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!