Frustrating

29 03 2017

 

As I was watching the Spey Daze DVD this past weekend, this question was posed to the guest fishermen.

Using one word, describe Steelhead.

Frustrating was the word I came up with.  I don’t think it is for the fish itself but what I have to go through to catch one.  Steelhead are migratory so if they don’t run the river there isn’t much I can do.  This season, for one reason or another, they never really showed up on my home waters.  I suppose I needed to be served a piece of humble pie.  The first season of swinging flies I landed 6 on the Huron, my personal best fish, for the Huron, coming on Jan. 2nd.  Since then it’s been nothing.  Because of the lack of fish and a desire to try new places I have ventured out.  Earlier this week I had some estate business to handle for Susan in Toledo and Fremont so I decided to keep heading east and try the Vermillion river.

A little back story on the Vermillion.  This past summer Susan was helping out with a system changeover at a local hospital.  I came with her the first weekend to keep her company and to scout out fishing access.  While I was at one of the parks Susan texted me to see what I was up to.  I sent her a picture of the sign and she replied saying she knows that park and she used to eat her lunch their when she was a Schwann driver.

????

This was my response:

Excuse me? You know this area? You used to stop here? An area that gets a Steelhead run and you never thought to mention that to me? This is information that should have been made available to me day one, at the restaurant, after introductions.  You know….Hello, my name is Susan, I know of a place to catch Steelhead on the Vermillion River.

She answered me with her usual Susan fanfare and I know she was smiling and laughing the whole time.  Her coworkers probably thought I was an ass though but she knew better.  It reminds me of just how close we were to each other before we ever even met.

This day though was my first attempt fishing here and I was not alone.  There were about a dozen other people fishing the same low dirty water.  I tried for about an hour and didn’t catch anything.  From what I could see no one else was either.  What amazed me was how I thought 12 other people was crowded.  My first introduction to river steelhead fishing was elbow to elbow people on the Manistee River at Tippy Dam.  That was insane but then it was the norm.  I fished the runs I could but not the deeper, longer one farther upstream I wanted to.  That one was staked out by about 6 or 7 other fishermen and they weren’t budging.  Oh well, there will be other opportunities.  Now that we have some warmer weather and more rain maybe the Steelhead will finally show up on the Huron.  If not, I will be making a weekend trip up north.

Where I wanted to fish.

Call the Bigfoot Groups. I found a Squatch Hut.

Wonder how much more product placement I can get in a picture?

 

 





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.





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.





Back to Basics Trip, 1/30/16

2 02 2016

Did I ever say how difficult Spey casting can be?

Every fly fisherman and woman makes a bad cast now and then. In my case I expect to do it more times than not. Lately though I have developed some bad habits with my technique and I needed help. Golfers sometimes get a case of the “shanks”. I got a case of the, well I don’t know what to call it but it isn’t good. Most of my forward casts were ending up in a pile of line about 20 feet in front of me. To make matters worse I was flinching because my fly was zinging over my head with the subtly of a B-52 coming in for a landing. I needed to figure out what was wrong and quick. I didn’t want another incident of insert hook in cheek and not catching fish sucks. Only problem was that I had to figure this out for myself and with my vast experience this would prove to be difficult.

With all that in mind I headed down to the Huron River this last Saturday morning. I didn’t expect there to be a lot of people on the water so I could concentrate on my casting, without embarrassing myself at the same time. I spent the previous night going over my notes on casting to see if I could spot the flaw in my form. I really didn’t expect to come across some divine revelation but I was hoping that I might spot something that I was forgetting to do. Nothing really stood out so I did the next best thing, return to the basics. No more trying to get fancy or over think my cast. Just go through the motions, remember the basic form and see what happens. With that in mind I waded out into the river. I pulled my fly line off the reel and laid it out downstream. I took a deep breath and went through the motion, anchor set, rod tip low, D loop, arms in, pull with left hand, rod tip high and angled to the side and swish……

Perfect.

I just stood there with a “how the hell did I do that” look on my face. As the fly drifted downstream I thought about everything I did as I got ready to repeat the process.

Anchor set, rod tip low, D Loop, arms in, pull with left hand, rod tip high and angled to the side and swish……

Perfect.

I repeated this process over and over again for the next hour. I would flub one up about every 10th cast but it was a lot better than the every other cast mess I was producing my last trip. I was feeling pretty good about my cast, so good that I wasn’t even thinking about catching a fish. I really didn’t expect to catch one today. The water was 35 degrees and very clear. The fish are concentrated in the deeper holes and slow water I wasn’t at either. My intent today was more form over function. I did have a fly on, just in case, but I wasn’t expecting much. After about an hour I decided to head for home. A boat had come through earlier and broke up a lot of shelf ice. Trying to correct a cast is hard enough without having to dodge ice flows as well. Besides, I had cured my case of the “shanks”.

I hope.

I wonder if I could ride this down to the parking lot?

I wonder if I could ride this down to the parking lot?

Walking back I spotted some fresh beaver cuttings.  I then found his trail to and from the water.  Missed him by just a couple of minutes.

Walking back I spotted some fresh beaver cuttings. I then found his trail to and from the water. Missed him by just a couple of minutes.





2015, the Year in Review.

