Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Details

"I doubt there will be anyone there" I thought to myself as I threw the gear in the back of the van. There was a damp chill in the air and I knew my time spent on the water would be no more than an hour or two. "There are always a couple chromers to be had down there" I thought as I finished packing my gear and closed the garage door while turning to assess the driveway situation. "Better get a run at her" I thought out loud as I peered past the spruce to the snow covered hill on the way out from the cottage. The hill proved to be of no significance as I made the short journey towards Tippy. Arriving at the access point I parked the van and made my way towards the river. The stairs down to the river were snow packed and mediocre at best so I took my time to avoid any sudden slips, trips, falls or sprains. The joys of life on the the other side of 40 I guess. The river was void of life except for the workers on the opposite side finishing up the final welds on the newly installed Lamprey project. If it is what I think it is the DNR will be cage trapping Lamprey in order to sterilize the Males and re-release them into the system to false spawn the females.

I opted to start above the coffer for a drift or two as the water was vacant and looked like a perfect place for a wintering steelhead to reside. After a couple of drifts I found myself hiking back up the stairs. I can't fish that water when it's stacked with fish let alone now. I picked my way along the river below the coffer meticulously searching for life. After a dozen or so drifts I managed to find a few small 8" rainbows and a brown or two. I waded out to the middle of the river on a long narrow gravel bar. The river has run low all year and made the wade very easy. There was a defined seam halfway between me and the far bank with some very nice slack water on the backside of it. A classic lie I thought to myself eagerly preparing a fresh white roe bag. The first drift through and my float drops. A nice resident brown about 13" long and a lb in stature. After a short battle the fish wins and disappears into the current.
I quickly replace the tattered bag with another fresh white offering and make the cast to the backside of the seam. Once again the float disappears and I set up on nothing. Feverishly I retrieve my float and recast to the same line and once again the float drops at the same place. Now I set up to confirmation that I have caught bottom. Most likely a clump of zebra mussels I thought. I retrieve my float and decide on a closer cast into the current for a longer drift. I know this run well and have had great success further downriver in the drift. As my float makes it way towards the limit it disappears and I set the hook. My self-tied rainshadow loads up nicely and there is that period of time that seems like an eternity waiting for some sort of confirmation as to the size of the fish. The rod unloads and then loads up suddenly. The water explodes with a giant fish that has to push 8-10 lbs. My initial thoughts are a huge COHO or perhaps a very coloured up male Steelie. A few more head shakes and I make my step backwards getting ready to head down river if need be. Then it happened...That oh so disappointing sudden deceleration.
That kick in the stones. The fish was off. Immediately I knew without a doubt what had happened and I rapidly batted the float in to inspect the leader. With little to no surprise I discovered the hook had broken off and closer inspection revealed the leader was quite frayed. I knew the leader was frayed I thought to myself. I even called it after the snag and I didn't inspect the line. Zebra Mussles!!!!! Blame it on the harsh conditions or just plain laziness but it's the little things that bring fish to hand. Success purely lies in the details. It's one thing to lose a fish or two on good days but to lose what could be the outings only opportunity on a day of extremes can sting. It can only be blamed on my inability to cover off all the details.
Fishing versus catching I guess. I didn't let it get me down and continued to fish for another hour and a half. I did manage to find a nice shaker steelie, chunky resident rainbow and a handsome Coho. By the time I wrapped things up approximately 2 hrs after it all began I could not feel my toes.
Back at the cottage I remembered just how painful it is when ones toes begin to thaw back to life. I will always remember that fish and the lesson it bestowed upon me. Although it just may gain a lb or two every time I remember it or tell the tale. ;0)
Oh ya and Norland is a POS!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eat, Drink, Fish, and Sleep

