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 […]
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
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 […]
Parana on the Fly
I have been trying to come up with the words over the past few weeks to describe the jaw dropping experience at Parana on the Fly in Itati (Corrientes region), Argentina. It has been harder than I figured it would be to find the right words. I traveled to Parana on the Fly with Ed McCoy and a group of anglers including Jerome, Kean, Robert, John and Paul. We spent a week chasing one of the ultimate predators, “The Golden Dorado”. What a ferocious and unforgiving species, this fish is unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered!! Now pair the Dorado along with an impressive Parana River system that left me speechless due to it’s pure size, flow, and the amount of baitfish it holds. Words can’t describe the overall experience and lasting impression that was left upon all of us who travelled there to fish, truly amazing!!
Michigan Anglers Travel Well
I have always said and believe whole heartedly that if you can fish in Michigan you can fish anywhere in the world and this held especially true on this trip. If you put your time in and train in Michigan you will develop a formidable skill set that will travel well anywhere in the world. I couldn’t have been more
proud of Kean, Jerome, and Robert with how they handled themselves mentally and opportunistically by using the skills that they have honed on Michigan waters. Dorado are not easy to catch by any means and they will test your moxy as an angler.
Golden Dorado require that you have the physical and mental capacity to remain in the game throughout the day. You need a good understanding of gamefish behavior and how they want to kill their prey. Fishing with big streamer patterns was our normal daily tactic. The flies weren’t huge like some that we fish for muskie, but good sized trout streamer patterns tied on 3/0 hooks. While fishing for Dorado you have to be willing to make a lot of casts and believe in every cast. Most importantly when you get that opportunity you need to have the mental fortitude to strip set, “DO NOT TROUT SET”, when the bite occurs. Be AGGRESSIVE on the strip set and be ready to rumble as these fish are as strong as any fish I have experienced, there were some broken rods on this trip!
It did not take long for Dorado to teach me a very valuable lesson. Having arrived at the Lodge on the banks of the Parana River, the guides gave us some bonus fishing time our first afternoon. Everybody quickly put a rod together, mine being a 9foot 9wt Scott Meridian. I knew we would be stripping streamers so I was rigged with a Scientific Anglers Jungle Titan Clear Tip Fly Line. Our terminal tackle was a 5 foot leader of 40 pound fluorocarbon and the tippet was about 18-24” of AFW 7×7 50 pound wire. This set up could turn over any fly that I was required to throw.
As we set out for the afternoon of bonus time on our 3rd spot we pulled into what is best to describe as a Dorado kill hole, meaning a big piece of structure in the middle of the Parana River. The Parana river is massive system that dwarfs anything we fish here in Michigan, average flows are reading around 150,000 CFS. To put this into perspective the biggest flows I’ve ever guided the Big
Manistee River was around 6000 CFS. Flood stage on the Parana is somewhere in the millions of CFS, this River is beyond big!! So the structure that these Dorado are going to use to ambush prey is going to have to match this trend. On the first afternoon of fishing we pull up next to a rock structure in the middle of the river and you see this big seam kicking off of the rocks and it looks fishy! Lucas, my guide for the afternoon, wants us to throw the fly next to the rocks and slowly strip the weighted deceiver pattern through the fast water along the rocks. Read more
Shortly after the Christmas holidays ten of us took off from the USA and headed to Argentine Patagonia. Our airport destination was San Marin de las Andes. Our ultimate goal was to arrive at Spring Creek Lodge in Junin de los Andes. As a result we would spend the next eight to eleven days pursuing brown, rainbow and brook trout with mostly dry flies. We were there for dry fly fishing in Patagonia.
Our host, Gustavo Heibaum, owner of Andes Drifters assured me when we booked this trip that we would be in the middle of the best part of the season for dry fly fishing in Patagonia. Above all we should experience the fabled dragonfly hatch! Our group consisted of three couples and four single men including my son, Zach and I. The group was mostly comprised of very experienced anglers except one wife. Above all she was coming to both increase her fly fishing abilities and enjoy some non-fishing activities.
The Waters we fished
The location of Spring Creek Lodge near Junin is ideally central to a lot of very well known lakes and rivers in northern Patagonia. Famous rivers abound in the area. The Rio Chimehuin, Malleo, Collen Cura, Alumine and Calefu are all within a reasonable driving distance. Lago Troemen, Lolog and Lacar have great dragonfly hatches and big numbers of very good sized trout. Over the next ten days some or all of us fished most of these waters.
As mentioned earlier, this is dry fly time. Consequently I couldn’t get much response on streamers. The fish were just plain looking up! Broke everyone’s heart…not! When dragonflies were hatching, those imitations were the ticket to success. The number one pattern was Gibson’s Dragonfly an Orvis bug. On the rivers and in the lakes with no hatching dragonflies the usual top dry flies were Fat Alberts in Black, Brown and Pink. The PMX in large sizes 4-8 tied either in a Royal or Peacock bodies produced a lot of fish. After these two the Chubby Chernobyls in a variety of colors was hot. In other words these three flies were the only dries needed 95% of the time.
Dry fly time meant six weight rods were the stick of choice. We had more than average wind many days. This was more than we would normally expect. However even with the wind, most of us stayed with the six weights and fought the accuracy issues. While difficult at times we still managed to catch a lot of trout. The line of choice for most of us was Scientific Anglers Amplitude floating line. It’s a half a line weight heavier than normal. It did a great job fighting the wind and turning over those big flies.
The Calefu and the worm!
