Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Morning Coffee- July 7

Uuurrrggghhhhuuuuggghhh!! Yawn stretch scratch repeat! And repeat again, because I don’t know about you but I fished all night every night for the entire holiday weekend. It was fantastic. Let’s have some much needed coffee.

July 4th marks among other things the tail end of the hex hatch here in Northern Michigan. I started my night time dry fly fishing early in June, catching the brown drake hatch and some good fish along the way. By my count I’ve caught 8 fish over 20 inches this year, and I’ve netted at least that many more for my fishing buddies.

one of many I've netted

Thursday evening was a bust- no bugs, very few rising fish and nothing you could pattern, so I didn’t lose much sleep. I got up Friday morning and hit some brook trout water. To my surprise there was a sparse trico spinner fall that got a couple fish up and feeding. It didn’t last, but it was fun and I caught a couple small gems and missed a couple bigger fish. The key to fly fishing is to match the hatch, so I used a royal coachman stimulator.

Friday night I loaded my one man pontoon boat on my car and did a solo float. I had good bugs on the water for nearly four hours and was into good fish starting right where I first set up. Most of the other boats on the water had pushed low, and the upper water on the stretch I fished had good fish feeding all over it. I put down two fish where I first parked, then got into a quiet grassy stretch of river. I could just barely make out the sound of a big fish slurping up hexagenia in the dark.

I never did see the rise form, just guessed the distance and metered off the line one strip at a  time.  It took a half dozen casts before it fed and then I found myself duking it out with a 20” fish. I slid him up on the beach and removed the hook, but before I could get my camera out he thrashed past my boots to freedom. Oh well.

I broke off a much bigger fish not too far from there, then missed a couple others. I maneuvered around a couple other boats and made it back to my car after 2 am.

Saturday night I got a last minute call from Alex Cerveniak of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing guide service that he wanted to float, so I drove south and hit it with him. The bugs flew thick but landed lightly and not long after we had set up on our first fish the water was devoid of mayflies. It seemed a little odd. We had to listen very hard for the sounds of big fish picking off stray flies. We tried various set ups, not quite figuring the fish out, but we finally found one good fish feeding steadily. It only took a couple of drifts and I saw it take amid the reflected stars. It took off in a line hissing arc, vaulted two feet out of the water and then ran up by the boat, trying to find shelter under the cut bank. It was a very fat 19” hen.

my big girl

After that the feed tapered off dramatically. We found some huge fish feeding, but so sporadically that it was almost impossible to get on them. We worked the biggest one for over half an hour. It fed four times in that span. Just when we were starting to give up it blew up on Alex’ fly but he missed the hookset.

What do you do at this point? Call it a night? Go home, get some much needed rest? There were several other good fish in earshot feeding sporadically. There was a river access just downstream with a convenience store nearby that was still open. Alex rowed down, walked to the store and bought some beer and snacks. We got back in the boat, rowed upstream against the current and anchored up. We sat in the dark and watched the stars and meteors, the twinkling fireflies, and talked. Every now and then a fish would feed and we would move the boat if it fed more than once.

After some time we got a fish that was feeding steadily. By steadily I mean once every five minutes or so. Not much to go on in the darkness. This was fly fishing by siege. It would feed and we would move the boat, wait for it to feed and adjust again. We finally got to where we could see it feed. It was an easy cast, but in the dark it’s hard to tell if you’re getting a good drift. I worked the fish for half an hour and every time I would be ready to give up it would feed again.

Finally I reeled in my line and sat down. Alex stepped up and took over, trying every possible drift on that bushel basket sized bit of water. The fish fed every time we were ready to quit. Then Alex tossed a cast out and threw in a big mend. The water exploded and Alex shouted. Fish on!

Alex with a very hard earned night fish

It was one of those great moments in your fishing career. It had taken everything we had to get this fish. We had been set up on it for over an hour and it had fed only a handful of times. It turned out to be a 20 inch hook-jawed male. It took us in circles a few times before coming to the net. We took some pictures and released it, turned off our lights and prepared to go hunt another. I pulled anchor and just started to move when another fish blew up the surface, right in the exact same spot.

I’m out of coffee and it’s time to go to work. Have a great week.

Let’s get after it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Too Many Secrets

Setec Astronomy.

This was the name of a fictional company in the movie "Sneakers". It was an anagram for "too many secrets", and a protest against government secrecy. Except that the CEO, played by Ben Kingsley, had become evil and. . . oh just watch the film sometime.

But I feel this way in fly fishing sometimes. It's amazing to me how paranoid people can be about what they think is a secret.

