

I’m going to be up this away again the last weekend of June.  I won’t be wading this area at night, it is way to dangerous to do since I don’t know the river.  I might wade in at a few of the access points and try a few casts but nothing to extreme.  I’m kind of hoping the Hex hatch is going on.  Never fished during one but I have heard it is insane.

We shall see.

 





Thanksgiving Weekend Steelhead

26 11 2018

If there was one thing that was consistent about this weekend it would be the rain.  It started sometime early Saturday morning and continued on into Sunday.  As a matter of fact, it changed over to snow when I convinced myself I should just go home.

I knew the weather was going to be miserable but even though it was going to rain I knew that the area wouldn’t be blown out.  With the gates controlling the flow it wasn’t going to matter how much rain we got.  Unfortunately, the October rains gave an estimated 2 trillion extra gallons to Lake Superior.  All that water has to go somewhere so the gates were wide open.  The concrete berm I normally stand on to fish certain runs was completely under water.  Not that it mattered, trying to wade to it was completely out of the question.  I got spun around more than once by the increased flow and not so sure footing.

Knowing all this I still went out.  I have yet to catch a Steelhead here and I definitely won’t catch one sitting in my hotel room watching the Wolverines get their ass handed to them.  I figure one of these days my timing will be perfect and I’ll catch one.  As it turns out it would not be this weekend.  I could see fish rolling around and I saw a few swim by me both they were all salmon.  I figured they were either Atlantics or small Chinook.  Around noon I managed to hook one as I was stripping line in for my next cast.  Based on the color I thought it was a small Atlantic.  I was wrong.

Wasn’t expecting a coho but there she was.  Nothing like the ones I caught in Alaska but it was still better than nothing.  After I released her I waded back to shore to let my legs thaw out for a bit.  While I was there I talked to a local angler who was also taking a break and smoking a “Recreational Cigarette”.  He told me that the Steelhead have been slow but there were a lot of salmon in the area.  He had also caught a couple of Coho and an Atlantic.  He also told me that the gates will be turned down on Dec. 10th.  He told me that he expects the fishing to be good for a few days after that, even if gets any colder.  I doubt I’ll drive back up though.  I may stick to the Alley or some west side rivers.  I like fishing this area but those 6 hours drives get old after awhile.  After a 20 minute break I waded back in and resumed fishing.  I was joined by another fishermen who set up downstream from me.  He was chucking a pink spoon and I watched him catch one Steelhead and about half a dozen salmon.  The fish are in but they were in a pool that I couldn’t reach.  If the levels were down a couple of feet I could.  Then again the fish might not be in that spot as well.  After about 6 hours of 40 degree water and rain I packed it in.  A warm meal sounded better than subjecting myself to any more abuse.  Besides, I still had tomorrow morning to try again.

Well I tried again Sunday morning.  I should have known something was up when I arrived and I was the only vehicle in the parking lot.  I tired for a couple of hours but when it started snowing I decided to give up.  I was going to have a long drive home and I wanted to get ahead of the storm that was expected to arrive later that night.

I did manage to catch one fish, lost a couple of flies and I was able to stay dry for most of the weekend.  One of these years I’ll catch it just right.  I’m not going to hold my breath until then though.

 

 





Day 8 – Fishing Free For All

27 08 2018

Months ago this day seemed so far away and now it was here.  My last day of fishing and it would turn out to be our best yet.  Nothing fancy, no chasing a specific species, just a day where it was all about numbers.

First stop – The Pit Stop Hole.

This is the half way point between the lodge and the tidal area.  Usually the boats will make a quick stop to top off the gas tanks and let the guests have a bathroom break.  John, Phil and I lined up and started casting.  First cast and all 3 of us hooked into a fish.  The Pinks were in thick and they were going to be our bread and butter fish all day.  For the next 2 hours we kept at it.  John and Phil were pretty much catching fish on every other cast.  I on the other hand, wasn’t doing so well.  What I lacked in numbers I made up for in variety.  They were catching nothing but Pinks, I was catching everything else.

