Hunting

Happy Opener!  And what a great Opening Weekend it was.  Friday was one of my all-time favorite days of working in the fly shop.  The bugs hatched well, the fish rose well, and the anglers were stoked!  Some proclaimed it to be the best dry fly day they’d ever had on the Au Sable.  Others, well…that’s why we still say “good luck” when we find out someone is going fishing.  At least five different anglers pointed through the wall of the fly shop, presumably at the river, and said they’d just caught a 15″ rainbow.  So either there was one really dumb 15″ rainbow that spent all day getting caught or, more likely, it was just a stellar afternoon.   We loved it.

Cheeks

Such cheeks!

Since then, the weather took the forecasted turn.  It rained.  It snowed.  The river temperatures plummeted.  Still, opportunities were there.  I’ll detail one such opportunity in a moment.  But first I have to convey my excitement for the upcoming week:  It looks great.

The rivers are fresh from a slight rain but not so high as to prove unwelcoming, and all three branches of the Au Sable, as well as the bulk of the Manistee, are in good shape.   This weekend will be pleasant overlap of black caddis, hendrickson duns and hendrickson spinners.  It will also mark the first few good days of blind fishing dry flies as the water temperatures climb and the trout, already accustomed to rising, prove willing to take a stab at a well-drifted hendrickson, Borchers, or Purple Patriot.  Moving into next week, I expect to see the first of the little mahoganies, maybe a few popcorn caddis, perhaps the light hendricksons,  a few yellow stones, certainly some mattress thrashers (the big yellow-thorax stonefly), and the giant mayfly spinner we scientifically call the Siphlo but also refer to as the “Never-fall”…though they do fall, and lay eggs, as their continued existence proves.  The angler’s cup runneth over this time of year, and the “fly-chowder” season, as we call it, is what I consider to be the finest — or at least most fun — type of dry fly fishing of the year.  The flies aren’t so small as to be frustrating, and not so big as to lessen the challenge.  A good fish rising between 9 am and 9 pm on the Au Sable in May will test every part of your angling prowess, from fly selection and tippet length to your casting, presentation, and fish-fighting.   That’s what makes this time of year so special.  Enjoy it.

Back to the cold.

I spent the last few days on the hunt.  It’s a product of the conditions.  The water temperatures were cold enough to slow the fish but not so cold as to slow the hendricksons, and the hatches had been enough to get a few better fish up top.  The river doesn’t come to life during a cold water hendrickson hatch.  But over the course of a few hundred yards you might find a single big fish rising sporadically and knowing this, one must walk and walk and walk to find opportunity.  Such afternoons can take on an epic quality.  Two days ago was such a day.

In fact, it didn’t seem I’d be able to fish at all.  One of two youth sporting events had been cancelled, which meant I had to pick up a kid at school.

“I can’t go,” I texted Lance.

Then, crucially, the other sporting event was cancelled, which meant Katy could pick both kids up at school.

“…so if you want to go fishing…” she said… and I was out the door.

I headed to the river without much optimism.  If I found some bugs then maybe I could find a big fish rising.  At 2 pm, however, my confidence climbed:  The hendricksons were hatching and I had a big long outside bend to myself.  By 4 pm and darn near a mile walked, well, I was less enthused, sweaty, snowed-upon, wet from an aborted river crossing, with one decent brown to show.  I was also a long, long way from my starting point.  By 5 pm I was somewhat back to where I’d begun.  By 5:30 pm I’d found and captured a fat rocket of a brown trout that had begun rising to the smattering of cripples that remained in the soft currents on the side of the river.  By 6 pm I was back upriver…and there, finally, I found a foe.

Snow

This trout was feeding sporadically in a roughly 20′ by 20′ square — a big lazy outside bubble line.  Its rise was sideways.  Meaning, the rise was always a soft head-tail rise to one side or the other.  I snuck down the bank and balanced my way over the rocks, and avoided a submerged log that extended upstream…I’ve spooked fish from stepping on such logs before.  The snowy wind whipped everything toward the bank I was on.  Cripples, mutants, ice cold duns.  All hendricksons.  By now the river was solely mine.  The other folks had left hours ago.  The desperation that had driven me up and down the river, over deadfalls and under spruces, had now led me to the one consistently rising big fish in a mile of river.  I pasted some casts upstream, but the trout simply rose elsewhere.  I played this game for a while.  The trout quit.  I quit.  Then, in a series of rises, the trout moved toward the bank and began to rise on the edge of the backeddy, off the tail-end of a bush.  Instead of slashing, it now rose with just an upstream spurt of water.  It was snowing madly.  In Gaylord, I’d learn, a half-foot would fall.  But I didn’t care about any of that.  The sideways trout was now rising front ways.  Within a few casts, we were connected.

When you hook a big fish in big water, and you’re on foot, the first thought is usually something like:  Now what?  The fish thrashed and ran downstream and to the middle of the river.  I was unable to move downstream due to deadfalls and, below that, a patch of deep water…but I tried anyway.  This led to a slip, and some water into my submersible hip pack that I’d rendered non-submersible by not actually zipping it.  I worked back upstream.  The trout had three good runs in it.  A nice fish.  A dandy.  I thought it would be lost, about halfway through.  And then, well, it swam back upstream, and kind of in towards me.  I lashed down tight to it.  The leader came through the rod.  My left hand brandished the net.  The head broke the surface.  Capture, it seemed, was imminent.  And then the hook pulled out.

I howled.  No one was around.  Just snow and water and a few dead hendricksons.

I thought to go find another trout, but that was a wild thought.  A little leftover winter depravity, and the thought passed quickly.  The month of May had only just begun.  I packed it up and headed home.

Previous Fishing Reports

Brown Bugs

Brown bugs:  The mixed bag of spinners on mid-May evenings.   It used to be that we tried to identify all of them, but our old friend Dennis B just called

Read More »

Catching Colds

It’s been a week of bugs.  Hendricksons are something of a solo performance.  They can be awesome…or they can cancel the show all together.  But now that we’re well into

Read More »

Upcoming Events

Gates Lodge on YouTube

Want more fly tying videos? Click above to visit our YouTube channel.

Gates' Catalog