The 2009 season had been fairly low key for me with the exception of a killer guided trip on the Mo in January and I was banking all my fortune on the Spring Manistee run. Back in December I polled a few of the POS Rubes I fish with to see if anyone would be interested in a 2 day stint on the West side come early April. As expected the interest levels were high. Well sure enough the dreaded winter of 08/09 finally let go and April was upon us. Having struggled through the winter I was in need of some quality time on the water and decided to poll the guys to see if they wanted to make it a three day trip. Surprisingly there was little to no resistance as everyone seemed to need a reprieve from everyday life and to fill a steelheading void. Norland, Harv, myself and newcomer Arn made up the motley crew that were to impose our wills upon the West Side. Arn agreed to drive as if sent from Heaven on a mission. God bless him and his mini van! I started to look into accommodations late as I was quite expecting to just stay at our usual haunt in Baldwin and make the short commute up to Wellston and beyond. On a whim I put a post up on TSS for some info on accommodations in the Wellston area. That's when I got a PM from a really nice fellow I had met a few times on my home trib reminding me of an accommodation he had used in the past up that way. I decided to have a close look at it and was very glad I did. Many thanks go out to Scott from the four of us. With short notice I managed to work out the logistics and procured a stellar cabin in the woods for our stay. All I will say is we had platinum accommodations and have already made next years reservation.
As all trips seem to, we started out in my driveway at 3am, loaded up the van, and made our way to Timmies to rendezvous with Harv and some extra large coffees. After a quick duty free run we made our way over the bridge and into Michigan for the 4+ hour drive over to the West Side. The homos in the back crashed and Arn and myself piloted and co-piloted our way across the state. Our initial plan was to hit the river but after much discussion we decided it be best to offload our gear at the cabin and avoid a dreaded vehicle break in. After all we had a few cases of Keith's and Creemore's in the back. ;0) Upon arrival at the cabin we opened the door and were greeted by a page from a Cabela's furniture catalogue. The accommodations were stunning. After quickly unpacking we cracked a celebratory beer and discussed our options for the morning. We decided we would start out at the Sawdust Section of the Manistee. Until this trip I had always fished the Wellston side of the river with exception of Tippy so I was looking forward to checking it out and seeing what the river had in store for us. The weather was outstanding and the river carried a moderate stain. All indications were pointing to a recipe for success.
We made our way downstream and dropped into the river from a high bank access trail. This run was rather long with a very definitive seam and resultant slack water section. A dozen or so drifts into this run and I managed to hook up. In typical fashion this fight was short lived but would set the pace for the morning. Eager to see what this secion of the river had to offer Gene and myself made our way further down river where we came upon some stairs leading through a bunch of scrub brush to the river. Gene dropped in and I walked 20 metres or so downstream. I was not in the river more than a minute when Gene hooked up with a nice chromer that quickly spit the hook. Not a handful of drifts later he hooked up again and the battle was on. This section was rather tricky. It was full of wood and afforded no means to walk your foe downstream. After a well deserved battle Norland managed to swing her in to my awaiting hands and the first chromer of the trip was on the bank. It was nice to see G put that fish behind him as he has a self imposed MI funk that I had all intentions of putting to bed. After a celebratory photo op and handshake she was sent on her way. Gene insisted I fish this run so I dropped in while he tended to his setup. No more than three drifts in and my float drops. I set up and sure enough it was time to state the customary "Fish" proclamation. The flow of the Manistee is proud this time of year and the fish that run her banks are very powerful so it is always hard to determine the exact size of fish you are fighting until you get a decent look. Initially all I know was that she was a fresh dime bright bullet. I had no chance of landing this fish I thought to myself and was waiting for the inevitable float in my face. At time this fish would park itself in the run and impose her will upon me. After numerous runs and what seemed like an eternity I managed to swing her into Norlands grip. We were awestruck by her complete and utter size and beauty. This fish was brand spanking new and not a mark on her. This fish was most likely the prettiest chromer I have had the honor to catch. Harv managed to make it down for the final moments of the battle and like a bunch of homo's we had the camera's filming and taking tonnes of pics all the while taking care not to harm this fish. After we were done I distinctly remember how quickly she shot right back into the slot that she came from like a lightening bolt. It's always a good feeling to see a release like that and it is a true testament to how hardy these fish are. We handed the run over to Harv for a trifecta and it wasn't long before he was into a fish. Unfortunately Harv was having one of those mornings and blew three fish from that run. Useless!!!!!!!! Norland and myself dropped down just below Harv and Gene hooked into a large Winter fish that jumped no less than 4 times and put on quite a show.
