The Hex Hatch The most highly anticipated may fly hatch in Michigan is the hex hatch. These big mayflies bring the largest fish in the river up to the surface to feed. Hexagenia Limbata is a floating filet mignon to a trout. Therefore the Hex Hatch, whether duns or spinners probably produces more large trout […]
The Reach Cast
We are going into prime dry fly season right now. The third most important thing in your arsenal behind being able to cast accurately and picking the correct fly is the ability to execute an accurate reach cast. A reach cast is an in the air mend and, once perfected, will give you perfect drag free floats.
When fishing a dry fly when you lay the line on the water the currents begin to affect that line. Often they create drag, moving the fly unnaturally on the surface. The classic way to deal with this is a mend, lifting the line up and moving it on the surface to eliminate drag. This is difficult to do without moving the fly and blowing the drift.
A reach cast accomplishes the line positioning in the air while casting. When you let the line hit the water it’s in a position to eliminate drag while the fly is going over the fish. The difficulty with the reach cast is learning to both reach and accurately place the fly on the water. Because you are pulling the line back to control how it lands you need to shoot line to compensate for that. Practice is what teaches you that accuracy!
In my opinion this is the most important specialty cast there is. Watch this video by Orvis and get on the water and master it! Your catch rate will improve because of it.
Tying knots in low light
I also carry a set of “readers” with higher magnification than my normal glasses. This is helpful as the sun sets, those hook eyes just seem to shrink! I put those one when I need greater magnification.In addition to the readers I also have a pair of Costa Silver Sunrise Glasses that are very good in lowlight situations. They cut glare, are polarized and they provide eye protection!
Finally, I carry needle threaders available in any sewing department. These little tools are designed to thread sewing needles but they do a great job of threading hooks. As you can see in the video below you insert the thin wire look through the eye of the hook then put your tippet through the loop in the wire and pull the wire loop back through the eye of the hook and you end up with the tippet through the eye of the hook. Prior to dark I put a bunch of the appropriate flies on these threaders, grease them and I’m ready to go. Changing and or replacing flies is a snap with this set up.
As the lights go out just a little preparation will keep you in the game rapidly, effectively and efficiently.
Early Season Trout Fishing
When winter breaks and water temperatures start to warm it’s time to consider early season trout fishing.
Many anglers would ask, why? They are steelhead in our rivers that will probably bite better than resident brown and brook trout. The reason is that if you are a big trout hunter early season provides one of the best opportunities of the year to score on a big ole wiley brown trout.
There are several reasons that I think Early Season Trout Fishing provides one of the very best opportunities to land a significant trout in Michigan.
As the water temperatures increases so does the trouts metabolism. The urge to feed combined with the lack of insect activity creates an opportunity for an early season fisherman.
The fish haven’t seen a lot of angler pressure since fall. That makes them a little less wary and making mistakes more likely.
Water is usually still little high from spring runoff and will most likely still have more color. Makes it easier to pull bigger trout out of cover.
All of these reasons plus the lack of angler pressure and my motivation to get out and fly cast to resident fish makes this one of my favorite seasons in Michigan.
Water temperatures play a big role in early season trout fishing.
When the temps are below 40 degrees we don’t usually see the biggest browns but we do get those mid to upper teen fish that always make for a good day.
When the temps go above 40 degrees, this time of year will often produce a few really big fish for those willing to go on the hunt.
Once the water hits 40 degrees I’m looking for those big game anglers that can take the risk and go hunt those browns that we never forget.
How to early season trout fish in Michigan
Here are three tactics you can use for early season trout fishing success.
First and foremost the best method for early season success is streamer fishing. Streamers are a great tool for searching out and engaging aggressive fish. After a long cold winter trout will be on the search for food even while water temps are still on the cold side. Look for trout to sit in areas with darker bottoms trying to absorb any sort of thermal relief from their surroundings.
It’s not uncommon for trout so sit in really shallow water during the colder periods of the day. So if your wading or using a drift boat, make sure to pay attention to the bottom. We have seen trout in less than a foot of water on several occasions.
