It has been a wonderfully hectic fishing season for me. April was spent with "those Pennsylvania Boys" in piscatorial bliss, in Thunder Road like runs over hill and dale,in pursuit of rising trout. Then a small mouth outing hooked to my annual visit to Grayling, followed again, this past week, by another trip to Grayling chasing Brown Drakes, Iso's, dorothea's, Gray Drakes, Leptophlebia nebulosa/cupida, March Browns...Just to name a few of the usual suspects.
Part 1: May 19th-26th...This was a really weird week for me. I had spent the prior weekend slamming smallies with a 7 weight and the Saturday evening I was up at the tip of the thumb, I got a call from my wife and just about everyone else telling me that my sister had passed away.
I drove to Grayling a bit distracted...Trying to console my mother on the phone while I was driving up I-75 a couple hundred miles away from her.
Sun/Mon May 19 & 20, 2013: The first two nights of fishing were wonderful...I fished with a good friend, Mike (Gear & Theory here), that I haven't fished with in maybe 10 years...Back in the early 90's when Mike was in college and tied for Cal Gates senior (Rusty's dad) my fishing buddy Bill, and I fished together with him. We called him Mikey then because he was the younger brother of another friend Jim who is one of the senior guides on the Au Sable...I would tell you that Jim is the best dry-fly guide on the Au Sable, he has the same clients every year book him straight through the Hex and forget Brown Drakes as well, but I'd get hell from the other guides there. ;)
Flies...We had the left over Henny spinners, with the lighter invaria version both hatching and spinning along with the P adoptiva and just about every other late May bugs...We caught fish but the action was short lived...Maybe an hour or so in the evening.
Then it started to rain early Tuesday morning...The river ended up 4-6" over its already high state...The water temps dropped from 61 to 50 degrees in what seemed like a blink...The fish were sulky to say the least...One friend told me he had a fat Brown puking up green caddis larvae...Why bother to rise to the top when the high water had dislodged enough food for the little pigs to pig out?!
The week became tough after that.
I ended the week with a float on the North Branch with Mike's brother Jim...I pulled up some Brooks, who were finally looking up, with a flashy Yellow Sally pattern that I bounced around on the water to get their attention.
Part Two: June 5-9, 2013: This was the Rayburn Outing for the Michigan Fly Fishing Club...Probably our last since the place is changing hands.
I snuck up a day early since I was floating Thursday with Alex Lafkas. Mike let me crash with him at a cabin he is spending the month of June in...We fished the upper North Branch and had Brown Drake spinners that were out of this world. Mike had headed downstream and me up and I found a sheltered area between an island and the north shore woods where the bugs were going at it in a frenzy. I did something I told myself I'd never do. I texted Mike, "There are Brown Drakes up here in numbers I can't believe, doing it at eye level with March Browns and hatching sulphers! Get your ass up here!" He actually got this message and I heard him sloshing upstream 5-10 mins later. :)
These bugs were copulating :) and flying in the air at head level...We had hatching March Brown's and the little dorothea's...The number of Drakes was mind blowing. As soon as the sun set and the temps dropped it stopped.
My float with Alex was incredible...We floated way below the Holy Water...The first half of the float was just that...A nice float on a beautiful day...The biggest trout about a foot long. After we stopped for dinner everything changed and we had Iso's and Brown Drakes and feeding fish.
The first nice fish was north of 22" and nearly tore my arm off...It ached after...He made a run, I was a bit slow in halting his progress, and I could feel that squeaky feeling you get in your hand when a nicer fish is running against underwater tree limbs...He got free.
We caught a bunch of nice fish, at one point we had a pod of 6-10 nice fish feeding in one run!, including a 15" Bow that fought like a bulldog. I lost an 18"er+ in another sunk tree...We could see it spinning like a crock until it came free and we hooked the tree...3x isnt the easiest thing to break off when you have too. :)
I had a smaller fish do this spinning thing to the point it had mummified itself wrapped in my leader and tippet. I had to remove the fly and undo it around the maxilary, around the operculum, the pectoral fin, etc...It looked like a sausage! :)
I wish I had remembered my camera. This water is beautiful. We joked that it was the first time I've seen this stretch during the daylight since it is night fishing water...In a few weeks it will look like the Lodge freeway in downtown Detroit during rush hour...Hex-O-Mania!!! We saw only one other guide boat and near the access site a kayak and one belly boat. It was our river on this evening.
