Monday, December 31, 2012

2012, We Hardly Knew Ye. . .

It all seems like such a blur now. I don't keep a journal, so all I can do is look at my year in photos and say "Oh wow, I forgot about THAT." It's amazing how quickly a year seems to fly by, yet we manage to pack so much into it. Before I get too far into this, Troutrageous! laid out the ground rules for these kind of posts, so I'm going to go check the regs and come back.

Okay, according to him the first rule is:

1. No lengthy videos or photo slideshows of all of the fish you caught. In keeping with this I'll only be sharing a handful of pictures scattered throughout this post. This shot below is one of my favorites, of Alex Cerveniak casting on a remote brook trout stream on a foggy morning in late summer. We didn't catch a lot of fish, but it was a great day spent on the water with a good friend and the lighting and detail are perfect. I met Alex in March and he has quickly become on of my favorite companions on the water, especially if I want to do an all day remote bushwhack in search of some lost grail.




This leads us to Troutrageous! rule #2 (also known as taking a #2)

2. Don't write too much. I blew off a dinner invitation from Tom Hazleton in order to interview April Vokey. Tom is such a good guy, that not only did he forgive me this slight, we have gone on to become great friends. Being that Tom is a customer service rep for Scientific Anglers and I'm a fly fishing blogger it could be easy to assume I have ulterior motives. My answer to such assumptions is a resounding "No!" Tom is the real deal- he grew up in northern Minnesota fishing the same kind of small backcountry brook trout streams that I did. Among our trips we went camping, night fished while listening to elk bugle, got turned around in the backcountry traveling from stream to stream, caught smallies and carp on the flats, and waded down a fast moving stream by moonlight to swing streamers for king salmon. Tom recently got married to his long-time sweetheart, but I sense we still have many adventures ahead of us. The photo below is of Tom out on the vast carp flats on what was a memorable weekend of camping, catching big browns at night during the Hex hatch, and stalking bronzebacks and carp in the afternoon. Easily the best weekend of summer.
Tom between a rock and the blue sky.

T! rule #3. No lamenting over your blog's future... Okay, I've already done this elsewhere, but I will state some new rules. No more posting just to post- either I mean it and feel it or it doesn't happen. This means that Monday Morning Coffee will continue to fade away. If it has been an interesting week and I have several unrelated items worth sharing then maybe, but don't look for it each Monday (I'm sure you aren't since I've let it slide for several months now). Also- No giveaways or other gimmicks to drive traffic. My blog revolves around my writing and photography. If that doesn't cut the mustard I'm not going to bribe you with freebies. Not saying I'll never do giveaways but I think you get the picture.


T! rule #4. Insert a stupid pop culture reference in your post, even if it makes no sense. This was the year that Brandon Robinson (onebugisfake.com) moved to Michigan. Brandon's Facebook post is the reason I woke myself up with coffee and Gangnam Style all those mornings this year. Curses Mr. Robinson. Rather than share some photo or video of Psy I believe this shot of Brandon riding a pink flamingo in someone's front yard says so much more. Giddy up!





T! rule #5. Five is the magic number. All right Mr. 'Rageous! you get your wish. Here are my top five fishing trips this year in no particular order.

1. Fishing the Pere Marquette river in March with Alex Cerveniak. We drove several hours through the worst snow storm of the year. We didn't catch fish, but took some great photos. We stopped at BBT in Baldwin and bought copies of the new Drake issue with his work in it (how often does that happen?). It was the start of a great friendship.

2. Camping and fishing the trico hatch (which didn't happen) with Mike Schmidt of Angler's Choice flies. Mike is a great guy to share a campfire or a river with. We were especially proud of this trophy log he caught on a 0 weight- it took both of us to land it. You don't get many moments like these on the river.


3. Fishing for brook trout with Alex Cerveniak and Jim Stuard. Alex mocked me for my choice of location, and the fishing was slow but the photo below is of Alex hooked on a twenty inch brook trout right before it broke him off. 'nuff said.



4. Camping and fishing with Tom Hazleton in June. I've already mentioned it above, but it was a fish bum weekend that I will long remember.

5. My solo trip to the UP on July 4 after brook trout. You can read about here on MidCurrent.com if you haven't already. It was an epic trip- 3 streams, withering heat, beautiful fish, and a personal pilgrimage.

Beaver Island in June ranks up there as well, but I had some tough choices to make.

This finally brings me to Fish of the Year:



This was one of two 5 pound smallmouth I caught on Grand Traverse Bay in the spring. They were equally memorable but I had to pick one. Smallmouth in general were the fish of the year- I fished for them a lot, caught well over 100 of them and they vastly expanded and changed how I look at fly fishing. I've already started tying for next spring.

I especially want to thank all the good people (besides the ones mentioned) I shared the water with this year- Jeff Kennedy, Ethan Smith, Becca Schlaff, Ethan Winchester, Don Mapes, Zach Ginop, Tom Menas, Steve Martinez, Brian Kozminski, and Greg Walz. You all were a pleasure to fish with, and it made the season that much more rewarding and interesting. If I left anyone out I apologize.

