Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Lunch- Because Sometimes Monday Morning Comes Way Too Soon

This Monday Morning Coffee thing can be a tough deal. If I don't start writing it on the weekend it doesn't get done. But I'm going on two weeks without sharing it, so I'm writing this on my lunch break from the job site. 

There's actually quite a lot to share. I floated with Alex Cerveniak a week ago Sunday on the Au Sable. We didn't even see a fish in nine hours of floating, but neither did anyone else. 

This dearth of fish was more than made up for by the company of John Sheets, a local fly tyer and chef. We spent the day singing bawdy versions of Elton John songs ("hold me closer Tony Danza" is one of the more repeatable lyrics) and throwing streamers until I thought my arms would fall off and my sides hurt from laughing. 

Right when I thought I couldn't take anymore, we pulled over and John cooked the best shore lunch ever- blackened steelhead with mango salsa, pine nut pilaf and fresh asparagus. Then he served freakin' cafe Americano. It made for a memorable trip even if the fish were on strike. 

The current big news is the blowout rains we received this weekend on top of our record snow pack. The rivers were already high, now they are flooded and many are unfishable. If you are going to venture out do so with caution. Expect that when the water does drop that the steelhead will go insane. Be ready for it. 

Time flies and I have to wrap this up, but I want to give a shoutout to my friends Alan Haxton and Joyce Kelley who got married Saturday at Gates Au Sable lodge. I wish you both the best and hope we get some time together on the river this year. 

Well, lunch is nearly over. I don't know about you but I could really use a cup of coffee. 

Joyce and Alan a couple weeks ago during the planning stages. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bid on FR at the Paul H. Young TU Chapter Banquet

Okay, so I got this strange email a couple weeks back from my friend Brett Watson, president of the Paul H. Young Trout Unlimited chapter, asking if I would like to donate a trip for their upcoming banquet April 24.

The answer is- of course I would. Except that I'm not set up as a guide, so there's no cash value, unless you equate me with fly fishing's escort service. Still, it's for a good cause, and I really would like to see a cash value attached to my companionship. I would suggest the bidding start at no less than $10.

Think of the possibilities. You, me, hundreds of miles of river or shore, a lot of which I am familiar with. We could hit the big 5 rivers around here, or we could do some other stuff, fish for pike and bass in the lakes or maybe hit Wilderness for carp and smallies. We could hit a smaller creek, swing for the fence on brook trout. We could swing for the fences on anything really, as long as you can cast a bit, and don't mind breaking some brush.

This drift boat is just one of many top notch prizes being auctioned and raffled off at the banquet. Almost as good as an outing with yours truly

The Paul H. Young chapter of Trout Unlimited has a reputation for generosity in giving to support cold water fisheries. Their annual fundraising banquet will be held April 24. There will of course be a bunch of stuff auctioned off besides a fishing trip with me. Things like a drift boat, original artwork by FR favorite artist Becca Schlaff, trips with actual guides, a day in a private plane and even a puppy, plus a lot of stuff I'm probably not aware of. It will be quite the shindig.

So go- buy a ticket, pony up, mix, mingle, schwagger, sup and sip, and by all means bid on me. I guarantee you'll get your $10 worth.

To RSVP click on the link below-

I'm going to put up some gratuitous fish shots to get you thinking of the possibilities. Not trying to toot my horn, but giving you some incentive to bid.
Alex Cervenkiak photo

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gear Review- Fish Like a Local with SmithFly

I have never been a vest guy. I hate those things. I can always spot a local- they carry next to nothing on the river. If you drove 250 miles to fish here you are probably decked out in as much gear as you can carry, with every fly imaginable. If you live here and you brought the wrong flies you can always go home and get them, or grab a burger at a local bar and fish tomorrow. It's a not-too-subtle and important difference.

I learned to fly fish as a teenager, and back then I used whatever my grandfather gave me. I left Northern Michigan for ten years, but fly fishing was forever ,in my mind, the ideal.

When yadda yadda yadda I was divorced and moved back to Northern Michigan I again yearned to get back into fly fishing. It took a few years, but eventually I bought a St. Croix rod (a bad one) and got back to it.

