A three day Upper Peninsula fly fishing trip late last week will go down in the record books as one of the all-time great trips -- fantastic weather, fantastic fish and fantastic clients.
As Forrest said, "Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get." Well that couldn't have been truer than this week. What we got was nothing short of amazing and truly shows what our Upper Peninsula trout streams are capable of (in a mind blowing way) when the weather and conditions are right:
- 65 degree weather
- 30+ fish landed each day (we touched at least 50+)
- 6 big ole browns in the 18-20" range
- 1 monster male book trout 18" in full spawn glory (a total unicorn)
- 1 monster rainbow 5-6 lbs (hooked not landed)
As we planned this trip weeks ago our fingers and toes were almost frozen in anticipation. We were in the throws of what felt like an early winter, October was throwing us 30F days and water temps were an icy 35F. Ouch. All I could think about was how I was going to keep 3 novice anglers from getting hypothermia let alone catch fish.
Me and my partner Chris game planned, but even hot soups, hand warmers, and limiting to doing half days we were worried. We talked to our clients and let them know it was going to be rough going. They didn't care. Ok, good, no where to go but up. And up we went. The weather forecast did a 180 and projected temps started climbing to 40, 50 and then 60. Holy crap. This is could be good.
And good it was, but not at first. After the first day trying for some steelhead on the Manistique and being low-holed, high-holed and corn-holed by center pinners we decided chasing the big fish was going to be about as fun as a lower GI infection so it was time to get out in the country and get on some prime Upper Peninsula trout water!
Next day we rolled out to a big, beautiful Upper Peninsula trout stream known for its big, fat brown trout. The water temp was a chilly 40F but climbing with all the sun, as were our spirits. Nothing prettier than this piece of water and we had it all to ourselves (thanks to deer season and steelhead).
We went right to the big-bouldery-slow-deep-winter-water and rigged up. Nymphs baby. Chunky stone attractor and a smaller BWO imitation dropped down below. Basically smack these big brown trout in the face with a cheese burger and fries and see if these warmer temps have triggered their appetites.
Well it was game on from the first cast. Low and behold the resident rainbows wanted in on the action and they had set their alarm clocks to get up earlier than the browns. We started smacking rainbows all over the place. What they lacked in size they made up for in fight, man it was like they had been chewing nicorets and drinking red bulls just waiting for us to throw them some bugs they could destroy.
Andrew, Chad and Dan had a blast on these fish. It gave them a chance to dial in their casting, figure out drifting and mending, and most importantly hook sets. Chad quickly figured out Chris' trout spey rod and was roll casting and mending with the best of them. Andrew and Dan got dialed in on my 10FT 2WTs.
It was fun helping them figure out casting - up stop punch stop - controlling the wrist - and working the dynamics of getting the rod to load. Next we tackled where these trout like to hold, looking for seams and hydros, and using surface foam (foam is home) to target our drifts. And with this many fish we got to work on some of the finer points of fighting fish, getting them on the reel, and letting the rod and drag do the work.
Each day the guys got better at casting, mending, setting and fighting. More and bigger fish reached the net. So we tackled more technical water - or as I call it the "hog troughs" - where you get one tricky shot at a big fish (and you maybe only get this shot a couple times a year and this was one of those days to go for it).
We hiked upstream to small, narrow but deep trough that runs into a big, fast run. It's a 10ft section with a small window to nail the cast, throw a quick mend to get the bug down and high stick waiting for the indicator to just twitch to then nail a the hook set.
Well, Andrew nailed the cast. And Mr. Big was home and hungry. The bobber (er, I mean indicator) dipped and he set. Wow, out of the depths comes a gold submarine which quickly turned downstream and proceeded to rip line down stream like we hooked a moving freight train. It was all over before we had taken a breath. The line snapped. We stared at each other. Stared at the run where the fish had left us. Our shoulders dropped. And if I was a smoker I would have gone off to the shore and smoked. We were both shook up.
