29 July, 2014

UP Power Weekend Day Two: In Papa's Footsteps

In the outdoors, Hemingway is truly a larger-than-life character. This is especially true in the Central Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where his "Nick Adams Stories" left a lasting footprint. These tales are all set on the Big Two Hearted River, which always mystified me. As the story begins, our hero jumps off the train in Seney, and hikes a relatively short distance to the Big Two Hearted. Anyone who knows anything about UP geography knows that would be a damn long hike! Sure enough in recent years it became more common knowledge that Hemingway didn't actually fish the Two Hearted, but preferred the smaller (and much closer to Seney) Fox River.

As a marketer, I can definitely see the appeal of the Big Two Hearted having a better name. But others have argued that perhaps he was simply a cunning angler who wanted to protect his secret spot. Add to this the Fox's reputation for some big brook trout, and  you've got a "bucket list" destination.

The Fox has been on the radar for my Dad and I for some time. The problem is it's not the easiest to access. The banks are thick with tag alders and other nasty vegetation. The holes are DEEP and large. Add to this a lot of downed timber and you have a tough river. We've looked at it for years, but neither of us has ever fished it.

This trip, we were determined to fix that. Or at least do some serious scouting. And we needed to make our way from Manistique over to the Soo by Sunday night. From previous looks, we've both seen that there are numerous access points along the river road north of Seney. But neither of us had done more serious exploration (or even gotten our feet wet). So, we dropped Dad's Focus off in Seney, in favor of the more robust Wrangler - which turned out to be a good idea given some of the roads we hit.

Basically we drove up the River Road, ducking in at each spur trail to check out access. First stop - nope; brushy, deep, no way into the river safely. Second - same. Third - mmmm, maybe. Fourth - uh-uh; no thank you. About this time I'm thinking this will be more recon than fishing.

At stop number Five, this changed.

The Fabulous Fox
A quick look over the edge revealed a beautiful sugar sand bottom. With perfect UP tannin-hued water. Brook trout Heaven! On closer inspection I found some good access points and what looked like wadeable water both up- and downstream. Decision made. I'm IN! Wader up. Cover every possible square inch of exposed skin (UP backwoods bugs are BRUTAL). And string up my rig with a tasty looking beetle.

There's a future review coming on the new Small Water Rig (or SWR, if you prefer). But suffice it to say, I'm pretty excited to have it's debut be on Hemingway's water.

As soon as I slide into the water (literally - the access point I chose took a leap-of-faith slide down the bank the last 4' or so), I know this is going to be great water. Even through waders on a hot day, that water is COLD. And cold Summer water means happy trout.

This little river is just perfect. If I were a trout, I'd live here. Banks lined with dense vegetation. Crystal clear water. Lots of nice cover in the form of overhanging cedars and downed timber.

After only a moment, I've got a rise. No commitment, but these are brookies. And brookies are more aggressive than smart. You miss a brown on a dry, you blew it. But with a brookie, just give 'em another shot. Sure enough, I've got my first fish on in a matter of moments after getting my boots wet. SWEET!

For a 5" brook trout, I did a lot of hollering. This got Dad's attention (he'd decided to let me check it out before he committed) and sent him scurrying to wader up. While he was, I scored another larger brookie - maybe 7" or so. Nice!

Dad doing his best Hemingway
Once Dad joins me, I send him up to the spot that had been working for me, while I headed downriver. Within moments, I hear the sounds of success as Dad finds fish as well.

At this point, I have to say how much I was enjoying the day. And friend know I've long given my Dad a hard time for his love of UP backwoods bushwacking. The new SWR definitely does make a difference. A day on a river like the Fox with a 9' will be a frustrating day. But with a 7' 3-weight it's just about as good as it gets.

This was the more "open" water...

We spend a couple more hours exploring up and downstream. Finding rises and a few more commitments. Extracting flies from overhanging trees, and generally having a good time. As the afternoon sun begins to sink, we grudgingly admit it's time to cover the miles to our destination for the evening at the Soo.

A truly special day that I got to share with my Dad - and Ernest. Definitely a location I will return to. It's marked in my GPS as simply "Fox - Hemingway 1".

