Happy New Year Anglers… We have set all kinds of new standards and even records this passing year of the highest water flows I’ve ever guided; this, my 29thyear of working The PM and surrounding northern MI streams. Steelhead run on West Side is pretty much par for the course this winter, with a bit more spread than typical winters, with the waters high enough to spread the average runs throughout the systems. Streamers, being my mainstay of work tech most days out, have been terribly productive considering their audiences count… And yes we’ve run some great nymphing tech for the browns on the fall back with the water temps, and even a few steelhead approaches for those new to the game and in need of the baseline. Size of the steelhead this year is impressive overall, and especially mid way through the season towards the end of November, into December, where we were certainly seeing a strong bite, as well as a bigger fish overall… Even got our ass kicked a few times with some flash donations. Fishing pressure has slipped from November for sure, but there is no doubt more people coming for the fall bite then ever before, and that’s really great to see that “Bite” participation… almost keeping up with the mouth hockey conventions for a few weekends there, which again is really great too see from my point of view. Rivers are getting busier no matter what, what we need is better anglers to set a better examples for all the newer incoming anglers looking to learn the right angles to the dangle and maybe even some proper etiquette along the way; this versus just handing down some of the older caveman shit we are all guilty of, me included! Brown trout bite, for those savvy with the strip sticks is still beyond a go… Been fishing the Mani, Ausable, and plenty here on the PM… And though we mix it up good with the steelhead and brown trout on the busier PM, this mild winter has allowed us all kinds of late access to those waters just offering butter over chrome. Little to ZERO fishing pressures in those trout only beats from now till the thaw when a few more will brave the improving, but still cool conditions. The post spawn bite should never be overlooked here in MI with THE BIG STREAMER FLY! Egg fishing for those steelhead trout has been very productive, and for that matter, up and coming with the finally clearing, and somewhat, dropping waters of late. Trout nymphing with FLOATING LINES, with smaller Thill ice & fly floats… Fished western or 45 degrees, or even under a 2 gram vertical in those deeper potential lies; has been so freaky good, it’s almost not worth mentioning… almost! All nymphing practice with A TAPERED FLY FLINE should be considered more now than any time we have fished this fall run as the temps are keeping them deep, off aggression, and simply pre-spawn for that matter. Clearing water sets the condition, and though I’ll throw single hands and streamers till my fingers lock up with ice, then swing glitter bombs with two hands when the single hand rod guides have had enough; one could most certainly have a blast with caviar and creek crawlers at this point in the run. Again, this year, and the year before have set up a higher water event that has now lasted 17 months here on the PM. Trout are all the better for it, and the steelhead runs won’t slip the river for lack of flow this winter… All favoring elements too the would be winter angler this year!
Steelhead run has been just fine, though I will say a knowledge of the runs habits and fluctuations over such conditions, and setting up a program that caters too it, has been setting a better pace for me. Allot of younger/newer guides are struggling with the extra flow and the less than massive run of fall/winter steelhead… Which keeps them second-guessing more, and less confident with techs outside of floating caviar or bouncing the bottom with the caveman approaches. If you know where he is sitting before you come around the bend, you would then have a plan on how to present the fly to that very forecasted fish, and there in giving you a confidence in the happening. HINT… “It’s not nearly as much about the fly as you would want to believe it was, but more so the way you offer whatever it is to that perspective you are not yet savvy to… YET!” Bored and playful, steelhead will kill or eat out of curiosity as much as critique, unlike the brown trout that is always as or more willing to say no over yes in most cases and needs the highest level of sales pitch to convert. If you play to that level of cat and mouse to a steelhead, he will give audience. Never beg your techniques, but instead match the water’s coercing as it leaves clues the moment you look at it, consider the fishes state of season, and then again, plug in any preferences you feel you may be able to get away with based on your skill levels, or needed draw from the rivers account.
