Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Account of Snow

At left, train stuck in snow 29 March, 1881.  Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railway. Copyright expired image hosted on wikicommons.

Five to eight inches of snow due tomorrow in Grayling, Michigan on the Au Sable North, mainstream Holy Waters, and South Branch. The Manistee will see the same.

Not the end of the world but Friday is also cold with minimal melt so Saturday will be a slush day when it hits fifty degrees. Sunday too, probably.

All the cold ice water into the streams won't do my efforts too much good, either.

So, no camping this weekend. I don't mind hard snow conditions but camping in the mud and slush is no fun at all.

Probably a recon drive to visit streams, eat a Spikeburger, and come on home. If I'm wrong about the trout action, there'll be a couple rods along in case the rises are irresistible.

I've had enough winter. Maybe if I tie something to handle the Hendrickson hatch in Friday night's session at the vise, I'll drive the weather into spring by force of will.

Hey, spring in Michigan means less snow. It doesn't mean no snow whatsoever.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blue-Winged Olives and Trout Dreams

First, I want to wish The Senator a happy birthday. Here he is from  May '15 when we had a snack of Girl Scout cookies streamside ... before I tumbled into the stream.

I think he was actually predicting such an action in this scene.

If he manages to get on the stream in the next six months, it'll be a minor miracle.

Blue-Winged Olives

I want to cover some seasonal hatches here in the north-central and maybe pass on just a few of things we all knew last spring but might have forgotten what with all the brain cells that died over the winter. [  Note to self: drink better scotch. ]

The Blue-Winged Olive is a mayfly. 

It lives in almost every aquatic micro-environment from cobble to gravel to leaf detritus to woody debris. We'll speak here of the general Baetis related species though the genera encompasses members from the  baetis, diphetor, labiobaetis and acerpenna. There are many many sub-species and in this instance the fly anglers' lumping together the various members as BWO is quite convenient.

The general BWO is multivoltine which means it has many breeding cycles throughout the year. It's more bunny -- many yearly broods -- than  deer -- single fawning season.

All of this means the BWO is a year-round companion on most eastern streams. It is also highly likely to be the first true hatch a shoulder-season angler encounters. 

Yes, stoneflies are also quite possible to be early-season encounters.

Unlike the BWO, the trout frequently ignore the stoneflies but for their nymphal larvae. I've watched the stoneflies emerge and crawl and fly and land be completely ignored by feeding trout in the mainstream. I've also seen trout pick stoneflies off root balls as they emerged.

Why the different behaviors? Ned the Trout won't tell me. Stubborn bastard.

The BWO do usually have the trout "looking up" and at least in my experience, I've not observed the same disinterest among our browns towards the BWO as they've shown me repeatedly on stoneflies.

Yes, I do carry something for the little black stoneflies in the spring in case they are hatching and the trout do notice. I'm not dogmatic enough to be an idiot.

The BWO is a good swimmer and is likely found in a drift sample. I mean here they're likely found in a mid-day kick-net sample and in a pre-dawn behavioral drift sample. The things are hugely prolific life forms on most Michigan streams.

Also, the BWO is frequently dislodged from his forage ground and cast into the flow during the usual spring high-water season where flows vary widely week-to-week. He's in the water column even when not actively hatching and the trout know this.

Hatches in the cool season of spring occur mid-day and slightly past. 

On overcast afternoons, the hatch might continue sporadically until the shadows crawl back and cool the water. Following days where the nightly low is above freezing, you can bet on some afternoon BWO hatches starting. These can be individual localized sparse hatches or they can infrequently be mind-boggling blanket action. Best advice: be prepared.

The BWO emerges from the water film poorly.

Mortality of the hatch is high with a good number of cripples and stillborn drifting at or near the surface. Even successful duns might drift two or three cast lengths downstream from where they successfully crawled onto their shuck waiting in cool weather for their wings to harden and flight to be possible.

The trout love this. Look for very subtle bulging riseforms "sipping" flies with no bubble telltales of the take. The mayfly simply disappears. Sometime the bulge is under the emerged fly. Sometimes it is immediately before the dun crawls out on a subsurface take.

Because of the good quantity of subsurface action, I like to swing soft-hackles below the surface just when I see something emerging. I'm usually too excited when I see an early season hatch to even bother to identify what it is by chasing down duns with my hand.

