Friday, October 31, 2008
My work week starts Monday morning in typical fashion. Get up early, hit Timmies for a fix, and arrive at work before everyone else so I can get the day in order. This also affords me time to do a little Internet leg work and determine how the river conditions are shaping up for the week so I can plan my escape. This Monday the promise of much needed precipitation was prevalent and it looked as if the big blowout that we longed for would arrive. Come Tuesday similar projections with a late October storm warning. The water site was indicating the river had substantially risen and any added precipitation would only further its demise.
With a longing to fish somewhere this week it was looking as if the Huron tribs would be unfishable for a few days. Having an ever present desire to fish the Big Manistee and no local options it only made sense that this week I would find my self on the "West Side". Looking at the USGS data the Big M had recently taken a 400 cfs rise and some guides were reporting a fresh push of steel scattered throughout the system. Norland sat this one out but Harv was up for the road trip. We made last minute arrangements for a Wednesday afternoon departure that would afford us a few hours of fishing that day and a full day on Thursday.
We hit the border around noon and found ourselves hightailing it across the state. On the way to Baldwin we ran across a billboard for the local party store. It pretty much summed it up in a nutshell..."Beer-Booze-Bait-Bullets" and we simultaneously burst into laughter. You gotta love the true outdoors spirit of Michiganders. Upon arrival in Baldwin we quickly snapped up some Beverages and made our way to the Hotel to unpack, have a brew, and gear up for a few hours on the Pere Marquette.
The Pere Marquette is a stunning jewel of a river. Just walking her banks sets ones soul at ease. Her pristine waters run gin clear and cut through some of the most beautiful countryside MI has to offer. Having said that she has been cruel to me my last 4 visits. I had yet to land or hook the elusive PM steelie and was on a mission. We arrived at our state operated access point and made our way down the "Fishermen's Trail" to the river. Having encountered only one other vehicle in the parking lot we were not surprised to find we had the run of this section. Having fished this section multiple times in the past I decided to straight line it to a sharp river bend that affords deep water and room for two to fish. I took the top and settled down into the river. Harv hooked one of the many resident rainbow smolts immediately. A few drifts later and i was to do the same. The little fellows are truly beautiful fish and reflect on the health of that system.
Two or three more drifts and my float drops. I quickly set up on what I believe to be another smolt only to feel a rock solid response followed by some pounding head shakes. My heart sinks into my stomach and I quickly bellow "FISH" to Harv. I begin to see the flashes of silver through the crystal clear water as she begins to roll and twist in the line. I manage to get her free when she immediately discovers all corners of the hole. With lady luck on my side I manage to bring her into a small hollow in the bank where Harv tails her. Immediately a sense of relief and accomplishment ran through my body. It felt good. It felt damn good, bordering on fantastic. She was magnificent. A thick beautiful MI hen. After a few pics for the memory bank she made sure to get us wet as she jolted back into the tail out. My trip was just paid for in full and it could have ended there as far as i was concerned but luckily for me it didn't. We finished off the evening on the PM where Harv found some resident browns and a few more smolts. Darkness was setting in so we made our way back to the Hotel for a late Pizza supper and a few beers to compliment Game 6 of the World Series. The Pizza was out of this world, the Beer was ice cold, and the bed's were heavenly. It didn't take long for the day to catch up with me and by 10pm I was out like a light.