 According to the Jealousy Counter (top right on this blog) I fished 95 times this year. Will I beat that in 2013? Who knows and who cares. I still live in Northern Michigan, there are still many miles of stream and dozens of lakes I've never fished yet. Au revoir 2012 and welcome 2013. I wish you all the best and tight lines.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Existencia

I wrote this a few weeks ago when there had been a lapse of a couple of months between posts, but I still felt it was worth sharing.

It's kind of amazing to come back here, look around, run a finger through the dust on the shelves. That line tells a tale, more so than the smudge on my finger tip, a lesson in contrast. Mortenson has been questioning my blogger cred.

I suppose he has good reason.

Have you ever asked the question "Who am I; why am I here?"? That's a bit dual pronged, but certainly related. In fly-speak we'd call it "an articulated question".

I've been wondering why I do this, and where it is going. Is there a reason for me to post every Monday morning, even if I have nothing noteworthy to say, or worse, haven't given it the effort that you my readers deserve? Does the fact that I have "pro" status with several companies make me an industry person, or am I still an independent voice? Do I have to become a guide?

Other questions bother me. Sure, I fish a lot and catch a lot of fish, but does that make me an expert? Hardly. I can barely cast, my tying is rudimentary at best, my knowledge of riparian entomology is sketchy, and honestly I am an outsider to fly fishing culture. I've spent too much time fishing on my own. Fly fishing for me has always been a solitary pursuit, not a social one. I went to the rivers for solitude and solace, and I specifically avoided fishing at times and places that drew crowds. Loneliness on a river was comforting and welcome, in stark contrast to the feeling of loneliness at home.

And so I fished a lot. 5 days a week for a couple of years. I got to know my rivers here better than anyone except Zach Ginop, who is a better angler and tyer than me by a long shot, and also 20 years my junior. It's a good thing he can't write. He's one of the best people you could ever spend a day on the river with. He's been voted (by me) Most Likely to Get His Flies Into the Orvis Catalog.

Whatever you do don't fish with this guy- Zach in action.


I left private life at about the same time as most of you. I am of course referring to the current Facebook era. In pretty much one fell swoop I got a Facebook account and then started blogging. I never thought anyone besides a couple of my close personal friends and family would ever follow anything I did, but these days they are a small minority of my followers. I'm getting a kick out of the current rash of "privacy" and "copyright" posts on Facebook. All of you- this is the internet era. I can copy and paste anything you post. I can download your pictures. When you clicked "I Agree" on Facebook's (and every other online social media) terms you gave them permission to pimp what you're posting, and never mind the fact that it allows me to download and use it, right or wrong. If you don't want to share it, don't post it. Sharing means exactly that- you are splitting your cookies n milk with me. Thank you.

Sharing my solitary pursuit on social media resulted in a schizophrenic split- this is what I do alone, for all of you to see. Blogging exacerbated the chasm- this is what I do alone, please follow me. I am still exploring this rent in my psyche. I've tried hard not to give up river names and places, but at one point I fished a favorite spot that, judging by the untracked snow had not been fished in several days. I did a small blog and social media post on my successful fishing, only to find 6 cars there the next day. Coincidence? Possibly, but it still was an odd feeling.

At the end of this day I still feel it is worth doing. I'll continue to hold everyone at arms length even as I continue to share my adventures. I'll continue to write. I have some fresh inspiration. Writers will always be lost and questioning souls. If you're wondering what Limbo is like, become a writer. It's not so bad- at least we have an outlet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review- Redington Form Practice Rod



Let's say you're a salesman. A good salesman. You live in an Austin suburb, own a comfortable house, have a lovely wife and 1.7 children.  You're trapped in the soulless hell of plugging your company's widget business to business and are on yet another business trip. You have a golf handicap, fashion sense, are quick with a joke, and you bury your colleagues when it comes to what matters- selling.

What your coworkers don't know, is that you're a closet fly fisherman. That's right, several times a year you take a long weekend or even a week, tell your colleagues you're heading out to visit family or going camping or whatever, when really you're taking the long rod to your favorite waters to fish your species of choice. Up until recently you've spent the first half day of such trips re-learning how to cast. But you're a good guy with impeccable taste and married the perfect woman. How perfect? She bought you the Redington Form practice rod as a gift. And here you are on a business trip, you've flogged your product successfully for the umpteemth time and now you are actually excited to return to your hotel room. Why? Because you  get to spend the evening casting your Form rod at Wolf Blitzer's forehead. Just remember he deserves it.

Part of me thinks that the Form is just a devilishly ingenious way to play with cats and small terriers. Imagine perfecting your casting form while Fluffy and Kibbles chase the orange yarn fly- that's right, your Persian could make you a better fly caster. That Yorkie could make you stop your back-cast on a dime.

