It was a beautiful evening, calm, clear, warm and my group was a mother, Jackie, and her daughter, Emily. I have had this type of clientele before, but these two women were different. I believe Emily had found her grandfather's fly fishing equipment and was interested in trying it out. This had created an insurgence of emotion for Mom and thus my story begins.
Otis Hardy a free lance sports writer for daily newspapers and his oldest daughter Jackie had a bond born out of fly fishing adventures. This is a beautiful area not easily forgotten especially for Jackie of Evanston, Illinois. Looking back to her fly fishing days with her late father, Jackie was moved to find those rivers and streams they fished together so long ago. Her memories where vivid of two track roads to late night mayfly hatches on the Maple River. But where were those special places her father took her too?
Jackie had returned to the north with her oldest daughter, Emily, who had heard stories of those fishing days from Mom. Emily wanted to try the long forgotten fly rods her grandfather had so cherished. Mr. Hardy gave no leeway to Jackie just because she was a girl (he had no sons) and she had faced some tough challenges. She would have to fish with her Dad under very trying circumstances. Learn fast and keep up during dark night hatches on the river.
Walloon Lake, the Jordan River, the Sturgeon River and my forte the Maple River...Jackie's questions after almost a half century came fast, where did he take me when we fished near an old power dam? Where were we on the Maple River that was filled with logs and flowed out of a small lake? I answered each question while instructing her daughter Emily on the basics of small river fly fishing. Jackie was no stranger to the a fly rod. Her daughter, only thirteen, was a novice with a high desire to learn.
The mother / daughter team were eager. These ladies were game. They fished hard deep into the dark of the night. They took charge of their equipment, tying on flies, landing fish, all the while refusing help. There was no quit in these two. As the pieces of long ago fishing excursions fell into place for Mom, Emily's abilities to command the fly rod began to take hold. Smooth over head cast, mend the line, she seamed to be drawing on some hidden talent, or just maybe the spirit that was her grandfather's love of fly fishing in northern Michigan.
Some of my most exciting times on the river are not always good fishing days. Catching trout is so fun, but watching nature unfold is priceless. My old friend John and I had one such night this 4th of July weekend. Our lives crossed paths for the first time in 1961 at De Lasalle High in Detroit. After a 35 year hiatus in 1996 we met again on the river. He had spent a life as a cardiologist in Detroit, I as a hunter and fisherman in northern Michigan. Now however, it was time for fly fishing.
We both enjoy late afternoons chasing Brook Trout, but like children, you don't know when to quit and sometimes linger to long on a river into the dark of the night. We caught about a dozen trout, and missed a few whoppers. The dark was settling in, but with the infamous statement, "One More hole", we crossed over a beaver dam into a long deep stretch of calm water.
Reading X-rays is his job, reading water is my job. The river had begun to turn silver, it reflected the bright sky as the night began to fall. An unusual surface feeding was taking place, not the slash or porpoise feed of the Brook Trout, but the smudging and slurps of the Brown Trout. Why, I thought, are these Browns feeding in numbers? Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a giant spent Mayfly floating by. It had a 3 inch wing span. It was big as a butterfly. "John", I said, it's a Hexagenia Limbata spinner fall.
We were ill prepared, no light and two senior citizens that can't tie a fly on in the fading light of the day. I had on a Royal Trude which was the wrong fly. John had a mayfly, brown body, white para, size 12. It would be on the smaller edge of the hex profile but it might work. He cast it out a mere 20 feet. The Brown came from the undercut bank and took the fly. Like the experienced Brook Trout fisherman he is , he immediately set the hook. The line went taut, the rod bent 45 degrees...suddenly the fly, like something on a stretched out rubber band, came shooting at us. The fly flew over our head into the brush.
A quick scramble to re-lock and load. John cast again, "Slurp", he's on again! The Brown Trout held his position, we held ours. Dang...again the fly shot back over our heads into the trees. This time when we retrieved the fly. It looked like someone's spaghetti dinner. It was a knotted mess. With my steamed up glasses, I was no help. He gave it a try struggling with the knots while I watched several Browns feeding on hexes. In his frustration to re-tie, he was laughing and swearing, something he learned from me. We were out of business. It was too dark. The 30 yards of thick, pitch black undergrowth along the river would have to be traversed to reach the two-track road out to our car. Down on our hands and knees, fumbling in the dark, I turned and whispered to him, "next time we should hire a good guide ".
Laugh and swear, it was a fun night.
Rain can be an advantage for us fly fishing lovers...to a point. Rain changes the river temperatures creating quick hatches and surprise trout feeding. However...
Crac-c-k...Bo-o-om...Lightning is never to our advantage. Here in northern Michigan we are in a lightning alert. If you are fly fishing, water is dangerous during these electrical storms. If you are in the river during a storm, certainly get out of the river. In case of a thunderstorm, a cardinal rule called the 30/30 rule needs to be put into play at once. If the time between the lightning flash and its resulting thunder is 30 seconds or less (indicating that the thunderstorm is six miles or less away) safety measures should be instituted immediately as lightning strikes are a possibility. Resumption of activities should not take place until 30 minutes after the last flash. This is because the trailing storm clouds may still carry enough lingering charge to create lightning. Studies of lightning strikes show that most people are struck at the beginning and end of a storm. If you are in a river during a storm, certainly got out of the water. Stay in low, dry cover and have your rain slicker with you. The main safety action for a group of fishermen caught out in a thunderstorm is to put down the rods and then separate by as much distance as possible. This minimizes the chance that all of the individuals will be struck.
I don't endorse the danger involved...but I have taken the risk and had success. Still be careful. My experience is that fish don't feed during the rain, but if no fog is rising directly after the storm, you could be successful with feeding trout. Be professional, someone in your life might love and need you. Visiting the great North with little time to select a perfect day or time, you don't have much of a choice if the weather is quite right. We Northerners do welcome you and hope you can enjoy what we experience every day.
Summer is here and the weather is creating warm water. The 50 F river temperatures should be over until late August, the big hatches are happening in the evening hours. There are so-o-o many fishing opportunities to take advantage of, so many flies to adjust to. This is a time of year when your ability to calculate hatches versus trout behavior is on the line. Enjoy the challenges, but stay smart. It is a thinking persons sport, so don't take a reckless chance. As your fly fishing buddy, don't make me look dumb. See you on the river...Alive!
Sweet Is The Lore That Nature Brings