Saturday, December 29, 2012


I awoke late again this morning...deliberately I guess but still later than I would have liked. The chilly cabin served as a reminder that the days fishing adventure would once again be rife with the inherent challenges of winter fishing. I set the coffee maker in motion and let Cody buddy out for his morning business. I tended to the fire and set my sights on the days events. 
My wife had a few errands to run so I took the opportunity go re-spool the Frogwater with some Sufix 10lb smoke green mono that I had been recently comped.  By the time all was said and done I didn't hit the river til slightly after 11 am.  When I arrived at her banks they were surprisingly vacant.  The entire section below the coffer was deserted.  I eagerly dropped into the crystal clear flow and began to work my magic.  The river was not giving up her gifts and line after line, seam after seam provided no players. 
I decided to work my way down lower into the river and see if I could muster up a single decent fish but aside from a plethora of nice trout I failed to illicit a Steelhead's response.  I fished it all and then some for over 4 and a half hours and still no reward.  She has been a stingy girl this fall and continues on with her stubbornness into the winter months.  That's alright though as the gifts she does randomly give are well worth the wait.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Back to the West Side

With Christmas nicely out of the way and some mutual time off my wife and I decided to slip over to the cabin for a pre-New Years escape.  It had been about three weeks since I had last floated the big river and I was eager to see if things had changed for the better.  My last visit proved to be a few days of frustration and head scratching.  Friday morning came early and I was hesitant to leave the warmth of the bed.  The fire had long died off and the cabin was somewhat cool.  The appeal of the warm flannel sheets won hands down over the arduous task of donning multiple layers and heading out into the brisk morning cold. 
By the time I got myself out of bed and my morning chores completed it was just shy of 10 am.  I geared up and made my way to the river.  The early morning winter fish at the cabin has pretty much lost all of its appeal to me these days.  Late nights, bitter cold and age have consumed all of my ambitions of chasing first light opportunities on the West Side.  It doesn't seem to matter as much over here as back home on the Huron flows and I don't mind it one bit.  Arriving to the river I was shocked to see 6 other vehicles at the access.  The water I wanted to fish was being worked by two other gentlemen and they reported little to no success for their early arrival efforts. 
I dropped in and started to work my usual haunts.  I worked very productive water from top to bottom with Waxies, Jigs, and Spawn to no avail.  I dropped down river to my other $$ water and worked the middle of the river hard again to no avail.  I then remembered the beads that were deep into my waist pack.  I had just broken off so I retied a fresh tippet, slid on a washed Salmon egg bead and a new hook.  I cast just proud of a sunken long running parallel to the bank and mended my offering into the current seam and watched it work it's way down into the run.  At the end of the run my float dropped and I set up to a large fish. 
The rod loaded up hard and the surface erupted with a large tail slap.  My heart stopped for a second as I was certain it was a very big Brown. I stood my ground and after a few strong runs I began to work the fish back in my direction.  The head shakes were violent and I knew this would be my largest Manistee Brown to date.   I was eager to at least get a glimpse of this fish to confirm it's size.  I was literally a foot or so from getting a look when the rod unloaded and the hook flew over my left shoulder.  The fish was gone and my head slumped forward.  It was a tough loss and I took it hard. 
Anyone that knows this river will attest to the fact that she can be giving or she can be a stingy bitch.  There are days that you certainly do not want to blow opportunities and this season she has pretty much fished that way every day I have been within her banks.  I was disappointed but at the same time impressed.  The first drift with a bead and I hooked up with a decent fish.  I revisited the middle of the river with the bead and found no takers.  After a while I lost faith in the token trinket and went back to my beloved single waxie and #10.  I found a few trout and a shaker steelie but no real takers.  I started to walk back up to the coffer and towards my exit when I thought about the bead and that big brown once again. 
I figured I better fish my other $$ water with the trinket just to be certain.  I now owed it to myself and this jewelry to take another run on the tough water.  I walked past a few fishermen up to the base of the coffer and settled in.  I picked my line and made my throw.  I mended the slack and watched the 8 gram Drennan work its way no more than 10 feet along the seam before disappearing into the depths.  Instinctively I reacted and the rod loaded up proud.  There was no mistaking the infamous thumping and I knew instantly it was a nice fish.  I had lots of room to do battle so I took my time and stood my ground.  Before I knew it there was a brand new dime bright Manistee lady at my feet nicely hooked on the inside edge of her bottom jaw. 
It was a very defining moment for me.  It shattered any and all doubt I had on fishing beads.  I do not understand it, I can't make sense of it, but I believe it and now have full confidence in them.  Today on two first drifts in two different locations on a river fishing shy I hit large fish after previously flogging the water with other offerings.  They work and they work well.  I'm sold!  I surrender!  I'm in!  No more doubts!  First at home in Ontario and now here at my second home in MI  LOL!  It's a funny thing because I should know better.  A few years ago it was the pink worm, then came the marabou jigs, last year was the waxie and now the beads.  I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.  Even stubborn old alarmingly handsome dogs. :0.
This afternoon I stopped off at the local tackle shop.  I left with the biggest and fattest Wax worms on the planet, large #8 bead hooks, and some fancy bead peggz...who would have thought?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day Returns

