“A lot of people want to be rich, they just don’t want to put the work in to get there. “
-forgot where I heard it
Great fishermen don’t spend a lot of time fishing stretches of water dominated by hatchery fish. They don’t stand on the same rock, or even in the same run all day. They’re always moving, covering as much water as possible, only slowing down when they’re into fish. While experience gives them an idea of which flies they’ll need for the day, they don’t actually know which ones they’ll be using until they’re on the water. And if that fly isn’t working, they don’t stick with it cause they caught a really big fish five years ago in this spot with it. They will go through fly- after fly after fly after fly- until they find the one that does. When fly changes don’t work, they’re adjusting leader and tippet diameter, or leader length, or the distance between their indicator and the fly, or the amount of split shot on the leader, or their drift, or anything else they have control over. And if they don’t have control of something like the weather, they adapt to it. Speaking of the weather…while good fishermen will try and catch the weather on the nightly news, they don’t let it determine if they’re going out or not. If it is going to be 103°F and humid, or 6°F and windy, they still fish.
They’re constantly thinking. While you’re admiring the beautiful sunset, they’re anticipating where the fish will hold after it gets dark, as well as which fly and what size tippet to go to. Good fishermen fish a lot. They fish for as long as they can, whenever they can. There is no such thing as not having time to fish. There is only making time to fish. And don’t go accusing them of being bachelors with no idea of the responsibilities that a family man has. They have jobs and families too, its just that instead of sitting on the couch for an hour when they get home from work, or after dinner, they’re spending that time on the water or at the fly tying bench.
Its not that they love it more than you, its just that they work harder.
Last winter, the State purchased a rather large tract of land which the upper reaches of my favorite brook trout stream flow through. They still haven’t demolished the half dozen buildings still setting at the heart of the property, so its public land surrounded by barbed wire. Walk way in fishing. Couple the two together, and throw in the fact that most people still don’t know the State bought it, and you have a real shot to be the first person back there in a while.
You park at a steel gate and hike a half mile or so across an open field frequented by elk and whitetails before the elevation begins dropping towards the river. Then its a mile or so of tag elders and swamp. In waders on a hot summer day, its a bitch.
I’ve been singing a blues song that I I learned the lyrics to from an old rock further downstream. I sing it as loud as I can to scare the bears away.
Oh Black River what you done to me.
Got my line downstream and water to my knee.
Oh Black River what you done to me.
I’ve forgotten all my worries and my troubles are all gone.
I’ve forgotten all my worries and my troubles are gone.
Sometimes I just sing the first line over and over.
But then you get to the old outbuildings and forget about looking over your shoulder for bears.
I’m staring through the still intact windows of the main house. Even though its public property, I feel like I’m trespassing, and any second I expect the apparition of one of the dead owners to appear behind the foggy glass with a double barrel shotgun to see who is walking across his property. I stop singing and walk faster.
Another 50 yards through the woods, I can hear the water growing louder with each step. And there it is.
Each cast. Each drift. Each step along the river feels like the first ever. Its 1671, and I’m alone in the northern Michigan wilderness. This is the place Ive been waiting my whole life for. The fishing is good, but not so good I don’t have to work for them. But its still good enough that I know I’m spoiled.
I’m on my way home from the river, speeding down a bumpy backroad through butterfly filled meadows and gloomy cedar swamps. Its Sunday evening, and I’m off the water an hour and a half before dusk. Sure, I’m probably missing out on the best fishing of the day. I guess I’ve never been one of those extreme fly anglers who wouldn’t dare spend an ounce of daylight not fishing, but thats okay, I live here. I can come back tomorrow.
American roots is playing on NPR, and the theme this week is old school honkey tonk and rockabilly. The DJ went from Glen Glenn, to Dale Watson, to Gilian Welch. I’m chewing 3/$1 laffy taffy. The summer wind is whipping through the car. My head is clear. And life is good.
Only in northern Michigan can you get summer, spring, and winter all in the same week. I’ve been thinking a lot about trout lately, but the warm couple weeks we had really has me thinking about carp, panfish, and smallies. I’ve got so much water to explore and re-explore over the summer. And when I think about it, I’ve got to relearn how to fly fish for smallies.
Back in New York, where I learned to fish for them, I was fortunate enough to have some world class smallie water all around me. The only downside is it was all moving water. Here in MI, that doesn’t do me much good. I’m in stillwater country when it comes to smallies. There are a few streams with smallies within driving distance, but I won’t really be fishing them.
