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Our first day on Beaver Island I walked out to the beach and spotted the carp. Main Island, wadable. Tight to a rock. Knee deep water. A pod of them. Probably 8-10 in all. All of them over ten pounds, the biggest of them pushing 30.
Last year I didn’t see one carp on the flats of Big Sand Bay. You don’t see fish down there too often. We didn’t know that when we booked that place. But this year we stayed closer to town near a point where Dave Hossler caught a nice one last year. So I thought the fish might be there, but now I had a bead on them.
I tormented them for hours. They tolerated me but for the most part ignored my offerings. A good couple follows, a turn, a few refusals, one good solid take, one head shake and the fish was off. Nothing. After that, they moved into deep water. I toyed with them the next day too, and the following day, but to no avail.
Later, Kevin told told me that those fish had been played with so much that they simply won’t eat a fly anymore. They’re just too well educated in the way of the fly. Alas.
I had two days booked with Steve the first member of the SmithFly Stream Team.
It was the day after JP‘s Carp Trip, and the weather was much better than when Cameron’s Trip was there. However, the Mayfly carp funk was still in effect. Even the uneducated fish weren’t eating like they normally would because they were so stuffed with mayflys. Again, alas.
The wind was blowing a bit the morning we went out. It was choppy with 2 footers projected for the main lake area. We headed a spot called Indian Bay where there’s a dock that leads to a trail into an ancient Indian Burial ground.
We found a decent number of fish, and the mouth flaring meant that they were eating.
After about 6 casts I layed one out to a large carp headed straight towards the boat. One long strip, and pause, the fish chased. I bumped it a few times, and let it settle. He charged it, flared his lips, and ATE the fly in eight inches of gin clear water, 10 feet from the bow of the boat. When the fish came tight, my leader was almost in the tip top. He rolled up on the surface and his big wide flank of gold shined in the morning sun. Steve let out an affirmative but understated, “NICE DUDE!”. I thought that fish would be in the net in a second. But as soon as the fish laid eyes on the boat, he turned tail and screamed away from us in a panic. He pulled the drag out smoking fast right to the backing, and then, NOTHING.
The line was dead. Fish off.
That was a good sign. Maybe the mayfly carp funk was over? Maybe the day would be better.
But it really wasn’t.
We fished the rest of the day, and found quite a few more fish on the various flats around garden and hog island. We found lots of lookers and one other hook up with accompanied LDR, but that was it. Maybe it was me? I dunno.
To save the day, and avoid being totally skunked, Steve took us to a known smallmouth hang out and we landed and dandy smallie. But it’s NOT why we go to Beaver Island. I love smallies but Beaver is about giant CARP — on the flats.
In Beaver’s defense, my skills just aren’t where they need to be, yet. You have to be able to know EXACTLY where the fly is, many times in choppy, wind-driven, water by watching where the end of your fly line is. You have to be able to move the fly the right way — one big strip, and then little bumps. You have to be able to put the fly in front of the fish in the right way, at the right depth, at the right time. And I’m just not there yet, it also helps to be a MONSTER caster, which I’m not. So really, it was probably , for the most, what I like to call operator error — me.
The fishing really compares to what I’ve read about Permit fishing, and no I’ve never landed a Permit, or even seen one in the wild.
It’s difficult and that’s what keeps us going back. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Kevin suggested maybe I should take up Steelheading in Washington State, it might be easier 🙂
I’ll be posting a series of posts about other aspects our trip to “the rock” as the locals call it, here in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled.
Pinnacle: the most successful point; the culmination — highest level, peak, height, high point, top, capstone, apex, zenith, apogee — all phrases that I would use to describe how I felt after I FINALLY brought my first steelhead to hand swinging a fly on a two handed rod.
When I took my first swing it was an intuitive roll cast, just a casual flip towards a stump leaning over the water, a beautiful, slick, foam-line, seam trailing behind the place where the stump dove into the cold current. I swept the rod back up to my left shoulder and gave it another stiff flip again just in front of the stump. TUG! My line was swimming, fish-on, boom, second cast of the day, a COLORED up 4lb Buck. Granted, it’s NOT a Babine 40 pound freight train, I get that, but it IS success, none the less.
