Saturday, June 23, 2012

Beaver Island Fever

It's kind of like beaver fever, but with more fish and less dysentery.  I would think by now that most of you have at least heard of Beaver Island. After all, it has been heralded and high-lighted by such luminaries as Kirk Deeter and Tim Romano of Field and Stream in last years "Operation Michigan Tropical" and this last week by Cameron Mortenson of The Fiberglass Manifesto. His first fish, by the way, weighed 34 pounds.

As I write this, Dave Hosler of Pile Cast and Ethan Smith of SmithFly are on Beaver Island. Dave is fishing with Indigo Guide Service this weekend, and Ethan will be fishing with them Monday and Tuesday. Ethan has invited me to join him on Tuesday. I am so stoked it is difficult to sit here and type.

Why Beaver Island? What makes it so special.  First of all, it is an end-of-the-road destination. It takes effort to get there. It takes more than an hour to get from any freeway to Charlevoix. Charlevoix is at least 4 hours from any major metro area. Once there you either have to hop a plane or take the ferry. Once you get to Beaver Island, you are surrounded by miles of open water, white sand beaches, clattering terns and screeching gulls, and not much else.  If you really, REALLY want to get away from it all, head for Beaver Island.

Secondly, it has a really strange history, complete with a Mormon monarchy and subsequent uprising, assassination and exodus, a lawless period, the Irish influx followed by the death of the fishing and timber industries which resulted in the current and very quiet population of about 600.  Scientists today study the bird populations of the outer islands in the archipelago, as well as the smallmouth bass. I have caught some of their tagged fish in my home waters.

my success so far

Why would anyone travel to Beaver Island to fish for carp? First of all, we fly anglers need to stop turning our noses up at fish. Mike Agneta of Troutrageous! took a shot at carp recently. He was joking, kinda.  It's not just that carp are large- they are, but they are also finicky, easily spooked, line shy, and super sensitive to sounds and vibrations.  Once hooked they can easily clean out your reel, dust its shelves and tell you that you need to stock up on tissue. Fly anglers who are easily impressed by a 10 inch brook trout should not turn up their noses at ten pound carp. Most fly anglers will fish their entire lives without needing a drag. Unless they fish for carp, in which case it had better work, they had better know their knots, they had better know how to double-haul into a 25 knot breeze, and they had better know how much an 8 pound tippet can take. (At this point I don't think it should be called tippet, just tip)

So, I'm off to Beaver Island.  The Mormons have all left for the South Pacific. Kirk Deeter went to wherever he goes. Cameron Mortenson is safely back in South Carolina. Dave Hosler will be there, as will Ethan Smith, Kevin Morlock, and my friend Steve Martinez. It will be kick-ass no matter what. It will be dirtbag- I'll be sleeping on a couch, in a trailer, on an island, in Lake Michigan, in the Midwest, in North America, on planet Earth, in the Universe, The Mind of God. It will be perfect.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- June 18

Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.  It's Monday again. Let's have some coffee.

I know, I haven't shared Monday Morning Coffee with you in quite awhile. I hate posting when I don't have anything to say.  I've been working seven days a week and evenings for quite awhile, which cuts into my fishing and my writing time.

Not that I haven't been writing. As a matter of fact, this last week has been a big one for yours truly, with pieces being published in The Cedar Sweeper and MidCurrent with another due to drop in Blood Knot any day now. I'm a member of the Boyne Writer's Circle, part of the Boyne Arts Collective, and we've self-published an anthology called "Voices from the Boyne" on Lulu. If you have some strange itch to see my words in a book you can follow the link and order one, or you can order a signed copy from me- just shoot an email to I'll warn you that I only have two pieces in the book, and they both were published on this blog, but hey, whatever you like.