To be honest I knew next to nothing about the sport. I fought my own bad casting for two years before a friend told me what a loop was. I owned my own business and May and June were my busiest months, so I missed most of the major hatches. A new "casting club" had focused attention on my favorite river, and so I avoided the Hex hatch.

But in July my work would reach a comfortable level, in which I could take the occasional afternoon off, and so what I did was fish hoppers.

My approach, literally, was to load up my neoprene waders, my crappy rod and my Cabela's $12 reel, drive to a local convenience store and buy a leader and a dozen or so flies. Then, despite my terrible casting I would go and catch lots of fish.

It was all so simple- a rod, waders, a plastic cupful of flies and hope.

Things aren't so simple now. I know too much but not enough. I still carry my local sensibilities. I am better prepared these days, but you will never catch me on the river with multiple fly boxes packed with every fly imaginable. I will never wear a vest. I still like to keep it simple.

This is where my SmithFly 2X comes in. I do indeed carry more than a plastic cup full of flies these days, but I still want a minimalist approach while covering my bases.

Here's what I like about the SmithFly 2X. I can pack in several small or two medium fly boxes, some split shot, spare leaders etc. It  holds everything you need for a fun day on the water, if you know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing then you need a vest and every fly that was ever tied.

Another example of its simple utility- when steelhead fishing I pack it with two medium fly boxes, a variety of shot, a couple spools of tippet material, swivels and a breath mint. Sometimes I leave out the breath mint, but I'm not one to kiss fish, so I don't think they mind. The point is that I can spend an entire day on the water chasing steelhead with this one little compact pack and do just fine.

the 2X loaded with everything I need for a full day on the water

Or take a midsummer afternoon float. I pack it with extra leaders, 2-3 small fly boxes, some tippet and I'm set. No vests necessary.

Want some other reasons to give SmithFly a look?

It's American made. Your neighbors have jobs because of you. Yes it will cost you a little more to not get it from Bangladesh.

It's bulletproof. No, I have not literally tested this, but if you choose to I'd like to see the results. SmithFly's lineup is incredibly well built and tough. You're looking at a one-time investment.

It's designed with MOLLE webbing and part of an integrated system. Every component in their lineup works with every other component. Buy the Poquito, pair it with a 1X, 2X, 3X, a belt, a bag, the (cough!) vest, or the trendy cooler kilt- whatever your needs from the minimal to the kitchen sink, SmithFly has you covered.

It's not exactly cheap- the 2X will set you back seventy five bucks, but it will last forever and SmithFly's integrated system will have you set up with a system that can handle any outing from stepping out your back door to heading off to Alaska.

Or until you go back to those little plastic cups.

Check out their full line-up at

Now through the end of April Ethan is offering a special promotion on the 2X. Enter the coupon code "DONTFISHFIGHTCLUB" when checking out for $20 off the 2X. Get yours!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- March 31

Yeeeauupphhh- yawn, stretch, scratch, sniff- what is wrong with me? Resolve to wash hands thoroughly, then bleach rest of self.

But hygienic issues aside, it is Monday morning, so let's have some coffee.

We can skip over the rest of last week because this weekend was pretty darn good. It started with Pleasant Friday, then Bright Saturday, followed by Sublime Sunday.

Sunday was by far the nicest day of the year to date. It was, was, was- warm. It was pleasant. There was no wind. The sun beat down and left its mark on my face. So I did what anyone would do and beat my streamer curse.

If you haven't heard this before, it is true that until now I have been unable to catch fish on a streamer. Oh, I've caught a couple, but mostly by accident and bad luck (for someone), and never any of the largish fish you see on a regular basis bandied around like so many pin-up girls.

Alex Cerveniak of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing Guide Service called me on Wednesday via Bat Signal. I have no choice but to respond. We roped in our friend John Schmidt, but of course he came willingly. We met at Gate's Lodge then hit the river under bright sunny skies and warming air.

John and Alex at the takeout

It is difficult to explain to you, the rest of the country, the exhilaration and joy of being out on a pleasant day after a hard winter like the one we've had, to catch not just any fish, but some really good ones. It was like that moment in Shawshank Redemption but with sun and beer instead of rain and sewage.

