The Quest Begins

9 11 2017

Last Saturday (11/4) began my yearly 7 month quest to chase down my unicorn, my white whale, the cause of many sleepless nights and untold fortunes spent on equipment.  Steelhead.

Too Dramatic??

I was fishing The Muskegon River this weekend, east of Newaygo and west of The Croton Dam.  It’s best to fish this river by boat but I didn’t bother hiring a guide this time and I didn’t bring mine since it really isn’t set up to fish this river.  I was hoping I could find one cooperative fish so I headed to an area where I had seen people fishing from shore in the past.  When I arrived at the parking area I was the only one there.  At first I thought it was great that I was the only one but then I wondered why.  Was the river blown out?  Was it too dirty?  Was it to warm?  Only one way to find out so I suited up and started walking.  Once I got to the river I surveyed the area, spotted a few seams and waded in upstream of them to begin  my cast.  I wasn’t 5 minutes into my run when a guide boat showed up and started fishing just ahead of me.  I expect this since it is a popular river and it was encouraging that a guide, someone who is supposed to know the holding areas, was fishing the same run I was.  Unfortunately, after an hour neither of us hooked into anything.

I repeated this process for the next 4 hours.  Fish the run, get out, warm up the legs, switch flies, walk back upstream, wade in, continue.  Each time I took another crack at it another guide boat would show up and fish near me.  It was encouraging knowing that I must be fishing an area that holds fish.  It was discouraging to see that no one was catching any fish.  The only thing that broke up the monotony was during one of my breaks the local Conservation Officer pulled up.  I was sitting on shore debating what to do next when I saw another boat coming downstream.  I recognized it as a DNR boat so I got up and walked towards the water.  A he pulled up I got out my license, he checked it out while I asked him a few questions about the area.  He told me fishing had been good up until today.  It was slow all up and down the river.  After about 10 minutes he was on his way and I was headed back upstream for one last try.  I wish I could say I hooked one on the last cast during my last drift but it didn’t happen.  Oh well.  I will say that I am really impressed with my Sage Pulse 13-6 Spey rod.  Now that I could cast it on a bigger river I could really push it’s potential.  I won’t be entering any casting competitions but I could easily make 100+ foot casts.

When I got back to the campground I took a walk down to the ramp and fish cleaning station.  I saw plenty of filleted 30+ inch steelhead in the dumpster.  It was an encouraging sign of the run for this year.  I only hope that I can hook into one.  I’m still waiting for that 10+ pound chrome male to smoke my ass.

Next up, The St. Mary’s River.

 

 

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The Streak Continues

16 05 2017

I’m going back to walleye fishing full time.  They are so much easier.

 

This past weekend I headed north, back up to Sault Ste. Marie to try the St. Mary’s Rapids one more time for Steelhead.  I figured this would be my last chance at them until the Fall.  I’m busy for the next month and I don’t expect them to stick around until the end of June.  Having said that I’ll probably catch one when I am back up at the end of the summer, chasing salmon.

I met Rod at the usual spot around 7:30 am.  There was already a crowd of anglers (about a dozen) fishing a 75 yard stretch so we headed farther up, closer to the gates.  It still cracks me up to think that a dozen is crowded.  I can remember the elbow to elbow combat fishing at Tippy Dam some 30 years ago.  As we walked over we stopped to check out a Beaver sitting on his lodge and that was when I realized I didn’t have my phone.  Back to the car I went.  It would be just my luck that I would catch my personal best Steelhead and I would have no way of getting a picture.  Once I got that all straightened around I waded in and started casting, and casting, and casting, and just for good measure, more casting.  Nothing.  I could see the fish swirling around on the surface.  Rod could even see a few follow my fly and then at the last second just turn and swim away.  No takes, no bumps, no hits, just refusals.  The nymphers and pinners were getting a few but not me, the lone swinger in the area.  At least I looked cool not catching anything.  I brought my new Sage Pulse Spey rod so I got plenty of practice in casting a true Spey Rod.  I can already tell that when I finally cut loose with this rod I’ll be able to cast it all the way to the backing.  I didn’t have a need to make any super long casts but whenever I made that perfect cast the line would about jerk the reel when it came to the end.  I’ll use it again this summer when the water is deeper and faster and I will need the distance.  By 11:30 we were packing it in.  The Sun was high and bright and not a cloud in sight.  Not exactly ideal conditions for Steelhead fishing, especially when the water is this clear and shallow.  I did come back alter after dinner for a few more hours but it was still the same result.

That makes 497 days since the last Steelhead I have caught. At least I can say I have yet to lose a Steelhead on a fly.  I’m sure a few people would have given up by now but I know it won’t last forever.  I’ve had a lot going on the last year and a half and my timing has been terrible.  To warm, to cold, to high, to low, to clear, to dirty……you name it, I’ve picked the worst days to go.  Someday I’ll get my timing right and I will feel that tug once again.  Until then I’ll swing flies for trout and smallies.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and time the Atlantic run just right and have some fun with them.