Chasing early season trout with a streamer is not a numbers game and we usually don’t find a lot of giants early either, but a common trout at this time on the Upper Manistee is 14-18”. It seems as this size class of trout is the most active during the early season. Make sure to have a combination of conehead or dumbbell streamer patterns and fish them with a slow jigging action around structure. The Hawkins Little Racal is a great place to start.
While one of the hardest methods during the early season is Dry Fly fishing, it can be possible and very rewarding. With the largest BWO hatches of the season occurring in the early spring, along with little black stones and plenty of midges, there is always a chance of some trout surface activity on any given day the bugs show up. Now midges work best in the tailwaters like below Tippy Dam. You can have a fun few hours in the afternoon midging for trout on bright sunny days on tailwater sections or on a cloudy day when the BWO hatches show up in numbers.
Normally during the Early Season we carry two separate rods, one rigged with my streamer set up and one with an Floating Line set up. As we are drifting down the river, look for bug activity on the water and active fish feeding. On most days during the early season it is typical to only see a few heads rising per day within very short windows of activity on the surface. But if you capitalize on your opportunities it can be great fun.
The little black stone is probably my favorite early season bug. The Stonefly loves to lay it’s eggs in a fluttering almost tantalizing manner. Flying just above waters surface and even in the film of the current, the little black stones can cause some pretty explosive eats by trout. This doesn’t happen every day, but having the rod rigged and ready for action has brought a few nice early season trout to hand.
This little dirty word doesn’t come up too many times when you think about trout fishing in Michigan, but spring time can be a great time to get out the nymphing gear. If I have to be honest here, nymphing is not in our every day program and while we tend to push the nymphing game on our migratory streams, nymphing for trout is often ignored. Nymphing for trout behind
spawning steelhead or spawning suckers can be great fun. With Spring Steelhead in the peak of their spawning run trout will gorge on eggs and dislodged nymphs behind active spawning areas. While we are big on letting steelhead spawn, fishing the dark water for trout can be very productive, especially on the Pere Marquette River where this has been a staple of the spring program for years.
Now if your thinking about nymphing for trout above the tailwater’s be ready to lose a few nymphs to all the wood that lines our Northern Michigan trout streams. With the amount of wood around keep your nymphs selection simple. Don’t spend lots of time either tying or buying elaborate nymph imitations. Instead try running nymphs like Pat’s Rubber Legs and smaller Squirmy Worms, espically in tandem with a small bead head pheasant tail or hares ear and you will do just fine.
When trout are not chasing streamers or conditions are not right for the bugs to hatch, trout will have to eat something. Nymphing the runs can be the most productive technique for the utterly slow times on the water. Here is an early season trout tip: while nymphing, focus on the gravel areas more than the deep sandy pits as aquatic life in the gravel runs is more active earlier in the season.
Many of our best rivers like the Manistee, Pere Marquette and AuSable River’s are open all year so that’s a good place to start. A favorite of mine is to hunt big trout with streamers in water that also has steelhead present like the Manistee River below Tippy Dam. That gives you two bites of the apple because steelhead, especially drop backs, will eat streamers. Many times I’ve scored both on big browns and steelhead fishing streamers in the same day.
If you are motivated to get out and cast a fly line and looking for some excitement give Cherie a call at 231-228-7135. I’m sure any of the Hawkins guides would love to chase trophies with you.
Capt. Chuck Hawkins
New Drakes, Iysonychia, and Hex Patterns
I am excited to announce a new partnership with Montana Fly Company and myself. I have recently released several new dry fly patterns from my arsenal. They are now available through Montana Fly Company this year. It’s been a while since I have put anything new out there. The flies that are included in the two series I have released are mainstays in my arsenal. They are for the Isonychia, Brown Drake, and Hex hatches and have provided countless memories for our customers. The flies are all foam based Mayfly patterns designed to imitate the Isonychia, Brown Drake, and Hexegenia species. You can fish them all day with some realism and an impressionistic silhouette fish can’t resist.
Here is a breakdown of the flies that are now available through MFC:
McCoy’s All Day Dun, Isonychia
The Isonychia hatch is one of our best and most lengthy hatches of the season. This fly is designed, much like the name, to be fished all day! It has a very realistic profile and is a great fly to fish over rising fish. This is also a great searching pattern throughout the day with or without actual bugs on the water. This one is a must have!!
McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner, Isonychia
This fly just looks crazy on the water! Like the name, the Boondoggle Isonychia has a “fishy” profile and just flat out hunts . It often creates some chaotic moments of intense excitement. This fly is more of a searching pattern that has a silhouette that will get the fish looking up with or without bugs on the water. Once the Iso hatch gets started, the fish are always looking for it.
McCoy’s All Day Dun, Brown Drake
Brown Drakes on our home water of the Manistee are often a complicated puzzle, often leaving you scratching your head. We commonly refer to this hatch as the “Great Houdini” hatch as it can disappear for days and then suddenly reappear in epic fashion. This fly fishes great with bugs on the water, but I will do just as well fishing it blind during the Brown Drake season. This fly was designed to be fished blind or over rising fish. It fishes well even during the rare daytime emergence that we will commonly see a few times each season. This is also a great pattern during the spinner fall especially on the cooler evenings when they spin early.
McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner, Brown Drake
Like the Isonychia version of this fly it has a very fishy appeal to it. I have fished it during both the daytime emergence and more typical evening timeframes and have had success with it in both situations. With the white calf tail wings it is easy to track in the low light periods and floats like a cork! It gives me all the confidence knowing my fly is still fishing even when I really can’t see it.
McCoy’s All Day Dun, Hex
The Hex hatch is truly the busiest time of year on our waters. I wanted a fly that I could fish that was different from anything else. I wanted a fly that would work during the day and night, but more importantly when it was bright and no bugs to be seen. This has been my best daytime Hex pattern for a while now. When you get a rare, but not too uncommon daytime emergence, yeah…..this is the one!
McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner, Hex
The Hex version of this series is where the template all started for me. The original versions were getting smashed in the evenings well before the hatch would start and then again after the bugs disappeared while fishing blind and hunting for sipping fish in the dark. I love this fly, it just flat out hunts!! It was so good over a broad spectrum of circumstances that I had to have it for the Iso and Drake hatches as well. Thus began the evolution of this series.
Check with your local fly shop for availability. If you can’t find it drop us a line and we will help to get these patterns in your hands. Look for more to be coming out in the near future as I have expanded on some old favorites and I am constantly tweeking new stuff and expanding on my boxes. Good luck fishing this season and I am looking forward to the upcoming trout season and some summer like weather!
3 Lines for Spring Fishing
One of the most important parts of your fly fishing gear is the fly line. Having the correct fly line for spring fishing conditions is not only important to catching fish, but can relieve some of the hassle. We are blessed and cursed to have fly line manufactures developing so many speciality lines for anglers. This is great when you’re targeting a specific species at a certain time of year. The downside is a curse for the wallet and trying to organize your fly line closet. If you’re fishing this spring for either Trout, Steelhead, or Pike here are three of our favorite fly lines for Spring Fishing.
Trout Streamer Line
Spring Streamer fishing is one of the best times to target trout with a streamer. Two sinking fly lines that you should be aware of are the Sonar Cold 25 and Sonar Cold 30. Both are great for fishing in Michigan because of the braided multifilament core inside the fly line. This is the mot supple core used by Scientific Anglers. As a result it allows the line to remain tangle free under the coldest conditions. Braided multifilament cores are also great in floating line applications as it has a hollow core which aids in flotation.
Sonar cold 25
The Sonar Cold 25 is a personal favorite for most angles and most of the rivers we fish. As the name implies it has a 25’ extra-fast sinking head with a handling line. We really like this line on the Upper Manistee, Pere Marquette, and Pine River. It can turn over any streamer that we throw for trout, but based on the “handling line” section it is an easier line to roll cast. We also recommend this line for the wading angler as the rear running line will float. Most importantly this line was made with the wading angler in mind. Read more
Top Five Spring Steelhead Flies Many fly anglers eagerly await the start of the spring steelhead run. In this blog post I will point out what I believe are the top five spring steelhead flies. I will show you how to tie them and explain when to use them. Any list of the top five […]
How many times have you heard the phrase “don’t stop moving your streamer”, when streamer fishing? It’s an interesting phrase and there is it a lot of truth to it for a lot of situations. However, there are always “exceptions to the rule” as multiple other scenarios might play out in your fly fishing career where you’re going to want to stop moving the fly to have success.