Remembering that fly-fishing was never supposed to be easier, or even more productive… In fact, it may be the worst way to catch fish, but still, all the better while angling to one! If this sport were simply about catching fish, we would all grab conventional gear with spawn/worms/lures, and “get ‘r’ done”… But in fact it’s not. Most, if not all fish/angle to sponge the sport of the event; and find that gratification of validation from a fish that would hold yourself, the predator, at the esteem of victory over a critter with a brain the size of a pea! Sport is why we fish, table fair often being a second motivation for many, but all the gear, money, time spent, and relationships burnt in the pursuit can only be justified by the addictions this sport carries… Which we happily pay the tab for! Fly-fishing is the act of angling with the least likely pay off in productivity, but then again the highest dividends offered in the sport of the affair. Often skunked and rattled, a fly angler is encouraged to notice more each and every failure or victory, so to promote the climax of the happening when the compromise is met between you and your adversary, and there in paying a huge lump of victory & sport all at once. In those intermissions of success, a fly angler dives just a bit deeper into the why of it all, begging for that finality. In this hunt we find ourselves at a level of focus few other sports afford; where all other aspects of life are sidelined for it, and most thankfully. Never dilute this sport by trying to shortcut it, but instead add more passion and drive for that success offered much easier when catering to so many more senses as bait and gear would, as it wouldn’t be worth as much if it gave itself so easy. Having a slow day of fly fishing can be more rewarding than a great day of catching with a worm… It’s the journey, and often not the destination in this fine angling avenue. In short and within fly fishing religions, beads suck almost as much as chuck & duck, and you’re almost a hero if you Euro… But NOT! Cornerstones of fly-fishing are the acts of casting a tapered line, and the mends and presentations that would complement any one of those thousand approaches offered in those ranges of angling with a fly. Bouncing bottom, whether for a bump or a bite is certainly a short cutting of this fine game, and if nothing else is a diluted version of it… Like the artist, formally know as fly-fishing if you will. Make the journey, (and the improvement of it), the destination and you will draw more sport and happening from each encounter, or lack there of, which in turn will give you back far more than “pegging a bead”, instead of a fly tied… chucking lead, or even bumping your way into the verification of a fishes presence, which might I add, should be known before any hook-sets or probing lifts are made to keep in good form… Wouldn’t you agree?!?! Fly fishing was never supposed to be that cool, no matter what costumes we dress in, or how fabled we may feel in our hero stances with a finned rival we feel we have dominion over… But it should abide in its disciplines and tech so not to dull/water down, or short cut the happening. Ask yourself why YOU angle/fish, and then what you would like to get from it; this will lead you in the direction you’re actually pursing!
Steelhead run fall 2019 will go down as early and for that matter par. Not special in numbers or production, but not bad either. Par for the course, contrary to many a bit newer to the game may think, that have seen some really incredible pushes over the last 7 years or so; with some larger fish overall being somewhat the newer standard since the diminished king run has allowed steelhead more forage opportunity in the big lakes. Primarily my boat is streamer fishing these days through the colder months. Swing fishing was powerful this year, and still continues to impress as we play with the colors in the cooling water begging for November to hold on; and too be honest I’m not sure if the color or fly matters as much as we want to think, this until the water gets very clear and we begin fishing some more natural stuff to keep them off guard in the past peak swing windows. Presentations setting a huge part of the pace and away from the October suicide practice we use to cover more water with fewer but more aggressive fish. Now instead of trying to bridge the gap between instinctual response and food greed, we are simply trying to pick a scab to a holding, and less veracious fish, that is well and good in the intermission of binge feeding and pre spawn. Invasion and offense pay better than the bold chases for cheeseburgers we see more in the warmer temps. Suicide bites are still available based more on the individual fishes disposition, but we can still tip a few of those would be assailants into battery if coaxed correctly and with confidence! We did well considering the last couple years on the strip with the steelhead trout, and most all that attempted the feet were given the due and proper… Yet not all! Best day on the strip was moving a dozen, which is to say that I never had one day on the swing where we boasted such a number, at least this year. And though surely if I were chasing them with caviar all season, I would have surely found at least that same number; but the few times we did run the floating lines and bobs, we still only bounced 11 on our best day. Stripping only a bit more than we bobbed, we swung the fly most of the season per clients that prefer the tug over the dunk, but were just far enough along that we only just attempted and improved the strip game. Again, my heavy hitters, Kinkoff, Cook, McGraw, Mease, and Grenier, too name a few… always seemingly shine with the strip, but that likely because I’ve thrown them through a wood chipper, and they came out shiny on the other end… And the biggest stick these guys carry with them these days is CONFIDENCE!!! Swing fly offers this streamer confidence in training and patience, where the end result is the confidence to try something new, which in turn you appreciate more, which then leads to the next step in angling evolution for chrome, which is stripping up the steelhead… Which may then lead to getting one on a dry… And so on. Just saying, that if you chuck & duck too long, you may go blind! Euro nymphing to me seems more like chuck & duck fishing for trout… But as long as you’re trying to get a bite, too each their own… Just don’t call it fly-fishing.