Norlands Sawdust Buck from Brian M on Vimeo.
The colors on this fish were outstanding and the morning was well on its way to becoming one of those moments never to be forgotten. A few minutes later and I managed another dime hen from the same run in the 7 lb class. We decided to work our way back up river and stopped at the run that I had lost the first fish of the morning. Arn was fishing the tail out section and was struggling all morning. I dropped in well above him and began to fish the same line just off the seam into the slack. After 6 or so drifts I hooked up on a large buck just before the tail out and the battle was on. I knew this was a decent fish as he showed himself a few times breaching the surface. This was another coloured up fish and full of fight. We managed to swing him to the bank after a long battle for a brief photo encounter before send him packing. By now we decided to head back to the cabin for a few beers and to discuss our afternoon options. We landed on fishing the Suicide Run as it was close and none of us had ever fished it from the Brethern side of the river.
Arriving at the parking lot we didn't know exactly what to expect as there was a handful of pickup trucks and SUV's already there. Making our way down the stairway from hell we were pleasantly surprised to see there was lots of room. The suicide section essentially is a 90 degree bend in the river. We were fishing the outside of the bend and as we quickly discovered the fishing was at our feet no more than 10-15 feet from shore. The majority of people fishing down there were bottom bouncing the middle of the river and fishing over the fish. It didn't take long and everyone was into fish with the exception of poor Arn who continued to struggle. Harv and Norland went to the tail out section and Arn and myself stayed upstream. At one time I could see Norland battling a fish one moment only to hook up myself shortly after then look over and see Harv fighting a fish. The pace was fairly decent and with much anticipation my float plummeted again. I set up and instantly a large fish leaped from the water and shot downstream. Norland had looked over exactly as I set up on the fish and saw it leap from the water all the way across Suicide and made his way over. We managed to bring this fish to the bank and it was a stellar double striper. They don't all get this pretty but when you come across one they sure our special fish. The Michigan ones are particularly beautiful and seldom forgotten. My last was on the White back in April of 2007. We finished off the evening with a few more fish and decided to keep one for diner. We made our way back up the stairway from hell to head the nearest grocery store for some supplies. Arriving back at the cabin we geared down and cracked a few cold ones while dinner cooked and recapped the days events. It wasn't long after diner and our decrepit old bones were longing for the comfort of the beds. I think I was out at about 9:30 to be exact with a 5 am alarm set.
The alarm wasn't long sounding and I hit the shower only to be lured from it's warmth by the smell of fresh deli cut and cured bacon frying in the kitchen. Arn had taken the liberty to get the coffee on and the bacon and eggs cooking. Hmmm I thought to myself...he drives and he cooks...Sweet!!! We discussed our options over a killer breakfast and decided to hit the Sawdust run again as we anticipated grand things for first light. It was a crisp morning and a decent frost had set on. We anticipated iced guides and were not wrong. Our mission this morning was to put Arn on some fish. A trip really isn't a trip unless everyone has the experience and we weren't about to let Arn go without so we all parked our butts while Arn dropped into the first run and had sole control over it. The boat traffic on the river was already starting to concern us so we decided to leave Arn to his devices and drop down to procure the section we had our best luck on the day prior before someone else did. That way we would have prime water for all four of us to fish for the morning. I dropped into the section where I had landed the monster hen the day prior and was into a fish in two drifts. It was short lived and it managed to spit the hook. A little while later and I hooked up on a 1 lb resi-brownie.
The river was gorgeous and the mirrored reflection of the golden sand bank on the far shore was incredible. We honestly couldn't have asked for better weather. Gene hooked up and soon lost a fish out of the run just below and we decided to walk downstream to some high banks while Arn and Harv continued to fish the run. The banks were a good 20 feet up off the river with a very tempting section at our feet. The water looked too appealing to pass so we stopped and fished it for a bit when my float dipped and I hook up with a pretty hen. I managed to slide my way down the bank and we had a chuckle about being the High bank Drifters. We fished a few more runs below and decided to make our way back up towards the van and head back for lunch. Harv dropped in the first run of the morning and hooked into a fish that he lost at the shore. A little while later we caught up to him and he hooked into a stellar buck that beat the crap out of him. ;0) After a very good battle that was all captured on video he managed to swing it to the bank and Norland tailed it. Before he could pass the fish over to Harv for a photo op the fished managed to squirm its way free and shot back into the river. Useless!!!!! but we do have the video.
