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!!!

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