Steelhead on the strip is not for the beginner or novice, and should be considered after there is an awareness too the river section you are engaged. Too say that it’s a harder way to produce a steelhead on a fly is as true as saying in the right hands it could also be the most productive when the presentation couples the cast from a moving boat with a prescribed plan in shortened order on varied level, temp, flow, and even fish mood considerations all in check with each and every. Just because you beg the tech, doesn’t mean it owes you a fricken thing!!! So many new comers in my boat look believe that just being in my boat guarantees success on a strip fly, and though I can surely make you better, (and I don’t care what your skill level is… THIS IS TOP GUN TRAINING), and bring your game into a level of confidence maybe not yet established; what I cannot do is present the fly for you! Dead drifting a fly under a floating line is more extreme than swing fishing where the cast is trickier than the presentation, where one could say the opposite about the indicator approach where the cast is cake, but the work needed to actually install TRUE dead drift is a very critical and ever varied. And if you snowballed those together, and added a moving boat program and the line control skills of a Jedi… You would finally be walking through the doors of skill level needed to sell that strip fly; this or a fish simply just commits suicide on impact, which also does happen. That old saying, “I’d rather be lucky, than good”, only applies when you aren’t aware of how good you could become. Constant casting, at the entire watershed, (not just the spots with intermissions in between), from a moving boat, in varied water flows, depths, speeds, and then considerations for the point of the views the fish may or may not be noticing from… Then rap all that together is a confidence taco and chew on that. If you want to get better at something, you have to push yourself after the basics have been established; and streamer fishing from a moving boat in tightened quarters, with limited casting windows, and there in the need for a library of different angles to penetrate those would be haunts with a sales pitch that would challenge the strut of a hooker on the boulevard… well lets just say there’s a bit more to that than say sitting on anchor and chucking mends and hoping for the find. Unlike any other steelhead approach, stripping flies done right will draw more fish from the same beats simply because you are fishing more of it… When people are short in their games, they would assume the tech didn’t work for them, when point of fact, the angler didn’t work the tech! “IF YOU STRIP IT… right… THEY WILL COME… IF YOU DON’T… they wont!”
For the incoming colder season ahead of us… It’s a steelhead… Everything still works depending on how well you fish it! If you’re new and need work on knots, water reading, and understanding of the where they hold, with some baseline casting work, I couldn’t recommend nymphing with floating lines any higher. Call it brail with a bobber when learning a rivers bottom and topography via a float or indicator pending your need for variance in ideal, yet still one in the same. If you choose to angle with chuck & dork or euro nymphing, there is some bite justice too both potentially, this when fished with ethics, but neither hold any values to the fly fishing disciplines we work so very hard to improve upon. One could say that even when euro nymphing that the tech is a direct match for walking a worm on spin gear versus any mended, presented, or for that matter, casted fly from a tapered line that could be manipulated versus walked… Swing fishing is for those of you that have an awareness to your beats, and you are savvy to at least several specific lies in which you could present with the confidence having that knowledge learned via nymphing! Eggs & Nymphs to some level are somewhat disposable in their comings and goings to the wooded debris and fish with no names. Swing flies, though fished on goat ropes and big sticks, are still lost to the wood on some occasions, but the angler in check with his water would almost know 3/4 of the snags and be able to stay away after forfeiting several nymphed presentations over time to those red zones. With the where of the fish in check, and the where not to throw a swung fly, a novice to advanced angler could take a step in the two handed direction and deliver disco to the fish with a chip on their shoulder to exploit that hate. Swing fly-fishing is a relaxed way to walk and wade fish without all the extra casts and mends needed to dead drift eggs and nymphs. It caters to almost half the would be takers of the dead drift, and in allot of cases pays the bigger fish of a hold, or at least those that might feel a bit more dominant! Almost a gentlemen’s approach in many aspects of disposition with the fly present, that is until you get a tug… Then swear words and reel screams! Two handed casting is its own reward, and those who don’t, can’t appreciate that the tug, as sweet as it is, is simply the icing on an already sweet cake! Pushing D Loop under, around, and varied in persuasion of presentation is so very full filling, and you would do it all day just to do so. When you can finish one of so many casts of obnoxious flash, then be pummeled by thee assassination of your well dressed swung fly… Lets just say, just the knowing that it may happen, in this way, may have you leaving your bob rod in the truck, and the saturated water lines on your waders just a bit higher… Much like the grin you wear when it all comes together! Again, without backing up again, the stripped fly does walk a different path, and those flies of swim versus swing are often those flies worth NEVER DONATING! If you know the water like the back of your hand, walk and wade/strip & rip, is available at lower prices then if you don’t. Allot of strip flies that I sell are in excess of 25$ per bug, and swim like Mike Phelps, but should be presented in those areas where you can draw a fish from the wood instead of trying to penetrate those same holds. Stripping a fly in the right matter isn’t like trying to back into a fish with a swung fly, or even bringing chase to it… When fished correctly, you would swear that swim fly, namely The Drunk & Disorderly, was making mom jokes directly at the would be killer! They don’t move to it, nor do they take or even grab a strip fly… THEY FRICKEN END IT! Like a drawing suave, you need not enter the living room to upset the steelhead from the couch, but more so try and steel his car while he’s watching from a distance and have that fish spring from the hold, (a good distance away), and come out swinging like Tyson, and even try biting some ears off! Stripping from a boat or raft is more suitable for the approach, and for that matter the presentation in your ability to stay with the swim fly and allow for slack and swim, which is tough when stationary is more potent. Advanced applications needed for swim fly approaches, which really never limits the learning curve or creativeness one can achieve by fully downloading this tech. Once adapted to this technique, and angler’s prowess in presentation and need to penetrate specific reads is unmatched in the curve of this sport. Your skill level will sore and score, but first… THE BASICS!