I ended up with 2 “Jack” Kings from this spot along with a pair of male Chum and a pair of Pinks.  Tim was keeping track and I think we landed 33 in total before we moved, 100 yards to another sand bar.  We lined up once again but this time I set up on the downstream point where the current formed an eddy and pool.  4 straight casts, 4 Pinks hooked and landed.  After the 4th fish I moved out and let John move down where he proceeded to do the same thing.  Phil was casting out into the main river but was unable to reach the fish.  He moved down to where John was and I went back to the boat to break out my Spey rod.  I figured it was my last day so from here on in it was “Swing Flies or Die”.  I could easily swing a fly through the seam where the fish were holding and on my first cast I hooked into another Silver Salmon.

Once we landed him Tim told me all I needed was  a Sockeye to complete a Grand Slam on a fly.  Problem was the nearest Sockeye were 40 miles upstream.  That wasn’t gonna happen and I really didn’t mind.  I was having fun right where I was at.  I landed a few more Pinks and John relinquished the point to Phil so he could get in on the action.  We didn’t stay here long since it was a small area and hard to fish 3 people.  No matter.  There were plenty of other places for us to fish.  Our main concern was staying dry.  The remnants of a typhoon was making it’s way through Bristol Bay and the leading edge of an all day rain was just reaching us.  It wasn’t a downpour, just an all day rain.  The kind that soaks through the piece of crap raincoat I was wearing.  I dealt with it as we bounced around form hole to hole.  At our last stop I could see it was mostly Pinks so I put away my Spey rod and broke out the one rod I hadn’t used all week, my 6wt Redington Prospector Switch Rod.  As a matter of fact I had yet to catch a fish on this rod.  I never liked the line I had on it so I didn’t use it much.  The new SA Spey Lite line breathed new life into this rod and it casts like a dream.   I ended up landing 7 pinks on it and Tim asked if he could try it out before we were done for the day.  After I landed my 30th fish for the day I traded him my rod for the net, and told him to have at it.  Even though we still had about an hour left I told him I was done, cast away and I’ll land any fish.  He was very appreciative and really liked the way the rod and line performed.  So much so that he said when he got the chance he was going to be ordering a bunch of the SA Spey lite lines in different weights.  Even John and Phil got in on it and were planning on ordering lines for their switch rods.  Once the emphasis was more on the lines instead of the fish we started to pack it in.  It had been raining for the last 4 hours and we had a 20 mile boat ride back to camp.  Dry clothes and a warm meal were sounding better than catching anymore fish.  Besides, between the three of us we landed well over 100 today.  This was the kind of day I was hoping for and fortunately I got it.  Just wish I could have experienced it with my Dad and Susan.





Day 6 – Shameless Plug Day.

23 08 2018

I really had no idea what the plan was for today, maybe catch some salmon?  One thing I knew for sure was that I was going to wear my Mad Viking Tackle Co. hat to get some picks for my friend’s company.  The other thing was wear a t-shirt I was given in the hopes of winning a free one.  The Stick It Vinyls runs a monthly contest for the person who can post a pic on Facebook showing the farthest distance from their office in Michigan.  Hopefully it wouldn’t rain today and I would be able to accomplish that.  We went downstream again but this time we were a lot closer to the lodge than yesterday.

I planned on using my Spey rod today and swing flies.  Didn’t have much of a choice since I broke two other rods.  The Scott Flex would still be coming along but my plan was Swing or Die today.  We set up at our first spot for the day and pretty much stayed their.  We had no reason to leave, it was full of Pinks and Chum and they were very grabby.  Even managed to land a couple of Silvers as well.  Actually the fish were so thick in this spot I was pretty much catching them at will.  Even when I wasn’t trying I was hooking fish.  Bring in my line to make another cast, hook fish.  Set anchor for my next Spey cast, hook fish.  Drag fly through water with lunch in my hand, hook fish.  Release fish from net after removing hook, hook fish.  At one point I got bored spey casting so I grabbed my Scott Flex and took a position on shore, after I made a lot of noise, overlooking the pool.  I spent then next hour casting to Pinks and watched them do all kinds of Pink things.  I watched them chase my fly, bump it, grab it and let go, follow it for 20 feet only to refuse it at the end, ignore it and even attack it like their life depended on it.

