All Written By: Tommy Lynch

As the Salmon of September and October finish their annual migrations to spawn and die; filling to the rim of the river with a wide variety of different proteins, the dark and deathly looking kings are being replaced and enhanced by the bullet headed chrome missiles known as Steelhead.  Not just any steelhead either, the finest of the runs; autumn runs of steelhead are the most aggressive, heaviest feeders, and the finest fish you will ever catch in fresh water pound for pound. Knuckle busting runs that can exceed more then a bend or two; table-topping leaps that will more likely have you ducking for your incoming tackle then holding said fish for a Kodak moment….these fish are just flat mean and without question the finest ride in the park.  The feed almost exclusively on King Salmon eggs for their first couple of months in the river; storing them up almost like a squirrel would store up nuts for the winter, steelhead will sometimes put thousands of them away in their stomachs to get them thru the winter till the early months of spring when they can finish their migration by spawning and leaving. The only “Hatch to Match” in October and November are the millions of eggs left in the wake of the King runs that are best imitated with things called NUKE EGGS and GLO-BUGS!

The proteins in the river (found in the form of egg and flesh) in the months of October and November are the highest of the year.  Ten thousand female King salmon run the river, each of them are holding tens of thousands of eggs; now I was never good in school, but I can tell you those are allot of reasons for a steelhead to run the Pere Marquette.  Call it a target rich environment for caviar lovers, call me the FishWhisperer, but don’t forget get that egg box filled with Grapefruit, Mango, Tangerine, and Cheese.  Wait for the fisherman to go hunting and then go to the river for some solitude and steelhead.

November is the biggest month for the egg bandits as not only do you have plenty of eggs still bouncing around, but you have a greater population of fish trying to gobble them up.  Competition for food in the holes is the greatest edge a fly fisherman could ever ask for when fishing for steelhead.  October you can have some good days, but only in particular spots; there are so many eggs in the river at this time, but only a few fish around to clean up so they can selectively feed and can be found often in spooky flat water where they can study each morsel before consuming.  November yields a whole river of egg bandits that will not only feed on eggs, but compete for them with the fish that are residing in the same hole.  As the number of eggs decreases, the amount of fish increases and this in turn creates GREED.  We love greed, greed makes steelhead run up and smash egg flies versus study and wait for them to come to him.  The steelheads do this in fear that the steelhead right next to him will get the egg before he does.  Remember, they have to get enough eggs to get them through a couple of months of chilly water where they are often much more lethargic and less likely to be feeding, much less feeding aggressively.  This is why we love the Chrome of Autumn; not only that they feed without hesitation and often on the first drift, but also because they are the closest I have ever found to lightning on a fly rod.

Not only are the steelhead the most aggressive of all the migratory fish in fresh water, but they are also the finest battle one could ever hope for on a fly rod in fresh water.  These fish do things that sometimes defy their finned possibilities.  Steelhead will often cover close a football field on their first run, and the unbelievable part is that he can usually do it to you before you can get your anchor up to give chase.  Leaping and rolling are some other ingredients the steelhead adds to the give and take battles that can last up to a half hour since there will surely be several runs even after the initial knuckle buster. Long rods, quality disc drags, and superior tippet material are key if you want to even get near these fish, at least the ones of any size.  The steelhead in the fall can reach the twenty pound mark, but most of those will never be photographed since conventional weaponry would have a better chance of landing that kind of fish then conventional tackle.  Steelhead that big are often hooked and then lost because they can more or less man handle you with the added current and confinements of Michigan river fishing.  I promise though you will never have such a good time loosing a fish as you do when you loose a big Fall Steelhead. You bow to him either with your rod as he barrels downstream, or when that same fish has you ducking for your shot and flies being emailed back at the speed of sound from holding on to tight while he’s leaping and bounding back to Lake Michigan!!!

You have to love those brown trout, and what they make a perfectly sane man do in the name of catching a wary old fish.  These fish are not bass, nor are they walleye; we rarely eat them and describe them with words like “pretty”, and “gorgeous”.  We up lift our quarry to a female symbolism that we love to gawk at again and again as if we were seeing a new set of breasts for the first time each time we catch a new trout. We photo ourselves next to these slimy cold blooded critters with bright eyes and big smiles, all the  while being ever so careful and tender so not to hurt the fish we have casted so hard for.  I have always thought of trout as a way of faithfully cheating on the ones we love.  I have two loves: one I share my bed with, the other I share the river with.

Have you ever noticed how very different each and every trout is, and I am not talking about different species of trout, I am talking about how unique every brown you have ever seen looks.  Every trout that I have ever caught, seen caught or seen pictures of has its own distinctive look to it.  Browns and snowflakes are one in the same in that now two are alike.  We love big browns like we like big boobs in that seeing new ones are always a priority and are vividly remembered for the rest of your life.  We spend thousands of dollars trying to see new ones, drive to the ends of the earth to touch one and never run out of ambition to find the next.  Trout are amazing and will make a passionate man out the roughest, toughest beer drinking fellow; they can also excite even the shiest of men.  Trout fishing may make up tardy for life’s inquisitions, it may end shaky relationships, and it will probably consume a better part of your bank account; but there is no doubt in my mind it makes us all better people!

What is it about trout that makes us wake in the early morning hours, or fish right through till the morning hours?  We put on an amount of attire that no woman would insist just to go stand in cold water to wait for one to choose your line.  This is not a pick up line, or is it.  Have we missed a major element to this whole fly fishing thing?  Do we need to start talking to the fish that we are fishing to as if we were in a bar searching for different pick up lines to woo the woman in front of us?  Why do we find ourselves falling asleep thinking of the one that got away or the one that almost was?  The next river to fish, what hole to fish when I get there, and the recipes of countless, nameless flies that would or should work when the time is right; these are questions that I like to fight with as I fall asleep every night.  I mean what else should one be thinking of as they fall asleep, I can think of nothing more appealing then falling asleep and be awoken by a half asleep dream of a 20lb brown coming to the surface and popping your fly.  Shaken but not stirred, you fall back asleep with the recollection and a smile, who could ask for anything more.  These dreams do not fall far from those dreams that have a woman as the star attraction, and I have found both to be very exhilarating.

Maybe it’s their spots all lit up with red, contrasting with a gold and black back drop.  Possibly it is the way they swim with a prowess nature always looking to be enticed into something they find attractive or irresistible.  Could it be the streamlined roll of their back rolling into their tail region?  I am not sure if a fish should be a sexy creature, but if they were, I am sure that trout would be the playmates.  I am getting married this season and am sure that I am marring the right one; not because she is beautiful, smart, and loveable in all ways, but more because she completely and totally realizes my somewhat demented overview on life and life’s objectives.  She can tolerate my horrible lack of a social life, and what I choose to fill it in with, along with the smell of waders that have been worn many to many days in a row fishing; all this and she said yes too!!  I lived alone for many moons before finding a woman that could stand to love a guy who loves to fish as much as I and I will never forget the day I met her.  My life went from good just shy of bliss.  I fished as many a 350 days in a year, and was averaging probably 300 days a year there while I was single and living in a RV; I never dated or bar hopped.  I understood that I might grow old and die alone with thousands of pictures of trout and steelhead laid out around my coffin with only family present, and I was content with this evitable possibility.  The only thing that stopped this from happening was that the river froze up and I got onto internet to do some fishing and landed the most wonderful prize a man could ever hope to net; she goes by the name of Andrea.  I am not sure which fly or what line she took, but she got hooked some how.  I still fish as hard as I did before I met her, and the most beautiful thing about her is she likes to come.  I will never catch a fish as striking as she, but hope she is there while I try.   I may never totally understand woman or trout, but isn’t that why we keep fishing?

Clear water conditions will test angler as much as fishing the river at flood stage.  The fish are there, the water is gin, the tippets are thin, and the flies are as sparse as crumbs; if your mend is late, or your cast too close the game is over before your flies hit the water.  Stealth, finesse, and a keen idea of the how to model the morsel they are hitting will catch you fish when others are scratching their heads and calling it a day.  Understanding that normal conditions allow for a steelheads’ range of vision to be restricted to only a few feet around them, when clear water conditions exist, it opens that window to a few yards allowing for very little error in all presentations; with one bad cast sometimes determining your success in any hole, run, or tail-out.

Whether you have sited a fish in clear water, something that is a bit of a bonus in the gin, or just think you know where one is sitting; approach can make or break your whole chance before you even step in the water.  Move into position well above your target area taking into consideration where you are, but where your rod will be waving around when casting, the water being that clear.  Notice the seams or seam your about to engage, and try and be preemptive with your cast prior to making it by taking out all the necessary line strips, and maybe a couple extra, all the while keeping your unhooked but not casted flies well away from the target area or fish.  The further away from the fish you are, the better off you are since the fish’s wariness increases as he sees more of the shadow waving the big stick.

Now that you’re all set, line out, target acquired, and intensions set; now make your first cast and make it a good one.  The first cast is always a good cast no matter what the water conditions are, but they are sometimes the only cast that will get hit in clear water.  After a fish sees the same flies going by time and time again as they can in the low clear water, they become savvy to the bug, and if you cast enough with the same flies, they will get savvy to you altogether making the fish impossible to fool.  Add a couple extra mends when you make your first cast, and cast several yards above the fish so not to be making any adjustments while being over the fish.  Waking bobbers, tailing fly lines, and mending so hard as to not only be moving the leaders above the bobber, but all the shot and flies below will do nothing but alert the fish to your presence.  The first thing that the fish sees being delivered from you should be your second fly, the couple extra mends ensure that the first thing the fish sees is your fly with everything else following.  Having the right mend above the Indicator is key, as well is having enough slack to allow for the drag free drift following the several initial mends made well above the run/hole.

Your next adjustments should be high stick adjustments, with mending direction pending the eddy currents or speed of the river.  Slack is your friend, but try and be two strips away from a good hook set instead of six.  If your stripping up your slack for more then a couple seconds, you surely have too much out; there should be just enough slack so that the indicator or bobber can stand straight up without any drag or wake on the surface.  If you get way behind in your mending, finish your drift instead of pulling up and out of the hole alerting every fish in the hole to the unnaturalness of your particular patterns.  Try and be early and preemptive on your mending and slack line amounts; in essence treating the indicator like a dry fly on a short leader.

Flies selection is not as hard as most think in the clear water so long as you tie with the water conditions in mind.  If your tying egg patterns that look like a gaff with a pea at the top, with hooks size bigger then a #10, don’t wonder why the fish are shying away from you; they can not only see your fly, but the barb on the hook when the water gets this clear.  When the water is this clear you have fish that are normally moving up and reacting to a fly, when their window of visibility is less then a yard, taking their sweet old time and studying your bug up to a few yards away as you work with your mending and line control giving the fish a heads up to you.  Size 14 egg patterns with pattern size matching the hook size, or caddis on tiny hooks or even the prize nymph of winter, the stone, should all be tied sparse and mini as to mimic actual size versus normally when running a bit larger pattern is as much an attractor as it is a natural variation.

Leader, tippet, and even indicator size all come into play as well.  My leaders start at 30lb Hard Mono and work all the way down to a superfine 3x tippet made of fluorocarbon.  Indicator size plays are roll since water level, speed, and depth dictate the amount of weight you might need; you want enough to stand the bobber as well as match the speed of the current.  Different rivers, especially larger ones require all the same with Spey rods as weapons and just a little more pound test per rig since the big rods often break the very fine tippets.  The upper sections of the rig are all mono with quality in material improving all the way down into the lower half of the rig were the lower half of the leader and the tippets are all fluorocarbon.  If you’re not using fluorocarbon yet, start, because it really does catch more fish; and in clear water it is an absolute must if you want to fool fish that are to say the least on their game!

