Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Michigan vs. Georgia- The Waters



In my continuing cold unbiased comparison of the fishing between these two fine states I think an analysis of the waters themselves is in order and it is:

The water in both states consists of H2O- two parts hydrogen bound to one part oxygen, existing in a liquid state on the surface of both states, except that in the winter months much of that water exists in Michigan as a solid, while in Georgia it stubbornly remains a liquid. This may explain why many Georgians believe Jesus to be the only man ever to walk on water, while people in Michigan walk on water all winter long. Georgians insist that the water has to be liquid for the trick to really count as a "miracle". It's this kind of quibbling over details that led to the Civil War.

Water volume speaks volumes about the fishing in each state. Michigan is positively awash in fresh water. Imagine Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money- that is Michigan with its water. If you fished a mile of trout stream in Michigan every day without a break it would take you 54 years to fish it all. And it's not just the streams. There's tens of thousands of lakes to fish. I can't say exactly how many, since no one seems to agree on what the definition of a lake is, and so the numbers range from about 13,000 to over 60,000. The vast majority of them are natural lakes, so there's that.

In contrast, Georgia has very few natural lakes. It does have what are called impoundments, where they've dammed up the major rivers as well as some minor ones, and created these reservoirs, some of which span several time zones. It's possible to spend your whole life on Lake Lanier and never eat at the same restaurant twice. If you launch on Lake Oconee you automatically get a catfish as your personal valet. Blue catfish are always professional even if they don't like you, so try to get one of those. Flatheads almost invariably hate you, and don't hesitate to let you know it. Striped bass aren't too bad, and they're snappy dressers to boot. I hear they do Bar Mitzvahs.

Michigan is at the center of the Great Lakes, which hold 20-25% of the world's fresh water. Again, no one seems to be able to get a handle on the exact figure, but when you're hoarding that much of the world's water you would think someone would know. Imagine being a goat herder in some miserable desert region of the world and finding out that Michigan has just decided the Great Lakes actually hold 25%, not a mere 20%, of the worlds freshwater. Just 1% could drown his whole country, and here Michigan can't decide if it has 20 or 25% of the worlds fresh water. The Great Lakes region is notably stingy with its freshwater hoard, which explains why they're not generally liked. Just naming themselves "The Great Lakes" is a sign of megalomania, like if I called myself "Magni Fontinalis" or "Cher". You get the picture.

What Georgia lacks in sheer volume of water it makes up for in equitable distribution. There's creeks and rivers running willy nilly all over the landscape. Up in the mountains there's a creek pouring down every ravine. There's so many rapids and waterfalls that a lot of them just go unnamed, whereas in Michigan water simply has to trip over a rock to be called a waterfall. Some creeks in Georgia consist ENTIRELY OF WATERFALLS. For all you Michigan waterfall hounds, I'll let that sink in for a moment.

One thing that Georgia has that Michigan lacks is saltwater. In Michigan you can buy T-shirts that say "Life Unsalted" and "Shark Free". No one sells shirts like that in Georgia, and the fact that they have some brine is a strike in their favor. This is one reason why barbecue is so much better in the South, brine being an essential first step in the preparation of good Q. They also have free range hickory wood.

So in summary, if you want to see otherwise normal people walk on water, go to Michigan. If you want good barbecue go to Georgia. If you want good valet service go to Lake Hartwell and ask for the striped bass. Tell them Cher sent you.

My special thanks go out to Brandon Robinson of the One Bug is Fake Blog for his editorial help on this one. You can check out his site at http://onebugisfake.com/

FR on Gink and Gasoline- Three Ways We Lose Fish


Here's a shameless plug for a piece I wrote for Gink and Gasoline. I've fished with Louis Cahill a few times now and have to say I'm happy to call him a friend, and really happy to contribute to one of the best blogs out there. If you're tired of telling tales of The Big One That Got Away, check out this post.

Three Ways We Lose Fish

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee- El Nino Edition

HHHaaaauuuuppphhhhffftttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- it's Monday. You know what that means.

The daylight has come, murky and gray on what promises to be a wet day. My coffee is settling uneasily in my stomach as I contemplate the week to come. The entire eastern half of North America is coming off a week of warmer than normal weather. We know it can't last.

Here in Georgia it was in the 70's for most of the week. I worked outside in a T-shirt and enjoyed it. I've anticipated this weather since they announced El Nino was here. Last time we had El Nino it was 60 in January, and I fished for steelhead on the Jordan river in a sweatshirt.