It was a lot of fun but it had to end.  Eventually the fish figured out that anything pink would cause them a lot of stress.  We moved on to another spot for more of the same until it was time to head back to the lodge.  During our run to the next spot I got to hear one of Tim’s now famous quotes after we saw a Bald Eagle and an Osprey on the same sand bar.

“Bald Eagles and Ospreys are the same bird, one just has a better publicist”.

We beached the boat at this spot and when I jumped out I began to have second thoughts about fishing here.

As a point of reference that reel is about 6 inches in diameter.  It still amazes me that I am sharing all of this with so many bears.

Not to much longer after that we headed back to the lodge.  I think the guide wanted to get back early since we were late the previous night.  Jessie was happy to see us back on time as well.

 





One Last Crack

11 06 2018

A few days before Memorial Day weekend a friend of mine contacted me to tell me the Steelhead had just started moving into the St. Mary’s Rapid’s.  Of course he wanted me to come up then but family obligations prevented that.  He told me they should still be around well into June so I had time.  That would work because I was invited to a wedding at Carp Lake, MI on June 8th so I figured I could make the hour drive the next day while everyone else was sleeping off hangovers and doing the tourist thing at Mackinac City.

The next morning I was headed north at 4:30 am.  As expected the roads were empty, there wasn’t even any traffic on either of the bridges and I think I woke up the customs guard in Canada.  A little after 6:00 am I was suiting up and heading to the river.  As I drove over the bridge I could see that the water level was down and there was only one other person fishing.  So far so good.  I waded across and noticed the shadows of a few fish taking off in front of me.  I was feeling very optimistic at first but I soon realized that all of the shadows I was seeing were suckers, hundred’s of them.  My heart sank but I gave it my best shot anyways.  I swung flies for the next few hours without even so much as a bump.  At one point I though I had a take but when I brought the fly in I could see a small scale on the hook and figured I just scraped a sucker.  Around 10:00 am I put away the streamers and broke out one of my burnt orange carp flies.  By now there were about a dozen nymphers and pinners out drifting beads and egg flies.  I did see one nympher catch a bright skipper on an egg fly so I figured what the hell.  About 20 minutes later I saw a bow start in my line and I figured I was snagged.  I pulled in the line and lifted the rod and felt a strange shake.  Sure enough, I had a sucker on.  It didn’t take long for me to get him in, he didn’t have much of a chance against a 13 1/2 foot 8wt Spey rod.  I took a quick pic and then let him go.

Whistletrout

Shortly after that I headed in and just as I was about to climb out I spotted about 1/2 a dozen very dark Steelhead sitting on the end of a run.  I immediately started casting but they showed zero interest in what I was offering.

Story of my life.

After about 30 minutes I gave up.  I saw another fish caught by a pinner as I was walking out.  A dark male that hardly fought.  I took that as a sign that the fish didn’t care either.  I just chalked it up as another learning experience.  Four trips here and still no steelhead.  One of these days I will time it right and actually catch one.  Until then there is always Alaska.  As a matter of fact, 2 months from today will be the last day of my week long trip.  Better days are ahead.





NW Michigan Steel

6 12 2017

Friday, Dec. 1st.  The start of a 3 day smack down on the local Steelhead population.  At least I was hoping it would be.  I honestly had no idea how this trip was going to turn out.  I had some people telling me that the rivers were full of fish, big fish.  Other were telling me the exact opposite.  I didn’t know who to believe.  All I knew was that I was out of work early and headed north west to Wellston, MI and D-Loop Outfitters. I singed up for this trip back in June with Schultz’s Outfiiters who would be the host for the event.  Normally I take my time during these drives but dinner was at 7:30 pm and Google Maps had me arriving at 7:38 pm.  Just as I pulled into the driveway Schultzy was calling my cell to ask where i was at.  I told him I was in  my car staring at him talking to me.  After introductions we sat down for a dinner of lamb chops.

