Saturday, February 28, 2015

PSA

I'm sitting here early on a Saturday morning poking through my social media and contemplating the future. It is Saturday, February 28th. Since all the various groundhogs are such notorious liars and wastrels, and some downright dangerous, I think it is time to step up. So here goes.

Ahem. . .

I, Jason Tucker, being of sound mind and pasty complexion do hereby Declare, that as of Midnight Next, on the very Eve of March, that Winter is thusly and hereby over. You may commence making your fishing plans for the summer. Any fly tying and gear organizing must be accomplished no later than March 21, or you will be declared in Contempt of Spring.

It is also ordered that you make a List of any and all fishing Plans, Priorities and Trips of which You would like to partake in thereof. You will hint at these Plans to your spouse, significant other or employer as the need may arise. You are exempted from fully disclosing your Plans until you are sure They are set in Stone.

It is also Ordered that you make full use of any and all Warm, Sunny, Warmish, Spring-like, Fair, Favorable, Cook-out, Balmy, Hot, Scorching, T-shirt, Beach, or Summery weather in any way possible from this point forward, even if it means stopping on your commute home to stare at water for a minimum of five (5) minutes. 

This Order shall be in Effect beginning at Midnight March 1 2015. Any resemblance henceforward of the weather to Winter is purely coincidental and may be considered Slanderous. Any and all such weather must be used to Prepare for Fishing.

Note: this order pertains to any and all Activities related to the pursuit of Brown Trout, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, all Salmon and Chars not otherwise named, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass as well as other Sunfishes, Carp, Drum and any other Freshwater Fishes of which you may wish to pursue. This Order applies equally to all Saltwater Species.

You're welcome.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

BlueBlood's Brookies


Okay, so today I'm stealing a page out of Cameron Mortenson's playbook. He shared a video by Eric Malone the other day on The Fiberglass Manifesto, and a few clicks later I was here. Go on. Watch it.



Wild 'Bout Brookies from BlueBlood on Vimeo.

I'm sure you'll agree that for a site like mine this little video should be playing full-time in the background.

I haven't attempted to contact Eric, but it appears this guy wants to film similar underwater scenes across America to document it's underwater life, a project I laud and support. Who knows, maybe I can get him to come shoot some footage in Michigan.

And to Cameron all I can say is imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Upstream/Downstream


I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the engine and got out. Wandering over to the bridge, I spied an older gentleman just upstream, mending casts against the bank under a tall tree.

"I just lost a big brown right here" he said. I wished him luck and went back to car to get ready.

My parking in the lot was a little misdirection on my part- just up the road was a metal gate with a trail that wandered over a mile upstream, and away from the main access, away from the crowds I hoped. Much to my dismay, when I locked my car and turned  to take off I could see that someone else had parked at the gate and was now headed down the trail in front of me.

When I reached the river I didn't see the mystery angler anywhere. In my experience most anglers, as many as 70 percent, fish downstream. On the other hand, I almost always fish upstream, and so I made my way up, hoping to have the water to myself. Alas, it was not to be. I hadn't gone too far before I saw him working his way upstream, no doubt seeking some solitude. I turned and made my way back down, and unfortunately into throngs of other fly anglers.

The question is- which is better? Fishing upstream or downstream? Or can an argument be made for each? Let's discuss the merits and reasons to fish both.

Upstream


For years as a wading angler I fished exclusively upstream. My reason for doing so was simple- fish face upstream into the current and thus face away from me the angler. If the fish can't see you coming they are less likely to spook, and you are better able to sneak up on them.

While in theory this works, in practice it can be much more tricky. What I've found over the years is this- if you get into position without making a lot of noise or waves then it works. The fish won't know you are there and you can cast to calm unsuspecting fish.

If you mess this up in any way, you've blown it. Trout are very sensitive to disturbances from behind. This seems to be especially true of their blind spots. If there is a disturbance in the water- a splashing angler, or waves made by clumsy wading, or the sound of fly line being ripped off the water, the fish will spook out and not feed again. Otters and birds of prey both try to sneak up behind fish, and trout will react instantly to any percieved threat from behind.

