Spring Steelhead

Spring Steelhead

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Trout Opener is Only Days Away in Michigan!

Trout opener is quickly approaching in Michigan!!!

I've been receiving phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. It seems as though in the last week, everyone went from talking steelhead to plotting their opening weekend trout trips! Though the steelhead fishing has slowed due to such strange weather conditions, there are plenty of steelhead below Foote Dam on the Au Sable River (mainly spawners and drop backs). I was up 2 weeks ago fishing egg cluster patterns with a 7wt using Rio Shooting Line and the chuck and duck technique. The week prior my cousin Corey was drifting small spawn bags through a pool below Foote and landed a 33 inch 12 pound male that is currently sitting peacefully in a freezer at the taxidermist's residence. 2 weeks ago within my first hour of chucking and ducking egg patterns in salmon color I hooked 4 steelhead but landing them was another story. I couldn't hook a fish the entire day with my 10' G Loomis spin rod, but with my 7wt hooked 6 steelhead and I honestly couldn't say how many white suckers.

Steelhead vs. Spring Streamer Fishing:
Well another March/April has came and went and the addiction of chasing steelhead has kept me off the upper river from chasing the big browns with streamer rods. This is much like the dilemma in the fall of each year, waterfowl hunt, steelhead fish, or streamer fish browns? Typically we make it up once for the salmon run, and once or twice for steelhead, but with prime waterfowl and whitetail hunting right here at home, it's pretty difficult to head north to fish. If anyone ever wants to try to convince myself or the other guys I hunt waterfowl with that doing some float fishing in northern Michigan and putting a few shotguns in the boat would be just as great as a day in the duck blind, I'll be happy to disagree with you all day long. If I'm driving north I've got fish on my mind. If I want to whack some ducks, I'm heading to the field we established primarily for whitetails and waterfowl!
Trout fishing. Where it all began...
It was fifteen or sixteen years ago, I was fresh out of high school working at a car dealership. One day I came home and my father had went out and purchased 2 pairs of neopreme waders and 3 steelhead rods. A General Motors employee and farmer, in the 1980's and 1990's he had fell victim to the walleye explosion in the Saginaw Bay like many others that reside in the Saginaw Valley region. Now 1996 or 1997 (I forget), he drove us north to a river where we fished and caught some smaller rainbows and had no luck with any chrome. We stopped to a restruant for a burger after fishing and my father began telling me about the fly fishing he had done in the 1970's on the Au Sable near the town of Lovells and Frederick with a 6wt Fennwick.
I left work at the car dealership and moved on to working at a print shop. If anyone is familiar with working in a factory setting, you're stuck by your machine and pretty much secluded to converse with the individuals running machines that are in your approximate vicinity. I was fortunate enough to work next to a fellow hunter/fisherman who spent alot of time running around the state as well as several other states chasing trout. He had recently purchased a cabin on the Cedar River and one day invited me up to fish. Not knowing a damn thing about fishing trout, I looked like a smuck when I showed up with a steelhead rod and a box with gear I would use today to chase steelhead. I had been up the week prior to the Au Sable near Lake Bright and Lake Glory fishing the river as well as the lakes and caught a few fish with the friends I was camped with, but I promise we drank more beer than we fished.
While standing there on the bank of the Cedar River my friend handed me some Eagle Claw, long shank, thin wire, number 10 hooks. I looked at these hooks as if it was a joke, how could a hook so flimsy hold up in a fight against a nice teener brown I thought? It didn't take long for Joe to show me how well his techniques worked. We were fishing the North Branch of the Cedar using 6 lb low vis monofiliment with BB and/or B size split shot casting up stream and presenting bait to these trout in a fashion so natural it appeared to flow at the exact speed of the current. I came to realize the only reason we were using any split shot at all was to cast! I was casting up river standing next to Joe as his stringer was full of brown trout and he was simply coaching me and he said "What the @!#! are you doing?! YOU HAVE A FISH!!!" This is where I realized Joe wasn't waiting for that tapping on the rod or the feel of tension of the line on his fingers, but he was actually watching the line. I quickly pulled and landed a 8 or 9 inch brown. I was that day that changed my life regarding fishing. I was addicted to chasing trout!
For several years afterwards I spent quite a bit of time at Joe's cabin fishing trout. After we purchased a few kayaks together, it seemed like every Friday when we got out of work at 7:00am after working thirds we would head north to hit the river. One thing I will always remember Joe saying was "One day you will find your river, I found mine." I found myself putting thousands of miles on my truck running around the state predominantly fishing smaller rivers and feeder creeks as they reminded me of the fishing Joe and I did on the Cedar. To this day I don't reveal some of the baits we utilize when targeting trout spin fishing, and if I have revealed them to you, than you must be a great friend that I trust with my life.
Catching Trout Made Simple:
You don't NEED to go out and spend thousands of dollars on gear to catch trout. I know what you're all thinking, "How many trout rods do you have Craig? How many fly assortments do you have? What about all that other gear?" In all honesty, trout fishing didn't get costly until I began fly fishing. Even then, having friends in the industry definitely keeps cost down on products and gear.
If you want to catch trout and you don't want to break the bank, here's what to grab-
Small pocket box, a variety of split shot, and some hooks.
I used Stren Lo Vis green 6lb monofiliment for over a decade. A few years ago I was picking up a new steelhead rod I had ordered and while chatting with the salesman he began talking about Sufix mono. While I went on about using Stren my entire life (I suppose trying to avoid change), I decided to give Sufix 6 lb camo lo vis a try. When you make a switch from monofiliment that has "low memory" to a mono that has "no memory," there's no turning back!
As far as fishing cold water tributaries this gear will work great on browns that reach sizes into the mid-twenty range. A great advantage to using these hooks is typically you can bend them out of a snag, don't ask how the browns and other resident trout don't straighten them out. But be aware if fishing a steelhead tributary for trout in the spring, steelhead have NO PROBLEM straightening these hooks out! Neither do 20 lb king salmon on the Little Manistee, but that's another story for another day...
Some great structure a year after DNR biologists bombed a few beaver dams on one of our favorite feeder creeks.

