Spring Steelhead

Spring Steelhead

Friday, May 10, 2013

The End of a Cold Winter and the Beginning of Dry Fly Fishing.

It seemed as though the long cold winter in Michigan was finally over, but Mother Nature is always playing tricks on us in the mitten state. Just yesterday it was 82 degrees and sunny, and the day before the same with the Hendrickson hatch going strong on the Au Sable River. Today however it's 42 degrees, gusting wind, rain, and cold. Conditions were so brutal over night there was a massive power outage and the schools in my home town are closed today leaving this substitute teacher without work. Ironically I installed an air conditioning unit yesterday and this morning lit the fire place.

In January Belle became extremely sick and was taken to the Oakland Emergency Veterinary Clinic where she was diagnosed with extreme inflammation in her digestive tract. As we made the drive down state in rush hour traffic I was driving frantically consumed with worry about my hunting and fishing buddy. Upon arriving at the emergency clinic we were referred to, Belle was swept away as I had plenty of paperwork to fill out. Shortly there after I went back to the ICU and sat with Belle till around 10:30pm then made the drive home. The following day I persistently called to check on Belle roughly every 3 hours. After an ultrasound, medication, and a confirmed diagnosis she was eating and drinking on her own without having problems keeping food down. I again spoke with the veterinarian around 9:00pm and she stated I could pick Belle up first thing in the morning. Being that this is a 24 hour animal hospital, I asked if she was on any fluid IV at the present time and when the answer was no, I hopped in my truck and drove down to pick her up at around 11:00pm that night.
If you're an animal person, a dog lover, or just a soul with a kind heart, you might be able to empathize the stress and sorrow myself, friends, and family went through as Belle was at the vet, especially since before leaving the veterinarian said, "If you would have waited another day, she probably wouldn't have made it." I've been told by many people that Belle is more like a human being than a dog.
Though no dog could ever replace Belle, it was evident she needed a companion to brighten her spirits and a minion to start taking over the hard labor jobs that are expected at the pond on days we hunt ducks both morning and evening. She knows her limits, but when it comes time to hunt they go right out the window and her determination and focus is fueled with adrenaline leading to aches and pains.
The solution to perk up her spirits of aging and take away some of the strain that is the hard work of hunting waterfowl, a English/British Chocolate Labrador we named Ava!

I was concerned about Belle and Ava getting along, but they turned out to be best friends. Ava's training drills have really perked Belle back up to her old self, rekindled her love for the dummy launcher, and gave her a pal to hang out with when I'm not home. At 4 months of age, Ava has overly impressed us with her ability to understand and obey commands. She is already a great boat dog and going to be an excellent waterfowl dog!
Steelhead fishing was a wash for us this late winter/spring as the cold prevented me from taking to the river much as I knew it would not be pleasant for the dogs even with a Mr. Buddy Heater on board. I think I made it up 5 times total including a trip to the west side of the state. We decided to start a new tradition the first weekend of April, steelhead camp. The first morning of the trip we hit a submerged log on the lower Au Sable River and trashed my boat motor... The weather made a drastic turn for the worst with falling temperatures, gusting wind, and rain. I packed it up and headed home.

(Pictured above is Steve and Belle on the Au Sable below Foote and Mike on Bear Creek)

The Spring migration was right on time this year with good numbers of Canadian Geese, mallards, wood ducks, teal, and some other species dropping into the pond to take a break like this Shoveler pictured above. Notice Ava has already made herself comfortable in the duck blind as well.
As the Michigan Trout Opener neared, I looked forward to spending several days camped on a small feeder creek with my father as we do each year. Most all of the rivers in the state were completely blown out due to heavy rain falls, but our gem of a feeder creek that lodges browns, rainbows, and brook trout had a very fast run off and cleans up quick. After a slip and fall which landed my father at the doctor's office, a fractured leg kept him home and just myself and the dogs headed up.

After setting up camp, I went on our annual creek walk to see what changes Mother Nature had made to the small trickle of water in the Manistee National Forest. Things looked promising for opening day as the long cold winter had postponed the spawning of the rainbow trout and I was able to locate some of the larger fish on the redds. But opening day was a bust. I woke at 5:00am to find the banks of the creek littered with beer cans and trash from some dirt bags that came in and night fished. I landed a handful of dinks that Saturday, but nothing to brag about. My optimism was gone, especially after bumping into another angler on the stream about a mile from camp who said he hadn't even had a bite. I slept in Sunday dreaming about the rainbow trout I saw in the creek Friday.

