The dry fly season...when trout start looking up.
Just like baking a cake, you need all the right ingredients. With the flora the sun warms the soil, and that last ingredient is a warm rain. A rain in the 65 Farenhiet range with its high humidity triggers growth of the leaves, mushrooms, and flowers and thus bug hatches begin on masse. This generally happens at this latitude about mid May. This starts the dry fly season.
If the rivers are within their banks and not silted up, success with surface takes begins. Tannin or tea colored water is of no concern. Experts say the tannin acts as an antiseptic for the trout. It is said to keep in check micro organisms that attack trout. Sounds good, and we'll have to take their word for it. Adams, Stone flies, even Humpy patterns are on the menu. The next 60 days are the brightest days of the year and the longest. Use a 9 foot-5X leader and avoid the bright sun light. It is this time of year that water temperatures reach 58-62 F in the 5-6 PM time frame. Perfect for those of us who have jobs! The warmer periods of mid July that push fly fishing time periods to dawn & dusk are months away.
Your next concern is tracking the different species of bug hatches. That involves knowledge of each species. Litobrancha Recurvata, Hexagenia Limbata and other Genus of the Ephemera. Hahaha...don't panic, it just size and color you need to match. The Latin names? The trout don't know them either!
It is all visual when casting to a trout. The massive Steelhead trout will still disrupt the Great Lakes tributaries until late May, but the upper reaches of many streams are unaffected by them.
Today's fly fishing beginner has access to information that it took 20 years of trial & error for me to learn. One can be a successful player in just a few short years. It is a challenging endeavor, but I have never been bored on a trout river.
"Walk softly and carry a graphite Stick!"
The 2016 trout season is about to start on the last Saturday of April. Once that happens the talking is over, fly fishing begins. Not much time is left for a discussion on theories and techniques. So on the advent of the opener let's discuss water; The Pigeon, Black, Sturgeon, Jordan, Boyne, Bear and Maple Rivers are high but in good shape. They are all within 50 miles of one another at a given point. You could say their weather patterns are similar. Those of us who live here in northern Michigan are best suited to judge good fishing days by standing outside in our front yard. I fish them all on a yearly basis. However, the river stretches I fish are often chosen by the time of year as it relates to water temperatures. The influx of tourists and resorters drives me deeper in to the country side on logging trails. Fewer people equals more active trout. When man is not present animal behavior is quite different. Nothing is more disruptive to nature than homo sapiens, a Latin word for "Wise Person". OK so let's be wise.
River cover, water clarity, water temperature and bug hatches are the basics. Apply them to each other and the equation reaches hundreds of decisions one must make. Water temperatures is the phenominum most over looked. For example; hot weather is considered a bad time to fish when in essence it can create a opportunity on the river. The trick is you must find a bend in the river that is spring fed. Not easy. You can't see it, yet find one and you will catch big trout after big trout. I have several such places. When water temperatures reach + 70F I fish them. One spot in particular on the Black river is about 10 feet by 10 feet and my friend Jim and I will take turns landing dozens of Brook trout, half of them in the 11 to 12 inch range. All time laughing at the craziness of the situation.
Use that water thermometer. Ground water is the key to river fly fishing in hot weather. Lakes in hot periods push the trout deep. In small streams it is ground water fed holes. At approximately 45 F year-round, ground springs will feed a hole and attract trout during hot periods. Lots of trout, big trout.
The catch is, hatches are generated by warmth. The giant Hexagenia Limbata larva are in the mud that lines the banks of small streams. When that silt warms in June/July they emerge. These mergers as they are called begin to rise up in the water struggling to the surface. They literally pop up through the surface film and are called Para Duns. It takes but a few seconds to dry their wings and take to flight. The life span is less than 48 hours and is spent fluttering up and down over the river. The time period is 8 pm to 11pm. When their life is over they fall to the water, wings spread out and become spent spinners or spinners.
Here's the challenge ; that is just one species. The Trico, the smallest of the mayflies, is a totally different time period. Late summer, and in the 9am to 11am time frame. OK now add Stone flies, Damsel flies, beetles, grass hoppers and the entomology is overwhelming. Did I mention streamers?
So do you still want to be a Flyfishing expert? My suggestion is to follow a week to week directory of hatches on Northern Michigan rivers and after 50 years you might remember half of the species. Water temperatures 45-65 Farenhiet , water clarity, low light, stealth coupled with the right fly and a gentle cast is the equation...we can do it!
Good luck on opening day April 30.
Boing...spring has sprung. Warm weather is here. Such a special time of the year.
Our olfactory system awakens. The smell of the earth, the soil, grass, and especially the dank smell of the river gives the sub conscience a push to explore. Back trails open up. A stroll along the river checking beaver dams and other favorite sites is part of the preparation for the April 30 trout opener.
The rivers are in excellent shape. High water, tannin colored but not silted is a great start. The river offers massive amounts of food during the spring run off, causing Steelhead Trout to move up steam into very shallow gravel beds. It is there they make their redds. The Rainbow carves out a depression and their spring rights begin. These redds are obvious to the eye for the rest of the year. Polished holes mid river are easily identified. Unlike the Brook trout that seem to return to the exact gravel bed under deep brush covered banks year after year, the Steelhead beds are random gravel spots. It is a thrill to watch several 24 inch trout on their redds mid stream in a foot of water mid day. The aggressiveness of this species is their weakness as trout fisherman cast nymphs and spawn to them. Getting your rig in their face triggers an attack and the fight begins. The Steelhead fisherman is a special type with techniques so radically different from those of us who fish hatches this time of year.
Warm weather brings out the bugs and year 'round, gear restricted, waters on the inland streams can be fun before all rivers open April 30. Winter is over. River temperatures are still cold at about 48 F, hopefully this warm snap will raise them into the 55 F range.
The Peepers are active as the swamps warm up first, the streams are not far behind. Time to create new memories for those so-o-o distant sleepless cold nights of next winter!
April is always a swing month. It can go both ways, warm or cold. This year it is going the winter way; so far. Cold, rain, sleet and snow are still in the forecast. The northern jet stream will be moving out later this week. Warmer weather is coming, but it appears spring, with daily temperatures above 32 F, is still a few weeks off. A lingering winter is good for the rivers and trout. Water tables stay high insuring a healthy river through the droughts of mid July.
Northern Michigan rivers for me have generally began their dry fly season around mid May. That is the time the grasses, bushes and trees become green. It is a phenomenon affected by a nice warm rain, in that time period. The foliage checks run off and the rivers begin to drop inside their banks.
I have always flocked to bigger rivers like the Pigeon and Sturgeon rivers early in the season that can handle high water levels in wet springs. These rivers are wide and deeply cut keeping the water from silting up.
Steelhead / Cromies / Rainbow Trout rule the rivers until the beginning of May. These Steelhead are a great opportunity for you to test your ability. Fast, deep water makes it the ultimate challenge for using all your experience in managing your leader with a 10-20 pound trout on. You better be good! The rig is different with spawn, nymphs and weighted line. The trout stay low on the gravel bottom of the river. You must get your line down to them. Remember the first 10 minutes the Steelhead has you on the line. They dictate the terms of the fight until you steal their strength. The reward is that picture of you and a massive trout you always wanted for your room.
So keep the faith. April is doing what it always has...keep us guessing!
The Steelhead fishermen are on the move. The down state rivers, the Manistee, the Pere Marquette, are getting action. It is the end of March and the weather will continue to tease us. Cold then warm and then cold again. Snow, rain and snow again. It is not hard to figure why this is Florida vacation time of the year. With all rivers due to open in a month you should be busy cleaning lines, replacing tippet spools and changing leaders for the new season.
Our northern streams, the Maple, Sturgeon, Pigeon and Black are all flooded out, over their banks and raging. The winter did not bring a lot of extra snow then usual but lots of rain was with us all season. The river water levels here in the north are not a problem. The run off and ground water should feed the streams well into July. Baring a hot spell and drought, the season looks good.
I always say there is no balance of nature, rather nature is always trying to balance itself. Last year was a slow season for my favorite Brook Trout streams, but it is a new year and all that can change.