Day Two in da Yoop, also a success!


28 July, 2014

Up Power Weekend: Day One

Saturday was decided to be Escanaba Day by Dad and I. The Esky is a river I really enjoy, though I've only fished it a few times. The settings are pretty, and the fish are usually plentiful. Probably doesn't hurt that my first day fishing it I got fish on dries, nymphs, and streamers all within one day.

But first, we needed some detours (hey, you don't want to be out there TOO early). I'm a big fan of Rapid River Knife Works. Handmade, by Michigan craftsmen. I've had one of their Skinner Series knives for a few years and been extremely pleased with it. Recently I noticed some new knives on their web site, so I thought a repeat visit was in order. After making the poor kid behind the count pull out about 87 knives, I settled on a nice elk antler-sided folder (oddly, not pictured on their web site). Like my other knife, excellent quality at a very fair price!

Marble's Outlet, a few miles down the road, is the UP's newest fly shop. Dad had met the owner on the river one day, so we paid him a visit. Owner Jim couldn't have been any nicer. Great guy to chat with. Gave us some solid river intel and showed us around the place. If you're in the area and need some gear, a great place to stop. For a new shop, he had a nice selection of inventory, especially tying materials.

Next we made a stop along the river to check out a smallmouth spot Jim had recommended. Looks solid. Perhaps I'll get back there, though if I'm in the UP, I'm generally more interested in coldwater species.

By now, it's mid-afternoon. Time for a late lunch and perhaps a beer or two. Since we're in the "big city" of Escanaba, that means Hereford & Hops. Food is serviceable, while the beer is actually pretty good. Thirst quenched and belly filled, we're off to the river. Jim's given us some pointers on a stretch we've fished before that's been producing lately.

Now the dilemma - what to fish. On a stretch that I know, I'm partial to taking two rods - one with a dry or nymph rig, and the other a streamer. Streamer is easy - Scott Radian 907/4, Ross Evolution LT III with Rio Outbound Short line. Boom. Done. I really WANT to fish my fancy Scott G2 5-weight. But the wind is blowing hard and picking up velocity. I'm thinking I need the 6-weight advantage to cut the wind. So it's the Scott A4 906/4, Abel Creek Series AC2 standard arbor reel, and Scientific Anglers GPX line for dry flies.

I love my Abel clicker reels AC2 Creek Series shown here.

Now for the disappointment - can't tell you where we were. Yeah, if you know the area, you can probably guess. But if you don't, you're not finding it from my blog. Sorry, but I make it a policy never to reveal spots a guide's taken me to. The best guides spend a ton of time developing their list of spots so they have good water for their clients. I feel very fortunate that a few have been generous enough to share them with me. But I won't post 'em up on the Interwebs. Figure it out yourself, or better still book a day with a guide. In the UP, that's simple - Brad Petzke of Rivers North is THE MAN in da Yoop!

After a short walk, we find the areas Jim had shared with us and set up. Dad's downstream running an stimulator, with a bead-head nymph below. I find some likely looking water and start in with the a similar rig with slightly different flies. Fairly quickly I'm hooked up. And just as quickly, I'm off. After fishing a bit more, I dredge the streamer through the run. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Now I'm starting to get puzzled. I realize that  we basically walked up, waded in and went to work. And we're trout fishing. Mr. Trout is now in my head. Am I really in the right spot? What am I throwing and why? Time to sit a spell and have a look at the river.

Glancing upstream I notice a riffle with a nice tail-out. Hmmmm. Time for a walk. After wading out, I start running the hopper-dropper with the stimulator and a pheasant tail nymph below. I grid the water out in my mind and start to work it. It's not long before I have a few refusals. OK, Mr. Trout, now you're WAY up in my head. Good friend and primo guide Jon Ray taught me a simple lesson - trout don't miss. If a trout rose and didn't take your fly, that means there was something they didn't like about it. But, they are looking at my flies. So I'm in the right ballpark. Time for a trip back to the bank and a sit (and maybe a sip of the bourbon in my flask...). I notice some smallish white flies fluttering by occasionally. Ah-HA! the #12 Ephorons that Jim sold us! Re-rig and back out I go. Before long, I've got a mid-teens brown to-hand. I don't get to do it enough, so I do really love getting a trout on a dry fly. A bit later I hit another one. I've noticed that smaller trout seem to show themselves at the surface more readily after you hook them. This one does not. Heads straight for the bottom. Unfortunately, this one breaks me off. Bummer.