There is a local stream that I regularly throw under the bus. It is in my opinion a put and take fishery. It is well stocked with salmon and steelhead but has very few holdover stream fish. It is a tailwater and water levels and temps fluctuate quite a bit. If you go there during the salmon and steelhead runs you will find 30-50 cars parked there at times. It's no secret in my opinion, and I regularly name it in social media if not here in FR.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from a good friend inviting me to fish with him and another guy. The condition was I could go as long as I didn't tell anyone about it or name it in social media. I agreed. When he named my local river I was shocked.

"Really? That's a secret? There's going to be 30 cars there when we get there."

And I was right about the cars. Now mind you, the method we used- swinging streamers after dark- is not practiced locally. We did hook up on some big kings. The hole we fished is well known to locals, but most are too lazy to wade down to it after dark. Why bother when you can snag fish at the tubes? To me their "secret" seemed kind of silly. It's a well known river. It receives heavy pressure. Still, I respected their wishes which is why I haven't named the stream here.

Ditto a local muskie fishery. It's no secret here that the place has plenty of muskies. Everyone here takes it for granted. All the local sports would rather chase walleye and perch, or trout for that matter. Unlike in Wisconsin there is no muskie culture here. They are mostly by-catch, despite there being no dearth of fish. I have been trying to get people to go fish this water for six years and couldn't get anyone to go. When I finally got an invitation from another friend to go fish it, it was on the condition that I keep it secret. I understood the sentiment, particularly in light of the growing interest in muskie, but part of me thought "Really? I haven't been able to get anyone to commit to fishing this water for six years. What's going to make them flock to it now?"

Well- pictures might. And social media is a powerful new tool. It's great for sharing things. But you can also hotspot the hell out of your favorite fishing hole.

There's another local spot now called Fight Club. It regularly gives up outsized browns at night. I caught my biggest brown ever there. It's called Fight Club as in "the first rule of fight club is you DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB". Except people have been talking about Fight Club, and now on any given night, even mid-week you will  run into 4-5 other anglers, even at 2 in the morning. No one advertised it with a bullhorn, but everyone told two or three of their friends, including me. Several of the Pere Marquette, Manistee and Au Sable river guides fish it on a regular basis, and at least one guides in there. So much for secrets.

One place I always give up is Wilderness State Park. It is located at the northwest corner of Emmet County just west of Mackinaw City. It hosts spectacular flats fishing for smallmouth bass and carp. Some still think it is a local secret, but I first read about it in Outdoor Life in the mid-80's. Since then the campground fills up in late May and early June with sports from all over the place. Some guys have told me they've been going there for twenty years. It's easy to see 100-200 fish a day being harvested, and some are in that rarefied 6-8 lb. class. Yet the fishing is still spectacular and well worth the drive.

So I'm going to give up all my secrets. Right here, right now. Here goes. I fish the Sturgeon, Pigeon, Black, Maple, Bear, Boyne, Jordan, Tahquamenon, Fox, Carp, Carp and Manistee rivers. Yes there are two Carp rivers. They are all fantastic streams. Each one is different. There are several hundred miles of stream between them, so go knock yourself out.

No I won't tell you about specific accesses, stretches, hatches, seasons and runs. You can figure it out just like I did. If perchance you someday come fishing with me I will take you to wherever I'm going. I may believe in secrets, but I'm not going to cheat myself out of some good fishing to keep you in the dark.

As my friend Zach Ginop once stated, there are no more secrets since Google Earth came along. It may take a little legwork and wherewithal to find, but spectacular fishing can be found by anyone these days. All it takes is a little research.

So I'm still a little torn. I don't understand why so many rivers in other states are justifiably famous, while all our local fisheries here have to be shrouded in secrecy. To be fair a lot of those rivers are big and can support a lot of pressure while many of the rivers I've named are quite small and can't support large numbers of anglers. Another factor is that while Michigan streams have great numbers and big fish, they can be incredibly fickle. Michigan can be a cruel state to fly fish in.

Take for instance the Sturgeon River. It is a first class trout stream, but it would be incredibly cruel of me to just send you there fishing. It is a very fast river, and much of the water isn't fly fishable, or even wadeable. It has no predictable hatches. Yet if you know how to fish it, it can be very rewarding.

Michigan has several justifiably famous rivers- the Au Sable, Manistee, and Pere Marquette rivers for instance. These are big systems with hundreds of miles of water each. They host big runs of salmon and steelhead and yet have abundant stream resident fish and good natural reproduction. They also have large predictable insect hatches that make for excellent fishing. They even have secrets, to those that know them.

Personally I have only found two truly secret spots in this state. One I don't dare name and the other I won't talk about.