Saturday, May 21, 2016

Camping, Amber Angler Realities

At left, the pennant of Camp Cub - our family camping outing for the grandcubs. Yes, that is a bear paw.  Fits some of Amber Anglers guys just fine when we're a little grizzly around the edges. Maybe we'll drag the pennant out to fall fish camp.

Some friends have asked what it's like camping in Michigan. I thought I'd illustrate. I'm just back from an outing the last couple of days.

Fish report: South Branch Au Sable at Highbanks. Caught 4 Friday evening. Missed hook-up on three others. Caddis fished on the surface. Everything ignored sub-surface. One small brown trout, one small brookie, one 12" brookie and another 10" brookie. Dark fish. Really darkly colored.  Left the phone in the car then hiked almost 6 miles round-trip in and out packing my boots and waders in a day-pack. Didn't go back for the phone for pictures after I reached Highbnks.

Had the place to myself. Lovely evening with occasional gusts (every 5 - 10 minutes) right down the river. Saw tons of bugs. Some little #16 Henny but the breeze blew them all over. Caddis were the things. Light colored, too.


Here's a typical site. This is what you get - less the camp chair. Sometimes, there is also a lantern hook. Usually not. Varies by public campground.

This is Canoe Harbor Campground [ here ] at the north end of the Mason Tract [ here ] in Michigan.

Picture is site #24 of 53.

Here's my tent pad (left edge) and the neighbor's site. Yes, they're close together.

There are no illusion of private conversation and in this case, I  am now fully up-to-date about American Idol even though I'd rather stab myself in the eyes with flaming hot pokers than watch television.

My neighbors were talkative. I'd say they were talkative for no good reason but I'm sure some primitive communal function was accomplished as a result of two hours of after-dark musing on the fate of reality television.

At left, a tag post. Every campsite has one. You place money in an envelope, drop it into a pipe, and put a corresponding tag off the envelope here on your tag post to identify for the rangers who is occupying the site.

No envelopes in the bin on Friday. I wrote a note, put money and the note in a dog poop bag (I always have dog poop bags. I own a foxhound/beagle and they poop a great deal) , and put a matching note on my post. This self-serve is better than the 11PM Ranger check waking me for not having a tag on the tag post.

This is what campsites at Canoe Harbor look like. That's a handicap accessible privy in the background. A hand well is just about equal distance from site #24 off to the right. I'm standing at the tag post and the nose of my trout car is just there in the left foreground because I'm a horrendous photographer.

So, you're close to nature but sometimes you're close to elements of civilization you'd just as soon not be. Folks generally are as sociable as saying "hi" when walking past if they catch your eye.

Here's a perspective from breakfast after giving a casting lesson.

The kids next door were a couple of full-time Army National Guardsmen based at Camp Grayling who were camping in a pop-up for the first time because - and they'll get extra-credit for this in the afterlife of their choosing - they brought their girlfriends, one of their mom's and a dad. I'm not sure which belonged to which but it was a bit of a clanish outing. ( Scottish ... not Ku Klux).

Anyway, these guys were fine and while I didn't want to hear the conversation, they were just kids who had never fly fished but were big kayakers even through the winter.  Tent campers, usually.

I arrived back at camp after dark and they came over unbidden to see what I'd been doing with a fly rod in the dark (I explained mousing and "the hex" and clarified I'd been doing neither but merely "humping" in the manner all good infantrymen).  These were 11-Bravo kids.

I had to correct them that I wasn't prior Army. Other old fat men made hikes, too. I don't know why they thought to just "come over" but there they were. Probably were interested in "the old guy"  who set-up camp in ten minutes then packed out.

Trout car, too. They liked the ride.

One of the fellows had to show me his fire-making skills to "help" using his new Bear-Grills grade knife with a flint in handle. I was tired from the hike and a little hungry in the deep dark but patience is needed with the junior enlisted. Took him a bit but he managed fire when I gave him an alcohol pad, a bit of lint and a cotton pad coated in petroleum jelly, all wrapped in wax paper inside a tinfoil pack.

They were two beers past meaningful instruction and happy that they'd achieved fire, departed.

Last note. Baking. Camp baking is a little touchy without the right gear. I have some of the right gear now.

I used a Banks fry-bake pan to make biscuits for biscuits and gravy. Worked like a champ. Twenty-five minutes and browned biscuits without scorch and burn from my first attempt.. Now, I can make biscuits in cast iron just fine. However, my first few batches of dutch-oven biscuits weren't this good!

Yes, I used tinned biscuits. I wouldn't do so if I were feeding anyone else. Well, I feed Chip tinned biscuits. He hasn't complained about them yet. No one else, though.

Banks fry-bake pan [ here ].Worth the money. Great gear. Beats anything else I've used that might be light enough to pack-in. The 32 lbs. dutch oven is better; but, it's a 32 lbs dutch oven.


Cooking. Warm coals underneath (10 minute fire of prior night's char, knocked down to active coals supplemented with a couple twig bundles to get going) and briquettes on top for control. I was cautious of the "twiggy fire" on top in case of wind.

Coals work for control: eight in a star pattern. Car camping, after all.

Grease the pan liberally.

Rotate the lid in 7 to 10 minute intervals for 25 minutes.

Not bad for an old bear.  Worked out perfectly on the first try.

Can field-expedient coffee-cake be far behind? I'll have to practice on the Amber Liquid guys before making it for Beargirl.

Yes, those are hiker-grade fold-up utensils. They're tougher than they look. MSR makes them and they work.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mason Tract Camping

At left, the camp.  Wonderful day last weekend and I dashed to the South Branch of the Au Sable to Canoe Harbor Campground at the north end of the Mason Tract wilderness.