On the drive back to the cottage we encounter a MAMMOTH  hatch of bugs. The windshield sounds like it's raining. Wow - had a great day, but sorry to have missed that. A damn fine day in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


25 July, 2014

The Upper Hand

While I get a lot of traffic on this blog from Michigan, I also get a ton from locations around the world. So, first a little explanation of Michigan geography.

If you know anyone from Michigan you'll know that we're a unique state. You can basically show someone a "map" of the state with both hands. The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. By tipping the other hand on its side, you've got the Upper Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge connects to the two, bridging the Straits of Machinac where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet.

The two Peninsulas couldn't be more different. Back in the 70's, the Upper Peninsula (or UP as it's more commonly known) even tried to form it's own State. Unfortunately, they overlooked one minor issue - all the money, and all the population (i.e. tax base) is in the Lower. Oops. "Yoopers" are the from the UP, while "Trolls" (as Yoopers refer to them) live below the bridge. I am proud to be a Yooper by birth. But, I left shortly thereafter. My family has had a place in da Yoop since the early 90's, on Lake Michigan just outside Manistique.

Last weekend I took advantage of a day booked over a year ago to chase Atlantic Salmon with guide Brad Petzke of Riversnorth Outfitters to expand into a full-on Yooper Fishing Fest with my Dad. Over the course of three days, we covered a lot of backroads, a lot of water, and caught a wide range of fish using a wide range of techniques.

If this feels a bit like a movie trailer - it is. Look for a broad range of upcoming posts on our antics.I'll be mixing in some gear reviews as well - this was a first outing for a whole new fly fishing rig set-up just for small UP streams.

Stay tuned.


17 July, 2014

On the Road Again!

I've returned to my road bike over the past couple of weeks, after a little health incident had me off the ride for about seven weeks. Since my return, I've already broken the 35 mile barrier. Some observations from my ride:

  1. Damn it's nice to be back out. From the first pedal stroke, the feeling of freedom returned. Ahhhh.
  2. I love my Giant Defy Advanced. It's prime season, so all the bike porn has been showing up in my mailbox. While there are some pretty rides in there, I am utterly and completely satisfied with my bike in its current configuration.
  3. Dammit - the Bont cleat squeak is back despite replacing the bolt. F@&$!!!!
  4. I live in a great place for riding. So much easy access to so many great routes. I love Huron River Drive.
  5. Did I mention how happy I am to be back out?
  6. I'm excited to be able to ride the Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure in honor of my late friend Pam Prentice. I made my fundraising goal easily this year. Sadly, due to the lost training time and the fact that I'm not 100% greenlighted (is that a word?) by my doc, I won't be doing the Century this year. I just have to remember that one point it looked like I might not be able to ride it AT ALL.
  7. There is no shame in the small front cog. 
  8. Good cycling clothing makes a world of difference.
  9. The Garmin 810 is just cool. I harness the power of data every day at work, why not on the road?
  10. People on bikes are nice. They usually wave or smile. If you're stopped they ask if you need any help.
Off to the Upper Peninsula tomorrow for some fishing adventures with my Dad. I'm sure more will follow on that trip.

Have a good one. Remember to make the most of every day.


09 July, 2014

Speak Softly and Carry a Small Stick

4" brook trout everywhere will be quaking in the riverbed with my new small stream rig.

Like many of my outdoor gear projects, this one started on a silly whim. I had this magnificent reel - a Bozeman Reels SC - that was basically sitting unused. I purchased a 325 size, with the misguided idea that I'd use it on my Scott G2 905/4. Not sure what I was thinking - since that rod already has an excellent Abel Classic reel on it. Plus, I live in SE Michigan and gas is nearly $4 a gallon. How much dry fly trout fishing can I do?