These are just a few extra tricks that will help you with not only steelhead, but trout as well when the waters are clear and they can read the label on your waders.  All of these tidbits will improve your game when the water conditions are normal too, in that your presentation improves the amount of fish that take you seriously; but when the water is clear, as it has been for so very long this year on the Pere Marquette, having a stealthy, patient, and deliberate approach with finesse scattered over all of it can make the difference between driving up for a couple of nice trout, or making the drive for a half dozen steelhead and a couple of nice trout even when they said the conditions were not favorable.  Size does matter when tying your clear water variations, and so does the manner in which you present them.  Get a few of the numbers right on the combinations to locks on the fish’s mouth, and they will start to start to open.

Nothing like pulling up to the access and knowing the only breathing thing you have to share the river with is your trusty Husky buddy!!  It is truly too bad you can’t can or bottle some of the solitude that occurs on Michigan’s streams in the white of winter, there is so much of it.  I mean really can it and then just open it up on April weekend while you’re waiting in line to put your boat in the water.  Better yet, on that 80 degree night when you and what seems to be the better part of the English speaking language, show up for that hatch you know will be large and in charge; and you just crack the seal on some winter solitude, and BAM, the river is all yours.  The idea is remarkable and impossible, but if it was possible would you like a can?  We fish in the winter not for climate or companionship; we fish in these conditions because nobody else does and this in turn gives us solitude.  Solitude for some is thinking, for some it is just getting away from everything else, for some it’s just being somewhere else, and for some it’s a place to visit memories.  Fly fishing can be a very individual sport unlike many others, allowing for the possibility of being totally alone.  Most fishermen try and forget all the busy days on the water and cherish all the ones that weren’t, and it’s often on those days that memories are edged.  Those days are often lacking in company, climate, and catching but all was remembered with the solitude clearing the mind and Chinook running the banks. The hustle and bustle of life makes it tough to find solitude, and even tougher to remember.

We fish all year in and amongst many fly fishermen all looking for that piece of solitude.  Sometimes you have to walk many bends from the access, or float down several miles of river to find it, but there is one place it always is and that is winter.  Most people wouldn’t think of standing in thigh deep water that is colder then most peoples freezers, but then most people wouldn’t wander around in the dark waiting for a hatch that may or may not happen; fly fisherman have always been different like that.  There was never a river a fellow wouldn’t go to if the promise of trout was sincere, no matter how large the obstacles were.  There are fellows in Yellowstone that hike over 5 miles just to get to a section of river that has no roads in or around just because the trout up there were a few inches longer and there where almost no people up there.  Some of my clients shake like a leaf all day, just to get a picture of a winter steelhead; and though their smiles are a little frozen, these are dedicated/happy fisherman whose day was made as soon as they hit the water because though they took a picture of the fish, the solitude was the trophy.

I feel more like a kid in winter then any other time of the year.  There is something about that empty river that can take you back twenty years to days when you were fishing in wool and rubber.  It is such a unique feeling, kind of like a deja vu you would like to experience a hundred times a day.  Maybe it’s that winter whistle the wind and trees howl from December to February, or the sound of your lug soles popping through the ice covered snow while hearing your every breath under all the layers of climate taming apparel that takes you back. But I think the largest component of this experience is the lack of people and sound.  There are no cell phones, or cars speeding through slush (or traffic for that manner), or even people talking to you or around you; in fact there is no one around.  Nobody to talk to, nobody to look at, and nobody to help you; you are alone!  This day in age being alone, truly alone, if just for a little while is a commodity.  Most people live urban and are very much attached to everyone around them, both strangers and familiars that get them through each and every day.  I wonder how many of those people have ever gone a day without emailing, phoning, texting, or even talking with someone, and of those how many did it without a TV, Internet, or Radio.  We get so caught up with what is, what will be, and what we have to do, that we forget about what was.

  I just buried my dog Chinook this fall, and for him and I there is no more what will be, or what is; it will be all about the what was, and within that solitude I can visit him.  He used to follow me down the river while I fished in the winter.  He would dig up mice and voles while I tried talking steelhead into taking my flies; it was a good deal for both of us.  We did this often and alone, and in doing so we left thousands of memories on the river banks for me to visit whenever I feel the need.  It may be something as simple dry spot under a particular cedar on a snowy day that Chinook would always take a break under or a bend of river that I picture him running along trying to catch up to the boat that triggers a sensational memory; but that memory isn’t sensational till you add some solitude!

Memories are experiences waiting to happen again, and the key to those memories is solitude.  Everyone who has ever fished for any amount of time has found that place at some point or another, but the hard part is to find your way back.  For me a fly rod in hand, snow covered banks, icy guides, while trying to get a winter steelhead to bite my fly with the next closest person being a couple miles away, is that place. Maybe it’s the solitude that enhances the memories; I have never been sure what triggers these sensations.  I am sure that most of them occur on cold winter days when nobody would consider fishing and I find myself fishing alone with plenty of solitude and my memories of Chinook, the best fishing buddy I ever had!!

Any of you that have fished the PM for any amount of time have probably seen Chinook; he was the black and white husky that loved food and attention, in that order. So if you’re ever around Green Cottage on the Pere Marquette, stick a fly in the tree by his grave that is marked with a stone right behind the Winery just upstream from the access a bend.

Dry fly fishing for large stream browns in the dark is the most intense fishing anyone person can ever do and requires one to use all other senses outside of site to locate and target their fish.  After spring rains subside lowering the water levels and summers heat first starts to bake in;   these late weeks of June and the early weeks of July,  I find myself living a nocturnal schedule among cattails and morrow. Searching for the largest of all browns that this state can yield; we tie on a Hex, freshen up the headlight batteries hoping the Hex flies get thick enough to entice the TOADS to the surface in a feeding frenzy.

  The Pere Marquette is my home river; I live near it, guide and fish it year round in a rather religious fashion.  During the fall and spring months I keep myself busy by running nearly seven days a week for several month stretches.  Salmon and Steelhead seem to be the fish of choice for the bulk of my fishing cliental.  We make enough money in that time to take off most of the winter and a good portion of the summer months.  We fish with everyone from millionaires to manure farmers, and they all love the sport that we take them out for a fee to see.

   As my clients for the day are hooking massive Kings and taming chrome Steelhead, claiming the best fishing in the world is happening right there in the boat that they are in, they ask, “Tommy, when do you get to fish if your guiding right through the peak seasons?”  I reply with a sincere smile, “The off season is my peak season, for I am a trout bum!”  I will go into stories about some of the trout that we catch in the late spring on 10” streamer patterns, and early summer weeks with Gray Drakes and stone flies, as well as caddis all the while leading up to the ultimate Trout fishing of the year that haunts me for the other ten months of the year; THE HEX HATCH!!!

Hands down the most addictive two hours of fishing any fly fisherman could ever experience without seeing a thing. I look forward to the Hex Hatch more then any other month of the year as it often yields the largest trout of the year.  As the summer heat finally settles, and the nights never cool, I find myself wandering muddy water amongst cattails and critters in hopes tonight is the night for the big one that goes “Gulp” in the night.  Between buddies and big Browns, this one month of the year makes for memories and stories of a lifetime.

Finding the first substantial night of the Hex is the best fishing for trout I have ever experienced.  Hooking several fish over 20” on this night is the norm.  Every year there is that 1st Night, and it is quite magical.  People often will fly huge distances or drive through many nights to get a taste of the kind of trout fishing that the Hex Hatch provokes.  The biomass of bugs is so very large that no fish in the river can ignore what is happening and they begin feeding as if they had suitcases for stomachs.  They feed without hesitation, sometimes inches from your person.  On one occasion I had a client land a 23” fish that was feeding within a foot of the anchor rope.  There was no cast to the fish in question so I instructed my client to dangle it over his head because he was too close; the fish took the first the fly the first time it dabbed the water and then preceded to run clear around the boat a couple times before we got some type of angle on him.

The Hexigina Limbata is the largest of all the mayflies and provides the trout in the rivers that can sustain them and massive protein bender that is second to no other feeding moment in those fishes annual growth.  Most mayflies are tied on size 14’s and maybe even a couple 10’s or 12’s; but when someone is thinking Hex, they sometimes have size 4’s and 6’s out in front of them.  The fly is so much larger then all the other hatches going on that when it gets thick, it pushes all the other hatches to the banks as they look like B-2 Bombers going through the Gray Drake swarms that are more or less ignored once the big Hexs fly.  They are large, yellow and creamy and have a wetness to them like no other adult mayfly.  Whenever one does hit you, you feel as if you need to wipe your face because it is like someone spitting on you.

A couple of weeks of anticipation have already passed, and all the Hex patterns in your box are up to date.  Evenings that stretch into early morning hours tying Yellow Drakes, Troutsmans, and Hex spinners and duns in every color of yellow and white that you can get your hands on.  Foam and Deer bodies with oversize brown and grizzly hackles blanket the white interior of your fly box.  Batteries for the flashlight and headlamp are fresh and ready as well is a bottle of good bug spray.  The two hours of fishing that one can hope to experience require hours of preparation to engage.  Every night before our evening with the bugs, whether you need them or not, I always like to tie up a couple more Hexs; Ones that will surely be the ones they want for that particular evening.  Good meals and good buddies always accompany the first week Hexs.  Steak and Potatoes with some type of pasta and a driveway full of 4X4s makes for some of the most memorable nights of my life.

“Call Goof and see if he can make it tonight!” I say as I jump into my truck to go and get the steaks out of the fridge and tie just a couple more bugs.  Sean excited as well now, looking for his fly boxes that he tossed into a old gear bag 11 months ago, exclaims “Go, Go, Go, we only have a couple of hours to eat, get the guys up here, and get to the river”.  “Make sure you call Goof, he will be mad if we go out without him”.  Goof is otherwise known as Geoff, but the nickname fits the man more than his real name:  Normally not a huge fly fisherman, Goof doesn’t miss too many nights of the Hex.  He drives up north an hour and a half from Muskegon on a nightly basis for a couple weeks in which case he can be classified as a Hex-maniac.  Having a day job he is up at 7am daily works until 5pm, only to go home and gear up and drive up north in time for Steak and Potatoes; fish all night and make it home by 3 or 4 in the morning; pending on how late the Hex spinner flight goes till.  The man can go all day and all night and still look the part the following day.

It is about 8pm and the guys are showing up and the grill is sizzling.  Sean comes down the drive in a panic, jumps out of the truck and takes over the cooking details while I get one more bug tied.  Sean is the cook on most events, and is very good at it. Goof shows in dirty truck followed by a cloud of dust from the roads as they settle just behind him; busts out of his truck still dressed in work clothes and yells “I need to buy some Hex and borrow some wading boots, I forgot mine”.  I giggle and flash to several seasons before and realize that the Hex is on.

