Monday, February 8, 2016

Assault on the Au Sable- FR on Gink and Gasoline

I did some reporting for Gink and Gasoline on the Grayling Fish Hatchery about to be reincarnated as a fish farm.

Here's a quote from just one comment on the article. "Here’s the real clincher, once the watershed is dead, the amount of money it takes to make a recovery is beyond what the taxpayers are willing to spend. While the politicians worry about “global warming” we have a worse water pollution problem ongoing right under their noses"

It's an important issue. Give it a read and support the cause if you are able.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Of Gods and Smallmouth

Tom scans the flats for fish

It was July 4th week that I took a couple days off plus the weekend to spend time with my good friend Tom Hazelton, who despite his traitorous departure for Minnesota last year, still comes back to spend a week fishing the Land of 60,000 Lakes, plus 14,000 miles of trout stream, give or take.

Now that one- 14,000 Miles O'Troutstream is a hard number to pin down. Depending on which MDNR link you click on you'll get stats of 12,000 to 16,000 Miles O'Troutstream, and the their latest website iteration declares 20,000 Miles O'Troutstream. Miles himself is quite confused, as are the O'Troutstream fishing public.
there's 14,000 to 20,000 miles of trout stream there- depending on who you believe

Whatever that number may be, I bummed around with Tom a lot when I should have been working at my construction business, but I really didn't care since the jobs were so disorganized, and the owners were there and in full Up North Party Mode. This involves a lot of alcohol and fireworks, and huge sums of cash. That week their rockets arced into the dark, starlit sky, bursting vermilion flashes high overhead. The concatenations echoed across the dancing waves, their crests limned by the bursting shells, while the celebrants danced and shrilled around their shoreline fires, a great drum circle circumscribing the inland waters.

We (Tom and I) tried to hit a hex hatch that didn't. I tried to take him to New Water with promises of Big Brook Trout. (Note to Self: don't ever ever EVER try and explore when you have a guest. I should have learned from my experience with Mike Sepelak.) We ended up bushwhacking into the worst swamp ever, in which we had to use our phones, a compass AND a GPS in order to find our way out. The brush was so thick we were walking a foot off of the ground, like witch doctors in the African bush.
a few bugs showed but the trout did not

And all the while Tom accepted this nonsense with his usual grace. and even took the blame for my poor decision. That's the kind of fishing buddy you need to cultivate- and stick with the check.

It was Tom's turn to disappoint on the weekend when I showed up at his carp fishing spot in the UP. We waded out while waiting for Dave the Paddleboard God to arrive. We waited like the faithful everywhere.  "And Ye shall behold Him coming across the Waters" was, I believe, the scripture and verse. and finally we did indeed behold His presence, parting the waters as he rode in on the Paddleboard of Thunder.
"parting the waters as he rode in on His Paddleboard of Thunder"

Tom's spot was a first class dud, save for his five pound smallmouth he caught, which refused to leave the area after Tom bumped it off its rock, only to have it hang around while Tom assiduously changed flies, tested his knot, his tippet, current speed, altimeter, gerentologist, and the wind direction before casting to this fish, which continued to hang around like some deranged poodle that can smell bacon. I began to doubt it's mental acuity, even more so when it ate like a poodle who knows he's being thrown bacon. Not bacon treats- real bacon. Trust me- your dog and that smallmouth can tell the difference. Stop buying that shit.

Other than the Giant Smallmouth that most guys would want on their wall, not much was happening, and so we called it early.  Dave the Paddleboard God loaded up his Paddleboard of Thunder, and we made our way Northwest to a Public Access on a Particularly Well Known Trout Stream. No it's not the Au Sable. And Maybe it's not that well-known.

We wadered up, we drank a beer, we photographed grouse on the trail. Then We got in the river, and Dave the Paddleboard God started thrashing around with some godawful streamer, stripping for all he was worth, when we all heard a sound that made us pause. It was a sound that carried over the racket of a Stacked Blonde being ripped across the surface.