Okay, so on my first good fish of the day Alex dropped anchor as soon as I made noise and we soon got it into his meager net. My next fish was different.

We dropped into a great spot where fast riffly water spilled over a deep flat. Sensing opportunity I wound up and made a reverse cast. On about the fourth strip my fly stopped.

I didn't react instantly, but when my rod bucked and a great golden slab rolled in the current I shouted enthusiastically  to my friends- "Big fish, big fish, BIG fish!!"

They did nothing. As a matter of fact they laughed at me and kept yakking, while my fish started to run downstream. When my line nearly wrapped around John in the front of the boat they turned and looked. Alex looked into the water, saw a dull yellow flash the size of an oar and started shouting expletives. He dropped the oars and the anchor and we managed to net it. It was 23" long and heavy, with thick shoulders and a mercenary look.

Alex Cerveniak photo
John Schmidt caught a really nice fish on an old glass rod that had belonged to his father, which had him totally thrilled. John works a night shift. He basically got home, slept one hour and then met us at the fly shop, yet he was energetic and upbeat the entire day, the kind of thing that can make you hate young people.

Alex, he worked the oars and kept us in position. He fished a little but not long enough to score. It's early yet, the streamer bite is just getting going. We're at that point when mid-afternoon when the day is warmest and the water has had some time to warm a little is the best fishing time. The slight stain to the water added by the daily run-off doesn't hurt at all.

It was a fantastic day all in all, with warm sun, a few good fish, and good times with friends. If I had to make a fishing forecast I'd say this coming week is going to be stellar- the forecast is for mid-thirties to mid-forties for the next ten days with no blow out rains. The steelhead should be pushing into all the rivers in earnest and the streamer bite will continue to improve, though at this stage sunny afternoons that warm into the forties will be best.

I'm out of time and out of coffee so I'll leave you with a few more shots of the day.

Let's get after it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- March 24

Errrrgggghhhh! Yawn, stretch, scratch, sniff. Is it Monday already? Let's have some coffee. 

Yes, posting here has been a touch sparse, but with the bitterness of the winter I haven't had much fly related stuff to drone on about. 

Erick Johnson and Dave Karczynski tying at Tom Hazelton's place a few weeks back. 

That's not entirely true. I went to a bunch of tying events, mostly at friends homes. I've got two new fly lines to test from Scientific Anglers including the new Sharkwave line. I haven't finished my Mousing 101 series. I still have a review of the Sage Pike rod on tap. And I've finally gotten a couple of floats in with Alex Cerveniak, not that we had any success. I think I may need to set a writing schedule rather than just pounding something out when the mood seizes me. We'll see. 

Some new SA lines to try

The icy grip of winter is finally starting to ease a bit. There's little glimmers of hope here and there- long sunny days that set the snow and ice to melting on the roads, the occasional day in the forties and even a brief shot of rain here and there. The rivers are high and stained but the real run-off hasn't started yet. 

Meaning that the next couple of weeks will be the best early spring steelhead fishing. Then the run-off will occur. When the rivers start to drop and clear the main steelhead run will happen. In years like this with a heavy snow pack, it tends to happen fast. If you blink you'll miss it. If you fish any of the UP streams you can likely find fish the entire month of May. 

Alex Cerveniak at the launch

Well, that's all I know at the moment. Things are still kind of dull around here, but once spring hits it will get crazy fast. 

Have a great week. Let's get after it. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ode to Matt Dunn

I was going to photograph that little stream on my way to work because it is so pretty the way it meanders through the willows, you know, the one that flows out of the fish hatchery and there's always people fishing it on opening day of trout season but on the downstream side of the road so they don't get in trouble, and just down the road the tom turkeys roost and I've thought of hunting them there because it is public land, but I have lots  of turkey feathers from a road-kill I found, and later found out was illegal to take, and I haven't had the desire to shoot another turkey in the face, not that I'm against turkey hunting, and especially since I found out they taste better than domestic birds and make a good pheasant tail nymph when you don't have actual pheasant tail, though I regularly do see pheasants a couple miles from here because there is a put-take ranch there near the home of my friend Steve, who is a gear guy, but a good egg and owns a nice boat and fishes at least 5 nights a week after he gets home from finishing drywall all day even though he is in his sixties now, and I swear he hasn't felt his own finger tips in thirty years because of how hard finishing drywall is, and we quit fishing together so much since I got more serious about fly fishing, so serious that I started this blog and and read other blogs, though not as much as I used to, but I did find Matt Dunn's blog called Fishbeer and he write's quite a bit like I'm writing here, but more cogent and free form, and the link I'm sharing is perhaps his best ever, and I wish he would write more. And I miss fishing with Steve.