My snarky sense of humor aside, one of my biggest gripes each spring used to be that I had gotten rusty at my casting and would spend the first outing or two thrashing around like a walrus trying to haul out on the ice. It would have been nice to have one back then. The Form is compact enough that you can cast it indoors- it's all of 50 inches long with a thirty foot long Rio custom line and a yarn "fly" attached. One of it's ingenious features is that there is no attachment point for the line. This let's you hold the line with your rod hand, performing a normal cast OR you can hold the line with your free hand and guess what? Pretty soon you're double hauling like a pro. The Redington Form rod is a two-piece rod with a nice carrying case that has some rather ingenious casting instructions on the side ( Did you ever think the phrase "Answer the phone" would make you a better caster?). It even has one of those nifty QR codes on the side that will direct you to Redington's site for instructional videos etc.

those ingenious instructions

I have to say that even though I struggle less and fish more than I used to I still play around with this thing as it is a lot of fun to cast. I even got out my three weight line and threaded it up, just to see if it would cast a real fly line. I got fifty feet out of it. Next spring my buddy Zach and I are going to take it out for brook trout. There's no reel seat but trust me- we'll figure it out.

The Redington Form rod retails for $39.95 and makes an excellent gift for the fly angler in your life.

Or maybe for your Yorkie.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psychedelia



I'm driving home, post-fishing. It’s dark, and the fog is thick. I have some psychedelic music playing on the radio, Olivia Tremor Control. The music ebbs and flows with strange rhythms and harmonies, the kind of music you would expect the Northern Lights to sound like if you were on 'shrooms. Bigfoot or a Yeti could cross the road at any moment. I wouldn’t be too surprised if I ran over the Mad Hatter tonight.

Fly fishing is my LSD. The river is a shape shifter, and fish appear and disappear like so many apparitions. Sometimes they wind up inexplicably in your hand, all vibrant colors and breathing vivid spots, other times they are just a shadow, a swirl in liquid silver, a tail or a fin that appears for an instant before disappearing, a mere figment of a fevered imagination.



 “That one was 15 inches. . .” 

I can say that with confidence, and who could prove me wrong? It was my vision, not yours.

I’m standing thigh deep in the cold swirling waters and cold swirling fog while cold swirling clouds pass overhead, and white swirling snow birds perform their own living blizzard in the fields. What month is this? My mind tells me it’s December, but the temperature feels more like April. The drumming of a grouse nearby settles it- It must be April. How many times have I been here? I don’t know. When was the last time I caught a fish? How many times have I tied this knot? How many times have I tied this fly? It all runs together in a house-of-mirrors mind trick, until even the faces of my friends run together, like a fire has broken out at Madame Tussaud’s. Was I with Phil or Bill the last time I floated the Pigeon? Was it ’04 or ’05 when I last fished the Harmony river? Have I been to Alaska? Because it seems pretty real.

just another friend on just another river


But it is not real. I’ve never been there. I know this. I’ll just have to keep reminding myself of that fact, despite my memories of fishing the dog salmon run on a braided gravel flat.

I open my kaleidoscope fly box, searching for just the right bit of fluff, the one mote of yarn that will entice a steelhead, a fantastic creature in itself that you couldn’t make up if you tried. “What? There’s a fish that can live in a stream like a normal trout, or if it chooses it can head down to a bigger body of water and return years later in the form of an angry silver freight train? What are you ON?”

I’m flogging the water pretty hard. Missed the first fish. Then another. I get another of those disjointed moments when I hook up on a fish while trying to cross the river with my line trailing. Two head shakes and it’s gone. I’m going to have to give up fly fishing- it’s messing with my head.

Childrens voices echo in the fog. I can’t make out what they are saying. Sometimes they sound happy sometimes they sound sad, irritable, plaintive, whiny. I used to have a repetitive dream that was very similar, but the voices were adult voices, and they were always angry.

does this look like a Becca Schlaff painting or what?


I make my way upstream, fishing the familiar lies, but they have all changed. I’m of the opinion that salmon have at least as big of an impact on a river as beavers- none of the holes are as they were last year, some are missing entirely. It’s like fishing a different river. I have to learn each run and hole anew. It's disorienting- the river looks the same, but something fundamental has changed. I miss several more fish before finally hooking up on a brown trout. It’s a small fish, but it’s colors are shocking and vibrant against the muted tones of the river in December, another hallucination in a monochrome world. Two runs up I miss a fish on the first cast, but as my rig drifts past me a spectral form materializes off the dark bottom and turns in a swirl. I pause a second before setting the hook;  it’s no surprise when a foot-long rainbow comes to hand. 

I saw this coming before it ever happened;  I have willed this fish into existence through an act of lucidity.

I caught two more fish before the failing light blended all the shapes and colors back together, and the only reality left was the trail out, then the headlights of my car on the road. The world came to an end by the simple cataclysmic act of the sun setting.

I head home to heat up my dinner and wait for the world to reappear miraculously tomorrow. I’ve never been into drugs. For me the river will have to do.

thermonuclear sunset

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Scenes From A Show

I went to the FFF Great Lakes Council Fly Tying Expo in Holt Michigan today- down and back, which entailed a 3:30 am start, 8 hours of driving and a full day at the event, all to take in the work of some great fly tyers and artists. With about 80 tyers in attendance there was no way to meet or talk to everyone, and with a lot of great friends old and new there it was hard to get very far, but here's some photo highlights from the show.



I traveled with Alex Cerveniak, Brian Kozminski and Ethan Winchester- great guys to share a road trip or a river with. Alex was one of the tyers. Here he is whipping up Intruder patterns.