Fishing upstream can be extremely difficult if the current is swift or deep. This is why many anglers choose to fish downstream. If the river is surrounded by private land fishing upstream may well be impossible.

When To Fish Upstream

Any time you can. Despite the disadvantages I still believe fishing upstream is always the optimal approach. Provided you have a stealthy approach, the fish won't see you coming and you can present to them undisturbed.

When fishing small streams. Many of my local streams are far too small to consider fishing downstream. Some flow through silt-laden tag alder swamps, and wading downstream simply kicks up a cloud of dirty water that not only notifies the fish of your approach, but also clouds up the water to where fishing is pointless. Even the gravel streams are far too narrow, putting you on top of the fish before you could cast to them. An upstream approach is the only option on these streams.

Downstream


Fishing downstream goes against my grain as an angler, but there are some solid reasons and times to fish downstream.

The first is that the stealth issue isn't what you might think. For some reason fish will often continue to feed even though you are in plain sight coming downstream. While they will spook at the slightest provocation from downstream, they will often continue to stay on their lies and even feed until an upstream threat is imminently upon them. This seems to be especially true of drift boats. I have caught numerous fish that hit within a few feet of the bow even as I am bearing down on them. For some reason drift boats don't seem to spook them at all on occasions.

The second reason is when access or current speed dictate a downstream presentation. Sometimes the water you want to fish is simply downstream from the access. If the land is private but the water accessible this will be your only choice. Some rivers are too fast to fish upstream, and it's simply easier to walk down provided you have another access and/or trail leading back to your car.

A very good reason to fish downstream is so that your fly line doesn't spook fish. When casting from behind it is often necessary to land your fly line right over the fish in order to get the drift. In extremely clear water or sunny conditions this can spook the fish. On a lot of the small streams I fish it is simply impossible to get off to one side or other in order to avoid casting over fish.

In casting downstream your entire line will hit the water well upstream of the fish, allowing your fly to be the very first thing the fish sees. If you are casting to a lie quartering across the stream, it's possible to put several drifts over a fish without it ever seeing your fly line.

When to Fish Downstream

When fishing from a drift boat. It goes almost without saying that it is necessary to fish downstream from a boat. They don't call it a drift boat for nothing. Take advantage of the cone shaped area ahead of the drift boat and present to fish that haven't been spooked by the boat yet.

When fishing streamers or soft-hackles. Streamers, skunks, girdle bugs, woolly buggers, and soft hackles all benefit from a quartering downstream presentation. If the season, time of day, or current hatch cycle dictates these types of flies then fishing downstream is a must.

When sharing the water with another angler. That's right- I don't combat fish, and neither should you. If you find someone working the water above you and think you have a fair shot of solitude downstream, then dig out one of the patterns mentioned above and turn downstream.

soft hackles are best fished downstream


Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee- February 23, 2015

Hhheeerrrrppphhhhttt!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. It's Monday morning. Let's have some coffee.

The last week was pretty crazy. I'm sure everyone out there has a tale of winter woe. I'm still visiting friends in Georgia. We got an ice storm Monday night, which took out the power and made the rest of the week pretty miserable. We ended up staying in a hotel most of the week just to stay warm.

There is no denying the stark crystalline beauty of an ice storm- every bush, every blade of glass entombed in glass, every tree becomes a crystal chandelier. It is a dangerous and frigid beauty, as limbs fall and take out power lines with them. Monday night my sleep was punctuated by the crash of falling trees (we had to return home when the hotel lost power).

A glimpse of the storm
Wednesday we drove the two hours up to the Orvis Down the Hatch Fishing Festival at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville North Carolina. I got to see my good friend Erick Johnson of Scientific Anglers and talk fly lines. They have a new brook trout taper I'm interested in trying. Fellow bloggers Cameron Mortenson and Mike Sepelak were both there, and I got hang out with them too. It was a good time, though it was more of a corporate event for Orvis personnel and Orvis endorsed guides. That was fine. It was a good excuse to get out of the hotel, talk fly fishing and swill a couple of beers.

Cameron and Mike at the show
from left: SA's Erick Johnson and Cameron Mortenson
With ice in the forecast for the weekend and the power back on Thursday we made a decision to get out of Dodge. We loaded up the car and headed to Sarasota Florida.

