Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- I Quit Edition

Hurrrrggaaccchhthth!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. I can't believe it's Monday again. It must be time for coffee so let's have some. 

"But hold on," you say, "what's this about quitting?"

The answer is no- Fontinalis Rising isn't going anywhere. As a matter if fact I would like to restore FR to its former mediocrity. 

But is am quitting my job today and going back into business for myself. Turning in my two weeks notice and leaving for two weeks vacation. The timing is fortuitous or awful depending on which side of this equation you sit, but can truly say it is pure coincidence that my first big job starts the day I step off the plane in two weeks.  

And the vacation? Almost three years ago my daughter moved to Germany. I haven't seen her since, though we talk on a regular basis. She is 19 and lives on her own now, pursuing a career in music. She is a gifted singer, living in Innsbruck Austria. I leave tomorrow. 

She informs me that there is indeed fly fishing in Austria and that I shall be going. She is friends with the main outfitter in town and he says he'll take me. 

And what about the fishing in Northern Michigan? Well I can say without reservation that this was by far my best dry fly season ever. The hatches were astounding and steady, the water stayed high and cold, and the big fish fed with abandon. I personally caught at least a dozen brown trout over 20" this year on a dry fly and netted at least that many more for friends. The Hex hatch went on for weeks and we are still seeing duns from time to time, though the major spinner falls are over. I fished a lot, caught a lot, drove a lot of miles, lost a lot of sleep. I have a lot of stories to share. 

I got out last week with my friend Chris Reister. We floated the Au Sable below Mio. Heavy rains caused the river to spike up and the temps to spike down- perfect, we thought, for throwing streamers. Indeed I had a grab within sight of the launch. There were quite a few Ephrons around but the fish didn't pay them much heed. Instead a steady olive hatch began and we started seeing the bubbling takes of the browns sipping them in. 

I'd like to say we caught big ones, but the fish were small. Still, it was some of the most satisfying technical dry fly fishing of the season- long casts, tiny dries, difficult mends, picky fish, subtle takes. We really put the hurt on those fish. Chris is a master of this type of fishing, and he always gets this conspiratorial grin on his face when he's matching a hatch and stripping out line, stogie clenched firmly between his teeth, working a seam and throwing mends until he gets the algorithm just right and his line goes tight. My season on the Au Sable has been unforgettable, epic even. 

Then yesterday while I was cleaning house and packing I got a message from Alex Cerveniak- we have to go brook trout fishing before you leave. One last time. Summer will be over before you get back. I looked at my bags and laundry, the long to-do list. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. We fished some headwaters and caught as few brook trout before getting into thick cedar jungle. After that it was such a bushwhack that we spent more time navigating than fishing. Still, it was good to get out one last time before departing for the foreign sensual onslaught that is Europe. 

Since my trip is a visit and not a tour I do intend to do a bit of writing and blogging. Look for a post or two here over the next two weeks. Next weeks MMC will be the Innsbruck edition. I'm going to go on a few runs, get caught up with my daughter, fish a little, take a train trip and drink a few Austrian beers. I've spent several weeks in Europe in the past so this ain't my first rodeo. 

Well, my coffee is gone and it's time to go turn in my notice. 

I quit. 

Let's get after it. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- July 7

Uuurrrggghhhhuuuuggghhh!! Yawn stretch scratch repeat! And repeat again, because I don’t know about you but I fished all night every night for the entire holiday weekend. It was fantastic. Let’s have some much needed coffee.

July 4th marks among other things the tail end of the hex hatch here in Northern Michigan. I started my night time dry fly fishing early in June, catching the brown drake hatch and some good fish along the way. By my count I’ve caught 8 fish over 20 inches this year, and I’ve netted at least that many more for my fishing buddies.

one of many I've netted

Thursday evening was a bust- no bugs, very few rising fish and nothing you could pattern, so I didn’t lose much sleep. I got up Friday morning and hit some brook trout water. To my surprise there was a sparse trico spinner fall that got a couple fish up and feeding. It didn’t last, but it was fun and I caught a couple small gems and missed a couple bigger fish. The key to fly fishing is to match the hatch, so I used a royal coachman stimulator.

Friday night I loaded my one man pontoon boat on my car and did a solo float. I had good bugs on the water for nearly four hours and was into good fish starting right where I first set up. Most of the other boats on the water had pushed low, and the upper water on the stretch I fished had good fish feeding all over it. I put down two fish where I first parked, then got into a quiet grassy stretch of river. I could just barely make out the sound of a big fish slurping up hexagenia in the dark.