It was nice getting caught up with Lou Burhart of Brack Hill Tackle. Lou is always a lot of fun to talk to. He invited me to fish with him next week at his cottage on the Au Sable, which I sadly had to decline- work. Lou is a fantastic tyer of traditional salmon flies and maker of bamboo rods.


Here's Mike Schmidt of Angler's Choice Flies, a good friend. His table struck me as funny, as I wasn't sure if I was looking at a tyers desk or had walked into a Jo-Ann Fabrics. I have to bust his chops whenever I get the chance.


This is Facebook friend Matt Svoboda. I'm not sure if he has a fly related business as I forgot to look for a card. He's certainly a good tyer. Matt- thanks for all the encouragement about my writing and blog, I really needed it. I'm glad someone gets my sense of humor.


This is Chris Soule of SouleFly Productions. Chris is always fascinating to talk to as he always gets into the intricate details of why a fly works from both the perspective of the fish and the tyer. It's that kind of information that makes you a better fisherman even if you don't tie.

 

For some reason this shot of Bear Andrews works in black and white. We had a great conversation, and I hope we get to wet a line some day. Jeff (Bear) shares the same passion for brook trout as I, and he chases them every year in Labrador and Ontario. I hope to join him some day.


Tommy Lynch, The Fish Whisperer, doesn't know this, but I've taken to calling him The Professor behind his back, as he is the walking encyclopedia on big brown trout. Here he is tying flies big enough to catch muskie- for browns.


This is Alex Lafkas of Old Au Sable Fly Shop. We had a lot of fun taking trophy shots of this giant brown trout streamer he tied. He got it on a 3 inch sculpin pattern.



Here is Ethan Winchester talking with Matt Erny of Streamers Fly Fishing. Matt is an excellent tyer, and it was great to finally put a face to the name of someone whose flies and fishing I have admired for a long time.


Tommy Lynch again. What can I say, we had a lot of fun with the grip n grins.


Eli Berant of www.greatlakesfly.com.  It was great to finally meet this guy. He doesn't know it, but I've been admiring his flies from afar. He is a muskie specialist and if I'm right, I believe he said he had 39 feet of flies on his table.


This shot says it all- everything I love about flies and tying.

I want to thank everyone I met and talked to today, but especially Charley Vee (I think it's VanHusen, but that's his Facebook handle) Matt Svoboda, Kyle Maki, Justin Keene and a couple of others who didn't give me their names for seeking me out and letting me know how much they enjoy this blog. It was a shot in the arm. If you don't see your name or pic here I'm sorry- I didn't take enough photos, and didn't get to talk to everyone I wanted to, but to all of you I want to say thank you. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to seeing you all in the future.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Taillights.

Taillights.

Some things you can't change, and some things you can't forget.

Taillights blaze and traffic stops. A woman gets out of a minivan, flashers blazing and as I pull up, a pathetic figure thrashes on the cold gray asphalt. At first I think it is a coyote, and I think "good!", but then I see the collar- someones pet. Cars are backing up, red lights and headlights veering all over the place, as this poor creature thrashes on the pavement, it's jaws agape, tongue lolling, it's eyes still eager to please. I see those useless back legs and despair.

When I was a kid, we had a black lab pub named Belle. She was gorgeous and sweet. One night, when returning from our piano lessons my mother ran her over.

I'll never forget her terrified yelps, the cries of pain and agony. I'll never forget having to leap over the pool of blood to see what happened to my pet.

This is why I don't play music or have a dog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anatomy




Maple Syrup as it Pertains to Fly Fishing

Cold is a lot like maple syrup on pancakes. At first it sits on the surface, congealing, aloof, plotting.   Soon it seeps in until your pancakes are too sweet, or you are too cold. Brandon is cold, and not sweet at all, having moved to Michigan from Texas. He drove in the pre-dawn fog to meet us at Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, arguably the nexus of fly fishing in Michigan.

When I left my door it was 20 degrees.

This is the season of dead deer. They lay on the sides of the roads. They lay on top of cars, and trucks and tailgates.  Dead deer hang from trees, and poles strung between trees, and one will greet us at our take out, or rather, a skin, rib cage and head, the detritus of the current season, cast off by a Michigan “sportsman”.

“Brandon- do you need some deer hair?”

“No” is his response, thus ending any further interest in the carcass, so thoughtlessly dumped.

We drifted for most of the day, after some considerable debate about how to launch, but in the end the private land owner was very gracious, and we drifted off in the fog, with big dreams of big trout. The river bottom was polka-dotted with redds of brown trout, bright tear drops of gravel on the tan bottom. Hundreds of them, and some the size of a bathtub. We must be in good water.
Sure enough, we started spooking fish, schools of them, but it took quite a bit of time to get fish to react to our streamers. Time, like maple syrup, was trickling by, slow and saturating. Koz and I took turns on the oars, Brandon switched from bow to stern and back to bow. We all switched flies. Koz got a couple of fish, but we never did see any of the pigs we came for.



Michigan can be the worst of mistresses. It has some of the best fishing anywhere, while regularly dishing out days like this.

Food Poisoning Has Negative Effects On Bass Fishing 

We drove north to the Straits of Mackinac in search of bass and pike. We had slept in that morning, conversing over a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and sweet potato fries finished with maple syrup.