I can still remember catching my personal best smallie like it was this morning. It was during one of those spur of the moment after work/ before English Lit trips when water temps were finally climbing out of their winter funk.
I was surprised to see a truck already there when I pulled into the public parking area. First instinct told me to go elsewhere, but I decided to hop out and see if there were any tails sticking up on the glassy flat below the pocketwater. I came down the trail of broken concrete and spotted the other guy with a net in one hand, flipping over rocks with the other.
“How’s it going?”
“Alright” He says.
I scanned the flat, then noticed a fly rod sitting on the bank.
“Any luck?” I ask.
“Nah, they’re not biting here. I’m gonna go downstream.”
He picked up his rod and walked up to his old Ford Ranger. I scanned the barren flat for a few more seconds, weighing my options.
Something told me that he was kind of a tool, so I walked up the trail to my car and slid my waders on as he broke his rod down. Not that it would have mattered if he was some sort of fly fishing god, when I’ve got a feeling about a spot, I trust it. No words were spoken, but body language said he thought I was either an idiot for fishing where the fish weren’t biting, or an arrogant SOB. Either way, he was probably right.
I tied on the fly I call “The Other One.” It’s probably my second most productive fly for carp and smallies, basically a brown seal dubbed dragonfly nymph with lead eyes and rubber legs. I waded out to the slackwater pockets at the tail of the riffles and started working it parallel to the white water.
Strip, strip, strip. Suddenly something descent is throbbing through the cork. Way too big to be a bass. Visions of carp fill my brain, then it makes what I first think is a half-hearted effort at tailwalking. Its about then that I realize it was just too fat to get any air.
Not a carp.
It fought like a big brown trout before giving in and gliding in to my right. I slowly knelt down, completely and utterly blown away by it. It’s the fish I had been chasing for probably 10 years, and the one thing killing the moment is the realization that my camera was home, sitting on my computer desk.
I forgot about the camera and became mesmerized by the mass of its lips. The fish made my already small hands look tiny. I touched my thumb to it’s front lip and then stretched my pinky finger as far towards it’s tail as it would go and then touched my thumb to where my pinky just was and repeated. It was just under three hand stretches long, and after a quick calculation, I realized I was holding my first 24-plus inch smallie.
A million thoughts raced through my head Not just thoughts, but the ultimate internal debate between my ego and my ethics. My ego wanted to go so far as to build a small dike out of rocks around the fish so I could run home and get my camera- it wasn’t smallie season or it may have argued for keeping the fish. My ethics said no. If there was a smallie in the Hudson River that needed to spawn, this was it.
If only I had my camera with me.
I knew what I had to do. I popped the fly from it’s heavy upper lip, burned the fish’s long vertical stripes into my memory one last time, and then lowered it completely into the stained water. One second it was there, the next it was gone.
I’ve never really understood some fly anglers’ fascination with bamboo fly rods. I mean, I get the whole nostalgia thing. I get the whole feel the rod loading thing. I get that they’re pretty. But I’ve never really got whatever it is that drives people to devote their whole fishing experience to the rod, opposed to whatever else you can wrap your fishing experience around.
My first bamboo rod wasn’t really a bamboo rod. It was a bamboo blank, given to me by a fishing buddy from the Bay City area who was learning how to build his own bamboo fly rods at the time. I remember pulling each piece out of the PVC-tube after the mail lady leaned it against my front door and just being blown away by how gorgeous it was. Still, I didn’t really get it, and traded the blank not long after.
My second experience with bamboo was on the lower Au Sable after fishing with the same guy, Bob, and another fudgee, Steve. Fudgee’s are what people from northern Michigan call people from downstate who come up for the fudge, the outdoors, fall colors, morel mushrooms, or any of the other million reasons they come up.
We had just fished through an amazing sulfur hatch, and were standing around the tailgate of Bob’s pickup truck talking about nothing really important. Bob was toying around with his newest build as he talked, and snapped the tip of the rod while pulling the nail knot through the tip. I don’t really get shocked by much, but I was speechless. I wanted to pass out. Bob investigated the spot it broke, made a few mental notes, and shrugged it off before tossing the broken rod onto a pile of rod tubes.