The Maple is in transition with all the new free flow bridges and sand from years past is moving slowly down stream. I have found reliable holds filled in and the age old challenge of locating new spots is the key to catching large trout. It is a waiting game now. As soon as the rivers drop to inside their banks and food becomes a little more difficult to obtain the flies will be streamers and nymphs. Hatches need warm weather and the next several weeks shows colder temperatures in the 40-50F . Skiing is over in April and soon the country side will open up for wild asparagus, morel mushrooms and...Trout fishing. For us locals it is our time of the year.
I'm looking forward to seeing old fishing friends on the river and stopping to smell the flowers.
Winter is still with us, although we haven't suffered through any 20 degree below zero days or 120 inches of snow yet; the northern weather can still turn on us. The next several weeks usually bring those brutally cold calm days, or worse yet, a three day blizzard. There is a lot of snow to come, and for me the thrill of making a snowman or a snow Angel has dissipated.
So until the weather breaks here are some tips for those of you, like me, that can't spend March in the British Virgin Islands. Of course all your rods, reels, waders are ready to go. Those special flies, you have been tying these last few months, fill your vest. New tippet and leaders replace the old...and no mice wintered in your waders . Many items you'll need to bring your fly fishing program up to specs are now on sale. Check the Internet out. 50% off can be fun.
Good...now we have to stave off these next two months of winter before the Steelhead runs begin in lower Michigan. You and I are now down to survival of the human mind. How do you cope with the cold snowy season? Try wearing those boat shoes that have migrated to the back of your closet around the house with out socks. Try wearing that old Hawaiian shirt from thirty years ago. Oops, it's too small? No - polyester rayon doesn't shrink.
How about movies and books to put you to sleep at night. No...don't watch "A River Runs Through It" save that movie for the time you can run out the door to go fly fishing.
Wait for warm weather for that story. Also movies like "The Shining", or Jack London's "To Build a Fire", might not be a wise choice. Try movies like "Beach Blanket Bingo" with Annette Funicello or for the more demanding minds, "Lawrence Of Arabia". There isn't a ski coat, wool sock, or mitten in those movies.
Are we doing better? If not, I hear hypnosis can help, but that can be expensive. Very few people are totally sold on winter. The twenty extra pounds of clothes can be very restricting. Slipping on the ice and watching your coffee coming down on you minus the cup, then trying to get back on your feet, all the while feeling like a capsized turtle is a real loser.
Keep the faith, January is a whole year away and I guarantee the trout will be looking up again; soon!
The rivers are asleep, the trout are on hold. Winter exerts it's vise like grip on activity.
The last few winters were billed as record snow falls, and record low temperatures. This winter is actually a mild one. It beseeches climate change. I believe here in the north, climate change is measured not by millennia but by seasons. I am heart felt for college educated meteorologist who come to this area seeking to advance their careers. They just can't get it right. The massive Great Lakes are a real weather anomaly. So hard to predict. A given wind direction, coupled with a certain temperature can surprise you with a couple feet of snow. Snow that seems to come from no where on a clear day?
Long cold snowy winters seem to make me appreciate trout season. When warm weather arrives I still can always find a secluded part of the rivers to enjoy. There is no substitute for "Peace & Quiet". The lone fly fisherman is a way of life like no other. It is hard to phantom with 7 billion people on the planet, you can achieve such peace.
Dirt roads with no cell phone service will get you off the grid. It takes research to find these places but the reward is bigger, hungry, approachable trout. I will admit I'm not a winter fly fisherman, but May 1st to October 1st I am an enthusiast...persona.
Many fly fishing greats, John S...Tony D...Ed D....Rob L, all old timers who have fished many decades and now share the rivers with today's influx of rookies still have great success rates. These old salts carry an immense amount of knowledge that I have pulled from over the years. No matter how good one thinks they are, sharing ideas and techniques is priceless. With that experience, I have honed my skills into a sucess rate of 4 out of 5 "good fishing day" success rates.
OK...everyone has their spin to put on the our sport of FlyFishing...fact is let's get to a river and prove it.
Tip to success:
Every river has a different personality...that's the challenge that drives us all.