Steelhead run 2019/2020 is already seasoned, and one of the fish we caught swinging on my trip the other day was already milting, so the fall fish, which ran so very early with the higher waters this year, will be spawning and then leaving in shortened order as many have been here almost 5 months! Newer fish will be entering the river all winter long, especially when the water colors up, but again, the gates have been open for 17 months straight now, so water levels have ZERO to do with it. PM fish are spread all the water up the watershed, even into sections well and closed, and then scattered all the way back to the lake. Hot spots are all over the rivers, and if you know what water to look for this time of year, it’s a pretty easy game because they have been running for so long and they are here, but gathered. There is no wrong beat to fish right now, but there are wrong spots to consider that we might other times of the year when the forage and temps are far different! White River and myself have been getting along great this year, and it’s great having a federal tag there again. By far my finest overall swing river, and much more suited for it versus the PM pocket pickle games where it begs more the stripped approach overall. Fish with intent, most fishy spots are indeed. If you want to download some serious strip and swing strategies for this time of year, I will be doing more guiding this winter than the last 7 as I’m only going to Arkansas for a couple weeks this year instead of the extended version like normal, and back up to speed next year after we get the new house up to par and settled in! Being gone a full month isn’t as cool as it used to be with the boys growing and fishing now, and the wife an ER Nurse of full time. As I age, I want to get some other cool shit done with this knowledge I’ve downloaded over almost three decades of being a fly fishing guide in Northern MI. Thanks to you folks, and your continued hunger for the next level of this sport, and not only for booking me, but also pushing me to stay ahead of the curve in the learning of the fine sport. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the angler I am today had I not pushed as many of you, in so many different ways, to be better and in turn learning allot about the cast as a whole having a front row seat to the right and wrong of it all. You guys and gals are just a fricken pleasure to have has hood ornaments on my boat, and it really has been an honor watching you all grow into the anglers you are today… Hats off to ya!
Again… We just got the new place, and we are moving in this week with any luck, so I’m going to take a couple weeks off getting everything right, and maybe sneak a few winter swing hikes with the big stick in there, as I’ve been stuck in the boat the last 4 months. Bigger place, as the boys, babe, and I were busting out of the seams here in a house I’ve been in for 20 years now. With ten acres so the boys can’t upset the neighbors, or local authorities, and a couple huge garages for assorted man caves, tying stations, and drift boat dens… It’ll be nice to have a place to store all this fishing gear without having to sleep with it, which apparently the wife has caught me doing from time to time. Wife and boys will have better access to school and work, and I won’t have to deal with Baldwin to work there, which is long overdue. Leaving me with some more time and space to think, I suspect I’ll be able to pursue other great ways to make money in the angling community while continuing my favorite line of work, guiding brown trout & steelhead on flies, which I’ll do until I simply can’t! We are all set on Arkansas this year, and likely will be more of a fun run than a client evolution this year, as I just don’t have the time this winter, and the fly tying orders are back up already… Besides, I’m due to spend one of my birthdays back here in MI for a change. Next year Unicorn Hunt 2021 will be fully back up to speed! With this mild winter in place, there is no better year to hold back and be a steelhead guide till the winter breaks, and just take a little vacation down there with some buddies, for a week or so; this after a very, very busy fall/winter this year. Thanks again folks!
