Driving west through the jackpine plains with a huge sunset fading and my sleeve still wet from the final fish landed, I had competing feelings. One was melancholy…after all, it was the last day of May, and with the change in calendar comes the change in fishing. But fittingly tonight was my first good evening of brown drakes. And so the other feeling was one of resignation to the fact that I’m seemingly unable to not attempt to bend time in order to find my way to the river at dusk. But when you get a call at 8:30 that the drakes are both spinning and hatching, well, you grab the kid that you’re supposed to be parenting, and his waders, and a life jacket and you haul ass across the county and set him down beside a riffle and watch him flail away, you watch the bugs hatching from the muck bank, merry-go-rounding in the backeddy, and being consumed by the sixteen inch or so trout that against all odds the boy somehow manages to hook and “land” (and by land I mean reel it completely up to the tip-top of the rod so the fish thrashes free before the phone camera comes into focus).
What I mean to say is that June is a different sort of animal. And the first week of June is one of the holy weeks up here. The bugs of May mingle with and are eventually overrun by the big burrowing drakes and the fast swimming Isonychia. Three nights ago I was alone on a stretch of South Branch with gray drakes (we get a few) and March Browns, followed by the late-to-the-party sulphurs, all spinning so heavily that the air was humming around me and the bubble line across the river was lit up with rising trout. Tonight I’m sure those same bugs were there, but hell if I noticed them. May is a month of wild diversity, like some independent film festival. June is the month of the blockbuster.
All sorts of bugs above a South Branch riffle
The next ten days will be brown drake days across the entire Au Sable river system and then the Manistee. It’s not going everywhere now, but I think by Saturday or Sunday it will be in most of the common places. When the temperatures are hot, the drake hatch can be over and done in a week. But a long, cool forecast like we have now is perfect. The brown drake is an unpredictable bug, and I mean that in the sense that they can appear at any time, almost anywhere, even if the water temperature isn’t right or the air temperature is too cold. Still, in general, a cool day can mean daytime bugs. A hot day tends to mean late evening bugs. Sudden rain showers can mean bugs. Thunderstorms can mean great bugs, if you can manage the lighting. In other words, the angler properly fishing brown drakes must devote all 24-hours of the day to this singular pursuit. The proper mindset is one of paranoia: I know they weren’t hatching an hour ago, but maybe they are now, at that other spot. And thus starts yet more driving. If they weren’t a natural event, you’d think the entire brown drake hatch was orchestrated by fuel companies.
With only one day of potentially meaningful rain on the way, all the rivers are in great shape and fishing better than well. You can expect to see sulphurs in both sizes 16 and 18, size 14 mahoganies, yellow stones, brown drakes, and by early next week the Isonychia. This makes daytime dry fly fishing fun, because you can confidently knot on a size 12 or 14 Roberts Yellow Drake and just go fishing. Other great searching flies right now are the mattress thrashers, the Deer Fly, the size 12 Adams, size 12 Purple Patriots, and so on. Jimmy always told me that the brown drakes kick off the good attractor fishing.
Jimmy Calvin Jr. running the boat for his dad and uncle…must be genetic!
Some will lament the end of May, and I’m one of them. But now the trout season starts to come more clearly into focus. For the next couple weeks, the season has three tails and mottled wings, it lives in the muck and dances at dusk. Some will find big fish, some will break rods, some will be left drawing diagrams on bar napkins trying to find the perfect drift for tomorrow. Yeah, it’s drake season.
This weekend polish your casting with Mark Hendricks, Saturday, 8 am – 12 pm: Four hours of some of the finest casting instruction you’ll find anywhere. Mark knows how to teach casting. He has taught at the Joan Wulff school, and has been a speaker and demonstrator at a number of clubs. There are simple tricks to break your bad habits. Work on your casting in the morning, and spend the day throwing better loops. You will come to understand the mechanics of the cast. At $100, this is one of the best investments you can make in your own fly fishing. Call or email to book your spot.
We’re Paying it Forward: Every year, kind anglers donate fly rods and reels to lucky kids. I waited for the right ready-to-fish kid to walk through the door. Noah is all of that. He was GEEKED! Did the Orivs/TU Free Fly Fishing Saturday, and then “slimed the cork” of the new rod, as Rusty liked to say. This rod was donated by a fellow angler in recognition of the birth of his own son (who undoubtedly will find his way to the river!) I have enough rods and reels to help out some other kids. If you’re coming to the shop with a kid that is ready to fly fish, let me know…