Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You mean it rained? Really?

Many weeks of drought followed by two weeks of shutdown 12’s = little to no fishies for Brian

But wait…the rains…they a cometh and the outage end is in sight. Well enough rain to tempt me to book off a day to hit the tribs with Norland.

It had been a long time since we ran the banks together and it was much needed therapy for me. We can have 50 fish days or we can have 2 fish days. It really dosen’t matter…The enjoyment is no different when you are in good company. Honestly, by now we have caught and released more fish than any deserving person should. The enjoyment for me is found in the subtleness of an outing shared with a friend. The random bird nests or blown fish followed by the harsh expletives and insults. The raw and stellar beauty of a chrome hen prior to her release. Hooking and landing a fish on a friends hand tied jig.
The level of anticipation before to the first drift so heavy you can taste it in your mouth. That one special photo out of hundreds that just seemed to capture the moment. It is so much more about the means than the ends now. The collective experience entirely fuels the enjoyment. I used to have the blinders on. Now I just soak it all in like a sponge. Good days on the river are to be cherished.

The river could have been a tad higher but the color was mystical. The pressure was low and the weather was outstanding.

The second deer hunt was on which forced us to fly the colors. I hate wearing that crap but I also hate being shot in the gut so fly the colors we will. I still fear the day I hear the dreaded redneck jargon “Look.. an orange deer! Shoot that m’fer” I know that time is coming…

I do a good job lately at forgetting how old I am becoming but this sport reminds me with a vengeance at the end of each outing. Today my knees, hips, legs, and back all remind me that payment is due for services rendered. And once again as we left the river we ran into a senior angler well into his 70’s enjoying a drift. There are about 3 of these gents that we share the river with.
I want to think I got another 30+years in me but I don’t know…One thing I do know is that it won’t be at the crazy pace we put down yesterday. Maybe there is truth to my OCD suspicions. Maybe realizing it is the start to managing it. Hmmmm…. We’ll see.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The adventure is waiting to unfold

The pounding sound emulating from behind me was rapidly fueling my imagination. The repetitive beat began to echo across the valley and I turned to see what it was. As I turned and began to focus my vision in the direction of the commotion I caught what appeared to be playing card chucks of bark falling from half way up an already long dead oak. The tree appeared to have been stripped of its bark almost in its entirety. Intrigued by the on goings I continued to concentrate on the now pounding rhythm and falling bark as I ventured towards the tree. Then as if a switch was thrown the culprit appeared from around the tree. Unbothered by my presence the giant Piliated Woodpecker continued his laborious task of stripping bark in search of his next meal. The moment in its entirety was quite spectacular as it was the closest I have had the opportunity of viewing one of these large woodpeckers. As I reached for the camera I made a feeble attempt at capturing the image but with the low light and lack of zoom I was unsuccessful and put it back into my jacket. Almost ready to turn my attention back to another few drifts before hiking out my eyes were drawn to the sky just above the trees on the top of the cliff. There they were…a pair of bald eagles cruising the river valley. This time I made no attempt for the camera but decided to enjoy the moment.

