Spring Steelhead

Spring Steelhead

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Cold Water Close to Home

Living in the Saginaw Bay region and being a die hard trout fishermen I have to incorporate a little extra time to get to a cold water tributary and these days more then a little extra money for gas. The nearest cold water is the Tobacco River, the Cedar River, and the upper sections of the Rifle River. I can't recall ever fishing the Tobacco River, but have spent quite a bit of time on the Cedar river and the Rifle. The downfall with the Rifle is it has what fly anglers refer to as a "canoe hatch." The Cedar on the other hand in the cold water section, canoe traffic is very scare. You might encounter a kayaker or two but nothing extreme. Actually the only kayaks I've seen on the cold water section was myself and a friend with a cabin on the North Branch of the river.
I fish the Rifle primarily for steelhead and typically move to another river system when the suckers become overly thick during the spawning season. The river is closed from Sage Lake Road down stream until the last Saturday in April each year and the upper section is open to fish until the end of September. Many friends including myself were once die hard fishermen of the section from the head waters to Sage Lake Road, but since alot of my pals are busy being parents getting away isn't as easy as it once was and since I developed an obsession for the Au Sable River and it's prolific hatches I might stop to the Rifle on my way home from the Au Sable to fish trout, but otherwise concentrate on the Rifle for winter and spring steelhead fishing. Don't get me wrong, the Rifle is an excellent stretch of water that lodges trout in good numbers along the section that runs along the Rifle River Trail up to the head waters. We've been up steelhead fishing in during the cold winter months and found runs holding good numbers of browns and rainbows and switched gears and turned the trip into a catch and release trout fishing expedition.

Above is a photo of my friend Mike with a little rainbow caught after first ice out in early March of 2010.
Above is a photo of Belle standing along the Rifle River.

Rifle River
Another small bow caught in the Rifle while targeting steelhead.
During the late spring and summer months the small mouth and rock bass move into the lower sections of the river in large numbers and for those of you who love to chase bass the Rifle lodges some very nice size fish! The upper sections of the river the water remains cold and the trout fishing remains great! Because there are so many feeder creeks and lakes that empty into the Rifle, after a good rain the river can take some time to recover. The banks of the upper Rifle and under cut and loaded with grass that sweeps the water making perfect hiding spots for trout and the hopper fishing can be really good during the summer months.
Above is a photo of a feeder creek which pours into the Rifle.
Above is another feeder creek pouring into the Rifle. A fun trip can be canoeing or kayaking the river and not only fishing the main stream, but parking at the mouths of the feeder creeks and wading up them.
Most all the water on the Rifle is very fly rod friendly, even some of the feeder creeks as pictured above.
A brown I caught just before a storm rolled in on the Rifle.

Above another great brown trout caught on the Rifle River!

If you decide to fish the Rifle River keep in mind there are some very large brown trout in the river and in the spring very large steelhead. I was fishing trout one day about six years ago, and hooked three steelhead I couldn't hold since I was using light tackle (my fault, I knew better). The next day I drove back up with my steelhead gear and high hopes and only landed one trout, a fifteen inch brown. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.
Photographed above is the main branch of the Cedar River in the cold water section. This river is filled with brown trout. There is no way for migratory fish to access the river which makes for no "steelhead surprise" when fishing during the spring months. The warm water section is excellent bass fishing and there is a campground in the city of Gladwin where as a child I landed an 18 inch small mouth. I haven't been back to fish the warm waters since, but it probably wouldn't be a bad idea...
I've spent a great deal of time over the last decade fishing the cold water of the main branch, the north branch, and the west branch of the river for trout. There are some tight spots, but for the most part the river is very fly rod friendly. The fishing pressure is very minimal, especially during the summer months. Spin casting these trout are a sucker for a grass hopper submerged under the water with a small split shot! Last year was the first time I made it up there fly fishing and if you all remember the summer we had last year it was hot! Over the last decade fishing this river in the cold water section I had never caught  a species other then a brown trout, so this guy was quite the surprise!
The river has a mainly rock bottom with some sand and is easily wade able. And there are some very beautiful browns in this river system!
This fish was caught by a friend while fishing the river during the month of May.