I never did see the rise form, just guessed the distance and metered off the line one strip at a  time.  It took a half dozen casts before it fed and then I found myself duking it out with a 20” fish. I slid him up on the beach and removed the hook, but before I could get my camera out he thrashed past my boots to freedom. Oh well.

I broke off a much bigger fish not too far from there, then missed a couple others. I maneuvered around a couple other boats and made it back to my car after 2 am.

Saturday night I got a last minute call from Alex Cerveniak of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing guide service that he wanted to float, so I drove south and hit it with him. The bugs flew thick but landed lightly and not long after we had set up on our first fish the water was devoid of mayflies. It seemed a little odd. We had to listen very hard for the sounds of big fish picking off stray flies. We tried various set ups, not quite figuring the fish out, but we finally found one good fish feeding steadily. It only took a couple of drifts and I saw it take amid the reflected stars. It took off in a line hissing arc, vaulted two feet out of the water and then ran up by the boat, trying to find shelter under the cut bank. It was a very fat 19” hen.

my big girl

After that the feed tapered off dramatically. We found some huge fish feeding, but so sporadically that it was almost impossible to get on them. We worked the biggest one for over half an hour. It fed four times in that span. Just when we were starting to give up it blew up on Alex’ fly but he missed the hookset.

What do you do at this point? Call it a night? Go home, get some much needed rest? There were several other good fish in earshot feeding sporadically. There was a river access just downstream with a convenience store nearby that was still open. Alex rowed down, walked to the store and bought some beer and snacks. We got back in the boat, rowed upstream against the current and anchored up. We sat in the dark and watched the stars and meteors, the twinkling fireflies, and talked. Every now and then a fish would feed and we would move the boat if it fed more than once.

After some time we got a fish that was feeding steadily. By steadily I mean once every five minutes or so. Not much to go on in the darkness. This was fly fishing by siege. It would feed and we would move the boat, wait for it to feed and adjust again. We finally got to where we could see it feed. It was an easy cast, but in the dark it’s hard to tell if you’re getting a good drift. I worked the fish for half an hour and every time I would be ready to give up it would feed again.

Finally I reeled in my line and sat down. Alex stepped up and took over, trying every possible drift on that bushel basket sized bit of water. The fish fed every time we were ready to quit. Then Alex tossed a cast out and threw in a big mend. The water exploded and Alex shouted. Fish on!

Alex with a very hard earned night fish

It was one of those great moments in your fishing career. It had taken everything we had to get this fish. We had been set up on it for over an hour and it had fed only a handful of times. It turned out to be a 20 inch hook-jawed male. It took us in circles a few times before coming to the net. We took some pictures and released it, turned off our lights and prepared to go hunt another. I pulled anchor and just started to move when another fish blew up the surface, right in the exact same spot.

I’m out of coffee and it’s time to go to work. Have a great week.

Let’s get after it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Too Many Secrets

Setec Astronomy.

This was the name of a fictional company in the movie "Sneakers". It was an anagram for "too many secrets", and a protest against government secrecy. Except that the CEO, played by Ben Kingsley, had become evil and. . . oh just watch the film sometime.

But I feel this way in fly fishing sometimes. It's amazing to me how paranoid people can be about what they think is a secret.

There is a local stream that I regularly throw under the bus. It is in my opinion a put and take fishery. It is well stocked with salmon and steelhead but has very few holdover stream fish. It is a tailwater and water levels and temps fluctuate quite a bit. If you go there during the salmon and steelhead runs you will find 30-50 cars parked there at times. It's no secret in my opinion, and I regularly name it in social media if not here in FR.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from a good friend inviting me to fish with him and another guy. The condition was I could go as long as I didn't tell anyone about it or name it in social media. I agreed. When he named my local river I was shocked.

"Really? That's a secret? There's going to be 30 cars there when we get there."

And I was right about the cars. Now mind you, the method we used- swinging streamers after dark- is not practiced locally. We did hook up on some big kings. The hole we fished is well known to locals, but most are too lazy to wade down to it after dark. Why bother when you can snag fish at the tubes? To me their "secret" seemed kind of silly. It's a well known river. It receives heavy pressure. Still, I respected their wishes which is why I haven't named the stream here.