El Nino always makes for great steelhead weather. The milder winter means you can fish somewhat comfortably, and the water temps are such that the fish stay active and engaged and even fight fairly hard. I see some guys in Michigan are still doing well on streamers. Here in Georgia there's no closed season for trout now, so I'm still hoping to get out for brook trout soon.

el nino steelhead

My girlfriend and I went up and paddled Lake Jocassee in South Carolina on Saturday. It has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, a big, clear, deep lake that backs up into the mounains, with cliffs and waterfalls that drop straight into the waters. We were in a kayak so we didn't get far, but those valleys across the lake sure call to me.

There are four decent trout streams that dump into the top of the lake, most flowing out of North Carolina. Those rivers are some of the most remote in the eastern US, with very few trails or other means to access them. Because of this they are said to have some big trout. I'm not dishing anyone's secret here- you could tell the whole world, and they still would have to get there. The one stream drops nearly  2,000 feet in four miles through a roadless area.


Lake Jocassee itself is known for its big brown and rainbow trout, though all the local guides advertise trolling with downriggers for success. In three hours of paddling we didn't see a single rise. We did see a lot of loons, so it was nice to know where they go for the winter. I can think of worse places.

On our way home we stopped and bought boiled peanuts at every stand we could find. Boiled peanuts sounded disgusting to me when I moved here, but are one of the singular delights of the South, as savory and satisfying a snack as you will ever find. The Cajun style sets particularly well with me. We stopped at a produce stand run by an old gentleman at Pickett's Post. Two older men sipped beer out front while the owner scooped steaming peanuts into a cup. A sign on the wall said "No Cussing". Later, in a detour around a Christmas parade my map app routed me down Critter Rd. and I knew then how deep in the South I was.

Well my coffee is gone and it's time to go to work. Let's get after it.






Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stocker Heaven


I don't normally do trip reports, but my plans for work Monday were buggered beyond repair and the weather was particularly fine, so why not go fish?

It was noon before I figured out I was being blown off for work and so I drove up to the Middle Fork Broad River to give it a second chance, seeing how it had so grievously disappointed me last winter. It's stocker heaven as told by the bait containers and beaten down banks, the wads of line and lures in the trees which I repeatedly caught, the deeply etched trails, and the broken spin casting rod stuck in the red clay. You can also tell by the numerous 8-12 inch stocked rainbows with the sketchy looking fins. I'm not giving up anyone's secret spot here; there's no giant browns lurking in the holes.

The decision had been made many weeks before that I would be trying new flies and techniques, namely the mop fly and the bobber. The mop fly is new to me. You tie it out of a tungsten bead, a piece cut off of a micro-fiber mop and a bit of dubbing to cover your wraps. The fly looks like a big fat grub, and you can well imagine that to a stocker a chartruese and pink grub is a meal too good to pass up. The bobber is just the icing on my cake- I don't have to tie on a good dry fly as an indicator, and every now and then a stocker hits the bobber for good measure. The bobber eliminates most of the guesswork surrounding the bite, freeing me up to further appreciate my surroundings.

I'm aware I've made this river sound like a hell hole, but the truth is the Middle Fork Broad River is actually quite lovely. It's true that where road touches river the mark of  the many is painfully obvious, but it is a mountain stream that tumbles over small ledge waterfalls and riffles, flowing past small granite cliffs beneath razor sharp ridges high enough that I don't wish to traverse them.


I started fishing at the meat hole, a deep green abyss next to the road in an otherwise shallow and frisky mountain stream. On my first cast a stocker rainbow grabbed my mop fly, thus eliminating any doubt as to its efficacy. For the next quarter mile I caught fish after fish. I managed to break off several of my flies, but no matter what color I chose- tan/black, pink/chartreuse, green/black etc., the fish continued to eat with gusto. I caught 8-10 fish out of a single deep run.


And so it went the rest of the afternoon. I cast this cumbersome setup, the bobber dipped and waggled, the rod bent, and the fisherman smiled. Stockers are easy to hate on paper, but when you look into those big stocker eyes, gaze at their leopard spotted pelt and pink rainbow stripe, you just want to take them home with you.

When I reached the bridge I was parked at, a vehicle crossed and parked on the other side. Doors opened and closed, but I heard nothing else. Two bends up the river I ran into a hunters blind so I turned around and  left the way I came.



Monday, December 7, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee- December 7, 2015


Huuuuurrrrrrggggggpppphhhhh!!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch repeat- it's Monday again, so let's have some coffee!

Well, if you didn't see them, I did manage to get a couple of posts up last week. One about Georgia vs. MI fishing, one about fishing with my good buddy Chris Reister during the Hex hatch, and the third is a video showing how trout take flies.

That last one is important and I highly recommend you go back and watch it. I know I learned a lot.

So far it appears the Eastern U.S. is having a mild start to the winter. Daytime temps here in GA are in the 50's and 60's, but even MI is in the 40's- perfect weather for steelhead, and maybe even streamers and brown trout.