Lake Michigan sunset

Not that I haven't been fishing either. My boss invited me out fishing with him one evening, so we trolled around for walleye on a perfect evening. We caught 4 and lost six I think, which seemed a tad excessive, but planer boards can be tricky. After work a week ago Saturday I went and fished my flats for carp. An old timer coming in from a day of bass fishing told me he hadn't seen a carp, but had landed 27 bass. The parking lot was full, so I hiked well past the first access, and when I hit the water there was only one other fisherman in sight. I landed a handful of smallmouth, and saw a couple of pigs. The wind blew so hard that most of my casts were 40 feet or less, but I did manage to roll my casts out instead of them landing in a heap on the water. Progress. Late in the day I was casting to some dark rocks, when one of them turned and followed my fly- it was an enormous carp, and after that I "saw" them- hundreds of carp milling around me. Some were there spawning, as told by the frenetic activity and the jumping, but some were nosing along the bottom, or even feeding competitively.  They would maddeningly follow my fly right to me, then spook when they got ten feet out from me.  I cast to these fish for two hours. As the evening wore on, and I changed positions, the feeding activity seemed to pick up. Finally, a competitive school of fish came by when I had my fly in the right place.  In the midst of my achingly slow retrieve, my line stopped, I pulled, and nothing happened. I pulled harder, and my line went streaking off.  In a school of fish that averaged about 20 pounds I had managed to hook an 8 pounder, but even small carp fight hard, and this one took most of my fly line faster than it takes to write about. I quit soon after this, as the sun was dipping to the horizon and a bloody sunset over Lake Michigan. I got as lost as one can be in an open marsh on a peninsula, with a chorus of black birds scolding me in the golden light. Two bald eagles came to check me out and escort me from their domain. It was a perfect outing.

carp from last week
If you're wanting to fish, or are visiting Michigan, the word is everything is hot right now. We're in the midst of the Hex hatch, which means night fishing for trout is where it's at, and you have the chance at a real dinger on a dry fly right now.  The down-side is that daytime fishing will be marginal.  If you can't fish at night, try the smaller streams for brook trout.  The bass fishing on all the lakes is red-hot and this is prime time for catching bluegills on foam spiders. White is the best color followed by black. The carp are inshore on all of the flats areas- Traverse Bay, Wilderness State Park, and Beaver Island- and offer some exciting sight fishing.

Tom with a Northern Michigan brookie
I spent this weekend fishing with Tom Hazelton, who was up on his own dirt bag fishing adventure.  Tom works for Scientific Anglers and is an all around good guy.. We tried to fish the Hex hatch before the storm blew us off the water. We got a couple of fish in the twenty  minutes we had, then went back to our campsite and slept through a long, windy and stormy night.  My tent leaked and fortunately my sleeping bag is warm when wet. We fished for brook trout, smallmouth and carp yesterday and did okay. His visit is probably a post in itself. I had a great time with Tom and hope he'll come again soon. Tom- your single days are numbered so you'd better get some fishing in this summer.

Well, I have to run out the door. Have a great week, and if you can, get out on the water.

Let's get after it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Good Takes- Lou Burhart of Brack Hill Tackle

I first "met" Lou the same way I've met a lot of people in the fly fishing world- through Facebook. He would comment on my pictures and posts occasionally. I found out he would be at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo as an exhibitor as he is the proprietor of Brack Hill Tackle, builder of fine bamboo rods. I was delighted when he insisted that I cast some of his rods.

Lou is a tall gentleman with a grandfatherly demeanor, and a quiet, almost self-effacing manner. I met him in person Friday night at the hospitality dinner, but it was the next day during this interview and while casting his rods that he really opened up.  Lou is very knowledgeable about bamboo, and he quickly took my knowledge on the subject from zero to, well, something.  I could have listened to him talk about bamboo rods and fly fishing all day, as he has some great tales to tell.

When I asked him my questions he became serious and I got a quick tutorial on bamboo.  I should warn you that I screwed up and cut off the recording of the first question.  I had asked him something like "why bamboo" and Lou explained to me the satisfaction of starting with a single culm of bamboo, and lovingly forming a rod out of it.  The rest of the interview went as follows:

FR: Is it builder or maker?

LB: It’s a subtle difference, but some folks seem to care.  I’m a lot more casual.  You can call me what you want, just don’t call me late for dinner.  Many bamboo folks prefer to be called "Makers".

FR: Okay.  Bamboo is a great traditional material, what do you think is its allure?

