Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mon. . . er Tuesday Morning Coffee- July 9 2013

Auuuuhuuurgghhhuuughh! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. Is it Monday already? It's TUESDAY you say?? Has the holiday weekend really come and gone? Yes?

Must be time for coffee then. Let me pour you a cup. What? You need cream and sugar? GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! Oh, kidding. What kind of host would I be? Let me put some Folgers on for you while I sip my French press brew.

Well, I got to enjoy a nice long 4 day holiday weekend with no side work and nothing to do but tidy up my house and go fishing. Guess what didn't get done? I did catch some fish though.  And I may have installed some blinds on my windows. The domestication continues.

I've decided to take up running. My girlfriend suggested we run the Boyne City Independence Day Run which is 2 miles. I did a couple practice runs in the days ahead, and finished the race without a break or walking, so I was pretty pleased with that. Neither of us felt like staying up for fireworks, so I don't have any great pics of that to share. I've been wanting to find a good way to work out without the tedium of a gym, or calisthenics at home, when it struck me like a gong going off in my head- for the price of some shoes, shorts and a couple of shirts I can just leave my front stoop and exercise til I puke. Too early for that? Sorry. Anyhow, I intend to keep running. No big plans; I just like the egalitarianist feel of going out my door and being able to go anywhere. And get fit along the way. Maybe.
not bad for my first run. 7 out of 21

But I did do some fishing, starting on Friday. I met good friend and Isle Royale trip alumnus Chris Reister for some flats fishing in the Straits. I hate to say that the fishing was very slow and tedious, but it still was fantastic. We landed a dozen bass and two carp, both our personal best. Chris is a fantastic guy to spend a day on the water, a real salt-of-the-earth type, and a fine fisherman too. We had a great time.
what a pig. Big fish too
Chris with his fish. The hats are necessary to combat the deer flies.

The next day I went out in the morning for brook trout. It took me awhile to figure out what they wanted. What they wanted was a Royal Coachman style stimulator complete with rubber legs. Once I got this worked out I caught nice fish consistently. I lost several good fish including a 10", 11" and 12" at my waders only to discover my fly was barbless. It must be time to get a net again. I don't know why, but  a net always feels like I'm cheating now, like I haven't put in the work to properly land a fish. It feels like a shortcut. I may have to get over that. Keep in mind that I don't even net my steelhead, and that my biggest brown ever (28" and 9 lbs.) was landed by hand. This could turn into another piece of writing. "To Net or Not to Net?" Hmmmmmm.....
decent brookie from the weekend
Traffic was incredible up here this weekend, a good sign that the economy has recovered for at least the time being. It makes commuting and getting around town an arduous chore, but it sure beats those bad years. Make sure you come up if you can and enjoy a little of the Up North experience, whatever that means to you.
Chris with a decent bass from Saturday

What's hot? Well, the Hex hatch is peaking right now on the Tip of the Mitt streams and should taper off rapidly. The good terrestrial bite I experienced this weekend means that hopper fishing will be good now. Carp fishing in my area will be red hot for several weeks yet. Mousing should be started in earnest, and don't tell anyone, but I got into a brief Trico spinner fall the other morning. Basically just throw your gear in the car and come north- You can't go wrong.

Michigan Fly Fishing Festival- Boyne Outfitters will be hosting the Michigan Fly Fishing Festival July 20, 21 at Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls MI. If you're going to be up that weekend make sure you swing by. Besides the usual big players I see that Becca Schlaff Fine Art, Willow Classic Reels, Great Lakes Fly Fishing, Alder Creek Rods, and Boyne Bamboo among others. They'll have live music and BBQ, casting clinics and competitions, and even a single fly contest on their trout pond. I'll be there when I'm not on a run at the Bear River Crawl, so be sure and stop by and check out all that is good. I'm going to do a post on this in the next couple of days as I think it's going to be a good event.

Well, it's getting late, the coffee is almost done, and it's TUESDAY for crying out loud- Let's get after it!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

There's Bugs and Then There's Bugs

Crooked Lake on my way to work

At times I believe my whole life revolves around water. It's hard for it not to when you live in the Great Lakes State, but my life in particular seems to have been drawn inexorably to that happy medium. I live within sight of a river. I drive past several lakes each day including Lake Michigan and cross several trout streams on my way to and fro. Fly fishing for me simply involves keeping my gear in the car, or deciding that I hate television and the internet, pulling the plug on every electronic device that I own, and running out the door with a fistful of flies and a wind-knotted leader. If I forgot something, the stream is only 5 minutes from home- a very irritating 5 minutes if I have to run back for said forgotten item. The curses of living in Trout Country. God forbid I drove an hour to some other favorite spot, because then I'll have to make it to a local gas station to pick up some flies. Yes, it's that easy. Last fall I was well on my way to fishing the Black River for brook trout when I realized I had forgotten my flies.