On a side note I did get to see a father pull the “dick” move of the year.  A father and his 12 year old son were both fishing the run I mentioned earlier.  Dad had already landed one fish and was trying for number 2.  His son hooked into one and judging by all the yelling he was pretty excited.  His Dad took the rod from him and fought and landed the fish himself.  I couldn’t believe what I saw.  When I was younger I lost a fair number of salmon and Lake Trout but my Dad never took the rod from me.  NEVER!  About half an hour later Dad hooked into another one and about 5 seconds in the fish jumped and he lost it.  He gave out a yell of frustration and I yelled “Serves You Right”.  I don’t think he go it but one other angler looked my way and laughed.

So after that I went back to camp, made dinner, got some sleep and in the morning I packed up the Mobile Steelhead Command Center and headed for home.  There will be another day.





Part 2 from the North Shore Tying Co.

27 04 2016

https://northshoresstyingtyingco.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/15-habits-every-angler-should-develop-part-two/#comments





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.





New Year Steel

2 01 2016

Happy New Year to me, well sort of.

My original plan was to go steelhead fishing New Year’s Day.  I got up around 7 and walked into my tying room to get my stuff.  I grabbed my sling pack and then reached for my switch rod.  That’s when it dawned on me that I left it in the back of my Escape.  No big deal except for the fact that it was at the dealership getting repaired.  Back to bed I went.

The next morning found me at the dealership at 8:00 am to retrieve my rod.  I feel better now.  From there I went back home to put on my waders and get the rest of my stuff.  I would have liked to have started earlier but with it being overcast it wouldn’t make much difference.  Actually I was more concerned about getting out before everyone else.

I arrived at my usual spot around 10:00 am to find only a few cars in the lot.  I rigged up my switch rod and headed upstream.  Water levels  were about the same as the last time I was out.  Clarity was a lot better too, which was a good thing since I tripped over a log and went for a swim the last trip.  This time I should be able to see anything before I fall over it.  I carefully waded in and started to swing my leech pattern through the run I have been fishing all season.  I was hoping to pick up a fish today since the last one I caught was back around Thanksgiving.  I fished the run for about an hour and caught nothing.  I walked out and headed towards the trail back to the parking lot.  As I was standing there I was debating which way to turn.  Left back to the warm car and dry clothes (my waders leak) or right to another spot.  I chose right, literally.

I approached the next hole about 300 yards farther upstream.  I surveyed the area to decide where I wanted to start.  I saw a log mostly submerged on the other side and thought that would be a good place to start.  It was, on my 3rd cast he hit…….and stopped.  I didn’t know what was going on.  I felt the hit, the rod was bent but nothing was happening. No jumping, no drag burning run, no head shakes, nothing.  I was just standing there staring at the line wondering what the hell was going on when he finally realized he was hooked and decided to take off.  We did the back and forth thing for the next 5 minutes or so.  I would gain some line on him and he would take off downstream.  Eventually I got him close and attempted to grab him by the tail.  If you have never tried to land a steelhead by hand let me tell you something, it’s just as hard as it sounds.  It took a couple of tries but eventually I was able to grab him by the tail and get him under control.  Normally I try to get the hook out of the fish and back in the water as soon as possible but I had to do some surgery first.  This fish had a lamprey on him.  I saw it as I was bringing him in and I was determined to get that blood sucker off of him.  I carefully pulled the lamprey off and chucked it up on shore.  A quick inspection didn’t show very much damage so I got the hook out of him and sent him on his way.  After that my hands were numb with cold so this time I turned left and headed back to the car.  I wasn’t going to complain.  I got 2016 off to a great start.  I had just landed my personal best steelhead for the Huron River.  He was released unharmed and I managed to keep from going swimming this time.

If you look a few inches past the pectoral fin you can see where the lamprey was latched on.

If you look a few inches past the pectoral fin you can see where the lamprey was latched on.

The fly, or what’s left of it.

The Fly

 

 





Thanksgiving

28 11 2014

Before you groan and say “Oh another I am so thankful for” post just hear me out.

Thanksgiving for me is the ending of one season and the start of another.  Granted this year the holiday came a little later and the weather screwed things up but usually It’s around Thanksgiving that the boat is put away.  Of course in my case the boat was actually put away in August but you get the picture.  By now the water temp is to cold to make anymore trips for walleye.  The bright side is that when the walleye end, Steelhead begins.

Last year I never got a chance to go steelhead fishing.  Mother Nature was a Class A Bitch last year and she screwed up everything.  This year is supposed to be below average in temps again and based on what we have had so far I believe it.  I shouldn’t complain though.  At least I don’t fish in Buffalo.  This year things are going to be different.  I learned how to swing cast or spey cast, whatever you want to call it and I also spent 2 days learning how to catch Steelhead on the fly.  I have some jigs and flies tied up now all I have to do is put it into practice.  I hope to get out at least once in December either on the Pere Marquette or AuSable.  I’ll start watching the flow rates now that deer hunting is essentially over for me.  I’m not expecting a lot of fish but just one or two would be nice.  I don’t intend on keeping any of them.  I have never been a big fan of salmon or Steelhead so this is going to be a Catch, Photo, Release thing (next thing  you know I’ll be bass fishing…….Shudder).

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  Stay tuned, I’m putting the finishing wraps on a requested lure selection article.  I’m just cleaning it up now so it should be posted in the next week.  Just in time for Christmas shopping or those cold boring weekend days when a trip to the tackle shop seems like a good idea.

TTFN

Mark