We decided to cut our loses and head back for a quick lunch and some beers before heading to the tackle store for some gear. At Andy's baits we got some good Intel from the manager and decided to try some private access water on Bear Creek. For a small fee a farmer will let you access his property and fish. We decided this was well worth pursing and headed over. The river was beautiful and very intimate. The section immediately down from the parking spot was wide open and had lots of room for the rods. Norland wasn't long hooking into a fish and blew it in the lumber. Harv and I decided to head up river and find some holes. We crossed and made our way through the bush. The Bear Creek is no place for 14 and 15 foot rods and we were struggling to say the least. We did manage to find one spot where Harv hooked up with a nice little 4 lb hen that I almost got tailed before she spit the hook. We continued to battle our way up river before deciding it was a hopeless cause with the gear we had. We doubled back and met up with Norland who was still fishing the same spot. It turned out that Gene hand managed a nice fish shortly after we left and was quite content to keep fishing that section. Arn had slid down river and was fishing around a bend. We told them that up river wasn't really an option and we should cut our losses and head back to suicide for an evening fish. Harv and I headed back up to the van for a rest and a bevy while Norland continued to fish his section. A little while later he made his way up the hill and informed us he had blown another fish out of that water. I knew he wanted to stay and it's always hard leaving fish but there really wasn't enough options for the four of us so we all agreed to leave. The afternoon fish at Suicide was on again. Everyone managed to hook up and Arn put three on the bank including a very nice brownie to seal the deal on the trip. We all decided some celebratory steaks were in order so we hit the country market for some NY Strips and baked beans. We also snapped up some more of that fantastic bacon from the day prior along with other much needed fare.
The steaks proved to be nothing short of spectacular with Montreal Steak Spice and every ones guts were stretching after diner. We all made our way to the great room and flopped our pathetic asses down on the lodge furniture and threw in a dvd of the blue collar comedy hour. It wasn't 5 minutes running and 3 of the 4 our us were out like a light. Harv snapped a few pics of Arn, Norland and myself passed out and I'm still holding my beer on my gut. Actually I woke up when I spilled some of it on my shirt. LOL!!! Hardcore steelie fishing isn't for the faint of heart.
The next morning the alarm sounded only to be snoozed for at least an hour before I finally dragged my ass out of bed and into the shower. Once again Arn had the bacon and eggs cooking and we all filled our stomachs with some down home cookin.
This was our last day and we decided to fish Suicide for first light then get on the road around noon. Arriving at the parking lot we were bummed to see the parking lot was rather full. Making our way down the stairs we experienced a noticeable increase in river boat traffic and bank pressure. Like Norland says "The bank maggot hatch was in full swing" We all spread out and it wasn't long before I hooked into a hot chromer that quickly schooled me. I worked my way back down and slipped in the next available section just past the stairs. First drift and I hooked up on a very hot fish that took me quite a ways down river before we managed to swing her to the bank. It was a clipped hen and she was loose. I decided to selectively harvest her for the cause. Talking to Harv I learned he had managed a nice chromer and Gene had lost one. Other than that it was a tough morning as the crowds increased by the minute until there was essentially no open spots to get a decent drift in. We decided to call it an early morning and make our way back to the cabin for a relaxing pack up. In the blink of an eye another stellar steelheading experience was behind us and we were on the road back to our everyday lives armed with the fantastic memories and pics.
One thing that stuck with me from this trip was a conversation that I overhead Friday morning down at the riverbank at Suicide between two elderly strangers. The conversation stemmed from the use of portable lawn chairs due to their ages and the fact that they can no longer wade the river. The one elderly gentlemen said to the other..."When I worked I said I was gonna fish everyday when I retired...Now that I'm retired I can't physically do it..." It drove home a good lesson and point to me. Carpe diem gentlemen, Carpe diem. If anything, the stairs at Suicide will remind you of that.
A photo journal of the trip. Photo's courtesy of Norland, Harv, and Myself...Enjoy!