Forgetting flies for me is kind of like forgetting to wear pants. I have at least 8 fly boxes, and there is a lot of overlap in their contents. This means that any given fly box, if it just so happens to be in my car, probably has something that will work, and Northern Michigan brook trout are not all that finicky. There are flies at this very moment decorating almost every flat surface (including the floor) of my car, flies that would very much suffice for brook trout. But on this particular September day in question I searched my car thoroughly and discovered that I indeed had no flies in my car that would interest a brook trout. I was tempted to try that musky fly hanging from my visor.

the best fly box ever. Says Tom Hazelton

After cursing my lack of a good check list (for crying out loud!), I made my way to Pat and Gary's in Indian River, home of the 99 cent fly. All of you local tyers and purists will curse me, but Sri Lankan kids need to eat too. Lollipops don't buy themselves, and neither does rice. I bought several stimulators and a couple of hoppers. I caught fish too- not a lot, but enough to make me melancholy in the realization that another summer was over, and that these pretty fish would be hidden from me until the next spring.

But I digress. A LOT. I was talking about my relationship with water. You see, I work in construction, a painter by trade. I live near what could be called the Gold Coast of Michigan- an area with a proud tradition of vacation homes that started almost 200 years ago. We have the Lake Michigan coastline and then we have Lake Charlevoix (voted second most beautiful lake in America after Lake Tahoe in USA Today, but who trusts their readers?) and Walloon Lake (bastion of Old Money and Hemingway himself). There's also the lesser known but very beautiful Burt and Mullet Lakes; monster lakes at 18,000 acres apiece, with beautiful homes, warm surface waters, and deep dark secrets. They are not trout lakes, but the browns that swim there will scare you.

I have been working on Walloon Lake as of late. It is a moderately sized lake at 4270 acres, but it is deep. It is a designated trout lake and it is alive with huge smallmouth. The funny part of this is that apart from a few locals no one fishes it. Sure, the cottagers come out and dunk some worms, some may even troll some Cow Bells for rainbows. I've fished it for smelt through the ice. But no one seriously fishes it. It gets a pretty good Hex hatch as well.
Hexagenia limbata from Burt Lake

The funny thing about Hexagenia is that they are more of a lake mayfly than a river mayfly. They are a cool-, not cold-, water mayfly. They love the big mucky-bottomed lakes we have here in Michigan. The hatches on Lake St. Clair near Detroit are so gravid that they cause traffic fatalities; people literally skittering to their deaths on bugs. The stench is horrific. The bugs that is. Hexagenia only live in trout streams on the margins- in those mucky, grassy banks at the lower ends of the rivers, and the upper end of a brown trouts' heat tolerance. The Au Sable river is a freak of nature being that most of its length can thus be described.

So Walloon Lake gets a pretty good Hex hatch, and the house I'm working on has been covered with flies for three weeks now. It makes for some good pictures. I have always noted some natural diversity between Hex flies- size, color, tail length, but this week I noticed that all of the flies were looking the same- a little slimmer, a little browner, and with tails that were outrageously long, almost 2 1/2 times their body length. When I finally spotted a bona fide Hex next to them I knew I was on to something.
check out the tails on this guy

According to Hatches II by Al Caucci there are 18 Hexagenia species, though his book only lists 3 as significant to fly anglers. I wonder what that extra-fat Hex fly was that I witnessed hatching up in the Cascades 5 years ago.

This fly is Hexagenia atracaudata.

It's good to know your bugs. And it's good to live in Trout Country.

from left: atracaudata and limbata side by side

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday Morning Coffee- Hex Edition

Tying Big Ugly with some morning coffee
Uuuuuurrrrgggghhhh!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. . . is it Monday already? How many have I missed? I know, I've missed a bunch, but hey-

It's Hex season! 

So let's have some much needed coffee.

You might be getting tired of  hearing about the Hex hatch if you don't live here, and you might really be tired of hearing about it if you live here and haven't been able to fish it.