Friday sunset
There is something very cool in the fact that you can drive your way to good weather. With enough time and gas money you can go from snow and cold to sunny, warm and palm trees. The weekend mostly involved visiting friends, biking and running, but Saturday evening we watched the sunset on the beach at Nokomis, then ate amazing seafood at some joint on a canal.

After dinner we wandered outside and sat on a canal-side bench under the street lights. Bright green water rushed past as the tide came in, while men stood on the bridge overhead, tossing lures into the darkness, retrieving them back into the pool of light. There, in that boiling green surge, large shadows rolled and swirled- snook, feeding on hapless baitfish caught in the cauldron. Repeatedly the lures sailed out, landed in the darkness and chugged back past us, and repeatedly large silver shapes, their lateral lines picked out in black, followed those lures back upstream without striking. Now and then a boil or splash announced a snook taking some confused baitfish from the surface.

Saltwater is always dramatic, exciting. It was easy, sitting there in the darkness as the snook swirled and rolled, to imagine the endless possibilities of Florida. I'm going to have to get back down there soon with my fly rods.

Well, my coffee is done and it's going to be a busy week. Let's get after it. I'll leave you with a few more Florida shots.






Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee- Coffee Edition


Yyuuuurrrrpppphhhhttt!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- It's Monday morning yet again, so let's have some coffee.

Or let me say "let's have some GOOD coffee". I did get out fishing last week but it wasn't much to tell about. I happen to know that a good number of you out there are either enduring, anticipating, or digging out from a sizable storm. If you're further north it is so cold that the mere thought of going outside is enough to induce sympathetic frostbite, so let's think warm thoughts, namely coffee.

I've been drinking coffee since I was eight years old. This explains why I am so tall. When I was nineteen I moved to Brooklyn, New York for a few years. Call it my Great Escape from rural life. I got out, went to an entirely foreign place and got a taste of the world at large.

Down the street from where I lived was a tiny place called Cranberries Deli. It was on Cranberry St. Cranberries had the richest, darkest, chewiest coffee I had ever tasted. It was almost a meal by itself, and it opened my eyes to the real possibilities of coffee.

It was a few years after that that Starbucks came onto the national scene. All the talk was about Seattle style coffee. For better or worse Starbucks changed the way we think about coffee, and for many of us changed the way we drink it. I was drinking espresso, lattes and cappucino in Little Italy before most of the people I knew had ever heard of it. Starbucks brought all that into the popular lexicon. Starbucks was lauded as an American success story.

Nowadays the pendulum has swung. Judging by all the hip people with laptops I still see hanging out with frothy hot drinks at Starbucks, I'd say the chain is still fairly popular, but a new generation of Starbucks Haters has emerged. I capitalized that because they seem to make it their profession. "Char-Buck's" they call it. "There's better coffee than Starbucks" they glibly say.

As a matter of fact I had some random young woman rip into me last week for saying on social media that Starbucks is good coffee. Something to the effect that I've never left North America and may as well drink camel piss as drink Starbucks. I politely suggested she would know. I can also say that I have drank excellent local coffee throughout America, the Caribbean and Europe. I've had bad coffee everywhere I've gone, and I've had coffee that sent me to another world.

My bone of contention with the Haters is that 90% of Americans out there would not know what good coffee is without Starbucks. Outside of major cities like New York, Seattle, or San Francisco, there were no local roasters, no coffee shops as we know them now. There was no coffee culture. A coffee shop was where you drank bland Bunn-O-Matic with your cinnamon roll. Odds were that the cinnamon roll was handmade in-house and very good, and that the coffee was bland, pale, weak, and roasted in a giant far-off factory.

Starbucks changed all that. Their coffee had flavor. It was dense, had bite. It challenged people. All of a sudden they were willing to pay $4 dollars for a coffee drink. It didn't take long and other chains came along, but more importantly, small mom-and-pop or boutique roasters and coffee shops sprung up all over the place, not just in cities, but in small towns too. Now you can get locally roasted coffee in most counties of the United States, if not most small cities and large towns.

"There's better coffee than Starbucks" they say, and they are right. But Starbucks offers a consistent product. You know what you're getting, and it's not bad coffee.

