Tying knots in low light

Tying Knots in Low Light

Tying knots in low light

Like many of you as I’ve aged, knots are more difficult to tie as the sun goes down. These old eyes aren’t what the used to be. Through the years, out of necessity, I’ve discovered a few tricks to make tying knots in low light  easier. I’ll share some of these below.

Tippet Spools

First and foremost use a lot of line. Be it monofilament or fluorocarbon it’s still the least expensive part of all of our tackle. When adding tippet use a longer than normal piece which allows to make bigger openings to pull line tags through. Excess line allows for a bigger opening between your fingers and the eye of the hook when tying a clinch knot. Give yourself plenty of material to accomplish the task at hand.

Headlamps

A quality headlamp is a must. I’m a big fan of red light as your pupils don’t dilate making you night blind when you use it. In addition to my normal headlamp I also have a red headlamp designed for predator hunters. It is much more powerful than a normal headlamp and being red light it does’nt blind me or my anglers when I  use it in the boat.

Glasses

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.

Tight lines,
Capt. Chuck Hawkins

Early Season Trout

Early Season Trout Fishing

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.

Why Now?

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

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.

Streamers

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.

Early Season Trout

Streamer Fishing for Brown Trout

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.

Dry Fly

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.

Nymphing

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

Early Season Trout

Trout Nymphs

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.

Where

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.

Tight lines,

Capt. Chuck Hawkins

 

 

Fly Lines for Spring Fishing

3 Fly Lines for Spring Fishing

3 Lines for Spring Fishing

Fly Lines for Spring Fishing

Fly Lines for Northern Michigan Fly 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

Stripping Streamers

Streamer Stripping Helpful Tips

Stripping Streamers

Stripping Streamers for Brown Trout

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

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

Hawkins Little Rascal

Hawkins Little Rascal

Hawkins Little Rascal

Hawkins little rascal streamer pattern for the Manistee River

Little Rascal

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.

Size Matters

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.

Retrieves

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.

Color

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!!

Good Luck.

Captain Chuck Hawkins

Staying Warm during Winter Fishing

Staying Warm during Winter Fishing

Pere Marquette fishing reportStaying Warm during Winter Fishing

Steelhead are cold-water critters.  Steelhead anglers need to learn how to Stay Warm during the Winter while chasing them. Steelhead can be caught all winter long in water temperatures as low as 33 degrees.  Steelhead will feed all winter long, fight extremely hard when hooked and don’t seem to give a damn how cold it is!

As cold bloodied animals, steelhead have that advantage over warm blooded humans. To be a successful steelheader you need to learn to deal with and be comfortable in the cold.  Steelhead season lasts almost 6 months, and some of the best fishing is during the dead of winter.

Base Layer

In pursuit of warmth start with base layers. It’s hard to beat capilene or Patagonia’s capaline Air which is half merino wool and half capaline. I wear one or two of the thinner long sleeve crew and long johns versus thicker singles. It seems to keep me as warm as the thicker versions but is less bulky, more comfortable.

Feet

On my feet I use a thinner wool baselayer sock followed by a thicker wool sock. About your feet, if you are fishing from the boat, which is what we do most of the time, waders and wading boots aren’t your friend. Bigger, insulated boots are the best. We wear calf high Boggs or Muck boots that are heavily insulated.  Snow pack boots will also work well.

If you are wading, boot foot waders are warmer than stocking foot waders and wading boots because they aren’t as tight and allow better blood circulation to your feet.  You actually want blood and air to circulate around your feet. It helps keep them warm. Also when wading don’t wear felt soles. Snow builds up on the bottom of your boot into a big ball. Wear the rubber soles to avoid this.

A great option for non-felt wading boots is Patagonia’s Tractor Boots featuring aluminum bars on the soles for traction on rocks and in muck. I wear these boots on the Garden River, they are fantastic.

Core

My next layer on the bottoms depends on temperature. If it’s below freezing I wear Patagonia’s Nano Puff pants or the Patagonia Snap T Fleece pants ,a very warm option as well. If it’s warmer I’ll wear just an average pair of wool or capilene pants. On the upper half of my body, after the baselayer, I move to all wool, usually a medium weight wool zip front crew, followed by a wool hoody and finally a Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody. If it’s really cold I have a light weight wool hoody that I’ll add into the layers.

Wool and down are natures greatest insulators. Wool will keep you warm even when wet. The latest and greatest wool is Merino wool. It isn’t itchy when next to your skin, it’s very soft and comfortable. I buy almost anything that I need in wool if available.

One of Jon Ray’s new favorite items for those extremely cold days is the New Extreme Core Tops by Simms , the built in Ergonomic hood and integrated neck gaiter really keeps your upper body warm in the coldest of days.  I do not recommend this item if your going to do alot of winter walking though. It’s too warm of an item, great for long days in the boat only.  But if your breaking trail you will over heat.

Shell

The exterior layer has to protect me from two things, wind and rain/snow. There are a variety of bib/jacket combos that Hawkins Guides have tried through the years. Orvis, Simms and Patagonia all make a variety of insulated outfits that work. Personally, for the last five years I’ve been wearing Gill sailing bibs and my Simms heavier rain coat. I look at the exterior layer for wind rain protection not insulation, I’ve covered that underneath.

