Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Opening Day

Opening Day of trout season here in Michigan is always the last Saturday in April. This coming Saturday in fact.

The opening days of my youth spring straight out of the pages of a Patrick McManus story- all the last minute preparations, oiling of the reel, digging the feistiest worms, all the preparations done and then fitful sleep followed by waking at 4 AM, pedaling my bike through the frost to my spot, shivering in the dark until it was light enough to fish. I rarely caught any. Even with bait I was pretty hopeless. This is why McManus' stories always resonated with me- I had lived them. In my experience McManus barely caracaturizes his characters. I knew a lot of those same folks. They talked and acted the same way. It requires only mild exaggeration to fit them into one of his stories.
the classic McManus
I moved away from Northern Michigan at age nineteen and missed eleven opening days. When I came back some things had changed, some had not. I had a truck. I fished spinners instead of bait. But I still fussed over my reels and gear, re-spooled with new line, stayed up way too late and then sprung awake with shaking hands way too early in the morning, dashing off in the darkness, mug of coffee in hand, arriving in the frost at some distant river, THE river I had chosen as the one that would have the most and biggest fish and the fewest people. I was frequently disappointed.

For starters, opening day here is always the last Saturday in April, which may be a pleasant month in much of the country, but here it is the remaining dregs of winter. There's often snow in the swamps and even along the banks. The water is still very cold, there's very few insects and if anything worms are probably your best bet. The water will be high from spring run-off or heavy  rains. Of all the opening days I have fished, only a couple have been rewarding.

The other factor that is difficult to deal with is the human traffic. Despite the fact that quite a few of our streams are open year round, Opening Day of trout season is a tradition in Michigan. It marks the time that ALL of the water is open and not just a few choice streams. It is a rite of spring, and so fishermen of every stripe come out in droves. If it weren't for the annoyance factor it would be worth going out just to people watch.

You see quite a few entertaining spectacles, like the kid who was throwing a large spinner with a huge bell sinker attached. It would hit the water with all the subtlety of a cannonball. Guys chucking huge gobs of worms. Old dudes who actually know how to drift a worm, carrying stringers of large trout. Kids throwing rocks in the river. Guys or couples in canoes throwing rapalas single handed so they don't spill their beer. You see a lot of fathers with their kids, grandfathers too, which is a good thing.

Since converting completely to the fly world I find Opening Day to be even more annoying. There's usually no hatches yet and I rarely see a rise. The human traffic is enough to quell any potential of rising fish. The last Saturday in April is also the opening day for pike, bass and walleye, and a lot of years I've chosen to go after walleye with one of my boat owning friends.

The Au Sable river to the south of me gets decent bug hatches in April, and rising fish too. I can't imagine the human or boat traffic is any less, but it is such a big system I'm sure it is possible to find some space and rising fish. Bring olives and hendrickson's and streamers. And beer.

Part of me wants to go and do and find and explore. The other part wants to go set up a grill on a busy stretch of river, grill some brats and dogs and hand them out along with some chips and soda or beer and just shoot the breeze. We anglers have our differences, but all in all fishermen are good types. It would be fun just for the camaraderie and good will, to meet people, talk about rivers and fish, listen to all the gossip and superstitions, soak up some sun and the spring vibe, and just BE outdoors.

So no, I don't hate opening day. I'll be out there, somewhere, and I hope you will too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- April 21, 2014

Aaaauuuppphhhhfffffttttt!!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. What a weekend. I need to go back to work just to get some rest. But first I need some coffee, and so do you.

This last week has seen the continuing struggle to break the grip of winter. I'd say we've lost 60% of our snow now, and while all the rivers remain high, some are fishable now. The signs of spring are stacking up- the fields and skies are full of geese and ducks and even cranes, resting on their migration north. I heard spring peepers for the first time last night. Every morning the morning chorus of songbirds is deafening. There's still little open water on the area lakes, but in Petoskey you can see a sliver of deep blue from Sunset Park. It won't be long now

Conditions have improved enough that I got out and caught some fish yesterday. I went 3/4 on steelhead, landing a nice buck and losing another in the morning, and landing a good hen and a skipper in the afternoon while fishing with Zach Ginop. With as cold and high as the water has been I'd say that's not a bad day.

