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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

 

 

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

Summer Fly Fishing in Northern Michigan

Summer Fly Fishing in Northern Michigan

Summer Fly Fishing in Northern Michigan

Summer Fly Fishing in Northern Michigan

In Northern Michigan, the larger mayfly  hatches are done around July fourth. That begins one of our favorite pastimes, summer fly fishing in Northern Michigan. Many anglers put away their rods when the Hex hatch is over thinking that the best fly fishing of the year is behind us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Summer fly fishing in Northern Michigan can produce many surprises!

Summer fly fishing in Michigan can be broken down into three categories, terrestrials, mousing, and warm water species. These three pursuits are all very different, consequently they attract anglers with different desires and skill levels.

Terrestrials

 

First of all, let’s talk terrestrial fishing, hoppers, beetles and ants! Because we fish primarily foam imitations of these insects it is some of the most aggressive dry fly fishing we do. Forget the classic dead drift! We animate these flies, make them move. We twitch, bump, pop and strip these critters to attract Summer Fly Fishing in Northern Michiganattention to their presence. Due to the proximity to Traverse City we fish the Upper Manistee River mostly in and around the flies only water. In addition, we will fish the Pine River, the Lower Manistee and the Boardman Rivers with terrestrials also.

Read more

Sulphur Dun

Sulphur Hatch

Sulphur Hatch

Sulphur Hatch

Many anglers that I know in Northern Michigan consider the Sulphur hatch to be the very best hatch of the year. It is a fairly long and usually very prolific hatch. It can last as long as a month in northern Michigan. Due to the usually large numbers of bugs, Sulphurs will produce some very large fish for the size of the dry fly.

There are two Sulphurs, the Ephemerella  invaria and the dorothea. The first to hatch the invaria is a size 12-14 and the next bug, dorothea is a size 16-18. Don’t worry, that’s the last of the Latin!

What you really need to know about sulphurs follows. It is good to carry Sulphurs from size 12 to 18. I’m a big fan of the Robert’s Yellow Drake pattern and use it primarily for my sulphur imitation. I carry it in all four sizes. Hatch times vary by bug and weather Sulphur Dunbut look for them anytime from mid afternoon until dark for the little guys. Fish can get very selective on these flies. At times you may encounter duns of one size hatching and spinners of another size falling at the same time. They can also get focused on emergers of any size. Close observation is key here.

Speaking of spinners, they are a different color than the duns. Instead of the sulphur yellow they spin having changed to a tannish to rusty color. So again you need to have three or four sizes of rusty spinners. Sulphurs will spin over riffles very late in the day, even at dark.

To effectively fish the Sulphur hatch a fly angler should have emergers, duns and spinners in at least two sizes, 14 and 18. It is better to carry them in all four sizes, 12-18 if possible. You should be on the water by 3:00 pm and stay until close to dark.  You need to be very observant because this time of year is generally the most complex time of year hatch wise. In addition to all of the sulphurs there are many other mayflies that may be present.

Good luck, see you on the water.

Hawk