Ditto a local muskie fishery. It's no secret here that the place has plenty of muskies. Everyone here takes it for granted. All the local sports would rather chase walleye and perch, or trout for that matter. Unlike in Wisconsin there is no muskie culture here. They are mostly by-catch, despite there being no dearth of fish. I have been trying to get people to go fish this water for six years and couldn't get anyone to go. When I finally got an invitation from another friend to go fish it, it was on the condition that I keep it secret. I understood the sentiment, particularly in light of the growing interest in muskie, but part of me thought "Really? I haven't been able to get anyone to commit to fishing this water for six years. What's going to make them flock to it now?"

Well- pictures might. And social media is a powerful new tool. It's great for sharing things. But you can also hotspot the hell out of your favorite fishing hole.

There's another local spot now called Fight Club. It regularly gives up outsized browns at night. I caught my biggest brown ever there. It's called Fight Club as in "the first rule of fight club is you DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB". Except people have been talking about Fight Club, and now on any given night, even mid-week you will  run into 4-5 other anglers, even at 2 in the morning. No one advertised it with a bullhorn, but everyone told two or three of their friends, including me. Several of the Pere Marquette, Manistee and Au Sable river guides fish it on a regular basis, and at least one guides in there. So much for secrets.

One place I always give up is Wilderness State Park. It is located at the northwest corner of Emmet County just west of Mackinaw City. It hosts spectacular flats fishing for smallmouth bass and carp. Some still think it is a local secret, but I first read about it in Outdoor Life in the mid-80's. Since then the campground fills up in late May and early June with sports from all over the place. Some guys have told me they've been going there for twenty years. It's easy to see 100-200 fish a day being harvested, and some are in that rarefied 6-8 lb. class. Yet the fishing is still spectacular and well worth the drive.

So I'm going to give up all my secrets. Right here, right now. Here goes. I fish the Sturgeon, Pigeon, Black, Maple, Bear, Boyne, Jordan, Tahquamenon, Fox, Carp, Carp and Manistee rivers. Yes there are two Carp rivers. They are all fantastic streams. Each one is different. There are several hundred miles of stream between them, so go knock yourself out.

No I won't tell you about specific accesses, stretches, hatches, seasons and runs. You can figure it out just like I did. If perchance you someday come fishing with me I will take you to wherever I'm going. I may believe in secrets, but I'm not going to cheat myself out of some good fishing to keep you in the dark.

As my friend Zach Ginop once stated, there are no more secrets since Google Earth came along. It may take a little legwork and wherewithal to find, but spectacular fishing can be found by anyone these days. All it takes is a little research.

So I'm still a little torn. I don't understand why so many rivers in other states are justifiably famous, while all our local fisheries here have to be shrouded in secrecy. To be fair a lot of those rivers are big and can support a lot of pressure while many of the rivers I've named are quite small and can't support large numbers of anglers. Another factor is that while Michigan streams have great numbers and big fish, they can be incredibly fickle. Michigan can be a cruel state to fly fish in.

Take for instance the Sturgeon River. It is a first class trout stream, but it would be incredibly cruel of me to just send you there fishing. It is a very fast river, and much of the water isn't fly fishable, or even wadeable. It has no predictable hatches. Yet if you know how to fish it, it can be very rewarding.

Michigan has several justifiably famous rivers- the Au Sable, Manistee, and Pere Marquette rivers for instance. These are big systems with hundreds of miles of water each. They host big runs of salmon and steelhead and yet have abundant stream resident fish and good natural reproduction. They also have large predictable insect hatches that make for excellent fishing. They even have secrets, to those that know them.

Personally I have only found two truly secret spots in this state. One I don't dare name and the other I won't talk about.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hex - The Morning After

that is one beautiful box

So I'm sitting here exhausted, hot and thirsty.

This doesn't stop me from drinking my coffee though. I drove home this morning as the eastern horizon began to glow and by the time I got to bed you could see by the gray early light. Five hours of energy then five hours of sleep later I'm contemplating my next move.

Tom prospecting before dark

I was supposed to work today but I don't care- everyone else is on vacation this week, why should I work myself to death? I spent the whole week in that hazy twilight of sleep deprivation, caffeine, alcohol and bad food. I spent every moment I wasn't swinging a paint brush or patching a wall or hanging a mirror (I work in construction) thinking, planning and scheming.

Actually I did those things while working. After work, and while driving between jobs and on my lunch and breaks I was making phone calls, exchanging text messages and gathering intel. The question is always the same: where are the Hex? Where were they last night? Where exactly in three hundred miles of river system was there a spinner fall? Where will it be tonight? Where will it be next week?

