Approaching Fly Fishing Whack-Job Status

If you’re a hard-core fly fisherman, your passion for it means far more than just catching fish.  Yes, I separate “hard-core” fly fisherman from the run-of-the-mill, summertime, fair-weather participants because the latter folks are only fishing when it is comfortable… their passion is only skin deep.  They’re  like professional sports fans who only watch the playoffs… sure you’re enjoying the all-around best, but by not watching the whole season you missed some of the most exciting moments, best plays, and spectacular finishes.  And that’s perfectly fine.

Hard core fly fisherman, on the other hand… these guys/gals are like those sports fans who will continue to fall on the sword for their favorite team – even if they suck for years on end… think Detroit Lions fans… now those folks are serious.  Literally these hard-core “whack-jobs” fish year round, in any kind of weather, and any time day or night.  Hell, they’ll even fish the same stretch of river many times over even if they haven’t caught a fish yet.  Why you ask?   WTF knows… maybe pride, insanity, OCD, senility, appreciation, knowledge, perseverance, passion, soul.  My educated guess is, a bit of all of the above.

I say “educated” guess because while I wouldn’t consider myself in the same league as a full whack job, I am approaching whack-job status with each passing year.  I know the term “whack-job” doesn’t sound all that complimentary… when you hear someone being called a whack-job, they’re being called a nut case, out-of-the-norm, extreme behavior…  uhhhh yep.  Some of the stuff hard-core fly fisherman do is definitely out-of-the-norm and extreme.  It is a compliment in my book. And the longer I fish the more crazy stuff I do.

Would you go fly fishing (wading) when it’s only 14 degrees out and about a foot of snow on the ground?  How about at 2:30 in the morning, damn near pitch black out and you’re casting to the sound of a fish rising, not actually seeing it rise?  How about fly fishing in a drift boat on a 43 degree fall day in cold wind and rain?  If your answer is “hell no!”  I get it.  BUT, you’re missing some of the best fly fishing experiences possible.  Yes, seriously.

This past weekend my buddy TJ and I went to the Au Sable river in MI, to get some fishing in before switching over to steelhead fishing.  I’ve been fishing most of the river for over 20 years, but we had never gone down a few stretches of the main branch known as the “Holy Waters.”  I know, for those of you who have fished this river a lot, you’re thinking, WTF is wrong with you guys… you’ve never fished the Holy Waters?  Well, we had tried a 4-hour stretch between Wakely and McMasters years before but never the whole section… mainly because it gets a lot of traffic and I’ve always thought to go elsewhere.

Anyway… Friday, we fish the stretch between Stephan Bridge and Wakely… mostly cloudy, rainy and very windy, about 40-ish degrees… this section of the river is relatively shallow, gravel, sandy bottom… with most of it wade-able, however the vast majority of the property along the river is private, so unless you have a boat, your access will be somewhat limited.

About 10 minutes in we come upon a young guy-gal couple wading and nymphing with a fish on… we watched and they pulled a nice 14-ish inch brown out.  “Nice fish!” I shouted.  They shouted back, “Thanks!”  We floated by them and I was thinking their success could be a promising sign to us.  Buuuuuttt, no.  All day long, we threw everything we had; small streamers, larger streamers of every color, we tried nymphs… nothing.  Typical.

TJ Tying One On

Saturday, we got to the river a bit earlier and stopped at Gates fly shop prior to talk to Josh about what was happening and what the fish seemed to favor.  Josh said the best time was going to be between 3:p.m. and 5:p.m.  My buddy and I gave each other a disheartened glance because we were hoping to be off the river earlier because a large storm was supposed to hit around 2:p.m.  After about 2 minutes of consideration, regardless of the weather forecast and current conditions, we decided to take the longer float, Goodar to McMasters, which got us off the river by 5:30.  Smart decision. 

For most, their fly fishing was over for the season as soon as the Tricos had finished or maybe even earlier.  Now, they’re out bird hunting or at home watching football.   For them, looking out their window, the weather sucked, flat out… almost constant rain or drizzle, a light wind, about 39 degrees. 

BUT, WTF cares… we were fly fishing!!  Yep, we are the nut cases, the out-of-their-minds guys who love to fly fish so much, the rest doesn’t much matter.  We are those who people look at and go, “WTF are those whack-jobs doing on the river now?”

TJ and I switched off piloting the drift boat, taking turns throwing streamers.  We saw a lot of really nice fish in the water, but nothing was taking what we had on the menu.  After about an hour or so, TJ netted a 13-inch brown… still nothing for me yet.  I joked, “yeah, I’m just waiting ‘til the 3:p.m. witching hour.”  TJ laughed as well, but retorted, “no, I just think you suck.”  He might be right!

Not another single bite, flash, chase… nothing until 2:35, when I tossed a Boogieman streamer to the right-bank and WHAM, I saw a large fish come out of the weeds and swallow my fly.  “Holy Shit” I shouted, being totally unprepared.  TJ dropped anchor and we netted the 22” brown after about a minute of chasing it and TJ yelling, “keep your tip up, keep the line tight, don’t bully it…” 

After removing the streamer, measuring the fish, taking a picture, and a high five we let her slip back into the water.  BE-A-UTI-FUL fish.

TJ took the bow and began to fish and it didn’t take long for him to call out, “here’s another big one!”  I dropped anchor and grabbed the net.  TJ brought the fish up and it rolled and I thought, “whoa, that is a monster.”  It surfaced again an then we recognized it was a pike.  TJ pulled it in, I netted it, lifted it in the boat, and it simultaneously spit out the streamer and jumped out of the net onto the floor of the boat.  TJ soon grabbed it, measured it… I took a picture, and he dropped it back into the river… a grand 28” northern pike.

Nothing eventful occurred during the rest of the float.  We still tossed various streamers, but caught nothing more, and enjoyed our time on the river.  The rain hadn’t let up, the wind was lighter but still blowing, and it was still cold… but we didn’t really care… we were fly fishing… and dame close to whack-jobs to boot… the only thing that would have made us full-fledged whack jobs would’ve been if in addition, it were night.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am not the most experienced, or knowledgeable fly fisherman out there. I haven’t memorized hatch charts, nor can I name the flies I’m using much of the time. But who cares! If you’re out there and enjoying yourself, regardless of anything else, then you too are approaching fly fishing whack job status!

Until next time… Tie One On!

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