With the light beginning to fade I hiked towards the access point and made the long climb out of the river valley. On my way back to the cabin I began to reminisce the days events.
With a limited amount of river time this trip I decided to hit some familiar water below the dam that morning. I have had good luck turning a fish or two there every trip and thought that would be a good starting point. Much to my disappointment the traffic was heavy and the flow was low. I dropped in to a few favored runs but decided to make the morning session short lived and not force the issue. I was after quality time and a nice fish would only serve as a bonus. I find my passion is as equally fueled these days by fishing prime water conditions and beautiful country as much as it is by banking multiple fish.
Back at the cabin I rested my tired body on the couch with a cold beer, a nice lunch and some WFN on the plasma while I contemplated the afternoon game plan. I toyed with the idea of dropping the tin can in at the launch and making a solo effort at the lower river but decided to error on the side of caution and decided on plan B. Plan B was another access point down lower on the river that I had visited before. The water as I had remembered it was beautiful and warranted another visit. With no greater expectations than a nice walk along the river I packed up the gear and set off to the access spot. From the high bank lookout I could see the deep run that lay before me. The river was running Gin clear and I could see the structure throughout its entirety. Soon I found myself making the hike down to the valley floor. Once again getting the lay of the land I could see a large tree in the middle running parallel with the river banks. It was a decent cast but I managed to drop my offering on the backside of the tree in hopes that a large chromer would be finding cover and shelter there. The float meandered along it's length as I focused on the small orange speck as if I were mentally willing its disappearance under the surface.
The loafer cleared the end of the tree and made it's way another 15ft and disappeared. By now I had already dismissed this drift and was getting ready to retrieve my offering. Surprised I set up to a small brief encounter with a fish. Frantically I retrieved the float and investigated my offering while wondering if the fish was now stung and educated. I could hear discussions coming from up river and I turned to witness a couple of gentlemen motoring down in their Hyde drift boat. Not wanting to risk the boat spooking what I now knew was a fish I made my second cast to the backside of the tree. Now even more focused than before I watched the Drennan in eager anticipation of it's disappearance. Once again I cleared the tree and the float dipped. This time I set up to nothing. With the drift boat approaching I frantically retrieved my line, put a fresh bag on, and made a final cast to the backside of the tree. Like two times prior the float cleared the tree. Now the voices in the boat were clear and the conversation was understandable. For the third time in as many cast the float made it's way 15 ft past the tree and dipped as if it were scripted to. With authority I set up and much to my surprise the rod loaded up nicely and the ever so familiar thumping confirmed success.
The fish ran up river and offered little resistance. I was beginning to questions its size. Looking up I could see the two gentlemen in the Hyde give me the thumbs up as they courteously made their way through the shallows on the far side of the river. Soon the fish began realize it was hooked and exploded from the smooth surface of the Big Manistee. I could feel my pulse increase and my body warm as I realized it was indeed a big silver chromer and my decision to explored this piece of water was rewarded. The fish in this river are quite a handful and I was pleased to have the room and time I needed to land this magnificent November buck.
Chasing these fish never gets old the validation one gets from finding them is very rewarding. A calm relaxing feeling set over my entire body as I watched the chrome ghost disappear back into the clear depths from which it came. With my adreniline at full charge I thought it best that I exercise my legs and see what lay before me along the river trail. As I walked the banks of the Big Manistee I became increasingly excited as I discovered multiple long seemingly bottomless emerald green sections all accessible by foot.
I was unable to hook any fish from them but missed one opportunity. I suspect they were well fished from the days river traffic and were most likely full of fish. What lay around the next corner had captured my sense of adventure and kept it at an all time high. I couldn't help but think how these runs will fish in the winter and spring and how I will need to invest in some good snowshoes. I couldn't help but anticipate Norlands excitement when I bring him to these magical pieces of water.
Arriving back at my place I opened the door to a warm welcoming cabin. I cracked a cold beer and dropped my tired yet relaxed body on the couch. Mentally I was recharged and at peace. Physically my body was sore. I began to to realize the more I explore this watershed the more I fall in love with it. The futures possibilities are endless and the adventure is waiting to unfold.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Steelies on the Fly