It was a crisp 20 degrees with out an ounce of breeze in the air. Northern Michigan was coated with a 17″ blanket of fresh snow, the first big dump of the year. I’d spent the last four days making turns on Crystal Mountain and teaching my seven year old how to make those turns just like his old man. We had an excellent christmas dinner, lamb roast at the Thislte Pub and Grille. We did a little snow shoeing as a family. But, the highlight of my trip at that point, was the color on this small buck that took my second flip of a two hander. A good start, but not the fight or the take I was expecting.
I was fishing with Steve Martinez of PereMarqutteGuide.com and indigoguideservice.com. I fished with Steve on Beaver Island this summer, a story covered by Jason Tucker on Midcurrent. Steve is one of the fishiest guys I know. I know some fishy people. I mean this in the best way possible, he puts you on the fish in the fishiest way possible.
Having never fished a two handed rod before I was little worried about my ability to present the fly in such a way that produces fish, but right there in the first 90 seconds, I had hooked up and landed my first steelie. I’d been chasing steelhead now for two years in Steelhead Alley and always come back empty. Two years sounds like a long time, but I hadn’t really put in THAT much time. The Alley is just far enough away to make it difficult for a day trip, which we do, but close enough that I’d been there plenty of times. I should have hooked up on one of those you’d think.
My most recent run up there can be found here — a good time, but was fishless for me. Dues paid I suppose.
Relieved by initial success on the Pere Marquette and grateful to just get the skunk off, I was worried that the rest of the day would be empty, and it was, for the most part.
We swung the fly through tons of likely looking water. We rowed through great looking holes but Steve assured me that fish didn’t hold there, and I believed him. I made cast after cast, twitch after twitch. Wiggle, wiggle wiggle, flip. flip, mend, drift, swing, wiggle, wiggle wiggle, hold, hold,hold, twitch. Repeat.
We had an awesome lunch of grilled t-bones and risotto — seriously, in the drift boat grilling t-bones, that’s pretty awesome.
Then, while I was immersed in a moment of complete banality, running my mouth in the front of the boat about some bullshit and finishing a swing through a good looking dark seam, an eight pound hen came out of the depths like a rocket sled and totally CRUSHED my fly.
Absolute destruction. She wanted it badly.
The fight was great. She had plenty of good runs in her and couple good breaches of the surface but no huge jumps or any sight of my backing. It was quick, heart pounding and as good as anything I’ve ever had on the rod.
She was perfect.
We fished out a few more likely runs and I landed a few more incidental resident brown teee-routs, but no more steel.
But really, who needs another one on a day like that. She was my first, and will live in my memory forever.
The lore built into swinging flies for steelhead is is thick and replete with what, until that point, I thought was slight hyperbole. But now I know first hand, the lore of a swung fly take, is NOT bullshit. It’s worth every minute even if it takes two years and $1000 dollars of gas — Fuckin-A — IT’s WORTH IT.
So it’s a slow week at the office this week. Thanksgiving and all, so I was puttering around on Google trends, like I like to do, and noticed a fairly depressing trend illustrated by the chart below.
It appears that there is a seriously downward sloping trend among outdoor activities. I suspect that this trend is mostly the fact that the internet’s long tail is getting longer and people already know where to find this information and as a result are not doing generic searches for terms like “fly fishing” or “backpacking.” But as a person with a respect for the sciences, I’m not offering that as actual causal relationship. I’m merely pointing out that the general public is is not searching for the stuff we like, as much as they used to.
Another interesting thing to note is that when it comes to fish species interest is largely flat if you remove the seasonal interest swings.
Notice there appears to be a slight decline in interest in steelhead, which anecdotally runs completely counter to everything I’ve seen on the ground in the fly fishing world. The term “bonefish” was clearly obscured by searches for “Bonefish Grill” so I left that out. In addition the term “trout” by itself, was WAY OFF-THE-CHART, so it was left out as well.
