Monday, April 12, 2010

The Return of the High Bank Drifters

The Return of the High Bank Drifters…

Rewind to April 2009 and the blog entry “West Side Suicide and the High Bank Drifters”… A tale of an epic trip that found 4 near mental Canadian Steelheaders on the West Side of Michigan chasing giant chromers on the fabled Big Manistee River. A trip never to be forgotten in the memories of those that partook and a trip destined to be repeated annually. Fast-forward to April 2010 and we find ourselves on the road heading towards Manistee County. The destination was the same but the player’s were minus one. HARV was out due to work commitments but I’m certain his heart was there and I’m even more certain he thought about us every minute as he whored out his soul to the man. Having fished the big river the weekend prior I bore witness to a grand flow at her weakest. The river had been running near record lows per chart datum and the fishing expressed that in its entirety. The weather man promised large precip events over the coming days and as we travelled in the darkness of night towards the west side it was hard to navigate through the frequent downpours. Concerns amongst the boys were starting to surface as to how these rivers would hold up against the rains but I assured them these rivers can handle their own. We arrived at the cabin and quickly settled in. Over a few beverages we set out the game plan for the morning and decided on some new water. The Betsie has long been a favored Michigan Steelheading tradition and we had yet to experience her in person. The early morning fish found us at a recommended mid river access. The river was flowing proud but only carried a moderate stain. Feeling it was quite fishable we set out down river in search of something fishy. We were introduced to a shallow sand bottomed flow overgrown with shore brush and strewn with wooden bends. This section of river was not conducive to traditional Canadian Float Fishing Techniques so we cut our losses and decided on another recommended access spot farther down river below the dam. Arriving to the river we were immediately greeted with memories of the 9-mile river at Port Albert. The parking lot was full and the river was lined with fishermen. Not letting this discourage us we made an honest effort at fishing this section but our hearts were not into it nor was there an abundance of fish. Arn managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and landed a nice hen and was officially on the board. Aside from that we all agreed to double back and see if the rains produced a fresh push on the Big Mansitee. On the way back we decided to deviate from the plan and fish Bear Creek. On last year’s trip we learned of a really cool access point on the river through a farmer’s property. For a small fee the farmer lets you drive way back to a river that would essentially be inaccessible by any other means. Again we found ourselves pounding pristine water to no avail with the exception of Norland’s bare handed Blandings turtle grab. By now frustration was setting in and the most likely shot at redemption that came to mind was the Big Manistee. The boys were itching to fish the Sawdust section that had treated us so well on the previous year’s adventure anyways so again we cut our losses and were on the road. Arriving to the river it was void of life. For the next two hours we beat this section up to no avail again with exception of a couple of browns and some 12” shakers. With pride in check and an eerie unsettling feeling beginning to surface we decided to head back to the cabin and regroup over supper and a bunch of fine beverages. After a finely prepared Betsie River Cajun Steelhead diner and a bunch of Keith’s and Sleeman’s all was once again right in the world. Conversation eventually lead to tomorrow destination and it only made sense to start up at Tippy Dam and fish our way down to sawdust in search of redemption. This time of year the highest concentration of fish are typically found up towards the man made barrier. Unfortunately the highest concentration of river vermin congregates there as well. Norland hates this place and I knew it was going to kill him to fish there but I think he saw merit in the reasoning and we settled on this plan. The Wellston side of Tippy typically sees a fraction of the Element and can provide some form of solitude from the masses if one continues to hike down river. There is also a decent amount of deep pockets and troughs that are not accessible from the Brethren side of the river. The morning arrived way too early and confirmation of the previous nights beverage consumption was very evident in our heads. Again we took our time and mulled over a fine breakfast and multiple coffees prior to heading towards the Tippy Dam parking lot and the long stairway down to the river. Our ages have become more prevalent in recent years and the desire to pound the water at first light is now replaced with a relaxed somewhat sane approach to hitting the river. Checking the USGS site on route to the river we could see that she had risen 1000cfs from our initial arrival and once again the boys were concerned at what would greet us at the bottom of the stairs this cold morning. True to her form she was large but flowing crystal clear. We started below the coffer and systematically worked our way around the bend. At one point Norland and I were both hooked up to giant hot chromers only to lose them both to the mighty Manistee and be left with a mere taste of accomplishment. We continued to fight frustration and worked our way down river towards the suicide bend. After a lengthy hike through the worst thatch and brush on the planet we finally reached the inside bend of Suicide. We started at the top and worked our way down towards the end pounding every square inch of water. Again we found no hope in site until we hit the back section and I hooked up with a large clean dropback. This fish was the first of the trip for me and really tested my already aching shoulder. With Norland’s assistance we managed to swing her into the shallows where he effortlessly tailed her. The skunk was officially off and a beautiful fish had finally come to hand for me. By now the sky’s had opened up and we were in a full on spring blizzard. The day was reminiscent of a late November snowstorm and the fishing conditions couldn’t have been better IMHO. We continued to pound the inside back end of Suicide and mustered up 4 Steelhead and a multitude of Browns. By now we were all freezing and running very low on Roe so we decided to double back to the Cabin to for a few beverages, lunch and a roe reload. That evening we decided to fish Suicide from the outside bend. This section finds the deep cut of the river bend within 5-25 feet from the shore and traditionally can hold a fair amount of fish. After the long stairway down to the river we decided to hit the backend right out of the gate as the majority of fish seemed to be holding back there. We spaced ourselves out and in no time I found myself hooked up to a fresh-in hot Chromer. The battle was worthy of the MI strain but the memory that will never leave me was the tailing episode. Norland decided to film the entire fight and with camera in hand filming made the grab for the still hot fish at the shore line. This fish had a completely different idea than coming to hand and shot between his legs and then ninety degrees out to the river. Norland reacted in horror and leaped forward but the line had become caught on his waders. By now I had completely free spooled the fish and by the grace of some higher power she remained on the line. After a quick Norland disentanglement it was fish-on once again and the three of us managed to land the fish and continue filming the incident. She was a dime bright chromer that would have just come into the river with the recent rains. This fish made the trip for me and the entire episode will be a memory never to be forgotten. The episode will go down in the history vault and always be brought to future conversations when poking fun at Norland. I know he felt terrible but what can you do? Like he said “I’m a terrible multi-tasker…Just ask my wife!” After that I had to sit back and take it all in while Arn and Gene resumed their hunt for fish of their own. After a brief reprieve I re-rigged and made another drift through the same section of river. Sure enough half way into the drift my float disappeared and another fish came to hand. By now Norland had worked his way to the end of the bend and was barely visible. Having fished with him for years I recognized his posture and it appeared as though he had hooked up and was wrestling with a fish of his own. I managed to get Arn’s attention and he hiked down river to make the assist. I couldn’t tell just how big the fish was but from the photos taken and witnessed later it proved be to a strong and long MI Steelhead. The Next drift in Gene managed another fish as icing on the cake. The trip was now officially complete with all three of us idiots having had bends in our rods and chrome on the banks. We ended up fishing until darkness and made the killer hike up the stairs once again understanding why they call that run Suicide. That evening we celebrated the day’s successes with a BBQ consisting of Black Angus Steaks, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Stuffed Red Peppers and 5 ’O Clock Vodka and Red Bull to wash it all down. The food was killer and the Vodka was nasty. Especially after polishing off the majority of the bottle! Yet again morning came way to early and we leisurely took our time getting to the river for one last shot at some chrome. This morning proved to be a struggle. Arn and Gene headed to the extreme end of Suicide while I pounded my way down river gradually. Being Friday morning and after the big rains the river was overrun with boat traffic and guides.. The inside bend of Suicide seemed to be fishing very well while the side we were on failed to produce a fish. I could tell it was killing Arn as he so desperately wanted to make that brutal hike back to the spot that had fished so well for us the day prior. Sometimes you have to fish with the time allotted and in the locations that allow it so we made the best of what little time we had that morning. At one point Gene overhead a river guide whom he was certain was Tim Rollers say to his clients…"Do you see those Center-Pin guys over there?....Those are Canadians...that is a pretty good indication....If they're not catching fish then the fish aren't here". I had to chuckle to myself when Gene told me that story but it also made me feel pretty good. I don’t get all big headed when it comes to this sport and I don’t even think of it as a sport but more of a passion. It makes me feel good when others with similar passions recognize it as such and acknowledge the methods we use to pursue these incredible fish. It is like a validation from one’s peers. Those validations always hold the most merit. It also doesn’t hurt when it comes from the guide who boated the 40+ lb world record brown trout from the Big Manistee River this past fall either! Shortly after that Arn managed to sniff one out and had the last fish of the trip on his line. The fish was all but on the bank when “pink” the hook broke free and the fish jetted back into the run. I was half way across Suicide but could tell things went awry by the giant consoling pat on the back Norland passed on to Arn. The rest of the trip consisted of packing up, drinking beer, and making the ever so depressing drive back to reality and day to day life. The trip wasn’t filled with buckets of fish but the rivers, weather, scenery, company and willing players that did come to hand were all top notch and a blessing. Thanks to Norland and Arn for keeping with tradition and fishing like true Steelhead Bums. I’m already looking forward to 2011’s “Return of the High Bank Drifters”