After an hour of taunting your buddies on who is going to get the largest fish, all the while stuffing your face with a pile of carbohydrates and proteins that was prepared without error and to perfection by Sean, it is time to gear up.  Throw on an old pair of capilene bottoms, some thin socks for wicking and a tee-shirt that you don’t mind retiring altogether at the end of the Hex due to the fact that it is covered with deet and every other kind on bug repellent known to man kind.  The shirts slowly decompose over the coarse of one months time; by the time it is over the shirt is coming apart at the seems and has sweat stains that cannot and will not be removed.  The hat is key and has to be disposable as well because when covering your person with bug spray the hat is sprayed directly several times each night.  If for some reason I forget my bug spray at home, the smell of deet on the hat is usually enough to keep the bulk of the bugs away from me.  Waders, leaders, flies and fly rods being flung from one end of the house to the other, we all manage to get our gear and equipment in check.  Goof having the most trouble because of leaving his house in such a hurry is running around like a squirrel on the last day of autumn.  “I need wading boots!!!” he keeps shouting.  Never mind the fly rod that he can’t seem to exhume from the pile of what-nots that cover the interior of his truck.  “Here you go Goof, here are the boots you need.” We watch him in a sweaty mess of disorganization.

After a good half hour of hosing ourselves down with Deep Woods Off, then dressing up to a point that it looks like we are about to jump out of a plane and perform surgery on the way down, I look down at my watch and exclaim “Lets go, the Bugs are going to crack in an hour!” With that we pile Goof, and the gear that he is still fumbling with, into the truck.  Sean holds the rods, which have been fully rigged and left long and out the window to dry the silicone paste floatant that is on the flies while doing 20 miles over the speed limit in any given spot;  Sean all the while mentioning every couple few minutes in a muffled tone, “Tonight’s the night”.

It’s a twenty minute drive that is cut short to about 12 minutes during the Hex because be always want to be the first ones down there.  Winding and Dusty roads all the way to the spot; it is as intense a ride there as well the ride back with all the deer that cover the roads a few hours past dusk.  Fisherman all over the state, still unaware of the fishing possibility that exists on this eve, are no where to be found when we get to the access.  Not one car in the lot leaves us with a feeling of maybe instead of for sure on whether or not we would be seeing the first Hex Hatch of the year.  Goof points out as he steps from the truck,” Maybe we are still a few days early, sure doesn’t look like the fishing is going to be there judging by the cars that are not in this lot.”  I turn to him with a direct face and inform him that most fisherman who come to fish for the Hex rely on reports on the internet and fly shops to pass information on the when and where they should come up and fish.  He politely, but unknowingly asks, “Yeah so, what is that supposed to mean for us tonight?”  “Who do you think writes the reports and gives the fly shops information?” I say as I look over at Sean who already is looking at the water, gills flaring.  Goof looking back down at the knots he is trying to master before me and Sean leave without him says, “Oh, I see what your saying.”

Making our way down to the river, covered with our Bug Spray aftershave and overfilled vests we start maneuvering our 9’ graphite sticks through the thickest vegetation anywhere on the river.  Unaware of the trails from last year, because of the lack of foot traffic in between seasons, we leave the getting to the spot to the dog.  Chinook, who is by far my most trusted and loyal fishing buddy.  Chinook who smells his way thru most of the Pere Marquette water shed, knows every trail on its hundred and some odd number of miles.  Turn him loose at just about any access, launch, or even secret spots, and just follow the white of his curled Husky tail to the river, and even to certain spots.  Killing and or eating every critter that crosses his path is his only reward for going on these outings, and he loves going every night.  He is invaluable when it comes to having someone watching your back for good fishing water.  While I may be stopped and concentrating on the river in front of me, Chinook is lying calmly behind me listening to all the critters that move about, and informs me by standing up if a fisherman are coming down.  His hearing is astounding and his sense of smell even better.  He can tell someone is coming two bends away which gives me the Hex advantage if I’m trying to locate the big ones.

Walking thru spiders, ticks, and whatever Mother Nature can come up next, with we plow through the tall 5 foot grass and endless thicket of falling trees that cover the forest floor, we duck and dive thru the mess with a intensifying gleam in your eyes to see Hex flying thru the air. Wiping sweat from our brows we make it to the first spot of the evening.  Wiping the bug spray from our eyes, the first thing that we notice are the Gray Drakes litter the sunset backdrop holding 10’ over the water beginning to copulate and activate the fishes interests to the surface. We begin to break apart and find our own spots for the evening; never being more then a couple bends away from each other just incase of a quality photo opportunity with a large brown we could yell to the other.  “Goof, you fish the Turkey House, I will fish Magic Island with Chinook, and I think Sean is fishing………..”, as I am cut off Sean finishes with “I am fishing Ducks Bayou.”  “Ok, let’s go the bugs are going to pop any minute, if they are going to pop at all.” “Let’s Go!!” I bark at Chinook, and off he goes.  After a quick break, we spread out across the area; with three bright flashlights crashing thru the darkness, followed by the trampling of critters that look to get out of our path then zip code it would seem by their panic.

Making it down to the spot I have I have chosen by about quarter to ten, I post up here and grab a cold can of Dew from the Ziploc full of melted ice in my back pouch.  I sit down and call to Chinook with a whistle to stop from going any further down the river just incase he still thinks I am right behind him.  All is calming now; no more jingling of lanyards and keys, or the rustling of tippet spools and fly boxes crashing around in my over fattened vest.  This is all replaced by the sounds of a nocturnal ecosystem coming alive.  Mosquitoes buzz around your head relentlessly, mice pushing there way to the rivers edge for the oats that grow on the taller grass outside the forest canopy, owls sound off every other minute as if they were trying to get the last word in for the night, and I can even hear the sound of my pop fizzing a couple feet from me.  Chinook come crashing back thru the terrain and lands right behind me and calmly stays alert for anything that might be moving.

Staring into the less then illuminated sky, spinner flights from smaller mayflies activate the smaller fish on the flat.  From a flat piece of glassy, inactive water, comes a feeding frenzy on the surface at the Gray Drakes expense.  Some fish are small steelhead are refer to as smolts, that have not returned to the lake and others are smaller browns that hope to get a full tummy before the larger browns come out onto the flat to feed for the Hexs:  for they know that if they stay on the flat and feed, they could be in danger of being eaten.

We have several nicknames for the trout as they get to certain sizes and weights.  “Dinks” are fish all the way up to 12” or so, and we never even bother with them.  From there you have “Nice Fish” that can be up to 18 or 19” and we can and do mistake them for bigger fish pending on their feeding style.  Beyond 19” we love any will almost always stop for; these fish up to 23” are referred to as “Toads”.  Every year we catch twenty or so fish over 20”, but only a handful over two feet, and we call them Kongs.  These are the fish worth really telling stories about.  Giants that can be older then ten years of age and will take fly patterns that range from other small fish to other mammals all other times of the year.  We are talking about fish that have the capacity to eat a small duck; and for one magical month of the year we get to attempt these giants with insect patterns on a moonlight river surface under the cover of darkness in there most vulnerable state.  Imagine any river you have ever fished, then think of all the large trout you have caught over the years, then have them all come up and hit giant dry flies(all of them at once)on cue for two hours every night for a week; that is the magnitude of fish activity that the Hex Hatch provokes.

Sitting on the bank and watching the light slowly slip away beyond the trees in marvelous oranges, reds and purples; I stare thru the clouds of Gray Drakes and see what looks to be B-2 bombers in comparison to the smaller mayflies.  “Finally, the Hex have arrived.”  I say with a sigh to myself.  Three nights before without seeing bug one in the same spot; I am relieved that my fourth night in a row is not in vane.  Suddenly a larger fish begins to feed on my flat, and another; and just like that it is time to get into the water.

Darkness finds its spot in the woods and everything is heard and not seen.  Your sight is lost and you begin relying on your ears and even nose to help guide you thru the best dry fly fishing of the year.  When one sense is lost your brain must enhance the others, or at least it would seem.  When you get used to fishing for trout in the dark, you can hear fish sometimes at a distance of a hundred yards or so, even with the Hex swarming up stream with the sound of a million Locusts. Soon what was just a scattering of bugs across the sky has turned into a healthy pipeline of Hex flying as fast as they can up stream, along with the constant emergence off new ones in the form of Duns that dimple the surface of the water.  In the distance…….”YAHOO!!” is shouted by Goof as he sees the bugs in a healthy forum.  So loud is the hatch sometimes that it is difficult to hear your buddy, even if he was next to you.  It is ten after ten and the bugs are in high gear and the big browns are moving out onto the flats to gorge themselves for an hour or two.  You’re standing in the river with what you believe to be the right fly, with your trusty sidekick laying behind you in the grass waiting for the next mouse to give away it’s position, and that order to the Universe they are always talking about seems to be a part of your world on this night.

An interesting 15-minute intermission from fish feeding on the flat occurs around half pasted ten when the dark of evening is followed up by the blackness of night. A Cone of Silence on the water as the little fish exit the flat and the large ones take up their positions.  Then, as if on remote control from the year before, the giant residents begin feeding.  A once inactive glassy flat of water with little to no trout feeding turns into a flat of what would seem to be four to five pound Piranha feeding on Cheez-Its off the surface.  The “dink” splashes that were heard just a half hour before are then replaced by the sounds of “toads” slurping the water around the fly instead of just the fly itself.  Some of the big fish can filter up to a full Dixie cup of water with each visit to the surface.  Some of the better feeding lanes that are taken by what are usually the largest fish on the flat can accommodate 2 to 3 bugs per gulp.

My heart racing, my sweating intensifies as the high air temps just barely give way to the marginal five degree evening cooling.  It’s a quarter to eleven and all of a sudden a dozen fish that could be classed as toads feeding only rods lengths from my person surround me.  This is when it really gets good.  “One casting” these fish happens often, and especially on the 1st Night of the Hex.  The fish are stupid and unable to determine what is real and what isn’t.  They haven’t been fished to in several months, and most of the giants only come out of their log littered lairs a couple times a year; and one of those times is always for the Hex.  They feed viciously and without hesitation on fly after fly; my only job in the world is to get my fly in line next too be eaten by the fish of my choice.   The Hex is so intense you will find yourself running from one bend to another trying to determine which fish is bigger — the one over there or the one up there — it is enough to drive a person nuts, but in a good way.  “Here goes…” I whisper to myself as I pull off my first bundle of line for the Hex Hatch.   Then as if the fish was waiting for my bug, and my bug alone, the first cast is the right cast for this nice fish.  “Fish On!” I yelp at the top of my lungs, in hopes that Goof can hear my scream over the sound of the bugs that are swarming in every direction by this point.  “ZZZZZZ”,,,,ZZZZZZ  as the reel gives way to the first couple of vibrant trusts.  Knowing that I have a good fish on, but not the Super Toad I am looking for on this magical night I quickly make short work of this nineteen inch trout with ten pound tippets.  Steering him quickly to the inside, so not to disturb the other fish feeding rods lengths from the splashing fish, I manage to photo and release him in excellent time.  The pressure is off and the Hex is on!!

The first nights that I began fishing the Hex Hatch I was scared out of my mind.  When standing still on a bank listening to every movement that the darkness offers, and without the back-up reassurance of your eyesight, the mind can play some pretty horrible tricks on you.  In between the sounds of large browns snatching big Hexs one can hear a beaver smash the water with his tail only a few feet from you without so much as a warning; or sounds of raccoons on the opposite bank rustling their way through the thick vegetation for a cool drink, but as far as your mind is concerned it is definitely a large black bear stalking a few feet closer to you every few minutes. Making your way through the swampy grass kicking up deer and sending them on a mad dash further into the thicket is enough to make your heart skip a few beats as well.  Seeing is believing, and in pure blackness, imagination is substitute for eyesight in determining what is and what isn’t.