Another interesting group of terms I looked at was the various types of fly fishing we might do. Each seems to be fairly flat, with “dry fly fishing” clearly still being the number one searched for term among the group. Streamer fishing seems to the one that has grown the most in popularity recently, albeit only slightly. I’m sure most would agree that as a tactic it is, in fact, the one that has grown the most on the stream as well. Streamer fishing that used to be relegated to certain times of year is now acceptable all year long, on any day of the week, and in any conditions. At least it’s acceptable for those of us who don’t care about numbers but are looking for size, anyway.
And finally for comparison purposes I’ve done a trend query for mobile devices and trendy electronic gizzies to show what an up-trend should look like.
I think this just shows that the internet is getting mature and content in general is geting more targeted and specialized.
I think what this tells us is that we need to come up with some new stuff. New ways to fish, i.e. streamer fishing (ok it’s not new but you know what I mean) to get the general public excited about outdoors activities. I’m not sure what those new things are, but we need some new juice in there… anyone, anyone, anyone, Beuller?
I spent a little bit of time on the Grand River this weekend. In theory the conditions were supposed to be “favorable” for some epic fishing.
However, in reality the nice weather brought out the unwashed masses on Sunday and the tough conditions made Monday a little less than optimal.
For some reason, be it the sun or the fishing pressure on Sunday there wasn’t anything happening for ANYONE on the river. We shared a lot of boo-hoo sob stories with a lot of the people we ran into. Monday,even though it was national holiday, was devoid of the unwashed masses, but alas, also mostly devoid of fish. We ended up with only one Steelhead brought to hand over two days.
The fish in question was landed by Ron at 8:00 am on Monday morning.
Overall, that’s steelheading.
If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Pics are below.
I found an interesting story of a well traveled steelhead the other day, that supposedly swam from Wisconsin to the Rocky River in Cleveland. It’s available along with the Rocky River report from Cleveland Metroparks over here, but can be found excerpted below.
That got me thinking, maybe this steelhead is a ghost crew member from the Edmund Fitzgerald still trying to deliver it’s load? Or maybe it’s just got that steelhead wonderlust?
The Story of a Traveling Trout. This week Mark Fascione sent in a photo of a very stout steelhead his friend caught on the Rocky River and wanted to know what strain it could be. He thought it could possibly be the notoriously football shaped London strain, but they have not been stocked in Lake Erie for well over a decade. Normally it would be anybody’s guess short of genetic analysis, but in this case I noted a left pectoral fin clip (the fin closest to the head) on the fish in the photo. I should note that Michigan has stocked fish in their Huron River, a Lake Erie tributary, with a right pectoral fin clip, and it is not unusual for these fish to show up in our streams. Using this info, I checked the <Great Lakes Fishery Commission fish stocking database> which revealed that the only state having performed a left pectoral clip on rainbow trout/steelhead in recent years has been Wisconsin!
The strain of trout stocked by Wisconsin, the Arlee, are known to be stout fish. Upon contacting Wisconsin DNR about this, I received the following response from Senior Fisheries Biologist Steve Hogler: “It is certainly possible for this to be an Arlee rainbow trout. The clips are correct and based on the photo it appears to look very similar to other Arlee trout that I have seen. If it is an Arlee, this certainly is the most distant location we have had a return from. Thanks for the information.” His WDNR colleague Tom Burzynski further added “I took a look at the photo of the rainbow trout and would tend to agree with your conclusion that the fish is an Arlee-strain fish. The Arlees we see tend to be somewhat football-shaped, also. Looking back at the fin clip list, I’m thinking that it was stocked in 2008. Quite a journey for the fish, that’s for sure!” Is this proof this fish is from Wisconsin? Not conclusive, but it appears to be the most plausible theory given the evidence. Having the wettest year on record coupled with an unseasonally warm winter could very well have facilitated greater than normal migration of this fish. As many of you may recall, we had record numbers of stray Chinook salmon in the Rocky River this year, which I also feel is at least in part due to all the high water.
