HEX TIME……………………………Eventually.

1 07 2019

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

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

Nothing…….

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

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

Can you guess which side of my waders leak?

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

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

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

Not very big but I’ll take it.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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One Month Later

4 09 2018

At this time, one month ago, I was somewhere over the Rocky mountains on my way to Alaska.  Now I sit here at my desk and I still can’t believe it all happened.  Even though there are constant reminders all around me.

The bill from the fish processor in Anchorage posted on my credit card today so obviously it did happen.  Either that or I’m being scammed.

All that is left now is for me to take stock of everything and think about how I will do this next time.  Now that I have a better understanding of how this all works I am definitely going to make some changes.  First off will be when I go.  This trip was during a transition period of the different runs.  Based on the final numbers it’s obvious to see that some fish were starting up and others were winding down.

Rainbows – 2

Grayling – 3

Artic Char  – 4

 

King Salmon – 3

Silver Salmon – 4

Sockeye Salmon – 11

Chum Salmon – 18

Pink Salmon – 50

 

That came to 95 total fish for the week.  If it had been an odd year the Pinks would not have been there and my totals would have been a lot different.  The Chum, Kings and Sockeye were winding down and the Silvers had just started.  I asked Tim what we would have done if it weren’t for the Pinks and he said we would have chased after the Rainbows more.  Not the worse thing but I would have preferred to actually fly fish for them instead of drift beads.  In the future my choice will either be go first thing and swing sculpin and mice patterns for Rainbows or go towards the end and swing flies for Rainbow, Char and Silver Salmon.  I’m leaning towards later in the season but the beginning of the season is a lot cheaper because most people want to catch the salmon.  I have time so I don’t need to make a decision yet.

This decision will also determine what flies to use.  When I first signed up for this the outfitter sent me a list of the different types of flies they use.  What he failed to tell me was that some of the patterns are only used during certain times though out the season.  So basically all the flesh flies I tied would not even be needed unless I was fishing now, in September.  Mice, sculpins and egg sucking leeches were useless as well.  So out of the 100+ flies I tied I only used 12.  One fly I used for 3 straight days.  I soon discovered that depth was more important than pattern, as long as it was pink.  If I could drift that fly down to where the masses were, chances are something was going to grab it.  With that being said, does anyone want to buy a bunch of Alaskan Salmon Flies?

Shoes and a raincoat that doesn’t leak are worth their weight in gold.  I found out after being in King Salmon for 5 minutes that my shoes had cracks in the soles.  The only time my feet were dry was when I was wearing my waders or in bed asleep.  I found out that my Gander Mountain raincoat leaks on the last day.  Fortunately it was the last day and when I got back to camp it was thrown into the burning pile with the other garbage.  I’ll spend the money next time.

I started this trip with 6 rods.  Broke two and eventually used all of them.  Most of my fish were caught with my 8wt Scott Flex.  Next time I will be taking along an 8wt Switch rod as well.  I think that pair would handle everything I want to fish for.  I’ll take my 7wt & 6wt Switch rods also, for the Rainbows and Char, but any Salmon will be with the heavier rods.

I originally didn’t expect to bring any fish home with me.  Since I did I of course had to figure out what the cost per pound was.  It worked out to 184.21 per pound.  That’s some expensive fish.

I was really glad I kept a daily log of everything that happened.  It was damn near impossible to keep track of day to day stuff without writing it down.  I had a hard enough time keeping track of what I caught at the end of the day.  There was no way I would have kept track for the whole week.  This blog would have been real short with a lot if pics.

“I caught a lot of fish.  Here are the pics. The End.”

I should have used the video function on the camera more as well.  Especially for the bears.

Still, it was an awesome week.  Now that I have a better understanding of what to expect the next time will be just as pleasurable, if not more.  I just need to keep my expectations into perspective.  There are a lot of other places I want to visit before another Alaska trip.  Have to remember that.

 

 

 





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