Why is it on the first day of the season I get out on the river, I somehow manage to miss the first several strikes from a trout? Are the lightning responses from an eager brook trout darting out from tannic cover in line with a supercharged Porsche? Doubtful. Are my senses still dormant from a winter of shoveling snow and reflexes more calibrated with the elbow jarring of last falls Streamer trips? More plausible. There is more on my mind on this trip. Seems inevitable, but I begin the internal debate: could it be the fly? Am I getting short strikes? Are the char fat and full like they have been in past early seasons? Pay attention- anticipate the strike. What should I switch to? An immediate survey in the sleepy dogwood and tag alders show little sign of bug activity, so I decide to stay subsurface. A quick switch out of my #8 Black Ghost to a bead head Zirdle Bug, and roll cast down the seam and yet another quick drive by on the decent. Miss. Totally asleep at the wheel on that take. Roll it out and mend, jig, drop- BAM!! Finally. There are few that know the relief an angler feels when he either a) figures out his/her miscues b) finally aligns reflexes with literary knowledge or c) cracks the code and eliminates ‘monkey on the back’.
Phew. Time to relax. Shoulders are now in a more comfortable position. Nothing is tense. I actually begin to realize there must be a pinhole in my left leg in my waders because my wool sock is taking on a rather sloshy feel- not unlike that nasty spit of white slushy mix Mother Nature threw at us last weekend after a 6 day 50+ degree tease. For the record, I missed at least four times on two, maybe three different fish before I finally connected and had a decent ten inch brook trout in the net. These times, these unprecedented days we face, are much like fly fishing. Perhaps I am the only one who can surmise. Every time we head out, we are faced with a new set of parameters, and we must assimilate our approach based on past experiences and the writings of others who may have blazed this path prior to our time on this river. When we pay close attention to all the details, read the water properly, assess current situation with knowledge of experts both near & far, and predict a favorable outcome, we can be rewarded with either a gorgeous trout with a crimson flank and blue haloed dots or a larger silver-sided steelhead. The teachings of the river has many parallels- we just need to listen to them. I am one of the fortunate. I am knee deep and working a delicately orchestrated trout stream with habitat that provides more shelter and ample snags than the average trout stream. I am lucky not only because this is not only a quick day trip for me, but one of a dozen streams like this in northern Michigan. My escape is relatively quick and easy, if I assist with kids and home chores. Just then, another sudden jar from a trout I had not anticipated, as a pair of F-14 fighter jets roar overhead, and I miss my opportunity. I was slacking and not on point. Shake it off. It happens, and I can hear the increased throttle of the jets as they make another pass on my backside, northbound and lower- they want to know what they are biting on.
Never take for granted that soft, froggy water. Sometimes, brown and brook trout alike will set up in that ominous mucky bottom water because of the relative ease they can slide out and into a feeding lane or cover. So I work some soft water before I move across into the darker rocky bottom midsection. Just as I was deep in reflection regarding my place here, in the river, northern Michigan, my thoughts were brought back to focus by the 11″ trout that seemed to take the fly in slow-motion- allowing my dormant reflexes to react. The trout didn’t believe he was hooked just as much as I could believe he was attached to the end of my line. Then he went into ‘Fight or Flight’ mode- darting and dashing across the stream and hiding under some bank structure. I was happy at this moment I chose the 8’6″ 5 weight BVK instead of my 3 weight Finesse Glass. The river is not pushing serious amounts of water, not like it did two seasons ago when it crested two feet above the banks, but there is evidence from sand and pebble deposits on the island behind it did occur at first snow melt. The larger TFO rod allows me to throw some of the small streamers and bead head Girdle bugs that a 7′ fiberglass rod doesn’t execute as well. It also helps when these fish put on the afterburners- and soon into my net. A quick appreciation of the beauty this fish and these places afford me and I release the trout to play again, perhaps when drakes are hatching. A few brown stoneflies make their awkward fumbling aerial appearance, some skate for a moment on the waters surface and I watch with eager anticipation, but no rises. As much as I want it to happen, to the point where I have a small olive stimulator picked out of my box, I cannot will the trout to rise to a surface take at this moment. It is quite alright, they seem to be indulging just fine on #10-12 two toned Coffee Pat’s Rubber legs. Go with what works.
