Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Angler's Year- May

Oh May, the gentlest of months.  If April is my favorite fishing month (and she didn't treat me very well this year) then May is my favorite seasonally.  May is April's cute little sister, she never says much, but she is always sweet.  The weather is always nice, the spring storms are over, and usually the violent thunderstorms haven't started yet, nor has the heat.  May is not too skinny, not too fat, not too hot, not too cold.  May is just right.  May dresses herself in the bright, almost fluorescent, greens of budding leaves, spring flowers, blue skies and a boreal nightgown.
Some May flowers

May let's you just relax.  Pleasant air, warm sun, the smell of the earth waking up, lilacs, mown grass, moist dirt.  Trout.  The major steelhead runs are winding down, but the trout are turning on in force.  As the water temperature warms, cranking up metabolisms the trout come out of winter mode and so do the insects.  And insects, after all, are what the fly fishing fuss is all about.  Now it's time to break out the 3 to 5 weights and cast those delicate dries.  You know something?  I actually like tying on a size 18 sulfur or BWO on a warm May morning while trout dimple the river all around me.  I like not wearing every stitch of fleece I own.  I like catching ten inch trout on a 3 weight.  I like catching my first brook trout (salvelinus fontinalis, my namesake) of the year.  After the hubbub of the April trout opener here, May tends to be quiet, with the next flurry of activity not occurring until the Hex hatch in June.  If you show up with some flowers and ask her nicely, May will demurely show you some incredibly pleasant trout fishing.
Some May fish

May has other charms- morchella esculenta- the morel mushroom.  I know, it takes time away from fishing, but hey, what would a May trout breakfast be without morels?  I have to take time out of fishing every year to find these things, and let me tell you- I know how to find them.  If you've never had a morel you've missed out on one of the great flavors of the culinary world.  So delicately fragrant, so rich.  My morel leek soup is to die for.  Morel hunting helps get me in shape for a lot of my other summer activities, as I typically take off through the woods at a good clip and travel straight up and over the hills for miles in search of May's greatest gift (besides the fishing).
A nice May brown

May is not all about small trout and dries.  The water is still cool and high enough that it is a great month to toss streamers for big browns, and for steelhead that haven't left the rivers yet.  There's other, more unique opportunities here in Michigan.  The Great Lakes are still cold, but warming, and big, BIG browns, steelhead, salmon and even lakers can be found cruising the shorelines even at mid-day and some fantastic action can be had double hauling streamers in the surf.  May kicks off another season entirely, one which I intend to get in on this year- carp.  I'll be attending my first carp derby on May 21, put on by The Northern Angler in Traverse City.  If you're thinking of green weedy ponds or muddy ditches, you're dead wrong.  Grand Traverse bay is crystal clear blue water with hordes of large carp working miles of flats like bonefish or redfish.  It is one of the most exciting undersung fisheries anywhere, and I can't wait to give it a go.

I fish a lot at night, it's one of my specialties, and May is when I start.  I know that July and August are the traditional months for that, but my first night fish always comes in May.  There's nothing I like more than tying on a big ugly foam-backed fly and hooking into a brawling brown, one so big you wouldn't think it could live in the stream you're fishing, a brown that makes a sound like a bowling ball being thrown in the river when it hits.

May has other opportunities- here in Trout Country the pike season has just opened, and casting shallow bays with emergent weeds can be some of the most exciting sight fishing anywhere.  As the water warms the bluegills become active and very aggressively take the foam spiders I tie.  I may have to give some of those spiders away this month.  Bluegills are to me one of the guilty pleasures of fly fishing- not large, not traditional, but aggressive and feisty, with an attitude and strength that belies their size.  On a 3 weight they are positively a blast.  If you are wanting to introduce a young person or significant other to the sport it's a great place to start- lots of casting practice, no mending to learn, lots of strikes and hook-ups, powerful fish.  And tasty, if one is so inclined. 

As a matter of fact there's not much that you can't fish for in May, so get out there and see what she has to offer.  Enjoy the warmth, the sun, tie on a petite dry, relax. May is always that month that gives me that spring fever feeling, so try something new, experiment, fish new waters, pursue new species.  But get out there and enjoy May.

more May flowers- why not?


  1. I'm ready to go bowling with a brown trout!!! : )
    Also anxious to see if this May thing of yours is true also out in the West. Fall always has been my favorite fishing...we would have a nice May if we didn't have so much run-off from 600 inches of mountain snow!!! And between Owl's grits and your morels...I'm feeing very ordinary with my cuisine! And that's just fine.

  2. Nice looking country and beautiful fish. That brown is a fine specimen. Thanks for sharing.