Spring is already booking per usual, and I’m planning on guiding based on in and out conditions the rest of the winter here on the PM, Manistee, and even a little Ausable & Muskegon when some variety is needed. Stripping for large trout comes HIGHLY recommend the next couple months before rivers get busier, and the post spawn bite is still in full check. Manistee, Muskegon, & Ausable offer great options for tail water BIG FLY approaches right now, and is a great time to learn techs for big browns both here in MI and Ark for next year. If you want to see a few more fish, and don’t need to swing for the 24” mark, the PM offers so many more trout per mile this time of year to tango with. Just a week ago we rolled over 30+ browns, (scoring many over 18”), and the day started at 19 degrees; but then mixed in was also had 4 attempts by steelhead on stripped fly, two of which were converted, but neither landed. That’s allot of action on a stripped fly, no matter what month you’re fishing! Swing fly approaches remain solid for another month or so before most of the fish in the system prefer getting laid, over getting a snack in which case we will fall back to the tail-water browns, and any of those egging and early nymph strategies we implement early on the warming trout here on the PM. Nymphing early season brown trout is STUPID GOOD, and while everyone is trying to play mouth hockey with a bunch of spawning steelhead, you can be knocking the cover off the ball with smaller fry patterns and a nymphing program that can’t be rivaled any other time of the year on the butter. Following the steelhead spawning cycle, which can include some great “eggin” opportunities for the browns in the wake of these bedding areas, streamers and hatches will take over till the water falls out. Sulfurs & Grey Drakes come very recommended and few engage the early hatches, and the payoff and fishing pressure insist you give it a try. Of course, if you are coming for Hex Hatch 2020, which is sure to be better than 2019 as it was the worst in many moons… Get your dates booked sooner that later because I will book solid for that window running from middle June through early July before hoppers become the lights on dry fly fishing and very recommended for learning great casting skills without the strict disciplines of the sink tips. If you want the best numbers of fish during mouse windows, come early and dark in the season; if you want quality over quantity, come later in the season when the pre spawn comes on line. Again, darkest moons for my advanced mouse anglers, and for those who want some action, but wouldn’t mind a little light on the subject, shoot for any half moons, or lower horizon larger moons. Carried the mouse bite all the way into middle October this past fall, but we are looking to do the same this year with a better overall size fish, as we just weren’t able to get after those middle section fish as well last summer with all the water… Those fish usually fewer, but potentially bigger! Again, Arkansas 2020 is all set this year, so we aren’t looking for anymore beyond whom we already have on step for this outing. Next year, 2021, we will be setting up some neat stuff, and likely a little away from the more “trendy” windows to be down there fishing to browns that are there ALL YEAR LONG! It’s gotten so hard to keep a consistent bite through the Jan-Mar months on streamers as there are just sooooo many people fishing big flies down there now, and we are becoming a different band of brothers in that awareness as we saw that river fish with a streamer before the crowd descended. Again, we will be pushing night and two handed practices while there, and streamer fishing based on day to day flows, but we as a group now know when the best time to fish The White, and it’s got nothing to do with lights on practice… That’s more like buying lottery tickets, and only a couple steps ahead of the MI game, though far less pretty. Looking forward to going down there with some buddies this year unguided, as I was last year for the most part, with the best production in the worst conditions I’ve fished yet; but even more so, I’m looking forward to staying closer to home for a year and fishing the boys more this winter as they are coming into that cold weather fishing age. Hoping all of you folks had a great Holiday this year, and leaves you with resolutions of fishing more, better, and for that matter… WITH ME! It’s always a pleasure being your fishing guide, and next year makes 30 years of professional guiding for this balding, over opinionated, chubby Irishman… Hoping for another few decades before I punch the clock. Be safe driving up in this winter, watch for the black ice, it’s worse than the deer this time year with the overnights dipping like they do. Thanks again from all my family, to all of yours! Watch those weather windows this winter, and when you see a good forecast setting up for a get away, give a ring and we will see if we can get you out. Not booking ahead based on conditions right now, so it’s first come, first serve on the weather windows as they come between now and middle February when everything has broken a bit. Great solitude, and very quality fishing with really no pressure during the week, makes for a great time, and for that matter a productive one… And if you do hook the big one, these winter water temps will keep his fire at bay and possibly allow for that trophy to be landed when he would have otherwise handed you your hat… See ya soon folks!