Opportunity…it’s a gift and a blessing. This past weekend I was granted the opportunity to join a long time friend on a guided trip on the Big Manistee with Orvis Guide Service of the Year 2010 Hawkins Outfitters. If you know Michigan steelheading at all you will know that they are heavy into their fly fishing and this outing would prove no different. A friend invited me to join him on the gifted trip a while back. His wife gave him this trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Having longed to fish the lower river ever since hearing Wallace’s tales of their November outing I jumped at the chance and suggested we make a weekend of it.
The plan was to wade the upper river on Saturday and Sunday and finish up with the fly fishing adventure on the Monday. As to be expected this time of the year the upper river produced a few fish for us. Enough to keep our interest and lines wet. Before we knew it Monday morning had rolled around and we found ourselves at the Rainbow bend river access site where we would rendezvous with our host and guide for the day Ed McCoy. The morning was crisp and Ed commented that it was the coldest of the season thus far. The comment actually troubled me a bit as these quick changes can sometimes send the fish negative but this was not to be the case. We made our way down river from the launch quite a bit as to avoid the constant hop scotching with the other Hawkins’s guides that were on the river that morning. Arriving at our starting run the sun was just starting to peak over the horizon and the river was deathly still with a mist of fog whispering off her surface. Red wanted to swing for steelies and our guide Ed started to discuss the concept with him as he rigged up his spey rig with a giant flashy offering. As we discussed the concept Ed was quick to inform us that we would be lucky to turn one fish on the entire outing swinging and our chances best lay with the floats. “The floats?” I thought to myself. Hmmmm how ironic…Us Canadian centrepinners kinda know what we are doing do we? I was eager to give this a go so Ed ran over the drill on how to cast, mend, feed, and retrieve the offering.
The setup consisted of 11’ 8wt switch rods, mid arbor reels with spey lines, Drennan Pikers and staggered shotlines down to a 10lb flouro tippet and yarnie. It was identical to what we would run for float fishing with the exception of the the fly line and the flies only offering. This time of the year the fly selection was pretty obvious. Yarns!!!! With the entire system being flooded with Salmon eggs from the spawning run these fish were pretty much dialed in on eggs. The first couple of runs didn’t produce a fish for either of us and the swinging thing wasn’t really what Red had envisioned out of a boat so he switched over to to a similar rig as I. The third run we were drifting down a deep cut to a bunch of piled up wood. At the end of my run I started to retrieve my rig when I felt the oh so familiar thumping on the rod following by a huge explosion on the water. Fish on!!! It was my first Steelhead on the fly rod and it was huge! Strip…Strip…Strip…was all I could do as this giant ran towards us at lightning speed and then again exploded from the water.
As with a centrepins the fight lies solely in ones hands and I was forced to adjust tension on the fish via the rod and fly line as it raced through my fingertips. Seldom do you get these fish on the reel I was told. Once I managed to get some composure and assurance on this fish she began to roll just under the surface and was gone. The hook had straightened enough to lose its grip. By now I was stoked! This was very cool! Here I was on fabled waters fly fishing for hot chromers and I just got tuned by the biggest Steelie I had hooked into for a long time. The next fish came tight to the boat while “boon-doggin”…a term the MI guides use when free drifting down the river following your floats. This fish was also hot but by the grace of god managed to make the net. It was my first steelie landed on the fly rod and I couldn’t have been happier as I held her up for the photo op. I could see the genuine excitement in Ed McCoy’s face as he made the scoop with the net and thought it was kind of cool that a guy who fishes 180 – 190 days a year on that river still musters up the level of excitement that he portrayed.
We fished miles of river throughout the day and turned a total of 8 fish. None were to come to hand aside from the one but the adrenalin rush from the hookups and battles were more than enough to fuel my soul. I marveled at the size and beauty of each fish we hooked and just how powerful they are in that river this time of year. Crazy… is just about the right word for it. I was astonished by the miles and miles of absolutely insane water we fished and floated past.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how many fish we would have turned with the Centrepin gear. I also couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I need a jet sled. The launch is essentially 15mins from my door with two others even closer. The water is very easily read if you know what you are looking for and with a few outing behind you... Well I can only dream about that day. The only element missing is the boat. Hmmmm dare to dream eh ;0)

BTW...For the Record...The Fly Fishing thing...I get it. I really do. Some day I'm certain I will be at it as well... But for now...I need to have me some crazy days on the lower river just to see just how weird it can get. ;0)