29 October, 2010


Had a really cool experience this week fishing the Manistee with a group. Lead guide and friend Jon Ray wanted me to get a steelhead on a swung streamer, so he got me hooked up with guide Russ Maddin. Our group was spread out in search of chrome, but Russ was planning to float the stretch above High Bridge. He was game to help me learn the swing game. A perfect combo.

I spent the first hour thrashing with my switch rig. Lots of effort for little result. Frustrating, to say the least. Russ asks to throw it around a little. After two casts, he turns to me and says, "this thing's a rocket". Just watching those few casts enables me to correct my form (I wasn't stopping high enough on the forward cast, plus my line's a shooting head with a sweet spot you need to strip to). After that BAM -- I'm belting out long, accurate casts effortlessly. This facet of Skagit is one of the prime attractors; easily covering lots of water.

After another hour or so, I get completely blown up just as I'm starting to strip in at the bottom of a swing. This strike was like nothing I've ever experienced. When swinging, you're looking for the "player" fish -- aggressive fish who're looking for a tasty meal. Normally detecting strikes is one of the challenges of steelhead fishing on the fly. Not so with a swung fly. The water just exploded. A really cool experience.

I'm not sure who was more excited -- Russ or me. And then Jon was equally happy I'd succeeded. I have a ton of respect for Jon and he's taught me a lot about steelheading. It sort of felt like graduation day from Newbie to Angler. Having these guys whom I totally admire for their skill, know-how, and ability to make the complexities of steelheading look easy view me as solid was really rewarding.

Another cool thing was as I was fighting the fish. This group trip usually has a lot of folks who are new to steelhead. And it's a different fishing style than other species. The fight is a lot more challenging and rich with opportunities to hook but lose fish. There's typically a lot of coaching. Russ didn't say a word while I fought mine -- he was just ready with the net at the right time. That felt cool; he knew I had everything under control.

If you're looking to have the steelhead experience in NW lower Michigan, I can't say enough good things about the guys at Hawkins Outfitters. Chuck runs a class outfit and Jon, Russ, Tommy, and Ed are all top-notch guys. There's a reason they were the Orvis Guide Service of the year.  I've had the pleasure of instruction from all of them, and fished with most. And I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to earn a measure of their respect.


22 October, 2010

Bring It!

Record low last night at 26 degrees. Consistently lower temps. Windy for the past few days. And on-and-off rain starting on Saturday for the next week. All the telltale signs...


Got a couple little guys on my salmon trip, and been hearing reports of steelhead in small numbers. But everyone says the real push hasn't gotten rolling yet. But that's all about to change.

And, just in time. Next week I'm on a two-day business fishing (hey, I don't golf...) trip with some clients and folks from the publishing industry. We've got some of the NW Michigan region's best guides in the team at Hawkins. I talked to the organizer yesterday and it sounds like we'll be on the Manistee river. I enjoy the Manistee and trips like this make it better. A prolific river with lots of fish. But not readily wadeable due to its size and lack of good public access.

One of the challenges of such trips is narrowing gear. I think I've settled on the TFO Deer Creek switch rod with both indy and skagit lines, and Orvis Clearwater with chuck-and-duck rig. Being left-handed and fishing in a group, it's just easiest to have my own gear so guides don't get surprised.

Up after that will be a trip to the Upper Peninsula with Dad and perhaps others in early November. No evidence of steelhead yet when Dad was up last week, but this change of weather should change that. Can't wait - the tug is the drug!


20 October, 2010


Looks like we're firmly in the "between" season. Not that I'm not enjoying the beautiful Fall weather in Michigan, but I'm definitely at the crossroads of my activities.
  • It's too soon for snow for skiing. Even I have to admit that.
  • Nice weather and sunshine mean the steelhead haven't shown up in the rivers in significant numbers. A little wind and rain would do wonders for this, along with some consistently colder temps.
  • It's just a LITTLE too chilly to ride my road bike.
  • As I've not really learned the way of the Fall trout, that season's mostly done for me.
But, in the meantime it's a great season to enjoy some college football, finish up some household maintenance so I don't have to do it later in the year when all this good stuff gets rolling, and tie up flies! I knocked out one crazy looking streamer last night, but it was better than my first attempt by far.

Looks like the rain starts in this weekend. As I have an annual NW Michigan steelhead trip planned for next week, a good thing!