Fish feeding every third second all around you and sometimes even off the downstream side of your waders.  Any obstruction in the water can make for a good Hex seam.  Smarter and older fish will sometimes require more attention and sometimes even a fly change.  I’ve thrown fifteen different patterns to a fish that seemed to be feeding without hesitation for upwards of an hour and had him say no to a dozen and never consume one.  Big browns act a lot like wolves in that they love to live in the wood and often only feed at night.  The smarter the brown gets, usually coincides with how deep into a logjam a fish may live.  These fish often will never even feed on a bug except for the Hex; primarily basing their entire diet on other fish or even small mammals. If a large Brown ever had an Achilles heal it would be the Hex.

Itching in between each cast from the unstoppable mosquitoes and no-see-ums, I have located the fish for the evening.  Just as I am about to focus all my attention to this slurping toad I hear a voice off in the distance.  “I need a camera, I GOT A GOOD ONE!!” is shouted at the top of Goofs lungs.  “I’m coming”, I yell back grabbing onto a handful of grass from the bank to pull myself from the mud that has snuck up around my knees.  Making it up to Goof in a panic, covered with sweat and spider webs, “Lets see”, I squeeze out in between deep breaths.  With his rod submerged under a foot of mud, and bugs swarming his grinning face, he raises large trout from the midnight stained water.  “Good one!” I assure him as he waits for me to dig out my camera.   “Keep his head in the water.” I exclaim while he admires his fish big fish of the year.  “I want to catch him next year, two inches bigger.”  I giggle as I fumble with the camera.  In a tangle of mud, mosquitoes and monofilament we get a great photo.  Goof, unable to calm, goes into a play by play of the battle with the fish.  Obviously happy that he has gotten a great fish, I congratulate him a couple of more times and leave him on the bank with a perma-grin and the reassurance of a photo with a great fish.

Crashing back thru the woods in a mad dash for the fish that I had just left, Sean’s flashlight emerges from the brush, and gasps, “Anything yet?”  I offer back, never losing pace on the trek back to my spot, “Yeah, Goof just got about a twenty-one incher, and I have a Kong around the corner!!”  “Awesome!” I hear as Sean picks up right behind me. “I’ve landed three fish already, but haven’t broken twenty; tickled it a couple of times though.”  “You the man!” exclaiming while I reach for my rod that is buried in the grass.  “KERPLUNK!!” is heard just in front of us as I get my feet in the water.  Sean, astounded by what he just heard, utters in a less then believing tone, “What the hell was that?”  “That is what I was about to start fishing just before Goof popped his!” as I’m pealing line off my reel preparing for a cast at the giant.  “Crash, Pop, Bam, Snap, Boom” is heard in the near distance as we realize that it is just Goof negotiating the terrain between us and him.  “Hey guys, where are you?” is returned by a “SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!!!” from Sean.  “Tommy’s got a Kong in front of him.” Sean ads while attentively coaching me on the fishes whereabouts.   Smiling from ear to ear from the exceptional fish that he just landed, Goof appears with the story of the battle he just experienced.  Getting in a sentence or two of the story he is cut off by a massive “KERPLUNK!!”  “Wow, is that a…..” Goof is cut off by Sean, “Yeah, that’s a giant!” Sean finishes, and then follows with “Now SSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Chinook who is being more quite then anyone is also even alerted to the large gulps being taking from the surface.  Rings echo across the surface of the water as this large finned pig snaps bugs from their watery grave.  Most other fish, already full from eating every couple of seconds for the last half hour, slowly descend off the flats.  With only the sounds of this fish breaking the waters surface I slowly locate within a pie plate area, approximately where the fish is and offer my first cast blindly.  Without hesitation, the large brown proceeds to refuse my first presentation with a large bowling ball boil just beneath my furry creation.  Sean, amazed that this is even a trout, offers a “Wow, that is a smart fish; that cast was perfect.”

Creeping up on half passed eleven I realize that the emergers and duns that scattered the surface a few minutes before have been replaced with a massive number of spinners.  I decide that I won’t even cast to this fish again with the emerger pattern that worked for me just a half hour on the respectable, but much smaller nineteen inch fish.  Feeling my way through the knot tying process, I manage to get a large white spinner tied on.  “That’s the one!” Sean and Goof reassure me as I set it up for its first presentation.  “KERPLUNK!”  “Did you hear him Sean?” “Sounds like that one is getting a bucket full of water with each fly!” whispering as I get just a couple feet closer to him.  Getting late in the game, with bugs running out, I realize I have just a few casts to get this fish before he quits feeding for the night.  Offering the first cast to the fish with no results, Sean whispers in a concerned voice, “Just a few feet beyond your last cast.”  Goof, impressed with the fish he caught, and amazed at the fish feeding in front of me, burps, “God I love Hexs!!”, as he takes another sip of his warm soda.

Concentrating intently on the few yards of river in front of me in roll cast the deer body in line with the fish as best as my ears allow.  “That should do it.”  I confidently offer as if I could talk the fish into hitting.  Sean replies, “Yeah, I like that one too.”  Settling into the drift with a couple of blind insurance mends I drop my rod in hopes that the next thing I hear is a splash.  Though large browns can sip and gulp very discreetly off the surface from one bug the next without making much sound at all; they splash almost every time when they bite down on a hook.  Sean, eyes wide open trying to burn a hole in the curtain of night, offers that I might be right over his head, and before he finishes “SPLASH”.  Line taunt, drag yielding and 5wt maxing out, I exclaim, “There he is!!”  Sean starts running down the bank, tripping on everything in his path, hoping to get down stream of me before the fish does.  Goof in a panic drops his soda, and stands up only to see the silhouette of a seven pound trout leaping and bounding in the calm moonlight surface of the water.  Working the rod back and forth, up and down, I adjust the fish’s attitude slowly but surely.  Bursts of energy from the less then happy trout, followed by the sound of the reel giving way, Sean in the distance yelling frantically “I can’t see him yet!” while searching the water surface around him for any signs of a desperate fish ensures for a quality story back on the tailgates.

Calming down from its initial panic runs the trout begins to cooperate and starts to lose a game of mercy with my tippets.  Sean, still searching, totally unaware of my or the fishes whereabouts, manages to see a tail flash in his headlamps boundaries.  “I see him!” as he lunges for the first attempt at landing the fish.  Staring at the water motionless with a confused look Sean wills the fish back to the surface for a second and successful attempt.  “I got him!” Sean busts out while trying to calm the fish that has since exploded in a fury from the capture of the net.  Sean in a hurried voice yells “Your clear!” after removing the hook from the fishes mouth and tossing my fly back on to the water.  Reeling up the excess line and securing the flies I burst back with, “How big is he?”  Before Sean can even reply Goof, standing directly over Sean on the bank flashlight blaring, emits a massive “Wow!”  I jump onto the bank as if a crocodile was right on my tail, and run down to the fellows who are apparently quite taken with whatever is in the bottom of that net.  “Well lets see it!” I demand from the two of them who are a little stunned.  Sean reaches into the net only to realize that he would need two hands to lift him out of the net, because one hand couldn’t match the girth of the fish to establish a grip.  Goof offering his help, grabs the net, Sean reaches down and pulls up a Super Toad.  “He’s over six pounds for sure.”  He assures me as he tries to maneuver the fish out the small trout net.  I quickly get my camera from the vest and power it up and hand it to Goof.  “Here ya go.” Sean says as he hands the fish over to me; which I proudly hold with a satisfied smile.  Goof who is manning the digital camera, is trying his best to negotiate finding me on the screen; but with the lack of light entirely he ended up taking blind snapshots in my general direction.  The trout, startled by the flashes from the camera breaks out in a hysteric spasm and manages to break free of my grip.  “AHHHH!” I scream as it splashes back into the water.  Immediately turning to Goof, I exclaim “Did you get a shot?”  Goof, still squinting down at the camera with uncertainty, mumbles, “I think so.” When it flashes you get a picture, right?”  Looking up at me now, more or less scratching his head.  “We’ll find out tonight when we get back.”  Sean says while pulling himself back onto the bank.

Approaching midnight, bugs on the surface not nearly as abundant, I offer that we should make our way back to the truck.  Breaking down the rods and tying down all the bells and whistles that may be loose on the vest from the hike in, both Sean and Goof congratulate me over and over with “wows” and “sighs.”  Chinook, well aware we will be heading back begins to move about, and with everything in order we start the hike back.  Conversations over how many fish were feeding in this spot and that spot, what bugs were preferred over others, how good the overall first night was, and how damn big the Toad that I caught was develop and circulate as distant voices across the cedar flats to anyone that could be within earshot.   The white Husky tail that we have trusted in the less then traveled spots that we fish, sure as the North Star, finds our way back to the trucks. Exaggerations of fish size, and constant taunting on who would get the biggest fish the following night, manage to shorten the walk considerably.

Nearing one in the morning, tailgates popped, and beer coolers open, we downshift mentally from the excitement from the night’s events.  Sweat cooling on every inch of us, without the mosquitoes buzzing around our heads, makes for a relaxing finish to a perfect night of Hex.  Sean, satisfied with his performance maintains that he still landed the most fish that night; Goof, still suffering from a smile that was put on his face hours ago by a quality fish, mentions how brilliant the colors were on the fish that he caught and landed.  I concur with both of them, and insist they have nothing on me, for the fish I caught that night could have fed on any one of their fish.  Laughing out loud, under a star lit sky, petting Chinook in appreciation for his help, I downshift into exhaustion.

We love to fly fish many different ways with a thousand varieties of flies, but when you really think about it, nothing beats the dry fly take.  If a fly fisherman were asked to describe his fantasy fishing moment, he would likely mention a large hatch with fish feeding everywhere, and not just any fish; big, fat, lazy trout that only come out of their lairs once a year.  I have fished a few hours in my day, and within those hours I am sure that the most memorable ones are those spent in pure darkness, covered in bug spray, listening for the slightest movement on a black glassy stream.  Now mouse fishing is productive, but often consumes your whole night leaving you looking like road pizza the following day; whereas the Hex Hatch is the sweetest couple hours of fishing a dry fly fisherman could ever hope to experience, and still get you into bed by 1am.  On any given night, within a two hour period, a person can achieve twenty inches several times.  The best night I ever had doing it, and to date it stands as the best trout fishing I have ever had, was landing a half dozen fish over twenty inches long with one of those being over two feet. That is world class day of trout fishing in three hours; the only catch is that the lights are out.  The playing field is even though; you can’t see them, they can’t see you, making for some close to home casting with some heart stopping takes!

The Hex Hatch is the mother of all hatches in that it’s the largest mayfly and hatches in numbers equivalent to a locust swarm.  For trout I suppose its equivalent to Big Macs’ hitting the water in the millions.  They feed without hesitation, at least when it is just naturals on the water, and aggressively; filling any void left by winter, and then stacking a couple pounds on that.  They literally stretch themselves so that they can get as many as they can; many of the fish caught in the first couple weeks of the hatch are belching bugs at you when you take your fly out.  The biggest fish of your season can be achieved in little time when this hatch occurs, and timing is everything.  It varies in intensity all across the state, but more big browns are caught between June 15 and July 15 every year in this state then any other time of the year hands down.  Steelheads are also taken on the surface at this time, and they feed even sillier. When steelhead feed on the Hex is sounds as if someone is throwing shoes in the water.  The first cast is usually the right cast with steelhead, as is the first choice from the fly box.  If you’re in areas that have potential to produce steelhead, be sure and have that disc drag on there; I have had many clients licking bloody knuckles after tussling with the chrome in the dark on the spring/pawl.   They are not browns and will feed on anything close to a Hex variation.  Browns on the other hand will keep you guessing sometimes till you hear morning birds.