It's hard to believe that April is almost over. What that means is that Saturday is the opening day of trout season. It is also the opening day for pike and muskie and bass. Basically, starting Saturday you can go wherever you want and fish whatever you want in the state of Michigan. It kicks off a glorious time that is all too brief. You try to plan all the different things you want to do, all the places and opportunities to fish. When September 30 rolls around you'll look back and see how much life laughed at you. But for now it is all pure possibility, a glorious season yet ahead of us. I know I'm scheming up some ideas. What are your plans?

For opening day at least I'm thinking of hitting a bunch of little creeks in search of brook trout, and leave the bigger streams to the masses. One thing to note is that the spring steelhead run has barely begun here. There are very few redds on local rivers, meaning this could make for a memorable trout opener. As the weather and water warms the fish are going to flood in and spawn in a frenzy. Steelhead should be available well into May, perhaps until Memorial day. Keep that in mind amidst your dry fly plans.

Well, that's all I  know. The coffee is gone and it's time to go to work. Have a great week. Hit the water if you can.

Let's get after it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Lunch- Because Sometimes Monday Morning Comes Way Too Soon

This Monday Morning Coffee thing can be a tough deal. If I don't start writing it on the weekend it doesn't get done. But I'm going on two weeks without sharing it, so I'm writing this on my lunch break from the job site. 

There's actually quite a lot to share. I floated with Alex Cerveniak a week ago Sunday on the Au Sable. We didn't even see a fish in nine hours of floating, but neither did anyone else. 

This dearth of fish was more than made up for by the company of John Sheets, a local fly tyer and chef. We spent the day singing bawdy versions of Elton John songs ("hold me closer Tony Danza" is one of the more repeatable lyrics) and throwing streamers until I thought my arms would fall off and my sides hurt from laughing. 

Right when I thought I couldn't take anymore, we pulled over and John cooked the best shore lunch ever- blackened steelhead with mango salsa, pine nut pilaf and fresh asparagus. Then he served freakin' cafe Americano. It made for a memorable trip even if the fish were on strike. 

The current big news is the blowout rains we received this weekend on top of our record snow pack. The rivers were already high, now they are flooded and many are unfishable. If you are going to venture out do so with caution. Expect that when the water does drop that the steelhead will go insane. Be ready for it. 

Time flies and I have to wrap this up, but I want to give a shoutout to my friends Alan Haxton and Joyce Kelley who got married Saturday at Gates Au Sable lodge. I wish you both the best and hope we get some time together on the river this year. 

Well, lunch is nearly over. I don't know about you but I could really use a cup of coffee. 

Joyce and Alan a couple weeks ago during the planning stages. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bid on FR at the Paul H. Young TU Chapter Banquet

Okay, so I got this strange email a couple weeks back from my friend Brett Watson, president of the Paul H. Young Trout Unlimited chapter, asking if I would like to donate a trip for their upcoming banquet April 24.

The answer is- of course I would. Except that I'm not set up as a guide, so there's no cash value, unless you equate me with fly fishing's escort service. Still, it's for a good cause, and I really would like to see a cash value attached to my companionship. I would suggest the bidding start at no less than $10.

Think of the possibilities. You, me, hundreds of miles of river or shore, a lot of which I am familiar with. We could hit the big 5 rivers around here, or we could do some other stuff, fish for pike and bass in the lakes or maybe hit Wilderness for carp and smallies. We could hit a smaller creek, swing for the fence on brook trout. We could swing for the fences on anything really, as long as you can cast a bit, and don't mind breaking some brush.

This drift boat is just one of many top notch prizes being auctioned and raffled off at the banquet. Almost as good as an outing with yours truly

The Paul H. Young chapter of Trout Unlimited has a reputation for generosity in giving to support cold water fisheries. Their annual fundraising banquet will be held April 24. There will of course be a bunch of stuff auctioned off besides a fishing trip with me. Things like a drift boat, original artwork by FR favorite artist Becca Schlaff, trips with actual guides, a day in a private plane and even a puppy, plus a lot of stuff I'm probably not aware of. It will be quite the shindig.

