Fly Fishing you will see, or may be not see, many interesting creatures along and in the river. This curious flying bug is one of true entertainment.
The Phantom Crane Fly, a most unusual bug. It floats in awkward flight like a hover craft. It's large legs are all that is visible as its wings beat rapidly to maintain altitude. It appears like a black and white spider from Mars. What genetics made this bug develop these nonsensical extremities?
The Phantom Crane is about three inches across and has six large and long legs. Crane flies look like a large mosquito, but do not bite. The Phantom looks like he is 1/3 Crane Fly, 1/3 spider and 1/3 dragon fly. A bizarre bug at best. They like the rivers dark , damp cover. These last few years while fishing, I have seen more than ever. Some times 2 or 3 a day. Called the Phantom for his confusing contrasting colors of black and white, that tricks your eyes as you try to follow his erratic flight. He seems to vanish.
Very little is known about it and some research referred to it as vanishing or in decline. I believe that anyone studying entomology would not want to do his doctors thesis on the Phantom Crane fly. A full year studying this bug could lead to mental deterioration. So while fishing I guess identifying the Phantom Crane is all we can do. It is harmless, unusual, certainly entertaining. Not much else is known. However, I do believe they taste like lobster...try one...Wink-Wink!
Seams all things large and small like to fish. This is a large small fisher.
Big, bad and the ugly...the Fishing Spider is all that. Those traits get you left alone which is a good idea with this critter. Most spiders do not gather much attention when you see them in a corner of the garage, or on their web in a bush. The Fishing Spider is different. It is very big and will startle you. It is Michigan's largest Spider. It is a river dweller and can be seen while fly fishing. It sits on dead logs in the river flattening out to a size of almost four inches across. That's big, and you will agree when you see one. They are fast, can jump and will run across the waters surface. They are however shy. The problem is as you navigate the river, often you will put your hands on a log to get leverage as you step over it. I have learned that when in the outdoors "look before you leap". That is to say, never put your hand down until you visually clear the area. This holds true for ants, snakes, poison Ivy and spiders.
Spiders are poisonous, that's the nature of their hunting tactics. A debilitating bite to their victims. The Fishing Spiders bite is not dangerous to man. It is similar to a mild bee sting. This spider will try to avoid you at all cost. To get bit you will have to trap one in your clothing next to bare skin or put your hand on one which isn't likely to happen. The Fishing Spider has the mating habits similar to the Preying Mantis. The male comes bearing gifts of food, if the female is not happy with the offering then to death do you part literally is true.
All in all they are a wonder of nature and beneficial for the environment. They feed on many things, bugs and their larva, all the way up to tadpoles and small fish. Most humans fear spiders, and for good reasons. They are creepy, poisonous, hairy, sneaky...need I go on? Most naturalist will tell you if you have one in the house, maneuver him into a box and then let him go out side. Yeah right, they are so fast that if in your pursuit he escapes capture you can chalk that night up as sleepless, at least for me. My approach is to hold the Louisville Slugger with both hands and swing through.
Just joking...sort of!
Poison Ivy lines a lot of areas around our rivers here in the north. Watch for it as you get into or out of a river from its banks. It's the kind of lasting experience you don't want to have.
Have you ever had a bad relationship...with Poison Ivy ? This irritating plant can ruin a summer. When I look down and realize I am standing in a Poison Ivy patch, I freeze. My mind races as I ponder my next move. Fortunately waders are the best deterrent. Hands held high, I slip into the river and submerge the parts of my waders that had contact.
Getting in and out of the river is your most vulnerable time. Sliding in you put your hands down on the river bank...getting out you grab a hand full of foliage...look first! This is the time of the year when you are exposed to the possiblity of grabing a handful and it is hard to get rid of of that rash and itch. Hot and humid weather makes it almost impossible to beat that rash. If exposed to bare skin, rinse off those affected areas and visit a church on the way home!
Spending time along the river in remote areas you must always be conscious of the environment. Bees, Deer flies, Mosquitoes, Black flies and Poison Ivy can be more of a problem than a bear. Your knowledge of Mother Nature, simple alertness and preparation, will give you a fruitful outing. You are here to fish...not itch.
