Sunday, March 21, 2010

fly fishing steelhead (lake michigan tributaries, wi)

The beginning of the spring steelhead run (at least for us). Local warm weather combined with four days of rain lead to a massive snow melt. All the rivers in the area reached near flood stages almost a week before we fished. By the time the weekend rolled around only a few of the rivers had stabilized. This made picking a location to fish very easy.

can you tell its the early part of the spring run?
By the time I pulled into the parking lot it was 7:00 and the sun was just starting to rise. Neal had been there long enough to find his way into his waders and boots and already had his rod assembled. I made an effort to get ready as quick as possible trying to avoid the puddles as I took my shoes off and put my waders on. Snow had been falling all morning and it was pretty windy as well. We condensed our gear into Neal’s truck and drove to our launch site.

7:15am We pull in, maybe 4 other cars in the lot. We decided to work our way south this morning. Above the first bend was a group of three guys floating spawn on slip bobbers so we pushed around the bend past the group. We saw some movement in the water but nothing surfaced. Here clarity was poor, water was deep, slow and looked more like chocolate milk. The wakes we saw tempted us into throwing flies into less then desirable water conditions. So with our backs to the wind we started casting. I had a black esl pattern tied on. I varied retrieves from a no drag drift to a fast paced strip retrieve. We worked our way down the river with me casting right behind Neal. We passed a couple of foot bridges and came to a sweet looking run. The water here was thinner and clearer so we stood for a couple minutes just to see if we could spot some fish. Nothing cooking. A couple guys came walking up river and offered a report of no fish caught or spotted down stream. At this point we decided to push back up to the first bend where we at least had seen some signs of life.

The group of spawn floaters had left so we started fishing their run from earlier. Just when it seemed like my toes were frozen a small buck pushed up in front of where Neal was fishing. I stopped casting and watched... just happy to see a fish in the water. Neal made some nice drifts to the fish. Fourth drift to the buck and the line came across the fish and he spooked. He’s gone quicker then he came. A little more then 2 hours and all I’d caught was a head cold.

9:45am. Time for breakfast and a break in a warm truck. Did you know that Wendy’s serves breakfast! Neal went for two of the bacon egg and cheese biscuits with an orange juice. I had a chicken on a biscuit, hash brown and black coffee. We came up with a new game plan over breakfast. No more wasting time fishing the slack, deep, poo-colored water. We were going on a nature walk and we weren’t stopping until we saw good water and sighted fish. After our thirty minute break I felt warm again.

10:15 am. We pulled back in to our access point and we took ten minutes to see if the buck moved back in the last pool we fished. No luck, so we were off on a nature hike. North we went up river through the trees. Thirty minutes of walking and we finally came to some nice looking water. We went down closer to get a better look. We were in luck, we got down to the bank and we sighted at least three nice fish sitting in the pools. There was some deeper water above the run and above the deeper section was a nice gravel bend. This was the best 100 yards of water we had seen yet.

Neal started working the pools and I took the deeper water just ahead of him. It took me 5 minutes to realize that there were fish everywhere. I made a switch to a purple esl with a bead head. On my second cast I stripped the fly and the rod just loaded up and I set the hook. The fight was on! After a few nice aerial displays we landed a nice hen right in the middle of the pool Neal was fishing. Photo time followed by a quick release.
working a fish
nice small hen steelie
I pushed up to the bend and Neal held down his same pool. The bend must have been holding close to ten fish. Right when I started casting I saw a nice hen surface in the deepest section of the bend. I worked it for some time with no success. About that time I saw a huge shadow push up to the head water of the pool. It appeared to be a giant buck. I saw him chasing smaller fish off the gravel bar. There must have been about three smaller fish he was chasing out of there. 15 minutes of perfect drifts passed him before I saw a silver flash in the water and the line just stopped. I’m hooked up again! This fish had a lot bigger shoulders and I played him very gingerly until he got tired. I worked the fish back down stream almost 50 yards during the battle which worked out great because my partner was able to put the bear claws on him. We hoisted him out of the water. What a fish!! Again a couple pictures and a quick release.

omg what a donkey!!
Neal came up to the bend which was still chalked full of fish and tied on a purple fly. It didn’t take long for my buddy to get his turn. The same pool I just scored my fish out of is now home to that giant female I saw when I first got up to the bend. He stayed out of sight and was rewarded with a vicious strike. Neal played the fish down stream just like I had done before and I helped this time landing his fish. What an awesome fish!
neal's turn at a trophy steelhead
The rest of the time we spent taking turns fishing that same bend. One would fish while the other sat up in the tree and watched the action from above. Even though we didn’t catch anything else that day we both got our share of fish. I also got to see a fish give chase to a fly Neal was stripping back. Even though the fish missed the fly, it was cool to see it charge and swipe at the fly.

as fair as fair hooked gets
We came up with a solid plan at breakfast and things seemed to fall into place after that. Stay mobile, fish the type of water your most comfortable with, and spot the fish. Sounds like a winner…

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