It was about five more years before my next bamboo experience. I was visiting with my grandmother when she mentioned that the guy who installed her new furnace found some old fishing poles on one of the heat ducts in the basement. She suggested I go down and see if I wanted any of them.
I hate my grandma’s basement. Its dark, damp, and covering the ceiling are the thickest cobwebs I’ve ever seen. Plus I’m pretty sure its haunted. Probably my Great Grandpa Williams messing around in his workshop. It really couldn’t be anyone else giving me the spooks– besides me– as the house she lives in was built by my great grandpa, an electrician originally from Vermont. I was only six when he died, and don’t remember much about him, but I do remember that he seemed to always stay busy working on stuff around the house.
I found the old rods leaning against the furnace. There was a cardboard tube full of old spinning rods, one of which is a telescoping rod made out of steel. My grandma said that she used to use it when she was a little girl fishing with her dad, Great Grandpa Williams, on family trips “up north,” which I later learned were sometimes on the Au Sable. The next time I stop by, I want to get more details on those fishing trips.
The other rod wasn’t in a tube. it was in a rod sock. I untied flap on the sock, and pulled out what I immediately recognized as a bamboo fly rod. An old bamboo fly rod.
According to my grandma, the rod had to have been on that heating duct for at least 50 years, as her dad hadn’t been fishing since the 50′s. I was really blown away by the rod, but more by the revelation that a lost relative dabbled with fly fishing.
I went right to google to dig up anything I could on the old rod. While there wasn’t much to go by on the rod, the sock had a manufacturer, model, and even the street the factory was on in Chicago. Assuming its the original sock, it was made by Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co.. Going off of a website I found that outlines the history of Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co, they were at that location between 1903 and 1924, making this rod around 80 to 110 years old.
When I told my grandma how old the rod was, she questioned whether or not it belonged to her dad. She was more inclined to think it was her grandpa’s fly rod. My great, great grandpa. He died at a fairly young age, I wanna say in his 30s, due to ensepholitis after some dental work.
Whether the rod is my great grandpa’s, or my great, great grandpa’s, its my most prized possession, despite the fact that I never really got to know either.
The company that made it eventually became “True Value,” a big box in that era. I’m guessing the service they provided at the time the rod was for sale was pretty good, there was a guy behind the counter who knew all about fly rods, and carpentry, and plumbing, and whatever else they sold. A big box then was probably like a mom and pop shop now.
The rod is in pretty good shape, and I’m tempted to fish it just once. But the thought of it breaking, man, I thought it was bad watching someone else break their rod. I’d never let myself hear the end of it.
My next bamboo fly rod experience came a few months ago while I was working at the local fly shop. An old timer said he had an old bamboo fly rod and reel he’d like to give me, if I wanted them.
He brought them into work a couple days later and told me where he got it from. I guess when he was a kid, an old timer who lived on the Sturgeon River gave him the rod and reel– about 50 years ago. I did some digging and the reel is actually pretty special. Its a Martin No. 1 Automatic, and not just any Martin No. 1. This one was made while Martin was still located in Ilion, NY– before they moved to Mohawk, NY. The company was founded in Ilion in 1894, and then moved to Mohawk in 1902. Meaning mine is one of the very first ever made. I’ve dug around ebay and the web, and still haven’t seen another.
The rod has no markings on it, but it does have an agate stripper guide which makes me think it was a fine rod in its day. One of the ferrules is broken, but other than that, its in great condition. While its not a family heirloom, its also one of my most prized possessions.
That leads up to my most recent bamboo experience. I’ve kind of gotten into vintage reels. Not so much to collect, but to fish with. The more simple, the better. Well, that kind of led to some snooping around of bamboo fly rod auctions. And, yep, you guessed it, now I’m getting into bamboo fly rods.
I don’t really have any interest in the high end stuff– only cause I can’t afford it. My interest is in what would have been a working man’s fly rod when it was new. Something a guy could throw a $5-bill on the counter and walk out of the hardware store with. Something I can actually fish with and not be a wreck over when I break it.
I learned that Montague was just the kind of company I was looking for. So a couple days ago, I won an old Montague Clear Lake for like $17 in decent condition. Then, shortly after, I ran across another Montague auction. This one spoke to me like I’ve never been spoken to by a fly rod. It whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and I knew right away that despite it being an old “working man’s rod,” it wasn’t going to go for $17.
