10. Research pays off.
I know I drive my wife nuts because I am always looking at maps, or reading about how to read the water, or pretty much anything that has to do with fly fishing. But this research seems to intensify prior to trips because I feel fly fishing is like going to school. I think it is because I feel I have to prepare for the water to be successful. When you actually get out onto the water, what you learned may not even apply, but it gives you a basis of where to start. When I was in school I had to study.
9. Maps don’t always help.
As we were looking for a place to fish on the AuSable North Branch, my map did not help at all. The next time I go, I am going to try and make notes about landmarks near access points. That way I have something to go by rather then a street name or an unmarked two-track.
8. Guide books really help.
The local Challenge Chapter of Trout Unlimited puts out detailed river guide books for Michigan rivers. They are worth every penny. Even some of the more generic books I’ve bought at least give access points on the rivers. Like my number 7 says, maps don’t always help.
7. The Biting Midge – aka The Most Annoying bug ever
I’m sure there is probably a more annoying bug somewhere, but I had never even heard of these things until this trip. As I stood on the banks of the Au Sable trying to get my line through the eye of a fly hook, my hands starting itching. Then my brain connected, and the itching was actually painful. I looked at my hands and there were about 5 to 6 black dots on each hand. They were causing the pain. I looked closely and squished one, and I could see a tiny speck of blood. These were tiny little black flies, and they were biting me. You can read more about them here.
6. Let the water rest.
As my father-in-law and I fished near one of the drive-in access points, a group of 4 fisherman waded down the river, somewhat around our water. I was a little mad because I knew they scared the fish away, but they were polite and tried to pass as quickly as possible.
All the fish that had been rising were now gone. So, I kept working the same hole anways. My father-in-law took a break, and about 10 to 15 minutes later a fish came up to slurp a bug off the surface. A few minutes later… another one, and then another one. I turned around and casted towards the spot where the fish had come up, and caught a nice sized brown. I learned you have to let the water rest.
5. Read warning signs, but more importantly – think about them.
I had been wet wading up to my shins, and didn’t really want to get my clothes wet. There was a sign that said “WARNING: SOFT BOTTOM.” I figured I shouldn’t wade out too far, because based on this sign it was probably mucky. As I was casting, I snagged some weeds on the side of the bank. It was just out my reach, and without even thinking I stepped off the boat launch and into about three inches of water. I about flipped over as the lake bed gave way, and I was knee deep in muck. I should have thought about that sign a bit more. I’ve never seen a sign that said this before, but I should have intepreted it as: “WARNING: ANYWHERE YOU STEP IN THE LAKE COULD BE DANGEROUS BECAUSE THE LAKE HAS A SOFT BOTTOM… EVERYWHERE, EVEN RIGHT OFF THE SHORELINE.”
4. Hot sunny days are not the best time to catch fish.
Other than brookies, it seems like the trout I’ve seen rarely feed during the day. When I was at the Fly Factory in Grayling, the owner gave this piece of advice: “As soon as the first bird starts chirping in the morning, you should be on the water.” When I am on a fishing trip I should change my habits. So, instead of eating breakfast I should be fishing. Instead of eating dinner, I should be fishing. Instead of sleeping, I should be fishing. During the day when it is hot, I should relax along the river and maybe get a nap in then. Or, maybe go eat at a nice air conditioned restaurant.
3. A two-mile hike really makes you appreciate anything you catch.
When I fished a nice tributary of the Au Sable, I had to hike a little over two miles to get there. I am typically not the hiking type of person, but I really enjoyed it. Even better was how much I appreciated the bugs I saw hatching off the water. And even more so yet, I appreciated the brookie I caught. Access close to the road is nice, but when you have to really work to get that one spot… it is even better.
2. Soft-hackled wet flies work really good.
Here is the picture of my soft-hackled wet fly doing the trick:
The reason I bought this fly is because of the most important thing I learned on this trip, which is…
1. Listen to the local fly shop’s advice.
I don’t like to ask for help – it is a problem I have. I think maybe because it shows weakness. Along those lines, I’ve always been worried that some fly shops figure out that I am a newbie, and then feed me the most expensive stuff they can. I also feel bad because when I walk into a fly shop, I can’t buy half the stuff in there because it is out of my price range.
So, I usually plan on buying a handful of flies (which add up pretty quick), and my question to the shop is usually: “Can you recommend some flies for me to use?” If it is a good shop owner/worker, they’ll not only tell me what type of flies, but how to fish them, and if I am really lucky – where to fish them. If they don’t tell me the where part, I will usually ask a second question, something like “Is there any where I should not fish?” because many times there will be places to avoid because of rain, construction, or canoes. If I get an asnwer, then this will narrow my search down at least a little bit.
Local shops know the water, and really don’t have a reason to lead you too much astray. However, I am still suspicious that they don’t tell you exactly what you need to know, and reserve this information for the people paying to go on a guided trip. But then again, I’m also paranoid. If it wasn’t for Gates Lodge, I would not have caught any trout on the river.