Morning wasn't long coming and we found ourselves on M37 once again heading north. After a quick stop for fuel and some incidentals we made the short trek West on M55 toward Wellston. We arrived to find an empty parking lot. There is no better feeling to a steelheader than arriving to your access point to find that everyone else is still at home in bed. We had a few minutes to kill so we relaxed in the car laughing at the morning crew on the Northern MI radio station. The sun began to have an effect on the blackened night sky so we geared up and set forth on the ba-zillion step journey down to the Big Manistee River. As we waited for the sun to peak over top of the Hydro Electric Facility we could see that there was little to no presence on either side of the river. This is a very rare occurrence for the Tippy Dam access point. As we began our drift we each picked up feisty small river Browns. These Browns are very prevalent in this section of the river mostly in part to the abundance of roe in the water from the spawning Chinook Salmon. It is not uncommon to hook many of these beautiful fish over the course of an outing. After turning a few Brownies each Harv proclaims he has a decent fish. There is nothing like fighting a hot fish in that fast water below the coffer. This ones a nice chromer and after a worthy battle Harv manages to put the 5 lb slab on the bank. Harv proclaims it's his first decent fish on the new 1803 Frontier and it's now officially christened. Nice!!! A few brownies later and I'm into a decent fish out late into the fast water. A few abrupt thrashes and it breaks me off. Upon retrieval I check my leader and find its all cut up from the zebra mussels. My fault and lesson learned...the hard way. After a few more drifts I decide to stretch my legs and find some scenery and fish. If you look there really is alot of water to fish from Tippy down to Sawdust with troughs and dugouts throughout the gravel bars and plateaus of the river. This river runs Gin clear and the fish find refuge in these troughs and depressions. Sometimes you can walk the ridges of gravel out to the center of the river to reach the inaccessible water from the far shore. Mid morning found me mid river fishing the current break and eddy above a long trough when my float dipped. I set up on a very large fish. Instantly the fish races down river. The problem with fishing the gravel ridges is that you really cannot chase fish. A few steps either way and you can be in big trouble. The bottom drops out and you are swimming. The only thing you can do is put the breaks on and hope to turn the fish. I managed to get the fish stopped when it began the death roll on the surface. After managing to stop this fish and avoiding the windup the fish starts to head back up river towards a bunch of fallen trees protruding from the bank. There is no stopping this fish! It was like it was on a mission and I fear the outcome. It reaches the trees and for a brief moment in time I actually think that I may just pull him out when he jumps up into the wood and breaks me off. Good for him I think to myself as I begin to retie but mentally I'm dealing with an 0 for 2 morning and a deep desire to put one on the bank. Prior to this fish Harv had hooked up lower down the river. It was a very hot fish that thought he was 10lbs but only 3.
Harv had also told me that on his was down from the dam he stopped at the corner and fished the deep hole. He said second drift in and he hooked up with a brute of a fish only to realize he had no where to land it. While pondering what to do the fish decided to make it easy on him and jumped out of the water and broke him off. With a need to put at least one fish on the bank I made my way back up to the dam. The weatherman said it was going to be warm so I downsized my attire for the day.but with a hole in my waders and a wet foot I began to get a nasty chill on. Fishing up near the coffer afforded no sunlight and the breeze kept my bones cold. After a half hour to no avail I decided to hike back down around the corner and catch some warmth from the sun and fish the troughs again. I was working a current break when the orange dot dropped below the surface. Instinct took over and I set up hard on a yet another hot fish. This fish immediately leaped from the water and began to work the expansive run. With Harv just down from me I joking ask him to stand guard of that tree and play goalie if the fish makes a break for it. After a powerful battle that put the gear to the test I manage to put the beautiful hen on the bank. For the second time this trip a sense of joy and utter relief set in as I really needed this fish to set my soul at ease. A few kind photos and she was on her way and I had yet another great Michigan experience.
The rivers of Michigan are funny. They are alluring, hypnotising, and breath taking. They can be frustrating yet addicting. They can be incredibly stingy and sometimes be ever so giving. One thing for certain...they are well worth exploring.
****On a side note, I have attached a picture of a small boat anchor I pulled up from the bottom gravel. A flash caught my eye so I gave it a kick with my wading boot only to discover I had harpooned myself. What is it about Chinook Salmon that brings out the worst in people. Once can only imagine the carnage that takes place when the Salmon run is in full swing. It is not limited to Michigan or Ontario but more so an epidemic with these fish all across the Great Lakes. Salmon bring out the worst in people.****