Above are a couple very nice 18 inch plus brown trout caught by myself and my father.
Another great feeder creek brown!
Great looking opening weekend rainbow my father landed in 2011!
Joe with a nice Cedar River brown trout!
Couple of feeder creek browns.
Handful of feeder creek brown trout!
My father sitting stream side on the creek we've been fishing since I stumbled upon this drink while following trails back into the woods exploring new water with a Michigan Atlas along with a pen and paper.
It all changed the day I bought a 5wt fly rod...
Though I still enjoy spin casting, after catching my first trout on a fly rod I was addicted. One thing that does trouble me is some of the attitudes of flies only anglers, not all of them. This whole mindset of superiority some of these fly anglers have adopted deeming themselves better then a bait fisherman are truly a bunch of self-centered conceited idiots. Over the winter I was watching The Fly Fishing Chronicles on the Outdoor Channel and a fly fishing guide made a statement I will never forget, "An all around angler is one that will set down their fly rod and pick up their spin cast rod if they aren't having luck with the fly rod that day." Aboard my boat I keep fly rods as well as spin rods. Isn't fishing suppose to be fun? If someone makes this statement (and I'm guilty myself), "Any day on the river is a good day, catching fish is just a bonus." All-in-all I do consider this true, but I am going to exhaust every option of fishing, every technique and tactic, everything I have on board or if wading everything I have in my pockets. Yes I have wade fished and carried both spin and fly rods. I consider what I just made a bold statement to anyone who is strictly a fly fisherman/woman, but seriously fishing is suppose to be enjoyable. It's not a competition, it's you, the river, the fish that hide behind submerged rocks, under log jams, and in the under cut banks. While targeting trout an anglers mind should be focused on nothing more than the river they are fishing.
I have a lot of respect for anglers that only fish flies, but more respect for those that ridicule those who spin fish. Regarding catch and release versus keeping fish, Michigan has fishing regulations that are typically tweeked annually. Though I am VERY against this idiotic increase in daily limits of brook trout in the U.P. I am NOT against harvesting fish. Fellow Blogger Jason Tucker wrote a very good blog regarding his opinion on catch and release and harvesting fish. Jason, better known on the web as "Fontinalis Rising" discusses both sides of the spectrum. I won't reveal what Jason's opinion is on the topic, but for some excellent reading take the time to google "Fontinalis Rising" and examine Jason's writing. He is a very talented individual and it was Jason and Michael Schmidt of Anglers Choice Flies who inspired me to begin blogging.
One day I decided to head north trout fishing during the Hendrickson hatch below Mio on the Au Sable and as I was targeting a rising brown, I was letting my fly swing at the end of the drift into a swift current where I caught this beautiful rainbow that taped just under 18 inches.

