Tom McGraw with just an absolute stud…

… Folks, first and foremost, we want to wish all you, and yours, a Merry Christmas this year and Happy New Year, save the very with the conditions at hand.  From our family to all of yours, Thanks Very Much for such a year during such a year, as it all adds and up, and gets us through those slower months. That said, we are fishing allot this year; and fishing even more so with the family this year, which frankly has made this year incredible inside of the pandemic.  Again… Thanks Folks, Here’s a much overdue update on the state of runs and summary of the summer fisheries.

My boy Alex didn’t want to hold it, but did a great job on the battle!
More of this in my life…

It really has been a bit since I’ve done a report with all that has been going on; and not just with the Covid issues starting this spring, but also all the folks like yourselves that have been coming fishing for the outdoor social distancing, over and over again this past year!  After a good summer of guiding following a tanked spring of lockdowns, and just a nice mild/long fall, lasting till today… We are taking stock and being thankful for all that we are lucky enough to be still doing while we live and work outside.  Social distancing hasn’t been hard for me, as it was a way of life before it was trendy.

So up to date, we are seeing steelhead, and we started much like we are now…  Clear, with fish, but more so waiting for more to arrive during the winter melt happenings.  Water conditions overall this fall could be summed up by clear, but low it hasn’t been.  Seemingly, with the gravel bars in place now, we are living down a very long high water period the 20 months prior; which is still affecting Lake MI coastlines, and where the water has been very clear at times, it hasn’t been low yet.   Bars are a bit shallower, but all in the name of digging out the pools, which we are just fine with from time to time. Steelhead run for the fall push of 2020 will go down as a marginal to normal push, pending when you came up to play.  Middle November till the 1stweek of December will be the highlight of the ’20 fall, but the winter rebound could make up for it very easily with as many melts as we get these days, this and the rivers are still semi warm and drawing fish from the lake, I’ll be it very lightly right now.  

Good Buds!

Primarily this has been a swing season in my boat, as I think we fished an egg for about 3 hours of my very busy fall steelhead season; save the absolute awesome, but shortened egg bite for browns back in September behind the King Salmon bait piles. On the Swing, 1-4 grabs a day was par… and up to 11 grabs in one day with 7 in the boat; with conversions anywhere from 2/3 to ¾ of the good grabs. Didn’t’ vary colors a bunch, and with all new, mostly off duty guides climbing all over us, it’s been fun fishing some fresher swing water.  Fly Water certainly has what’s left of a fantastic push of fish that occurred early in November, and retracted almost as fast as the storm that moved them up. Since then, we have been working for it; back nine of December, which is usually gang buster steel show, has been trying, and some days failing.  Intimate knowledge of the creek pays very well such years where knowing not just which holes are working, but where within those holes need to be catered and almost on egg shells while you do.  Some holes favor certain techs, where others beg another… And passing as many of those that would be considered egg spots only in their present.  Fishing pressures these days, thanks to the free bowl of soup boats, is just about everywhere… and numbers of angers is quite high, but still semi predictable! Though I guided a few different rivers this fall between steelhead and browns, it was nice to know that even on the busiest days on the PM, there are still some sections one can fish, at certain times of the day, and never see a soul while floating several miles… Which used to be more of the normal when I was fishing the later part of December as a kid!  Back then, if you saw someone fishing, you would go and talk to them, this because you hadn’t seen anybody fishing in days!!!