You know a good friend once told me some times it's just not worth forcing it. Well this proved ever so valid on a recent outing.
Having little opportunity on the home waters this fall and a dire need to get the boys together for a weekend getaway at the cottage we found ourselves heading across the state in Old Man Norlands Steelhead Mobile under threat from the National Weather Service of a severe storm warning for the West Side. This never stopped us before but this time I just had a feeling that we were forcing it. After much deliberation we threw caution to the wind and figured just how bad could it be.
We made the journey pretty much unscathed and arrived to the cottage under snow fall and a nice 5" wintery blanket. We had plans to fish the Muskegon with a new guide and I was excited to see some new water but the weather scenario was looking dire. I contacted our host and talked about the next days adventure. We decided on an early morning decision and settled in to the cottage for a relaxing night of TV, couch and beverages. The morning found us up at 6 am looking out the windows to a foot of snow. After a quick call down state to our guide we learned that they didn't get as much snow and we were good to go if we were so inclined.
Once again we threw caution to the wind and the little blue Tercel was barrelling it's way across snow capped hi ways and side roads in search of steel. We met up with our guide on some lonely desolate side road. As we pulled up to his truck he rolled down the window and greeted us with "that ain't four wheel drive" I'm not sure if he was shocked at the fact that we made the drive or if he was indecisive as to how we would get to where we needed to go.
We followed him to the top of the hill at the river access and transferred our gear to his boat. Before we knew it we were making our way down river in search of grandeur. It didn't take long to find a willing participant and before we knew it we had boated a proud 8lb Muskegon Buck. With a start like this we could only figure it was going to be one of those days. Our hopes were quickly diminished as a major cold front pushed in and wrapped it's grip around us.
The winds began to whip up and forced us to find retreat in a long narrow section surround by forest. We would have moments of fishable conditions followed by driving winds. It was rather erie as we would make a drift under perfect conditions
only to hear the roar of the wind through the trees as it raced across the country side towards us.
At times it was impossible to fish. At times it was impossible to see and at times it was impossible to anchor the boat. Every 15mins it would intensify until the entire thing was unbearable and impossible. "Forcing it" I thought to myself...
We managed to boat three nice fish but the entire ordeal was more stressful than enjoyable IMHO.
But as in much of life another lesson was learned and we plugged our way back to the cottage to meet up with Arn. While we had battled the elements on the Muskegon Arn himself was battling his way across the state through conditions unfit for travel. But somehow we all manged to make it to the cottage unscathed and ready for some beverages and good food. By now the snow was piling up and the mornings plans to fish were all in limbo. There was a sense of uncertainty in the air as to just what was going to unfold overnight.
Little known to us was the fact that South Western Ontario had it's own problems unfolding. A giant Lake Affect Streamer was unleashing winters wrath from Sarnia to London. This storm was to close the International border crossing, multiple roadways, strand countless motorists, employ multiple emergency agencies and even the result in the deployment of Canadian Military Helicopters and personnel. A storm system truly unparalleled for this neck of the woods that caught many off guard and unprepared.
After receiving calls from home we were informed of the situation and pretty much decided that we were stranded in Michigan for a day or so more.
We decided to make the best of the situation and headed out for an afternoon of fishing at Tippy. The conditions were on the edge but we were there and decided to make the best of it. The roads were so sketchy that we had to park at the top of the access and walk down to the boat ramp to fish or we would have found ourselves stranded in the parking lot for the evening.
I was not overly surprised to find that we were the only ones fishing the river this day. Norland found a few resident rainbows up by the dam and lost a nice steelie right out of the gate but after that it was slow going with the deep cold front upon us. We cut our losses and doubled back to the warmth of the cabin only to find the furnace had died. After a quick response from the local furnace guy I learned the furnace was unrepairable and a new unit would need to be expedited. Plans were put in place for a speedy replacement but we were in dire need for heat for the evening. I made a quick call to a neighbour about a mile and a half away that I had met from the Steelheadsite fishing forums.
He agreed to lend me an electric heater for the evening and offered to put us all up for the night if we needed to resort to that. Arriving back to the cottage I called my neighbours to recruit another heater and was also offered accommodation for the evening and another loaner heater. The hospitality of the the West side Michigan Folk is outstanding and it warms my heart to know that such decent people abound on that side of the state.
With the two loaner heaters and one of my own we managed to maintain the cottage at 66C for the night. Once again we settled down to an evening of beverages, food, and TV. Norland indicated he was going to make an early morning run for home but was advised to check the Internet prior to making the trek. Upon waking up early Arn and myself were shocked to learn that numb-nutts had already fled under cover of darkness towards a closed border crossing and a backed up Interstate. From what we gathered later the ride was pretty much uneventful until the last 45miles that took 3 hrs to travel. With plans in place to have the furnace replaced we had nothing else to do but explore some local water for some willing biters.
Arn and myself made our way to the Udell access spot under fresh powder. We were the only ones there and the scenery was untouched with exception of some scratchings made by Turkey. We geared up and laid fresh tracks for the river. There was a crisp winter breeze but other than that the presence of winter was stunning. We made drift after drift in a very productive section of river to no avail. I made the switch over to one of Norlands black and fire red jigs. Countless drifts later and I still found no willing players. My hands were getting cold and I made a long cast to the center of the run and put the rod in my left hand so I could breathe some warmth on my now half frozen right hand fingers.
About a quarter of the way into the drift the float disappeared and I set up with my left arm to a positive confirmation of something fishy on the end of the line. Now all feeling of cold had disappeared and jubilation had set in due in fact that I had found a fish but more so because I managed it on a jig that the POS had tied. It was not a huge fish but nonetheless was a nice little steelhead about 2 lbs and proof that determination and confidence once again prevailed.

We fished the remaining water thoroughly and made the arduous hike out through the powder. Upon reaching the summit of the valley we noticed a large gathering of Turkey by the van. They were unalarmed at our presence and we actually got rather close to them as we approached our ride. Arriving back to the cottage we learned that the furnace repair guy was just pulling in to get the job started. It was getting late in the day. This coupled with Norlands 3 hr Interstate backup had us deciding on spending another relaxing night at the cottage.

With the successful furnace replacement and another day for the authorities to cleanup the roads and border mess we packed up and made our way for home. On the drive home I found my self with mixed thoughts on the trip. From a fishing perspective the rewards were few but if I hadn't been there when the furnace died the expense from the frozen water line damage etc would have been huge. The trip was more stressful than relaxing but all in all it was nice to get away with the boy and do something we all love. Eat, Drink, Fish, and Sleep.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Lost in the Desert

The fishing can be tough but the scenery...Oh my word...

Death Valley
Zion National Park
Red Rock Canyon