I put on a hare's ear soft-hackle flymph in an unweighted version and fish directly below the film.

Don't let this imply I have some sort of remarkable catching prowess in this action. I'm usually so excited with early-season trout fever that my fish to hand are brookies and rainbows. I'm a complete wildman on the river until I get past that "first dozen" trout count in the spring. Yes, it's been June before that threshold has been crossed in some years.

As long as no one is nearby to observe me tossing an eight-inch brown a dozen feet through the air on a too-excited hookset, it's all good. Right? I mean it isn't like it really happened or anything?

If you don't know what I mean, your winters are too short. I'm an occasional angler. I'm not a commercial-grade angler.

Strategies when the BWO is suspected involve weighted hare's ear soft hackles in searching swings until a hatch is actively sighted, then unweighted hare's ears swung under the surface film or cast to active feeding lanes upstream. 

Size 16
seems to hit the sweet spot of the BWO activity.

Note that the BWO females return to the water to lay their eggs and several species (all ?) land on obstructions and debris then crawl underwater. Naturally, many of these egg-layers are also washed into the current and are served well by soft-hackles in the upper 1/3 of the water column.

BWO Pattern (hardly original):

 Ugly little cuss tied on #16 Hends barbless 345.

Tail: hen pheasant, 4 or 5 fibers.

Abdomen: Hare's ear cut fine and touch-dubbed onto waxed thread. Chop the hare's ear if it isn't fine enough. You only need enough dubbing to change the color of your thread. If you are building mass into the fly, you're using too much dubbing.

Rib: micro-wire.

Thorax: Herl - two strands wrapped with the microwire and twisted short onto the hook shank or something black -- like Wotton SLF in black -- again chopped fine and tied in a dubbing loop. I find too much of the material dissolves away when fishing if I just touch-dub the thorax. I like a dubbing loop here. The herl-and-wire will produce the most durable outcome and it should be favored.

Hackle: hen in rust brown or back. Sparse tie using the tip method. [ better picture here with my late-season variant when I use dun hackle. Same dubbing. ]

Head: liberal wraps of the thread as shown here (in chartreuse for no good reason). Finish with a varnished thread to keep any glue off the hackle. The weather is cold and so the bias towards a fly that has the greatest possible durability is a solid idea.

A free-body diagram of the fly (from a class hand-out I used once). I'm not sure how these diagrams show-up in photos so I thought I'd try it here. I am colorblind and so my illustrations favor the monochrome pen-and-ink style drawings. I'll have to hire an illustrator to color the things if I ever publish.

Technical sources for more reading:

Ann Miller's excellent Hatch Guide for Upper Midwest Streams. (Frank Amato Publiucations, Inc., 2011.).


Malcom Knopp and Robert Cormier's Mayflies, An Angler's Study of Trout Water Ephemeroptera (Greycliff Publishing Company, 1997.).

Next weekend: trout camping on the Au Sable with fishing on the North Branch.

It's only going to sleet a little. The trout won't mind at all.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Woodsmoke, Scotch, Sausages, Biscuits, and Trout

Hosted on wikicommons is this wonderful pan of sausages cooking nicely as photographed by Rene Ehrhardt. Under the creative commons license, they're available for our use for the citation and --most importantly -- our thanks!

I don't have sausage pictures? Must be they don't linger in the pan. No, they don't I suppose.

I don't know about you; but, in this cave, the bears have Civilization Disorder [C-D].You'll find it in the icd-10 classifications under "longish impotent winter" and "bloody slow spring."

It hasn't been a bad winter. It has been an ineffectual winter with inconsistent spells of hope randomly thrown about.

I need to get to the woods.

I need to reek of wet wood smoldering as I read another couple of pages of The Nick Adams Stories before herding the coals back to a blaze.

I need scotch out of a camp cup.

I need my pipe and another bowl of Frog Morton on the Town cut with Old Gowrie.

I need sausages in the pan and biscuits from the fry-bake sequestered in tinfoil and endangered by the small jar of honey I know is in the bottom of the cooler.

I need the lack of a cell phone signal, a porch light in the distance, or my wife's cats crawling on me as I sleep.

I'm torn between camping at the Au Sable River State Forest Campground and Canoe Camp -- fishing the upper mainstream of the AuSable -- or wild camping at Pipe Springs on the North Branch and fishing it. Seeing the brookies take dries through most of the winter from the blogs of some New Englanders makes me want to try dry flies on the North Branch.

