A long time bucket list of mine had been to participate in a fly-in fishing trip to northern Canada, and in the early part of June last year, I was able to finally check it off. If you are unfamiliar with these endeavors, they are all pretty much the same concept. Drive as far north into Canada that roads will take you, hop on a float plane to any of the hundred remote outpost camps on any of the million lakes up there and start fishing. As long as you can keep from being devoured by a bear, trampled by a moose or suffocated by a swarm of ruthless, evil, hate filled bugs…you will no doubt catch more fish than you can possibly imagine. Besides the obvious appeal of fishing for a week straight, the biggest pull for me was how remote these locations are. You’re out on your own, miles and miles from civilization, surviving off only the gear you bring in and the game you catch (sorry…no “keep em’ wet” happening there) all the while taking in nature that hasn’t been completely altered or trodden over by a herd of humans every weekend. It was an awesome experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat with the only negative memory being those damn bugs (pro tip: don’t let them get INSIDE your bug suit…nightmares). But as the resident new guy on this blog, I thought I’d share one of the things I’d do differently if I were to partake in such an adventure again; my approach and plan for catching fish. I’ll break it out for you.
Where we were fishing:
As with the vast majority of water in northern Canada, the two major species we would be pursuing (and living off of) were walleye and pike, of which I have very little experience fishing for. The particular body of water we were on consisted of a decent sized river opening up to a 7 mile by half mile lake with two other rivers that exited on the other side. Our outpost was located at the mouth of the river feeding in, and I was told that we would be spending most of our time around there for walleye and in the river and its tributaries for pike. The walleye were known to hang by structure in water anywhere from 10 to 20ft with pike patrolling the edges and shallow tributaries. We also would be taking a crazy adventurous day trip, 15 miles up river to a set of falls that are known for holding monster brook trout (trout rule, ‘eyes drool!).
How I planned on catching fish:
At the point I was planning for this trip, I had fully converted my fishing techniques to the fly and had all but rid myself of anything relating to gear fishing. I knew pike would be easy. I would treat them like hyper aggressive trout, slap some wire on the end of my leader and throw big, gaudy streamers at them. Walleye were another story. They aren’t known to be a regular target for most fly fisherman and finding large quantities of information on how to go about it was difficult. But the Internet is full of crazy people like myself and I was able to find enough articles to put a plan in place. My idea was this: I’d set up an 8/9wt rig with a long-headed 300gr sink tip line and tie up a bunch of weighted
leech and clouser patterns with colors ranging from black/purple to chartreuse/orange. I figured that if after I cast out as far as I could, I gave the fly ample time to sink before slowly stripping it in, I’d be close enough to the target depth to get in walleye range. Solid plan right? I should note, my father-in-law, who has been on countless number of trips to this lake, and would be with me on this one, thought I was a fool to only bring a fly rod. So much so, that he went out and bought me a spinning gear combo package so that I’d be guilt ridden into bringing gear with me. He wasn’t taking any chances as I’d be part of the equation of whether he ate dinner or not each night. What’s that they say about listening to those that have gone before you in life?
How it turned out:
Yea…not nearly as well as I thought and I was grateful for that spinning gear. The big thing I forgot to factor in was that I’m a novice who, at the time, couldn’t cast to save his life (an accurate metaphor given the circumstances) nor understood the fish or environment I was fishing in. Let’s break this down:
-When you are a very inefficient at casting, a 300gr line with heavy flies is not only a bear to control, but will wear you out lickety split. Add in that I’m a walking stick figure with a career that emphasizes typing speeds over strength, and I was well worn out after a full day behind my rig. This made my accuracy and distance garbage and I spent more time out of the fishy zone than in it.