As I made my way down to the pine tree hole with the dogs, I made several casts and tied into a brown trout in the mid 20 inch range! He was thrashing and digging with all his might trying to stay in that hole where half of a large pine tree lay. After doing battle with this toad for sometime, it was evident this fish wasn't coming out of this fast water willingly. There was no way to wade this water safely to retrieve the fish, so I was forced to try pulling him out from beneath the down pine. My line went limp, I'm quiet certain profanity came out of my mouth, my heart fell to my stomach, and as I reeled in I realized he didn't break my line, he straightened my #10 long shank Eagle Claw hook! I proceeded to work my way up the creek with the spawning rainbow trout haunting my every thought! Did the litter bug dirt bags nab these magnificent fish, or were they still hiding in the deep clay runs?

We hiked to the clay runs and were about to find out!
Who says you need deep water to catch big trout? One of my former coworkers that's who! Upon my cousin showing one of my former coworkers and friend which I spent plenty of time chasing trout with in my early 20's pictures of these two rainbows, his remark was "He didn't catch them in a feeder creek. He must have been on the Big Manistee." Nope, just a small trickle through the forest.
After returning home, a friend and I floated Mio to Comins Flat on the Au Sable in hopes to hook into a big brown streamer fishing as the water was high and dirty. We had 3 solid follow ups and all big browns, but no dice. Only a few planters when Mike was casting spinners with his Ugly Stik. I returned to fish the same stretch 4 days later as I watched he air and water temperatures rise and the discharge of the water coming out of the hydro dam decline to a fishable level for dry fly fishing. Though there were not many risers, there were plenty of bugs and I did manage one nice brown.

As I watched this brown and 2 others in the same class slurping emergers I quickly tied on a Hendrickson emerger about eighteen inches below a dun. In the meantime several guide boats had pasted and suddenly I heard a familiar voice say, "How's my Belle girl doing?" Bob Linsemen and a friend were in Bob's words, "After the elusive big brown trout." I told Bob there was a good fish going about 35 yards in front of me as well. They dropped anchor and as we were casting and visiting, BAM!!! The brown pictured above nabbed the emerger pattern tied by Mike Schmidt owner of Angler's Choice Flies and put up a good fight before finding her way into my landing net!
There was an enormous spinner fall that evening with flows running around 1200 cfs. Hendricksons and Mahoganies covered the water, but there seemed to be little surface activity.
There are still plenty of steelhead below Foote, but without a motor I think I'll be stuck drifting the rivers in northern Michigan on the hunt for trout!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wrapping up the 2012 Hunting Season:

It seems like it was just yesterday we were grassing layout blinds and filling the trailer with goose decoys, but rather counting the days left of deer season and preparing to transition to predator hunting and winter steelhead fishing.

Early goose season was hit and miss. When the birds started showing up in early August, I knew it was a bad sign. Over the years we've noticed when the birds begin hitting the fields that early, typically by September 1st, their patterns change. We hunt the north end of the Mississippi in Michigan inland from the Saginaw Bay (Lake Huron). The birds transition from the water to the wheat fields, pickle fields, corn stubble, soybean fields, etc each morning and evening. The birds follow an aerial path that just so happens to be a short cut from the Crow Island Game Reserves, the Shiawassee Game Reserve, the Saginaw River, etc to the Saginaw Bay. Our farm happens to be right smack dab in the center of this aerial path which makes for some decent waterfowl hunting. With far less hunting pressure than the 2011 early goose season, we had a few good days in the field hunting over large decoy spreads in wheat stubble that was brush hogged.

Before archery season and regular duck and goose began, we made a trip to the northwest side of the state for the fall salmon run. The first day was phenomenal! We never saw another angler, not sure how many kings we hooked, but we only managed two fish to hand. To readers who have caught salmon or steelhead out on the big lakes while trolling, it's not the same as fighting one of these torpedoes in the streams and rivers of northern Michigan. Though the salmon do get a bad reputation for migrating up the streams, spawning, then dying, if you can manage a fresh fish they fight hard and taste great! As I said, the first day was phenomenal, then began the downward spiral of snaggers infesting the creek and heavy rains which left my drift boat with inches of water in it. Typically one would think rain equals more fish migrating up the river making for even better fishing. True, but when guys pushing fish and casting weighted hooks have them so frightened fishing isn't so hot... Here are a couple shots of the fish we landed.

Usually we have the first weekend of October to archery hunt whitetail deer, but with changes the Department of Natural Resources made opening waterfowl season in Zone 3 a week early this wasn't the case. We made it out several times during the week for whitetails, then spent opening weekend of waterfowl season with family, good food, and a new duck blind on our north pond. After Hurricane Sandy tore apart the east coast, the winds from the storm effected the flight patterns of waterfowl from the Atlantic fly way as well as some of the Mississippi. In some areas pushing the birds nearly 100 miles west of their usual flight path.We didn't have the best year on the farm by any means, but still managed a few good hunts.

Mark was probably more excited to make it out on opening day than all the rest of us. But 9:15pm the night before, his wife Danielle went into labor and early that morning they had a little baby girl. So obviously the picture below is of the following weekend.

As far as archery season for whitetail deer, I have no complaints...