Down here in Georgia the weather has been perfect but I haven't been able to get out. They had blow out rains in the mountains during the week, though I'm sure the rivers have dropped back to where they need to be. The delayed harvest sections would have to be fishing well (delayed harvest is a new concept to me. They stock certain streams in the fall/winter but take isn't allowed until spring) and I'm sure the Toccoa is fishing well. Georgia extended its trout season year round, so I want to go find some brook trout water soon. I'd love to hold one of those native gems.

I'm heading to Florida over the holidays and planning to spend some time fishing the salt, so I'm trying to get some tying done in preparation. I'm hoping there's a snook down there that knows my name. I'd take a jack crevalle in a pinch.

some saltwater treats

I'm working on another post about GA vs. MI, probably another fishing tale from the last two years and I should have another post on Gink and Gasoline sometime soon here. Depends on his schedule. I'll keep you posted on it all. I hope you get out fishing this week. If not watch some YouTube videos and organize your flies or something.

My coffee is gone and it's time to head to work- Let's get after it!

baby steelhead from a couple years ago

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Video- How Trout Take Flies

I absolutely had to share this video. I saw it this morning over on The Limp Cobra blog by Marc Fauvet.

I don't normally regurgitate the work of others, but I'm sure you'll agree after watching the video that it needed to be shared. It is a priceless video of fish hitting a variety of flies- a muddler minnow type, a foam Chernobyl type fly, and two bugger types. They are being tossed to obviously pen reared fish as told by all the rubbed off fins, but the mechanics of the take, as well as refusals etc. are very instructive to all fly anglers.  Go on and watch.





Let's break this down just a little.

I've been fishing muddler minnows a lot lately, and getting my best fish on them. I also "miss" a lot of fish on them. What is apparent to me is how quickly  the fish react to the unnatural feel of the prickly deer hair. None of the fish give it a second look after ejecting the fly.

The next fly is some sort of foam and hair monstrosity. It looks terrible, and yet they bite it and hang on, and even come back for a second bite. Also interesting are the refusals. Some fish very pointedly decide it's not food and turn away at the last second.

The last two flies were very interesting- they are so convincing to the fish in both look and apparently feel that they grab it, bite down, do their best to swallow it, and when it is pulled from their mouth they bite it again. One fish takes the same fly five times in rapid succession.

The Takeaway

Missing the hook set: Yes it happens, and the first fly in the video shows how fast it can happen when trout spit out something they don't want in their mouth, taking in and ejecting the fly in a fraction of a second. We humans don't have reflexes fast enough to react. If this happens a lot you need to switch to a fly with more natural materials that fish will hold on to.

Refusal: Looking at this video, I'd say the majority of "misses" are actually refusals. In the normal speed video the refusals are identical to the actual strikes to my eye, and it's only in slow motion that we see the difference. The next time you think you missed a hook set think again. If you are getting a lot of refusals you  need to change flies immediately to something they recognize.

Getting the fish to eat: The last two flies were incredibly instructive to my eye. The fish are doing their darnedest to eat them, not just strike out of curiosity. If I could have a choice it would be to get the fish to react as they do to these last two flies, chomping, holding on and repeatedly eating the fly.

Again, my thanks to Marc Fauvet for sharing this and please keep up the excellent work at The Limp Cobra.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Hex Files- The Book of Reister




Chapter One

Reister mans the oars as darkness descends over the Au Sable river. He back-rows confidently, eases the boat back on the sand. We wait silently on a bend as the sun sets and the light bleeds from the sky; we watch the Isonychia legions dance and grow, before falling into formation, flying upstream on a mission of sex and death. Only small fish feed.

Then, at that moment just before the light fails completely, the first Hexagenia mayflies begin to flutter above. "Time to pull the anchor my friend" says Reister, and we drift downstream on our magic carpet ride, the music of water and insect wings in our ears, set to the gentle beat of creaking oar locks while mosquitoes sing harmony.

The anchor yet drips silver when the rush of a riffle is punctuated by the splash of a feeding fish. The anchor drops, I stand to cast, but the current, powerful, sweeps us onward, the chain dragging through the gravel as we pass. The fish continues feeding from the conveyor. We pull anchor and continue on.
The Captain, different day

Just downstream another fish is rising rhythmically, sloshing water all over the grass. This time the anchor holds. I cast, cast, cast again, but the fish, a big one, is hard up against the bank in six inches of water, a narrow band of calm against the grass with current ripping past. All presentations are met with the same indifference. The anchor comes up dripping and we follow the current, follow our ears in search of a better target.

We reach a broad quiet stretch, and Reister, master and commander, eases the anchor back to the river bottom.