The northern Michigan Brown Trout is one of the biggest in the world. Our area is ground zero for them. The Great Lakes, Huron & Michigan, along with the inland waterway lakes of Crooked, Burt and Mullet, harbor Browns in large size and numbers. This large Brown Trout has genetically changed into a difficult fish to out wit. Your best chance to catch one is to know it's weakness and that is the Hexagenia Limbata. To understand this giant Michigan mayfly is key to your success.
The Hex hatches are mid June to the beginning of July...sort of! The hatch depends on temperature the specifics are the guessing game but the time of year is well known. Hook size for the fly is a 6 to 8 Hex Merger, Para, Dun, Spinner; all are overlapping stages of the Hex. When most people are having a barbecue and cocktails this monster from the deep, the truly big Brown, slips into the shallows of the lakes and rivers and even small creeks to feed recklessly on the Hex. Browns will travel long distances to enjoy this banquet of Hex. They take the Hex in a slurping or smudging maneuver. The bulging water is the big Brown's betrayal. To witness this once a year event takes time, dedication, and immense knowledge...akin to a Masters Degree in Brown Trout. The commitment to fly fish for these large Browns is like a marriage and having an understanding spouse (if you are married) is part of the equation.
My lesson came from an old Brown Trout fly fisherman. His call would come on a June afternoon,"what are you doing tonight ". That question from my friend took years and years of experience hunting the big Brown. So when the call came, like a Navy Seal, it was a call to duty for me. No exceptions, get the equipment ready. That night I watched as he positioned us in the right place, at the right time, and with the right sky's reflection (having moon light is a big plus), getting ready to put the big Browns in his sights. It is the work of a Master. Waiting, waiting, waiting, then timing, correct fly and cast the last maneuver. In the dark, with only last lights reflection on the water to gauge your delivery, sound means everything...then...that sucking noise, your notice to set the hook. Now the fight begins. It is a fight of long runs, directing your fly rod to make the trout change directions, sustaining this dance in an effort to sap his energy. Tiring this big Brown, changing the advantage to you, is your only chance to land this monster. Knowing how much pressure to put on the line to confuse the Brown and change his direction before he spools you is again a whole different talent.
Many hatch fishermen (those who follow and wait with great antisapation for the Hex hatch) will flock to rivers like the Jordan, here in northern Michigan, known for its big Browns. In these mad rushes of fly fishing anglers finding a secluded spot with access to a river Hex hatch requires a plan well thought out.
The Hexagenia Limbata is a limited, unreliable, window of opportunity. Not every night is the same or productive. You have to predict the air and water temperature, wind, available light and hatch periods. Even so it is still a gamble for success. A thirty inch, 15 pound Brown, is the reward and landing one on a dry fly, in the dark, is a accomplishment like no other in the sport of fly fishing.
Excerpts from a Nerdy, Ole Fly-Fisherman...Richard
Anyone who has raised small children knows just how bad they perform with danger all around. You have to hold their hand or they will run right off a cliff. The whitetail doe is faced with the same problem. Common sense is not an instinct, it is learned. Several times this week while traveling to and from the river, I had to try to figure out what a fawn was going to do. I watched a panic stricken doe try to maneuver her fawn to safety. Roads are a big problem. When a deer runs in front of your car, her speed is a tell tale sign. If the doe is not swift or she lingers, a fawn is trailing her. The fawn is oblivious to your car. It is only watching mom not the 2000 pounds of steel speeding down the road. Fawns are only 4 weeks old this time of year and can't run more than 10 MPH.
In a fawn's early stage of life, its mother will cross a road, the fawn will often freeze in the woods and the doe will cross back again in front of your car. Later in this season the doe will just assume the fawn has learned to cross roads and she will wait on the opposite side. As your approaching car gets louder the fawn will panic and cross at the last second right in front of you. It is a difficult scenario and the best option is to give them the brakes. Hitting a fawn is probably one of the most disturbing things you can experience in the wild. June and July are the most dangerous for the fawn, by August they usually get it right.