My wife and the girls had plans today.  Mainly they centered around Boxing Day sales and Christmas returns.  With this in mind I had some return plans of my own...namely an impromptu return to the shire for one last visit and farewell for the Ontario 2012 Extended Season.  I was not sure if I would get back to the little river before the seasons demise but the opportunity presented  itself and I had to accept.  With a quickly approaching winter storm from the North the window was small.  The game plan was simple... get back in there early and see how things shaped up as the morning progressed with a quick exit strategy in hand should things start to go south.
Arriving to the access I was not surprised to see no other signs of life. This time I had a good feeling the river would be lonely today.  My starting point had me hiking back a good 30 mins before any lines would be wet.  The brisk winter wind nipped at my face on the hike back and was a certain reminder that this outing was going to be a true winter steelheading experience.
As expected the river basin was lonely.  The over cast skies, frigid temps and impending snow storm kept the sane people at home.  I had the entire place to myself...but run after run I failed to illicit a response. 
I ran the gamut of offerings.  I went super stealth for fear of line shyness.  I downsized my baits.  I stood my ground and flogged the runs in the hopes one fish would come to hand.  The river was low and super clear...I knew the fish were there but all I could think was that the major front that was now upon me put these fish down hard.  Well into the morning I ended up at a large clay bank with lots of promise.  Once again I refused to give up and spent twice as much time as I would have normally trying to convince some cooperation.  The outlook was grim and I was starting to make the decision to cut my losses when I remembered this would most likely be my last visit to the shire. 
There was another option a few hundred yards down stream that I had not fished this season.  The fond memories of this run ran through my head.  I was cold but still had time and nothing to lose.  I stumbled along the tight banks down river and crossed at the first rapids.  I was not sure what to expect as the river was very low.  Arriving to the rapids that dump into what we refer to as the "Mitchell" run I was excited to see a long deep emerald shute on the far bank.  It looked very fishy and  instantly captured my attention.  The first cast fell short and I floated the inside edge of the slot from the top of the rapids down through the 60 or so feet of the run without a tap.  
The second cast I made sure I hit the far edge and 10 feet past the bottom of the rapids my float unexpectedly dropped.  With some disbelief I set the hook and the rod loaded up nicely.  Finally my determination found reward and finally some warmth was returning to my tired and cold body.  She was a beautiful chrome hen and sincerely validated my efforts.  After sending her back into the Emerald abyss I repositioned myself back at the top of the run and put on a fresh white bag.  Once again I picked the far edge of the slot and in the exact same location I was into fish number two.  This time a very handsome chrome buck.  After a few pics I sent him back home to find his lady friend. 
My fourth cast was on the same line and again the float dropped in the same location.  I set up to a thumping response only to have the hook pop and the rod unload.  I was now 2 for 3 in a matter of 15 mins on a day that I couldn't have bought a fish prior.  I was eager to get back in there for another go.  I quickly selected another small white back and made the cast.  I don't know if it was 4 or 5 drifts later but that float dropped once again and another buck was thumping away on the end of the line.  A day of despair took an instant 180.  Fishing is a funny thing.  There certainly is a Mental aspect to the game. Determination and confidence are paramount.  I almost doubled back and walked away with a blank but I didn't.  I remained focused and determined.  I kept faith in my offering  and it paid off in dividends.  In the blink of an eye things can turn around.  I longed for my true winter experience all season and today I got just that.  The iced guides and the frozen reel can really weigh on a mans spirits but the isolation and solitude these outings provide are unequalled. I timed my exit perfect...I rode the front edge of the snowstorm all the way home and as I type this snow is drifting upwards of 3-4 feet in my driveway.  Winter is now officially here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