“Fly fishing is the rod, the reel and the line” declared Brandon Robinson. This is perhaps the most succinct appraisal of fly fishing I’ve ever heard. For one thing, it doesn’t address the fly. The fly is ephemeral anyways, and in the age of Fish Skull’s, can you really say it’s not a jerk bait?

When we finally reached the literal end of the road, Brandon got out of his Jeep doubled over. He was blaming the ginormous cheese-sopped sandwich he had eaten at Subway. Cheese seems to loom large in the culinary life of Mr. Robinson. He should have picked up on  my abstention.  For all I know it was the breakfast I had cooked (or didn’t), but I’ll let Subway take the blame. Food poisoning is food poisoning, and we talked about the fishing between stomach cramps, but soon it got so bad that he declared he must go, and so I led the way back to Mackinaw.

We’re Not in Africa Anymore




“Mr. Robinson I presume?” This is somewhat how I had envisioned this meeting, a re-enactment of H.M. Stanley meeting David Livingstone in Africa.

It wasn’t quite like that.

For one thing Brandon has gotten all of 2 hours sleep in the last 24; something about brisket smoked over hickory and getting grades in. Brandon is a teacher, and apparently gunning for teacher of the year. Koz and I rolled up to Old Au Sable Fly Shop and greeted Brandon, convinced him to ride rather than follow, and we made our way to the river.

After some intense negotiations we launched at M-72 on the Manistee river. I rowed standing up to down below the bridge where we would load the boat, staring at the bright redds, shining tear drops of gravel staring up at me.

My meeting with Brandon was the result of my life in the on-line realm, and I have to say that I have made a number of friends through this brave new world- among others Cameron Mortenson, Mike Schmidt, Sanders, Alex Cerveniak, and April Vokey, all who I count as personal friends, and now Brandon. Still, I expected something- some meeting of the minds, a recognition, some secret handshake. I should know better by now. When I first met Cameron Mortenson it was for a night float and he met us after dark, meaning that even after spending a whole night on the water with him I still didn’t know what he looked like until I stayed with him a year later at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.

So Brandon, who spent most of the previous day smoking a brisket and then slept 2 hours at a rest area, is in the front of the boat as we drift through thick morning fog. He has a bad habit of fishing behind or to the side of the boat, a habit I try to cure him of by fishing around him to the front whenever I get the chance. It is very cold, Brandon has no thermal layers to wear, and as a result he is cold and surly. I’m enjoying his surliness.

Negotiations

FR- We're doing a  streamer float Saturday on the Manistee.  Want in? It's about 2.5-3 hrs from Sfield.

BR: (aka Brandon Robinson and OneBugIsFake) Yeah I think so.

FR: It will be streamers for big browns.  Float all day. Let me know if you're staying with me or driving up that am. Probably on the water by 9.

BR: How much?

FR: Just your gas n food. It's not a guide trip.

BR: Where is it?

FR: Just west of Grayling m-72.

BR: What do I need to bring? Wet wading? I don't have my Diablo yet.

FR: You'll need your streamer rod n streamers n waders. We will be in a 3 man drift boat but you'll want your waders. Dress warm.

FR: You'll need a sink tip also.

FR: Most fish are 1-6 lbs. 10 lbs is possible.

BR: I think I'm in. Be warned I've never rowed a boat before.

FR: You won't have to. Koz and I are both experienced rowers.

FR: For fly patterns anything by Kelly Galloup or Mike Schmidt. Sculpin patterns. Streamers 1-5" long.  White, yellow, black, tan, olive and combinations of those. Juvie brown, brook and rainbow trout patterns are good. Great lakes deceivers in cotton candy or brown and yellow.

BR: Yeah, I'll just buy some stuff off you. All my tying stuff is boxed up.

FR: Don't worry about it.  Between Koz and I we'll have you covered.

BR: I have some streamers. I should be somewhat okay.

FR: Other than that just make sure you have some wicking long underwear, fleece, or whatever you prefer to keep you warm.

BR: As long as I'm not wet wading I should be fine.

FR: Waders will mostly help keep the wind out. Most of the water is too deep to wade.

FR: It should be a good trip. It's primetime, conditions are perfect. Real shot at fish 20-28".

BR: So 40-50 isn't that cold, I should be fine. 20-28 inch fish? That's nuts.

FR: They are the goal. Not always the reality. Those fish are there.

Subway could do this to you.


You can keep up with Brandon at OneBugIsFake.com and Koz at True North Trout.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Second Coming of Brandon Robinson

"Does Michigan have any trash fish?"

I was fully expecting this question or at least not surprised by it. Brandon Robinson (Mr. One Bug Is Fake) has made his mark as an egalitarian angler- no fish is too obscure or lowly for him to pursue. He's cut his teeth these last few years fishing the warm waters of Texas. He's moving to Michigan this week, to a new career, a new life. He lived here in his younger years, but apparently this was before he found fishing. His next statement took me by surprise.

"All you ever hear of Michigan is trout, steelhead and salmon. I want to know- is there any trash fish?"