Swinging streamers and my large dark soft hackles -- stonefly nymphs? -- on the mainstream before canoe season is also tasty. Slinging the drifting streamer through the submerged wood pulls hard.

Whatever it is, camping is around the corner. An inch of rain due this weekend on both these rivers so I'll wait a week.

But just a week,

Where is that scotch flask now?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

CDC Deer Hair Caddis (DHC) and Spring Dreams

 At left, a snapshot of my shirt-pocket dry box from season's end last year.

Notice the "overstuffed with hope" arrangements in here. There are some soft hackles from the build of spring and summer, a few remaining dark sedges (dark DHC) a few odd searching dry fly patterns, and most of a dozen midge patterns in black and brown on #20 extra long hooks.

I know I'm not alone on the box of hope assortment.
I'll clean them out this week and stock the dry box with Jinglers, CDC DHC as that at left in #16, and traditional soft hackle interpretations.

I make a mess with the coastal deer hair. I use a raspberry patch that I love for the dark varieties, a very blonde variety that I fish most often at day's end, and a lovely natural with a great speckled effect that I use as my all-around.

It's Michigan: caddis required.

I am anxious to get out camping for trout but have a couple weeks. I went to the circus this weekend with Beargirl. I'd never been. Next weekend sees lows below 20 F where I want to fish so that's a bit cool even for me.

Two weeks, then a camp outing. Purple and herl soft hackles lightly weighted will figure. So will swinging weighted Woodcutters ( Soft Hackle Journal Woodcutter here )  under the advice of Steve Bird. They tie-up nicely and will do fine for my buggar substitute this year. I rather like the fly design. I'd call it "sculpin-esque" in its hydrology. Has to help.

I ordered a replacement large Swiss Army camping knife for my pocket. I left my last one with the TSA this winter. Happens.

I use a medium Ka-Bar fixed blade knife when camping but a folding lockback for cutting sausage and cheese is nice on the riverbank, too. It's handy in the camp kitchen and is easier to keep sanitized.

Anyway, anxious. Just like everyone else. Drank camp coffee this morning, even.

I've got it bad and that ain't good. (thanks, Duke).


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring Cleaning

At left, new tippet and some new extruded knotless leaders.

The seasonal cleaning is in full swing around here -- four inches of new snow does that -- and I'm replacing last year's nylon tippet with new spools from my local fly shop.

I'm also replacing my collection of near-ancient knotless leaders with fresh. I found two in my bag I bought in Colorado in '91.

Now, I don't like knotless leaders very much. I prefer to tie my own. However, I'm going to the Driftless where vegetation rules and knotted leaders snag the green stuff like it is going out of style.

My preference the last three years has been for furled leaders. I like those made by the folks at Cutthroat Leaders. I'll probably use them exclusively this year but since I'm not convinced they too can be weedless, I pack the extruded beasts as backup. I also don't mind giving the knotless leaders away when someone needs one.

New license today as well. Legal fishing to ensue.

A soft-hackle March Brown in #12 on a Hends BL345.

Thread: Olive 70 denier.
Tail: Hen pheasant
Body: Possum wrapped with ultra wire in chartreuse. The possum is heavily picked-out after the thin wire wrap is applied.
Hackle: Partridge.

The March Brown nymph lives in leaf litter or under largish rocks. He's a clinging sort of fellow.

He emerges from mid-May through mid-July on overcast days usually on warm afternoons. The duns run in size 12 through to a larger variant in 8. He's a large black and grey beastie.

Seems to taste nicely as well, or so the trout say.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Some Flies

 I've been at the vise last night and this morning.

The week saw me with a fierce cold which won most of the rounds on points. It took a huge effort in the 14th to score a knockdown and then to batter him into submission in the 16th under the 3-knockdown rule. Looked bad for the hometown guy for a bit.

At left, an over-hackled Partridge-and-yellow in #16 using Pearsall's silk on a Hends BL 354 hook.

Notice the mop. Being lazy and using a full feather produces that look. It isn't a good look. Yes, I fish them like this and yes, the hackle will indeed clump. For the effort of tying up your own flies, please don't be lazy like I am. You'll do better with sparse hackle. I do better with sparse hackle as well.