I put it on my watch list and didn’t bid. My plan was to see how how it gets up to, then if it was in my price range, come in and steal it at the last minute. I turned the computer off and went to bed, only I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was that rod. I grabbed my phone, opened up my handy dandy ebay app, and bid a measly $40. Just enough to put me over the current high bid. Not enough.
That was a couple days ago, and ever since, I haven’t been able to get that rod out of my mind. I can’t explain it. Its not that its pretty. Its not that I’ll probably be able to feel the deer hair on my comparaduns whir through the air when casting it. Its not even the fact that it was made in the 1940s. There are like 10 other auctions for the same model– not in near as good of condition– available for less money, but this is the one I have to have. And I have no freaking clue why.
Tonight when I got home, I put in a bid substantially higher than my original. I’d love to tell you about it by publishing this post right now, but then one of you might go looking for it. And there isn’t a chance in hell I’m going to let that happen. I’m not even going to type the model name right now, as I’ve been known to accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save draft.” One day and 21 hours to go, and then we can talk all about this beauty.
I hope I win, and I hope that my wife won’t kill me when she finds out that I bought another fly rod. But most of all, I hope that actually fishing with a bamboo fly rod this season will help me understand what it is about it that has me acting completely fascinated about them.
Okay, that was all written a few weeks ago. No, I didn’t win the one I wanted, but, I did win something better.
You’ll be hearing all about it…
On the eve of an epic northern Michigan snowstorm, two fly anglers sit around a table, peering up from their fly tying vises every now and then at whatever happens to be on the television.They plan to wake up early the next morning, during the peak of the storm, and drive through the blizzard to a river that holds large numbers of Great Lakes steelhead. A river that despite its national popularity, and it being a Saturday, they will have all to themselves.
Angler 1: Remember that movie, “The Perfect Storm?” Those guys caught a ton of fish.
Angler 2: Yup.
Angler 1: That storm is what made the fishing so great. Fish love a good storm. Those guys slayed ‘em.
Angler 2: Yeah, and then they all died.
Angler 1: Tomorrow will be so awesome.
Who would have thought I would be so busy after moving to Michigan? Turns out, its kind of tough being a fishing writer/editor when you don’t have a job that offers insane amounts of free time and an internet connection. I tried to keep doing all of the stuff I’ve been doing the last couple years, but it just turned into too much. So after some heavy thinking, I decided it was time to cut some stuff out.
Earlier this month, I resigned from my position at MidCurrent.com. It was a great gig, and I will always be thankful for the opportunities and experiences that came with it. More importantly, I’m grateful for getting to meet and become friends with a lot of really great people within the fly fishing industry. From sitting around talking about knots with Lefty Kreh, to fishing a tiny Vermont brookie stream with Tom Rosenbauer, I got paid to experience a lot of really cool stuff.
Another great thing about the MidCurrent gig was working for Marshall Cutchin. Marshall has to be the hardest working person in the fly fishing industry, and one of the smartest. I learned a ton from him and have the utmost respect for what he has been able to accomplish.
Yeah, I’ll have some regrets later, but I’ve got a couple things in the works that could be equally as rewarding if I put all I’ve got into them.
I accepted a volunteer position with my local chapter of Trout Unlimited. I’ll be their representative at the Michigan State Trout Unlimited meetings, plus a couple other odds and ends. I’m really looking forward to it, as this is exactly the type of gig I had in mind when I chose my college major. Who goes to college to volunteer? I guess me.
And oh yeah, I fished for redfish last month in Louisiana.
Best door card ever?
Not exactly prime time to go down there, but we put a few in the boat.
I realized I forgot to pack a long sleeve t-shirt at the airport and all the gift shop had was Tigers stuff [yankee fan].
and a couple more shots of the best damn redfish guide in the state of Louisiana, Gregg Arnold.
Yesterday while slowly wading across one of my favorite carp flats, I think I spotted more fish than I have in a really long time. Not that there are more fish this year, its just that up until last Fall, I was sporting a cheap pair of polarized sunglasses that I picked up for under $30. Sure, they eliminated a lot of the glare on the water’s surface, but not until wearing a high end pair of polarized sunglasses have I started to realize what I’ve been missing.