We were lucky enough to able to fish the Calefu, it requires a two or three -nights camping trip. It runs almost entirely through private property. The Calefu can only be floated in spring or fall as it drops so low that you can’t get rafts through during the summer months. Firstly, it’s a superb trout stream with lots of pocket water in the beginning half. Secondly, the allure of lots of trout and the natural beauty of the river and it’s surroundings make it one of the best floats in the area. Massive rock out cropings look down on you while you are throwing dry flies to trout up to twenty-two inches long! In other words it’s a little slice of heaven!
In addition to having this water available we were lucky enough to hit the beginning of the worm hatch. Small chartreuse worms congregate on the willow trees along the rivers and devour their leaves. In slower stretches these little worms provide great protein to cruising trout. Plopping a worm in to slow water will usually cause a trout hunting worms to turn and come to the offering. Browns and rainbows of significant size can be had by fly anglers.
This trip was the second time that I’ve had a guest that took advantage of the non-angling opportunities that Gustavo offers. For example our guest rode horses and had a private workshop with a world renowned photographer. She kayaked, hiked, got tango lessons, learned about Argentine cooking, and visited art galleries. Along with that she mastered a fly rod and caught a bunch of trout during their 9 day stay. Argentina isn’t just about fishing!
In conclusion after having spent forty plus weeks chasing trout in Patagonia, this time frame was the very best I’ve seen for the dry fly angler. Andes Drifters has been my choice for at least a half dozen years as the very best outfitter in Northern Patagonia for the discerning angler/ traveler. If you have Patagonia on your bucket list let Hawkins Outfitters and Andes Drifters design a program for your specific wishes and desires. You’ll be happy you did!
Capt. Chuck Hawkins
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
Finally, and the most difficult for me, is hands. Years ago, guiding an elk hunter I got very close to frost bite on
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.
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
Fly Fishing in Grand Traverse Bay
Just recently myself and two of my new guides, Steve Pels and Tim Gibs all had the same day off from the dry fly hunt. We decided to take a break from drift and river boats and go Fly Fishing in Grand Traverse Bay. We were on the hunt for smallmouth bass and carp!
Equipment for Grand Traverse Bay
First I checked the status with a friend that lives at the base of East Grand Traverse Bay. Tom said “no carp yet but smallies in five feet of water and getting close to hitting the beds”. Second get the proper equipment, a 7wt rod loaded with a 250 grain sink tip. I like the Scientific Angler Cold 250 grain. Also, an 8 wt. loaded with a floating line with or without a clear tip. Third a box full of Carp Crayfish Flies, Clousers and buggers in different colors and maybe a Lapdancer or two. Finally, we are ready to go.
Where and When
Mid-June to early July is the easiest and best time to fly fish Grand Traverse Bay. The smallmouth and carp move into the shallows to spawn. They are in skinny enough water that we can get a fly in front of their noses. All up down both side of East and West Grand Traverse Bay and at the tip of the peninsula you can drive or walk looking for both species. Preferred places are parks or turnouts where you can park your car and get out and look.
How to Catch Smallmouth and Carp in Grand Traverse Bay
These fish can be pursued both wading or from a boat. Both have their advantages. Wading you can get closer and the fish will be less spooky. In boat, you can cover more ground to locate fish.
Smallmouth are aggressive eaters and usually take a fly very well. Fish to any structure you see and also hit the spawning beds. The males protecting them will smash your fly.
Carp can be moodier. They don’t have great eye sight so the fly needs to be close, think a paper plate from their nose. Laid up fish need the fly placed in the paper plate and moving fish need to be led enough that the fly will be on the bottom as the fish goes by. Either way when the carp get close enough to see it give the fly a little strip and then let it sit. If the fish looks at it give another strip. Watch the fishes body, they suck the fly in so they will react to it. When something looks different, set!
Fly fishing Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City Michigan is great fun and a good, inexpensive way to experience what flats fishing is all about.
Hawkins Outfitters has a few openings in the next few weeks if you’d like to try the Bay! Contact us via the web or give Cherie a call 231-228-7135.
Captain Chuck Hawkins
Fly Fishing Friendly Salmon
There are five species of Pacific and one Atlantic salmon. The King, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum salmon. The biggest difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon are Pacific salmon are semelparous, meaning they die after they spawn. Atlantic salmon are iteroparous which means they may recover, return to the sea, and repeat the migration and spawning pattern. Spawning takes a huge physiological toll on a salmon, though, and most Atlantic salmon do not survive to spawn a second or third time.
All six of these species offer quality sport for fly anglers but they are not all created equal. Of the six, three are fly fishing friendly salmon. The three best fly rod salmon are the Atlantic, Coho and Pink salmon. I make this statement based on their willingness to take a fly after entering freshwater and the fight that they put up when hooked. Luckily for us Hawkins Outfitters has a venue for all three. All three are truly fly fishing friendly salmon!
The Pine River, near Cadillac, Michigan is a tributary of the Manisttee River. It joins the Manistee in Tippy Pond above Tippy dam. The rive is 53.5 miles long. Dominated by groundwater inflows, it is the coldest, fastest river in Lower Michigan. This groundwater keeps the Pine River temperatures always 69 degrees or colder.
The Pine River, like most northern Michigan Rivers, has been abused and neglected. The Pine River was dammed by an earthen dam in 1918. The dam was quickly rendered useless by the large sand load that built up behind it. Prior to the dam the river was used, to it’s great detriment, to move saw logs down stream. It’s banks were torn up creating huge erosion problems.6px;”>
The dam remained until 1997 when it was slowly removed as part of a negotiation for the relicensing of Tippy Dam by The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Dam removal was completed in 2003. Since removal of the dam the stream channel is forming again, gravel substrate is increasing in quantity and size, and fish populations are spreading in the river. Fish populations, especially brown and rainbow trout have increased by more than 250%. Read more