Bill said...

It's always about the good times had.
Far more than the good fish caught.
Although a good one now and then doesn't hurt either.
Great summary to another season, almost done.
Can't wait till September.

Steve said...

Great read Brian!! Glad you guys had a good trip.

You know I was thinking about you guys while I worked my ass off. I am so bummed to have missed the trip and there is no way to keep me away again next year - someone has got to show you shit heels how to fish ( and drink ) LOL!!!

I have come to the conclusion that this spring SUCKS ASS!!!

I can't wait for fall - we will have to secure the Cabin for an Oct/Nov run to the West Side!!!!


lambton said...

I knew you'd be dying at work! There is a place reserved for ya next year dude! We did miss you out there but made due with jokes at your expense ;0) I agree, we do need to get that place for a few days of R&R come Oct. That would be a great opportunity to break free from the norm and gather up an A$$ load of chinny roe before our rivers explode into the fall fishery.
This spring must be one of the worst on record for the Ontario flows! I have only fished twice this spring and both times were over on the West side. We may hit the mighty St.Clair this weekend for an hour or two in the morning. We'll see...

Trotsky said...

That was a great trip and I am still digging the Michigan vibe....even if the rivers were less than optimum.
Next year we should head over a bit earlier.
I don't know about this weekend but I may fish under the bridge tomorrow early if any of you dinks are interested.