Example; I drove around a corner on a logging trail right behind a doe and fawn traveling in the same direction. The doe whirled around to alert the fawn. The fawn sensing the presence of danger chose to return on the same path from which it came...right towards my car. The fawn ran to the front of my vehicle and stopped. The little guy was confused as to what this large piece of steel, smelling of gas and oil, was doing in it's path of retreat. As we all sat there for what seemed like an eternity, doe looking at her fawn between us, the fawn looking at the car, and me parked in the middle of the road. It took time, but the fawn finally realized the car was the danger! It wheeled around 180 degrees and ran towards its mother and followed her into the forest. It was a happy ending for this fawn's first car confrontation.
The doe will move the fawn each day to a new area before she grazes near by, crossing roads along the way. This survival technique is to relocate to a fresh, scentless area. It is at this time the new born is on the learning curve. It won't be long before the fawn's innocence will turn to a well honed allusiveness.
It's that time of year when mother deer hide their babies by the river bank.
If you are lucky enough to be on the river this time of the year....you will see many species with their young. The White Tail fawn is one of them. Fawns are generally born mid May to June. They often are left on the side of rivers by their mothers. This gives them 180 degree protection on the river side, cutting danger in half. Predators do not like to cross rivers. They consider them territorial boundaries and if they do cross they make noise crossing and loose their advantage of sight , sound and smell when they arrive on the far bank. Crossing a river makes the predator vulnerable.
Fawns give off no sent. They will not move unless you step on them or look directly at them. Fawns do have instincts for danger, but learn what animals are dangerous to them as they watch their mothers. At this time of the year you might have one run right up to you. The fawn thinks you are it's mom and meal time is at hand. It is best for all concerned to scare it away by yelling and waving your arms. Fear of man is beneficial come November 15, hunting season. Do not follow the fawn as you may drive them to far from their mother, but move away and always keep fishing.
Wolves, bears, coyotes and even foxes will prey on fawns. The fawn's best chance is to remain still, not move...one square foot is all it needs for about 2 weeks. Remember, the fawn isn't lost or abandoned...the doe is near by with her sent as a decoy...similar to a bird's " Broken Wing " technique.
Baddest animal in the whole damn woods, badder then old King Kong, meaner than a junk yard dog. That's the Badger. While fishing the Maple River, I had a face to face meeting with a knuckle-head Badger. It had all the makings of a Keystone Cop flick. I chased him...He chased me. With his nose curled up and barring his teeth, I rethought my position and fled.
The badger is a member of the weasel family. This puts it among the most aggressive hunters and fighters in the forest. They seam to fear nothing and size doesn't matter. They will fight anything from a bear to a wolf over food. They are known to take over a large kill like an elk, they dig a den right under the carcass and defend it against all comers. The badgers short legs keeps him from getting into deep trouble as wolves and coyotes will out maneuver the badger while feeding on a kill. His low to the ground defense gives him an advantage and his thick hide and fur act as armor.
The badger is 15-20 pounds. His northern range is the great plains to above the Canadian border slightly over lapping the Wolverines southern territory. The Wolverine and Badger are related, both are vicious, the Wolverine, larger with longer legs will range over a 100 square miles, while the short legged Badger stays within a 100 acre area. The badger is nocturnal making him hard to locate. However traveling through rural farm lands his work can be seen on the side of the road as he digs in the sand for ground squirrels and woodchucks or ground hogs. The badger has gained much respect, Wisconsin is known as the Badger State, at the University Of Wisconsin he is their mascot. In Washington DC, a badger named Josiah once live in the White House, guest of our most well known Naturalist President, Teddy Roosevelt. The President enjoyed watching the Badger bite the heals of his distinguished visiting dignitaries.
One personal note, I exchanged badger stories with a MiDNR officer, his take was...if he is called to a location in which an animal is a nuisance and realizes it is a badger he gets right back in his truck and tells the people "get a professional pest controller", I agree!
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...well OK fine, just try to be the holder of this snake. Can you say Ophidophobia, I can. This snake is an obnoxious river dweller and slithers thought weeds and rocks along Michigan's waterways. It eats most things living in the water, small birds, fish, frogs, crayfish among other things. It is very bold and a real fighter. It is big and can reach over Four feet long and four inches in circumference. The water snake can resemble a Rattle snake, Cotton Mouth, or Water Moccasin, yet unlike these poisonous snakes he is supposed to be harmless. Their coloration and pattern can be the like the Diamond Back Rattle snake or very dark like the Cotton Mouth. The upside is, here in Northern Michigan we have no poisonous snakes...so if you see that distinct pattern it is a Northern Water Snake.