I saw a white 2 1/2 gallon bucket a short distance in the bush upstream. Now is a good time to head back, grab that bucket and pick up some trash along the river. It is amazing. Some of the most beautiful places in the country, and people are often the laziest when the beer can is empty. I find several old cans tucked up under dried cattails from last season and freshly consumed Shock Top bottles on an island in front of a deep run. I can only surmise they were recent because the three were neatly placed in some grass that otherwise would have been swept away a week or so ago, but why bring glass? Back at the truck, there is a campsite with cans of Two-Hearted Ales and White Claws among small CO2 chargers I recognize from making real Whipped Cream at the restaurant. What kind of party did I miss here? At first I get irate and disgusted at the irreverence of people and these pristine places, then I quickly clean up the site and disperse these resentments recalling I once was immature and irresponsible, perhaps it is now my turn to take care of the places we value and lead by doing- not just preaching. This isn’t a self admiration pat on the back moment, most of us bring a small trash bag and carry out seasons worth of others debris, but more of an Embrace the Suck moment. All of our experiences can be highlighted by one or two selective moments- if I let this part of my day absorb deeply, I will forget lessons learned by slowing down and fishing to the tempo of the river, and the glorious trout that I shared with my time on the river.
The Stay at Home order has us all feeling a bit lost, out of place. Our biorhythm and natural process of our day has been out of whack. Many of us out of work, or working from home, while homeschooling and balancing something that resembles a family life- without going to see family. March was a pivotal point- we had to make decisions to save lives. The Midwest Fly Expo in Detroit was cancelled. Beyond unfortunate for fly dealers, vendors and sales representatives as well as the rest of our fly family who eagerly looks forward to the annual family reunion in Macomb County. April proved this to be a good call. What if we had the show? How many people would be infected or even worse? So I wanted to reach out to a few buddies and see if we could get a message on the issue out there. Jeff Troutman from Remote. No Pressure. was intrigued by the concept of getting some varied viewpoints on the state and fly fishing industry together for an informal Podcast. On board were Allen Crater, co-owner of Stevens Advertising and formerly State President of BHA , Jon Osborn, author and Public Safety Officer in Holland, along with Jeff Troutman and myself were set to discuss the pros and cons of this pandemic. Look for it this week on RNP. I am sure I will share it. We discussed many aspects of this day and age. But, to my surprise, much was on the positive. Fishing will still be there(could even be better), Morels are soon to pop, families are spending more time together. Business has evolved, much like people. We are finding a way.
Unprecedented. Dire. Bleak. Gloomy. So many adjectives that people are using to describe the place we are in right now. The State of Society, it truly is unfortunate. Instead- we should embrace the positive. The ‘Golden Opportunity’. Spend some better actual quality time with family. Take that nature hike on a trail or conservancy property you have been putting off. Get crazy and learn a language, workout, change your diet, plant a garden, start a blog- not all of course, but really, I am building a deck. The Corona Deck. We will undoubtedly see a few less restaurants this year, fewer fly shops and ice cream shops. Perhaps we are setting up for a new society. This summer will be different, in ways we have yet to comprehend. Not all of it will be bad. Now is a perfect opportunity for growth and change. The business that doesn’t have any social media outlet would benefit from this time to connect to a waiting or untapped audience. Reading a cereal box this morning- Cap’n Crunch has [Twitter] [Facebook] and [Instagram]- really? Check it out. If you are a business and don’t have one of these media outlets, someone else is getting your clients. This is changing how manufacturers will do business, how schools will have class. Two months ago, I never heard of ZOOM, now, weekly have at least 1/2 dozen meetings with clients and business partners. Once a person or society practices something for over two weeks, it becomes habit, a new normal. We are living the new change. Coincidence? You think McDonalds had the drive-up App curbside in the past year by accident? We were headed this way.
Regardless of how you’re handling the current situation, take the time to just sit still and enjoy the quiet. Turn off the television and enjoy a moment on the verge of a new world. Smile, be kind, and if you can, get on a river and throw some flies.
Check on my buddy Paul Beel at FRANKEN FLY with a write up on local tyer Tim Neal.