19 October, 2010


Talked to my Dad in the UP last night after a solid day on the Manistique river. Before this trip up I gave him a bunch of flies I tied up -- eggs, pheasant tail nymphs, and green caddis nymphs. On the phone last night his first words were, "What were those green things? And, can I get more?" He'd managed to hook into7-8 salmon, and land two, all on my green or olive caddis nymphs.

I have to say, this is pretty rewarding! Validates that even though my flies aren't always the prettiest (though I'm getting better) that they do catch fish!

My steelhead egg and nymph box is now nicely filled for the season, so I've had some time to explore other things. Last week I tied up some steelhead pheasant tails without beadheads on #12 scud/egg fly hooks. But my latest experiment is tying streamers. I picked up a couple of Kevin Feenstra patterns at a shop over the weekend. Inspired by the guru of big, crazy patterns for swinging to steelhead, I tried one of my own. For a first attempt, not bad. But I suspect it blows up after a big, pissed-off steelhead smacks it once. I've ordered some more materials and will commence to tie up a batch for Fall antics!


15 October, 2010

Gun Control

There's a great bumper sticker that reads, "Gun Control Means Using Both Hands". If I didn't live in the most PC town in North America, I'd likely have one.

Got out with a friend last night to shoot a round of sporting clays, followed by a little time on the rifle range. A beautiful Michigan evening with unseasonably warm temps. We both shot well. In brief, the perfect mid-week refresher. Afterward we were talking and both agreed that it seems like the biggest anti-gun advocates have never shot one.

This was supported a couple of weeks back when a local radio talk show host was sharing his first experience at a charity clays shoot. He was shocked by how much he enjoyed it. One of his co-hosts mentioned that she'd recently had the opportunity to visit a range to shoot handguns and she too was shocked by how much she liked it.

A gun is an inanimate object. On its own, it isn't inherently evil. But people can use it to do harm. They can also use a knife, a tire iron, or a toaster. Last I checked there was not a big push to ban toasters. As an aside, the idea of a Concealed Toaster Permit is pretty funny ... to me anyway...

So, if you're one of those folks pressing to take away my Second Ammendment rights, maybe you ought to try it before you knock it. You might just find out it that if done with care, responsibility, and a priority on safety, shooting can be a lot of fun.


12 October, 2010


One of the reasons I hunt is that I enjoy cooking with wild game. I'm not interested in hunting for anything I wouldn't plan to eat. Thus far, that hasn't taken me into deer hunting, but all in good time since I love venison. But I've got some great dishes with pheasants, rabbits, and other small game. Funny, for the most part, I'm a catch-and-release fisherman.

Latest success is a pheasant and wild rice soup. This one's a perfect combo, as it uses the carcasses of two smoked pheasants (thanks to hunting buddy Andy for this idea). Simple and rustic, as most of my better dishes are. Nice smoky flavor, too. Apologies if this recipe isn't super-tight; that's sorta' how I roll in the kitchen. Ingredients are:

Two smoked pheasant carcasses (don't pick them too clean -- leave some meat)
Two whole pheasants
1 cup sliced carrots
2 stalks celery diced
1 leek, trimmed and washed
1-1/2 cups wild rice
2 bay leaves
Seasonings of choice (I like sage and thyme)

Process goes something like this:
  1. Put smoked pheasant carcasses in stock pot and cover with water. If you believe in added value of some vegetables for stock, go for it  (ingredients above are for later)
  2. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook uncovered for an hour or two until all meat falls from the bone.
  3. Strain stock using colander into crock pot. Reserve bones to cool. Then pick meat into crock pot.
  4. Remove meat from fresh pheasants and cut into small pieces. Put them in a plastic bag with some seasoned flour and shake.
  5. Brown pheasant in pan with olive oil until all sides are golden brown. Transfer to crock pot. Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup white wine to get all the tasty browned bits and add to the crock pot.
  6. In same pan, with olive oil, cook vegetables until they begin to soften. Add to crock pot.
  7. Add spices, per your preference and set crock pot to high.
  8. After 2-3 hours, add wild rice.
  9. Cook 2-3 more hours (or until you get hungry!) and serve.
Freezes well, makes great leftovers for lunches. Bon appetit!


11 October, 2010

Another Grand Brand

As I set-up my switch rod for steelhead season, I'm reminded of another great brand -- Rio fly lines. In some cases, I respect brands for their presentation, in others for their products, although the best blend both. In some cases, the products are far better than the brands (Temple Fork Outfitters), while in others the brand is better than the product (sorry Orvis...). Leaders like Rio and Simms nail it on both accounts.

