Big Fish Hiding

What a great weekend of steelhead fishing on the Pere Marquette River in Baldwin, MI.  Waded Friday, floated between the Green Cabin and Gleason’s Landing on Saturday, then waded down-river from Gleason’s on Sunday.  Sunday was by far the better-weather day, partially sunny and mid-30’s.  Saturday was mid-to-upper 20’s periods of light snow and damp with a light fog in the air.  The water temp was hovering around 40 degrees both days.  Regardless, we were fly fishing… which beats most anything else!

The Pere Marquette is a dynamic river, in that it is constantly changing.  Now, I know all rivers change over time, but the PM seem to change far more radically and faster than what I’ve seen in most rivers.  Sure, the major holes are still there, but they may not be as deep, and or this year there may be more “fly catchers” at the bottom than previously… and some underwater hazards are now gone altogether.  And over the past couple months there have been more trees down than in the past.  As I mentioned, all this is normal evolution for a river, but it can radically change your game plan.

As well, for those of you who have fished this gem of Michigan’s western side, you’ll know that it gets crowded, especially during the salmon run.  During steelhead season it can get crowded as well.  During our trip there were quite a few boats on the water as well as waders.  So much so, that we were consistently playing hop-scotch… which means you are likely to miss good sections of the water, which we did.

I know, I hear ya… suck it up pony-boy that’s fly fishing.  You’re right.

Me The Streamer Vacuum

This is only my 3rd or 4th time steelhead fishing, so while I’ve been fly fishing for 20+ years, I’m new to the big boys.  If you’ve read my previous post, “Fly Fishing Stinks,” I explain the different types of fishing for steelhead; swinging, center-pin, and chuck-an-duck.  Each is used depending on what rig you have, what you enjoy, and what you prefer or are comfortable with… one isn’t necessarily better than another although there are some that will debate that.

Personally, I’m not a fan of chuck-and-duck.  It just doesn’t seem like fly fishing to me… but I do realize it can be a killer method for these cold-water kraken.  Center-pin is just like nymph fishing.  I’ve never been good at that in larger water.  For the smaller spring creeks, on the other hand, nymphing is my preferred method.  So, I told my buddy TJ that I wanted to stick to swinging for the weekend.  Seeing as I don’t have my own big rod yet, he set me up with his 11’6” 7W.  TJ was going to go with a center-pin rig. Let the adventure begin. 

Friday, wading in, we covered about a half mile of the water up-stream from the Green Cottage landing.  It is a relatively easy wade.  Yes, you have to wade across the river in spots to position yourself to reach some of the bigger holes, but the PM is accommodating.  A half mile doesn’t sound like much but there is plenty of water to fish.  In addition, we’ll pound a section, changing flies multiple times, before moving on… full disclosure… “changing flies” may be voluntary, or maybe not.  Ha!  I lost more damn flies this past weekend than I think I have in the past 4 years combined… and NOT because I hooked into a monster and it broke my line either.  In my opinion, underwater hazards should be clearly marked.  I mean, come on, all hazards are clearly visible in golf, right?  Why can’t they do that for river fishing?

I know, I hear ya… move on pony boy!

TJ caught a small brown on Friday… me, nothing!  We fished for about 4 hours and called it a day.  I had high hopes for the Saturday float.

Lot’s of Fishy Water

We got out on the river Saturday about 9:00 a.m.  As I mentioned it was relatively cold, lightly snowing and damp.  Lots of boats on the water as we went along trying to find a spot to fish while giving others plenty of room to do the same.  We fished… and we fished… and we fished.  I had one strong tug, but neither of us had any hook-ups. About mid-day, I had already lost about 5 flies and was a bit discouraged. 

We reach a really nice deep stretch that looked really “fishy,” so we anchor and TJ tells me to get out and swing the entire section.  So I listen to the master.  He’s in the boat watching and warming his hands, and I’m slowly working my way through the seam.  70% through, on my end, TJ decides to get out and fish behind me.  Yet frustrated with the lack of anything himself, he decides the hell with the center-pin, and he grabs his streamer rod.  He’s 10 yards behind me.  On his 2nd cast, BOOM!  He hooks a really nice 17” or so brown.  WTF?!  Son of a bitch!?  Seriously?! 

Now, I seriously do chuckle when that crap happens.  Sure, I could get bummed, or mad, but the fact is, it has happened to him as well, where I follow him and catch one out of water he was just through. That is fishing.

The rest of the day was uneventful – certainly in the “catching” department.  When it came to the “losing more flies department,” I was prolific! 

We arrived at Gleason’s landing just as it was getting dark, trailored the boat and headed back to the lodge.  We stayed at the PM Lodge – a great place to stay not only because it is super comfortable, but also because it has a central area where the guests can congregate and share/commiserate stories about the day’s events et al.  To our surprise, one of the guests, and fellow fly fisherman was blues musician Keith Scott.  After grabbing a bite to eat, Keith was generous enough to pull out his guitar and entertain the group for about an hour or so.  What a treat!  Let me tell you… if you like great blues, you have to look up Keith.  You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, we decided to wade downriver from Gleason’s.  A much warmer day, and sunny.  While we continued to pursue the quarry with our fly gear, we ran into several people fishing with spinning rods and basically the same center-pin set up TJ was using. Upstream from Gleason’s its flies only and 100% catch and release.  Downstream, anything goes and you can take what you catch.  I know some purists don’t approve but fact is, us fly fisherman have plenty of protected water to fish, and we don’t “own” the resource.  There are plenty of people that need those fish to help feed their families.  Have at it.  And hell, if they can catch one, God bless ‘em.

We made our way a couple miles down the river when I stuck gold… landing a massive fish! My big catch is pictured below… what, you don’t see it? Yeah, neither did we.

I have heard that sunny days aren’t good when steelhead because they will seek heavy cover.  I guess I can use that as an excuse huh?  Ha!

We fished for about 5 hours before calling it a weekend, and had to drive back to Chicagoland where we live.  It was the last trip for 2020.  As we closed out this cluster-fuck of a year, as far as fly fishing it was a good one… I mean, come on, even if you don’t catch fish, it beats being almost anywhere else in the world.

Until next time – Tie One On!     

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