-I was the only guy using a fly rod. And since piloting an outboard powered boat is near impossible while casting one, that meant the speed and positioning of said boat was almost always in favor of the hardware guys. When trolling, I couldn’t cast fast enough to accurately hit my zones or keep my fly deep enough if we were in walleye territory. When holding still, we were usually out far enough that I had to muster up monster casts to get to where the fish were. Again, my weak casting did not help me here. We had a 5th guy lined up to go with us that is a fantastic fly fisherman which, had he not had to bail at the last second, would have made this a moot point. But if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, oh what a Christmas it would be. I was going to a camp designed around hardware…not sure what I expected.
-I didn’t tie nearly as flashy patterns as I should have. The water levels were abnormally high and strong winds had the water very cloudy. I obviously could not have predicted this, but you should prepare for everything on a trip like this. The only places I had any success were in the tributaries were the water was clear or low. But the name of the game that week was either motion (more than an articulated streamer can provide) or flash, neither of which my patterns overly excelled at. This was the most obvious the day we spent at the falls. I was the first in the water and on my fourth cast landed a real nice brookie on a white boogieman pattern. At last, I thought, it’s my time to shine! That was the last fish I caught that day. My boogieman was crusty leftovers in the eyes of the trout once they saw the Mepp’s my uncle’s were throwing. And they could cast them farther and faster than I could ever dream of. They put up some impressive numbers of some of the biggest brook trout I’ve seen and left me with my one measly fish and a sore shoulder on the boat ride home.
Did I catch fish on my fly rod? Is the pope catholic? I hooked up with plenty of hammer
handled size pike and even proved my theory correct with a few walleye. But I had to work my butt off to get them while my companions were kicked back slaying them one after another (literally) with spinning gear. And believe me…they let me know it. I eventually gave up and just switched to my spinning rod. I still refused to jig or troll…what a boring and uninvolved means of fishing. But I ended up having a fantastic time ripping stick baits for pike and spoons or spinners for walleyes and ended up with the record for most consecutive fish per cast by going 10 for 10 on pike one night. Quick side note here…the pike in that lake were some of the most aggressive, brutal predators I’ve seen. If it moved, it was food. They would come up and take chunks out of walleye we had on stringers and I swear to you, one even smashed a Rapala that was covered in a foot of weeds. Made for some fun times…but nature, you scary….
What I’d do differently:
Obviously, get better at casting. It’s coming up on a year since that trip and although I’m far from being Paul Maclean, I’ve made big improvements in this category thanks to some relentless backyard practicing and some great guidance from a friend. I also think I’d upgrade my fly rod. Over the summer I switched my Redington Crosswater 6wt over to a Mystic Reaper and it made a world of difference in my casting, especially for large streamers. I think if I did the same for my big streamer rod (combined with even more practice) I’d have a better time at it. But maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to have three Reapers in my collection. Also, I think I’d focus all time with my fly rod on hunting trophy pike and just be happy if a walleye randomly hits my fly. For walleye, I’d upgrade my spinning gear, chuck heavy spinners with ease and be happy doing it. Or pack in some steaks and leave the monotonous task of working a jig to others. Finally, I’d bring along a better assortment of flies. And I’m not talking about anything super fancy here…did you read the part about that pike hitting a grass covered lure? But maybe a little something more to get their attention and mix it up like some floating frog/mouse patterns or a pack of flashabou tied to a hook. That’d get it done.
So at the end of it all, these shortcomings with my fishing strategy by no means took away from an awesome trip. For that matter, it’s made me realize that living in Michigan, I’m limiting myself…just a bit…by swearing off gear fishing for life. The fall salmon run for instance has all be written off for me since I’ve given up the ol’ chuck n’ duck. So I think this September, IF the salmon come back up the river and I have an opportunity to get in there and battle it out, I’ll be throwing plugs and hot n’ tots instead of streamers and eggs. OK no joke…it was really hard to type that. But I’m trying to be open-minded and I promise I won’t be petitioning for this blog to be renamed michiganflyandgear.com. Fly or die people. But, in the meantime, I’m going to go look at pictures of steelhead sized brook trout, Bob Ross level Canadian sunsets and Fireball stealing in-laws to remind me of an incredibly memorable trip…and to keep practicing casting. So hey ya’ hosers, keep some tight lines eh?