A great cast is nothing without a fly that will coerce a fish into taking.  During different times of the hatch, you should be thinking about the stages at which they are going through.  Fishing an emerger, or cripple, or even a dun would be great ways to approach the first hour of bugs, where the middle and intense part of the hatch can be fished with bigger white spinners or larger extended body flies.  Towards the end of the hatch, when the bugs are dead or dying and floating; fishing the spent (thinner winged/smaller) Hex or even single wing parachute can be the trout fancy.  A little curl or bend in your foam body or hook will give your Hex, at that time of the hatch, a more realistic state then say a massive dun or spinner with a straight/fatter body.  As the night goes on the bugs get water logged and begin to curl up a bit, thinning and shrinking the longer they sit in the water; it is also at this time when the largest/smartest fish (those fish that have a gut large enough to feed that late) are sipping.  If you are fishing a massive spinner or dun to this fish on your first cast, you’re more likely to put him down then hook him up.  Always run one fly early and late, and pending your casting and control, try to run maybe two if the bugs get so thick you feel like you have to win the lottery to get him to choose yours over the ten thousand on the flat.  Another good trick to keep in your arsenal is fishing nymphs and emergers just below the surface when the hatch stalls due to temps, baro, or rain.  Just grease up a nymph or the parachute only on a emerger and your fishing; this technique can also be applied during the early emergence before the hatch, and can be very deadly when applied to wary fish late at night that just need to see something new.

When you step up to take a shot a fish, don’t make a dozen casts getting your line out and slashing up the water long before you get your first good mended cast out there. First take out more then an adequate amount of line, wait for him to take another fly (you may even need to time him if the hatch is massive), and then make a premeditated cast ABOVE him, not ON him.  If the bugs are thin enough, he should take one of the first three casts; if the bugs are thick you may need fifty to a hundred casts.  Refusals are not uncommon in the dark, especially with the bigger toads.  If he refuses your fly, don’t send it back to him; change up immediately, he will likely take the first cast with the new bug.  If the fish has managed to jump through every hoop without getting burnt, throw him a total curve ball and fish two different fly stages; maybe a giant white spinner and a much smaller deer bodied single wing.  Watch those hook sets too; if you set the hook every time you hear him feed, sooner or later you will be too close to him when you do and you will put him down for the night.  A little finesse and timing goes a long way when you’re fishing the big guts after midnight, and if you add enough of enough of each, he will take your pill and fight you like you owe him money; with any luck he will get a mugshot!

“See Him?!”…. “Right behind those old rusty Kings there on that outside bed!” loudly whispered as I start backstroking on the oars trying to hold an upstream position without spooking the fish that has eggs on the brink just down in front of the bow.  Trying to get a few steps back up stream and well inside the seam where the fish can’t see us move as well too get set up, I try dimming the oars just a bit to quiet the water.  “If we would have gotten any closer with the boat we would have spooked him for sure, never even giving us this shot to cast at him while he sits in a feeding position below the rotting, but still swimming and actively spawning Kings”. I mention as I get a clean anchor down and a still happily feeding steelhead to my port.

Later in the fall when the steelhead have filled up at least once on eggs and are looking to top it off a couple of times just before the snow flies, ensuring a comfortable winter and early spring spawning cycle, a pair of Kings on a bed becomes more or less a fast food drive though where a steelhead pulls up and feeds without much work on as many calories as they can stand to hold or whenever the salmon finishes spawning, whichever comes first.  When fishing these kinds of scenarios you need a real sized egg that will be fished in very shallow water since the hold is likely less then four feet of water and full of light; at the same time the fish is feeding aggressively and can be taken so long as the presentation is there; there really is nothing like watching a steelhead move several feet to come and tackle an egg pattern you tied!!

“Ok take out a bunch of line and try not to spook the Kings when you cast”, I let my guy know before he casts so not to spook the salmon which are more or less a bait pile and if they spook there is no reason for that 12lb chrome steelhead to be holding back there playing goalie with salmon eggs, letting no eggs get past him.  “Where do you want me to cast?” My client anxiously asks seeing the large steelhead feeding just a few feet behind the dark and tired Kings.  “Give it too him way upstream and get it mended up good and loose for a drag free drift and long before it gets to the fish because that fish isn’t looking right in front of him, he is looking right behind those Kings several yards upstream and will take nothing less then a drag free drift”, I mention to ensure as we watch the steelhead work the downstream bounty behind the Kings. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little excited just watching steelhead work the downstream King debris; it seems very premeditated and exploitable when you see migratory fish feeding in such ways.

Presentation is everything when fishing the early chrome, but their guts keep them in the game even when they know they shouldn’t.  They feed as hard as they can when the eggs are readily available and will take an imitation almost on cue since they feed almost blindly on them after the first dozen go down as good as they do.  Fluorocarbon is a must when the water is clear but I also think that it works well when the water is dirty and the only time is does fish second to mono is in dry fly applications where floating is key.  Depending on the water level, its clarity, and the size of the river you are fishing will determine your x tippet class, but exceeding 1x or fishing lower then 4x tippets is usually a bad thing since landing them and or hooking them becomes an issue on anything more or less.  Hook size and quality goes a long way to and running eggs that are uniform to the size of the hook will give you more action with finicky fish, especially if there are trout in the mix.  When casting to your targets (fall Steelhead parked behind King gravels picking off eggs), make sure you cast far enough up stream to get the eggs deep and drag free long before it comes into the targets line of site which is directly behind the gravel or spawning kings.  One cast will entice him, the other will offend him and when your cast is off or the mend is weak, then the fish has got you and you might as well change bugs and give him a few casts to forget what he saw, assuming you didn’t cast to close to him and spook him entirely.  If you think the fish is likely to take the tenth cast over the first, think again; every cast that goes by that fish wises him up just a little more so earlier in the attack is much more likely.

“Nice cast, one more loose mend,,, keep that line coming”, I offer up as my guy makes a great cast with a trendy mend to get the good drift, me trying to keep him ahead of the mend so not to spook the fish with drag or swing in what should be a river bouncing egg presentation  “OK, no movement now, we are coming to him,,,,, Oh No, here he comes!!” seeing the fish lean in the current towards my clients well mended cast and drag free eggs just below.  Watching as the fish moves a good six feet off its hold to come and sack the fly, we both just get really quiet and witness the fish grabbing the fly, “YOU GOT HIM!!!” “Keep it tight…oh there he goes”, with the line getting ripped off the floor of the boat and a chrome bullet bouncing all over the water below the bow we are “Fish On”, my smirking and more then happy client exclaims.

Fall steelhead are great in that respect, unlike any other fish we have; they can just run and leap like no other.  Like a sports car going through gears they get moving very fast and can really get a disc drag singing, more so then even the early Kings.  If most fish worked within the realm of 4 gears, a steelhead surely has another, if not two more gears.  Head shakes are erratic and electric and if your fly rod is to fast they can often throw the hook during such episodes.  Michigan fly fisherman would be hard pressed to find a more acrobatic, speedy, or down right explosive fish pound for pound within the state and of freshwater species I know of few that compare.

“There he goes again, stay off that pedal brother”, excited and cautious I blurt out as the fish takes it’s second and even larger run away from the boat.  “He probably knows he’s hooked now”, I offer up with a litter humor over the sound of the drag sending line to the fish, making the reel just flat sing as it heads down for the next bend. After a good battle, bringing the fish all the way back to the boat earning just about every inch from that stubborn 12+lb male, we managed to get a good scoop with the net leaving no chance to whether or not it was an epic battle; exhausted from laughing, reeling, rowing and picture taking.  Turning to my unnamed, but now seasoned client, I offer up a fist for a “Knock”, and let him know, “Nice fish brother,,,,,, way to be, lets catch another!!”  He turns, looks down river, still holding on to a great smile and feeling of accomplishment and obviously has no problem with going for another!

Some of us — and you know who you are — got hooked early.  We were fishing with our father or mother or one of our pals.  Maybe it was a brother.  Maybe we were on our own the first time we ever felt that thrill of some unseen, unknown, swimming thing tugging at whatever we were fishing with.  Ever since then we’ve been hooked.

This and only this is what drives us to go out in weather not suited for humans, to fish the odd hours through pre-dawn and post-dusk and pitch-dark, to mingle with critters and bugs that seem to be as driven as we are to make it to the river’s edge by hiking, driving, flying, and sometimes even swimming to “The Spot”.

I was born with this affliction, and though it never completely enveloped me till I was old enough to drive to the river myself, it defines who I am, not just what I do.  Fishing is not just a pastime for me.  It’s a passion. Even on the toughest days on the water; whether lack of fish or fair weather, I found a place in this world where nothing else mattered.  My father called this phenomenon a person’s “Peak Experience”, and told me I was very lucky to find it at such a young age.  He explained that this was an activity that a person may or may not find over the course of their life that restores and renews and “re-creates” them.  This “experience” was a place or moment in which the person looses all concepts of time, space, and surrounding issues – they become utterly undistracted, more alert and in tune.  And even if it requires great effort and energy, it always makes you feel fresh, focused and more alive.  For me it is fishing and every thing to do with it.  Some people could strain their whole life just trying to find that one thing, place, or maybe even person that will complete them at that level, and never do.  In that I know that I was very lucky, I got to fish the Pere Marquette when I was just seven years old; I had found my Peak Experience and I don’t know if I ever really came home!!

The Pere Marquette River flows from its headwaters near Baldwin to empty into Lake Michigan half way up the west side of Michigan’s mitten.  Outside of the fly fishing, canoeing, and snowmobiling, you probably have never heard of Baldwin, Michigan.  It has a few historic tidbits that come along with it, and some great local characters at any of the local pubs, but you won’t find a Starbucks here or Internet Café.   McDonalds came and went a couple years ago just to give you an idea of our “growth”.  It is up-river, down-market and off the beaten track.

The fly-fishing around Baldwin, however, is exceptional.  There are hundreds of miles of trout stream loaded with rainbows, brook trout and browns, as well as the best natural runs of steelhead and salmon in the Midwest.  Unlike all other rivers in the state that actually get a good run of fish from the Great Lakes, the Pere Marquette has no dams making for fish migrations that move through several hundred miles of river and tributaries versus those rivers where it is stopped right at that dam, sometimes as close as a few miles upstream.   There are miles of gravel sections that provide perfect spawning habitat for any migrating fish or resident fish.  Within the same watershed, in addition to those native returning Salmon (both Coho and Chinook), as well as a rotation of ongoing steelhead runs that never seem to totally cease over the entire year, you have a world-class resident brown trout fishery.  The brown trout are the most abundant and biggest of the trout in the river, some of which are in excess of a couple of feet.   I have always referred to these fish as “Toads” or “Slobs” – the biggest, smartest, oldest, and wariest of all of our fish, making them my most prized of catches.

