Mary Francis my sweet Irish mother used to say "quit tooting your horn" a reference to bragging. With all due respect...I have had sixty fish afternoons, the hard part was counting that high! Any man who has conquered his cast, knows his river in regards to trout holds, fly selection, and time of year, can in northern Michigan catch more trout than anywhere in North America. That is why Michigan is the #1 trout capital of this great country. Discussion closed.
Reaching that plateau of expertise is the challenge we all strive for. The last step of this fly fishing doctorate is so hard to reach due to the fact that the few fly fishing experts are old and reluctant to tell their secrets. Their thesis is many years on the water, watching, waiting...capturing experiences of a life time of casting the fly.
To those of you who wish to become a part of this fraternity, push on. Keep the faith. Never quit. This art takes more time than becoming a brain surgeon. The up side is your class room is in the rivers and streams of the rolling countryside. One might say I never cut a class, all spare time is spent in my waders gaining experience in the "Man versus Nature" scenario.
I often think back to those days fifty years ago, how naive I was. However, learning was so much fun. Decades of quiet days on the river will never be forgotten. Today as I watch my sons continue on, I pass the baton with great pride. Old legs, bad knees, do slow me down but the love gets stronger. My memories are vivid. Dreaming of the ones that got away still put me to sleep on cold winter nights here in northern Michigan.
I have fishing aquatinances who have an immense amount of knowledge they will not share. Valuable knowledge that will be lost with their passing. I consider that a form of greed. So I adhere to my Mother, Sweet Mary's advice;
"You can only take with you the things you give away."
But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams
under your feet; tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats 1865-1939...Irish Poet
Petoskey is an Odawa name with more translations than you can imagine, I recognize the oral Odawa Translation of "Land Of The Rising Sun". Not in the sense of a daily sunrise, but rather a seasonal one. Summer is the time of the highest rise of the sun in the sky and that's why many traveled to this area. Warm weather breaks the arctic like grip winter has on the north leaving a clean and pure Michigan. The Many inland lakes and streams in Michigan are surrounded by the largest fresh water system in the world, the Great Lakes. It is truly a fishing paradise.
Century's ago as the sun rose to its summer high and the snow and ice retreated native Americans began their migration north to fish the Great Lakes and their tributaries. Spring spawning started with the Grayling and ended the season with Brook Trout. Many native species such as suckers, White fish, Cisco, Sturgeon were also spawning. As the summer season turned to fall the tribes would meet in mid August to begin their trek back south. They called it a pow wow and to this day they continue that tradition at the tribal head quarters on Pleasantview Road near Harbor Springs.
Today we do the same thing. We follow the sun. Michigan's trout season opens the last weekend in April and closes October 1st. Many new species have been introduced. The Rainbow Trout has replaced the Grayling as a spring spawning fish. The Brown Trout also introduced to this area spawns in the fall. Summer is a time of new life and all of nature is active and vulnerable. The three tribes, Odawa, Chippewa and Ojibwa still fish the way of their ancestral people. It is a stipulation they made under contract when they sold this land to the United States... smart. We however have many restrictions and techniques for fishing; chuck & duck, spinners, bait, and of course fly fishing. Each technique has its seasonal success. All types of delivery are based on throwing a weighted lure with your line following.
Fly fishing is the only system were you cast the line and the lure follows. The fact that the fly is near weightless makes fly fishing a real science. Northern Michigan is known for flying bugs.
If you live in rural northern Michigan, leave your outside light on and you will see thousands of bug species appear out of no where. The bug season starts as the temperature rises above freezing and continues until the freezes of late fall. Spring is a difficult time for the fly fishing anglers as the rivers are inundated with run off water which fill the streams with worms and other food sources. When our rivers settle down in late spring the trout begin to look to the surface for bug hatches.
Michigan's many streams are filled with logs and snags that make the dry fly floating on the waters surface a perfect approach. Casting to a surface feeding fish is a visual experience that the fly fishing enthusiast enjoys.
Challenges are tough on opening day trout season, but welcomed after a long winter in the Ole Cabin.
The latest news appearing in the papers is addressing the Coywolf. It is very interesting research by the MiDNR.
My interest is limited to field identification. The MiDNR is applying mitochondrial and other DNA procedures. Morphology and ecology with the DNA research is a complicated task. My research is; they are big, furry and they bite. I do know one thing after they all but disappeared in the 1960's, when they returned in the 1990's the coyote was bigger and hunted in packs. Their howls went from tenor to baritone. I watched during the 1990's as they congregated on the ice just south of the Waugashonce archipelago. Groups of six or more would interact 3 to 4 miles out on the ice. Single coyotes would cowl up to a group and the interaction was scary, with snarling and bared teeth the group would surround the individual. This social behavior I had never seen before. By 2005 their packing up at dusk became louder more deep throated howls and sounded like 6 to 8 coyotes in number. Many times when hunting I've heard this behavior to the point it that it doesn't amuse me anymore, and it does make me very uncomfortable. It doesn't take a backwoods man to tell the difference between a small dog yap verses the low pitch howell of a large dog. That's when my imagination begins to run wild.