This rainbow was also caught below Mio but rather than during a hatch or spinner fall, I woke early one morning after a good night sleep on the river bank and tied on a Circus Peanut streamer I picked up the day prior while rummaging through the fly bins at a river guides house near Mio. As much time as I spent on the water with a spin rod, I had gained plenty of knowledge and what truly gave me an upper hand was knowing how to read a river. But when a simple person thinks of fly fishing, they think of dry flies and WF line being casted through the air in a gracious manner. Though there are plenty of others who gave me pointers and suggestions, I credit these guys the most. From mayfly life cycles, to stripping streamers on 250 grain sink tips, to nymphing runs, etc the advise handed down to me is much appreciated and used everytime I hit the water. Much like the techniques Joe taught me about spin casting. Though you have to stay open minded to trying new techniques while on the water. Just because they aren't taught to you, or written in a book somewhere, be creative. It will catch fish!
For instance, one day I was spin fishing a run on a feeder creek and continued to switch bait, length from the lead to my hook, etc. I wanted to present the bait as natural as possible, (as I was taught). This current was fast, and powerful! After standing in the same spot for a little over an hour (I know, I'm nuts) I put on a heavier weight to stall the bait or at least potentially slow it down. I knew where the fish would be sitting in the run and thought possibly my bait was continuously going by the fish to fast or not getting down deep enough. I put on a heavier split shot and next thing I knew I was netting a beautiful 18"+ brown.
Perfect spin set up for feeder creeks in Michigan!
7 foot Ugly Stik with a 2000 reel loaded with Sufix mono.
Michigan has so much to offer regarding trout fishing, if someone said "fly fishing" 5 years ago, I would have thought about a dry fly pattern drifting across a pool. Though my fly boxes are fully equipped with every major hatch fly on the Au Sable, I also have boxes filled with streamers, nymphs, egg patterns, mice, frogs, etc. To go along with all of the above, obviously the angler is going to need a variety of different weight rods, line, leaders, etc. The prolific mayfly hatches below Mio are the Hendricksons, Sulphurs, Brown Drake, Isonychia, Hexagenia, White Fly (Ephron), and the Dark Hex. It seems there are always caddis and olives flying around and certainly stones and in the heat of summer terrestrials (hoppers). Pictured below is some of my gear for fishing dry flies and nymphs.

Mouse patterns.
Something that's done in the dark which literally sounds like an explosion when the fish strikes.
Streamers, streamers, and more streamers!

A couple of large arbor spools lined with SC and Rio 24' sink tip fly line pictured above.

Now having a boat we've been fishing more so the larger rivers and not as much the feeder creeks. Though no matter how outstanding the fishing report, or how great the fish are rising to Hendricksons or Olives right around the last Saturday in April, I don't think there is anything that could stop me from fishing the secret feeder creek in Northern Michigan with my father on opener.

Everyone heading to the water this upcoming weekend, have a safe and wonderful time!!! Be curtious to other anglers, and pack in what you pack out! Tight lines to all!!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Spring Time in Michigan

Spring is surely here in Michigan!

I passed through Omer on Friday March 30th and the river banks were lined with the usual sucker fishing crowd. The campfires were roaring, the river was flowing (along with the beer), and the anticipation of dropping the sucker nets at midnight at 12:00am Sunday morning was in the air.
I remember as a kid spending a weekend each year in April sucker fishing with my family, it seemed to always be the first camping trip of the year. We would drop big bell sinkers with night crawlers on them into deep pools on the lower Rifle River, go for hikes in the woods, and end each day with a campfire. Occasionally my father would land a big pre-spawn 10 pound walleye that always broke his heart as walleye season didn't open for several weeks and the fish had to be released.
The only time we ever catch suckers now is if they take a fly or spawn bag when we are on the rivers spring steelhead fishing and the sucker run is on. Friday April 6th we were on the river and I was chucking and ducking an egg cluster pattern that came off my vise, and shortly after what looked to be a nice steelhead shook the hook, I again said "FISH ON!" Thinking it was another nice slab of Michigan Chrome, it turned out to be a White Sucker.
We hadn't paid much attention to what was going on in Omer as we cruised through that early morning since we were more focused on getting into some steelhead a bit further north. We left my place at 5:00am, were on the water at day break, and fished till night fall. I had spoke to a good friend several days before heading up and they had did well on a different river system with several steelhead to hand, but the trip he had planned was a day of sucker fishing with his son. I had read the Michigan DNR weekly fishing report as I do each week merely for amusement, and it stated "The sucker run in Omer is over." When we drove through heading home Friday night, it was a ghost town. No campfires, no sucker booms, nothing! The warm weather in March had brought the fish in, they spawned, and fell back. From what I've been hearing there are still some suckers lingering around the lower sections (as you can see photographed above), but the majority of the run was over before the nets could even hit the water.