The Backdrop from Smith Optics has a medium coverage lens profile, stainless steel spring hinges, and Megol contact surfaces at the nose and temple tips. More importantly, they feature Smith’s Techlite Polarized Glass TLT Lenses. Never having owned a pair of fancy-schmancy sunglasses before these, I was surprised when I put them on for the first time. The only way I can describe it, is it was like my eyes laid down on a fluffy down pillow in an air conditioned room while the rest of my body got stuck sitting on a sun-baked blacktop parking lot.
“So this is why they cost more!” I thought.
They were great on the street, but how were they on the water? Only one way to find out.
As mentioned above, I’ve spotted a lot more fish since picking these up. But I think their greatest advantage on the water is the way in which they’ve allowed me to pick up those subtle rises that I am pretty sure I’ve been missing the past six years. Kind of like anti-matter, I knew these mythical rises existed, as my friend and frequent fishing buddy Geoff and his fancy-schmancy polarized sunglasses have been attempting to point them out to me in the past to no avail. Its really kind of sad how many fish I’ve probably skipped over.
I went with the copper lens on my sunglasses, actually, its Polarchromic Copper, which is kind of like strapping superpowers onto your face. Like an amber lens on steroids, they brighten things up in low light, which is great for the cloudy skies I prefer to fish under, the prime time fishing hours after dawn and before dusk, and lets not forget, seeing through walls and stuff.
Yes, they are a glass lens, and no, they aren’t heavy. Pretty much anytime I’m outside, I have these on, and I have yet to pull them off and see little red marks on each side of my nose- or really notice them on my face at all, for that matter. The Techlite polarized glass is 20 percent lighter than standard lenses.
According to Smith’s Web site, the lens is, “created through a finishing process with controls maintaining 1/2000th of a millimeter tolerance, each lens is optically-corrected using Tapered Lens Technology. Utilizing a nine layer construction set up, all available light is managed to maximize clarity and eye comfort.”
They also, “utilize a multi-layer Anti-Reflective mirror coating to absorb back light effects. A permanent oleophobic coating protects the lens and mirror coatings by repelling water, dirt, fingerprints, and grease.”
In short, I’m really happy with these sunglasses, and after ten months of testing them on the water and just everyday looking at stuff, I am pretty confident in saying that they definitely pass the sniff test.
As students of the game, fly anglers have an affinity for books on all things fly fishing. There are a lot of books out there for the fly angler. Some good, some bad, and some that go above and beyond our expectations and rise to the level of Bible status. A fly fishing bible is a book that is so well written, and the information on whatever subject the book covers is so complete, and so well presented, that you’ll never be able to part ways with it. The information is timeless, and not even the mighty internet can compete.
In no particular order:
If you tie your own flies, this book is a must-have. Whether you’re looking for instructions on how to whip finish, or create a woven body, this book has it all.
I think Lefty Kreh pretty much hit the nail on the head with his opinion on this book, “I cannot conceive how anyone could write a better book for fly fisherman who want to catch pike on a fly.” The info within transcends the book’s niche. This is more than just a book for the pike-targeting fly angler, this is a book for all warm water anglers, period.
If you fly fish for striped bass, want to fly fish for striped bass, or if you just want to own the best book ever written on the subject; this book is for you.
If you fly fish for trout, you owe it to yourself to own this mayfly bible. In fact, not owning it is the one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made off the water.
Like Hatches II, this book only covers one order of insects, caddisflies. There is no better reference on the subject. The other biggest mistake any trout angler can make (aside from not owning Hatches II) is not owning this book. It will instantly make you more awesome.
Ya know how everyone thinks its so cool to fish streamers right now? This book is the reason why. And I’m pretty sure its out of print, so if you don’t already own it, click the link above and add it to your cart, ASAP.
This is the book for anyone serious or not so serious about fly fishing for tarpon. After Andy handed me a copy to flip through in Denver last Fall, I later regretted not pointing at the ceiling behind him, yelling, “Look out!” and accidentally dropping this one in my back pack.
This book should have been named, “Pulp Confidence,” cause you will feel like you are ready for the weariest of trout after reading it. I’m not sure I’d recommend this book for the beginner, though. This is the one you read when you’re ready to get your PhD in fly fishing for trout.
Wanna learn how to tie flies? This book is the one you want at your bench to initiate you. Craven makes learning fun, and doesn’t complicate things with a bunch of useless info.
This isn’t just the bible on fly fishing RMNP, this is the model all future destination-style fly fishing books will be measured against. Armed with the info within, you’ll truly know what you’re getting yourself into before you visit the Park.
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