Well maybe two... As much time as Josh spends chasing whitetails, I really wish his dedication would've paid off. By far he spends more time hunting whitetail deer than anyone I know. He pasted up so many smaller bucks waiting for a trophy he had caught on his trail cam, but has yet to fill a tag. RESPECT!!! Letting the year and a half old bucks live only promotes bigger bucks for the 2013 season. As for my father, a.k.a The Buck Slayer, a.k.a Fred Bear, due to faulty equipment his time in the field was cut short as a limb split in two on his Parker cross bow. Extremely poor customer service from the archery shop the bow was purchased left him without a bow for nearly two months. Firearm deer season came and went with the three of us consistently passing smaller bucks, and now into the final week of muzzle loading season and the tail end of archery season, our optimism has depleted to some extent, but there are still some good horns out there and with hope, it's still possible we might fill another tag (or two, or three).
I hope everyone enjoys a safe and joyous holiday season with family and friends! Thanks for the read! As the year is about to come to a close we'll be switching gears to predator hunting fox and coyotes as well as a whole lot of winter steelhead fishing! See you on the water!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Small mouth and Rock bass on the Cass

Small mouth and Rock bass on the Cass:
The several inches of rain we received over Memorial Weekend really bumped up the water levels on the river making fishing tough as the water resembles chocolate milk.
Hands down the top producer on this river is the Murdich Minnow! I actually just ordered another dozen from Great Lakes Fly in several different color variations.
Though we have caught fish on Zuddlers and Great Lake Deceivers, the Murdich Minnow is a Cass River killer! We've been fishing 6wt and 7wt 9 foot rods with Rio 250 grain 24 foot sink tips and it seems to be the perfect set up producing plenty of fish. Primarily small mouth and rock bass with the occasional northern pike.
The river runs 61.5 miles from Cass City to it's discharge point at the Saginaw River. It meanders through the Shiawassee Wildlife Refuge as well as several Cities. The wildlife is abundant along the river and is very common to see depending which stretch of the river you are on. As we were on the water one day several weeks ago we noticed some different may flies and caddis. I did some research and found the river actually has quite the prolific hatches, very similar to the Au Sable (minus the trout).
The results show the insects that will be hatching on or around the Cass River. Hatch times fluctuate based on water temps.
Insect Size Date Range:
Blue Winged Olive 18: April 15 to April 30
Little Black Caddis 16,18: April 15 to April 30
Hendrickson 12,14: April 15 to May 15
Mahogany Dun 16: April 15 to May 15
Tiny Blue Winged Olive 22: August 1 to September ...
Blue Winged Olive: 16 July 1 to July 30
Trico 22,24,26: July 15 to August 31
White Mayfly 12,14,16: July 15 to September 15
Hexagenia 4,6: June 1 to June 15
Light Cahill 14: June 15 to June 30
Gray Drake 12,14: May 1 to May 30
Sulfur 16,18: May 1 to May 30
Terrestrials 6,8,10,12,14,16,18: May 1 to September 15
Caddis 16: May 15 to August 15
Brown Drake 10: May 15 to May 30
Though due to recent water levels there hasn't been much surface activity besides some of the bass grabbing bugs while hiding near shore, before the rain the river received over Memorial Weekend, while streamer fishing every now and then we would see large bass exploding the surface while grabbing caddis and cahills. Keep in mind due to the mild winter and warmer than usual temperatures the may fly hatches on most Michigan river systems are several weeks head this year.
Order some flies!
Redington CPX 9' 7wt fly rod, 3.5 Lamson Konic large arbor reel loaded with Rio 24' DC sink tip with a Murdich Minnow streamer fly.
These fish are a ton of fun to catch and fight like champs! All caught and released and waiting to be caught again! The rivers gradient does change drastically from the head waters to the tail with the changes of it's path through farm country, cities and towns, wildlife refuges, etc. The agricultural fields bordering the river which are tiled do drain quite a bit of water into the river (see USGS chart above for accurate statistics).
Some incredibly beautiful drake mallards along the river right now as the hens are all still tending to this springs brood.
If you plan on attending Frankenmuth's Bavarian Festival this weekend, stop down to the river and wet a line! Be aware M-83 will be closed during the parade over the weekend. It looks like residence of the Saginaw Valley region are in for some hot weather this weekend with temperatures reaching 90 degrees! Get out and enjoy some outdoor activities, but don't forget the sun screen and bug dope! Also, if you have a pet be courteous to their needs regarding insect repellent and sun block. Bay Valley Animal Hospital sells a combination of the two in a gel form which repels mosquito's, flies, etc. Another fact to be aware of is due to the significantly mild winter, it is tick season and there are plenty of them. B.V.A.H. also sells a monthly treatment for protection for your pet. My chocolate labrador "Belle" the television sensation on NBC's morning show gets this simple to apply treatment along with Heart Guard monthly.
Enjoy your weekend everyone!!!
This is what it's going to look like...