I expected to lose weight after 3 days of fishing but based on this first meal I had a feeling I was going to gain weight (turns out it would only be a pound).  After dinner we were paired up and assigned a guide for the next morning.  So after talking with a few people and drinking a very bitter craft beer I was off to my cabin and bed.

Day 1, The Pere Marquette.

After Breakfast Robert (my fishing partner for today) and I were headed south to the PM to meet up with our guide, Brad Turner, from the Tommy Lynch Fish Whisperer Guide Service.  After a brief discussion of what the plan was going to be for the day we piled into Brad’s truck and headed to the launch site.  Brad launched his drift boat and after about a 15 minute row downstream we were stopped at our first run for the day.  We were using indicator rigs with a couple of beads pegged a couple of inches above each hook.  The rationale here is that the steelhead will grab the bead thinking it is a salmon egg.  Once I set the hook it should catch him in the corner of the mouth.  This was going to be the plan of attack for the whole day.  Fish a run, get back in the boat, row to the next run, repeat.  At our first stop Brad got me all set up and I went to work.  It didn’t take long and I had the first fish of the day on.  It made a few big jumps in the beginning and I could tell it was a decent sized and nicely colored male.  After his third jump he hauled ass upstream and I just let him run.  I was free and clear of any log jams that way and it would be the perfect area to land him.  He must have realized that himself because he turned around and ran back to where I hooked him.  Once he was in there he got tangled up in some old fishing line that was wrapped around a log.  What started off as a very promising beginning ended with disappointment.  After a few minutes I was rigged back up and at again.  Just as Brad was telling us it was time to move on I hooked into another fish.  The fight didn’t last long.

My smallest steelhead to date. I need to reverse this trend.

These two fish would turn out to be the only ones we would hook all day.  Most of the day was spent trying to dodge other boats and stay ahead of them so we could fish clean holes that hadn’t been disturbed.  I expected it to be busy on a Saturday but this was nuts.  It wasn’t until about 2 o’clock that we were finally able to get ahead of the pack.  Not that it made any difference but at least it kept our hopes up.  It’s hard to remain positive about fishing a run or hole if you know someone else has already been through it.  Fishing was tough enough already, playing second or third fiddle to everyone else just made it worse.  We kept at it until just before sundown which was about the time we arrived at our take out.  It was a long day but still a good one.  I would have liked to have landed that first fish but I wasn’t going to keep it anyways so it wasn’t too heartbreaking.  If you believe that I got a bridge over some swamp land to sell you.

Hopefully Day 2 will be better.

Day 2, The Big Manistee

Day 2 started off at a bone chilling 23 degrees.  This wasn’t going to last long but for the first few hours I was going to appreciate the heated cabin on the boat we would be using.  Our guide picked Robert and I up at our cabin and by 8:00 am we were at the launch and ready to go.

A Beautiful but cold morning on the Big Man

The name of the game today was floating beads under a float using a center pin rig.  I had never done this before but I was curious to find out how it worked.  Center pins are becoming more and more popular with the Steelheaders and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  After some quick instructions from our guide we were drifting our beads to the fish.  Basically what we would do is anchor the boat upstream of the run or hole and just let the float drift downstream.  This is where the reel comes in.  There is no drag or “clicker” on the reel, it just free spools as the float drifts down.  These reels are so smooth that it just spins without causing any drag on the float, thus allowing for as natural a drift as possible.  No mending lines.  No repeated casts.  Just let it drift.  The draw back is that when you have to set the hook you have to remember to clamp down on the reel with your hand, otherwise you will create a bird’s nest that no self-respecting Robin would want to deal with.  Fortunately for me I never did that, can’t say the same for Robert.  After about half an hour I was getting the hang of it and getting into a groove, interrupted only by short breaks to clear the ice out of the guides every 15 minutes or so.  Not much happened at the first hole, it was more of a practice stop anyways.  The next stop was different.  By now the sun was up above the tree line and the temps got above freezing.  No more clearing guides.  Once we started drifting our floats they were getting bumped and played with by the fish.  The float would drop, we would set the hook and nothing would happen.  This went on for about 15 minutes but the guide told us to keep at it.  Sometimes the fish feel like playing or it is a skipper screwing around.  Turns out he was right on both counts.  On one of the numerous bumps Robert set the hook and this time the fish was on.  I reeled in and got out of the way to give them plenty of room.  This would turn out to be a very cooperative fish.  Instead of running towards the wood he stayed out in the middle of the river.  After about 10 minutes of this he was in the net.  A quick pic and he was on his way.