It was the subtle sound of a tiny fly being sucked from the surface by a fish whose displacement is classified by the US Navy. Tie a trico on HawserX was the message loud and clear. If it doesn't involve a logging chain and a fly that isn't visible without the Hubble telescope, then go home. As we stood there and watched, we began to realize that there was not one, but several behemoth fish feeding in slow, arcing cadence.

Tom on the hunt
Whales in Cook Inlet disturb less water than these fish. And they were tough. We were in placid, gently flowing water, and the fish moved around a lot. You could wade almost to casting distance, only to have them move twenty feet further out. They fed with a droll laziness- snout, then all of their backs, then whale tail, followed by jumping schools of terrified herring.

But seriously, these fish were two feet long. All we had to do was make the perfect long cast, get the perfect drag-free drift. It was all but impossible

Dave the Paddleboard God washed out, washed downstream, never losing hope, never quite connecting. Tom, showing his good Minnesota roots, persevered and hooked up on the first two-footer. He actually fought it for quite a while, before breaking it off like a good Minnesotan. "Live, Cast and Let Live" is their state motto as spelled out on their flag. Dave, the quintessential Cheesehead and Paddleboard God, chased the fish around and got nowhere, like a good Scott Walker presidential campaign.

Me? I hooked a two-footer in shallow water, and on a dropper no less. Using its signature maneuver, the Moby Roll, it shook out my fly like a bad case of fleas.

A few casts and a couple hours later I hooked up on a good fish, which proceeded to take me all over the river and back before quietly coming to heel. It was a sixteen inch rainbow, but fat and heavy, and slightly deranged from too many years of good living. We took his picture, Tom and I, before slipping him silently back into the river, agreeing that this was our best moment on the water ever. Until the next one. Then we dipped my camera in the river.

my fish of the day

At this point Dave the Paddleboard God had to go, and so we went back to the cars and threw spears at the sky and shot arrows to ward off the Thunder Bird, bidding Him fair travel on His Way. We also ate His food, prepared by his gourmand mother. I hogged the pasta salad, but we all got extra pork chops. I think I understand smallmouth very well now.

classic Dave Karczynski

That night we let ourselves in to the Fisherman's Cabin Tom's friend had told him about down the road. We signed in to the guest log and left a few dollars in the coffee can in the freezer. Later we drank whiskey out of tin cups in tribute to Robert Traver, who was reputed to do the same in this locale, and we paused to listen to the rumble of distant thunder.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rod Design, Line Evolution, and Fishing at a Distance

Gink and Gasoline recently shared a post entitled "Has Distance Casting Hijacked Rod Design?" GnK alum Kent Klewein argues, correctly I believe, that it has. Go on and read it and then come back.

This discussion got even more interesting when no less an icon than Kelly Galloup posted a follow up video to YouTube about the effects of evolving rod development (skewed toward distance casting) on fly line design. Go ahead and watch it.

My friend Brett Watson makes another point- that with the increasing specialization in fly fishing, fly  rod design is starting to cater to all those specific needs. The rod you use to swing for steelhead is completely different than a rod you would use to Czech nymph. Nymphing, streamer fishing, throwing bass poppers, musky flies (and doing figure eights), dry flies, indicator fishing for steelhead all require different rods and matching lines. In fact Brett say's he's starting to consider buying specific rods for specific RIVERS.

small streams call for lighter gear, more delicate presentations
I don't believe this is as crazy as it sounds. He mentions looking for a rod for a small brook trout stream in Northern Michigan. In this case you know the size of the fish (8-12"), the length of your casts (15-30') and the size of your flies. He wants a 3 weight fiberglass rod, which I believe is perfect. That is, of course, if he picks the perfect blank and builder.

I started out in fly fishing like most of you- making a five weight work for everything. Dry flies for trout, small streamers, nymphing, and even trying to throw bass bugs, and streamers for small pike.

Once I started mousing for browns at night the need for another rod became imperative. The five weight simply would not turn over the big flies we were casting, and trying to contain a big angry brown in the darkness and the confines of a small woody stream was almost impossible. I was still trying do as much fishing as possible with as few rods as possible, so I bought an 8 weight.

big rods+big flies= big fish

The eight weight accomplished a lot of goals. It was more than adequate for turning over mice and handling big browns. It made a good steelhead stick. I also needed it to cast long distances in high wind for carp on the flats, so I bought a Temple Fork Outfitters TiCRX. Not perfect for all those hats, but it definitely handled them all adequately, especially the flats fishing.