It's true, we do have a lot of trout water- 14,000 miles of trout stream give or take, and hundreds of trout lakes, besides the Great Lakes themselves. You hear so much about the trout because we take the other fish for granted. But Michigan has far more warm water species than cold. And while Brandon is moving to the Metro Detroit area, there are hundreds of miles of stream and hundreds if not a couple of thousand small to medium sized lakes within a short drive of where he will be, almost all of them warm water.  I'm starting to realize that Brandon has no idea what he's getting into, so I'm going to share a little information for him here- call it a housewarming gift.

Michigan has the second longest US coastline, Alaska being the longest. While Minnesota boasts of 10,000 lakes, Michigan has over 11,000 plus the Great Lakes. You are never more than 6 miles from water in the state. Michigan is home to 155 species of fish. A few of those are "trash" fish. 15 or so species of sucker to start with. Lots of catfish. Freshwater drum- I caught one this summer on Grand Traverse bay while fishing smallmouth that had to be ten pounds. It popped my line before I could get my picture with it. Bowfin (dogfish), burbot (eel pout), garfish (2 species). I'm sure there's plenty I'm leaving out.

Carp are so ubiquitous that no one pays them much attention. Here they bowhunt for them, and there are so many in Saginaw Bay (a short drive Mr. Robinson) that there is a bowhunting tournament held there each year. Garbage trucks haul the fish to farms where they are tilled in as cheap fertilizer by grateful farmers. Carp are found in every body of water in the Detroit area, and he'll have no competition for them.

Here's a few bodies of water and areas that Brandon should be exploring near his new home.

Lake St. Clair. Right on your doorstep bud. It's called "the sixth Great Lake" for a reason- it's so big you can't see across it. Lake St. Clair is a fish factory, and is well known for its walleye, perch, smallmouth bass and muskie.  It is the muskie capital of the world, and one of the few places where chartering for muskie is feasible. Multiple fish days are the norm with double digit days common for charter boats, and fish are typically 36-58 inches long. Muskies are a pike's gangster big brothers. St. Clair is also loaded with drum, carp, gar, bowfin and other Great Lakes trash. I've caught drum there almost every time I've fished it, almost to the point of annoyance. When your Diablo arrives take it to the North end of the lake and explore the marshes and shallow flats for your favorites, or if you're shorebound, hit the 9-mile jetty, the Coastguard station or the mouth of the Clinton river. This is all just a jump from where you'll be, water you can fish after work.

Huron River. The Huron wraps around the west and south of Metro Detroit. It is known for its smallmouth, is loaded with carp, and you will catch the occasional pike for good measure.  The lower stretches even get runs of salmon and steelhead. It is puncuated by several dams and the reservoirs, many of which are part of the Metro Parks system, hold bass, crappie, panfish, pike and loads of carp. The Huron is a big system, and I'm sure you'll be able to find some quiet water.

Clinton River. I used to fish the mouth of the Clinton for the monster pike that come in there to spawn during the first warm days of April. Fish in the 10-20 pound range are common. The Clinton system winds its way through the north and west parts of the metro area. It is home to all your beloved trash fish, but parts of it are trout stream that gets steelhead runs.

St Clair and Detroit Rivers. St Clair river feeds Lake St. Clair, Detroit river drains it. Pretty much the same fishing as Lake St. Clair, but good places to shore fish, especially for drum. The lower Detroit is loaded with bass, and both rivers host walleye and bass tournaments. These are big powerful rivers with lots of freighter traffic, so be careful if you take the Diablo.

Some of the species Brandon will encounter will be new to him. Not too many people go after walleye on the fly, but because it's so shallow I'm sure it's doable on Lake St. Clair. Ciscoes (lake herring) fight hard and feed heavily on the massive hex mayfly hatches that occur here, but not many people go after them. Detroit river gets huge runs of white bass each spring, and I've never heard of anyone fly fishing for those. Bowfin are common on Lake St. Clair, but again, who fishes for them? If you do, don't put your hands near their mouths. Supposedly they fight like trains.

I'm kind of excited for Brandon, but I know how intimidating it can be trying to get to know a new area. My message to him is that Michigan will be whatever he makes of it- it can be the trout and salmon state, he can knock himself out on bass and panfish on the hundreds of lakes in the area, or he can chase trash fish and carp. There is so much fishing to do here that it is mind-boggling. I'm not even getting to Up North where I live. If I had concerns for Brandon they would be culture shock- Detroit has its own, quite different from Texas, and the winters- that first one will be tough, and he may have to put the fly rod away for a couple of months unless he's willing to go after steelhead.  Don't worry about Detroit- it's not as bad as people make it sound, there's lots of good restaurants and the local music scene is fantastic (hey, it's the home of Eminem, Kid Rock and the White Stripes. Any town that can make Kid Rock a star has something going on.).

Brandon- make sure you stop in at Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti on the Huron River. It's only about thirty minutes from you. They guide for warmwater fish and carp and they'll be able to point you in the right direction. Buy Katie Ferner a beer at one of the breweries around the corner and she'll spill her guts, I'm sure of it. They also have a good fly selection for the water there. If you're pulling your hair out and need help, call me. I'll come down, show you some spots, help you get to know the road system or the state fishing regulations.

