I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately. Trying to get in as much as possible before it gets super cold out. Not that I won’t still go fishing, but I probably won’t get out as often when it’s 20°F outside.
In Michigan for the annual “Bell’s Dinner” – a 6 course meal with various Bell’s beers as the stars- of course I had to get out fishing. Thursday at lunch I explored Buck Creek, mostly due to its proximity to my in-law’s. Apparently the Michigan DNR used to stock it with brown trout, but they stopped this year due to poor water quality or something.
I found a nice little park, but the far more interesting water was back in the woods where there weren’t any trails. Fishing with spinning gear was definitely the right choice, as I’ve never seen so many branches so eager to grab my little jigs. There were some very nice looking sections- eddies, riffles, pockets… but I couldn’t find any fish. A guy walking his dog asked me if I saw any steelhead in there; apparently they come up the creek to spawn. Crazy!
I went back out Friday, exploring a different section of the creek, closer to where it joins the Grand River. Once again I grabbed spinning gear, as all the branches would have really cramped my amateur fly-casting style.
A lot of the water seemed devoid of life; very silty, not much structure, not very many interesting things happening with the water. And then just around a bend was an awesome looking spot, just what I was looking for. A downed tree and rocks created a dam of sorts, and all kinds of riffles and eddies formed downstream of the obstruction.
Throwing a tiny white spinner upstream and retrieving quickly, I saw a nice sized fish – I guessed 14″ – dart out from under a log and slam into my spinner. He quickly changed his mind and let go, but I had him on for a second. Even though I didn’t catch him, it certainly makes me happy to successfully find the fish in a new body of water. I wondered if it was a bass, or trout, or something else…
Pretty soon I’d created another ridiculously complex knot with my Power Pro. I’m so good at doing that I had to either stop fishing or cut my line. It was dark by then, so I just headed back to the car instead. I’m not sure what it is about Power Pro, but we just don’t get along. Whether I use it on my spinning rod or as a leader for fly fishing, for whatever reason it seems to get tangled and knotted really easily. Maybe I’m just not ready for such supple line; whatever the reason, I have decided to stop using it entirely.
Fairly unsatisfied with the first two trips, I got up super early Saturday morning, headed for the Rogue River. This might be my favorite river. At various times of year in various stretches there are resident trout, Fall-run and Spring-run salmon, steelhead, smallies, and lots of other fish. The water is almost perfectly clear and the surroundings are beautiful.
Somehow I miscalculated and was at the river almost a full hour before sunrise. I took that time to organize my fly boxes, adding in the couple new flies I purchased the night before. I spent $3.50 on a pair of nymphs and kicked myself for not tying any at home. I wouldn’t make that mistake again! The yarn egg flies looked nice in my box, sitting next to all the Adams and Royal Wulff’s I’d tied.
The air was cold, my car said 32°F; but once I had my 5mm neoprene waders on I didn’t feel a thing. In fact, after hiking a for a few minutes I was warm enough I peeled off a layer and stowed it in my pack.
I tried crossing the river in the nearest riffle, but the big boulders and strong current conspired against me. I grabbed a strong piece of wood from shore to use as a wading staff, but even that wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable. I saw myself falling in the frigid water, cutting the trip short. Standing in the fast water, my ankles burning against the current, I made the call to walk the long way around and cross the river at the bridge.
Finally I made it to the spot, the water I wanted to fish. My buddy Rob introduced it to me a few months ago; it was the first place I’d ever fly fished. I caught my first few fish on the fly there under Rob’s expert tutelage.
The spot is an awesome stretch of water, with tons of little eddies next to the main current, fallen timber, boulders, rocks… And there always seem to be fish there.
Saturday morning was no exception. When I got to the spot, I watched the water for a minute or two, watching for clues. Anything that could tell me how I should fish it. There was no activity on the surface, at least as far as I could tell. The sun was up but not above the plentiful trees. I figured that still counted as darkness, so I tied on a black wooly bugger I tied with a little bit of gold flash.
First cast was an unusually nice cast; I got a good distance and put my fly exactly where I wanted it. I’d watched a lot of how-to videos on the Orvis website, and was practicing my line mending and drag-free drifting. It was nice to try out stuff I’d only seen in videos.
Second cast, my wooly bugger landed right in the scum line between a small eddy and the main current. I somehow got my line to cooperate, and my streamer drifted through the water at about the same speed as the current. I watched my neon green fly line, telling me where the fly was. It went downstream, and just as it started to straighten directly downstream of me, I felt something.