The flats fishing is a special situation. I'm casting to carp at distances of 25 to 80 feet. The TiCRX handled it with panache, and it especially handles a sixty foot cast into a brisk wind easily. Provided you have the right line.

When I started flats fishing all I had was a steelhead nymph/indicator line, which I made work despite its shortcomings and actually landed my first carp on it. But the line wasn't perfect as I was to find out.

the flats give you room to air out a fly line

first carp on the flats. 8 wt shown is some off brand

My friend Tom Hazelton gave me a prototype fly line designed by Bruce Chard. I believe it's the Mastery Grand Slam line by SA.  I'm not trying to sell you something, just relate a story. Anyhow, this line punches wind like you wouldn't believe and makes those 80 foot shots possible. Truth be told I've caught most of my fish at less than 50 feet, but I have caught a few at that extreme end. Forty feet is probably the average shot at carp there however.

The only situation in which I ever regularly cast over 70 feet is when fishing for muskie. We're throwing 11 weight rods typically with 450 grain sink tips. The flies are huge, but the line is so heavy that it just whips the whole thing out there. On a couple days when Tom and I were really on our game we were regularly making accurate casts over 100 feet and fishing them. As I recall the fish pictured below came on a cast in the 70-80 foot range. For reference, the line is 95 feet long, our leaders were about 6 feet long, and our casts ranged from having 3-4 turns of line left on the reel, to casting a few feet of our backing. While we were making accurate casts to specific spots, this was hardly sight fishing to specific fish. It was more of an attempt to cover as much water as possible with the least amount of casting, and it was very effective.

covering water is key in muskie fishing. Long casts help expedite the search

All this brings me back to the gist of the Gink and Gasoline post and Kelley Galloup's video- that distance casting is over-rated.

I've caught a handful of fish at over 50 feet, but those shots and situations are so rare as to make them the exception rather than the rule. Except for a handful of streams like the Au Sable, Michigan streams are quite small and shots over 30 feet are rare. Also due to their nature, very few stretches offer a uniform flow across a big enough area to get a good drift out of a long cast. In 90% of situations, stealth and good presentation are far more important than distance casting. You often only get one or two shots and you need them to count. In the isolated situations in which distance casting is needed, then modern rod designs really shine provided you can load and release them properly.

I don't know that I've added much to this discussion, except to say that when you're rod shopping, being able to load the rod and then cast accurately is far more important than how far you can cast it. The bottom line is match a good rod and line to the water and fish you're after and focus on your stealth and presentation skills.

Mike Schmidt lays out a pretty cast on the Au Sable

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- January 18, 2016

Aaaaauuuuuppppppffffffffftttttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch repeat. It's Monday, so let's have some coffee.

I haven't fished much the last couple weeks between work, weather, and lack of opportunity, though not for lack of desire. So last week I made up my mind I wanted to fish Saturday.

We made the drive north into the mountains to try and fish various tributaries of the Chattooga river. We made it to the first access I wanted to reach and poked around a bit. When nothing came out to play at the first bridge, we crossed the river and followed the trail upstream, stopping to fish at a rapid and waterfall. No such luck there, so we tried to push on around the falls and upstream.

Marsha scrambling up the slope

tantalizing glimpse

The water was still high from the previous day's rain, which hampered access somewhat. I've found too, that getting around these mountain streams can be difficult to hazardous. Anywhere there's a fall, it means the mountain generally pinches around the stream. If you can't climb straight up the fall, you have to climb the mountain.

So climb the mountain we did. At first it wasn't too bad, but soon the slopes began resembling cliffs, and the rain had left the ground and roots and rocks slick. A glimpse of a waterfall coming off the gorge wall and falling a few stories beckoned, but we soon reach a place where the ledge we were on was only as wide as your foot, and a mistake would have been unforgiving, so we turned back. We went to a smaller creek, but by then it was late in the day, and perhaps due to the recent high water, I didn't find any fish. Next time. It was still a pleasant outing marked by extreme beauty and nice weather.

