I don't know what it is about the thrill of a rainbow or why,"My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky". My Celtic Mother told that Irish fable of the pot of gold at its end of...I never bought into it. However the warm passing thunderstorm (that didn't drop enough precipitation to flood the river) and it's colorful rainbow would send me scurrying for my fly rod. It is a great opportunity to take advantage of the post storm feeding trout. The storm passes leaving a humid silence that evidently the trout and I enjoy.
A dead quiet falls on the river. The river is almost asleep. The forest wetness and silent aura is surreal. It is a stillness rarely experienced. At the storms end, nature slowly opens its eyes, like a child peeping around a corner at the Christmas tree on that morning. Birds and animals slowly awaken from the protective cover they sought out during the thunder storm. The woodland birds songs become very audible. The river is so different from its regular behavior. Everything is fresh, clean and like new. The Maple river forest smells so good. Trout become very active and surface feed in such numbers it is hard to believe. The flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder in the distance gives you an eery feeling that feeds the imagination.
Why is it the trout become so active? Is it the fact that the river wasn't blown out with rain so in relief they vigorously feed? The heavy humid air plays tricks on your ears. Sounds of trout slashes are amplified. The introduction of warm water to the river triggers hatches as well as terrestrial activity. The secret is to find a flat, slow flowing part of the river that settles out the stream.
Rain in the spring is very important to the trout, it builds up ground water. The streams are fed by it for months. That ground water is approximately 48F-52 F which gives the trout the ability to survive the hot droughts of late July and August. Rather than curse the rain, work around it. The trout have to feed and you have to adjust. So remember a 30 minute thunder burst is a great opportunity to enjoy a solitary fish on the river with a different perspective of nature.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The child is the father of the man;
And I should wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety .
Wm. Wordsworth ( Written in 1807 )
Traveling to fishing spots on the river, oft I cut through meadows. Remnants of old farms in the form of foundations rise above the meadows low spring growth. Silos, house, granary made of inert materials of stone and mortar mark it's past lay out. The structures are lone gone, but flowers like the Daffodils grow around the main homes old ruins.
I can only imagine how the hearty spring flower, that was a hybrid shipped from Holland, arrived in the forest. It must have been a gift of the farmer to his wife purchased on a trip to the towns farm supply. It's early season bloom was very welcomed after a hard pent up winter they must have endured.
It's colorful presence on the cotton table cloth started the men to the fields at dawn in the early planting season of spring.
Daffodils are not native to north America, but are a bulb similar to the tulip. It's hardy ability to survive the cold in the short growing season of the north made it a favorite of pioneers.
The following, by William Wordsworth, is a well known poem from a collection of the English Masters during the Romantic Period of the early 1800s.
I Wander Lonely As A Cloud,
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of Golden Daffodils;
Beside the lake beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze,
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch in never ending line
Along the margin of the bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
For oft when I am on my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude ;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
It is smelt season , and the fishery has had it's ups and downs since it first came to the Great Lakes around 1912.
My father and his friends traveled from Detroit in 1958 to his cabin north of Cross Village an 8 1/2 Hour trip in those days. They would have arrived late Friday night. The group slept to about noon on Saturday to recover. Once up, it was overcast & cool on that early May day, they proceeded to the small stream next to the cabin. In about 2 hours they would take around 300 pounds of smelt. It was my Fathers only outdoor adventure, ever. Years later when I began to smelt dip with my high school friends, without his success, I wondered if it could have been true. Then remembering his 8mm movie of the outing, which I had watched several times, I couldn't believe how things had changed.
Those were the hay days of smelt. Then during the 60's and 70's the decline of the smelt had me dip for them less and less. Staying up all night with several friends for a quart of smelt wasn't that productive. By the 80's, Lake Michigan fisheries had been in decline for 20 years to the point were I don't think there was a fish left in the lake. Commercial fisheries from Chicago and the invasion of the lamprey eel wiped them out. Then came the alewife. With the large predatory fish gone the alewife (which had gained entrance to the great Lakes around Niagara Falls through the Welland canal) exploded and took hold in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. I believe the alewife being a little longer and 3 times wider affected the smelt population as they share the same food source and niche in the food chain. The alewife won out, at least for awhile. Then it happened the great alewife die off. Alewives by the millions washed up on beaches and clogged marinas around 1980. The shoreline high water mark was lined by dead alewives a foot thick and 4 feet wide. Marinas got it a bit worse, the dead fish would clog the basin with no shore line and rotted in the water around the boats.
Petoskey spent that summer with the smell of decaying fish permeating the entire town. The Great Lakes were a disaster. No smelt, steelhead, lake trout, white fish...nothing. During that period, approximately 1960 to mid 1980's, the Great Lakes had few if any game fish. Then MiDNR began a recovery program. They started with the coho salmon a large hook jaw, spawning red colored fish and it's population took off. Michigan anglers, who had relied on inland fishing, headed to the first big runs of coho salmon at Frankfort on Lake Michigan. With their 15 foot aluminum boats and 5 horsepower outboard motors they would be ill-prepared for the big waters of Lake Michigan and her fall storms. The fishermen frenzied for the big game fish was on. They were referred to as the "fishing fleet" off Frankfort. In the fall, during the time of this run, the Great Lakes has a gale storm season. It happens when a cold Canadian blast of air hits the warming great lakes area. And it happened, wiping out the "fishing fleet", as many as 300 boats washed ashore and the rescue operations were overwhelming.