10 01 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times……

I have never read Charles Dicken’s classic “A Tale of Two Cities” but that opening line pretty much summed up 2015 for me. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  In April, I had one of the greatest fishing experiences of my life in the Florida Keys.  In August, I came to the realization that I would never be able to fish with my father again.  Like I said, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

One of the high points of 2015 was my foray into swinging flies for steelhead. I had actually started a few months earlier on my 50th birthday.  I learned a lot over that weekend on the Grand River in Ohio but I never did connect with a fish.  I did manage to catch one in February on the Muskegon River and that “Tug” was enough to get me hooked.  Several trips on the Huron and another on the Muskegon and I ended up with 7 steelhead for the year – a lot more than I had ever imagined I would catch, especially the ones I caught on the Huron.  This river doesn’t get much of a run but it does get enough fish to warrant a few hours whenever I get a chance.  Living only 10 minutes away doesn’t hurt either.  I learned quite a bit during these quick trips.  I never realized how important water levels and clarity can play when it comes to steelhead.  Valuable lessons that I should have already known, especially after this past walleye fishing season.

I got a late start to my walleye season this year. My boat sat up north at my parents waiting to be repaired.  I would head up on the weekends to help my Dad out but his health kept getting worse instead of better.  Eventually we got it fixed but by then it was the height of the Silver Bass run.  Around mid-June I finally made it out and started to put some fish in the freezer.  I wasn’t exactly hammering them but I wasn’t getting skunked either.  That was more than I could say for a lot of other people.  There was a lot of chatter on the message boards this past summer about how difficult the fishing was.  No one was catching any fish with any consistency.  Of course the theories started up about how the fish weren’t there.  My favorite being because there were so many anglers this Spring, they caught all the fish.  I’m not kidding, some people actually thought that.  Not surprising though, whenever fish aren’t being caught the first thought is a lack of fish.   Rarely do people ever look at the one variable that 9 times out of 10 dictates success.  Weather.

Last winter was one of the coldest Michigan had ever seen.   With the cooler temps, lack of rain and no NE winds the water remained ridiculously clear in the Detroit River, all summer long.  Walleye are an ambush predator and with the water being as clear as it was I firmly believe they just stayed put or hid in the weeds or channel edges until it got dark.  The fish were always there, they were just in a neutral feeding pattern throughout the day.  Fish were caught but not like they would be if the water was stained.  So instead of adjusting tactics people just threw out silly theories.  Me?  I changed tactics and didn’t even start fishing until after dark.  I must have been one of the few people that thought this way because I rarely saw anyone else out fishing after dark.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get out as much as I wanted because of work.  I had to stick to weekends or overcast evenings.  I could have gone out during the week but getting up in the morning for work would be rough.  I was having a hard time at work all year as it is, being half asleep wouldn’t have helped any.  Even though it was a short season I did all right.  Lost more fish than normal but that was because of the fish being so neutral from the clear water.  They would just suck in the lure if it was on their nose.  I lost all of these fish right at the boat.  Once it got dark they went into attack mode and hammered lures.  In the daylight though?  Forget it.  It was rather frustrating but eventually I put it all together and put fish in the freezer.  I also managed to save a few bucks because I wasn’t even launching until after the ramp attendants had gone home for the day.  I only had one casualty for the year as well.

busted lip

Before I ever got the chance to even catch a walleye I got the opportunity to go fishing for something I always wanted, Tarpon.  How it came about was pretty much by chance and a surprise.  Susan and I were sitting around watching TV when she told me she wanted to go back to the Florida Keys.  A few emails later and I had a couple of trips booked to go fish the flats.  The first day didn’t go so well for Tarpon.  Overcast skies and wind made spotting them difficult and even when we did they couldn’t see the fly with the dirty water.  The following evening was a different story.  Very little wind, clean water and hungry Tarpon made for probably the most memorable 3 hours of fishing I had ever had.  The one part that stuck out the most and I talk about more than anything was what my guide told me.  As he was telling me where to cast my fly he said I needed to listen for the sound of a bowling ball hitting the water.  As if on cue I heard the splash and he said “That”.  That splash is the sound of a tarpon popping a shrimp on the surface.  For the next 3 hours I listened for that and whenever I heard it I would flip my fly in that direction with the hope of another strike.  13 times it happened that night and 3 came to the boat.  I cannot even describe the rush when a 40 pound Tarpon hits the fly.  It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Tarpon 3

The one person who would have appreciated my fishing tales this year more than anyone else was my Dad. Unfortunately, my family lost him to cancer in early August.  He was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer in February and I was still hoping he and I could have gone out one last time.  It never did happen and towards the end even my stories weren’t registering with him anymore.  After his death my desire to go fishing went right out the door.  It just didn’t feel right going out knowing I couldn’t call him afterwards or send him any pictures.  I just couldn’t see the point of going.  If I couldn’t share the experience with him why bother?  When I told him about my first steelhead on a fly I tied he was so excited.  All he talked about was how when he got his strength back we would both go fishing for them on the AuSable.  That never did happen and every time I go fishing now I can’t help but think about those lost opportunities.  It still bothers me to this day and it’s the main reason why I go fishing by myself.  I really don’t want to share the experience with anyone else.  My father shared so much with me my whole life and now that I am getting to try things I have only dreamed of, I can’t share it with him.  Hopefully it will get better in 2016.

So to sum up 2015 it was the best of times and the worst of times. I caught fish, I lost fish and I lost my lifetime fishing partner.  I did manage to learn a few things along the way.  Understanding what to do depending on water clarity is huge.  Daiichi hooks are ridiculously sharp.  Wool gloves and spey casting do not go well together and most importantly……if you have a chance to go fishing with your father, do it.

Dad (32)