Monday, March 10, 2014


There must be a starting point.

"I thought of inviting someone else to come, but then I decided there is no one else I'd rather share the first float with than you."

This is a rather heady compliment coming from Alex Cerveniak, proud and heretofore frustrated owner of a new used drift boat. We're sitting in a diner, eating biscuits and gravy, ham and bacon, fueling up for an afternoon on the Holy Waters of the Au Sable. It will be our maiden voyage in this boat, a baptism of sorts, the kind of thing that holy water is for. This is the warmest day we have seen in over fifty, and yet the temperature still hovers irritatingly below freezing.

We linger over our plates, our breakfast presided over by the head of a dead elk hanging above the mantel, before heading out to Gate's Au Sable Lodge and Fly Shop, to do the obligatory Parting-With-the-Dough. Fly fishing has it's rituals, and you don't dare dispense with the spending money part.

We drove out from there under a yellowing sky, the air still cold, but at this point nothing could dissuade us. Alex picked up his boat over a month ago and the bitter winter has stymied all efforts to get it on the water. He has spent evenings in his garage in his PJ's, drinking beer and imagining what it might be like to actually row the damn thing. There are times to concede defeat, and times like this when it is necessary to forge ahead. We got some intel (well worth the $22 spent on stuff I don't need) from the guide behind the counter and went from there.

I would like to tell you this was a wildly successful fishing trip. It was. For one thing the country store where I first met Alex had a sale on Combos and so I had snacks for the entire day. That Buffalo blue cheese flavor is killer. For another, we were actually on the water, instead of sitting at home wishing we were. Oh, and we both saw a fish, though not the same one.

Alex rowed and fiddled with his inadequate anchor. He's working on it. I did some casting and gave expert advice from the front stanchion ("slide into that spot right there past the downed cedar right next to the shelf ice"). He let me row for a little while, but he has a strong captain streak in him. This is a good thing in my opinion, as it guarantees I will get a lot of time up front. Alex put on his usual casting clinic. He lifted casts I would have been happy with and then would proceed to actually hit the log he was casting too. These casts should have triggered violent irritation strikes judging by they way they were irritating me, but it could be that brown trout do not share my jealousy of good casting.

I spent half the float dissatisfied with the water, however Holy it may be. Holy? Sure. Infallible? Never. This is my cover for my lack of knowledge, technique and skill. The water was too shallow, lacked cover, was too wide open, in my considered opinion. But rivers have a way of discerning this and responding, and soon we were into beautiful bends with deep water and jaunty crossover riffles, the kind that hold rainbows and brook trout, with surly, heavy shouldered browns lurking in the bends like bouncers at a club.

Stripped of my excuses, I kept casting and lost a lot of flies, all of which I had tied myself. This did not in any way remove the sting of their loss. Never mind that most of them looked like belly button lint. Yes I regularly find gold wire in my belly button.

Alex thinks I should have fished the inside bends more. I don't. Where we fished the river is relatively small and most of the inside bends are less than a foot deep. This debate will continue for some time.

There are so many things that can add up to a perfect trip. Before starting this blog I used to always fish alone. Fly fishing was my escape from human kind and their machinations, save their dastardly fly reels. This was a perfect trip. Two friends, an untried drift boat, two sketchy launches and a Hydroflask full of alcohol of indeterminate lineage. No fish were necessary.

I tied double bowline knots, one on each end of a hundred foot nylon rope Alex brought to drag the boat up the un-plowed part of the launch. They both failed, drawing up tight to the hitch points. I didn't think this was possible with a bowline knot, so if any of you have some insight into this I appreciate it.