Best flies for my boat his fall have been Senyo style intruders, or words too that affect… Which is too say, that I’m not sure it matters what names your calling them with whatever color comes out of your cast, but more so that your yelling at the fish with all that lovely flash.  Be sure and check out Greg Senyo’s patterns as a point of reference for these array of colors, but you can tell by his spins, there is a fair amount of creativity one can add to even the more simple variation of the flash and float.  By the time the smoke clears, it almost looks like a Mepps Spinner coming across, and the resolve isn’t much different either.  Eggs are always on the menu for those that like tying knots and need the presentation savvy and courage infused…  Nymphing will come more recommended than most winters with the population of fish being lesser, and therefore less competition, and far more critique with not only less hurry in the decision, but then again also, the amount of fisherman on the smaller count… And let’s face it, an overall more, savvy angler these days.  It is impressive to see how many are grabbing the two handed swing these days, and even more so, when I see younger crews ripping streamers on singles, this when I know those fingers pay the price sometimes in nerve damage at these temps.  Indicators will teach you many of the great foundations needed to get you up too speed with the bigger fly approaches such as Swung & Stripped ones… EURO NYMPHING WILL NOT… as it’s NOT fly fishing, in anyway shape or form… Even the flies are starting to look like mini bass jigs, which is all-fine… But don’t call it fly fishing.  There is no fly cast, no mend, no presentation beyond a high rod, and too much bump variance in the searching finishes most all make… Which makes it “Diet Chuck & Duck”, and I’m sure if you’ve read this post before, you know just how much I love that tech and the outfitters in town that sell that shit as legit.  Again, fly fishing isn’t for everyone… Nor is worm fishing… Right in the middle you have EURO & CHUCK… And neither tickle my fancy like any fly fishing I do… ANY!

Good friend… Terribly savage angler!

Not going to lie… Haven’t been posting pictures as I’m sure many of you have noticed on the social media in the last year or so… This because this area has allot of vulture guiding… Where kids, with little handle on what’s what, just surf around till they find a veteran with some water, and just start stomping on it. It’s my own fault in the growth of an independent, but it’s too the point I’ve had to give up on a few sections, and for that matter a few people in seeing this new trend of NO respect for the forward guides… The same guides, whose programs litter their brains and boats, are disrespected almost daily.  Sad but true, the older guard rules are gone… Honestly, I’m just going to pity these guys coming up that think that doing anything but their own thing is what builds the knowledge… Not crawling up skirts hoping for a peak.  Even Obe Walt Canobie, our most veteran PM guide here… Whose feathers are far harder to rustle than mine, had his two cents for a guide who just doesn’t get it… And never will, because as I said… That kind of forward thinking was forfeiting with the advent of the hero shots they are all hunting for, not the sport; for them it’s a marketing tool… Smile guys, you know who you are!!!

This summer, after forfeiting the Hex Waters I’ve been in the last few decades, due to these same fellows that simply cut and paste… I was able to nail down some great fishing outside of the big hatch, and offered my guys something a Hex Hatch in MI rarely will do in the years to come, and that’s offer solitude while angling a fly in the dark… This and remain productive doing it.  This summer was outstanding all things considered, save the 10 days of 90’s that I can never, ever, remember happening up here. We canceled allot of needed trips coming out of the Covid lockdown, but it was the right thing to do for the trout… Much like wearing a mask is just good form!  We rebounded well with some great dark moon action, though our northern front was less productive then the southern attempts.  4 fish locally at or over 24”… And countless 20+ caliber fish on the night shifts!  We never actually landed chrome in the black, but we got close twice, and managed to hook up seven steelhead at night on surface rodents and assorted midnight meat.  Had two others go on the hoppers, but those appointments were certainly shortened by that fury of 62-degree water and chrome mixed… Which on a 5wt and “tippet”, is like showing up too a gunfight with a butter knife.  We didn’t nymph much this summer… Hopper bite held well with the overall warmer summer due to us.  Bright moons were tougher per usual, and during that warming trend in early November, we ran 3 trips in the dark and simply trashed the spawning, and post spawn trout while wearing flip flops with no leaves on the trees… It was fucking spiritual.  It also offered 5 more steelhead on the surface flies in the month of November, this on the darkside of the punch clock.