I'm going on about this out of frustration. I try to support local roasters all I can, but frankly some aren't worthy of support. They got no game.

I spent a good part of yesterday driving around Athens Georgia sampling the local offerings and so far I'm not impressed. I spent $45 dollars on coffee beans, and the only one worth drinking was the Starbuck's Komodo Dragon blend I bought for back-up. I even tried to enlist the help of the baristas, who were almost clueless. It's a college town, so what can I expect?

 Now, I have very specific tastes in coffee. I love espresso and espresso drinks including lattes and cappuccino, no flavors please. Every morning for the last twelve years I have drank a pot of french press. French press requires richer, darker roasts, but it yields a superior cup of coffee at still a reasonable price and amount of effort. To be fair, the Other coffees which I was sold probably would make a decent cup of drip coffee, if that's your cup of tea. It's not mine, and they made horrible french press.

I'm very blessed in that my local roaster in Petoskey Michigan, Roast&Toast, roasts excellent coffee. Yes it is far better than Starbucks. The freshness of the coffee comes through, but it is also a tribute to the roaster- whoever is doing the cooking knows their stuff. Their coffees are rich, complex and satisfying every time. Even when I make a mistake and choose the wrong beans for french press it's still pretty good.

I've had several transformative coffee experiences- my first coffee fixed for me by my grandmother with lots of sugar and cream, my first Cranberries coffee. There was a small cafe in mid-town Manhattan where I first had Sumatra Mandelhing. It was so good it brought tears to my eyes, but I never found that cafe again no matter how hard I searched. There was this place in Dearborn Michigan called the Mad Hatter that served some Mexican variety, again so good I nearly O.D.'d. I've had too many good European and Levantine coffees to relate here just now (and no, not all coffee in Europe is good).

The best coffee I've ever had was roasted by my friend RC Gartrell in Telluride Colorado. RC was a bit of a Renaissance man- a punk rocker, father, husband and good friend, but he was a coffee roaster par excellence. All of his coffees were to die for, but there was one from South America he roasted that was supreme. Anyhow, I've lost track of RC. Last I knew he was lured away from Telluride by a growing national brand. I'm sure he's still roasting great coffee.

This post wasn't meant as a plug for Starbucks, but only my observation that the Haters have the convenience of living in the Babylon that Starbucks built. It's easy to hate the Emperor, while loving the Empire.

I'm also laying down the gauntlet for you Athens Georgia- with your plethora of coffee shops and roasters, where is your game? What have you got besides catchy names and pretty packaging? Bring it if you got it. And by the way, your selling me 12 ounces of coffee for more than I pay for a pound of better coffee at home is none too charming either. Knock it off. If you're turning product over fast enough you can sell it in bags like everyone else and skip the fancy cans.
nice 12 oz. package


Well with a week of nasty weather ahead I don't know that I'll get out fishing but I hope you do. I'll be in Asheville NC Wednesday for the Orvis Down the Hatch Fishing Festival at Highland Brewing Company. Other than that I'll be tying flies and writing.

My coffee has been long done, and I expect yours is as well. Let's get after it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Down The Hatch Fishing Festival


I'm sure most of my readers are aware that I'm spending a few weeks south this winter. I saw on Facebook last week that Orvis is holding a fishing festival at the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville NC. Being that Asheville is only two hours from where I'm staying I've decided to go.

Here are some links.

The Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/312624772270232/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

And the Orvis page: http://www.orvis.com/downthehatch

They say it will start with the Fishing Olympics- I can only guess what that is, but I'm sure it involves casting. Hopefully some blindfolded knot tying too. The day ends with a film festival. Ticket price is $10 but it includes two beers for anyone over 21, so how can you go wrong?

If you're within striking distance of Asheville you should definitely make the effort to go. If you see me there and we've never met, flag me down and say hello. Some other bloggers such as Cameron Mortenson of The Fiberglass Manifesto will be there, and I'm happy to see that some friends of mine from Michigan who work for Orvis and Scientific Anglers will be there as well. It should be a good time. I hope to see you there.