Clean Water at risk in the Great Lakes

I have several posts ready to drop here on FR and I'm hoping to finish them and get them out soon. My attention has been somewhat taken by conservation matters. I'm researching a story for Gink and Gasoline about the expansion of a private fish farm upstream of the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River in Michigan. What I'm finding is disturbing.

They basically want to use clean public water, pollute it and discharge it untreated back into the trout stream. Profit from a public resource with little cost to themselves. This story alone would be disturbing enough, but according to their filings it's part of a major push to establish a multi-billion dollar aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes. The same forces have introduced legislation in Wisconsin to do similar- make reckless changes to trout streams without regard to the health of the watershed, then discharge pollution into the river from their "farms" with little to no waste water treatment required of them, and introduce this kind of reckless aquaculture on a wide scale throughout the region.

I'm still looking into all this, but better people than me are already on the case. In Michigan Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Sierra Club have filed suit. Republican law makers (and others) have introduced legislation to oppose unfettered expansion of fish farming in Michigan. Others are doing the same in Wisconsin. See the link here

Please- contact your local conservation organization, whether it's Trout Unlimited or another group and see how you can help. Contact your local state representative and let them know you oppose the industrialization of trout streams and clean water. Clean water and conservation progress of the last 60 or more years are under attack like never before. Let's not let all that has been accomplished be undone by greedy private interests. I'll have more specifics in my Gink and Gasoline article, but don't wait. Time is of the essence. I'll have links in the article, but you can go to the Anglers of the Au Sable website to donate to the legal battle if you are able.

I know. Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water again. But my coffee is gone and it's going to be a good week. Let's get after it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

But Alas- 2015

2015 was a blur (isn't every year?) but I did get a lot of fishing in, learned a lot, made some new friends, and had a good time. Here's some of the highlights from the year.

Toccoa River float with Louis Cahill. We saw a couple really big browns on this float, but only landed small fish. Still a great time getting to know a good guy. Maybe I’m getting to that point where the people I spend time on the water with matter more than the fishing.

Louis on the sticks
Pere Marquette River/Barothy Lodge with Chris Reister. It was late March. We stayed at a fancy cabin with a whole crew of guys from Detroit. It was bluebird/T-shirt weather, the steelhead bite was off, but we managed a couple fish and had a great time.

Reister with a good brown
Any trip with Alex Cerveniak. Streamer floats, opening day of trout season, getting lost in the Pigeon River Country, night fishing, bumming around the UP- Any trip with Alex is a good one. He’s one of my best friends and one of the best people you could ever hope to spend a day on the water with. I don't think our season was nearly as productive as the previous, but who cares?

Alex on a Michigan trout stream
Lower Black River with Zach Ginop. We were after musky. We caught pike. It was a rare day off during my busy season. If Zach weren’t so modest then probably everyone would know his name- he’s a superb and innovative fly tyer, a great guide, and the fishiest young guy I know. He catches more brown trout over 24 inches each year than you’ll ever catch in your lifetime.

Zach with an absolute slob of a smallmouth
The Upper Peninsula with Tom Hazelton and Dave Karczynski. Big smallmouth on Lake Michigan, and big rainbows inland. It was a great evening of technical fishing in which we caught a couple, had our butts handed to us by some much bigger fish, and had a great day messing around in the north.

Tom's monster smallie

Dave being Dave
my fish of the day
Carp on the flats solo. I had my best day ever carp fishing in early July. I took the kayak to be more mobile and landed 6 nice fish in less than two hours. A beautiful day in a beautiful place with lots of action and aggressive fish.

Florida, late August. I went with my girlfriend to Sarasota area and scored my first saltwater fish on the fly. The threadfin herring run was on and fish were busting in the surf and canals everywhere. Yeah, I only caught ladyfish and a couple other small species, but it was a great intro and I learned a lot. I had some close calls with snook, barracuda, a bonnet head shark, and was broke off by a Jack Crevalle. The salt definitely calls to me, and could easily take the place of all my freshwater pursuits.