Egging this fall was productive and asphalt hot for about two weeks, but not a month.  Salmon run, though overall smaller in size, was late, but ¾ of it ran inside of 10 days and flooded the river for another 10 with eggs that rolled and fed those browns all the way to their brims at a perfect time to satisfy their pre spawn bite… But shut down the bite like a switch just following for us.  Short but sweet it was… Lasting it was not! Streamer bite held pretty good all things considered following the egg bite, then they started spawning and that left a big whole in our hearts, as the steelhead, though present, were mostly of summer run, and a bit staler.  Around Halloween, the ball of fish gathered at PM Lake, entered the river in a pre storm, CLEAR WATER SCENARIO… Which these eyes haven’t seen since ’99!  Groups of 20’s & 30’s passing by the boat, and miles long in the population; and though we often idealize what a big push looks like, as it usually comes when the water is higher and dirty when we can only hope how many are coming up, this push we could actually see!  Following the storm, the fishing was very steady too hot for a few weeks, but then the water cleared again, and we received almost no back up precipitation to hold the color, and since then, save a couple mild melts, we’ve been working for them…  Even managed four skunks this fall, which I’m not proud of, nor is it common for me… But when fishing the bigger fly as much as we do in my skiff these days, we are yelling and screaming for that visually or physically violent take, and we are willing to starve in that posture…  If you want to ask them nicely and suck up to them a little more… Cream & Orange mini clowns anytime the water is as picky for the take… BEADS ARE ILLEGAL IN FLIES ONLY!

Again currently… We have a fishery, and the post spawn browns are just now getting up on line well.  Last few weeks, while the orgy is settling down, butter scattered everywhere… I’ve noticed a couple real Dons out there swinging and maybe even strutting a bit.  Being post social out on the bars, many larger browns are giving up their addresses… In which case we’ll spend a few more casts here or there this summer in search of Casanova in gold.  Steelhead strip bite, at least for those with the skills and the faith too get it done, is straight up the finest way to pick the scab and encourage the chrome catastrophe… But you have to believe, and for the love of Mary, you need to slow down and get out of a hurry for another cast. Too many are two casts ahead, when there mind should be with the one in the water… If it’s not fishing, it’s not worth considering!  Much like a cell phone ringing in the middle of a cast and choosing to ignore it, so to fish the cast in hand, the action of the fly, the speed of the swing, even the dead of the egg needed to be in check or your just fishing like the rest of the sheep.  Sharpen your wedge, taper that leader, choose the right grains, and don’t make a cast that doesn’t have at least ALL the faith you can muster in your idea that every movement, or lack thereof, is the difference, in that moment, between you making another cast, or instead battling your adversary… WHAT SAY YOU SAVAGES?!?!  Sorry… went a little Braveheart there…

Anyways… Looking out a bit and updating all of you in my year too come, as I am now a 30-guide veteran of Western MI… Who’s programs are above and beyond so much, that each and every kid in this town in running my patterns, sections, without much understanding of any of it… So, after hearing that the trust fund babies, or just anyone willing to give up 30% of each trip to the Outfitter to call themselves a guide, this while still learning to fish, and almost no clue on how to teach it, yet is raising their prices… I thought it only prudent to give myself a raise at this time!  As of January 1st… $600 for two person trips, which we will continue once the pandemic is a bit more under control.  Till then, I’m limiting my boat to 1 person only trips, as there is outdoors and 6’ between myself, and the client.  $500 will be the new 1 person rate; and all half days will be $400, one or two person.  Lunches will be put on standby for the immediate future, but I encourage all of you to bring your own cooler with snacks and beverages as it’s just safer that we aren’t all sharing the same space right now, and with that will come a $25 dollar off trip per head… 1 person/no lunch =$475… 2 person/no lunch=$550.  It’s a strange time indeed, but between your overall knowledge download, and casting instruction, (no matter where your cast is, I can make ya better), and overall knowledge of the river given, and the fact that I don’t know anyone that has devoted as much of his or her life inside of 47 years to this great sport here in Western MI… We are more than confident in this decision, as many of our regulars already know that I’m taking that step and have encouraged me to do so… And thanks folks for doing so.  Looking to fall back a bit primarily on my regulars, and still take newer clients, but limit that to some time I’ll be taking to fish with my boys in the years to come as they are of age and give me dirty looks every time I’m wadered-up and leaving without them these days.  Considering doing some writing as well, and with any luck that will let me fall completely back on a regular clients only basis in the near future, this and continue with some fly tying supplement.  Wife, now a very successful nurse, in tune and check with her profession, has encouraged, and allowed me this cushion of time, (which I can’t thank her enough for), and between that and Covid… Now is that time to stop burning myself out as a guide so to offer a better overall trip to those interested.  This passing year will be the last time I try and run 170-190 a year… Hope to fish with my boys & babe one year, maybe that many days!!!