And when you do finally get settled in, hop in your jeep, point it North and lets go fishing. Even if it is for trash fish.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boyne Outfitters- Demo Days and Skitoberfest



So the big news for me lately has been that I started working Saturdays in the new fly shop in our area- Boyne Outfitters. They're a full service shop and guide service operating out of Boyne Mountain ski resort. While Fontinalis Rising will continue to be my own independent website and voice, if something particularly interesting is going on I'll share it here.

And so. . . On Saturday October 6 we'll be having Demo Days in conjunction with Boyne's annual Skitoberfest. Reps for Simm's and Far Bank will be here as well as our staff. You'll be able to cast rods and test lines on our ponds as well as enjoy local food, beer, wine and spirits as well as live music. I'll be working the fly shop, so stop  in and say hi.  Admission is free, and the fall color should be near peak by then. The color is about 30% right now, but it gets brighter every day.



So come on out, drop by, cast a rod, enjoy some music and refreshments, and go for a drive in the country to take in the color. Not necessarily in that order. Make sure you stop in the shop and say hi to me.

the color thus far


For more information Click the following links

Boyne Outfitters

http://www.boyneoutfitters.com/

Skitoberfest

http://www.boyne.com/BoyneMountain/AnnualEvents/Skitoberfest.html




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Isle Royale- The Aftermath



So, I went to Isle Royale, have been home for three weeks, and the crickets chirp louder than ever here at FR. You're thinking "What gives?".

Well, I've been buried in work, visitors, and feeling a little burned out. A little not a lot. It's more like needing to digest such a trip. Isle Royale is not your ordinary destination, no. It was almost disturbing to visit a part of my state so far removed from daily experience, kind of like discovering Molokai had been plunked down in a reservoir in Nebraska- it was mind boggling.

It was particularly jarring to find my own personal Shangri-La so close to home. IRNP combines so many of my loves- wilderness, kayaking, history, long coves, numerous islands to explore, wolves, brook trout, a reasonably good restaurant, arduous travel, hiking, geography, people watching, and discovery.

at home, in my element. Brett Watson photo


We got to Isle Royale at about noon Saturday, went through the required orientation and made our way to our cabin. We were immediately blown away. We had this picture perfect view of Tobin Harbor below our cabin. We quickly dropped our gear as the sound of a float plane approached. Two of our team members were due on the plane, and we wanted to see them drop in.



We made it to the dock as they taxied in and helped them unload. As we stood there exchanging high-fives and talking we happened to look into the water and spot brook trout- very large brook trout- swimming below us. I counted seven fish in the 20 inch range chasing minnows underneath our feet and snapped a couple of pictures. We hurried up to our cabin and strung our rods.

we came so far....


I got down to the dock in time to find that Bob Miller had already landed a 20 incher on a clouser minnow he had tied. I took a couple of shots then started fishing. Bob caught another smaller fish which I also photographed. We all stood there on the float plane dock casting. On my tenth cast give or take, a fish came out from under the dock and nailed my Madonna streamer. This one was also in the 20-inch range and very thick and heavy.

for this


The fish soon cleared out, and we had not yet settled into our cabin. We still had luggage on the ferry dock to retrieve. So we made our way back to the cabin, put our rods away and made our way to retrieve our kayaks from the ferry dock. As soon as we got there we spotted them- six coasters swimming on the sheltered side of the dock. We could hardly believe our eyes- this was going to be too easy. We carried the boats over to Tobin Harbor, got our personal effects a little more settled, then carried our rods back down to the dock. I paddled out to the nearest island, beached the boat and started casting. We fished the rest of the afternoon with no results. Later that evening Brett Watson caught an 18 inch fish. It would be the last of our trip.

From here out the fishing got very tough. On Sunday and Monday we beat Tobin Harbor to a froth. On Sunday the barometer was all over the place. We paddled first to the western islands in the harbor, stopping to cast at every point, rock and reef. While fishing alone a Coaster swam up to my feet to look at my fly while I was busy scanning more distant waters. When I gave my fly a twitch it took off, the last Coaster we would see on the trip.

Tobin Harbor mit coffee


What happened? We can speculate all we want about the barometer, about the influx of bait fish including smelt which were being busted on the surface, or about the ill-effects of early success. To be honest, the Great Lakes are like that- you can have bounty one minute, and empty water the next. It's a big place surrounded by big deep water. As it was we were graced by a few lovely fish, our assurance that Coasters still exist. The season for Coasters ended Monday (Coasters are catch and release only) and so on Tuesday, our last day of fishing, we moved our kayaks over to Rock Harbor where it's possible to catch coho salmon, lake trout and steelhead from shore.

Brett Watson working the shoreline
We didn't catch any of those either. Chris Reister had a big laker chase his fly to the dock several times. Brett Watson and I paddled our kayaks around Rock casting our hearts out, but I soon tired of this. Isle Royale is a big place, and I felt I had not seen enough, that I would be cheated if I didn't at least explore a little, and so I paddled out into the clearing fog all the way to the Rock Harbor light, nearly 8 miles away. For me it was the most magical experience of the trip, better still than catching a Coaster. I felt as if I was able to catch a small glimpse of this park. I spent the day alone exploring the coast, paddling between the islands, photographing the lighthouse even as I was uncertain of the time, of the great swells rolling in off of mighty Lake Superior, or the distance back to the harbor. I have written a story about this trip; look for it in thebackcountryjournal.net any day now.