Alex starts the hex bite early

It's all a crap shoot. I fished with Tom Hazelton and his friend Adam the other night at a secret walk in location- no bugs and no fish. Not even on a mouse. I hear Zach hooked up on one not far from us though. The next evening they floated the Au Sable and had a late spinner fall and even got an okay fish. I floated last night with Alex. We had a light spinner fall and almost no rising fish. It seemed like everyone but us managed a decent fish though, and in the wee hours of the morning during a barely coherent and patently unsafe drive home that required dodging and braking for multiple deer, we talked about where we should have been, could have been.

"We should have left earlier"

"We should have waited up above"

"We should have pushed down"

We should have, perhaps could have. The truth is it was a weak spinner fall and the fish aren't gaga yet. Late into the night, early in the morning, we set up on a steadily feeding fish. It was two feet off the bank in a back eddy with a big shrub just upstream of it. We worked this fish for an hour before getting it to eat. When it did there was a splash, and Alex' line jumped and then nothing.

Reister's boat found a fish. Chris Reister photo

We heard a couple of blurps and splashes on our way out, but never found any more active fish, no more bugs on the water.

And when we got back to the launch we broke the trailer.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Bamboo, Bass and Bugs

I didn't get Monday Morning Coffee done today, but I wanted to get something up on the blog. I'm starting to get this back-log of trips and posts, and I don't want to let FR to continue to languish away. So here's a trip report. 

I got a message from Facebook friend Lee that he would be up north attending a bamboo rod event in Grayling. He's one of those people who like or comment on your social media posts but you don't know from Adam. He seemed like a decent guy and so I told him I'd take him fishing. He's a bamboo rod builder from southwest Michigan. 

Lee and Alex watching the rise

As it turned out he had also contacted my friend Alex Cerveniak and so the three of us fished the South Branch Au Sable Thursday evening. The bugs were scarce and the fishing was kind of a dud, but we agreed to meet again on Sunday and do some flats fishing. Lee had a 7 weight bamboo he wanted to flex on some carp and bass. 

Sunday came and we met early. We parked and started hiking down the beach trying to get away from the crowd. 

We didn't get far when we saw a pod of dark shapes in the surf- carp. We gave it a shot but the fish were restless. There was a hard northeast wind blowing and I wondered the effect it would have on the fishing. I also wondered how it would affect Lee's bamboo. 

We hiked for nearly an hour to the spot I had in mind. After some tricky wading in heavy current across open water we got into some sheltered bays and started fishing in earnest. 

The carp were a complete bust. The northeast wind had them skittish and spooky. Any time a boot or fly touched the water they scooted out. We didn't actually see that many carp. We saw a few dozen whereas my last trip I saw hundreds. 

The bass were another story. We weren't out long before Lee was into a small bass. It put a pleasing bend in his rod and a smile on his face. 

Then he found a pod of them in a spot of green water with obvious big boulders. He landed two fish before I could even get there. Most were small, but Lee caught a decent one and we had much larger fish chasing our hooked fish. 

After that we hopped over into the next back bay and went to town. We got several fish in the 4-5 lb. range. It was fantastic.  The carp remained aloof to panicked. 

Around 5 PM we looked at each other. We were sun-tired, wind burned and cast-sore. We had caught about forty bass between us. It was a slow day for the location, but still a great day. After the first hour we never saw another soul. It was just us, the wind, waves and seabirds. 

And some fantastic fishing. 

We hiked the north shore back. The midge hatch began in earnest, and they lifted from the low shrubs like black smoke. We had to wear our buffs to keep them out of our mouths and noses. The whine of their wings drowned out even the surf and wind. 

That's not smoke

And when we got back to the car clouds of mosquitoes, big as bats, brought us back to earth. Almost. 

Lee Slikkers photo
Lee Slikkers photo

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- June 16

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

I know- it has been a few weeks since I've shared MMC. My buddies are giving me grief over it. I've done my usual early summer thing and way over-booked myself with work, which makes it difficult for me to write or do much for the blog. The last two years I had booked my entire summers solid with work. Not this year. The good news is I finished my side job yesterday which should leave me free to fish and write more, and hopefully get FR back to resembling a blog. I have several good posts in the works.

I've been getting some fishing in as well. I've given up any notion of having a normal life or sleep schedule. I work and I fish. I eat and sleep occasionally. Sometimes I see my girlfriend. I was going to write about my last three outings on this post but it quickly turned into 3,000 words- way too long for Monday Morning Coffee, so what I’ll do is break it up into three posts over the next three days. Here’s a brief synopsis.