"What are we doing?" I ask.

"There's always fish here" he replies.

I sit at the bow, blind, deaf and mute. Reister raises a hand and says "Hear that?"

I hear nothing, but the anchor comes up and Reister slips the oars, neatly crossing the current without making a sound or yielding downstream. Silently the anchor goes back in and we wait, ears straining for the telltale sounds.

"There he is" says Reister. I pretend to hear it and agree. Up the anchor comes and the boat drifts closer to the far bank, more silent than the last time. Once again the boat swings on the end of its rope and this time I hear it clearly, the sound of a large fish taking large flies off the surface. The anchor comes up one last time, the back of the boat is pointed at the bank and again the anchor slips silently to the bottom. When the rope swings taut the snout of a fish breaks the water ten feet straight out from me.

We watch it feed a few times but it is moving all over the place. It feeds next to the boat, gradually works its way upstream, so Reister draws his rod from the boat tube like Excalibur from stone. I sit back, grab a turkey leg, take in the show. Cast after cast he works the fish while I listen. As he works that fish I start to hear other noises. When I hear a rise just below the boat simultaneously with Reister's fish I realize we have a crowd.

Reister is in the stern casting, so I start working the fish next to and below the boat. It doesn't take long. A few casts in my fly disappears in a gulp and I set the hook. Up comes the fish, one jump, two jumps, three, a brief run downstream, a lot of headshaking and wringing of fins ("Why god, why!?!") before sliding into the net.

It's a twenty inch rainbow. We take his mugshot for future identification, let him go on self-recognizance, then issue a pardon in his absence and propose a toast. Up comes the anchor, and we slip downstream, ears straining into the night.

bad pic of a good fish

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Michigan vs. Georgia- The Numbers



This post was getting kind of long, so I'm breaking it up into a series. I'm examining the profound differences- and similarities- between two very different places.


So let the comparison's begin. I'm new to Georgia. I'll try to avoid the usual stereotypes of North vs. South here. Some are real, some imagined, and some people on both sides of that equation work very hard to keep them alive.

No, this is about the fishing, an inevitable comparison between what is familiar (to me) and what is new- a new landscape, new water, and a new culture as it pertains to fishing.

Michigan brown trout
gorgeous Georgia brown

It's easy to write off the South as the land of catfish and stinkbait, bass boats and B.A.S.S. Masters. Trout hardly exist in Southern Michigan once you get into the farm country, and so the idea of good trout fishing as far south as Georgia seems far fetched, if not hysterical. Surely they only have stocked rainbows, pellet eating fish with rubbed off fins, eking out a miserable living in marginal turbid waters. Then you come down and actually see the waters, and the scales fall from your eyes.

There are two sources of trout water here in the South- tailwaters and the mountain streams. Both are novel concepts to the Michigan native, where the scant tailwaters fish like the rest of the streams, and the "mountains" are just rocky hills. North Georgia has bona fide mountains well over 4,000 feet, with gorgeous tributaries cascading down every ravine. In Michigan streams flow from glacial out-wash, gravel and sand, or in the case of a few in the UP, flowing over Canadian Shield bedrock. Other than cold water it's hard to imagine two more different places.

I'll start this series with statistics on the two states so we have a reference point to start with.

The Numbers

Michigan

Image source: wildtroutstreams.com

Area: 96,716 sq. miles

Population: 9.91 million people

% Water: 41.5

Highest Point: Mt. Arvon 1979 ft.

Miles of trout stream: 16,000 to 20,000 depending on which published stat you believe from the DNR. Also about 60,000 natural lakes and 3288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.

Stocking: Michigan planted about 6.2 million trout and 7.2 million salmon and lake trout in 2014.

Georgia

Image source: wildtroutstreams.com
Area: 59,425 sq. miles

Population: 10.1 million people

% Water: 2.5

Highest Point: Brasstown Bald, 4784 ft.

Miles of trout stream: 4,500 to 6,000 depending on which GDNR stat you believe. Georgia has few natural lakes, a few major reservoirs, and thousand of smaller impoundments. It also has a couple hundred miles of saltwater coastline.

Stocking: Georgia stocks about 1.3 million trout per year.

The Takeaway

Michigan and Georgia have similar populations and densities; Georgia trout fishing is much closer to multiple US population centers along the east coast. That said, its trout water is adjacent to the trout waters of North Carolina and Tennessee. Michigan has significantly more trout stream, but that can be said compared to any other state except maybe Alaska. In future posts I'll compare the nature of the streams, angling techniques, hatches and flies, regulations, local culture and anything else that comes to mind.

Bear with me. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know the state of Georgia with me.

Maple River, northern Michigan 
Chattooga River, northeast Georgia