They are not rare, but they are sneaky. The best chance of seeing one is to catch it sunning itself on warm rocks along the river. I usually have to do a double take before I realize it is a snake, and he is looking right at me. If it senses you or you make a move toward it, the snake will make a move way from you. If you close the distance moving after him, it will turn and fight. Snap and lunge at you repeatedly. They can go subsurface in the water adding to their elusiveness. I have found, standing still and slapping the water with my rod will make him move away. Northern Michigan's species is generally darker unless it has just molted or shed his skin. It has been my observation, for you snake lovers, this species does not make a good pet!
My favorite Water Snake Story...a Father and Son were fishing in a small lake here in Northern Michigan. At the end of the trip they pulled their small aluminum boat ashore and began to unload it. When they pulled up the stringer of Blue Gill a Water snake was attached to one of the fish. When the snake refused to let go a confrontation as to who was the true owner of the fish ensued. The Son told me he watched as his Father and the snake fought it out...it was nip & tuck for a while but the Father won the fight...barely !
The most disrupting factor in nature is us....man, but sometimes nature will adjust and create a species that will mutate or evolve to stay ahead of us. The coyote is one of these creatures. It has changed in many different ways these past 50 years. Bigger, smarter and fearless, he hunts in many different ways. As a loner, a breeding pair and now as a pack when productive for food. He eats everything. The new coyote understands his prey and understands it's enemies...man. The farmers in this area had him eradicated in the late fifties. Now he's back, stronger and smarter than ever.
In 1955 a draft beer was 5 cents, cigarettes 19 cents a pack and gas was about 18 cents a gallon. The Michigan bounty on the coyote was
$15.00 to $25.00 based on sex and you could get market price for the fur. Do the math, around $600.00 in today's economy. The farmers considered them a threat to the live stock on the farm and with the bounty it wasn't long before their howls at night fell silent. That bounty was removed in the 1960's. The open season remained on the coyote with the stipulation, "When doing or about to do damage", that meant anytime; night or day. Today some hunting camps and farmers hire hunters or put bounties on the coyote when their numbers become a problem.
Facts are, no matter what your politics on the subject, the coyote is dangerous and he is beginning to get more aggressive with his new genetics...coyote/wolf. With the wolf gone, the coyote was hunted out of Michigan. The western coyote (20 pounds) restocked the northern Great Lakes area via the northern Canadian route breeding with the wolf. This coywolf (40 pounds) returned to the Michigan area. Smart, big, bold with no human interest in his fur and no bounty his numbers exploded. It has for the first time attacked and killed humans in just the last few years. Researchers are struggling to gain knowledge and behavior on this new animal. No one knows his aggressive and boldness levels. The coywolf is not to be trusted.
Now what? I wish every visitor from the city on the M-119 fall color tour could witness a predator in the wild but at what price. Nothing is holding him in check. Controlled hunting is the answer for now. I have witnessed Coyotes hunting full grown whitetails and it is not pretty. The coyotes will stay on the deer all night biting its haunches until it collapses. Fawns are an easy mark. Rabbits, grouse, squirrels, mice, pets and now reports of small children being attacked. This Coywolf is not your fathers coyote. This new strain of coyote-wolf is larger on the edges of wolf territory and seems to get smaller as it moves out of the wolf range south. Northern Michigan is a candidate for the larger more wolf like hybrid.
Emmet county has more than a balanced population. Northern Emmet county residents have been hunting it for sport and are taking large numbers. A picture hanging on the wall at the Moose Jaw restaurant shows a hunter with 38 coyotes on his hay wagon, taken in the month of March a few years ago. It is hard to condone that he took so many, yet harder to believe there were that many on his farm! Nature is not forgiving and has some pretty harsh ways to balance out the fauna. Disease, starvation, man, to name a few. The return of predators ...wolves, cougars , bears and now coywolves need to be understood and respected as we share the great north woods with them. They are not the Pink Panther, Smokey the Bear or Wiley Coyote you see in cartoons. They will kill you in a heart beat if hungery and the opportunity was right. Fear and mutual respect is the best you can hope for with them, how we attain that is the question.
Sweet Is The Lore That Nature Brings