On the Eve of Christmas Eve

I awaited this bump for a while.  The river came up nice and was coming into shape for a few days that I had the ability to fish.  I had awaited this bump...
Sunday morning came very early after the previous nights Christmas cheer.  The alarm begged 5 am but settled for a compromising 5:45.  There was no rush to get to the river this morning.  Certainly winters late appearance would see to keeping the fair weather presence at home in bed.  The drive up was lonely and very relaxing.  The silence was welcomed as was the warmth provided by the old pickup's heater and Tim Horton's double double.  Checking the Hydrological Site I was pleased to confirm the river graph was indicating a much desirable 1.2M elevation.  My access was abandoned and all things were aligning for a classic winter steelheading outing. 
Exiting from the warmth of the truck a cold damp wind greeted me and I remember thanking myself for bringing a second thermal layer.  There was no rush and I took my time gearing up.  As I made my way past the fence I followed a single set of coyote tracks in the snow to the edge of the forest and disappeared into the shire.  There was a comfortable silence across the forested valley and a stillness one from the city would struggle to comprehend.  I stopped multiple times on the hike back to take in the nuances of this wintry December morning.  The beaver pond was partially frozen and I could see where he had broke through the ice to feed on the bark of a large tree he had recently felled.  I noticed this year's lodge addition and was impressed by the size and mastery of their work.  The pond is much larger this year and I suspect the family has grown.
Soon I found myself at the bank of the river.  It was nice to see her in her prime and I continued on past the beaver dam towards my much anticipated starting destination.  The entire way I laid first tracks in the snow and I so much longed for a lonely isolated day in the shire.  Half way down the trail a few more sets appeared much to my dismay.  It was a disheartening discovery and I reluctantly carried on towards my destination.  As I approached I could see from a distance through the cedars that both runs were occupied with as many people as I can ever recall being there.  I stopped dead in my tracks, collected my thoughts,  and proceeded to double back.  I was having none of that madness and I sought out some lonely water.  I began to work my way down river towards some old haunts.  The fishing was proving tough but I was not having any of that either.  I new things can turn around with the blink of an eye on mornings like this so I continued on picking away run after run. 
The river crossings were tricky but I exercised caution and took my time.  I stumbled upon one other gentleman on my way down and he politely carried on past me after a brief exchange of words.  Still I failed to convince any players.  Soon I found myself at a section of the river that harbours many fond memories.  We have had some good times on this water and I was really looking forward to her treating me well once again.  I started up high and two drifts proved of no significance.  I repositioned myself down another 6-7 yards  and picked a line tight to the gravel bar ledge that ran parallel to the main flow.  As if it were scripted my float dropped.  The rod loaded up and the line began to scream from the free spooling reel.  It was an awesome feeling and my once cold hands were nothing more than a distant memory.  The fight was worthy and the fish was released at my feet prior to any pics.  I regained my composure before settling in for round two.  My thoughts raced to memories of past outings on this water and  I remembered one specifically where we picked off fish after fish on a tight line towards the far bank.  I  cast my offering tight to the bank and mended it into position. 
Once again like a script from a movie the float dropped and another  player was thumping away on the end of the line.  Anxious for some images I carefully worked this fish down river and into the grassy shallows where she came to hand.  She was another proud Huron beauty and after a few pics seen her way back into the raging flow.  My outing was now complete and fulfillment had been had.  I fished a few more locations and turned a few more fish.  One to hand and one long distance released. Twenty plus fish days or three or four fish days...there is little difference to me anymore.  It was nice to be on the river and see her in shape.  It was nice to get my true winter steelheading experience back on the home waters.  I knew the rise in flow would bring in a new push or have the existing players blow on up through the system. 
I knew my best shot at a big day would be higher up  but I wasn't looking for that.  I was looking for some isolation, solitude, and relaxation.  Ironically I almost had that taken from me but that proved to be nothing a little more legwork couldn't remedy.  The ride home had me thinking about how nice the river would fish on Monday.  I contemplated a potential reduction in the recent crowds.  I had the green light to fish all day and much anticipated plans of doing such.  As I type this entry it is Chrismas Eve.  I didn't fish this morning...I decided it would have been forcing it and I didn't need that.  A well deserved good nights sleep and late morning rise were in order.  The river will be there when I need to visit her again and until then I have fond memories of my last visit.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pocket Water