Isle Royale paddler


Conclusions? Well, we weren't there long enough to get a good measure of the plight of Coasters. If our early success was an indication Coasters are doing quite well. Their subsequent disappearing act speaks not just to their enigma, but to that of Superior as well, a mysterious fish in a mysterious lake. When you float out over that blue-green water, the rocks far below you receding into darkness, it is hard not to have a shiver run down your spine. Never mind the universe, or even this planet, we are small and inconsequential on this Great Lake. Let's hope we are inconsequential to the fish as well.

my view, before the fog closed back in


Our last day, Wednesday, was all about making the ferry on time for its 9 A.M. departure. It rolled out under heavy skies. We made the stop at the park headquarters at Mott Island before making the narrow passage past the Rock Harbor light, my destination of the previous day. The distant roar of surf and the rising pitch of the ferry announced squall weather on the open lake. I interviewed a park employee as we left the island under dark clouds, a stiff breeze and spitting rain. Before we reached the inland passage back to Houghton four hours later, the waves were big enough to make walking difficult, and several broke above the second level of the boat, sloshing water down the decks and sending all but the bravest passengers inside.

I'll go back. I'll go back, but I won't stay at the lodge. I'll bring my kayak, paddle from point to point, stay at the campgrounds, do day hikes to points of interest, or just to work out the kinks in my legs from being cramped in a kayak. I'll go for at least ten days. Isle Royale is a beautiful and memorable place I have barely touched or seen. Sure I'll fish it again, but it will only be part of the adventure. I'll look for moose, stay at off-shore campgrounds, paddle the Palisades, and take the water taxi to the west end of the island. I'm going to paddle from Windigo to Siskiwit Bay.

I'm going to give Isle Royale a good paddling. That's all I can say.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- Isle Royale edition




Aaaauuuuuuchhhthphphhhh. Yawawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.  It’s Monday in Isle Royale. This has been a great trip so far. let's have some coffee.



Just getting here was an adventure. It’s a seven hour drive from my house, and I stopped a lot to take pictures and stretch my legs (and back). Once I got to Copper Harbor where the ferry and our hotel was I found  a general store, a couple of curio shops and restaurants and no cell phone signal,. Every motel room was full,  because it turns out that Copper Harbor is one of the top ten mountain biking destinations in the US, and there was a race this weekend. I bummed around town, checked into the dilapidated motel, got some dinner at The Mariner, and went back to my room and tied flies. The guys got in late, and we talked and laughed way too late into the night, or should I say morning?

Our ferry left at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and we sailed on the calm blue of Lake Superior, the low mountains of the Keewenaw Peninsula receding into the Lake, and then the outline of Isle Royale itself lifting from the northern horizon.  In the course of the voyage we were never out of sight of land which was a surprise in this 56 mile crossing. It took about three hours.



When we arrived, we went through orientation then checked in and found our cabin. It is situated on a ridge overlooking Tobin Harbor, which is the focus of the Coaster brook trout population. Chris Reister and Brett Watson had opted to fly via float plane, and we heard its droning while we were checking out the cabin. We hurried down to welcome them to the island. No, we didn’t have spruce leis.



While we were standing on the dock talking, someone looked into the water, and right there beneath us seven Coaster brook trout swam in circles. They were chasing bait fish clustered around the dock. We had some necessary business to care for but hurried back down to the docks with our rods. Bob Miller was the first to score, and on his second cast. A few minutes later he had another. Then I hooked up on a good buck. The fish were all 18-20”, and beautifully colored.  Brett would catch one later in the evening. We launched our kayaks and poked around, saw a few more fish, then went back to the docks after dinner and played a game called “Learn to Spey cast” in which Chris Reister managed to break his spey rod and put an early end to our bet as to who would break a rod first. Brett came in second on Sunday. 

one of four good fish
While it was nice to see fish right off the bat and even catch a couple we quickly tired of the dock fish, not to mention that the Tobin Harbor dock is a favorite after work swimming hole for the park and lodge workers. The fishing has turned out to be tougher than our early results would have indicated, with sightings being sparse. I had one fish follow my fly on Sunday, but there’s very little surface activity to help you pinpoint fish, and the harbor has been invaded by bait fish dimpling the surface everywhere you look.



We have two full days of fishing left and so we’re still hoping to crack the code here and get some good fish. I should say that one highlight of this trip has been the food, provided by Erin Chittum and Peter Nunez of Petite Cottage basically at cost, or at least I don’t think I could have gotten food for the trip for the price I paid to eat like a king. Sirloin stew, lasagna, enchiladas. They sent a loaf of zucchini bread for each of us, as well as trail mix, cookies, homemade jerky, guacamole, vegetables and bread sticks. No one will be losing weight on this trip for better or worse.

Brett Watson casting


Well, there’s too much to tell, so I’ll leave it there. I doubt I’ll get another blog post done before I get home so have a great week. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for fresh pictures etc., and I’ll get some posts up soon here and elsewhere.

Have a great week. I’ll be here on Isle Royale.

Tobin Harbor sunrise