A couple years ago I was on a streamer trip with friend Joe Donati. It was a day in late May and the weather was warm and overcast with water a bit up and stained, perfect for pulling bugs. Joe had landed a few nice trout and we came into a straightaway with grass tight to the bank. I was rowing and Joe noticed a trout shoot completely out of the water for some right along the bank. We dropped anchor mid-river and watched for a bit as more fish along the bank proceeded to come flying out of the water with reckless abandon. We soon realized they were going after damsels hovering near the grass. We sat there for a while just watching one after another taking shots at these bugs that were obviously driving the trout mad. Neither of us had anything remotely similar to a damsel so Joe just went with a hopper pattern and was able to get one to go. I took some video that really doesn’t do the moment justice but worth sharing.
After telling Bob this story that evening he laughed and said that he’d just taken the two or three damsels he had parked in his dry fly box out because he never thought he’d get a shot at fishing them.
If you’ve been living off the grid for the past couple years and haven’t seen this amazing video of trout crashing damsels then check this out.
“Being stupid should be painful” – Unknown
This past weekend’s trip I was reminded of a very valuable lesson that I have learned many times over throughout my years of fishing. It is a lesson that I have shared with many people, both experienced and new in relation to their level of experience. I committed a cardinal sin and didn’t have my head in the game the entire day while fishing. As a result I paid dearly for it.
We got on the river around 8:30 AM and within the first 30 minutes into the day I was into what I thought at first was a steelhead. The bobber on my indy rig dropped, I quickly set the hook and something big and heavy began to move. At that moment a familiar feeling of elation quickly overwhelmed me as line began to quickly peel out of my left hand and come tight to the reel all in the matter of about 4 tenths of a second.
The feeling of elation quickly turned into grave disappointment when I realized all that had happened is that I had inadvertendly dislodged a piece of lumber from the bottom of the river, and it immediately was caught in the current, displaying many of the same characteristics as a hooked steelhead. In my frustration I immediately started to “horse” the log in so I could unpin it and get back on with my day. The stress placed on my rod was substantial and quickly resulted in the rod snapping with a sound similar to that made by the .22 caliber gun my father used to hunt small game with in the days of my youth.
So, it wasn’t a fish, I broke a rod, and now I have to walk up 144 steep and icy steps back to the truck to re-rig another rod? Now I’m pissed, but mentally chalked it up to some sort of necessary penance required by the Fish God’s – a toll I’d gladly subject myself to if it resulted in a great day of fishing.
Only it didn’t result in that.
On a river that I know relatively well that had been holding several steelhead as of late, in several cases being the first angler through sections of particular runs, with a good selection of proven flies would usually result a decent outing. All it resulted in for me throughout the day was losing about $467 worth of flies lost and a helluva of a lot of knot tying. I’d rather have walked down to the river, opened my wallet, pulled out $467 and thrown it straight into the river (from the top, not the bottom of those damned stairs of course), and turned around and went home.
After about 7 hours of no fish encounters, Dan questioned whether or not I had the correct depth set on my indicator – stating that I might not be fishing a run not quite deep enough. At this point my head was someplace else other than focusing on what I should have been, I was more or less going through the motions. I turned to Dan and assured him that I had the correct depth and to further prove my point I said “watch, if I cast a few feet closer I’ll drag bottom”.
Upon casting in closer to me the bobber lurched towards the river bottom as I had previously, indicating that my rig was set too deep for the water I was fishing. I turned to Dan and smugly said “see, I told you”.
My confident assertion was met by him emphatically screaming “FISH!”. I quickly turned around and quickly recognized my bobber nearly a foot below the river’s surface, screaming towards the opposite bank with a large silver steelhead not far in front of it.
I lifted the rod and came tight on the fish. The physical attachment to that fish lasted about as long as my mom’s apple pie at a family dinner. All because I was being an idiot and not paying attention, it was over as quickly as it started.