Basic camp. Love the tent. Marmot Tungsten 3P, It's perfectly roomy for car camping. I sleep on an Allagash cot from Byer of Maine here. Wonderful things.

Had an owl at night in the campground (I had the place to myself). Deer stamping a 3 AM. Porcupine in the canoe trash by the river 300 m away. Boom - 3:30 AM. Great night. Awesome.

The water. The South Branch was regrettably flowing over 400 cfs at the gauge station which makes it hard to wade. 350 is about my limit and somewhere in the low 300's makes me more comfortable. The flows here are fast out in the riffled (and deep) main current but the calm pool in the foreground offered a little room for casting and a nice slow foam line courtesy some upstream debris. I took two fish here: a 6" and an 8" though the 8" was a near-to-hand catch-and-instant-release fish. He spun.

I hiked in nearly 3 miles to get to this spot. I tried one slightly downstream but the current was fast and the eddies poor.

Improvised "first supperizies" of smoked oysters, a Snickers bar, some wheat crackers, and a a Bell's Oarsman. I sat at the bottom of a very steep hill at a place called Laudry's rest ... if memory serves. I could be wrong on the name.

I watched my two trout rise as I ate. Olives? I picked a nightcrawler out of the water in my hatch survey so I can't say what they were eating.

They took partridge-and-orange soft hackles.

Should have had a 7' 3wt. Instead, had a 10'6" fiberglass 3 wt switch from Echo. Worked but the 7' 3wt would have been better for this fishing close to the bank.

The start of the evening fire Saturday night upon return to camp for "second supper." My trout car in the background. That's camp water in the foreground. No water, no fire.


Twenty-seven degrees overnight. A little sharper than I imagined. Gear worked fine. Toasty. Windy in the morning even in the woods so no "twiggy" fire on top of my Fry-Bake pan to make biscuits for biscuits-and-gravy. Thus, improvisation.

That first cup on a sharp morning is delightful. Canned condensed milk works fine for gravy ...or for creamer.

Small problem in the morning with a lonely robin who did his best parakeet-in-the-mirror bit while shitting down both sides of my car. Should have folded in the mirror. Has never happened before.

Trout camping again in a week. Trying to get more season under the belt this year.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Soft Hackled Dry Fly - Jingler

At left, hardly an illustrative photo of my own tie of the Jingler.

My history on this fly is very meager. I understand it originated in the border region. The defining characteristic seems to be twin hackles: at the head a soft-hackle partridge followed by a stiff grizzly hackle, thin thorax and abdomen, and optional tail.

Jonathan Barnes ties - and fishes - his version of this fly over at He's a guide so better to listen to him on the fly's use over a fellow like me.

I cannot find anything about this fly in my reference materials. Matthew Eastham has a write-up on his own sparsely tied version at his site North Country Angler. That's a blog I follow because of the photography. Also, there is a write-up in Eat-Sleep-Fish from a couple years ago when discussing large dark olives ...and the LDO Jingler pattern is described : Eat-Sleep-Fish.

My tie is the bushiest of the bunch. I take the phrase "unholy mess" to heart in the execution of this tie.

Here's another example - with poorer photography:

This is in the "failed tie" bin of flies I give the Amber Liquid guys. You can see the distinct separation here between the fore-hackle and the aft-hackle collar. A good tie shouldn't have that separation.

I've added a split tail of pheasant hen to this tie: waxed.  Yep, a waxed tail. It helps with that Mayfly dimple pattern. I've cannot remember it referenced in literature but I'm sure I read it somewhere and cannot properly remember the attribution. My apologies to the skilled hand who might have recorded the trick first.

Short version: Flies on the surface create an interference pattern from the deformity of the surface layer. From beneath the water, this pattern is much more pronounced than the actual spec of a fly. So, trout looking up have to see the moire more readily than the object which produces it. I took lots of physics/optics in college. Tons. Had direct application to my field. Anyway ...

The dry fly is largely - in my mind - predicated on this moire effect.

The Jingler reproduces dimples much as a Borcher Special will with the added element of the mobile soft hackle that we'll all recognize as moving from the slightest travel of our fly. So, we get an automatic "present the fly as a living object" effect coupled with the known killing moire interference pattern that does indeed draw fish "up."

The Jingler (my version for early spring evenings):

Size 14 barbless - or smashed - 1 XL/ 1 X-strong nymph hook (Umpqua u101 at the moment).

Claret silk thread.

Tail: pheasant hen, split, secured, waxed.

Abdomen/Thorax : light dubbing with red-brown mix SLF not on dubbing loop. The goal is a loose sloppy sparse body. Use less then use even less dubbing.

Back Hackle: grizzly. Use a medium sized feather. It is tied in tip forward through itself (or nearly so, tightly) in five or six turns.

Effect: trim the bottom spikes back to 1/8 - 1/4 inch. We want them, but not at full length.

Front Hackle: medium sized Partridge tied tip forward wrapped closely to the grizzly. Two turns ought to be plenty bushy. The hackle will seem too long and too full.

If you tie it well, it will look like an ungodly mess. You'd only ever tell a grandchild it was a nice fly. You're fishing it dry and you're letting one set hackle float the fly while the other attached to the film "wiggles."

It seems to work. I'll not say "killing" because I'm still pulling reticent trout out of water too cold. It does let me fish a soft-hackle as a designed dry fly. 

I give this fly an up or up-and-across presentation as if stalking with an Adams, EHC/DHC, or Wulff.  It's fun. It worked last fall. It is helping this spring.

I do not us a dropper on this fly. I'm taken with the motion on the water and will not interfere with tying my usual improved clinch onto the surface hook. If I used a tag to tie the surface fly, maybe it would be fine. I'm not fighting those tangles yet this year.

If you are fighting those transition fish at evening's end who are clearly rising but just not taking your offerings, try the Jingler. It helps.