Here's a direct link to buy tickets: https://www.ticketriver.com/event/13988

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee Y'all


Hurrrggggghhhhhh- yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. It's Monday morning, so lets have some coffee. FR coming at you live from the Deep South, Georgia to be exact. I'm down here escaping winter for a few weeks.

Yesterday while it was 13 degrees at my house, it was 70 degrees here in Athens Georgia. I went for a run and then a walk, talked to guys fishing for bass on a local river and even tossed streamers in a local lake for a bit. I have a new 8 weight salt water rod I'm in love with and a new streamer line to match. I'm thinking of heading to Florida next weekend, and who knows but I might have to toss something at a snook if I see one. Last time I was there they followed me up and down the beach like dogs.

So how could I bail on lovely Northern Michigan you ask? Easy- last winter convinced me that toughing the winters out is not my cup of tea. I don't have a  reason to stay- my daughter is grown and flown the coop, I'm once again self-employed, and if I can find a way to enjoy the best of all worlds I will.

the choice is clear
So yeah, I'm down in Georgia visiting friends and will be for the next few weeks until work calls me home again. I've gotten out fishing a couple times already (scroll down or click here for a trip report) I've caught some good fish and seen some bigger fish.

For some reason I have catfish on the brain. I used to fish for them at home and catch some nice fish, had some good fish fries. Somehow, being here in the South, it feels wrong NOT to fish for them. I'm ready to buy one of those $30 Shakespeare Cat Sticks and go sit on a muddy river bank. I had my eye on a trot line yesterday- 150 feet long, 25 hooks, $20. Now that could be entertaining. I think the South brings out my inner Huck Finn. I want to light out for the territory.

I woke up to a warm spring rain, so I'm going to stay in and write today, but I have plans to get back into the mountains after trout later this week. The fishing so far has been stellar in my opinion, and with continued warming will just get better and better. I'm told there's a black caddis hatch the last half of this month that is not to be missed.

I don't know much else. I'm working on a couple of magazine articles, plus some more blog posts. I got three posts up last week so be sure and check them out.

I'm out of coffee and it's time to get some writing done. Let's get after it.

gratuitous fish picture- brown from last week

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Are Pheasant Tails the Ultimate Nymph?








What do all these fish have in common? They were all caught on pheasant tails or versions thereof. That last brook trout is seventeen inches long, my biggest Michigan brookie of the season. In fact I ended up catching a couple of hundred fish this season on pheasant tails, making it my most successful fly of the year by far.

Has FR gone soft?

Perhaps. But up until now there have been huge holes in my fly fishing repertoire, and nymphing has been one of them. I was never a dry fly snob so to speak, but it has always been an effective way to fish on my local rivers. We have a lot of in-stream woody debris which makes most nymphing an exercise in madness. Madness and knot tying skills.

Another hole in my repertoire was still water fishing, and I killed these two birds with one stone- pheasant tails. I'll write about still water trout in a later post.

The thing about the pheasant tail is that it is Every Nymph. You can have your Copper Johns and Prince nymphs, and they do of course catch fish, but at the end of the day they are attractor patterns, not imitations of trout food.

Have you ever seined a river and looked at what mayfly nymphs look like? All the ones that are NOT Hex or brown drake nymphs are small and various shades of brown. They may be up or down a size, but they all are variations on a theme. They are all trying to blend in with the river bottom, which is typically mud, silt, woody debris and leaves- all shades of sandy to dark brown.

This is what makes the pheasant tail so deadly. Tie it from size 14 to 18 and it will cover every mayfly and life phase in the river. Or you can skip all that and just tie size 16's which are all that I tie.

I'm not going to share some secret recipe here. I don't have one. In fact my flies are butt ugly. But they still catch fish. See above. I'm sharing several video links below because I tie several versions myself- the basic pheasant tail, a beadhead version of that, a bead head soft hackle version, and the simple version. They all catch fish. What I can say is that pheasant tails and these variations far out fished all the other nymphs I tried this year.

One thing I have started doing for most of my day time dry fly fishing is tying on a dropper. I realize this isn't revolutionary, but tying on even a short dropper with a pheasant tail attached has increased my catch rates noticeably.

This is the basic pattern. Add a bead head and you're golden.