The seven miles immediately downstream from M-37 bridge is, mile-for-mile, is the finest trout fishery in the state.  The fabled Ausable and the Manistee have shared that title for years, but since the Pere Marquette’s “Flies Only” section was revamped and declared a “Catch and Release Only” fishery, we have been growing some very large trout and allot of them.  The fly water has holes that are in excess of a dozen feet deep, greasy emergence flats, runs as long as a football field, riffles that are twice as long as they are wide, undercut banks up to a persons height up and under the banks, log jams that are thirty years old which become, more or less, condos for browns, and bends so frequent as to test the most able canoe or drift-boater.  This section of the P.M. has more trout habitat, food, overall water condition than any other stream around and that is why so many fish reside and frequent this river without the plantings and or nursing of its structure or habitat.  The fly water can grow trout faster because of the salmon and steelhead runs which get a bad rap for ruining the trout fishery, but fluctuations in the resident population can be blamed more on the water levels in the last decade than on any migrating fish.  The browns feed at certain times of the year, if not all times of year exclusively on the biomass of eggs, flesh, or fry left in the migratory fishes wake.  Unlike most great trout fisheries in the state that are limited to a diet of nymphs, adult flies, and the very occasional smaller fish above those rivers’ dams, the Pere Marquette has a entirely different menu of protein for the browns to dig through.  Not only does it have the huge mass of flies in all stages, including those from the banks edge known as terrestrials, it has a biomass of fish that run from the big lake to litter the river with all varieties of protein.  Browns that feed on fish and eggs can grow faster because there is more food around at more times of the year.  They can be very selective, and when they eat an eight-inch Steelhead smolt, that fish will more than likely be sitting under a log jam for a few days without any possible approach than sitting out on some emergence flat sipping small BWO or Caddis making for easy presentations.  This makes a fish more likely to slash at bigger patterns though, and also gives the fish the added advantage; putting on weight quickly and easily.  A Pere Marquette Fly Water Brown is more likely to feed on a smaller fish feeding on nymphs, such as fry, par, smolt, and even smaller trout, than he would be feeding on the nymphs himself.  The river provides such an abundant food supply that the fish can be picky and more opportunistic than, say, a fish that needs to feed on the inside lane in high noon light, exposed in every way, just to keep the fish’s protein intake high enough to sustain it’s size with small larva and nymphs.

The best time to capitalize on this cannibalistic fish in all his fury is the Salmon Fry Hatch in early spring.  Immediately following the incredible spring runs of steelhead that have held and intensified since the later months of the previous summer, there is a bio mass of huge proportions that can be found in every stream that sees good Salmon runs.  The Salmon eggs have nestled all winter jut to give way to a scheduled hatch of literally billions of Salmon fry per watershed.  These fry can be found just about anywhere the water slows and gives them a moment to catch their breath as they slowly ooze downstream  back to the Big Lake.

In Alaska, when I guided there, I’d seen this phenomenon before and it was an event to see.  As the giant leopard rainbows of Alaska’s glacial run off streams migrate to the rivers and sometimes clear back to the mouth of the sea, starved from winter’s pause on all activity; they strategically placed themselves in the place where they knew the fry would come. They did come, and you could even see it coming as you sat and watched a half-a-football-field sized shadow that elevated from the crystal blue waters that only Alaska lakes can brag; these massive clusters of millions of fry per “Fry Ball” that would just squeeze themselves inside the confined canyons of hungry and quite vicious rainbows and char that seemed to have no shut off switch on how many fry they could eat in a given hour.  These fish could be caught at will.  They fed with no logic and would chase anything that would give them chase; the bigger the fly sometimes the better.  The fish in Alaska grow at an exponential rate to any other fish in the world, and I believe it is all due to the Salmon and Steelhead runs that frequent those streams and reinforce the food source for every fish residing within those systems.  Though the fish of the Pere Marquette may not be as foolish about the way they choose to feed in that they have the entire year to drag in the same calories as the rainbows of Alaska might in a given summer, they become very aggressive, much more then they will for the rest of year, minus maybe one other happenings, but we will get to that later. The Salmon fry hatch in the spring will get all those fish chasing and chomping at anything that crosses their path, and the best part about the spring is nobody has targeted those trout since the previous summer.

When in doubt fishing any river for big trout; if nothing else is working, then start Stripping and Ripping.  Streamer fishing is the most physical and intense fly fishing one will ever do.  This technique requires the fisherman to not only make the great cast, but also to add just the right flare and attitude to the fly to provoke a “Toad” into getting off the couch and chasing your fly.  The premium conditions for streamer fishing aren’t stained or clear waters, but more muddy and full of debris.  Big trout do not like feeding during the clear water days of summer; they like to squeeze into some log jam and either digest what they just ate, or lie and wait for something to weasel in a little too close when the water is clear.  The bigger the trout gets, the more likely that trout will have to seek alternate sources of food to sustain him and his size, at the same time make himself less visible to all the fish in his neighborhood.  He will have to learn to hunt down and kill because his alternate food source won’t be free floating downstream at random seconds of the day, it will be swimming and tuned in to its surroundings waiting for just such an attack.  The same fish that do switch over to fish and other larger prey grow faster then they did when they were on a insect diet,  but become very wise as they have seen it all before at least once by that age.  Streamers take all wits away from that larger and smarter trout.  When fishing clear water a trout has the ability to see your presentation coming from at least five feet away, and if your casting isn’t perfect, it is more likely a few yards.  But when the water dirties, that window is closed to just a foot around there face.  That’s when they stop thinking and start reacting.  They can feel as much as they can see in water like this so flies that are big and move water are no bad thing.  When the sight is limited the fish can no longer study their targets as they approach, they have to just react when they see prey; allowing for a large margin of error on that “Slobs” part.  When the fish can’t see the little nymphs or even little fish anymore, then throwing a dress sock at them isn’t out of the question because they can see, touch, feel, and attack it.   And attack it they will!

When fishing the bigger flies in blown out water that nobody else wants to fish, presentation can be more aggressive them most would think.  Many believe the longer the fish has a chance to locate and attack a fly, the more likely he will when most fish can see anything in the muddy debris filled water.  The water I am referring to is the equivalent of hot chocolate with sand, sticks, weeds, and even logs floating in it.  The holes are no longer even visible, and if you can see your fly a foot before it comes out of the water, you’re doing well.  The fish often pull out of the holes, log jams, and deep runs to hunt on the shallower sand bars and inside corners where fish of smaller size will be abundant as they try and dodge the heaviest of currents located middle to outside of the river.  Fishing from a boat, one can position while the boat is in motion, smashing the inside banks with an onslaught of splashing casts followed by several quick, sporadic pops and strips, moving the fly sometimes several feet each motion.  The fish can feel the rattling and moving of the water through their lateral lines and quickly hone in on these vibrations from several yards away.  When you take something away from a fish at a quicker rate then a slower one, you force that fish to move instead of think and that makes him more likely to take simply out of genetic response versus visually fooling the fish with 6x and clear water over a several yard run or flat with a size 24.  The rods and gear we are usually for these steelhead size browns, are steelhead rods as we need the bigger 7and 8wts to move the heavier sink-tips and pop the huge flies that we are sometimes running two of depending on the waters color, fish’s attitude,  or for added variety when it is slower.  There is absolutely no rhythm whatsoever as you strip and rip all the way to the front of the boat.  Rhythm says organized, premeditated, and deliberate whereas the action of a non rhythm retrieve, unpredictable and random, emits a feeling of injury and panic, and the browns key in on that by moving, stalking, then sacking. Be ready for those fish to take that fly as you’re lifting, because as the fly retreats to the surface, this will often heighten the worth of the prey to the fish in pursuit.  I have turned as many fish at the boat as I have anywhere else in my cast and I am sure it is because they feel that if they don’t go for it, and just keep on following that they will have missed a golden opportunity in hard water to feed in and spend the rest of the afternoon kicking itself in the anal fin.  Make them think less and react more and you will turn fish that are normally turning up their nose at you and whatever you’re nymphing or dead drifting to them as they have been there and done that before.

There is nothing like having a fish turn on your fly a half dozen times, only to throw it right back to him and have him nail it for a nice Kodak moment.  It is more gratifying then any other take with a fly rod because the visual enticing of a large gold flash sharking your fly over and over out of total genetic response, almost if the fish knows better but can’t help it, is so very sweet!!  I have done figure eights as if I were Pike fishing in front of the boat picking up fish that had missed it as I retracted the streamer from the water the cast prior.  I have heard their heads hit the boat because they came at it so hard they couldn’t slow down fast enough before colliding with the chine of my Hyde.  I have seen fish uproot a fly directly from underneath and rise above the water several feet as if to stun its prey as much as kill it. I have even been fishing with my clients during the dog days of summer, fishing the smaller fish that are nymphing on bars or shallow runs, and hook up with one only to have these cannibalistic toads rise to the surface from underneath a log jam or several feet of water to pummel then turn back and rip the smaller fish we were bringing in from the line, leaving us nothing but lips from the not so lucky fish that would have been released by us, but wasn’t so fortunate with the shark we just saw.

People believe that when the water is high and blown out that the fishing is for the worse, and I couldn’t disagree more.  I have caught more two foot or better fish when I couldn’t see the bottom of the river in a foot of water than I ever have fishing in clear, low water conditions.  What the higher and dirtier water does is subtracts all the heavy, deep, and mainstream water as likely holds for a trout and condenses all those populations into a few key and precise eddies, boils, inside cuts, or medium to light sand bars and runs. Inevitably what happens is that all the Primary water that normally holds feeding or at least holding numbers of good trout becomes Secondary, and all the Secondary, slower, shallower and often overlooked water becomes the Primary water making for at least a hold on the possible whereabouts of that slob; and they really are slobs.  They are like couch potatoes as they get over two feet; feeding when they feel like it, getting fat, lazy, and more or less just sit and watch the river go by and wait for opportunity to come to them instead of going out and getting it.  More fish over twenty inches will be caught in the first few weeks of spring then any other time of the year since so many rivers and streams support streamer fisheries for trout, especially when the water is high and colored as this is when more of those twenty inch or better fish can be found out in feeding lanes instead of under log jams.

Patterns for the fish in question are not traditional trout streamers such as Grey Ghosts, Mickey Fins, or even smolt/fry patterns which are so often the “hatch to match” at that time of the year.   They are more like dress socks with rattles and a couple of hooks and a good amount of flash.  Big white-fish-like patterns work well and sometimes can be tied in excess of 10 inches to turn the fish that you’re looking for.  Olives often work, but more in the later months of streamers in clearer water.  For some reason black is always my best pattern color when fishing the big guys in the dirty and debris filled water.  It isn’t that they see any leeches that are as big as the one that I am using (minus maybe a chestnut lamprey), but if they did it would be the best meal of the month and that is why they jump on it.  The trick with all of these flies when tying them is large, loud, and able to move water as you strip it.  The fish again feel as much as they can see in that kind of water, and often the movement through the water is what gets their attention long before they can see it.  Rattles have always improved these sensations through the water, and provoke sometimes more then one fish to come and take a look as they can feel that rattle further away.  Flies that push water as they get ripped through it also leave a depression signature, so deer or wool heads as well as a good amount of bunny are always key when making these big flies.  You’re using a fly that has to be proportioned deep as well as long so if you’re using a ten inch fly, you will need a couple inches of depth in that fly(when it’s wet)to get the attention it deserves.

The key in all fly fishing is to mimic the prey or hatch with a fly, find a fish or a “fishy” section of water worthy of your time, and to present these flies in a manner that makes the fish vulnerable to your technique.  It is the combination of all these things coming together that makes for not only scenic and enjoyable fishing trip, but a productive one as well. Casting sometimes all day before seeing monster is sometimes the way it goes, but seeing one of those fish is what builds memories, and those memories may in turn build your peak experience.

I was seven that early spring morning years ago when my father first took me fishing on the Pere Marquette.  I not only found my first Pere Marquette brown that day, I also found my peak experience, or maybe it found me.  This passion that I can’t seem to put down seems to consume me just a bit more every year as I get a bit wiser to the wiser still trout that I seek.  The fish I catch today on streamers were much bigger then the ones that I caught then, but it would seem that the Peak Experience that I found then is something that I still hold onto with all my being now.  On that note, I am going fishing!!!!

