Monday, March 29, 2010

Nice Day

"When long faces are seen around gravel, always look to the pockets." This quote is from good friend Dane Ward, and it could not have been more true than yesterday. While the locals could be seen hawking gravel looking for fish trying to do the spawning thing, the real biters came from the dark water in and around that same gravel.

I think that the run is really winding down over there. While I hooked a really good number of fish, other folks I talked to were not doing so hot. So goes it I guess. As for the run winding down, the rivers up and down the west side need water bad, and if they don't get it soon the steelhead congregating around the mouths of rivers will reabsorb their eggs or milt and head back out to the big lake. To anyone reading this, get your headdress out and DO YOUR RAIN DANCE! After the big push of fish a few weeks ago, rivers over there have not seen any good numbers of fresh steelhead. Friends fishing the Pere Marquette in the past week have lamented to me about the lack of new fish showing up.

Simply put, a lack of snow has equaled a lack of runoff. Our easy winter has ambushed our steelhead run this spring. Prayer for rain and be courteous out there...

A steelie on "Phil's beach"

Catch and Release

Purdy buck

Phat hen

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chrome Dome

Got out for some fishing/guiding with a friend from Wyoming yesterday. It was some of the best steelheading I ever had. The fishing was plain out of sight. Unfortunately, I spent the whole day with a lingering sickness that started Wednesday night. However, hooking fish after fish after fish will keep your spirits up pretty well I'd say.

Matt had never flyfished for steelhead before, and he still managed to bag 3 steelhead, 1 huge walleye, a few trout, and some "bugle trout" (a.k.a. suckers). After some instruction, Matt got the hang of it and we finished the day strong with each of us hooking a lot of fish.

Sorry about the short report, I am still feeling rather sick and I think some sleep is in order...

Chrome hen from a hole

Matt with another big hen

Myself with a good hen

A salmon head. Dead salmon provide a lot of extra nutrients for the river and the organisms that thrive in and around it.

Matt's handsome buck

Matt's 8 lb + walleye

Nice brownie

One of Matt's "bugle trout." Look how happy he was to catch it haha

Catch and Release

These fish are only a sampling of what was caught during the day. Above all, I got to spend time with a friend that I hadn't seen in a long, long time. Thank goodness for good friends and great times!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

High Water

The high water that affects Michigan rivers in the spring is heavy. Its sheer force can move giant trees, take out bridges and also other foundations. Even with little snow melt, rivers around here are still making their presence known. The Tittabawasee, down the road from my apartment, has gone up 6 feet since Tuesday. It is not quite out of the riverbanks, but it is very close. Reports on all Michigan steelhead rivers are the same: high and dirty. However, the high water will help to fill the rivers up and down the west side with a fresh batch of chromers.

I guess its not too bad sacrificing a few days of terrible fishing for a couple weeks of good fishing. After all, there is no steelhead that bites like a fresh run steelhead, in the spring or the fall. Timing is everything on a steelhead stream, and being there at the right time can mean the difference between struggling for a few hookups and having a banner day.

The next couple months will give us the chance to have that "banner day." Spending the time and putting in the hours will reward you big-time. A keen eye will also help. Above all, timing is the most important. Figure out the flow rate and conditions at which your river fishes best will help you make the most of your fishing time every time out.

High water on the Pere Marquette, that river gets scary when it's got that type of flow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Small Streams, Big Fish

Most every diehard fly angler has an opinion about creeking. Some love it, others hate it, and some of you out there may say, "what the heck is creeking?" Personally, I consider creeking as fishing in a stream that flows at less than 100 cubic feet per second. In Michigan, it is most common across the northern lower and upper peninsulas for brook trout. In these environments, the further one walks from the access is directly proportional to how many fish one will have a chance of catching. Some small streams harbor brown or rainbow trout or other gamefish, and some hold steelhead.

Fishing a small stream can be frustrating. At times devoid of fish, and at times loaded with them. Figuring out the timing in these streams can be a daunting task. One day you think will be perfect turns out to be a bust. A day starting with low expectations ends with double digit hookups on steelhead. You just never know how the fishing will be, and this is the beauty of creeking.

Productive fishing in small streams requires stealth and adaptability, in that order. Stealth is required to stalk the fish in the shallower rivers, and good adaptability allows the fisherman to fish every spot properly. On any given creeking river, I will employ 3 tactics so as to fish every spot. The first is my go-to method, the bobber. The second my old go-to method, chuck and duck (except with split shot, not a sliding weight). The third is a method I learned from a regular on a river I used to fish. It involved, in his case, a large pyramid sinker and spawn. He would basically "glue" this rig to the bottom, and then wait for a steelhead to bite. It was very effective. I adopted his rig, and scaled it down for fly fishing. It too has turned out to be very effective.

Learning these methods is essential to creeking. Hiring a knowledgeable guide can help tremendously. More just a fish locater, a good guide can give a client knowledge they will employ for the rest of their fishing life. The ability to read water is a perfect example of also a quality a good guide will give you. Below you will find pictures and descriptions of 3 types of water one will find on any given great lakes stream. They are nowhere near all of the types of water a fisherman will encounter. But all of them, at certain points of the year, will hold fish.


This type of run is a "pinch point," explained as a point in the river that concentrates fish during heavy runs. Spots like this produce on both big and small rivers alike. In small streams however, they are very important.


This type of water holds fish before, during, and after the spawn. When you see long faces around shallow gravel, look to the pockets for fish


Great winter time holding water. Take a long slow pool and dissect it piece by piece until you hookup or cover the hole. If you do hookup, let the hole rest and then fish it again...

These 3 types of water can hold fish both individually or consecutively during a run. Learning where steelhead are located and the techniques used to catch them will greatly enhance your time spent on the water. There is nothing like leaving the stream with a smile on your face.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Great Morning

Had a chance today to explore a small great lakes trib that I had not visited in a while. When I arrived the water was very stained, but the particular river I was fishing has a reputation for this. When I decided to fish despite the conditions, I had no idea what to expect. I soon found out however, that the steelhead and trout had absolutely no problems with the stained water. They bit well all morning, mostly on egg patterns. While the two steelhead I landed were skippers, I hooked 2 others that were each around 4 pounds or slightly larger. A lot of small, wild steelhead smolts around today, a very good sign for the future.

Small stream steelheading has a special allure to me. Hooking and fighting a raging steelhead in close quarters requires stealth, precise drifts, and good fish-fighting ability. I learned to salmon and steelhead fish north of the 45th parallel, where the rivers run cold and clean. For example, one of the rivers up north is so clear that a person can literally stand on the riverbank and count the stones on the river bottom in a 6 foot deep hole.

I took my early lessons learned from those northern steelhead rivers, and applied them to other small rivers in our state. Tight little roll casts, the kind you may not learn from a casting instructor, become normal on the stream. A 6-inch difference in a drift can make a world of difference. Holding water is different. In fact, fishing a small stream is just that, different.

20" hen skip

lil' smolt

19" male skip

bobber fishing a good run

Monday, March 08, 2010


The proverbial Boo-yah exclamation came into play yesterday, as a couple friends and myself manage to bag a good number of walleye. They were taken from a canoe, in an open stretch of water that was basically foreign to all of us. Others we talked to were not faring quite as well. We did see a couple that were taken on jigs, but casting and retrieving rapala's seemed to be the ticket for us. It sure was nice to get off the ice and move around a little while fishing. The biggest of the three walleye pictured below was 21 1/2 inches, and the other two were 18 1/2 inches long. Perfect eaters.

The first batch of cajun-fried walleye nuggets with a lemon--> NEVER forget the lemon!

Three nice, clean, coldwater walleye