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.


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.





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.



Thanksgiving Deer Hunt

23 11 2012

Every year I take out a few first time handliners to show them how it’s down.  A lot of times these guys will promise to take me fishing or hunting here, there and everywhere in return.  In most instances it never happens but every once and awhile one of them holds true to his promise.  This time it was a person who already knew how to handline, he just wanted a little insight on the Trenton Channel.  Dan had spent most of his time fishing with his father up on the St. Clair or upper Detroit River.  He recently moved down to Melvindale so he wanted to learn how to fish my end of the river.  During several of our trips he would talk about his other passion which was deer hunting.  He had permission to hunt some property   north of Imlay City and he told me I could come along on a few hunts during rifle/muzzle loader season.  At the time I didn’t think much of it but he was persistent.  He was going to be hunting there the week before Thanksgiving so I took a vacation day and we made it happen.

Day 1

3:30 am comes way too early.  There I was driving down Allen road with no one else on the road.  I know, big surprise.  A few minutes later I was at Dan’s and unpacking my stuff.  He told me to pack light which I did, one shotgun, a box of shells and a Pepsi.  I was all set.  I was introduced to John and Cisco who would be joining us today as well.  A few minutes later we were on the road and headed north.  A few hours after that I was seated in a heated blind overlooking a winter wheat field.  This was a new experience to me.  My deer hunting consisted of small wood lots and swamps.  I would find myself a big tree to lean up against and then sit quietly and wait.  This modern hunting was  very foreign to me.  As we sat waiting for the sun to come up Dan explained the situation to me.  The landowner was suffering a lot of crop damage from the local deer herd and she wanted them gone.  There would be no trophy hunting or any Antler Point Restrictions this day.  We had buck tags and antler less permits and our goal was to fill them.  We were facing a woodlot and fence line just over 200 yards to our west.  This would be where most of the deer would come from.  Once a deer crossed the fence and entered the field he/she was fair game.  This was the reason why Dan’s CVA inline muzzle loader was zeroed in for 200 yards.  As I said before my deer hunting was small areas where my shots are up close and personal.  Before today I had never taken a shot at a deer over 100 yards away.  This was a little out of my comfort zone.

Around 8:00 am we saw our fist deer in the field.  It was a mature doe and she slowly worked her way further out into the wheat.   Dan marked her with his range finder at 204 yards and he handed me his rifle.  There was no way I could make this shot with my old Model 97 Winchester with iron sights so he was nice enough to let me use his muzzle loader.  I waited for her to turn broadside so I could get the 200 yard dot high on her shoulder.  While I waited a small group of deer came out of the woods farther down the fence line and north of our position.  Dan kept on eye on them while I waited for my opportunity.  Minutes seemed like hours but she finally gave me a good angle for a shot.  Unfortunately I missed.  Not a big surprise to me since this was the first time I ever shot an in-line muzzle loader and at a distance like this.  Amazingly she never ran off, she just stood there and went back to feeding.  Dan quickly re-loaded and I told him to take the shot.  By then though she had walked off in the woods but the other deer never left.  Dan lined up his shot at the biggest doe at about 260 yards away.  He fired and he faired about as well as I did.  This time the deer left the field and we were left with our thoughts and theories on why we both missed.  We hunted for a few more hours and then headed in for breakfast around 10.  We picked up John and Cisco and they hadn’t seen anything.  After breakfast we bummed around town for a bit just killing time until we were ready to head our for the evening hunt.

At 2:00 pm we were back in the blind and by 2:05 Dan was fast asleep.  I figured I wouldn’t bother him, better he sleep now instead of when he was driving me home.  Besides he really wasn’t missing anything. He woke up around 3 but we didn’t see any deer until just before shooting hours ended.  Only problem was that they were in the next field over and headed north away from us.  Oh well, there was always tomorrow.

Day 2

Once again it was 3:30 am and I was heading to Dan’s.  When I got to his house he was a little disgusted and the first words out of his mouth were “it’s just you and me today”.  Two other people were supposed to join us but both of them were suffering from Brown Bottle Flu which they got Wednesday night, the busiest bar night of the year.  Word to the wise.  If you are invited to go hunting or fishing don’t go out drinking the night before.  If you cancel at the last minute and don’t show up you will get moved down to the bottom of the call list.  Ask any of the people I know that weren’t at the dock when it was time to go fishing.  We went anyways and just changed our plan of attack.  Originally Dan was going to place 1 person on different parts of the property in hopes of getting the deer moving.  Since it was just me we decided to just sit in the blind again.  Again the deer were there but this morning they all decided to stay on the other side of the fence.  We had seen probably close to 20 deer (and 3 dozen turkeys) but they were all too far away.  While I was watching a pair of does in the woods Dan spotted two deer running across a field to our north.  I got the binoculars on them and it was a buck and what appeared to be a doe.  We watched them for the next 20 minutes as the buck repeatedly tried to run off the doe.  The buck wanted to head east and every time the doe would follow he would turn and try to run her off.  Usually it was the other way around but this situation wasn’t making any sense.  Not that it really mattered since they were heading farther and farther east.  Right too a blind that Dan later told me he was going to sit me at if everyone had showed.  In fact, the two deer finally disappeared into a stand of pines not more than 20 yards from the blind.  Deer hunting is just like real estate, location, location, location.

Not much happened after that and by 9:30 am we were closing up the blind.  We both had family obligations for the afternoon so we packed up and headed home.  On the way home we talked about the pair of deer we saw running around the field.  The more we talked about the more we thought that the “doe” may have been a small spike and we just couldn’t see the antlers.  That would make sense because the other deer was definitely in dominant buck mode.

So no deer for the freezer but there is still plenty of time left.  Dan told me I was more than welcome to go again, all I would need to do is take another vacation day.  Good thing I have about 10 days left to take.  It’s also a good thing that I don’t drink and my alarm is good and loud.

Sunrise Day 2

View of the Sanctuary from the blind. Trust me, they’re in there.