Encouraging all of you regulars to get your trips in the book this year early on as I’m not planning on running that many trips this year… My goal is 110-120!  Once I get a dozen or so trips a month… I’ll be doing some fishing with the boys and getting other assorted cool stuff done. My steelhead dates will be good till the middle March before I’m all trout till the steelhead show next October.  Swing fishing the next couple months will be awesome, and far lighter traffic by comparison to the fall, to get that better shot of a fish for you with all that winter back drop.  Post spawn Brown Trout streamer trips do come recommended for those that are strong with the faith. If you wanted to touch up your indicator floating line skills on the steelhead… Not sure if you could pick a better time of year as the steelhead get trouty as they hold up for winter and can be presented in those same spots as they snack their way into the spring spawn.  You should know, that just above the 1stClay I saw an active steelhead bed already occurring following that last melt and warm up.  Summer run fish for sure, but those were spawning fishing on the 18thof December!  Best streamer fishing on the PM for the spring months starts up around the middle of March and lasts till the middle of May before falling to the surface options.  Though Hexs will not be something I push anymore, on this river anyways, and certainly not publically… The very overlooked and terribly productive, lasting, and even river wide hatch of the Grey Drakes comes recommended strongly.  Don’t forget about the Full Moon Golden Stone events, or really any of those giant yellow stimulators for the bulk of June, even into July last year.  Better than hoppers, with all the same flavors, where the bank isn’t needed so much as skid & faith!  Mouse fishing goes without saying, and arguably my busiest time of the year from May through early October now…  If you want dark moons, I would reach out sooner that later as that has been booking since last summer with as productive as we’ve been in recent years dialing that program into rough science!  Full circle… Fall Eggin behind the Kings for Browns and Early Steelhead, as well as all the Strip and Swing options of the fall keep the book strong without a ton of work these days…  And thanks again for that folks, as it becomes painfully obvious just how powerful the word of mouth carries as a guide in this fantastic sport of angling a fly.  

Each report from now on, I’m going to try and leave a piece of info for any and all skill levels to sponge… Like a good piece of cheesecake, you will want to chew, savor, and consider the why of each tidbit… This report is how to take care of your gear in between spots, as well as guarantee a good leader to toss when that next spot is gotten too.  First off… When you are fishing, and not vaulting, or just putting away after the day… Having your leader inside the rod pre cast is a son of a bitch to get rolling in short order.  Make sure and allow your fly line exodus pre cast by leaving more line out following the switch of spots.  Hook your rear hook, or only hook, pending your moods tech, to the brace of the second up stripping guide and then wrap about the reel to allow for the excess to be tightened.  Do NOT hook your stripping guides, as it’s ceramic and will tear each fly line stripped through the imperfect hoop.  Also… When wrapping around the reel, do so in the manner that not only allows you to reel up the slack in that position, but also in keeping the leader and line away from the blank so no to wrap around the stick.  In doing the maneuver correctly, you will have also learned that wrapping the leader/tippet around the back side of the reel seat is very WRONG, versus wrapping around the diameter of the spool/reel!  Between each foot and reel is a gap, as most, save a few reel companies like Hatch, (which I’m a big fan of), that have a 1 piece, reel houses… So when I was younger, fishing in the lower PM with big sticks and bobbers, of lesser tippet than what we run for the streamers, mostly of 18-20lb to the fly… I would sometimes break a fish off in odd spots on the leader or tippet.  For several years I just wrote it off as a bad spot, or sub standard materials, or even the possibility that it may have been stepped on, or just nicked from the previous spot… When it fact, I was doing it to the tippet or leader myself without knowing it.  Gap that occurs just between the reel and the foot is tiny enough to allow tippet to slip in and then cut or nick the material in such a way that as soon as the line got taunt, it would pop.  Just some food for thought folks, and do have a look under that reel seat and have a look for yourself; you may have a V-8 moment like myself.  Even on the 1-piece reels, I don’t do it as it often tangles the line around the rod in the angle of hold.  When you pull the leader off the spool engaging the next spot, you should be able to tap the top of the lower blank, where the fly will fall and you can just drop line and let her rip.  