Rob’s 75th Birthday Fish

Now it was my turn.  While Robert was getting set back up again I went back to fishing.  On my next drift my float dropped and I buried the hook into what appeared to be a good fish.  I’ll never know for sure, 10 seconds later he was off.

FRAK!!!

I reeled in, reset everything and got back at it.  A couple drifts later my float dropped and once again I clamped down on the reel and set the hook.  I hooked the fish but the weight wasn’t there like the previous one.  Once again the Skipper curse reared its minuscule head.  A minute later he was in the net and quickly released to fight another day.  I’m going to start telling everyone that I am dealing in Steelhead Futures, catch them small and let them grow later.

My Big Manistee Brute

Once we were done drifting floats through this hole our Guide broke out the Spey rods so we could swing flies through this big run.  This is what I wanted to do all weekend so I was tickled pink to finally get the chance.  He set me up on the back of the boat and just let me cast away.  Meanwhile, he set Robert up at the front of the boat and gave him a refresher course on casting.  I had never been on a boat where you had two spey casters fishing at the same time.  I will never do it again.  I had the whole back of the boat all to myself so I  really didn’t have to worry about anything.  The guy up front had to time his casts to make sure he didn’t hit my line or me.  While Robert never did hit my line (I was timing my casts to help prevent that) he did manage to hit just about everything else, including me.  After the third time he bounced his fly off of my hat the guide finally said that’s enough and we went back to the center pins.  I was lucky that I never got a hooked buried in me and I preferred to keep it that way, even if it meant fishing a method I really didn’t want to.

We continued on for the rest of the day with the only excitement being Rob hooking into another fish for a few brief seconds.  The clear blue skies created a lot of glare and trying to watch a float through that was proving to be difficult and giving me a headache.  Around 3:30 pm we pulled lines and headed back to the dock.  We didn’t want to be late for dinner, steak and lobster tonight.

Day 3, The Little Manistee

This was the forecast for day 3.  I was supposed to spend it on the Big Manistee again with Robert but the guide couldn’t make it so another guide was assigned to us.  Personally I think the guide didn’t want to get rained on all day.  Because of this there was some reshuffling of where we would fish.  One of the other guests wanted to hike and wade the Little Manistee and his partner wanted to fish the PM.  That meant that Robert and I would be splitting up to fish one of the alternatives.  He chose to fish the PM and I was happily relegated to  the Little Manistee.  It was already raining so I gathered all my rain gear and piled into the guide’s 4-Runner.  After about a 30 minute drive we arrived at our first stop of the day.  We would be fishing Indicator rigs again but John (Our Guide) did bring along a switch rod for swinging flies, just in case.

The Little Manistee and all its log jam, fish losing potential.

We set up on the first run and started drifting egg flies through the run.  This part of the river wasn’t very wide and we were literally casting just 10 feet in front of us.  John, the other fisherman, was downstream of me by about 20 yards.  Our guide was standing next to me answering my questions when I happened to see John set the hook on a fish.  He never said a word so I pointed downstream and said “fish”.  About that time the Fish made one of 3 straight up in the air jumps, headed downstream, turned and swam back upstream to the hole and then reversed course and hauled ass downstream.  John and John gave chase while I just continued to fish my spot.  I kept an eye on them in case they needed help but there really wasn’t much I could do.  They had their hands full in the skinny water and they really didn’t need me to get in the way.  About 15 minutes later they were both walking upstream, John 2 was all smiles so I assumed they landed the fish.  John 1 later informed me that they did not.  He told me that it was about a 10 pound male and it got hung up on a tree stump and broke the line just as he was about to net it.  It was the first big Steelhead that John 2 had ever hooked into and he was all wound up now.  Thus the reason for him being all smiles.  We fished the spot for a few more minutes but nothing happened so we moved on to the next run.