This is my go-to soft hackle version.


I love this version. Definitely use a curved hook such as a scud hook. You won't be sorry.


Natural stonefly, scud, caddis and other nymphs have a place in your box. Go ahead and tie those flashy patterns if you like. But make sure you have enough pheasant tails.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Somerset New Jersey- Scenes From the Show

Okay, it has been two weeks now since I went to Somerset for The Fly Show, but I took some good pics and met some good people, so please bear with me. Time flies.

I got a call a few weeks back from my good friend and fishing buddy Chris Reister. He has a small sideline reel business called Willow Classic Reels. The gist was that he wanted me to ride shotgun with him to Somerset New Jersey for the Fly Fishing Show.

As it turns out I was available to go and I'm glad I did. 

We rolled into town on Thursday afternoon and set the booth up, had some hors d'ouvres and adult beverages at the vendor party, but knocked off early to be fresh for the show. 

It's my understanding that the Somerset show is the biggest fly show in the US and possibly the world. I don't know about this, but I can say it is truly an impressive show.

Chris has a nice display

After helping Chris get set up for the day Friday, I  made my rounds, saying hello to some old friends- Michael Schmidt of Angler's Choice Flies and Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters. Schultzy was there for Regal vises.

Mike and Mike on their vises

Then I went and introduced myself to Chris Willen representing Towee Boats. Chris and I have several mutual fishing buddies and it was cool to finally shake his hand. We had a good conversation about muskies and White River. 
Chris Willen and the Towee skiff
I got to talk Labrador brook trout with Mike Crosby of Hawke River Outfitters. I'm itching to go someday. He offers first rate fishing for Atlantic salmon and huge brook trout.
Mike from the land of Big Brook Trout

 I had a really insightful conversation with Jerry Jacques of Bristol Bay Sportfishing about the Pebble Mine. His lodge is just a few miles from the proposed mine site and they would be among the first affected by it. I've been reluctant to glom onto the anti-Pebble movement without being more aware of the details, but my conversation with Jerry was very convincing. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of Jerry and his lovely wife much to my chagrin.

I had a good conversation with Pat Cohen and watched him tie some of his patterns. His spun deer hair work is quite stunning. We got to talk smallmouth and carp. Pat is an example of what can happen when fly fishing gets into your blood.
Pat Cohen and some of his creations

Highlights for me were casting rods by Blue Halo and Beulah. Cortney Boice and Bo Harding of Blue Halo were super friendly and let me cast a couple rods. I'm a big glass convert and wish I could have cast their entire lineup, but obligations and a busy casting pool didn't allow it.

Cortney Boice with the Blue Halo lineup
I also cast an eight weight Beulah saltwater rod, and I have to say it has my eye. It will be high on the list when I'm in the market for another flats rod. 

It was a pleasure to spend time with and get to know German bamboo rod maker Rolf Baginski. His rods are some of the most sought after in the world and his book is already a collectors item.  


Rolf Baginski and the German contingent
Chris Reister and Rolf at the show

It was also a pleasure to meet Italian bamboo rod maker Massimo Tirocchi and have dinner with him Saturday night. Pictured below is Massimo and some of his fine rods. You can check out his website here.




 Then there were these vagabonds- Colin McKeown and Bill Spicer of The New Fly Fisher, representing for the province of Ontario. I got to spend quite a bit of time chatting with these guys during and after the show about fishing Ontario and beyond. Good guys.

shady characters, but they fish some cool places
I also had a good conversation with Daniel Galhardo of TenkaraUSA. I got some good insight as to why he has become such an avid proponent of the sport and I wish him the best.
Mr. Galhardo explaining Tenkara

I met and talked to a lot of fine folks at this show.  I put faces to names of people like Chris Hunt (TU communications director), Steelhead Steve (Facebook friend), artist Andrea Larko, not to mention some of the characters mentioned above. If we spoke or I took your picture but didn't include it here I apologize. This blog post would have to be three times as long.