Folks… Have a Great Holiday & New Year!  Here’s hoping it’s a better version of this one, as 2020 will certainly go down as a bumpy one.  Be thankful for those around you, and keep them close… Fly fishing certainly got a bit more popular this year as it really fits the mold for the social distancing aspects we all need to abide, and enjoy at the same time.  River this year has been noticeably busier, and though more and more want to frequent the finite amount of cold water offered to us here in MI, we shouldn’t forget all the etiquette that got us here, or at least not entirely.  If we keep the pace we are going now, I suspect a struggle for solitude on a river that has offered so much to me over the years.  Bends allow for a sense of alone the big rivers never offer in the way of hearing the boats buzzing and straight-aways of boats in numbers where the solitude is forfeit before the boat ever even hits the water.  As much as no one person owns the river, one could also say many of us lived here long before many others stumbled upon it. There were some guidelines and etiquettes that were very much in place that kept all here in a good way, from top to bottom of the PM… These days I feel as if it’s a loss all together as most of the new kids just look to stick it to the veteran, versus the yesteryear where we paid them in river position respect, and tipped them by offering to help trailer their boat at the end of a day… It’s not a bigger river, so it shrinks even faster.  Too keep what’s left of what we still have, maybe those, with maybe only a decade of perspective, will at least see where we are heading if we don’t start taking a bit more initiative in that strive to keep the bar where at least it’s fallen too…

On that note you should know that I’m drafting a petition to be sent to the powers that be to encourage new gear restrictions on what might be the busiest piece of water in this great state of Michigan… The Flies Only, Blue Ribbon, Catch & Release Section of the Pere Marquette River; which frankly I’m getting tired of seeing being treated like some Ohio tail-water.  This is such a precious piece of water, coveted by so very many these days, most of which can’t see past the dollar signs in the growth and popularity.  Having done little else with my adult life… I just live, work, and fish The PM as if on some timeline of finality is coming, and I can tell you with certainty that when I was younger, I thought that finality was my passing or death while fishing it… Now it seems much more finite in time as the amount of boats and walk-ins seems to have no conscience in the deliberate acts of procreation devastation which our local fly shops continue to push with nothing more that bad form and good fly sales to show for it!!!  No more will I try and change local opinions that should already see the cliff coming, but more instead, try and influence the NRC, DNR, or even higher with any luck to lift the skirt on all this shady shit going on here where lies are being told daily and by those that are calling themselves MI Fly Fishing Guides & Outfitters.  They can’t see past the dollar signs, nor do they give a dam about the river… In which case they become irrelevant in true conservation or even conscience of the stream, so trying to work with them on this will be futile, as it’s kind of their own demise in putting so many of their eggs in that snagging basket. Going to encourage any and all to sign this petition, and it’s safe to say, most if not all of you reading this will only be anglers really giving a damn about what I have to say… The snaggers, liners, and bump fisherman, and the bulk of the town that lives and dies based on these poor etiquettes being taught, don’t like me anyways. Should have this up and running about the same time the snaggers show up and start raping the Flies Only in just a couple months.  Biggest point of the petition is to ban all level line fishing in the Flies Only to have it become a “FLY FISHING ONLY SECTION”, which Zimmy, our first and most senior, andalso, dead guide, would have wanted, and first offered way back when the Flies Only was first considered for quality regulations. Walt Grau… Our most senior and living veteran guide, who has also, like myself participated in taking monies in the same tragedy, said he would be the first signature on it!!!  Get on board folks… This old school shit, is just old… And the river needs a helping hand.  

In closing, on such a long, and long overdue report, which I may not do for another 4 months… Saw my first spawning steelhead already in the Flies Only a week ago, so the tables are already turning in the bite, and though the swing fishing will be exceptional in the next couple of months before they are all trying to get laid, I’m already looking forward to spring days and big flies, away from the PM crowds and digging up some bigger bars of gold on some northern fronts, not worth discussing for obvious reasons.  Sink tips, with initiative and faith, is all the prerequisite you many need to tango with big copper… But be sure and bring it all, cause this captain likes to use his net more than he doesn’t’!  

Again…. Thanks for the banner year folks…