I shared the water with a number of other good folks (you know who you are Brett Watson) and had a good time. I want to thank everyone for a great year and great company. Here's to 2016.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Stone Chairs

Marsha Mullen photo
For many miles we drove on over the rough gravel road, climbing the ridges and switchbacks, battling incipient vertigo while checking out the creeks in the valleys far below, swerving to avoid the Subaru with the kayaks on top, winding our way to the forest service bridge replete with a parking space, stone chairs and charcoal scars from old fires.

In the pool below the falls, a brown trout snaked up off the bottom, and when it turned and paused I set the hook. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Michigan vs. Georgia- The Waters

In my continuing cold unbiased comparison of the fishing between these two fine states I think an analysis of the waters themselves is in order and it is:

The water in both states consists of H2O- two parts hydrogen bound to one part oxygen, existing in a liquid state on the surface of both states, except that in the winter months much of that water exists in Michigan as a solid, while in Georgia it stubbornly remains a liquid. This may explain why many Georgians believe Jesus to be the only man ever to walk on water, while people in Michigan walk on water all winter long. Georgians insist that the water has to be liquid for the trick to really count as a "miracle". It's this kind of quibbling over details that led to the Civil War.

Water volume speaks volumes about the fishing in each state. Michigan is positively awash in fresh water. Imagine Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money- that is Michigan with its water. If you fished a mile of trout stream in Michigan every day without a break it would take you 54 years to fish it all. And it's not just the streams. There's tens of thousands of lakes to fish. I can't say exactly how many, since no one seems to agree on what the definition of a lake is, and so the numbers range from about 13,000 to over 60,000. The vast majority of them are natural lakes, so there's that.

In contrast, Georgia has very few natural lakes. It does have what are called impoundments, where they've dammed up the major rivers as well as some minor ones, and created these reservoirs, some of which span several time zones. It's possible to spend your whole life on Lake Lanier and never eat at the same restaurant twice. If you launch on Lake Oconee you automatically get a catfish as your personal valet. Blue catfish are always professional even if they don't like you, so try to get one of those. Flatheads almost invariably hate you, and don't hesitate to let you know it. Striped bass aren't too bad, and they're snappy dressers to boot. I hear they do Bar Mitzvahs.

Michigan is at the center of the Great Lakes, which hold 20-25% of the world's fresh water. Again, no one seems to be able to get a handle on the exact figure, but when you're hoarding that much of the world's water you would think someone would know. Imagine being a goat herder in some miserable desert region of the world and finding out that Michigan has just decided the Great Lakes actually hold 25%, not a mere 20%, of the worlds freshwater. Just 1% could drown his whole country, and here Michigan can't decide if it has 20 or 25% of the worlds fresh water. The Great Lakes region is notably stingy with its freshwater hoard, which explains why they're not generally liked. Just naming themselves "The Great Lakes" is a sign of megalomania, like if I called myself "Magni Fontinalis" or "Cher". You get the picture.

What Georgia lacks in sheer volume of water it makes up for in equitable distribution. There's creeks and rivers running willy nilly all over the landscape. Up in the mountains there's a creek pouring down every ravine. There's so many rapids and waterfalls that a lot of them just go unnamed, whereas in Michigan water simply has to trip over a rock to be called a waterfall. Some creeks in Georgia consist ENTIRELY OF WATERFALLS. For all you Michigan waterfall hounds, I'll let that sink in for a moment.

One thing that Georgia has that Michigan lacks is saltwater. In Michigan you can buy T-shirts that say "Life Unsalted" and "Shark Free". No one sells shirts like that in Georgia, and the fact that they have some brine is a strike in their favor. This is one reason why barbecue is so much better in the South, brine being an essential first step in the preparation of good Q. They also have free range hickory wood.

So in summary, if you want to see otherwise normal people walk on water, go to Michigan. If you want good barbecue go to Georgia. If you want good valet service go to Lake Hartwell and ask for the striped bass. Tell them Cher sent you.

My special thanks go out to Brandon Robinson of the One Bug is Fake Blog for his editorial help on this one. You can check out his site at