LB:  The million dollar question- why would anyone want a bamboo rod, and I don’t think anyone has the right answer.  For me it’s just that I’m literally starting from scratch.  You adjust the size of the bamboo strips, which determines the action of the rod, how it feels in casting.  They’re never going to be the ultra-high line speed, double-haul saltwater monsters that the new rod makers are selling.  If you notice, a lot more rods are coming through as medium actions and slower actions, traditional actions.  That’s the kind of feel you get with a bamboo rod you know.  Some of them can be pretty quick, pretty fast action for a bamboo rod.  They’re all a lot smoother, a lot more comfortable, and in my opinion they certainly are a lot prettier than a green or a black or gray rod.  It’s handmade, something that every owner can say “somebody  made this just for me”. That’s worth something too, some people care about that kind of stuff.  For me it’s just doing it myself.  You’ve got the planes and scrapers, the glue and the varnish and the silk.  When you’re done you go fishing.  It’s a beautiful thing.

a selection from the "Mainstream" series

FR:  How long have you been building?

LB:  I finished my first rod in 1998. I worked with Wayne Cattanach. Wayne lives over by Casnovia, and has been building rods and writing books about it for a long time.  He was nice enough to spend a few weekends with me, stretched across 4, 5, 6 months, to get the first one done, and I’ve been on my own ever since.  I’m coming up on rod number 100.  I’ll probably hit that next spring, or maybe the fall, depending on how many I build this winter still.  So I’ve got them all over the place.  I’ve got them in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Austria, Alaska, a couple in Montana, a couple in Colorado.  They’re kind of scattered around.  A lot of them in Michigan obviously.

FR: So what do you say to the novice who is curious about bamboo?

LB:  The first question I ask is “What kind of fishing do you like to do?  What kind of river do you like to fish on?”  That puts us in the right neighborhood.  A little spring creek?  A lot of folks like chasing brook trout on the North Branch (Au Sable) or little creeks.  I’ve got a lot of 6 foot, 6’3”, 7’ rods that are great for dry flies, ants and little grasshoppers for brook trout.  That’s a party.  I go all the way up to spey rods.  I’ve got a ten foot "switch", and a twelve foot spey rod.  It throws 600 grains, a lot of T-14 if you want to swing big streamers.  Personally I like to swing traditional spey flies, traditional hair-wings and stuff.  I’ll still put on some sort of gaudy-ass thing if that’s what it takes to trick a steelhead.  The old saying is “the tug is the drug”, once you get that feeling it’s painful.  I frequently go out fishing in Montana, so I’ve got 8 foot,  6 weight rods that I fish out of drift boats on the Madison and the Yellowstone, you know, throwing  big ugly,  nasty nymphs, but you still can’t beat the dry fly.  A float on the Madison when the fish are up eating PMD’s is the best you can do, you know.

FR:  I am supposed to test and write about a custom built bamboo rod, so what advice do you have for me?  What do I need to do so I don’t thrash this thing?

LB:  The biggest piece of advice I can give is the outlook.  The standard advice for all casting is “relax”.  Let the rod do the work.  The harder you try the worse the results are likely to be.  Relax, let the rod work, get a nice gentle tempo that will flex that rod and load it, and it will usually take care of itself, and make you happy.  And look at it too, you’ve got a pretty piece of hardware you’re holding.  Appreciate that someone made that.  It started out in China, in some forest in China a year or two ago and now here you are.  Relax, slow down and let the rod do the work and you’ll be happy.

FR:  I appreciate you spending the time with me and explaining a few things, and I look forward to casting your rods.

Cast his rods I did.  Lou had me cast several.  He had me cast two 5 weights side by side to see the difference in taper.  I fell in love with the one- it casts 50 feet of line without effort, and the feel and flex of the rod was sublime.  Lou's rods range from the very affordable "North Branch" series to  models offering a wide variety of custom touches tailored to your taste for a one of a kind rod. His rods truly are a work of art with the kind of custom touches you expect, such as rare wood reel seats and agate stripping guides.  I'm grateful I had the chance to see and cast them.  

speckled jasper stripping guide with Claret silk wrappings

Lou has a very nice website for Brack Hill Tackle, with great product pictures, information on various local events including rods he contributes, as well as biographical information. Don't miss the photo tour of his shop, which details the rod-building process. Make sure you check it all out at:

You can also like his Facebook page at