I haven’t fished still water for weeks. It’s not that I have anything against ponds or lakes, I just like rivers and creeks so much. I tend to have more luck in moving water, maybe because I fish it more. A vicious cycle.
I went most of last week without a phone. After a fairly wet float down the Rogue River on Saturday, my iphone stopped working. It was in the dry box, but the box didn’t live up to its name. Of course I turned the phone on right away to transfer my pictures- which is apparently the worst thing you can do with a damp electronic device. Thankfully it was still under warranty and Apple was nice enough to replace it for me.
Just when I think I know how to catch trout, I go fishing and they prove me wrong. Rob and I fished the river last week, and we were astounded by the complete lack of fish feeding and the huge number of anglers. Must have been eight or more people fishing in a half mile stretch of stream. We hiked farther downstream but had no luck. I hooked into something big on a black wooly bugger fished downstream, but my knot was bad and the fish was gone before I knew what happened. That’ll teach me to check my knots.
Saturday I did some more exploring, venturing farther north than usual. I found myself in a country of tall pines, empty roads, and crystal-clear streams flowing through hilly terrain.

I knew this stream was supposed to hold trout, but I could only catch the creek chubs I thought were trout. I don’t mind catching them though- beats a skunk every time. I’ve noticed the creek chubs in Michigan are much faster than the chubs I’ve caught in Illinois and Ohio. Maybe because the water is so much faster? I had a heck of a time trying to catch them, but eventually I did.

I looked under rocks looking for bugs, and after a few rocks finally found one. I have no idea what it is, but it makes me want to get some #20 hooks and tie some tiny nymphs.

After that spot I headed to some other spots I’d “found” in Google Earth. I thought I was fishing the same river, but it turns out I fished two. That’s right, there are so many streams in Michigan it’s easy to get confused as to which one you’re actually fishing. Love it.
My prototype homemade cork indicators didn’t do so well- they worked for the first cast, but flew off the line on the second cast. Back to the drawing board.

In a perfectly clear stream, not 50 feet from my parked car, I caught some pretty fish. The kind of stream where you can see all the way to the bottom and the colorful little rocks.. and still not see the fish you know are there. It’s amazing how invisible these fish are in the water, especially considering how shiny and bright they are out of the water.

I caught them on soft hackles (including the Beckstrom Special) and dry flies- got a little brownie on a #14 deer hair caddis I tied with a little foam on it. No hackle, just deer hair, squirrel hair, foam, and thread.

After exploring that stretch quite thoroughly, I headed home. After checking in with the wife, I learned she was headed out for some shopping, which meant some more time fishing… So I got off the highway and made a beeline for my secret brook trout honey hole.
The other times I’d been there the water was slightly high and stained, but not this time. It was low, slow, and perfectly clear. Like glass, and underneath the glass were many, many brook trout. My pictures don’t do it justice- with my polarized sunglasses, I could make out around 30 fish in the water. Most were 4-7″, but there were a few in there that were much bigger.

Of course, I was standing too close to the fish and every little movement sent them into a frenzy. I was fishing downstream, and there was no doubt in my mind the fish could see me. When they spooked they scurried around the shallow pool and settled in the deepest water- but even that was only a foot deep. They apparently had nowhere else to go.
After standing as motionless as possible for five minutes, I was finally able to hook some- tossing a #8 panfish hook with some nightcrawler on it. Yes, with my fly rod. I’m pretty sure that’s fly-fishing blasphemy, but I wanted to catch some fish.
I hooked a few of the bigger ones, but they threw the hook as soon as they felt the point of the hook.
Eventually I managed to catch a smaller specimen, but still beautiful.

After I released the fish, I realized I’d just caught each of the three types of trout that live in Michigan in one day. That must be some kind of achievement; at least it was for me.
Claire and I were back out on Sunday. We didn’t catch many fish, although we caught a few crayfish. Claire got a couple with a small spinner, and I had a pair actually grab my nymph and refuse to let go- until I looked them in the eye.
Again, blasphemously fly-casting nightcrawler up and across, I started catching fish. They refused my streamers, my dry flies, my wet flies, and my nymphs… but who could pass up a delicious bit of garden hackle. I think that is the fancy fly fishing name for nightcrawlers. I like it. It was still tough fishing though- if the drift of the crawler had any drag, the fish ignored it. Only the nicest casts with the deadest drifts caught fish.
I caught a creek chub, and as I pulled it in I saw a very large brown trout shoot out from under a bush chasing after the chub. It quickly disappeared, and I caught the chub… but wondered how to catch the big brown. The chub was about 8 inches, and the trout must have been twice that.
On our way home we stopped at the brookie stream. As before, the fish were stacked up in the clear, shallow water- and they darted away as soon as we poked our heads over the bridge’s guard rail.
Nightcrawlers weren’t working on the spooked fish- I should have known. Periodically I heard a fish feeding upstream, the culvert amplifying the gulp into a large plop that echoed on the metal walls. When I crept through the culvert, I was able to sneak up on some unsuspecting fish from downstream. I saw a big fish- probably 10″+ hanging out on the upstream side of a rock. Of course when I tried to get my bait upstream, I inadvertently cast over the fish and like lightning it shot downstream past me.

I kept sneaking, and saw a few fish under a log- a place I’d caught fish before. Even in the clear water they were tough to see- they blended in so perfectly with the rocks.
After a few tries I was able to cast my hunk of garden hackle upstream into the main feeding lane. The white bubbles, the faster water. It was tough to keep the drift natural, but I think I succeeded. I had no idea where my nightcrawler was when I suddenly saw a fish speed downstream, under the log, headed for the culvert.

It was only then I realized I was attached to that fish, as my rod doubled over and the fish’s progress downstream was halted. In a split second I remember having two thoughts: “Fish on!” and “Dinner!”
After a short fight I netted the fish and measured it. Nine inches, which for this small trout stream was above the legal length to keep. I’ve been on a mission to catch some eating fish for weeks now- something I rarely did in Illinois, but a practice I am very interested in. Finally, I’d caught a legal-sized fish. I’d heard brookies are very tasty, and was excited to find out for myself.
After a ride in my previously unused cooler, my fish was on a cutting board.

I knew the fish wouldn’t be more than a snack, but this catch was special. This is part of fishing, like it or not- as fancy as it can be with expensive fly rods and artistic flies, in the end it is just another way to get a meal. Whether you keep your meal or let it go, that’s up to you and the law. For me, this was the original appeal of fishing- catch your own food!
As I cleaned the fish I was surprised by the amount of blood. I suppose fishing is a “blood sport” after all. With a few cuts the wild fish was transformed into an ingredient, although still identifiable by the beautiful patterning on its skin. And its severed head on the cutting board.
Soon it was further transformed into a small meal; I seasoned the inside of the fish with salt, pepper, lime, and butter. After a quick trip in a baked foil packet, I ate it.
I thought about what a great life this fish must have had; all the bugs it could eat, clear, cold water; probably a more pleasant existence than a fish farm. At least until I killed it.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little bad killing the fish. I take no pleasure in ending an animal’s life. But just as the trout had to eat to survive, so do I. I could probably live on beans and beer, but I know somewhere along the line some animal will die even in the growing of pintos or barley. By killing this little fish, I take a tiny bit ownership of that reality. At least I want to think so.
Not to mention I know where it came from, which is more than I can say for 99% of what I ea. Plus it was very tasty. 

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