The Alley

27 11 2017

As I stated on my last post I  was going to fish some of the rivers known collectively as Steelhead Alley over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I wasn’t leaving until Friday afternoon so I had a little free time before I left.  I was originally planning on doing some fishing on The Huron but my mother changed that plan for me.  She said she wanted some fresh walleye so I begrudgingly hooked up my boat Thursday morning (11/23) and went walleye fishing instead.  The sacrifices I make for her.

I got to the ramp around 8:00 am and got everything ready.  The temperature was a balmy 29 degrees but it was supposed to reach a high of around 38 later in the day.  I wasn’t planning on being out that long.  I was hoping to be off the water after only a couple of hours.  A SW wind and below freezing temps makes for a cold boat ride downstream.  I had received a tip that they were catching a lot of fish farther downstream than I normally fish so I set up there at first.  Turns out that would be a waste of about 45 minutes.  I didn’t catch anything there so around 9 I headed up to my normal stomping grounds.  Grandpa always told me, never leave fish to find fish.  One of these days I might listen.  It didn’t take long and I had the first one in the cooler.  That fish was followed up by 3 more.  I was debating heading in because my hands were getting cold and sore.  I told myself I would quit at 10:00 am and a few minutes later I had number 5 in the cooler.  By 10:00 and 18 seconds later I was headed for the dock.

Water was dirty today or as I like to call it a nice handlining shade of grey.  Very few weeds and a temp of around 41 degrees.  Temps are supposed to stay in the upper 40’s all this week.  If I was going to be around next weekend I would go out again for sure.  The 4 smaller walleye were full of emerald shiners and the big one on top was full of gizzard shad.  The walleye were definitely in “let’s eat” mode today.  On to the Alley.

I had booked a trip with Steelhead Alley Outfitters about a month ago.  Five years ago I didn’t even know there were Steelhead runs on any of the Lake Erie Tributaries of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Since then I have fished them sporadically without any luck.  I was hoping that would change with this trip.  I just had to wait to find out which of the dozen or so rivers I would be fishing.  My guide, Nate Miller,  called me Thanksgiving evening to tell me what river and what time we would meet up.  He told me he would pick me up at my hotel at 5:30 am (The Sadist) on Saturday morning.  The reason why he was picking me up so early was that he wanted to fish a specific stretch so we had to get there before anyone else.  That part of the plan worked but it didn’t prevent anyone from showing up afterwards and camping out on both sides of me.  I had the river all to myself for about 45 minutes.  Around 8 two eggers showed up and surrounded me.  One upstream and the other downstream at the end of the run I was fishing.  As expected the person downstream started catching fish so his partner moved down to where he was.  He hooked into a fish on his first cast but it was short lived, his rod broke during the fight.  Some may think how terrible that is but not in this case, I call it Karma, river etiquette rule #1 is don’t low hole someone.  He went back to his car to get another rod which opened up a little more water for me.  It didn’t help any though, I swung several different streamers for about an hour with no takes.  I could hear Nate talking on his phone with another guide and he was mentioning breaking out the indicator rod if I got desperate.  I told him I was getting to that point.  Normally I will stick to swinging but watching these other guys hook fish pretty much at will was getting to me.  I switched rods and started casting.  My first cast was crap, I’m not used to casting a float with an egg fly on the end.  My second cast wasn’t much better and it wasn’t more that 15 feet in front of me.  Didn’t matter though, 3 seconds into the drift and it was Bobber Down.

I felt so ashamed that I didn’t want my face in the picture. lol

I played around with the indicator rig for about another half hour until the other guy showed back up and moved right back in downstream.  Nate asked me if I wanted to move on to a new spot and I agreed.  He knew of another place further upstream that would be a bit of a hike.  He said there would be other people there as well but we would have about a mile of good water to fish.

At the next spot Nate asked me if I wanted to take both rods.  I said nope, from here on in it’s swing or die.  I know guides want their clients to catch fish but if I was worried about numbers I would have bought a center pin setup instead of a spey/switch rod.  For the next 5 hours I worked several runs and holes with still no  luck.  We talked to a couple of other guys who were swinging flies and they weren’t having any luck either.  They said that the day before they hooked into 12 but nothing today.  Sounds like the story of my life, always a day late.  Never the less I continued on and kept at it.  We set up on one last run and I was bound and determined to make the most of it.  We switched my streamer over to a bright orange one, hoping it was obscene enough to piss off at least one fish.  About ten minutes in I was starting to strip in my line to make another cast when I had a hit.  I set the hook and the fight was on, for about 20 seconds.  After the initial run the fish started shaking his head and that was when the fly pulled free.  I didn’t know it at the time but Nate was filming all of this with his phone.  It wasn’t until I got home that night when I saw the footage of my overly dramatic response to losing the fish.  This happens but considering I haven’t caught a steelhead on a fly since Jan. 2nd, 2016 this hurt.  My window of opportunity was quickly shrinking and the odds of me landing a fish was growing slimmer by the minute.  After I composed myself I waded back in and got back to business.  After about 20 minutes Nate told me to move back upstream and start over.  Now any normal person would have reeled in his line and fly before wading back up.  Not me, I left the line and the fly in the water, put the rod over my right shoulder like a rifle and proceeded to walk upstream.  Two steps later…..WHAM!  I spun around, set the hook and yelled to Nate to get the net because we weren’t going to screw around with this one.  A couple of minutes later she was in the net.