The coyote of 50 years ago was usually about 25 pounds. He was a longer. He was very timid. Native Americans called him the trickster due to the fact that he was so elusive. One would be lucky to get a quick glimpse of a coyote in the wild. His ability to disappear was amazing. The questions that have arisen over the new behavior the Coywolf exhibits may never be answered. The fact that he is wedged in between the 30 pound coyote and the 80 pound Eastern Gray or Timberwolf and resembles both makes it almost impossible to identify.
So what's the verdict for outdoor sportsmen, canoeists, and backpackers. When in the woods that have such Apex Predators such as bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes and now Coywolves, behavior of said animals is the key. These mammals rely on stealth. They can out see, smell, and hear us. If they allow you to see them for any extended time that's not a good thing. You must use your head. Am I near it's food cache? Am I close to it's den or am I on the menu? Back tracking has always been my choice. Slowly, while facing the threat, move backwards a great distance. Exposing your back to the threat is a bad idea. It is exactly the position they are trying to attain.
We now are finally getting true spring weather. Most of us want a pleasant adventure in the wild. The warm weather brings nature back to life and spending time on a river is at the top of my list. Fly fishing for spawning rainbows is only days away for me. It's been a long cold winter and I welcome spring more each year. Get the equipment ready. Enjoying a safe Northern Michigan is pure and simple.
For further reading on the Coywolf : reelwatersmi / outdoor lore 6/5/2013.
Since those days of over 60 years ago when my father would take me to a cabin in the Waugashonce wilderness area for the summer, nature has always come easy to me, the smell of a pine forest or a cedar swamp. An old crooked oak tree has always marked the way home. Sun and wind direction have always been my guides.
Now, at my age in the forest and on the river, I am no longer living the dream, but rather dreaming the dream. Everything just get a little hard year after year.
Fly fish guiding has been my joy for years and I get asked a lot of questions from Clients. Some so memorable I would like to share a few with you. And yes these are real questions I have gotten. The answers may be more of what I would have like to said.
Question : What kinda place is this, there's no cell phone service?
Answer: A nice place!
Question : I never new trees grew so close together!
Answer : We call it a forest.
Question : Are we in the Upper Peninsula?
Answer : No, you have to cross one of the worlds largest bridges to get there?
Question : Is that a perch.
Answer : No it's a Brook Trout.
Question : Gee I have never been on a dirt road before.
Answer : Most of my favorite memories happened on dirt roads, that includes my Prom night.
Question : Where's the bathroom?
Answer : Your standing in it.
Question : Which way is down stream?
Answer : That's we're you go when you fall in.
Question : What am I doing wrong?
Answer : Fly fishing!
Question : I brought my own rod & reel, were do I start with it?
Answer : First you fill out the warranty card.
Question : What was that?
Answer : A trout hitting your fly.
Question : Do we keep the trout.
Answer : Only if you're starving?
Question : Will we be home by cocktail hour?
Answer : That's usually when the fish start biting, so pack a thermos of Martinis.
Question : Where are we?
Answer : That's a good question?
Question : It's...it's getting dark!
Answer : Always does this time of day.
Question : What if it rains?
Answer : It never rains under water.
Question : Are the bears dangerous?
Answer : Only the Black ones .
Just so you know, when I'm out of my element, like going to a large gathering of people at a Detroit Tiger baseball game, I can't find my way back to my seat from the hot dog stand. Everything is relative.
3:30 AM and all is well, sort of. I am awake thinking of my last fly fishing trip of the year with my son Casey who returns to NMU in a few days. It was what one would expect from an evening on the river. Beautiful night, overcast, calm, good company and excitement. A night of frustration and laughs. I did most of the laughing. Casey had the frustration with break offs on trout in the 12, 14, and 16 inch class. It was indeed a big trout night.
The night ended on an old logging trail with a chance meeting of a very experienced fellow river rat, John. As I talked with John, Casey listened. I though, does my son know he is looking at two guys with a century of fly fishing experience? Knowledge born from a love of the river, honed by countless days and nights in cold damp waders. I am of course on my sons list of dumb people here on planet earth, but I thought if John talked about tippet and turning big fish just maybe Casey would absorb some of John's years of experience. John was using 5X tippet. Only the best fly fishing anglers can turn a large trout on such a small line. John is that guy. He explained his technique of beating the odds. I knew the answers, I wanted Casey to hear it again from John. Here is that knowledge.
Late season Brook and Brown Trout begin to move up the river as the water cools and evaporation subsides; river depths increase. The large trout are beginning their spawning behavior which makes them more vulnerable. The big trout are moving. Smudging or porpoise takes as the evening closes in on you can be that giant trout on the hunt. It is not always that wake you up slashing take, but rather a slight dimpling of the surface in flat water. Suddenly you have a big trout on. Your first move is to pull the trout away from his familiar hold before he begins his fight. Keep your distance. Fifteen feet of line acts as a shock absorber for that surprise run. Now the contest begins.