I'm not much of a bridge fishermen, and never have been. Just so happens this was where we parked the truck that day. I think the only time I ever put in time fishing trout near a bridge was after hiking a section of state land carrying two rods, back packing my gear, with lunch and a container of food for Belle. That day I came upon two steelhead that wouldn't take anything I threw at them and out of frustration on the hike back, I stopped by a bridge that went over a paved road and caught three trout that were in the teens. Just goes to show, sometimes as we are searching for that perfect spot to fish we walk right passed them. These fish were caught up stream from where we parked on the  main branch of the Cedar. There is quit a bit of private property on the Cedar River, but as long as you stay in the water your alright. I've found if you knock on the right doors, some of the property owners will allow you access to the river as well. I never understood the fear that comes to some anglers about asking for permission to access property to fish. For that matter, I never understood the fear of asking permission to hunt on a farmer's land. What's the worst that could happen? They could say no. I'm usually the guy who is designated to ask permission and have found remembering to use these words and phrases you will be treated with the same respect; "Yes sir, please, and thank you." I tend to strike up a conversation with the property owners and tell a bit about myself and inquire if they hunt or fish. Asking questions gets the property owner talking and before you know it the two of you are exchanging fish stories.

According to friends and fly shop owners in northern Michigan, the cold snap we had slowed down the dry fly fishing a bit, but now that the temperatures are back up the brown drakes are back! Some hex are coming off the ponds of the Au Sable, but nothing on the river yet. Iso's are hatching throughout the entire Au Sable River system as well.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Recyling Feathers

Living in the Saginaw Valley region I am located in waterfowl hunting central!
Sportsman take to the fields in layout blinds, inland ponds, the Saginaw Bay shore as well as motoring out and hunting in layout boats. There are ample opportunities for hunters to take advantage of including hunting refuges such as Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area, Fish Pointe Wildlife Area, Crow Island Wildlife Area, Shiawassee Game Refuge, as well as any of the back waters of the Saginaw River and the Saginaw Bay.

Each year the Saginaw Bay Waterfowl Festival is held at the Bay City State Park located on State Park Drive. There are many activities for folks of all ages and even our dear K-9 friends.
Above is a photo of the K-9 waterfowl retrieve fun hunt.
And below are just some of the vendors at the festival.
At the show the vendors sell everything from boats to artwork to decoys and call to antique waterfowl gear for collectors.
Some of Belle's ribbons above.

I 've been waterfowling for 21 years and have hunted the bay shore, rivers, back waters, fields, etc. I still do quite a bit of layout hunting, but as far as hunting over any water I stick with my good friends and hunt a field my father put into the Conservation Restoration Enhancement Program through the United States Department of Agriculture in 2003. We never seem to see great numbers of driver ducks, which is fine with me. The king of ducks is well known as the canvas back, well in my opinion it will always be the drake mallard. Mind you this is just my opinion, but I can't think of a more beautiful site then a large drake mallard cupped in front of the decoys over one of the 3 ponds on our property. Along with the mallards we seem to shoot plenty of wood ducks, green and blue wing teal, and black ducks. Oh, and plenty of large Canadian Geese! We tend to hunt the geese from the layout blinds in the wheat or corn fields and typically only have pass shooting opportunities in the C.R.E.P. field. We have harvested some drivers on the property which included red heads, blue bills, and pintails.
Bigfoot brand decoys mixed in with a few dozen Carry-Lite brand magnum shells seem to work relatively well when properly positioned in the field. Always remember the key rule to successfully positioning decoys in presentation of a landing pad for large flocks and opposite of hunting whitetail deer where you always want the wind in your face to mask scent, with waterfowl the wind should be to your back and in blowing into the path which you want the waterfowl to land. Ducks and geese alike use the wind to land as well as take off and the slightest breeze can effect how, where, and if they land in your decoy spread.
There are many different styles of layout blinds available and range in price.
Above is a limit of geese shot during early goose season which runs the first few weeks of September in Michigan.