If you are wade fishing your waders and a good quality rain jacket will protect you from the elements.

Either way black clothing is best in a cold weather situation. It absorbs more heat and is less visible to fish than bright clothes.

On Top

On my head I wear a wool or synthetic beanie type hat on top of a normal billed hat so that my eyes have sun shield and my ears and head are kept warm. Then I can pull the aforementioned hoodys up over the beanie for additional warmth.

A Buff or some type of warm gator around your neck between your shirt and chin is very comfortable when its’ cold. It should be capable of being pulled up over you nose, nice when the wind blows!

Gloves

Finally, and the most difficult for me, is hands. Years ago, guiding an elk hunter I got very close to frost bite on

Staying Warm during Winter Fishing

Hand warms are a must have on Winter Trips.

my hands. Since then they are more difficult to keep warm and pain free. I’ve tried every glove and glove combination I’ve seen for years and have come to the following solution. I were the best quality fingerless gloves I

can find, currently Simms Wool Gloves are my personal choice. Inside that glove I have a heater pack in each hand. In addition I have another heater pack in each coat pocket that I can hold in my hand when possible. Also a heater pack in your boots is a warm, comfortable thing on colder days.

I also carry a small towel to dry my hands that get wet from handling the line while fishing.

Side note, the fingerless gloves with the pocket flap are not good. You will lose fish when line warps around that flap. Finally a pair of thick mittens, I use ice fishing ones, can be put on when we are running from spot to spot to take the edge off when not fishing. The mittens are also good to have when wading. You can put them on during a break to help warm your hands.

Conclusion

Steelhead are a fantastic gamefish, beautiful, strong and a prize worth pursuing. You’ll enjoy the pursuit more if you are comfortable in a steelhead’s favorite weather, cold, wet, and miserable. With today’s modern materials there is no reason to be cold. Be prepared, you’ll be happy you are!

Capt Chuck Hawkins

 

 

 

 

Manistee River Trout fishing

Fishing Foam Patterns

Fishing Foam Patterns Fishing Foam Patterns during the middle of the summer is pretty standard because there are less natural aquatic insects hatching.  Trout are keying in on terrestrials, like grasshoppers, ants, and beetles.  While simply throwing out a foam pattern into the river will work, there are a few techniques and tips that we […]

SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line

SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line – Product Review

SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line

SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line

SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line

The SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line is a specialty line for those that enjoy the pursuit of big brown trout in the dark.  I have been fortunate to use this fly line guiding since it’s release.   Scientific Anglers is based in Midland, Mi.  This glow line was tested by the pros on the AuSable and Manistee Rivers.  This is home of some of the best night time fisherman in the country.  Michigan has had a long history of night fishing because of some of our mayfly hatches. Some believe mousing was actually created by anglers in Michigan.

Better Dead Drifts

The SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line main goal is to help anglers achieve a better dead drift.  One of the secrets to hooking big brown trout is having a perfect drift.  Big browns are big for one reason, they are wary.  One of the most difficult things about fishing in the dark, is knowing what your fly is doing.  The SA Frequency Magnum Glow Line is charged with a headlamp or small UV light. You  actually see what your line is doing. This works even in some of the darkest corners where the big trout live. Read more

Double Fly Rig

Learn how to tie up double dry fly rigs

Double Fly Rig

There are times when trout are rising that you are unable to determine what fly they are eating. There are also times that trout aren’t rising much or at all that you would still like to catch fish. There is a tactic that we use to combat both of these situations. It’s the double fly rig.

Many or most of you have used or heard of the “hopper-dropper rig”. That is attaching a bead head nymph to a hopper pattern and using the hopper as your strike indicator. It can be very effective at times. It works because you are presenting two different food sources in different water columns at the same time.

Two Dry Flies

We use the same method with two dry flies. This can be the same fly with two different life stages, two completely different flies or the same fly times two! It is deadly effective during a hatch, especially a light one. By presenting an emerger and a dun you are covering both bases. The emerger attracts lots of attention because mayflies are vulnerable at that stage.

Complex Hatches

This method is also valuable during complex hatches. That’s when there are several different bugs on the water at the same time and trout are eating but you are unable to determine which bug they are eating. This can be common in June when there are several different mayflies possible during the evening. Sulphurs spinning along with bat flies doing the same, Isonychias hatching and/or spinning and maybe Brown Drakes. All of this occurring at dark. It can be tough to figure out which morsel the fish are eating!

To present two dry flies at once tie a piece of tippet to the bend of the hook using an improved clinch knot. Make sure you moisten the monofilament prior to cinching it down to maintain maximum strength. See the video that explains how to tie this below.

Tippet

The size of the tippet should be either be the same size as the tippet being used on the first fly or one size smaller. I make the decision on size based on two things. If I’m worried about losing two flies I use the smaller monofilament so if I hook the bottom fly on something and need to break it off I have a chance of saving the top fly. If I’m casting to or searching for big fish I will put both flies at risk so that I have stronger tippet.

Try this method, you’ll find it works!

Captain Chuck