So many things happen so fast. You have to know when to apply pressure to the trout so as not to break your leader. You have to know when to let the trout run because he is in the position to break said leader. A lot of thinking and decisions to make in just a few seconds. Fighting the trout on the surface, keeping his head up bleeds off his energy. His splashing on the surface negates his strength to break the line. Let him get sub surface and swimming straight away, you have to let him have line. A little pressure can get him to swing right or left in the river so you can keep him in an open hole.
Big trout are good for at least 3 major runs over a period of approximately 90 seconds. You have to survive that fight before the advantage swings your way. Big trout can see you coming, so when you go to net him be ready for one last kick. No one can explain the many different scenarios you will face fighting a big trout. That is the challenge.
In passing, the single most important thing a great fly fishing angler knows is the strength of his leader and tippet. That cannot be taught...so Casey when you figure that out you will start landing those big boys.
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!
In my many years of spring in northern Michigan things have changed, many for the better. New arrivals in the north are Turkeys, Sand Hill cranes, Turkey Vultures, opossums. The return of Eagles, Bluebirds, Otter, Coyotes, Wolves, Cougars and the Beaver through efforts of environmentalists have brought this area back to a more natural protected ecosystem. Invasive species such as the Lamprey Eel, Emerald Ash Borer, Watermilfoil, Zebra Mussel, and Asian Carp dramatically effect our natural balance. Global warming has brought us Lime Disease, West Nile virus, and now Brain Eating Amoeba. What's next outer space creatures?
All things considered northern Michigan is one of the safest areas in our hemisphere. In fact my most dangerous experiences have been with Hornets and Burrowing bees. If you can run fast, escape is easy...don't ask me how I know? Poison Ivy, Bee stings, even blood suckers like Black Flies or Mosquito are your worst enemy. They can steal a few weeks of your summer while you recover. Knowledge of nature is your best protection. Example; when a bee or two fly directly into your face it's a warning. Your standing near their nest, move away fast. My biggest concern is the return of the carnivorous animals. My only contact with them has been so fast I hardly remember the incidents but I stayed unharmed.
I used to carry a pistol several years ago, but the hand gun has become the choice for criminal violence. Still in my older age and with less capable physical abilities, my concern is a deadly confrontation with a stronger non-human mammal. During western trips to the Rocky Mountains and Grizzly country, I found that the local guides were armed with a .44/40 Colt Frontier or Winchesters Cattleman's pistol. It was more of a nostalgic choice for them. The Colt 1873 was designed for the west and they have a romantic attachment to it. Fact is you better be fast and accurate to stop a 500 pound Brown Bear with a single action six shooter. My research has found that nothing is more effective than
"Pepper Spray". It is endorsed by all outdoor officials in our parks and preserves. It is devastating to anything with a nose and eyes. Bears, wolves, Coyotes, dogs and criminals...stops them in their tracts. I feel that porcupines, skunks and bees sport the best non deadly defenses in the natural world and pepper spray follows that philosophy, good enough for me.
So this year I will sport pepper spray. Lone joggers, mountain bikers, fly fishermen, or just families picking blueberries, pepper spray might be a good idea. The return of many predators to our area is a waiting game for the next incident. In the past, outdoor enthusiasts were armed. Deer hunters, small game hunters, bear hunters, all carried personal protection mostly in the form of a side arm. Today most of us are just enjoying the country side. If we are to maintain a safe respect with the fauna...non deadly pepper spray will be the new "Peacemaker".
This time of year, during a snowstorm with the wood stove stoking, poker chips, and cards on the table, outdoor sportsmen gather for a cold beer on a cold night. Their stories begin; this is one such episode.
On cold winter nights when fly fishing enthusiasts begin dreaming of the Hexagenia hatch, past experiences become enhanced. Large Brown Trout caught during this period seem to get bigger every year, with every retelling of that night on the river. I am one of the guilty.
Novice fly fishing people hear these stories and come to me saying..."Hey I'd like to try that". One such person tells me that his wife will be visiting her sister and can he and his son give it a try. Whew, this ought to be good. It is hard to explain to them the science of such a trip. I guess a good analogy would be...if you have never golfed before what are your chances of shooting par for the course! I try to give them the odds. Is there a hex hatch? Is your cast reliable in the dark? Bad cast and your chances are 1 in a million. Still I'm not a judge, but rather a guide. I can get the customer in a spot were a hatch will take place. A flat, slow flowing pool that is prime, but on any specific night - good luck.
I took a father and son on such a trip. It had all the makings of a beautiful hatch night...minus the hatch. The upside was the father and son interaction was priceless. there were some early evening small Browns, but the big Brown slurping just wasn't going to happen. This was a wonderful night, just without the hatch. The boy was about 12 years of age and he and his father will enjoy the memory of the trip forever. That was also my reward. Getting on the river at the right time, with the right weather, and a full blown hatch...now that takes committed dedication and not a one shot deal.
The funniest event of that evening is hard to believe. As we slipped into the river, standing in the stream, in the dark with only the moon's silver sky reflection on the river, there was a loud ker-splash. "What was that", they asked? A beaver I replied . Oh, we thought it was a meteor. A meteor, hitting the river just feet away? That would be 1 in a trillion...about the same odds as them catching the elusive, night stalking, monster Brown trout on this night.
Sweet Is The Lore That Nature Brings