Plenty of river guides and friends that fish the west coast of the mitten state are saying the only steelhead they are getting into are drop backs and that the run is over. I'm sure "fishermen" are still roping gravel over at Tippy and "catching" fish, but reliable sources have told me the spring run over there is really winding down.
The run is still going strong on the Au Sable with plenty of fish in the river! Fish deep pools behind the gravel, they're holding fish! We did see some fish on the gravel spawning but left them alone to do their thing. It seemed like the best part of the day was late morning to late afternoon when the sun was out. We had a pile of graphite spin rods as well as several fly rods on board with a huge assortment of different nymphs, egg patterns, and spawn tied in a variety of different color screen.
The fish that made the day was caught by my dear friend and cousin Corey a.k.a. Two Gun Pawlak.
Fishing a deep pole behind some gravel with a 10'6" graphite spin rod with 8 lb. main line and a 6 lb. leader, Corey was drifting a spawn bag and then I heard the words that bring smiles, "FISH ON!"
After quite the battle in a swift current, the fish wen in the net then in the boat! As Corey was taping the fish his hands were shaking, actually his entire body was! Mike gave him a little help with the tape and this enormous winter lay over clown buck taped at 33 inches and weighed 12 pounds. I would have to say, the most amusing part of that fish story was a river guide just pulled away from fishing that run, we pulled in and got the fish! Which likely was the largest steelhead caught on the Au Sable River that day.
What a great fish!!! This big boy is sitting in a freezer at our taxidermist's residence and will be added to Corey's collection of memorabilia harvested in the woods and on the water. The minimum entry weight for a Master Angler Award for a steelhead in the state of Michigan is 17 lbs. Though the minimum length is 34 inches. This fish was one inch short of a Master Angler Award! What a catch!!! Congratulations again my friend!!!

Several weeks prior:

Just a few weeks prior, Mike and I drove up and I knew by watching the USGS website the river would be high and dirty since it was running at roughly 2,800 cfs but we thought we would give it a shot regardless. It was quite a sight to see the river so high as we motored up stream searching for water with a little better clarity. We saw 2 other boats on the river that day, and not a single shore angler (probably because there was no shore)!
Mike and I only fished 4 pools/runs that day, but at the last pool (one of my favorites for winter steelheading and early spring when the fish are entering the river) Mike managed to land a magnificent fresh run hen along with a little skipper.

The water certainly has warmed on the lower river! When beaching the boat for rest breaks and a bit of wade fishing away from the crowds, Belle was enjoying doing a bit of wading as well!

The woodchucks are out of hibernation and we're out hiking the country side with sniper rifles!!!

Spring time and early summer present the opportunity to get out and hike miles and miles through a little over 6,000 acres we have access to shoot woodchucks on. I started shooting woodchucks as a kid with a .22 longe rifle, then eventually progressed to centerfires, then eventually to tricked out custom rifles. In several years back we videoed 5 hours of woodchcuk hunting!!! Woodchucks are very destructive and are no friend to any farmer. If you take some time to knock on a few doors and talk to some farmers, typically they will give you access to their property for busting chucks. The art of precision is necessary since the majority of your shot opportunities are going to range from 100 to 500 yards. Get yourself a nice rifle and a scope to match, fire only premium ammo, and a spotting scope/range finder, and you can have some fun!

Jereme overlooking several dikes and some farm fields looking for woodchucks. This day he had his DPMS Panther .223 with Nikon optics, Harris bipod, and more accessories than I can remember!

Jereme glassing for woodchucks.
When we were out glassing for woodchucks, we came across a raccoon with mange who was missing a leg. I took him out with my Remington 700 SPS .308 tactical.

Target Shooting

We've also been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and doing some target shooting in the 350 yard back yard gun range.

Nothing but custom built rifles...

Some of the other fun we've been having close to home:

Since the weather has been so nice, when we typically are chasing rabbits and coyotes in late March, we were out fishing warm water species at the back of the property! I was just back there the other day and carp are starting to stage and in pre-spawn mode. Regardless what some of you might think about carp and the reputation they have have being these gross fish that are bottom feeders, well all I can say is apparently you've never tied into a 15-20 pound carp and fought it till your arms felt like rubber! Of course we just throw them back, but they are a blast to fight and if I don't have time to drive 1-2 hours north to chase trout or steelhead, I can walk out my back door and be fishing warm water species in 5-10 minutes.
Here are a few photos of a big fat catfish my cousin Scott landed while fishing out back.

My cousin Scott and his Polaris Ranger we took fishing that evening! All I can say is I want one!!!
The suspension is so smooth...

Only a few more weeks before trout opener and hopefully we don't get a blow out like we did last year when the rivers were all at flood stage opening day. But hey, it's Michigan! The weather is simply unpredictable! We did see quite the blue wing olive hatch Friday and I've heard reports from several outfitters and friends in northern Michigan say "come prepared with some dry flies, nymphs, and a streamer assortment." That sounds about right for spring (not knowing what the weather will do, so bring it all)!!! So much going on and so much water to take advantage of before the Aluminium and rubber hatches begin.