One of the most overlooked yet visual seasons for trout fisherman here in Michigan just happens to be the busiest fishing month of the year in our rivers.  Everybody likes catching big fish and it shows as annually Michigan’s western streams are invaded buy not only thousands of Salmon but the fisherman who would seek them out as well.  Salmon run in the thousands and overwhelm any and all streams they enter and become the target of not only a fisherman’s interest, but a brown trout’s too.  Some like to catch the salmon since they do pull very hard but others, namely trout fisherman, have other useful applications for the egg factories with fins.  King Salmon will run as early as the middle of July in some of our rivers and stay through till the end of October, dumping eggs the majority of the time.  Now by the later part of September there are so many eggs bouncing down the rivers there really isn’t a place a trout can sit without gobbling up a few hundred a day so targeting can be a little tougher then in that they could be anywhere. However, early in the season when the Kings are still few and far and the mob of fisherman is located lower in the watersheds for the promise of such runs throwing ThunderSticks and lead, a brown fisherman can and will have his way with the fish that had him pulling his hair the months before throwing everything from Hairballs too Hares ears!

Sandals and shorts will get it done, waders and clothing optional with temps in the 80’s, sunshine and ankle deep water being the norm for the late summer egg bite.  Not to tough spotting a couple of Kings spawning either when the river is in it’s summer low stages; should look something like a couple small dogs going at it just under the surface in a couple feet of water.  Eggs will be flying and the hen will be fanning with likely only one male per hen since there will only be a few Kings in by that point unlike a month from that day when you could just about walk across there backs it gets so thick with them.  Past the Salmon and downstream from the commotion, maybe just past, gold and orange shadows begin sweeping the downstream alleys below the main gravels.  Strategically placed staying just far enough away not to bother the hen or the bull the browns will simply just play goalie with any and all passing eggs coming off the beds; the best part is this can be exploited and you get to see them charge and take the fly in gin clear water with still very few people onto the game as of yet, still blinded by the Kings moving in the lower river and the big bend they get from them!!

Set up is everything here, without out it you might as well throw a rock at the fish because though he is feeding pretty stupid out there in a couple feet of vodka clear water, he has his guard way up for anything out of the ordinary that might send him a hundred yards back down or upstream into his normal daytime holding water evading you entirely and feeding no more.  Eggs are like crack in that respect, they make browns do things they normally wouldn’t do, and they kind of know it when they move up into the shallows with all that sun like they do.  Ideally fishing upstream will be the most deadly angle because you’re tipping the visual advantage in your favor by fishing the target from the downstream position.  Fishing upstream to the fish allows you to see the fish without the fish seeing you, but with the early Kings covering water is the only way to make the technique pay really big which makes working up a little difficult.  You may not be able to see the little browns in their almost perfect river camouflage before they see you coming down in a moving boat, but you can find the big Kings pretty quickly and all you have to think of them as is a bait pile in the stream.  Normally they are splashing in a couple feet of water like a couple of little seals and it really does stick out like a sore thumb.  If you see such a thing, sometimes a football field away pull over and put on your stealth game.

Fall back away from the river taking into account the sun, water clarity, and fish position to so be able to spot as many golden beauties as you can before fishing too them.  Good glasses go a long way here, as does a fishy disposition because if you do it right, several trophy browns are within your grasp all within daylight hours with New Zealand like visual takes behind actively spawning migratory fish. With visual fishing comes fashion does and don’ts; river textures in all your attire for such happenings will help you to be able to get a few more feet of approach for casting without tipping off the brown to your presence before taking notice of your flies.  Good colors to be thinking would be any an all earth tons, mostly the lighter stuff, at least till the end of September when the whole river is looking like some autumn print for sale with even oranges and reds making the scene.  Michigan is kinda cool like that; lots of stuff going on at different times of the year with all kinds of windows opening within the big seasons full of running fish and or hatching flies, all of which can be tapped with a fly rod,,,, come get some!!!

Once you identify your targets and where you need your flies with a “Drag Free Drift”, with indicators being optional, then getting in without disturbing the seen is the next step.  My favorite angle is to move up to them from the inside of the bend or straight away at about 45 degrees taking into account that if I get too close, make too much noise with my leg wakes while moving up or making any stupid casts, this fish is gone and the whole things at best becomes a learning experience.  Some of these fish are gonna have some game too so you had better bring a little yourself.  If you think you can get the cast above the fish two yards and get a drag free drift all the way by him and then just below, YOU HAVE WALKED FAR ENOUGH,,,, STOP!!  Remember, it only takes one bad cast and he might be gone, it kinda depends on just how egg crazed the fish is at that point; that said I have seen fish feed under a rod tip for over and hour never spooking they become so egg crazed.  Not only do you have to keep the browns happy, but if the Kings get spooked from you taking the upstream position wearing the disco inferno fleece with matching hatch, then you have more or less killed the happening since it will likely take an hour to get the fish back up depending on how far they ran away, if they come back at all.

If you play your cards right you should be able to score several times per bed since there are normally several browns feeding off the same bed.  Egg size and selection will speed up your prospects, but sooner or later just about every color has worked at some point, the more important element when tying these early variations is size; they should be very small and if at all possible cored as to give a three dimensional look to them.  Glo-Bug and Nuke Egg variations are the best in my opinion, though some prefer beads where legal.  Tiny hooks will pay big versus the normal salmon egg gaffs that are available.  Indicators work very good but are fished more like they do out west with more of a sweeping out and away nymph presentation versus our steelhead drift presentation where the indicators are directly over the flies the better part of the drift; this is so to keep the indicator away from the fish since the water is so very low and clear and it might offend the trout; unless you choose to fish bubble size indicators and some really thin and shorter leaders, more so like Alaska with a little lighter tippets.  My clients were averaging over a hundred inches of fish a day last year with the technique and it is very popular with all my trout fishing cliental for the visual boost we all get from seeing larger browns not only take our fly, but rush up and just flat scoop it without thinking because they don’t want the brown behind them to get it.  Nothing like having big browns compete for you flies, trick is to never letting them know they are your flies by being totally invisible and stealth during your presentations.  Bring a six weight too because you never know when you might come across a summer run or brown of equal size, they are there and when the first eggs fly every fall some of our trophies are caught feeding very silly behind the first of the Salmon runs….

There are many that love the steelhead of spring, and they are quite fun since they are more or less rainbows on steroids; but the best biting fish of spring are the carnivorous browns that would eat their own offspring if it were presented correctly.  These fish become the aggressive feeding fish we are looking for, and they are hungry.  Most browns feed little over the winter but are still starved from their spawn the fall prior, so as soon as the water temperatures climb back into the middle forties, they begin to gorge themselves.  They feed hard and without reservation since they haven’t been targeted for six months, so shy they are not.  They feed on par, fry, smolt, and other trout; just about anything that will give them chase.  The water is higher and dirtier during these weeks then any other time of the year between snow melt and rain, but in these conditions the bigger trout can feed at will on larger then normal prey!!

The streamer presentation is the most productive trout technique there is in the spring and really the only way to represent the fish that are being fed on.  Whether you’re fishing in a steelhead/salmon fishery that has trout, or in a trout section that is planted with thousands of smaller trout; what you have is a bunch of larger fish feeding on smaller fish.  The PM has a salmon fry hatch that gets browns running around so hard they almost beach themselves trying to catch the fry that are roaming the shallows.  These aren’t just smaller to medium fish, these are fish up to two feet and beyond that you might notice sitting like an alligator in 6”of water waiting for the next fish to not take notice of him.  You ever see those National Geographic shows where the Orcas are running all the sea lion pups out of the water?  It is kinda like that only the smolt can’t leave the water so the brown usually wins.  Six to eight weight rods are necessary to get the big flies and sink tips moving in the higher water, but between the tippets you get to use and the fish you’re targeting, the eight weight isn’t out of the question at all, and neither is a bunch of attitude while your working that big bunny fly!!

Like cats, browns don’t like it unless it runs away.  My clients often see a fish flash or come up behind the fly and stop ripping and stripping when the best thing would have been to speed up the presentation.  People often assume that the fish has missed the fly when they see the flash and don’t hook up; that isn’t a miss, it’s a 30mph refusal.  The hardest part of getting a brown to take isn’t when you see him right behind the fly; it’s that moment when you can actually get him off his couch and moving at your fly.  They are just down there waiting for opportunity and when you give them less time to decide or investigate on what that big and kinda tasty looking morsel getting ripped right by them is, the more you make them react instead of think.  As soon as they have time to think, you loose; make them react and you will make the big fish, the wise and wary ones, do something very stupid like bite your fly.  This coupled with a very large fly and a pinch of flashabou and you might just have a trophy smiling for your camera.

Presentation is everything here, without it you have a great fly sitting too deep with no body looking.  You can put the best streamer right next to the dumbest fish and he won’t take it unless you take it away from him the right way.  If you drag it away with no pop at all, he may follow, but will never strike as there was no movement in the fly to provoke a strike.  It you pop it short with strips in a rhythm he will get interested and may even take a closer look or give it a refusal.  The reason that these presentations don’t trigger hits as well is because there is nothing in the action of the fly that indicates that it’s injured.  Rhythm says that all is well, no matter what action your give it because it is repetitious.  Dragging it hardly gets them looking at it, but if you start ripping the fly without rhythm, erratically and aggressively then you will start catching fish you never see before he is hooked up.  What you’re doing is sending out the distress signal just by swimming your fly a different way suggesting to the fish…opportunity; a big meal with little effort, which is more or less the code by which all trout live by.  Leaving large pauses in between your ruthless rips is often when he comes for it because it looks as if whatever was injured has just kicked the bucket; this becomes the green light for the strike as the fish now has to give zero chase to the recently deceased fly, he can just sack it and stack it!!

Try and picture your fly even when you can’t see it, since most streamers should be fished low enough in the water column that you don’t see it.  Think of where a fish might be looking and take the fly away from that point and watch that imagined fish come to life as he comes out for it.  Black, yellow, white, olive and a dozen other colors could all do the trick; but it is more about the way you wiggle your fly then it is the way you tie your fly. Bunny, marabou, flashabou, deer and wool will all be your allies, but coming up with the right pattern is more about faith in your fly then what size hook or material your using.  There aren’t too many streamers that don’t work at some point; it is more the guys working them.  When you think you’re moving your fly too fast or too aggressively, think again.  A brown can catch a Rapala on a spinning outfit being reeled in at max speed with a side to side action, up to three times before it gets to the boat.  This is much faster then I or anyone else I know can strip in that those reels have a 5 to 1 ratio in spool rotation.  These fish can move allot faster then some give them credit for.  If you give that brown a challenge, he will surely rise for that occasion!!

We can finally take some gear off as spring creeps in the beginning of April.  There have been a few days where the water has warmed up, and we have been running steelhead trips for several months and time off is rare so when we get it we fish hard trying to feed the addiction.  It’s a Wednesday when I and Brad show up for what is supposed to be our co-trip with some clients from Chicago for steelhead, only to find out that they can’t make it due to one of their sons getting ill.  We are a bit bummed at first that we had to wake up so early for nothing, but then realize that this is an opportunity to make the first streamer run of the season while everyone is still targeting steelhead.  With a look and a smirk, no words at all, we barrel out the door and start making the proper gear adjustments for a Hodenpyle Dam assault.  It’s only a half hour for us here at the Pere Marquette Lodge so getting there, even with the boat is no problem and takes little time.  Twenty minutes after being canceling we are north bound with a couple boxes of bunny and a couple stiff sticks to move those flies just right.