Then I got to thinking. With a family place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I have access to some nice small water spots. And my Dad just LOVES fishing this backwoods stuff. I've also got a few spots in the Lower Peninsula that I like. Maybe it's time for a cool shorter 3 weight?

As I'm starting to ponder the possibilities, I notice on the Bozeman web site that the SC is now available in a smaller 223 (2-3 weight) size. Hmmmm. A quick e-mail with them and we work out an exchange (my 325 was never even cast). Very soon an SC Series 223 is in my hands. And what a perfect little reel it is. All the goodness of the SC325, just in a smaller package.

Now for a rod. Already own a Scott A3 856/4. Nice stick, but I want something lighter and shorter. Need to be able to handle it back in the bush and want something that makes a 6" brookie feel like a steelhead. My Dad had cast the Hardy 'glass rods and liked them. I see that Echo has a new line of glass rods - they've always had good value for the price. But glass (often) is SLLLOOOOWWWWW. And I suck at slowing down my casts.

And then I found it. The new Orvis Superfine Glass in a 7' 3-weight configuration. Soul from fiberglass, speed from graphite. Perfect! The more I read a few online reviews, the more excited I am about this stick. Everyone calls it "shockingly fast" but remarks it has the feel glass is known for. Sign me up. A quick test cast, and one is procured.

Line is easy - when you have a top-notch shop like Schultz Outfitters handy. With all the new market introductions, keeping up with fly lines is a full-time job. I find that line knowledge is a really valid way to assess a good shop. Bonus points if they're clued in on spey lines. My selection is a Rio Perception. Great all around presentation line for trout fishing.

A very competent rig. But sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That's the case here. This rod and reel look and feel like they were made for each other. The classic looks of both blend beautifully. And the reel weight and size are just right to balance the rod. From the instant I slip the reel into the seat, it's all good. Everything is in holistic harmony. Yeah, seriously, it's that good.

I'll be headed to the UP in a couple of weeks. Dad and I have an Atlantic Salmon date booked with Brad Petzke of Riversnorth. But before that I'm sure we'll put in some time on the small water. I'm sure I'll have much more to write after that. Can't wait!


03 July, 2014

Clickety Clack

I love click-pawl reels. There's some primal connection of man to fish about them. I love the sound as you strip off line or a fish runs. They just have this immediate and tactile quality that's hard to truly describe. From talking to other fly anglers, clickers seem to be a love or don't proposition. The Hatch guys mostly look at me like I've lost my low-tech mind.

Currently, I own a bunch of clickers for a variety of sizes and applications. From larger models on full spey rods, down to a small reel for my 4-weight trout rod. Each has unique and distinctive features that set it apart from the others. The common thread? I love them all. I think I picked up this mantra from my guns - I don't own any guns I don't love. I've had a couple, and when I sold them, I felt better. Same goes for my clicker reels.

I own clickers from Abel, Bozeman Reel, Kingpin, and The Spey Company (Speyco, to most). Speyco occupies a special place for me. But it's hard to put my finger on exactly what it is that I love about Tim Pantzlaff's reels. If I was pressed, I suppose it would be simply Soul. Tim's reels have soul that is unlike anything else on the market. It's in the feel in your had. The purr of the clicker. The wide range of customization options he offers to make it "your" reel. Some of my other reels have smoother machining/polishing (I'd have to give that to Kingpin, with Abel a close second). Or are more "classic" - the Bozeman SC probably gets that honor. Speyco combines soul with bombproof construction. These things are just built. You talk to Tim for just a few minutes and it's clear that this guy knows how machinery is supposed to work. And his reels reflect that knowledge in every aspect. Top-notch bearings. Everything fits together exactly as it should - rather like a finely crafted firearm.

If this sound like a commercial for Speyco, well, I suppose it is. Recently I received my second Speyco - a 3-3/4" Switch model in all black with the Snake Roll handle. This one's for my smallmouth swing set-up on a 6-weight TFO Deer Creek 11' switch rod. As soon as I got it in the reel seat, I knew this was the right call. Swinging for smallies on the previous Ross Evolution LT (a great reel -- my go-to for stripping streamers or fishing topwater smallies) just didn't seem right. Can't wait to hear it howl!