My "home" flow is a Diamond among the Huron Gems.  She rises big and drops very fast as do many of the flows in heavily tiled watersheds.  Timing is of the essence and the predictability of river conditions is almost a certain science. 
Higher water inherently scatters fish.  They are on the move and will transition in slots, troughs, and high gradient tail outs... what I call pocket water.  This water typically is too shallow or void of cover to hold fish under normal conditions but with some flow and stain to the water it becomes very fishy.  These are exciting conditions to fish as ones options are exponentially increased.
Today I got to fish the home waters on the drop.  She could have been a lot bigger for my liking but she was still big and coloured enough for fish to be spread throughout.  The Pocket water was fishing, and fishing fine at that.  Today was one of those days where if the water looked at all fishy there was a good chance that success could be had.

I fished some old water today.  I had not been back there  in a few years.  It was the right choice as I quite possibly had one of my best days in recent memory.  

 The warm temps rejuvenated the fish.  There were some new players and some very big players today.   One common theme was their energy. 

The last fish I landed today was nothing shy of 10lbs.   Immediately upon setting the hook he had me running for what seemed like an eternity over slippery boulders, through shoulder tall grass, and around a bend where I luckily gained the upper hand.  Early November steelheading in late December.  The mild temps do however come with a price. The unseasonably warm weather brings out the crowds.
This is twice this season I have had to share what is typically an abandoned river basin with fair weather fisherman.  They have as much right as I to be there and good for them I guess.  For the most part I experienced nothing but mutual respect on the river today... and all of this season for that matter.  With the exception of today's cigarette butts, beer cans, trash and a Skein Harvest carcass things have been civil.
As much as I have enjoyed this mild weather I still long for the true winter fishery...the classic ominous overcast skies and the totally deserted countryside.  Laying the first set of tracks in on fresh powder only to follow the same single partially covered set back out. I have said it so many times... fishing is more for me about the experience and solitude than it is about the catching.
With any luck tomorrows predicted precipitation will see my little river spill over her banks and back into the grass in time for another day or two of poking around the pocket water.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Season of Giving

"The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you caught isn't someone else's gift to you?"

--Lee Wulff

Friday, December 14, 2012

River Miles

I looked forward to this morning for a while.  Not so much because I was going to fish  but more so because I was going to go fishing with Norland.  Now that may sound very gay to some and to others very bro-mantic but to me it's always time spent on the river with someone that I can relate to, communicate without conversation,  and share a common disturbed sense of humour with.  The conversations can be deep, insane, irrational, and down right ridiculous.  But always us...

The bead bite was on this past Wednesday so I was certain there would be a few fish to be had if we carried our sorry a$$es back into the far off lands.  The river was lonely today like it should be but the flow was down and clear.  The going was tough and we certainly put the river miles in.  For those of you that don't understand what a river mile is use this for a point of reference. 

Take a mile long walk down your suburban street.  Now throw in a million basket ball sized slippery boulders.  Add some Amazonian grass taller than the average person.  Throw in some fallen trees like every third driveway for good measure.  Don't forget frequent bends and turns. And finally,  the inevitable river crossings against the raging current.  The rewards for the efforts are worth it but the toll it plays on the body after you throw in the cold, the hike in and out, and the early rise...well its enough to ruin a man. 

And as I type this report I certainly feel ruined.  We used to do this stuff sometimes for three days in a row....sun up to sun down.  Not any more.  I had a day off in between and I still feel old and smashed.  Getting old is a cruel end to a wonderful ride.  What can ya do?  F*ck-it, we can still get back in there so the pains are a small price to pay for the serenity and beauty not to mention the silver bounties.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bead Crow has landed

Beads...One time I quite possibly could have been quoted as saying  " I'll never fish them..." or "Nope no need to bother...not for me"  It's not that I didn't believe they would work but I questioned why everyone was jumping on the bead band wagon all-in.  I saw the bead as nothing more than a single egg presentation that was flawed compared to it's rival the yarn fly.  To each his own I thought...I've seen it before with the pink worm and the marabou jigs. 