Redemption

After we released her we headed in.  After almost 8 hours of wading 42 degree streams in and on/off all day rain I was whipped.  I had 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of me as well.  I was happy, I ended my no steelhead streak, unfortunately my never losing a steelhead streak ended as well.  I had my first multiple fish day.  I learned a lot about the rivers in the area, specifically how flow rates dictate which one to fish.  This is a vital piece of information I needed to help increase my chance of success.  Since that day I’ve uploaded all the Steelhead Alley rivers I could to my Fish Head app.

As for Sunday, I just slept in.

Next up, The Manistee and the Pere Marquette.

 

 

 

Advertisements




Have Faith

22 09 2017

To say that this past walleye season was a good one would be an understatement.  I made around 40 trips and on only a handful of occasions I did not come home with a 5 fish limit.  I could beat my chest and brag about just how awesome I am or take the humble road and say there was an overabundance of fish.  It could also be a combination of both but one thing is for certain, success breeds more success and that only comes from experience.  The only way a person can get that experience is by determination and having faith.

We have all heard the expression “Faith Can Move Mountains”, that may be true but the proper equipment, and a lot of explosives, sure make the job easier.  When it comes to fishing having all the equipment is necessary along with the knowledge on how to use it.  No one is born with that knowledge, some catch on quicker than others but the person who uses it properly will, eventually, catch more fish.  In order to get to this point a person has to have faith and believe that he or she will get there.  I cannot stress this “never give up” attitude enough and how important it is for catching fish.  Faith in one’s abilities breeds success.  If a person believes they are going to catch fish that person tries harder and pays attention to the little things.  Once a person takes on a defeatist attitude he or she won’t catch much of anything.  He or she begins to get lazy, forgets the little things, makes stupid mistakes and just gives up.  In other words, he or she loses faith.

We all have our dry spells.  As of this date I haven’t caught a Steelhead in 564 days.  That’s right….564 DAYS.  I haven’t given up though.  I have faith that this season will be different.  I will catch one.  Period.  While I write this I am already planning my trips for the year.  Steelhead Alley Thanksgiving weekend.  The Manistee and PM the first weekend in December.  Weather permitting The Alley again around Christmas.  Numerous trips to the Lower Huron, once we get some rain and colder temps.  I am going full bore, search & destroy, take no prisoners, death before dishonor, never surrender.  Granted this is more of a gung-ho attitude then anything else but if I didn’t have faith that I will succeed I wouldn’t be doing this.  I originally decided to start swinging flies for steelhead because of the challenge.  Challenge accepted.

I will lay a major smack down on them.

I will make it so.

I have Faith.

 

 

 





Weekend Update

5 06 2017

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

This past Friday evening started off pretty much the same as the prior one.  I was back walleye fishing in my usual spot at 9:30 pm.  Conditions were pretty good, partly cloudy skies with a slight NW breeze.  Boat traffic was a little higher than normal and in about 30 minutes I was about to find out why.  No matter though, I got set up and started my usual routine for night fishing when the other fish are in.  About 5 minutes in I had my first fish on and it turned out to be a 23 inch male walleye.  That was soon followed up by a second 21 inch male.  I was beginning to think that maybe the other fish had left.  That things would get back to normal.  That I wouldn’t have to constantly be pulling lines in to remove unwanted accidental catches.  I was wrong.

1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,11,12,13,14,15,16…..

Around 10 pm I sensed a flash of light behind me and then a resounding boom.  Grosse Isle was shooting off fireworks, thus the reason for the increased boat traffic.  Shortly after the start of the show I picked up a third walleye and it would turn out to be my last one for the night.  Once the show was over all the boats headed for the docks and after that it was nothing but the other fish for the next few hours.  My last fish of the night turned out to be a white perch that had a brush with a muskie.  When I flipped it in the boat it had teeth marks across both sides.  Lucky little bugger.

 

Hope I never lose that Blue & White PP. It’s the only one I have.