I got out flats fishing for carp and smallmouth ten days ago and had a fantastic trip. The carp bite this month has been nothing short of phenomenal and I caught a monster smallmouth.

not the monster

Then last Sunday I got to float the South Branch Au Sable River with Alex Cerveniak and Cameron Mortenson of The Fiberglass Manifesto. We fished the brown drake hatch and caught fish. Cameron made me cast glass. He didn’t have to try that hard.

Cameron hooked up on the first fish of the day

Two nights later I floated again with Alex and friend Dave Smethurst. It was another fantastic float, a night in which I felt I could do no wrong.

To sum it up- despite a tough work schedule (50+ hours/week for my job plus side work) I have gotten in some quality trips and caught some big fish. So yes, it's worth tuning in for.

one of several from the other night
Well, I'm almost out of coffee and it's time to go to work.

Let's get after it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fly Brunch

There's a place in Bayview, Petoskey called Staffords Bayview Inn (I rent a lot from these people truth be told). They have a fabulous Sunday brunch. The bacon is thick cut, the fruit is fresh, the baked goods are hand made, thick and moist. The scrambled eggs never have that dried out crust. Ditto the hollandaise. They make your Belgian waffles while you wait. You walk up to the buffet tables and are lost for a moment. Where do you start? If I eat the eggs benedict will I have room for waffles? What about the Virginia ham and boutique sausage? Still, you have to saddle up and give it your best shot.

And that's how I feel right now about the fishing at home. We are finally in a stretch of steady warm weather with warm nights. The insects are popping all over the place and the trout are finally looking up. The weeds in the lakes are sprouting. And the fish everywhere are on a gluttonous rampage.

One interesting thing about this late spring is that several of the local steelhead runs just took off in the last week. I checked the Boyne River last week and it was full of fish. The downside is that when the run is this late it tends to be compressed, and the fish get very tight lipped. I fished another local stream on Memorial day, and despite seeing large numbers of fish I only  hooked up on a couple and didn't land any.

So here I stand poised at the brunch of fly fishing, surveying the tables. Over here the bluegills are in pre-spawn mode and ready to eat. The pike are in post-spawn mode and still up shallow while the water is still cold. The largemouth bass are also pre-spawn and ravenous.

But then there's the smallmouth bass fishing. Wilderness should be dynamite right now, but so is Grand Traverse Bay. If I go to Wilderness I can have a wild and lonely experience; if I go to GTB I can have a gourmet lunch.

The Hendrickson hatch is in full swing on the Au Sable; something I think I should try, but the brook trout in my local creeks are calling too. All the little pothole trout lakes still have good hatches with rising fish. It's like having to choose between three kinds of bacon.

And now that the nights have warmed up the mouse bite is going to turn on and will be fantastic until the Hex hatch.

Crap. The Hex hatch. Will I have time? What about all those patterns I promised myself I'd tie? I'd better get busy. And I need to wrap up that annoying side job before the hatch starts. I'm not missing a minute of it.

And what about carp? Oh the carp! They should be moving into shallow water any time. And didn't I promise myself I was going to catch a muskie this year? A walleye on the fly wouldn't be bad either. I can go for both on Crooked River right outside my door, at least until the boat traffic gets too bad. If I drop my bike at Mission road I can do an evening float down and pedal home. Or yo-yo the float since the current is quite negligible.

Every year I say I'm going to hit the sand flats on Burt and Mullet lakes for walleye, steelhead and browns- you know- sight fishing. I need to get on that. Wish I had a skiff. I'll check with my friend Brett and see if he is up for that.

And what about the UP? There's a dozen or more rivers there I promised myself I'd fish this year, and time is slipping away. Then there's the secret spots- rivers and lakes talked about in whispers, things I dare not say aloud in my prayers. Here There Be Tygers.

Should I go for big rock bass on the fly? Should I try to strip streamers for channel cats at Cheboygan River? Is there some way to get a Sturgeon to eat a fly? Cripe- the suckers are running. They can be a lot of fun. Of course there's lake trout and steelhead in the surf in Little Traverse Bay. I commute past it every day but I never stop. I guess I take it for granted.

So I stand here at the start of Fly Brunch, slack-jawed, eager and hungry. Everything is fresh and ready. At the end of summer I hope to stretch back and scratch my belly  and yawn, and try to remember what happened, savor every moment, every fish, every sunset, the laughter of my friends, and those moments spent cradling a fish in the water.