To me beads were nothing new.  They have been on the West Coast Scene forever and all of a sudden it seemed that there was no other way to catch a steelhead in Ontario last year than with the almighty bead.  I also questioned the trailing hook and how one would not line their adversary for lack of a better terminology or perhaps better explained as hooking them on the side of their face rather than directly inside the mandible as other bait presentations work.  I like to think of myself as a free thinker and one that needs to understand the form behind the function.
These points and the fact that we were still catching more steelhead than any sane human being deserves pretty much kept me from trying them.  Perhaps a little bit of old man stubbornness should be thrown into this mixture for good measure.  I have become accustomed to catching fish with my methods of preference and perhaps this has started to set me in my ways.  I never used to be that way.  I was always the one pushing Norland to try the latest and greatest alternatives. 
I was notorious for having something of mystery in my kit for trials but these beads...Dammit I just couldn't go there...I refused!  This was all to change for me after this past weekend.  I fished with a gentlemen who's rig would make an Ontario Steelheader shutter.  This coupled with his bizarre offering so foreign to the likes of any Canadian purist float fisherman puzzled me. But what puzzled me more was he caught fish!  As a matter of fact he out fished me on a piece of water that I know intimately.  He got me thinking that I have become set in my ways and perhaps losing the edge I once revelled in. 
Then came the text message from an editor friend requesting some quality imagery of Steelhead caught with beads.  Jesus...I thought to myself.  Now I gotta eat crow and try these god forsaken tokens of conformity.  Today I fished a bead and today I became a believer.  Crow has never tasted so good and I totally understand why so many people have flocked to them.  I caught enough fish to negate any question of it being a fluke.  I fished them faithfully for the mainstay of my day just to evaluate them fairly and they consistently produced fish without question. 
There were some fish that were hooked external to the mouth but I learned to adjust my hook tail and started to refine the presentation.  I'm in...I'm sold...They work and work very well.  The latter part of the day I switched back to roe and pounded out a few more fish in no time which led me to believe I may have enjoyed similar successes with the old faithful tried and true Roebag.  The effort wasn't to see what produced better.  |It was to capture some quality imagery of Steelhead on the bead and understand what all the hype was about. 
I managed to accomplish both.  The river had more traffic than I have experienced in many years but I still managed to fish in isolation.  I am now curious to put them to the test on the big river at the Cabin in MI.  Favourable reports have been exchanged with these offerings and it will be fun putting them to the test on the stubborn water.

Monday, December 10, 2012

No Love

The past couple of days have been trying to say the least.  After a memorable outing with JB on Saturday things were certainly looking favourable for the following few days.  Sunday morning had a damp gloomy feel to her and I hit the river around 10am launching the Hyde once again up by the dam.  The damp feel quickly turned to snow and then driving snow. 
The river traffic was up compared to the previous day and the willing players seemed to be tight lipped.  I struggled for the better part of the trip and late in the game blew two decent hookups withing minutes of each other in what felt like blizzard conditions.  Monday morning had me wading my South Side haunts in pursuit of some vindication.  I was feeling fairly confident that one would come to hand but trout after trout proved me wrong. 
Things were looking dismal until a white roe bag persuaded a giant resident brown to commit.  I knew it was a big resi as soon as it jettisoned a good foot and a half from the water.  It made my morning landing my new PB Manistee Resident Brown.  She taped out at 19" and was all of 3+ lbs. 
As I type this I am back home in Ontario.  A few days of work and a few days of Steelheading on my cherished Huron Tribs.  While I was away the local waters came into their own and it would be a travesty to not leverage off of these conditions.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Hookin up with Ricks

Today I had the opportunity to hook up with my Michigan steelhead brother JB of The Consummate Sportsman Blog fame.  JB is stand up guy and it's always good to get together with him and put a bend in the rods. 
The last time we hooked up was in the summer on his boat for some Lake Michigan Deep Water Chinny action.  We pounded a bunch of Kings for a memorable outing. 
Now it was my turn to return the favour.  We launched the Hyde at the Tippy launch under a fresh snowy backdrop.  The river traffic was amazingly sparse and the morning had the workings of one of those epic outings. 
Needless to say we put a few fish in the boat heavily slanted in JB's favour.  JB put on a clinic with is secret bait and his pink line.  LOL!  All kidding aside and without getting into specifics I have to give his techniques some props. 
The boy can fish and that's a good thing. 
The highlight of the day had to be be the giant resident brown, my double striper and JB's long and lean chrome bullet.