Optimistically, I think every fall day is going to be exemplary enough to serve as as an example for what every fall day should be. Today was such a day. After a pleasant morning shift at the lodge on a perfectly rainy October day, I got an idea to fish streamers upstream on the South Branch. This is a technique I messed around with this winter to scattered, but promising, results. Today, though, I decided to fish the streamers on my euro rod, fishing the skinny line, and jigging them back to me through the soft water because, it seems to me, I spook a lot of mid-river fish this time of year.
The river is warm for October, and where I waded there wasn’t a spawning bed to be seen. I worked my way up the first good bank, moving two little ones behind some cover. No BWOs. Misty rain. Wind in the oaks. The woods look like September woods. I switched to a heavier fly, and focused on the soft sides of the seams, casting straight upstream and working the fly back with a high rod through the slow water. The thing about wading downstream is you just never can get those fish on the insides of the bends…but they are there. Eyed bugger, size 2. Jig, jig, jig. It started to feel right…
A few snags had me doubting my whole plan. And then the proverbial “snag started moving” and, just like that, I was hooked to a big pre-spawn brown that put up a hell of a fight on an otherwise quiet afternoon. I brought in shallow for a quick picture. It was a male. Not dark like he will be in a week or two. Nope, just a golden brown. It should have been enough. But I have this problem where I just want to cram in everything. Especially on a great October day.
I fled for home, ditched my fishing gear for my hunting gear, grabbed the nearest hunting dog, and headed to the woods. On the way I had the idle thought that wouldn’t it be something — really something — to catch a brown trout, shoot a grouse and a woodcock and maybe, just maybe, shoot a buck — a kind of crazy Michigan slam — all in one day. A crazy thought that seemed a lot less crazy five minutes in when Fin came trotting back with a grouse in her mouth after incredibly lucky shot through a curtain of poplar. Not five minutes after that, she was on point on a woodcock which, amazingly, I also managed to hit.
Okay…4:30 pm, and back at my vehicle. Maybe go deer hunting? Maybe?
Which is how I ended up in a deer stand at 6:15 pm watching my true Michigan October slam go trotting by to my right, white tail in the air, so close but so far, too far.
Far from dejected, I packed it up and headed to the Board Room, where Lance and Sheets have set up camp this week tying the example flies for next year. The Board Room is a sea of feathers, hooks, dubbing, and opinions. I had a beer and we argued about wings, and bodies, and whether the Rusty’s spinner should have brown, mahogany, or natural deer hair. They’ve been putting their winning flies in this special box and we kept going over and admiring them the way you admire something that goes just right, as if everything will always go that right. Our examples are often exemplary. I remember a few May days: One hatch bleeding into another — caddis into mahoganies into hendricksons — culminating in a massive, mixed spinner fall, and big fish rising before dusk. And that will always be what May is to me. Even if it only happens once or twice in the entire month.
I’d say the river is a full week behind. The trout aren’t really spawning yet, at least not en masse. The main and the Manistee tend to start first. In the meantime, there’ll be some good trout opportunities this week fishing streamers and nymphs. We have some more fitting weather now: 40s and 50s for highs, frosty nights, but no snow on the horizon…yet. If you are craving the last hatch of the year, the upper Mason Tract and upper North Branch and even the flat water spots around Keystone and Guides Rest can have some very fishable afternoon BWOs (size 20 and 24).
We have one full week left of regular operation. On Halloween Sunday, we’ll serve breakfast until 11 am and close down the restaurant and half of our rooms. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our holiday catalog, which is loaded with gift ideas, fly tying debris, new gear, old favorites, and more. If you received our spring catalog, or any of our other catalogs, you’re already on the list. If you’re not on the list, and would like to be, email your mailing address to [email protected]