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)