With this in mind, envision being a trout and beginning your journey in the Wisonsin waters of Lake Michigan and swimming north to the Straits of Mackinac. After travelling through that connection into Lake Huron, you then swim through that entire lake from its northern tip to its southern end to the St. Clair River. Spurred onward by the unseasonally warm temperatures and so much water, you then proceed to swim downstream through that river, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River system. Upon arriving in the western basin of Lake Erie you then head east and swim through a good third of Lake Erie to arrive at the Rocky River (see map below detailing this travel route). Steelhead have been described as “a rainbow trout with a wanderlust”, and it appears that this fish could potentially be a fairly extreme example of that. As a final note on the subject, our current Executive Director made the move from a Milwaukee, WI, area park distirct about a year ago to head Cleveland Metroparks. So, did this fish follow him from Wisconsin to Cleveland Metroparks? I can’t prove that last part by any means, but I will say we welcome all the Wisconsin runaway trout that want to come here!
Supporting Cleveland Metroparks’ Fishing Fund has never been easier! As a new offering for the convenience of donors, our Manager of Gift and Donor Development has made available a very user friendly way to donate to our Fishing Fund online. Check out the following link for more info or to make a donation to directly support our fisheries program: <Fishing Fund Donations Online>
While pitching my new SmithFly fly fishing gear to shops I’ve thought a lot about fly shops and their place in the world. I’ve talked to TONS of different shops over the past few months from big to little, corporate to mom and pop, from back laid back retired Texans to in your face hard core big city go getters.
There’s a lot of speculation about the role of fly shops in the fly fishing industry. There has been a lot written about the number that have closed over the last few years. There is a lot of speculation about the role of the internet, and direct sales, etc etc. I’m not going to go into any of that here, because one thing remains clear to me – destination fly shops are here to stay! By destination I mean those fly shops out there next to the good fishing and not in some population center, like a big city.
I know, I know, get out the news trucks, stop the presses, you heard it here first, breaking news, destination fly shops are here to stay, so what? Well sometimes I think we need to remind ourselves why things are the way they are and why they probably won’t change, for the most, maybe, sometimes, if we’re lucky.
5. Locals – Despite the lack of proximity to large population centers destination fly shops still have a good base of crazy locals who patronize them and will continue to do so. Like so many shark’s teeth a constant influx of fly fishing crazed junkies will always be there pay by the square inch for property in close proximity to the good stuff. That ain’t changing any time soon, they just don’t make good stream frontage like they used to.
4. Special Flies – No not flies that lick the windows on the school bus. Special like every river is different special, and while you may not buy your parachute adams at the local shop, you probably tie it yourself, you will buy 1/2 dozen of “whats working” that they only sell at that shop, and it’s probably tied locally too.
3. Guides – Guide Fees pay the bills at most destination shops, and that ain’t going change any time soon.
2. Mickey Mouse Ears – When people are in Disney land they want to buy Mickey Mouse ears. They could order them at home off the nifty omnipresent interwebs just as easily any day of the week. However, when infected with the fever of “It’s a small world after all” those ears seem like a necessity. Similarly when you are in fly fishing paradise with visions of fins, gils and kypes dancing in your head, new waders, vests, rods, reels, lines etc. seem necessary and infinitely usable/practical in that reality.The compulsion to buy something from a shop at that moment can be irresistible, or maybe bivisible, or Humpy even?
1. The FISH – As long as the fish are there, anglers will be there too. And anglers will need things, things like: advice, coffee, conversation, reassuring words, gear, gas, gut bombs, a place to crash, a lift, jumper cables, beer, firewood, bacon, beer, gas, beer, flies, gink, licenses, stamps, beer, flies, beer, and wader patch kits. So as long as we take care of the fish, which I think we are starting to do as well as ever, then destination fly shops have nothing to worry about.
PS – if you have a destination fly shop, you should become a SmithFly dealer, just saying.
I’m pretty sure we’ll never find any sea lice on Steelhead from Lake Erie. But the do in Kamchatka!
Check out the most excellent post over on the Big Pull Blog. Yeah man, good stuff there!