Spring streamer fishing season in Northern Michigan is just around the corner so let’s dive into some of the situations that might play out for you while stripping streamers on Michigan Rivers. Like most things in fly fishing, there’s always an exception to the rule. No matter how rare the exception, a fly fisherman should always be willing to experiment when traditional tactics aren’t producing.
Now let’s break down the “don’t stop moving your streamer” phrase based on species. To be a really good streamer fisherman you need to have a well rounded streamer game. Meaning you better be able to fish for multiple species, i.e you want to become the Bo Jackson of fly anglers. Trust me, having as many experiences as possible is going to make you a better angler even if the only thing you want to catch is Brown Trout.
Trout especially, Brown Trout, are prime targets to a streamer presentation. During the spring one of the most important factors to pay attention to is water temperature. For example, if water temps are still in the 30’s stopping your streamer pattern can be really effective. I’ve had some of my best streamer days on cold rainy days while barely moving the fly, almost vertically jigging the fly back to the boat. Keep in mind how water temps can affect trout behavior and then change your presentation to match the conditions. When jigging the fly it’s important to stay in contact with your presentation as the bites are usually soft. Make sure to maintain control of your slack line and keep your rod tip low when not moving the fly. Use flies like Russ Maddin’s Circus Peanut or a variety of conehead patterns that sink faster. I really like Tungsten cones in this situation as they sink really fast.
Another factor to keep in mind when stripping your streamer is the kill shot. Brown trout love to swirl or hit your fly on the constant-strip retrieve. Having the ability to stop after the swirl can lead to success . One our Hawkins Outfitters Guide, Jeff Topp likes to say;
If a trout misses the bait for sure pause it/stop the fly. If you see them swiping at it half heartedly trying to “kill it” and if they don’t bite it on the stop they will most likely eat it when the fly takes off again. Trout will bite on a steady retrieve but the twitch and pause seems to bring more bites for me.
As with most predators Brown Trout are keying in on the weak and helpless. in other words don’t be the fastest minnow in the group. Stopping your fly on occasion near structure or even in the middle of your retrieve can bring you surprising results. An example of this can be observed with how native baitfish move in their environment. Sculpins often tend to use a few quick bursts to propel themselves several feet and then they’ll quickly settle to the stream bottom and remain motionless. Fly anglers should keep this in mind when they’re fishing sculpin patterns. Don’t be afraid to stop your sculpin pattern! Read more
Update to the story
The US Forest Service has decided to not implement the ban in 2019 but instead has agreed to let local authorities address the problem in 2019. They have reserved the right to implement it in 2020. It seems obvious that they have bowed to pressure from the merchants.
Alcohol is no longer permitted on parts of three of our favorite rivers in Northern Michigan. All are within the Huron-Manistee Forest. This new policy affects the National Wild and Scenic River sections of the AuSable, Manistee, and Pine rivers.
The Huron-Manistee National Forests announced the decision recently.
“This closure order is intended to address persistent public safety issues and protect natural resources on rivers of outstanding recreational value,” said Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor Leslie Auriemmo.
“Our goal is to create a safer, more sustainable, and more enjoyable experience for the thousands of visitors who recreate on our National Wild and Scenic Rivers each year.”
In Norther Michigan the AuSable National Wild and Scenic River begins below Mio Pond and extends to the upper end of Alcona Pond. It makes up 23 miles of the 138-mile waterway that runs through Northern Michigan and enters Lake Huron.
The Manistee and Pine National Wild and Scenic Rivers are each 26 miles with the Manistee section running from Tippy Dam to the M-55 Bridge.
This order will remain in effect throughout the summer recreation season, which runs from May 24 to September 2.
Specifically, it will apply on and within 200 feet of the:
· AuSable River between Mio Dam Pond and 4001 Canoe Landing
· Manistee River between Tippy Dam and the Huron-Manistee National Forests’ administrative boundary (map)
· Pine River between Elm Flats and Low Bridge.
Private lands, developed campgrounds, and designated campsites within those river corridors will not be affected. Violation of the order is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.