No cure like trying again. This time we went over to a slow deep pool with a riffle that drops right into it. To get the right drift you need to cast far enough upstream to get the bugs down and ready for the drop off without snagging in the shallower upstream water. It took about 5 snagged attempts before finally getting into the drop off area. The bugs settled down deep and the indicator hesitated for just a second. I yelled hit and he did...just a snag...no wait the snag is moving. Big fish on. We got to feel the weight of a trophy brown for about 5 seconds before it buried itself down on the bottom of the hole and worked the tiny size 18 nymph loose from it's mouth.
0 for 2 on the big fish but still really amazing to see what this river has in it. These fish rarely hit anything during the day. Like I said, you might get one or two chances a year at these monsters when they drop their guard for just a day and you get them to eat something with a hook.
Meanwhile, downstream the other two guys are tearing it up. So we head down and join them just as Dan finishes releasing the biggest of the trip - a fat 20" brown. Several more browns in the 18" range come to the net as we work a long waist deep run that's hidden in the shadows of the pines.
We start working downstream a ways, picking apart some deep buckets that breakup an otherwise featureless stretch of stream. Nymphing is perfect for these spots. We add a few shot, lengthen the leader and make sure these bugs are getting down deep. And it pays off. Each bucket produces multiple large brown trout that fight and bully their way upstream and down while our reels sing that sweet battle song.
On one especially deep juicy bucket about 10ft by 10ft we start making our drifts, starting in close and working away from us a foot or two at a time. There's a really sweet looking soft water spot only about 5 feet out from us that looks like a perfect holding spot. Sure enough the next cast we drift right into it and the indicator hesitates a second. Andrew is high sticking and there's not a lot of range left to set the hook but he gives it a good effort and gets a hook in whatever just ate the nymph. The line and indicator just sit there. Like the barrel on the rope attached via harpoon in Jaws. It just sits there. Line is taught. Then it explodes out of the water. "It" being a colored up rainbow trout the size of a steelhead (I'm guessing 5-6 pounds) that's been the residing king of this stretch of river for many a year.
How do I know it was a rainbow? We'll this thing proceeds to do something only a rainbow would do -- that is come out of the water in an explosion and make sure we get a good look at it. Then it does what only rainbows and steelhead seem to be able to do, they conjure something like the power of a 300hp Merc in their tail and they leave, they leave in a hurry.
The reel screams. Only this time its not that sweet battle song more like a cry for help. We start moving downstream to keep a good angle on this fish, meanwhile in about second it's peeled 100 ft of line as it porpoises like a torpedo straight across the river into the big currents. We get to watch it for a few more seconds but there was no slowing this thing down. The tiny nymph did it's best to hold on to this freight train but it didn't have enough stick. Slack line, buzzing nerves, followed by "that was a big fish..."
We regrouped and headed down to the main section we started on in the morning. And instead of rainbows wanting to party it had turned into brown town. One after another. In all the spots we had fished earlier and only caught rainbows now we were finding big browns.
As the sun started to drop in the sky, Andrew's rod is full bend as he wrestles another nice brown trout to my net. Only this time it's not a brown. As I stick it in the net I do a double take. It's a dark colored up fish but it's no brown. Then I'm speechless. I just netted an 18" brook trout. Big fat male in all his spawning glory - purple hues, bright red/white fins, fluorescent gold speckles. Wow. I yell over to my partner, "you're not going to believe this..." -- which in our long history together always winds up meaning one thing - we just got a nice brookie. On the Manistique a few years ago it was 24" coaster.
What an amazing fish. It had to have been around a very long time, and from the looks of it never touched before. Last time I caught a brookie in this river was 10+ years ago, and I hadn't heard of anyone since. We capped of an amazing 3 days with catching the mythical equivalent of a unicorn.
Thanks for visiting
Caddis Shack Guide Service
Guiding Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Since 2002
We specialize in fly fishing for Steelhead, Smallmouth and Trout in the beautiful Upper Peninsula near Escanaba, Michigan. Float or Wade. Expert or Beginner. We got ya covered.