Here's a barred hen feather stripped and prepared for the tie-in. Two turns of this feather is just about the proper "sparse" to resist clumping the barbs in the stream.
 Our Partridge-and-yellow using a properly prepared partridge feather. I think this one I tied on an Orvis big-eye dry-fly hook in #16.

No, the big eye hooks aren't worth it. Gimmick. I bought three packs in Chicago at New Year's and won't do it again.
 Here's a look at my barred hen skin. Cheap. Effective. You can spend more on a coffee than this skin ran. A partridge skin can be an investment. A hen can be change out of the truck cupholder. Both work.
 Here's a  Snipe-and-purple with not particularly good wire work on the aft segments. Still, note the sparse hackle from the well prepared feather. That's the barred hen from above. It's a lovely motive thing in the water.

It's not going to be a star in any pattern book but it'll catch fish. I swear I thought the wire wrap was nicer before I took the picture.
 A ginger hen feather I've prepared. I love this ginger skin. The barbs are "like butter."
A little Herl-and-X fly I tie in yellow, orange, and scarlet.

This little beast is in the pattern books of the giants. Jim Leisenring tied a version of the Coch-y-Bonddu which is Welsh for "the red and black." My version is closer to that tied by Datus Proper [ referenced What the Trout Said, p.39 ] to imitate a beetle.

I'm something between a fat nymph and beetle on this u002 Umpqua dry fly hook in #18.

Notice that three turns of the prepared hackle makes for a "full" fly intentionally. I want lots of movement here. A drop of floatant on the nylon tippet all the way to the fly does well for morning midge surprises,

Degreased as a dropper, the fly takes its 50-50 share of early evening brookies. Wonderful fun.

Ten degrees here this morning. Snow due tomorrow into Tuesday. The Manistee and Au Sable are both in "drown-a-bear" mode right now. I wouldn't say blown-out; but, certainly they have too much cold water to risk wading.

Won't be long. Time to fill the boxes.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Laundry Day

 Photos from laundry day -- washing the lines.

Step One: find a delightful amber liquid. This is a dull process and you need the entertainment.
Step Two: get your tools. Nippers, at least. You'll find bits of old leaders and tippet from your last hasty departure from the stream. Throw them away.  New season, new leaders.
Step Three: mindless entertainment. In my case, re-runs of Top Gear. Parts of the hosts' personalities occasionally resemble the Amber Liquid guys. Never all at once; but, we can have May and Clarkson moments with very little provocation.
Step Four: Suds bath. Strip line into lukewarm suds water. Resist the desire to swirl the line. Strip and submerge gently. Give it a good five minute submerged soak.

The line goes into the soap with the part closest to the fly on the bottom. The tip into the suds first.
Step Five: Rinse water. Take the line from the soap and run it through a damp microfiber towel. The wiped line goes into the fresh clean water.

The line will be in the clear water butt end first. The tip is the last bit into the water. Don't drop it.
Step Six: Our of the rinse and into the dry bowl. Wipe the line one last time. The tip of the fly line goes into the bowl first.

Spool the line back onto the reel.
Inventory the reels and line. It helps when you pack for an excursion.

There it is. Laundry day. Riveting entertainment.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

At left, public domain image hosted on wikicommons today provided courtesy the Louvre. Hey, we're nothing if not classy.

Two lady anglers are engaging in the seasonal duty of washing their fly lines on an amphora from 460 B.C. They were probably members of Fly Girls. The one on the right looks familiar.

Time for the annual washing of the fly lines.

What?  You don't wash your line?

You spend $80 on a fly line. You want it in tip-top condition.Or, maybe you're just "made of fly lines" as my father would say.

That's it -- you've got money coming out the wazzoo and can't be bothered to maintain gear? Maybe you're a filthy scum wallowing pig? [ Little of the mother bleeding over there. It's a family blog.]

Didn't think so.

Duct tape can't fix this one. March 1st is Amber Angler Line Care and Cleaning Day.

Why March 1st?

Beargirl is gone and I can wash my lines in the kitchen, heh heh. A trio of big silver bowls. Some dish soap. A microfiber towel. Brewski. No bending over, even.

So - wash your line. Mind the wife's cat when you do it. Cats. String. Fly line. Do the maths.

Oh, and buy your license.

Lastly, check for that sweatshirt soaked in smoked oyster juice from last fall, too. It's probably in that big gear bag.

March 1. The water is warming up nicely. Time for trout.