By the time the show was over I think Chris and I were both gabbed out. We loaded the Jeep back up and pointed it west. We loaded up on 5 Hour Energy and sunflower seeds and drove all night on slick roads back to Michigan. I'm still digesting everything.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Georgia Guide to Surviving Michigan Winters


Yeah, so I decided to get out of Michigan for the winter. This winter hasn't proven to be as harsh as the last, but it's a close second, more bitter cold than deep snow. Either way I can't abide it.

I got the invitation from friends to spend a few weeks with them in Georgia so I made my way down to the Peach State. By appearances it is also the Boiled Peanut State, the Biscuit State, and the Fried Chicken State. The local town has no less than four fried chicken fast food joints within sight of each other. It may be more like six, and it's like this everywhere I've been here.

Part of the appeal of visiting a warmer place is the notion of being able to fish all winter, and I have heard that northern Georgia has some trout streams, so I brought my gear and flies along. I sent out a couple of queries to acquaintances in my social media world and was pleasantly surprised when Louis Cahill of Gink and Gasoline got back to me. Not only did he offer up some prime intel, he offered to take me fishing.

We did indeed float last Saturday on the Toccoa River (big system, well-known, no secret). We threw streamers and saw some big fish. I even caught my first ever trout on a dry fly in January, once the air and water had warmed sufficiently to get some midges and caddis hatching.

Yesterday I followed up on a place that both a local fly shop and Louis had recommended. It was a bit of a drive into the mountains, past numerous small towns and tourist traps, until civilization began to dwindle, the landscape got steeper, and the rhododendrons took over. I drove out a narrow, winding mountain road until I reached a bridge and a parking lot. Then I took a walk.


Louis had told me about the trail. It's definitely the path less taken. There were no footprints, just a narrow single track winding off into the mountains, overgrown by bamboo and green vines with wicked thorns.

It takes a measure of faith to wander into the mountains by yourself, to a place you've never been. There is a tendency to look over one's shoulder while hiking in. The lure of good fishing, and the adventure of exploration egged me on. The frost was just beginning to melt as the sun rose over the mountain.

It didn't take too long to reach the river, but it was the kind of spot that you wouldn't find if someone didn't tell you how to get there. I found a rocky, swift river of clear water punctuated by deep green pools, and little sign of human intrusion.

The fishing started out slowly. I expected this, as the water was ice cold and there was still a chill in the air. Eventually as I worked upstream the air warmed, and when I reach one of said deep green pools I hooked a fish, a small brown. I cast again and caught a small rainbow, then a larger rainbow, and yet another brown.
first fish of the day
I was fishing a dry/dropper rig, using an emerger pattern called a Dust Bunny for an indicator. On one of my casts a decent rainbow rose and hit the dry and so I ticked yet another month off of my dry fly calender.

The trail upstream grew fainter. I scrabbled over broken bedrock against the swift current, avoiding the deep ledges, clawing up the banks through the brush and thorns. I fished several more green pools until I came to a swift, deep run that ran next to a low cliff face. On my fourth cast my fly pulled sideways in the current and I was fighting my best rainbow of the day, all of thirteen inches. I caught several more fish before heading back downstream.


I was going to hit the first big pool again before quitting for the day. I dropped into the river below it, and as I was wading upstream a trout rose two rod lengths ahead of me, so I cast well upstream. My fly disappeared and I set the hook on a thirteen inch brown. It gave me a good fight. My next cast was to the left where the river flowed through a slot in the bedrock. My fly drifted five feet before being pulled under, but when I set the hook this time it was met by serious resistance. The fish gave several big head shake and then began racing all over the shallow tail out. It was a good fish, mid-teens, and very strong. Several times I thought it was done fighting, only to have it take off on a fresh run. The drag on my reel had broken first thing in the morning and so I had to fight the fish entirely by hand, my glass rod bent to the cork.

Finally I was able to slide it onto a sandy bottom in shallow water. It was a brown trout over sixteen inches long- not huge, but thick and heavy for its length, and very strong. I snapped a few photos of it in the water before letting it go. It kicked strongly for deeper water.


I landed a few more fish before my watch told me it was time to go. It was a very pleasant day in a beautiful remote place. The only sounds I heard all day were those of birds, the sigh of wind in the trees, and the rush of current over broken stones.

Okay, so also the sound of my own whoops at the joy of fighting a fish, in a sweatshirt, in February.