Winter is half over. What is the challenge we all face? Yikes, cabin fever. So let's plan ahead.
Post Xmas sales, with great internet deals on rod and reels. The tying of flies...Get it done.
There's no such thing as a short winter. Some are just not as long as others. Cold is cold, snow is snow. Northern Michigan this time of year tests ones ability to live with oneself.
Get up in the morning and shovel snow, slide to work, slide home, shovel some more snow. How do you survive? TV doesn't do it for me. Maybe a little football, but life here in the north makes you understand the love of April to November. Granted winter has it's thrills. Gorgeous snow covered trails, frozen rivers, some of you ski, or get the sleds out...hoarfrost to name a few but the bottom line is man is just not made to exist in sub zero temperatures. There is 1 hour and 30 minutes more sun light than just a month ago! Stilll I pine for those LL bean boots, pull over fleeces and open logging trails. Dang it hurts.
However, I have many years of experience preparing for spring here in the great white north. Many responsibilities face us in the winter months while we prepare for the new season on the river. Rods, reels, oil and more oil. Waxing and cleaning floating lines. Those first bug hatches can come in late March. Being caught off guard is not an option. Did I mention staying in shape. Clean under your bed, clean the top of the refrigerator...gods sakes man get it done.
90..89..88..87..86 days left to that first step into a clear flowing river. I can smell the forest already. Flowers, mushrooms, wild asparagus, blueberries, raspberries...TROUT! Undisturbed for 6 months and eager to slam your fly.
The snow melt off cleans the earth, flushes the rivers, freshens the air for those of us who make the great north our home. So make those preparations and maybe, just maybe, we will see each other on the river this spring. Yes, Michigan dreaming and the calling of your heart.
'Til death do we part.
Fly fishing opportunities continue on our rivers. The temperatures this past week reached into the 70s Fahrenheit, bugs were hatching. Although not rare, the weather is unusual. Soon the rivers will reach their end of the year high. Once temperatures begin to average below freezing the river levels hold their depth until the spring run off.
I must admit I didn't fly fish this warm period. My attention has been directed to the Whitetail Deer as November 15 approaches, but those of you who are dedicated to the fly had a fun week.
The Maple, Pigeon, Black and Sturgeon Rivers were perfect in depth, dark color, and clear. The leaves are mostly gone, the ferns & grasses are matted down. The forest now gives you a open view of all those places you fished this past season. The crinkling leaves under foot, the damp smell of decaying matter is so different from summer. Soon the cold winter will come and those old logging trails to the river will be buried in snow and impassable.
Six months to April 30, 2016. Remember the date designates the trout take or possession season. There are open parts of most trout streams in the year 'round format, but a quick release of the trout is required. The country side is so peaceful this time of year. A walk along the river is a very "soothing to the mind" experience. Oh so different from the hustle and bustle of summer.
It is something you might want to try!
The forecast this week is near 70s Fahrenheit and sunny. That is a gift for sure. If the wind is calm, if the sun is out, some hatches will appear. Most spawning trout and salmon runs are near the end, a time when they become lethargic. Getting trout to surface feed will be a challenge. You might want to try a dry with a dropper. Good areas to fly fish are calm pools near the very evident polished redds.
It isn't often one is out wadding the river in November, but the NOAA predicted El Niño is a reality. Last year at this time we were facing freezing temperatures with blowing snow. The third week of November 2014 we had 3 feet of snow on the ground and -30 below zero temperatures shortly there after. What a reprieve this year.
The water temperatures are near 50F, so warm weather gear is a good idea. The northern Michigan dilemma...bow season, Grouse season, and fly fishing are all experiencing comfortable weather. What's a guy to do? Oh and rifle season is less than two weeks away. The up side is you can do all three.
The Pigeon, Sturgeon, Black and Maple Rivers are all rising fast with last weeks rain but are still clear. Be sure to check your favorite stream for year 'round locations and gear restrictions (GR).
The rivers and forests have been very peaceful these past few weeks. You might want to venture out into the country side just to see if I'm right.
Richard and Jim
Letting you know current conditions and best approaches.