I have known Alex a very long time and our conversations don't always include fish related stuff...He is a very thoughtful younger man and our lunch was quite philosophical...The future of our sport, getting more youngsters interested, manufactured experiences for the gents who have everything who want to fly from NY & Chicago and golf in the afternoon in TC and chase big fish in the evening with a Bourbon in the left hand and a rare cane in the other...Pose for a pic with a 20+er to show the boys back in the office Monday morning. :)
Alex is a great angler and guides in Arkansas on the White in the winter...Last winter he sent me pics of 11 pound Browns caught down there at midight on mouse patterns...Wow!
Friday June 7th 2013...Someone blew the horn telling anglers everywhere that the Brown Drakes were everywhere on the river...Damn whoever that was! :) I had a great night floating the day before and decided, when I saw all the cars in Gates' parking lot, that I needed to be alone. :) A friend in the shop sent my friend George and I to the upper Manistee...It was a Bluebird beautiful day with no bugs.
We fished for a bit and my friend and I sat down and ate some GORP and talked about how lucky we were to be in that spot at that time...Yes, no feeding fish, but nature at her finest.
George wanted to have me take him to "Spencer's Stoop" on the South Branch. This was a place I sat a great deal during my bad back problems. Rusty and the guides knew right where they could find me. This drive from the upper Manistee to the South is a longish one, but we made it.
Everywhere we stopped had at least three anglers at it...Cars were 4 deep at every access site. Where I normally get in the river there were two guys. I asked them what they were up to and they said they were going to hang there at the access site and it was ok with them for us to jump in and move downstream to my spot. I told my friend that even if we saw a hog feed we were not to fish to it until we were out of the two angler's sight..."This stretch is theirs!"
Well...I was chatting with my friend as we hiked out of sight and when we finally arrived at "Spencer's Stoop" another angler stepped from the bank downstream to let us know he was there..."Damn!" Then I heard something that made my heart speed up and a smile cross my face, "Spence! Is that you? I thought I recognised your voice." It was a guy I had cleaned the river with a couple years earlier and may have shared my spot with someone I knew was the real deal. :)
This guys name was Mike as well and he invited us to share the run with him...This was great since as I was approaching the place I saw a couple nice fish feed in the bubble stream. Mike took a 16" Brown, my friend George who normally fishes for King Salmon in the fall and not with dry flies caught a 14"er, and I caught one a hair over 18. We missed a couple other nice fish...I was so happy for my friend George, he almost hooked what may have been Mr Big there but nicked him.
The fish were chasing Iso nymphs...The slashing rises are something to see. It would be easy to mistake them as fish chasing up caddis, but the Iso's swim like minnows.
My last day up I fished with the Mike I fished with earlier (Gear & Theory)...We fished in one really nice spot in the early afternoon...It was cloud covered and we had hoped for daytime spinners...We went in to Luzerne for dinner and decided to continue down the road to what is called the "Big Water" or "Trophy Water" below the dam in Mio...Except for the company and the experience of a new spot, it was a wasted drive. We saw some Brown Drake spinners that hardly made it to the river before it got colder and dark, and some of the dorothea's hatching along with a larger "sulpher" that almost looked like a Cahill? It was maybe a 16/14 and had solid gray wings, but who knows...Down there the water can be warmer and they even get Ephoron in the fall down there...
Life birds: On my first trip a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) spotted in the Mason Tract near Thayer Creek...This time up I took the long way home and stopped at the flooding on the west side of Houghton Lake and saw a lot of birds, but a new one as well, the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger). I saw a lot of birds but I'll only hassle you fish-brains with the new ones. :)
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively
"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood