Sunday, February 28, 2010

40 Degree Weather

A 40 degree day is like gold to a winter Steelhead fisherman. On these days, fish are summoned from their sulked winter mode and begin moving towards pockets and pools around gravel. While people fishing deep holes can get blanked, fisherman hitting "secondary" spots will often hook fish.

Today was just such a day. Starting off at my favorite pool, I fished for nearly an hour without hooking a fish. I moved upstream to the next pool, only to leave again with the same results. In between spots, I noticed a small pool at the top of a fast run. I stripped out line, and on the second drift through, I hooked and landed a beautiful 6-pound buck (who turned out to be a little camera shy ;). The pattern of hooking up in pocket water continued throughout the next 4 hours of fishing. All of the trout and Steelhead hooked today were holding in less than 5 feet of water.

The day before was much more uneventful, with a couple Steelhead hooked and lost. I did, however, land a very nice Brown Trout which is pictured below. The fish that were lost were hooked on 4 lb test floro, and let me tell you, trying to land a chromer on 4 lb is challenging. Sometimes it seems like the difference between 6 lb test and 4 lb test is like night and day.

In fishing this weekend, I realized that all the rivers on the West side really need more water. Either a big snowmelt or a rain is needed to "shuffle the deck," and bring newer fish into the river systems...

29" hen caught on an egg. Great battle...

19" Brown Trout

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some Days

Some days are better than others, or so goes the phrase, which seems to describe fishing to a tee sometimes. On Saturday, Jim and myself walked in on a fairly pressured piece of water and managed to hook 5 Steelhead between us. Jim went 2 for 3, I went 0 for 2. Got the big donut. It's only the second time its happened since December. Jim and I fished hard all day, and saw more people in boats then on foot. Friends I talked to faired well also. It has been a great winter over there, with good numbers of fish in most West Michigan rivers.

Jim with a nice hen

This fish was sweet. Notice the scar on its jaw. It provides good roof of catch and release regs working. It enables a single fish to be caught a number of times. In winter, the catch and release sections of any given steelhead river will almost always hold more fish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Honey Hole

Truly, the honey hole is a fisherman's holy grail. One can never have enough of them, and those held under hat over time allow for a true understanding of the river and its ever-changing nature. For me, I have found several different holes on different rivers and streams that would fall into the "honey hole," category. One in particular, however, stands out in the forefront of my mind. A close-lipped secret between my dad, myself, and some very close friends, we cherish this particular spot because of the indelible memories made there.

The spot gained its lore before I even fished it. When my dad used to talk about it, his voice would lower and he would get what I would describe as a twinkle in his eye. He would also get very serious. I never knew why he did this when I was younger, but as I grew older I soon understood.

Numerous fish over 18" have come out of the hole. When I was younger, my dad would usually bag a big fish out of the hole, and then he always told me about the story which involved him, the hole, and landing three trout over 18" without moving more than five steps. I caught my first 20"+ brown out of this hole. Trout slurped Sulphurs by the clumps in this hole. I landed an enormous brown trout, longer than my 24" net, in this hole. I love this run. A heavy riffle used to give way to a long slick, in which monster fish would rise. Since I could wade up from the nearest public access, I spent the vast majority of my fishing time here.

Now, don't get me wrong, its definitely a sizable walk from the nearest access. After all, that is probably why the fishing was so good there and the fact that it was almost always open. Fortunately, the folks that lived nearby were not fisherman, and the fish there were relatively unpressured.

I watched this hole evolve practically since my flyfishing obsession started. At first, there was a huge log jam that had "stuck" itself to the the south bank of the run. Untold 18 + inch brown trout lived under the jam, natures version of a man-made "trout hotel." After the jam washed out during a high-water event, my dad and I assumed the fishing would drop off, but it only got better. I have seen numerous jams move in and out of the hole since my introduction to it.

One year, about three years ago, I noticed something very different about the hole. Where one of my favorite eddies and a good brook trout spot was once located, it was now slackwater. As I looked closer, I saw that massive man-made "trout hotels," were put in spots that had essentially channelized the river. As nearby property changed hands, I noticed more and more of the man-made structure in unfortunate spots. Where I used to wade on small pebbles, I now waded in foot-deep muck. The man-made structures have ruined my run.

By and large, these structures have vastly improved both the Au Sable and Manistee river systems. For the most part they are put in good areas that attract not just trout, but large trout. In this case, however, I wish I would have known about the changes that were to be made in the name of trout habitat.

I have not given up on my honey hole. I still spend a lot of time here, but unfortunately most of it is spent reminiscing about past times. Trout still live here, and I am sure that it will someday be restored to its former glory. I just hope that I'm sitting on the bank when it does...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pressured Water

The Pere Marquette is a beauty of a river. A piece of water with countless tributaries, it also provides constant steelhead fishing during the wintertime, primarily because of its spring fed properties and the amount of regulation on the "flies only, catch and release" section of the river. These two items allow for a perfect mash up, where spring fed water decreases anchor ice, and strict regs keep fish in the river and off the grill. It gets fished a lot. Its been said that the fish here are Phd's in egg flies, nymphs, and streamers, having seen them all in the past couple of months. In fact, they have probably seen just about every variation of these bugs imaginable. In this type of situation, changing up your presentation can pay big rewards, and Saturday proved that big time.