The Hodenpyle isn’t known so much for its spectacular numbers of fish or even the overall size of the fish; but what it is known for is the possibility of the biggest fish in all the land.  This tail water has been known to yield some fish over the ten pound mark, though few are seen.  The reason many of those bigger fish aren’t seen is more then apparent when you hook your first brown there, no matter what size it is.  These fish pull, and pull hard; I mean if you hook a twenty inch fish in this section, likely that brown will bend an 8wt to the handle.  They jump once you get them out of the fifteen foot hole you coerce them out of, but spend most of their time with their head down.  The water is what builds these fish, it feels like Alaska under the oars; it moves fast, deep, and heavy.

Not long into the float Brad pops a nice nineteen inch male that, no kidding here, weighs around four pounds and has more or less double chins and a beer gut.  This by itself is impressive and makes the trip, but on this cloudy day things would get better.  We are throwing some large flies when we fish big water like this, since we are not looking for the teens as much as the twenties; a few of these flies are in excess of ten inches long allot like the prey most of the bigger browns prefer.  They feed on chestnut lamprey, and other trout more then they feed on insects for more protein and less work.  We rotate rowing and fishing per eighteen inch or better, knocking us back behind the oars. We hit every fishy looking piece of water we can cast to. We managed to rotate six times in a four hour period; three of these fish are over twenty inches and the bite is on.  The lower section of this float is where the biggest fish that we are aware of reside; these are fish that we have either seen, heard of, or lost by either us or someone credible we know.

Moving in for my seventh rotation, my arm a bit saucy from the seventy foot casts and intense ripping and popping for action, I start casting at the left bank.  Brad leaned back settling down after landing a nice twenty one inch fish, starts backstroking to give me some better position on a fishy little lip off a huge gravel run that lasted some hundred yards or so.  We know this guy, we saw him two years ago, and heard someone else did the year before that, and today would be the day since likely nobody has fished around him since autumn.  We never established just how big he was, we just knew that he was allot bigger then even the average trophy fish located in these waters.  I rip two incredible casts right where I want and no love and that’s just how it is here sometimes, but what the hell “Turn me back for one more toss at him Brad!”, and with a whip of an oar I am hurling back upstream to pull downstream with close to a hundred feet of line and a fly that looks like a disco dress sock.  Two pops, and allot less faith I hook what we both initially thought was bottom, that was of coarse before the reel starting singing.

“Got em!” I mumble while trying to get the fish onto the reel.  The fish turns back downstream and stars coming at us which I am all about since he was winning going the other way.  Gaining line as quick as I can, Brad rowing his but off trying to get position on the fish and the “Toad” rolls right next to the boat and gives us a look at just how big he is; ten pound class, and with no words again, Brad starts really pumping and I start making sure I don’t make any mistakes because this brown is the one we are looking for and have been looking for and for some time.  Fish is downstream now and still going, Brad now rowing downstream just to keep up with this fish that is making my 8wt and 15lb tippets look like a 2wt holding a carp.  The moment I hooked that fish, I felt that I needed more gear, that’s how hard this fish pulled.  Brad is on it but the fish still gets a bend downstream on us; fish got too much line and just the right angle and pop………

”He’s off!!!” No words again……..That’s The Hodenpyle Blues!!

The streamer presentation is the most productive trout technique there is in the spring and really the only way to represent the fish that are being fed on.  Whether you’re fishing in a steelhead/salmon fishery that has trout, or in a trout section that is planted with thousands of smaller trout; what you have is a bunch of larger fish feeding on smaller fish.  The PM has a salmon fry hatch that gets browns running around so hard they almost beach themselves trying to catch the fry that are roaming the shallows.  These aren’t just smaller to medium fish, these are fish up to two feet and beyond that you might notice sitting like an alligator in 6”of water waiting for the next fish to not take notice of him.  You ever see those National Geographic shows where the Orcas are running all the sea lion pups out of the water?  It is kinda like that only the smolt can’t leave the water so the brown usually wins.  Six to eight weight rods are necessary to get the big flies and sink tips moving in the higher water, but between the tippets you get to use and the fish you’re targeting, the eight weight isn’t out of the question at all, and neither is a bunch of attitude while your working that big bunny fly!!

Like cats, browns don’t like it unless it runs away.  My clients often see a fish flash or come up behind the fly and stop ripping and stripping when the best thing would have been to speed up the presentation.  People often assume that the fish has missed the fly when they see the flash and don’t hook up; that isn’t a miss, it’s a 30mph refusal.  The hardest part of getting a brown to take isn’t when you see him right behind the fly; it’s that moment when you can actually get him off his couch and moving at your fly.  They are just down there waiting for opportunity and when you give them less time to decide or investigate on what that big and kinda tasty looking morsel getting ripped right by them is, the more you make them react instead of think.  As soon as they have time to think, you loose; make them react and you will make the big fish, the wise and wary ones, do something very stupid like bite your fly.  This coupled with a very large fly and a pinch of flashabou and you might just have a trophy smiling for your camera.

Presentation is everything here, without it you have a great fly sitting too deep with no body looking.  You can put the best streamer right next to the dumbest fish and he won’t take it unless you take it away from him the right way.  If you drag it away with no pop at all, he may follow, but will never strike as there was no movement in the fly to provoke a strike.  It you pop it short with strips in a rhythm he will get interested and may even take a closer look or give it a refusal.  The reason that these presentations don’t trigger hits as well is because there is nothing in the action of the fly that indicates that it’s injured.  Rhythm says that all is well, no matter what action your give it because it is repetitious.  Dragging it hardly gets them looking at it, but if you start ripping the fly without rhythm, erratically and aggressively then you will start catching fish you never see before he is hooked up.  What you’re doing is sending out the distress signal just by swimming your fly a different way suggesting to the fish…opportunity; a big meal with little effort, which is more or less the code by which all trout live by.  Leaving large pauses in between your ruthless rips is often when he comes for it because it looks as if whatever was injured has just kicked the bucket; this becomes the green light for the strike as the fish now has to give zero chase to the recently deceased fly, he can just sack it and stack it!!

Try and picture your fly even when you can’t see it, since most streamers should be fished low enough in the water column that you don’t see it.  Think of where a fish might be looking and take the fly away from that point and watch that imagined fish come to life as he comes out for it.  Black, yellow, white, olive and a dozen other colors could all do the trick; but it is more about the way you wiggle your fly then it is the way you tie your fly. Bunny, marabou, flashabou, deer and wool will all be your allies, but coming up with the right pattern is more about faith in your fly then what size hook or material your using.  There aren’t too many streamers that don’t work at some point; it is more the guys working them.  When you think you’re moving your fly too fast or too aggressively, think again.  A brown can catch a Rapala on a spinning outfit being reeled in at max speed with a side to side action, up to three times before it gets to the boat.  This is much faster then I or anyone else I know can strip in that those reels have a 5 to 1 ratio in spool rotation.  These fish can move allot faster then some give them credit for.  If you give that brown a challenge, he will surely rise for that occasion!!

Just the idea of throwing a mammal pattern to catch a fish is neat, but I still get many fellows who are indeed good to great trout fisherman looking at me like I was some kind of derelict when I mention that I throw mice patterns in the dark, till dawn and produce sometimes hundreds of inches of trout in one evening.  No joke here fellows, especially all of you Hex fisherman that have already learned the dark side of the force and know how to cast when your out there.  One could argue that the Hex Hatch is the most productive fish per hour ratio, but only if conditions are present and fish are keyed up which doesn’t happen every night of the Hex and only lasts a couple of hours if it does.  One could also argue that the most productive fishing in the dark, or light for that matter, is throwing a mouse on any given night throughout the entire summer unlike the Hex window that can be as short as a few days per season.  Fishing a mouse takes the guess work out of catching big trout in that you know longer have to out think him, he will get silly for you!!

Later in the summer months, when the big mayfly hatches have come and gone, the big trout have to seek alternate food sources that will fill the void.  In that time they may eat snakes, frogs, mice and even small ducklings as they are all good sources of protein.  The clarity of the water makes sneaking up on smaller fish impossible. Hoppers can produce a good fish from time to time, but catching a giant that way is almost like winning the lottery in that you won’t see it coming and you may have to play a thousands times to win.  When the water is clear most big fish are not even presentable with a fly because they are under structure; log jams, undercut banks, or the bottoms of the deepest holes, making it almost impossible to even get the fish to look.  They lie in these spots to stay out of the light and away from canoe traffic and fisherman.  So if fish are doing little to no feeding in daylight, when do you reckon they are feeding?

Daytime and nighttime fishing are two different animals.  When fishing in the daytime you’re trying to out think a fish that not only is wary, but may not even be feeding.  This makes for tough presentations, and mild success no matter how good your flies, presentation, cast, or tippets might be.  Big fish that aren’t fishable during daylight are often sitting in a foot of water in the middle of the river on a sand bar just waiting for anything to move past them, or even better, hit the surface above in the darkness. This is where the mouse comes in and the wary trout can’t resist.  You’re a big trout for a moment now: Late summer, and your starting to thin out a bit since the  bigger hatches have come and gone along with all the fish that can’t be snuck up on in the clarity and your looking for options.  You can spend the whole day dodging canoes and fisherman searching for tiny morsels like nymphs, pupa, and maybe a good size hopper all the while trying to stay out of site underneath a bright sun…..or you can relax all day underneath some air conditioned log jam or undercut bank, ooze on out around dark and sack the first thing that looks big enough to fill you up for a day or two with little to no effort, and that morning retire stress free as soon as the first fisherman or canoe passes by….Which trout are you?

A mouse is the best way to cater to trout like these, and I don’t think people appreciate just how many of these little critters are hitting the water in a given night.  They are out there for the oat on the ends of that long grass growing right on the river banks where it grows the healthiest; and why is it the healthiest there, well all vegetation on the banks edge get more sun and water compared to just five yards back in the forest.  They crawl out on the ends of blades of grass sometimes five feet in height and tip them over and chew off the top section.  Sometimes when they tip the blade over, its the river and not the bank they hit; they get disorientated and then start crossing the river with a limited chance of making it to the other side before getting sacked by the first finned wolf looking to fill the void.

  The mouse presentation is just that too, a slow wake with downstream momentum that moves very slowly.  The cast can be anywhere within a few degrees of straight across the stream with a nice high stick, short leader, and a stout rod for setting the hook.  The mouse pattern can be just about anything that wakes well and has some extremities.  Foam, Deer, Elk and some other heavy floating materials will all do fine for tying the mouse patterns with the presentation be like that of a bad dry fly cast that isn’t mended to dead drift.  You want a slow presentation without a dead drift that looks as if it wants to make it to the other side.  We haven’t found a mouse pattern that didn’t work at some point, and the best weapon in your arsenal is knowing where several large trout live before you even step in the river.  Move into his area, likely the flat above his structure, or maybe below it.  Casting into the same area several times isn’t uncalled for since sometimes the first few casts just get him looking up.  If you roll him don’t give up, likely he will keep swinging on it till he gets it or gets pricked too hard.  The  mousin is the only technique where I have seen a fish come back for the fly even after getting the hook, I think because they believe it is biting them. I have also seen them come back as many as a dozen times before getting hooked, now if that isn’t the silliest trout you have ever heard of, I just don’t know what is.  Every year the largest trout caught is either on a streamer, Hex, or a mouse and largest window of opportunity to fish these flies is the mouse…….Do The Math!!