Instead of having an opportunity to land a beautiful January steelhead and erase all of the hardships THAT I CAUSED myself during the day, I added to it because I committed the substantial crime of not having my head in the game at all times.
I’ve been really fortunate to be a witness and active participant in seeing and experiencing a number of really great fish this year. While I really enjoy chasing after all fish species, brown trout has a special allure for me. Seeing a big brown trout make it into the net is an awesome experience and sharing that moment with pals in the boat makes it all the better. Here’s a look at this years fish that I had the privilge to witness first hand.
For the second consecutive year I commished a fantasy football league filled with a bunch of fish heads. A motely crue cast of charachters all bound together by our strong affinity to chase fish. I quickly found out that there is 1 thing these yahoos take as serious as fishing, fantasy football!
I spent most of my season last year getting repeatedly curb stomped but had a good time doing it as the near daily trash talk added good commentary to give me quick breaks from my work day. This year, I decided I’d spice up some of the weeks by publically calling out particular opponents on weeks I faced them and challenge them to a “side bet” of sorts. Well, unfortunately for me those curb stompings from last year carried into this year and it didn’t go well for me.
Throughout this I discovered I may have a bit of a repressed gambling problem, as the typical wager was 3 articulated streamers and each week I lost I would just double down the next week to try and win some bugs back. Let’s just say I burned through a lot of materials this year.
However, thats not where my punishment ends. Oh no…that’d be way to easy. My poor decision making and inability to set a good roster of players continues to punch me square in the throat.
Twice this year I lost to Jeff from Fly Fish the Mitt and had to contribute to his already loaded streamer box. Being that I was going to be fishing with him on this past Sunday morning, I worked late into the night spinning up a version of Galloup’s Boogie Man.
Jeff, not one to shy away from rubbing a bit of salt in a pal’s wound decided he would immediately lace one of his winnings up and fish it right out of the gates on our streamer escapade. I quietly chuckled to myself as I sat in the rowers seat and watched him struggle with the bug getting fouled around itself, as it appeared that I unintentionally provided him with a “dud” that had too much space between the hooks and not enough beads to prevent the hooks from becoming entangled with one another during casting. “Serves him right” I thought – but of course outwardly I appeared apologetic. “Jeeze man, I’m really sorry. I thought I tied those perfectly.”
A simple adjustment, opening the loop of this cast up a bit, allowed him to accurately sling the bug without it getting tangled. No worries, the color combination is surely not one we’ve ever seen work in this particular river – he even commmented on it himself.
That’s when the throat punches started rolling in. On his first shift he brought a few fish to hand. Then on his second shift, Mike Tyson punched me square in the neck and this fish decided this terribly tied bug looked good enough to eat.
He continued to fish the fly for the entire day and of course landed not only by far the largest fish of the day, significantly more fish than I did as well. Wasn’t it enough that I just paid my dept and suffered the humilation of proclaiming my Fantasy Football superiority only to be embarrased?
Stay tuned for the report following me paying my bet to Dan, as I practically have to row him around the river the whole day without me even fishing. Fantasy Football sucks.
The 2015, and 4th rendidtion Bass 1fly (B1F) is in the books. First, let’s take a moment to remember those with their names already etched on the back of the Duke & Lily Cup:
2012 – Jeff Cole
2013 – Dan Moser
2014 – Joe Donati
This year the angler group doubled in size, going from 9 to 18. This meant that we’d have to split up into 2 different stretches of river – 3 boats/9 anglers in 2 beats. The competition was close for quite sometime – but after about the 1/2 way mark became a 2 horse race between to guys in the same boat.
Drew Peklo ended the event with 12 smallmouth landed and the next closest angler was Erich Gross with 8. Erich manages the Grand Rapids Nomad Anglers fly shop (NOMAD’S Website) and Drew mans the counter there from time to time as well. You might want to shoot them an email, or better yet stop into the shop and ask them both what they’re eating for breakfast before they fish!