As Kyle and I gloomily made our way through the hole we were fishing the third time through, my drift was approaching its end. As my bobber and fly began to swing in the current, a hard strike jolted me out of zombieland. A quick fight ensued, and soon ended after the fish managed to break me off while going in full bore towards some wood. Still, I began to figure out that it was going to take some out-of-the-box thinking to produce on that day.

Fishing for 45 minutes more, Kyle lands a really nice brown out of a very odd spot in the hole we were fishing. As I moved back to the top of the run, I thought in the back of my head that this will be the last time through. It was getting rather dark after all, and I definitely didn't feel like being there as night befell us. Plus, the fishing had seemed to drop off anyway. So, I decided to go against conventional wisdom and threw a large weighted streamer under the bobber. In the clear, pressured water, I thought that throwing a piece of meat might jolt them awake. A few drifts later with the streamer produced the fish pictured at the bottom of this entry. All together, we went 1 for 2 on steel with one awesome brown trout thrown in in about 4 hours of fishing. Another killer day on a memorable river.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Cabin Fever

Everyone knows what it is. At different times for different people cabin fever sets in at some point during the winter. For me, it comes very soon after the cold sets in. The only thing that lets me keep my sanity is looking forward to those breaks in the weather, and each person has their temperature threshold. For some, if the temperature isn't 45 degrees or better they won't go fishing. Others choose to place their cutoff at the freezing barrier, where rod guides start to freeze and make life difficult. For me, 15 degrees is too chilly for sure, if its 20 I may go ice fishing, and in anything over 28 (and sunny) and I will go steelheading.

Looking for the days when the weather pans out is key during the wintertime. People place importance on different elements in the forecast. For me the two most important things to take into account are temperature and barometric pressure. If the instruments measure both of these to be in my favor, I will go fishing.

There is something different about the pull of a steelhead or trout during the wintertime. Something about winter solitude, and braving the elements that makes a fish in the net worth its weight in gold. Kind of reminds me of a day on a river north of here, when my buddy Nick and I were the only souls on the river that day. We carefully walked out onto a piece of shelf ice at a good spot and managed to hook into a steelhead and land two nice browns. It seems that when shelf ice is around the steelhead definitely know how to use it to their advantage. Anyway, here are some pictures from that day to get you through until your next break in the weather...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Ice Fishing

You know, some may say that ice fishing is as boring as boring can get. Staring through a hole in the ice, waiting for a bite that may never come can be just that sometimes, but yesterday proved the skeptics wrong.

After arriving at the spot around 3:30, I drilled several holes out in the channel of the river. After fishing there for approximately a half hour without a bite, I moved in towards the edge of the channel. After I spudded out some previously drilled holes, I dropped my lines down and immediately started catching fish.

By myself, I landed around 25 walleye, including an 8 pounder (which I threw back) and a 4 pounder (which I kept). Both of these fish really put up an incredible fight under the ice, with each Walleye taking out several feet of line in each fight. The 8 pounder was a big female, and I let her go because fish that big really don't taste good, and because she was packed full of eggs to procreate. All in all, it was a great day of fishing and it will definitely keep me coming back for more.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

My Favorite Bug

Although the Au Sable and surrounding river systems have a good number of prolific bug hatches, one in particular jumps to the forefront. The bugs scientific name is Isonychia bicolor, but it is more well known as an Iso, Big Mahogany, or a White-Gloved Howdy. I began to tie up my summer store of these bugs today, starting with comparaduns and eventually moving to a parachute style bug and finally a spinner imitation.

So, you may ask yourself, why is the Iso my favorite bug? The answer is simple: both the volume and longevity of this particular hatch puts it squarely at the top of my list. A true size 10 at the beginning of the hatch, it is best imitated by a size 12 later on as the fish wise up. Starting in mid-June these bugs appear before the famous nighttime Hex bugs on an almost daily basis. On heavy gravel stretches of both the Au Sable and Manistee, anglers can sometimes escape the Hex madness by chasing around these bugs instead. This hatch lasts well into July, and they make a reappearance in late August and early September (usually in smaller sizes). Oh, and big fish will rise to them. Really big fish. In fact, I personally seen my dad land 2 trout near 24 inches on Isonychia patterns, and I know firsthand of a 25 incher taken last year on one by my friend Ken Mers.

They are a swimming nymph, which means that they swim onto shore, shed their nymphal shuck, and hatch on shore. This process is much different than the typical mayfly, which undergo the same insect metamorphosis only in the water instead of on land. Taking this into consideration, many people wonder why I tie the Comparadun and the Parachute in the Iso colors, as both of these style flies represent the immediate post-hatching stages of an insects life. The simple reason I tie them is that they flat out work, in all sorts of conditions.

I could tell you about days on the water landing 6 trout over 17 inches, or 50 plus trout landed on a single Iso pattern, but I won't. Instead, I urge you to look outside the box, take others advice, but also formulate your own original ideas as to how to imitate any given insect. In the case of the Isonychia bicolor , it has paid dividends for me time and time again.

These fish are the last Au Sable trout I have eaten, some five and a half years ago. The Brown at the top was the smallest of four that night, and all of the fish were caught on Isonychia parachutes.