All of this activity had an affect on the smelt population as it tried to make some kind of come back. With more funds the MiDNR began to experiment with planting different species. They introduced the King Salmon (Chinook), stocked brook trout, Rainbow and Brown trout. The Great Lakes fisheries began to grow and balance the overall fish populations. The smelt have had mild ups and downs related to game fish numbers. A good guess would be, the more game fish the less smelt.
Today the MiDNR is working diligently to protect the balance in the Great Lakes but man still creates problems to the fishery; zebra mussels, asian carp, warming temperatures to name a few. I do know one thing...I have caught more fish these last 10 years than the prior 40 years added together. As for the smelt, they still populate the waters and have their spring run but we will likely never see mass populations, as in the 50's, of them again.
The Cougar is very close related to the Bobcat, they stalk very low to the ground, are deadly quit, pounce from behind, and aware of all about them. There are probably a thousand Bobcats for every Cougar in Michigan, who knows? So if you never see a bobcat, what are the odds of seeing a Cougar. You will never see one, they are very secretive, but if you do...you will never forget it. Can you imagine! Looking at this picture of a U.P.Michigan Cougar in stalking posture, head slung low, will give anyone goose bumps. The Cougar or Puma or Mountain Lion is an ambush predator.
Ambush predator...a technique Michigan Sportsmen are not familiar with. The only time I have been attacked was by a Badger. Thanks to his very short legs I could outdistance him in my waders, running backwards. The ambush was my fault. While fly fishing I unknowingly passed to close to his den.
Cougars will pounce when you least expect it. That's the plan, all on their terms. He goes for the neck or head from behind. The puma weights between 90-120 pounds as a full grown adult. If ever attacked fight with everything you have , you can get away. A Cougar that feels he has lost the ambush advantage will retreat. If you have eye contact before an attack, the odds are in your favor. Yell, use a club, or bark like a dog..they fear dogs. Never turn your back and run. If with children, grab and hold them so they don't run and trigger an attack. I have seen crows attack and chase off eagles, raccoons chase coyotes, big predators rarely stand and fight. (It works on bullies at the playground as well.) The exception is a mother and babies. Back up fast keeping eye contact.
My Sister from Spearfish, South Dakota, lives in a canyon near the town and cougars are a problem. This time of the year last seasons young are on their own seeking new territories. They slink into town in search of food in the form of family pets. It is one of the few places I know we're a hand gun is carried when you walk the dog! Like always, old rogue cougars don't follow the rules and are bold and unpredictable. They might just walk right at you. Fight them. Cougars eat meat, anything they can Catch.
My favorite mountain lion story...in a park near the edge of town a wedding reception was in full swing. The wedding party lined up for a photo shoot. Later when the pictures were being blown up for framing ...they noticed in a photo, a Cougar in the tree behind them watching!
Ever see one ? They are all over northern Michigan in large numbers. The problem is they don't want you to see them and they are good at that. The Bobcat ( Lynx rufus ) is fast, secretive and is very aware of you presence. My experience with them is they slink low to the ground, freeze and wait for your move. If they sense detection they slip away and flee the area. A domestic cat uses the same stealth. The Bobcat however has a coloration that is a very natural camouflage and he weights about 30 pounds. They enjoy the winter as much as the Wolverine. The Lynx is slightly larger with tuffs of fur on his ears and larger feet for snow support. The lynx ranges further north into Canada. Basically they are identical.
The key to seeing one is identification. You might have crossed paths with one but did not now it. They hunt the riversides and will hold tight and let you pass hiding under logs , brush or up in the trees. Their tail is the identifying factor. All predators in Northern Michigan have long tails. Bobcats are the only short tail animal in this category, thus their name , Bob Tail Cat. The best chance to locate one is during March, their breeding season. Late at night the screeching they make during mating is an eery sound that is unnerving . It is like someone torchuring a domestic cat their nearest relative. They have the most beautiful fur cherished by Russia who buys most of North America's Bobcat and Lynx pelts.
I have seen them along the Maple river. I had one pop his head up, we both froze, staring at each other at about 30 yards, then the cat slowly lowered it's head beneath the cover of the rivers edge, never to be seen again....yes they are that good at stealth. As predators they are even better. They travel their territory as lone hunters. They hunt everything from deer to mice...Geese to Coots even fish ! They are an ambush predator, so sneaky that I see more bears than Bobcats. With all due respect to the Dr Zhivago fur coats....the fur does look better on the animal !
Photo by JER
So I didn't catch anything on the trout opener. The weather was warm & comfortable. The Pigeon River was high but fishable. The Steelhead were observable. It was fun watching two Rainbow trout working a redd. They moved back and forth slapping the gravel bottom preparing it for their spring rights. The new season is here. Although the woods are just recovering from last weeks snow and the forest floor is a bit drab to say the least. The trees and shrubs are struggling to start their buds and their leaves are only weeks away. But Mother Nature knows how anxious I can be. So she gave me this preview of what spring is all about...A lone Crocus.
Walking along the bank on my trip to the car this hearty fellow beamed proudly from the forest floor. It shown as bright as the lighted bill board at Times Square. A luminous purple with a bright yellow stamen. I starred at it, fighting off my younger day instincts to pick it. My knowledge today tells me...pick it and it will die. Leave it to seed and it will be there next year. The Crocus is a flower that can grow in the snow and is ready to bloom on the rays of the sun. It will open as the day warms absorbing the suns energy and close as the day fades.
That's the same thing I do!
The crocus has a legend, it is called " The First Valentine " The tale goes ...Valentine, a religious man, was sentenced to death for his beliefs by Roman Emperor Claudius II in 270 AD. Valentine in his last gesture gave a note to a blind girl, when she opened it a Crocus burst forward and her sight was restored...the note read "From Your Valentine".
Sweet Is The Lore That Nature Brings