I own a number of Rio lines for a variety of purposes. All are excellent products. The Rio Gold line on my 6-weight is just pure poetry. Easy to cast well, and just has a great feel. Same goes for the Selective Trout (now discontinued) on my 4-weight. I'm eager to get in some time on the Atlantic Salmon/Steelhead for nymphing and the Skagit Short on my switch.

Also, I respect Rio's breadth. They literally seem to have a line or product for virtually every application and sub-application. I've definitely seen this as I assemble a swinging rig. Innovative products like their MOW tips help make fishing a better experience for a wide range of anglers. Prefer to roll your own? T-11 and T-14 are available in 30' or 500' bulk rolls. Their braided loops are a perfect solution to easy rigging.

And, I love their brand. Their logo's well-suited and disctinctive, and print ads are recognizable, targeted, and effective. They even use social media, especially Facebook, very well (unlike many other outdoor marketers who seem to feel the need to be there, but don't quite know what to say).

Need a new fly line? Check Rio first. You won't be sorry.


08 October, 2010

(Two) Hands On

Videos like this have me completely geeked about my new Switch rig for steelhead. What a beautiful casting style and cool way to cover water...

05 October, 2010

My Review of Merrell Phaser Peak Hiking Boots - Men's

Originally submitted at REI

These Phasers will stun you with amazing comfort, rugged durability and solid support—built for long day hikes or weekend backpacking escapes.

Best Hiking Boot Yet

By Seanahee from Ann Arbor, MI USA on 10/5/2010


5out of 5

Sizing: Feels true to size

Width: True to size

Pros: Ankle Support, Great Traction, Good Arch Support, Sturdy/Durable, Comfortable

Best Uses: Day Hiking, Everyday, Wet Conditions

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

Arch Type: High Arch

Was this a gift?: No

I've always been a big fan of the Merrell brand, so when I wanted an all-around light hiker that's where I started.

Where do I start? Great fit, great cushion, exceptional support. I've struggled finding hiking boots I liked in recent years. Everything was either too heavy and ski-boot-stiff or too light. These are a perfect balance. I can wear them all day and feet feel great no matter what terrain.

Haven't had the opportunity to really test wet weather performance, but early indications are good.

Initially I had some concerns about the wrapover rubber toe bumper. Seemed to pinch into top of my big toe. But after a little break-in this problem was completely cleared up.

Glad I finally found the perfect boots!


04 October, 2010

Covering Water

OK, steelhead, time to start making your way into Michigan's rivers in real numbers. I'm ready for you.

With some additions to my quiver, I can now fish a wide range of styles, including:
  • Single-handed indicator
  • Two-handed indicator
  • Two-handed swing
  • Bottom bouncing (chuck-n-duck)
  • Centerpin indicator drift
Between all of these, I should now be able to capably fish most any water I encounter. Or, whatever mood I may be in. I probably fish indicator 75% of the time, as its well-suited to the waters I encounter most often. But I'm looking forward to the SLAM takes of a big fly hit on the swing. When you've got the room and want to search a bunch of water, the centerpin is a way-cool style of fishing. And its pretty fun to land fish, too -- without any drag from the reel!

So, why all this stuff? First, it's fun to learn. Figuring out casts, drifts, and rigging presents continual challenges. Second, I can quickly change my style to the conditions. No more, "I wish I had a ______________ rig" moments. Low shallow water -- bottom bounce. Deep long runs -- indicators. Warm water temps -- swing. All good choices! Can't wait.C'mon chromers!


01 October, 2010

Bucket List

Latest issue of Outside magazine has a nice article on things you must do (was happy to see "Catch a steelhead on a spey rod" and "Ski epic powder of fat skis" -- check, and check!) in the latest issue. This set me to thinking on my outdoor Bucket List. So here are a few. Some are short-term and could happen in the next year or two, others may take a little while:

  • Heli-ski in Alaska or British Columbia
  • Catch a 30" trout
  • Pheasant hunt in South Dakota
  • Learn to row a drift boat well
  • Ski Mt. Baker, Washington and Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Master the Skagit cast
  • Ride a half-century
  • Shoot a double while pheasant hunting
  • Catch Atlantic Salmon in the St. Mary's
  • Explore the steelhead rivers of SW Ontario
Doable? Actually, I think every goal on this list is very possible; and attaining them will certainly keep me challenged! Of course, by tomorrow I'll have ten more!