At spot number two John 2 and I were a little more separated so our guide had to split his time a little more carefully.  He got John 2 set up first and then we walked a little further upstream.  He told me where to fish and I made a few casts.  Once he was comfortable with my presentation he headed back down to check on John 2.  Just as he rounded the bend I hooked a fish.  He started to run back but I told him to take it easy.  This one wasn’t going anywhere.  Skippers usually don’t.

It was still a fish and as it would turn out I would be the only one from the group that would catch a Steelhead each day.  I also got to claim the prize for the smallest fish each day.  It takes real skill to be able to do that.  We fished this area of the river for the next hour or so but to no avail.  I even got to swing a streamer through a run that held both Coho and Steelhead but they didn’t want to play.  The fish were there, we could see them in the runs (some well over 10 pounds) but they didn’t want to cooperate so we headed back to the car and lunch.  By now the rain had stopped which made for a pleasant dining experience of a turkey sandwich and vegetable soup.  Once that was done we packed up and headed out.

Our next stop was a section of the river about 3 miles from where we first started.  This stretch was full of spawning Cohos.  There was a great run of these fish this year and many were still holding over.  John 1 mentioned to me that some of them will be here until January and fresh ones will probably move in with the latest rain.  I was surprised to see so many and I was hoping there would be plenty of Steelhead feeding on the eggs.  John 2 was set up on the first hole and he immediately hooked in to a Coho.  It didn’t last long and he got hung up.  John 1 decided to just turn me loose.  He gave me a box of egg patterns and some leader material.  He asked if I was ok with that and I assured him I was fine and headed upstream.  He told me he would check on me in about 30 minutes or so.  I started methodically working the runs, hoping to find one cooperative Steelhead while all the Cohos swam around me.  As I was making my last drift on one run I saw a nasty looking Coho swimming my way and into the run.  Of course she grabbed the egg.  I didn’t set the hook, hoping she would spit it but she didn’t.  She turned and buried the hook in her jaw.  I managed to work her out of the hole and into the skinny water downstream.  Once I did that I yelled out to John 1 and he came up to assist.  He saw the fish and the look of disgust on my face so he just grabbed the line and gave it a good yank to pull it free.  We joked about it for a second and said we should move up to the next run.  John 2 had hooked into about 4 or 5 Coho by now so I asked John 1 if he really thought he would be able to get him to leave.  He gave me that “yeah your right” look so I just went off on my own again.

At the next run I managed to hook a few more Coho but I really didn’t try to land them.  They were looking quite nasty and I didn’t want to grab them.  Eventually I moved on to another hole and started fishing again.  About this time John 1 had made his way back up to check on me and it was then that I hooked another Steelhead.  Only problem was that it was another smolt no more than 8 or 9 inches long.  I got her close and removed the hook without ever taking her out of the water.  A few minutes later I followed that up with a couple of small Brown Trout.  John 1 told me there was a good wild population here but that the ones he catches are usually in the 15 to 20 inch range.  Leave it to me to break the trend.

Small but very colorful

John 1 told me we only had about another 20 minutes so I started to work my way back down.  I made a few more casts but once I broke my line on a sunken log I just packed everything up for the day.  John 2 was still playing with the Cohos so I just sat back and watched.  If these had been fresh fish I would have joined in but I wasn’t feeling the need to catch zombies.  It had been a long 3 days and I was starting to feel it.  A hot shower and sleeping in my own bed was sounding really good right about now.  I just had to get through the 3 1/2 hour drive first.  Still, I caught fish, there wasn’t any size to them but it was better than nothing.  I had the chance to land some bigger ones but it really didn’t happen.  I ate well and didn’t get hurt so I really can’t complain.  I’m sure I’ll do it again next year.  I just may fit in a few trips beforehand on my own.

 

Next up, back to The Alley.