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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 





The Tug is the Drug.

1 03 2015

6 Degrees

Brrrrrrr

Brrrrrrr

Sometimes I really have to question my sanity.  One of the reasons why I don’t like to ice fish is because of the cold and a fear of falling through the ice and getting wet.  So what do I decide to do?  Stand in a boat on an open river where the water temp was 32 degrees and my chance of falling in was even greater.  To top it off I was even paying for it.  To be fair though the guide did give me the option to reschedule.  I thought long and hard about it considering the area hadn’t seen a day above freezing all month.  I was surprised so much of the Muskegon river was even open.  The temp was supposed to get above 20 and I figured that since it had been so cold that the fish hadn’t seen a lot of pressure.  I was right about that but it also meant they were very lethargic and I would have to bounce that fly right off their nose.  Pretty tall task for someone who has yet to even hook into a Steelhead with a fly.

I met my guide Drew Rosema of Feenstra Guide Service at the Pine Street launch west of Croton Dam on the Muskegon River.  He already had the boat in the water and was letting the engine warm up.  I got my gear together and we were on our way downstream.  While we motored down he told me that he and Kevin Feenstra were out the day before and that they had some good opportunities.  Didn’t exactly know what that meant but after talking with him throughout the day I got the feeling they didn’t catch anything.  That wasn’t giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling and today I needed a few warm feelings.

Drew rigged up my rod for me and changed my leader around to allow for a better presentation.  He said the fish were kind of skittish and a lighter 8 pound leader would be better.  I wasn’t about to question him, what did I know?  After the leader was done he tied on a small olive colored darter pattern.  He told me that during the cold winter months a small natural fly works best.  So much for all those big gaudy flashy things I tied up.

Drew took my rod and gave me a quick instruction on the presentation.  Wouldn’t you know it, as he was letting the line feed out he had a hit.  The fish was only on for a second but it was definitely there.  He handed me the rod and told me what to do.  I only hoped the fish was still willing to hit again.  As luck would have it he wasn’t.  As a matter of fact 5 more hours would pass until I even saw a fish.  By now I was getting discouraged and cold.  Drew was trying every spot he knew, he was determined to get me into a fish.  As we were passing under a Bald Eagle Drew saw two steelhead on the bottom.  He told me we would swing back and take a shot at them after one last hole.  We anchored above the hole and I went through my routine once again.  Cast the fly perpendicular to the boat and let it drift back until it was directly behind the boat.  Drew would then lift the anchor and let the boat drift back a few feet and drop anchor so I could make another cast.  This was the same routing we did for 5 hours all afternoon.  It was 5:00 pm and I was thinking more about dinner and then it happened.

WHAM!!!!

That fish hit like a freight train and it caught me completely by surprise.  Instincts took over and I set that hook and let the fish run.  Drew was just as surprised as I was but soon we got our wits about us and the fight was on.  I had never dealt with a fish this large before on a fly rod and reel and I felt like a total rookie.  I’m used to spinning reels and disc drags, this was a little different.  The bend in the rod was going to control how much line was going to be let out when the fish decided to run and he did just that, run.  I stood there and just watched the fly line and then the backing peel off that reel.  Even worse was that we were at the head of a pool that turned into shallow rapids, an area we didn’t want him to go into.  I lifted back on the rod some more and that slowed him down.  As I was reeling I moved forward into the boat so that Drew could net him from the stern.  After a few more short runs near the boat I finally got him into position and into the net.

Mission Accomplished.  We kept him in the net and in the water while Drew got his camera ready.  A few pics later and he was carefully released to fight another day.

1st Steelhead

Drew asked if I wanted to end the day on a happy note and I agreed.  I wanted to land a fish on the swing and I did.  I was very appreciative of the fact that he was willing to stay out longer if I wanted to.  We were supposed to end at 4 and I was already running over.  Great to have a guide who is more concerned about the client catching a fish instead of the time.  We then pulled anchor and got ready for a very cold boat ride upstream.  We had drifted down several miles and it never really did warm up.  I don’t think it ever got above 20 and for most of the day and we were in the shade where it was even colder.  No matter though, I had my fish and I am hooked.  I asked why this method of fishing is so popular when there are more effective ways to catch a steelhead.  Drew told me the Tug is the Drug and now I know why.  Just like handlining that tug is addicting and I am just that……addicted.

If anyone is interested in fishing for Steelhead on the Swing contact the people at Schultz’s Outfitters for the rod and reel.

If you want to hire a guide to fish the Muskegon River I highly recommend the people at Feenstra Guide Service.  Drew was the best and I am already looking at my calendar for a return trip, sometime before walleye fishing starts back up again.  I’ll never give up my roots.





More Steelhead Flies

8 02 2015

I got to spend last Saturday with Captain Kevin Feenstra, Smallmouth and Steelhead charter captain on the Muskegon river.  When he wasn’t giving me information on how to swing flies for steelhead he was showing me and several others how to tie the flies he likes to use.  Again these designs are like nothing I have ever tied before but I’m beginning to warm up to them.  From what he told me the Shrew and Christmas Sculpin work well on Smallmouth as well.

Let me know what you think.

Articulated Hex

Articulated Hex

Blue Goby

Blue Goby

Christmas Sculpin

Christmas Sculpin

Dirty Grapefruit

Dirty Grapefruit

Metal Detector, I think.

Metal Detector, I think.  Could be a Crevice Dweller.  I can’t remember.

Shrew

Shrew

Better than spawn

Better than spawn





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