Suddenly my line was going everywhere; my rod bent over, shaking with the fish’s movements. I quickly reeled in the slack on my rod and got the fish on my reel.
I giggled and then immediately tried to be quiet so as not to disturb the other fisherman downstream. When I had the fish on, I noticed he stopped fishing and watched my catch play out.
When the fish tried to swim upstream, against the current- that’s when it got tired. It stopped swimming and floated back downstream, ending up a few inches from my ankles in the water. That’s when I got a good look at it in the water.
I love catching all kinds of fish, and I certainly have special places in my heart for smallmouth bass (and green sunfish)… But the brown trout must be one of the most beautiful fishes. Pictures of brook trout look very pretty, but I’ve never seen one in person. The intricately patterned spots, bright colors and subtle scales were like some kind of underwater mosaic I was lucky enough to view through the clear water.
The trout generously gave me time to figure out how to use a net. This was really the first trout I’d hooked into where I needed a net; as I giggled and beamed ear to ear, I tried to figure out how to grab the net that was hanging on my back. I switched hands, putting the rod in my left so I could grab the net with my right. Once I got the net in the water, I remembered reading that you should always bring the fish’s head into the net.
Of course the fish was facing upstream. When I put the net in the water upstream of the fish and brought it toward him, he just backed away downstream. When I tried netting him from the back, a simple flap of his tail pushed him upstream- away from the net. I appreciated his predicament; but I just wanted a few pictures.
Finally, after at least two entire minutes, somehow I managed to get the trout in the net. He was mine, at least temporarily. I looked down and admired the amazingly beautiful fish I’d just caught.
As I took a flurry of blurry pictures, I realized my hands were shaking with excitement.
I was so happy.
This was definitely the biggest trout I’d ever caught; and I caught it on a fly I tied! Although catching a fish is awesome by itself, I take great pride in the other details. Catching a fish on something I made probably doubles my excitement and pride in the catch.
I tried holding the trout, but he was extremely difficult to handle. I about lost him in the river a few times. I’m not sure how trout fisherman- fishing solo- can possibly take the kind of “me and the fish” pictures I like to take. With smallies, it’s easy to grab them in the lip.. With trout, well.. They are slippery!
Doing my best impression of a real life fly fisherman, I held the fish in the water to “revive” it after the fight. After a few moments the fish moved its fins and swam away, probably to go hide in that same eddy.
I stood there in the river, it’s cold water rushing around my ankles, so completely satisfied.
Then I realized I forgot to measure it! I quickly grabbed my tape measure and estimated the fish was at least 14″ long. Good enough.
The hours and hours spent so frustrated with fly casting were deleted from memory; all that remained was that fish.
I fished for another couple hours and missed a few fish on black streamers; I wasn’t able to keep them on for more than a split second. I tried drifting nymphs with strike indicators- which I enjoyed tremendously- but as far as I could tell no fish were interested. As I fished I noticed ice was forming on my rod. I didn’t even notice how cold it was, so warmed by the amazing experience I’d just had with the brown trout.
Eventually it was time to head back, and it was ok. Although I had only caught a single fish, it was a great fish; a personal best. A great trip.
Of course the next morning I was at Panera before they opened their doors, lined up with a few other folks for the necessary large black coffee. I’d spent all night dreaming of trout. Trout seem so special because I can’t generally catch them near where I live. They are a treat reserved for visits to Michigan or other trouty areas. Perhaps someday I’ll live near a trout stream and they won’t seem so special. Actually, I doubt that. I think they will always be pretty special.
I was back at the river in a short half hour, soon making my way back to the spot. I worked some more scum lines and eddies. Trying to get my fly in a little eddy under an undercut bank, my back cast wrapped my fly around a tree behind me. In the process of trying to get it free, I heard a loud SNAP that I assumed was the tree branch breaking to give me my fly back.
Turns out it was the tip of my rod.
That’s when I learned how difficult it is to fly cast without a tip on your fly rod. Pretty much impossible. I tried casting for a while but getting my fly where I wanted it was torture. I actually had another brown on for a second, but due to my difficulties I wasn’t able to set the hook.
I hiked back to the car, grabbed my collapsible spinning rod, and threw a tiny white spinner into the river for a while. Once again, I had a trout on for a second, but I wasn’t able to land the beast. I knew a trip to L.L. Bean was in my future, to go get a new fly rod. The idea of being fly rod-less was not very appealing to me- there are so many more fish I need to catch before Winter.