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)

15 comments:

gribble said...

Nice write up bro! I floated her from Tippy down to Highbridge on saturday! I had one solid hook up on the spey rod, but it came unbuttoned! Good luck on the jet sled! I'm still wrtting about my week on the Muskegon, the PM, and The Big Mam. Its funny how ppl who share the love for the sport can have so much common ground behind them!

http://switch-rods-single-handed-rods.blogspot.com/

Trotsky said...

Holy fuck where do I begin!!!????...

First of all that is not 'flyfishing'...
All you are doing is handicapping yourself with drag and and weird line...
You want to trot artificial? ...great...but for fuck sakes do it right!!!!!
15 mins from your door???
Man ...get thee to the boat store....maybe you can sell that idiotic surrogate penis of a motorcycle...
Remember , no matter how loud your muffler is you still have a wee little dust puffing nub of a scabby penis...and if having big throbbing things between your legs is your thing then for christs sake just come out of the closet and be done with it...
I am so so sad for you....
Oh to have normal friends........
Nice fish BTW
<><
;o)

lambton said...

Norland,
I'd expect such from you. POS!
LOL!
I take the entire float fishing with a fly rod as a compliment to our craft. To me it validates our methods (as if we needed it). But to those that are die hards and true to their sport I commend them for making the step and adapting what works for their passion.
Now the Spey guys...those guys are diehards! They put their time in and work for their fish. Dedicated!
As for my Harley...Don't think that thought hasn't crossed my mind many many times. A Tracy's boat certainly would look good in the garage up there and see alot of use.

lambton said...

Gribble,
You must have floated right past us. We were on the river all day Saturday. I managed 4 on the float rod with a tonne of shaker browns and cohos. Really have to put the work in up in that section this time of year for the steelies.
I hit a summer run skam up there Saturday evening before dark. Man those fish can fight.

GT said...

Brian, you need an unlimited US work Visa.;-) Nice fish.

dave.wallace said...

Nice dude...it's great to see shots of the lower river a few of those spots are definitely familiar...*sigh* it only I lived closer!!!

Don't get me started on "fly fishing politics"...guys who turn fly only and hold others in contempt for fishing with different methods can no longer see the forest for the trees...

lambton said...

LOL!! I hear ya Dave. I couldn't help but think how many steelies I could have turned with the pins. We only fished each run about two drifts and he was hell bent on hitting the next water. We never even fished a run proper IMHO. When in Rome I guess...
As for the diehard fly guys. Whatever...that's more fish left in those runs for the good guys ;0)
I'll definately be swinging for steelies some day but for now I have another thousand or so fish to bring to hand before I even start to worry about that.
Just need to get me a sled...

Joseph said...

I had forgotten how expansive the Lower is, was last there in 2005. Nice recap, and it looked like a great day out.

Concerning the whole Spey vs Centrepin thing ~ As someone who has worked in Systems (i.e. Logic) for over a dozen years, it always amazes me how some advocates of the fly / spey method for Steelhead maintain a perverse perspective related to 'handicap' ~ as if to imply that a single fish hooked on the swing is equivocal to 20 caught via the drift. For me, it comes down to the concept of 'efficiency' ~ if I'm going to stand in 32 F water, there is a high probability that I want to hook some fish, anything contrary to that would be similar to swimming across Lake Ontario sans limbs.

I had to laugh when I saw a 'photoessay' from the Saugeen (Spring 2010) documenting a Spey outing, plenty of casting and river shots, but also notably an absence of fish. That said, the whole single-malt sipping / 'LOOP' fly gear douchebag chic thing was pretty cool to see, and to laugh at. Perhaps I'll start blogging again just to be a ranting lunatic, instead of polluting your space here :)

Cheers,

J

lambton said...

Joe,
No worries about ranting here. I enjoy the participation and expression.

I personally don't want to fall into the them against us scenerio and certainly have learned over my 40 years to never say never. Swinging for steelies under the right conditions on the right river with the right flow...I could see it. And hey...how would I ever be able to validate if the "tug is really the drug" without ever trying it.
Now for the wine and cheese riverside self-stroking events...I'm way to trailer park for that ;0)

Harv said...

Norland has a way with words, and I fully agree with him. It is actually scaring me how much I share his sentiment these days....

Nice fish though you fly fishing homo!

As I type this I look out the window and see snow - lets get out and fish before everything locks up and the season is done!!!!!

Harv

Trotsky said...

Did someone say scotch???
"too" should have two 'O's BTW...you POS...
The only reason you like Spey is because it rhymes with gay!!!
You drip gay...

Bill said...

Beautiful scenery, and pretty fish!

Your recap reminded me of the Alaska trip,in the sense that 98% of the fishers were using the fly rods.
And 98% of them were using beads.

The people caught fish, but were amazed at the hook-ups we had with the float set-ups.

You are right though, never say never!

lambton said...

Harv,
Norland also has a craving for the cock. I hope you're not leaning that way too. (too with 2 o's Norland so f*ck off you closet spell checker wannabe!)

Norland...The only reason you like Scotch is because it smells like a mans crotch.

Bill...beads??? I don't think I could float a bead. The jigs were quite the leap but beads? I dunno...

GT said...

Brian, trout beads... not the other kind of beads!!! :0

Trotsky said...

You should try drifting your butt plug you turdknocking git...
6 for 7 today...and all alone...
Water is ultra thin though...
You would projectile vomited at the sight of it.