 

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Chores.  I did find another Blue & White Pencil Plug while I was cleaning out the garage.  Day wasn’t a total waste of time after all.

 

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Sunday started off with me attending Demo Days at Schultz’s Outfitter’s.  This is an annual event full of fly fishing, tying classes and demonstrations.  I signed up for the Micro Spey – Trout and Smallmouth class presented by Tom Larimer.  When spey fishing first arrived in Michigan it was all about Steelhead.  Lately though there has been an interest in scaling things down for the resident Brown & Rainbow Trout and Smallmouth bass.  Tom has been heavily involved with this, working with both G. Loomis in developing fly rods specifically for this and lines from Airflo to go with them.  Since I enjoy spey casting so much I wanted to learn how to incorporate what I have learned so far into catching the aforementioned species.  Class started off indoors at first with discussion about presentation, reading water and fly selection.  After that we wadered up and were standing in the water casting.  Tom brought along two prototype rods from G. Loomis and worked with each of us on our spey casting.  I like to think that I am getting better but after watching Tom I quickly realized I have a long way to go.  He did point out a couple of small items that I need to work on.  A couple of the finer points of setting “the anchor” that when done properly make a huge difference.  When I don’t do it things get ugly.  Just like anything else that is new I need to practice more.  I figure I’ll go down to the river a few times a week with my spey and switch rods and do just that.

Later that evening I grabbed my 5wt fly rod and headed to Washago Pond in Willow Metropark to play around with the bluegills.  Susan and I used to go to the park about once a month in the Spring and Summer.  She would read and take pictures while I fished.  Afterwards we would drive around and look at the deer or whatever other critter might be out and about.  Now it’s just me and the fish.  When I arrived around 8:00 pm it was dead calm and no sign of any surface activity.  Usually the swallows are skimming the surface trying to pick off newly hatched bugs, not tonight.  Undeterred from the lack activity I walked over to the edge of the pond, tied on a #14 Elk Hair Caddis dry fly and went at it.  The fly wasn’t on the surface for a second when the first bull gill smacked it.  About a minute later he was in hand.

The first of about 2 dozen.

This continued on for the next hour.  Every other cast resulted in another nice gill.  Eventually my dry fly started to turn into an emerger/sub surface fly and then a slow sinking fly.  I could of changed flies but it was still working so I didn’t bother.  The last few caught were strip sets.  I would see a subtle swirl where I thought my fly was and once I gave a tug I could feel the weight.  I must admit though, I tied that fly right.  It never fell apart, even after being almost swallowed by most of the fish.  Around 9:00 pm fishing started to slow down so after one more fish I packed it up and went home.  My elbows and wrists were getting sore from all the fly casting today anyways.  I can always come back.

In the immortal words of Porky Pig….”That’s All Folks“.

 

Afterwards I drove around the park to watch the deer, just like Susan and I used to do.  There were about a dozen of them out, most with their summer cinnamon tan already.  No fawns yet, they are probably hunkered down somewhere safe from the resident coyotes.

Perfect way to end the weekend.

 

 

 

 





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.





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.





A New Season

21 02 2017

These past few days of record breaking warm temperatures has most fishermen in my area in a frenzy.  Many are gearing up for the upcoming walleye season but it got me thinking, does the season ever really end?  I get that the annual walleye run only happens once a year (twice actually) but for the more diversified angler there is never an off season.

This morning I found myself back on the Huron River still searching for that unicorn.  These last few months have been difficult trying to land one steelhead.  A lack of fish and high water have made my efforts basically futile.  I keep trying though.  It beats sitting at home and counting the days till the walleye start up.  I’m sure there are a few out there now, there always are but I’m in no hurry.  The time will come when I will be able to catch them on a regular basis and I won’t have to fight the crowds to do it.  This should be the start of some great fishing for the next few years.  Successful hatches for the last three years have increased the western basin population so I’m optimistic.  In the mean time I’ll continue to chase unicorns and possibly some smallies or a carp or two for now.  I have time, all year as a matter of fact.  That’s the advantage of being a diversified angler and not a one trick pony.  I can fish open water pretty much all year.  That point really hit home when I bought my new Simms waders.  James, at Schultz’s outfitters, told me that after a few months of use they would send them back to Simms to pressure check them for leaks.  He told me when I have some down time and I wasn’t fishing to bring them back.  I gave him “the look” and he laughed and said “you’re right, what was I thinking”.

So good luck everyone, a new season is upon us, or for the more fortunate it is just a continuation.  Either way get out and enjoy it.

feeling-blue

I was tossing one of these today. Had a hit on one on the St. Mary’s so I thought I would give one a try on The Huron. No luck this time around.