Above is a photo of my father on a typical opening morning of duck hunting in Zone 3.
There are plenty of excellent waterfowl calls out there, you just need to find the one that suits you. I prefer the Dave Lewis Calls. They are hand made here in Michigan and have superb pitch and excellent tone. Regarding decoys there are lots of brands to chose from but I prefer the Herter brand decoys. They are a bit higher in price then other decoys but have a photographic image of an actual duck that makes of there detail. A six pack of Herter decoys (depending on the style) usually runs around $100.00. It's a must to have motion in your decoy spread! This can be accomplished in many different ways including quiver magnet water shakers, battery operated diving ducks, jerk strings (careful though the dog might trip when doing a retrieve) and it is always good to have a few motion ducks in the air. We typically run between 2 to 5 Mojo brand ducks depending on the size of the decoy spread.
There are plenty of great recipes out there for waterfowl which range from stew, bbq, chilli, jerky, etc. Don't be afraid to experiment and using the web to find recipes is always a great tool! Although when cleaning game harvested with a shotgun always remember to clean thoroughly and do your best to get every little pellet out. Especially when cleaning waterfowl since the state of Michigan requires hunters to use steel rather then lead shot.
During the season of 2010, I contacted some fly tyers and fly shops to see if I could make more use of the birds we harvested then just a meal. The bulk of the CDC, flanks and paired mallard wings were all shipped to Angler's Choice Flies and Old Ausable Fly Shop. If you are ever interested in specific feathers please leave me a message, though the CDC's are spoken for sorry. If you are a waterfowler, contact a local fly shop regarding their interest in feathers for tying. Make the most out of any animal you harvest in the field, don't just feed your family and friends, feed a fish!

Friday, June 10, 2011

High Heat & Low Water

What a tempeture change! Wednesday here in Michigan it was right around 100 degrees, then Thursday only in the 60's. Regardless of the weather, we had plans to chase some trout and that's just what we did. Through out the spring months when many fly anglers are chasing the large browns with streamers the size of kittens, I'm usually chasing steelhead till the end of April. Then I retreat to a camp spot deep in the National Forest near the Manistee River to chase feeder creek trout. As much as I have become absolutely addicted to the sport of fly fishing, since I stumbled upon these cold water tributaries that feed into the Manistee roughly 11 years ago this has become our opening day camp. My father fly fished trout in the 1970's and during the 1980's set the fly rod down and became a Saginaw Bay walleye junky. The first time I took him up to this small trickle of water in the National Forest it re-kindled his love for chasing trout.
On this small feeder creek, it is virtually impossible to cast a fly rod on 99% of the water, which means putting down the fly rod and picking up a spin cast rod. Many die hard fly anglers refuse to do this, but  if it means I'll be heading to waters that have given me plenty of fond memories and I get to spend the day fishing with the most competitive person I know  (my father) then I don't have a problem picking up the old trusty 7' Ugly Stik and putting in some work on the feeder creek fish.
When most anglers think feeder creek spin casting, they think fishing worms. Hey I know they work, I've caught trout on them, but when spin casting they are rarely ever in my arsenal. Grass hoppers, crickets, grubs, June bugs, wax worms, minnows, etc. are some of what you will find in my bag of tricks. I can pull out my map book of rivers and streams, you know the one each of us have that is filled with notes, pages are torn, we always say we are going to replace it but never do, and I can tell you by trial and error over a decade which feeder creeks a black cricket will work on during the dog days of summer and a grass hopper won't. It's all in knowing the area and what types of insects reside near the river. As far as monofilament, a low vis green line works well, don't go much lighter then 6 lb though. You maybe fishing in a few inches of water, but you never know what is lurking under the log submerged in a pool that is a mere 2 foot deep!
I honestly could not tell you how many trout we put in our nets yesterday, it was amazing! Above is a shot of the big boy of the day. These are the types of tributaries you don't dare mention their names. When you find water that you can fish on opening day and not see another angler, you have truly found a treasure! Especially when the water lodges brown, brooks, and rainbows. When I fish trout with a spin cast rod, I present the bait to the fish as natural as possible (casting up stream and letting it drift down to the fish). Though there are those instances where you find a nice run with too much over hang and down lining is the only option.
Here is shot of my father with a beautiful 12 inch feeder creek brown trout!
Notice the neopreme waders? Yeah it was so brisk in those woods you could see your breath, on June 9th! All in all it was a great trip and another memory of fishing what is my fathers favorite trout stream in northwest Michigan. I think this one will be remembered as "the trip that almost didn't happen!" As we were driving up the highway at 4am that morning in my father's new 2011 Chevy Z71, a deer leaped out in front of the truck and the pedal went to the floor. Having hit two deer in my life thus far, I honestly couldn't tell you how we missed this deer, other then then fact the brakes were locked at 70 mph! Certainly did wake Belle up as she came flying off the back seat and on to the floor.
According to river guides, the brown drake hatch is going on strong on the Au Sable River right now!