Me, I made the decision I wasn't going to miss it, and thus have lost something like a weeks sleep chasing the big bugs and bigger fish every night. I've had some fantastic floats with my friends Chris Reister and Jon Odykirk on the Au Sable, and some good walk-in trips on other rivers with other friends. I've managed to land 4 fish in the 18-19" range and several smaller fish, but the big one still eludes me. Several fish in the 20" range have been landed by the guys I'm fishing with so we've had some fantastic fishing. I want to thank Chris and Jon for inviting me along and letting me experience the fishing that the Au Sable is justifiably famous for. My thanks to Alex Cerveniak, Ethan Winchester, Tom Hazelton, and Zach Ginop for sharing the river and their knowledge and making each outing that much more fun and interesting. The hatch is winding down on the Au Sable now, but the rivers where I live are just getting going, so it could be an interesting week.

Alex waiting on the hatch

I did have one golden opportunity. I was fishing locally with Zach Ginop the other night. We've been getting sparse and brief Hex hatches right after it goes dark. No blanket spinner falls, but just enough to bring the big fish out to investigate. Two big fish had begun feeding above us and we were trying to make our way up to them when a small fish fed twenty feet above us. I jokingly laid a cast out but instead of the small fish a big head smacked the surface. As soon as I set the hook it took off upstream with half my line.
a good Hex fish

To give you some perspective I was using my 8 weight rod that I use for steelhead and salmon, and 6 feet of straight 12 pound line for a leader. I land big fish on this rod and reel all the time. This fish took half my fly line before I knew what was happening. Still I'm thinking "Hey, it's a big brown, how much damage can it do?" I knew I needed to turn this fish and reeled down hard, putting as much pressure as I knew my leader could take, but it didn't work. Instead the fish took off on an even faster run, taking the rest of my fly line and some of the backing as well.

I turned and looked at Zach and said "I guess we're going to have to go after this one."

I started moving, but this fish went nuts one more time and the leader failed at the perfection loop. Keep in mind that this all happened in the space of 15 seconds or less, that I thought I was casting to a dink, and that even big browns will typically stay in the area you hooked them and you'll just have to duke it out with them.

Zach waiting on the hatch

I did learn some valuable lessons- always be ready for anything. That monster brown could come at any time. A fish like this, even if it was a super-hot fish, had to weigh between 10 and 15 pounds. My biggest brown ever was 28" and about 9 pounds and this rig handled him quite nicely. Next time my line takes off like that you can be sure I'll be following at a dead run. It's time to start landing those fish instead of telling tales of the "one that got away".

Lesson two- don't use straight line for a leader. I went out and bought some 20 and 17 pound mono and hand tied some custom Hex/mousing leaders. If the perfection loop is the weak spot in your leader, in a 20 pound butt section it should still be strong enough not to fail, and with blood knots joining the other sections this set-up should be bullet proof.

a nice solo fish, if not the big fish of the night

One of the highlights of fishing the Au Sable this last week was finally getting to stop into the famous Gate's Au Sable Lodge. Imagine my surprise and delight to walk in and see two friendly familiar faces- Joyce Kelley and Alan Haxton. They both volunteer at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo each spring and regularly read this blog. We had a nice conversation, comparing notes and sharing fish stories. (My tip- if there's no bugs and no fish rising switch to a mouse. That's how I got my 18" brown the night before.) They were good enough to introduce me to proprietor Josh Greenberg who helped me solve the riddle that involves fish hitting emergers and not our flies in the evening. My thanks to Josh.

I love this one. It says so little. . .

Josh posts regular fishing reports that are not only informative, but very creatively written and entertaining to read, so make sure you check them out on a regular basis, especially before you make your pilgrimage to the Au Sable.

What can you look forward to here at FR?

Stickers!! That's right, I've succumbed to peer pressure and will very shortly have FR stickers for you to paper your car, boat, computer or any other flattish surface that pleases you. Shirts are also in the offing. I should have the stickers within the next couple weeks and I'll probably give away a small pile of them to mark the occasion. If you're a blogger or other entity with stickers I'd be happy to do an exchange.

I also am working on my review of the Sage Pike rod and line. If you are thinking of getting this rig- don't hesitate, it works as advertised, but I'll get the review up soon.

I'm working on a couple of creative pieces, but I may see if I can get them published or put one up on MidCurrent. I'm also pecking slowly away at my book, but now I'm just hoping to be finished in the fall. It will have a lot of material from this blog, edited and re-written of course, but I'm also writing some new content so it has some original material.

Well, I've gone on long enough with my tales of woe and success, people, places, big bugs and big fish. I'll try to run a July 4 fishing forecast on Tuesday so you know what to expect.

Let's get after it.