Sunday, January 30, 2011

In From the Cold

-11 and rising

It's COLD this morning. -11, to be exact.  My floors are painful to walk on with bare feet, so I made the coffee, went back upstairs and checked out the work of some of my fellow bloggers on OBN.

The common theme seems to be a complaint about the weather- "when-will-spring-finally-be-here-" kind of a thing, and I must admit that I'm kind of looking forward to brookies by day and browns by night.  But why rush it?  I get up each morning, sip my coffee, watch the metallic sunrise, steam rising off the river.  If I'm fortunate I'll get to see trumpeter swans floating or flying past, most certainly an eagle.  Goldeneye are a special treat this time of year only. I've had white-winged scoter (an arctic and eastern sea duck) out front.

I wish it was like this now
Bird watching isn't fishing though.  About the only ice fishing I'm willing to endure these days is for Whitefish on Little Traverse Bay, an undertaking not for the faint of heart.  When I started fishing for them years ago, we had ice by now, but the years of fishable ice seem to get farther between. This year I predict there will be no fishable ice, as the pack ice has just moved into the State Park, and the Harbor just froze out to the end of the breakwall this week.  I like to see the bay frozen to the horizon- the Big Water makes me nervous- and I doubt we'll see that this year.
So what is a fly fisher to do? Tie, tie, tie.  Tie some more.  Some of my friends tell me they won't tie eggs for steelhead, they're snellin' guys- good for you.  I've got the time.  Give me some yarn, 400 or so size 10 egg hooks and some music and I'm good to go.  You're not a tyer?

Here's my list of tips to get you through the winter.

- Take a tying class.  Even if you don't buy a vise you'll learn something, and it will get you out 5 or 6 times.
-If you already tie and have some buddies, host a weekly tying night- it can be themed (streamers), a competition, or just an excuse to have a beverage and some popcorn and tell stories.
-host a movie night- get your hands on some of those slick new fishing movies that seem to get better every year.  I still haven't seen Eastern Rises. Hint, hint.
-catch up on your outdoor reading list.  If you don't have or can't afford all the books you want, make up a list, have each of your buddies that are willing buy a book on the list, then exchange them.
- Attend a TU event, go to whatever your local outdoorama show is, do something.
- Get out your maps, guidebooks, go online and check satellite images, and make up a to-do list for your spring/summer fishing.
-This one could make or break the rest of your fishing year:  spend that quality time with your kids and or significant other doing something they enjoy.  If you are the Lone Outdoor Ranger in your household, this is your chance to perhaps buy some outdoor time.  Give them your undivided attention.  If they say you talk about fishing too much, then make a resolution to not talk about it for a month or two, now that the slow season is here.  It just may get you some leeway when the weather is nice and the fish are biting.
- get outside and DO something.  Try cross-country skiing or snow shoeing.  When I can't take it any longer, I go hiking on the frozen lakes around me at night.  The nights are breath taking, the air invigorating, and I stick to the car tracks as an indicator of thick ice.
Spring will be here soon and then we'll have too much to do- never mind the yard work etc., the fishing opportunities are endless in Trout Country.  Savor the time now to prepare.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Local Sausage

Most of my friends know that I make my own sausage.  I’m also known as a source of Local Knowledge as it pertains to fishing.  It turns out that Local Knowledge and Local Sausage have a lot in common.  As in, you can’t be too sure of what you’re getting.  (I’ll refer to Local Knowledge as LK in the rest of this because I'm lazy).  Conventional wisdom has always been that the locals know.  Well, maybe and maybe not.
Local flavor in Trout Country

I was on a fly fishing jaunt this last summer with a good friend to Michigan’s Central UP.  We had pulled stakes on our camp and were looking to fish some tributaries of a large and legendary system.  We hit one with mediocre results, found a public camp site and set our sights on town to see what we could find out.  Checking in at the DNR station was as useful as checking in at the local retirement home (she gave us stocking records).  We were looking for some hard intel, so we went to the local tackle shop, just like Field and Stream says to do.  The guy there tried to send us to the tourist park.  Really?  I grew up in a town with one of Michigan’s premiere trout streams flowing right through it.  I don’t fish the tourist park.  Having made some discreetish inquiries since I’ve been informed of the moral superiority of Yoopers- how, in the interest of preserving their precious heritage, they would never give away a fishing spot so that it doesn’t become the fishless cesspool that is the rest of the state.  Before you Yoopers and others get on my case I want to be clear on a couple of points-
a. my friend and I are catch-and-release fly anglers and
b. I don’t want to know your personal honey hole
But really- you can’t share the names of a couple of tributaries, a ten mile stretch of river, a nod in the right direction?  I won’t even ask for directions to the put ins- that’s what maps are for.  The message I took away was “Come visit and spend your money as long as you don’t catch any fish”.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh.  Could it be that I already know as much as the locals?  With several inches of rain on the way we pulled the plug on that trip, so I never got to find out.