This will not effect the fishing, should only make the weekend experience even greater with some of the silliness now being eliminated. While we all enjoy a few cold ones from time to time, please keep this in mind this summer and save yourself a hefty fine.
Last spring, I was fishing below Tippy Dam throwing streamers for trout. There were lots of bank anglers fishing spawn sacks and a lot of heavy pressure from boat anglers. The trout were refusing most of our offerings of big streamers and we hadn’t had any steelhead activity. It was a sunny day which usually spells tough times in Michigan trout fishing. That’s just what we were having. As white is a go-to color in sun and olive and white is the most productive color combination that I’ve experienced, I tied on two Little Rascals in those colors for my clients to change things up. Fifteen minutes later we had landed a gorgeous steelhead that darted out from a mid-stream logjam and devoured the fly. Shortly after that we landed that a 4.5 pound brown trout. A star was born.
How come a smaller streamer worked for big fish when big streamers usually get the job done? At Hawkins Outfitters, we fish streamers almost everyday in early and late season because they do catch big fish. Along with my pattern, the Nutcracker, we throw a lot of large streamers that entice big predator fish. But, those same large trout and steelhead see a lot of big streamers and, I believe, grow wary of the same big patterns they see over and over again. Even the best big pattern can start to produce fewer fish if fished too much or too often.
Trout key on different sizes and profiles. Some days it’s four inch sculpins, other times it’s smaller leech or lamprey profiles. That’s why I created the Hawkins Little Rascal. It’s a smaller, slimmer pattern, that imitates leeches and lampreys well. Plus, it has a great, lively movement and action in the water. I tie the tail with rabbit strip to get that movement that trout love. Combine that with the conehead and you get that all-important jigging movement that predator fish often can’t pass up. Plus the conehead gets the fly down better in deeper and heavier water.
We don’t just fish Little Rascals in the spring. You’ll find that you’ll have luck with them year round. You’ll get the best results if you vary retrieves and colors depending on water temps and sky color. When fishing colder water, use a slower retrieve than you would fishing warmer water. The fish’s metabolism is down and the fish themselves are slower at these times and will travel less distance to feed. If your streamer is retrieved more slowly, the fish will see it better and be able to strike. As the water warms, you can quicken your retrieve.
As far as color goes: on dark days use dark colors and on bright days use bright colors. However, there are a couple times that the Little Rascal is a good imitation for a natural food source. In spring there are two food sources, lampreys and salmon fry that can be imitated by a Little Rascal. When you start seeing lampreys on the trout you are catching try a black Little Rascal on cloudy days. I’ve had some great success doing this. When fishing where salmon and steelhead hatch try a small white Little Rascal, it works well. You can fish the Little Rascal in any water conditions except when the water is extremely dirty. Then, you’ll want to stick with a larger streamer. You can also use it for just about any freshwater species. I’ve caught brown, rainbow and brook trout; king, pink and Coho salmon; plus small and large mouth bass on the pattern just this year alone.
Little Rascal 2.0
One of the fun things about owning Hawkins Outfitters is hanging around and trading information amongst the Hawkins Guides. Jon Ray, Ed McCoy, Jeff Topp, Russ Madden, and Steve Pels are some of the fishiest guys I’ve ever known. We constantly exchange information, fish locations, new patterns and techniques etc are community property.
The Little Rascal 2.0 is a result of that sharing. As new materials come along or different tying techniques are learned it is a good thing to look back at some of our patterns. Jon Ray did just that with an old standby of mine, the Little Rascal. What he created we now call the Little Rascal 2.0.
Jon made two big changes to the fly. First he added a vertical mono loop in the rabbit tail to reduce the instance of the tail fouling around the hook. This is a dynamite idea that will be incorporated into all of my rabbit tail flies in the future. The second addition is a dubbing brush palmered up the body along with the original rabbit strip. You know Jon Ray he loves flash!
These two changes are fantastic additions that create a better fly. Less tail wrapping on the hook and a bulkier body with more flash makes this good fly even better. Thank you Jon Ray.
Watch the video blow to see how to implement these changes and tie yourself some 2.0s!!
Captain Chuck Hawkins
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