So go- buy a ticket, pony up, mix, mingle, schwagger, sup and sip, and by all means bid on me. I guarantee you'll get your $10 worth.

To RSVP click on the link below-


I'm going to put up some gratuitous fish shots to get you thinking of the possibilities. Not trying to toot my horn, but giving you some incentive to bid.
Alex Cervenkiak photo

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gear Review- Fish Like a Local with SmithFly

I have never been a vest guy. I hate those things. I can always spot a local- they carry next to nothing on the river. If you drove 250 miles to fish here you are probably decked out in as much gear as you can carry, with every fly imaginable. If you live here and you brought the wrong flies you can always go home and get them, or grab a burger at a local bar and fish tomorrow. It's a not-too-subtle and important difference.

I learned to fly fish as a teenager, and back then I used whatever my grandfather gave me. I left Northern Michigan for ten years, but fly fishing was forever ,in my mind, the ideal.

When yadda yadda yadda I was divorced and moved back to Northern Michigan I again yearned to get back into fly fishing. It took a few years, but eventually I bought a St. Croix rod (a bad one) and got back to it.

To be honest I knew next to nothing about the sport. I fought my own bad casting for two years before a friend told me what a loop was. I owned my own business and May and June were my busiest months, so I missed most of the major hatches. A new "casting club" had focused attention on my favorite river, and so I avoided the Hex hatch.

But in July my work would reach a comfortable level, in which I could take the occasional afternoon off, and so what I did was fish hoppers.

My approach, literally, was to load up my neoprene waders, my crappy rod and my Cabela's $12 reel, drive to a local convenience store and buy a leader and a dozen or so flies. Then, despite my terrible casting I would go and catch lots of fish.

It was all so simple- a rod, waders, a plastic cupful of flies and hope.

Things aren't so simple now. I know too much but not enough. I still carry my local sensibilities. I am better prepared these days, but you will never catch me on the river with multiple fly boxes packed with every fly imaginable. I will never wear a vest. I still like to keep it simple.

This is where my SmithFly 2X comes in. I do indeed carry more than a plastic cup full of flies these days, but I still want a minimalist approach while covering my bases.

Here's what I like about the SmithFly 2X. I can pack in several small or two medium fly boxes, some split shot, spare leaders etc. It  holds everything you need for a fun day on the water, if you know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing then you need a vest and every fly that was ever tied.

Another example of its simple utility- when steelhead fishing I pack it with two medium fly boxes, a variety of shot, a couple spools of tippet material, swivels and a breath mint. Sometimes I leave out the breath mint, but I'm not one to kiss fish, so I don't think they mind. The point is that I can spend an entire day on the water chasing steelhead with this one little compact pack and do just fine.

the 2X loaded with everything I need for a full day on the water

Or take a midsummer afternoon float. I pack it with extra leaders, 2-3 small fly boxes, some tippet and I'm set. No vests necessary.

Want some other reasons to give SmithFly a look?

It's American made. Your neighbors have jobs because of you. Yes it will cost you a little more to not get it from Bangladesh.

It's bulletproof. No, I have not literally tested this, but if you choose to I'd like to see the results. SmithFly's lineup is incredibly well built and tough. You're looking at a one-time investment.

It's designed with MOLLE webbing and part of an integrated system. Every component in their lineup works with every other component. Buy the Poquito, pair it with a 1X, 2X, 3X, a belt, a bag, the (cough!) vest, or the trendy cooler kilt- whatever your needs from the minimal to the kitchen sink, SmithFly has you covered.

It's not exactly cheap- the 2X will set you back seventy five bucks, but it will last forever and SmithFly's integrated system will have you set up with a system that can handle any outing from stepping out your back door to heading off to Alaska.

Or until you go back to those little plastic cups.

Check out their full line-up at SmithFly.net

Now through the end of April Ethan is offering a special promotion on the 2X. Enter the coupon code "DONTFISHFIGHTCLUB" when checking out for $20 off the 2X. Get yours!