I first began to question the value of LK in my home waters.  When fishing with a friend on Mullet and Burt lakes he would at times point us towards a group of boats, assuming that there was some reason they were clustered together.  Every time we would pull up and start fishing the area, only to find that not only were we not catching fish, neither was anyone else.  At least we had company. 

Canada turned out to be no exception.  On one trip we caught or turned multiple large Muskies within sight of the boat launch and a major bridge on a large Lake Superior tributary.  On mentioning this several times over the next few days to locals, the response was universal- “There’s no musky in that river”.  I guess that secret is safe.

On another trip to the same area, my father watched two men catching fish on a steady basis.  “Crappie” was the reply when he inquired as to the catch.  When they came to shore and hauled out their stringer it was loaded with suckers.
Local fauna

I’ll spare you the rest of my charming anecdotes; suffice it to say that I’m a little soured on the whole notion of LK.  In all these intervening years I’ve learned the following about it:
a. they don’t know or
b. they aren’t going to tell you.
 There's also the worst of both worlds- they don't know but are going to expound at length.
Either way you’re at square one.  What is an enterprising angler to do?  If you’re still green at this, cultivate a mentor.  And be a good mentee- listen, be respectful, helpful, don’t cut to the chase.  We like having our feet rubbed, our glass full and our lawn mowed.  Just a tip.
If you’re more experienced and trying to expand on your stream portfolio, do your homework.  For exploring Michigan I take full advantage of its helpful coloring book map of trout streams.  I have the published list of Blue Ribbon Trout streams.  I have both of Tom Hugglers books about fishing Michigan rivers.  Most importantly I have a DeLorme Atlas, which will show you all the roads to your stream including the ones that no longer exist.  My biggest asset is being willing to get out there and sweat a little, hike a few miles, put some time in. I’ve found that fish numbers go up inversely to the distance from the launch. I realize that I’m going to have bad days on good water. For you guides and other pros out there- I know you know, but I'm not about to ask you for trades secrets without paying for your services.

Whatever you do, don’t assume that the grizzled looking old guy with the flies in his hat brim and local plates knows any more about the fishing than you do.
And if I ever serve you sausage at my place, remember- there’s a reason for the sauce.
I'll never tell


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm In

To blog or not to blog.  Why?  Questions that probably haven't bothered you.  Today I realized "Why not?".  I mean really, what's the worst that could happen?  You'll all ignore me and I'll just be talking to myself anyway?  Which is how I spend most of my time, so again, why not?
And so I launch into the blogosphere.  I intend this to be my ruminations on the world of fishing, fly fishing in particular, with a few nods to my other outdoor activities.  I've learned a lot about fishing the last couple of years, but like so many areas of scholarly pursuit, the more I learn, the more questions I have.

For you Philistines out there, Fontinalis refers to Salvelinus fontinalis, the Latin name for Brook trout.  I love brawling with browns and stalking steelhead, but brook trout will always have a special place in my heart.  Prime brook trout water always seems to be that much further out there, more remote, harder to reach, more peaceful.  If you could distill nature and wilderness and beauty, put it in liquid form and give it fins, you'd have a brook trout.

Topics I plan to cover will include fly tying, fishing in general, ethics including catch and release, humor, women in the outdoors, techniques, patterns, people in the outdoors and so on, i.e, exactly  what everyone else is doing- you'll have to let me know if it's different or stands out in any way.  I also plan to publish my takes on the return of wolves to Michigan, the DNR and so on- I'll try to keep it interesting and varied.  In case anyone is interested, I WILL NOT cover specific locations or sensitive fisheries, or name associates who wish to remain unnamed in a public forum.  This is not a tell all, but more of a recounting of the things that keep me awake at night.  You're more than welcome to post a comment, but, please, save any vitriol for your favorite politician/lawyer/ex.  Go start your own blog, there's a link at the top of the page. I especially want to state that I am an apolitical person, and my comments are personal opinions, not political statements.  More than anything I hate the politicizing of an activity that I view as above politics.  I will simply try to state my opinions as they relate to the outdoors; you can conclude what you like.

So that's it, I'm in. As the drink machine designed by the Sirius Cybernetics corporation which was installed on the spaceship Heart of Gold in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series used to say, "Share and enjoy!"