Muskegon River fishing report [31 October 2005]
B and I took the day off from work and headed north to the Muskegon River on Monday. Yeeha! We were hopeful to find some early steelhead or eager trout that would chase a streamer. I was looking forward to using my big, new-to-me, 14' 9 weight spey rod. It was a birthday present from B earlier this year, but I'd not fished with it yet. This rod is a cannon - I should be able to fling lots of line, with or without sink tips, if I can muster the coordination.
We arrived at a favorite stretch at about 1:30 to find one other car in the parking area. We jumped into our waders and rigged up our rods - B decided to use her 9'6" 7-weight for plenty of streamer-chucking power. The skies were overcast and drizzly-looking, though actual precipitation hadn't begun. We dressed warmly but skipped the rain jackets.
We hiked down to the river and found it to be as expected - low and clear - with lots of chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) bulldozing gravel, protecting redds, and fertilizing the banks. As I waded upstream I passed by gravel slicks with gaggles of 4-7 salmon each and that's only as far as I could see out into the wide river. I had secretly hoped that most of the salmon action was sparse or already over as the thought of hooking into one of these necrotic, overripe beasts and having to fight and land it does not appeal to me. At all. Plus, I'm really not interested in interrupting their last worldly activity - spawning. C'mon, how would you feel? I wondered if I really wanted to swing my fly over any of this stretch. I took some comfort in the knowledge that these salmon have one thing on their minds at this stage of life and it's often difficult to get them to take a fishing lure.
Hoping for the best, I began casting across and swinging downstream, taking a step or two every 2 or 3 casts. I began by casting just a floating mid-head line, then added a sink tip once I felt like I might not hurt myself. Fortunately it didn't take more than 10 or 15 minutes to reach that confidence level. I was able to make a pretty nice 60 or 70' cast every, oh, 20 attempts or so. The bad ones are getting better. I think I started with a black deer hair leech pattern and eventually switched to a white & brown conehead sculpin fly and then to a yellow and to a purple egg-sucking leech. I used some big fluffy marabou spey flies in there somewhere too. B started below me and was fishing upstream somehow. We again managed to coordinate fly color choices, but this time we never reached a particularly effective conclusion. We leap-frogged each other and fished up and down this short 250-300 yard-long stretch all afternoon. Most of the time we were within shouting distance.
Hatching insects were somewhat prolific during the afternoon. A few BWOs swept through along with the occasional caddis and even a straggling white fly. A handful of surface smacks convinced B to switch to BWO imitations. She caught a few pretty browns and rainbows on emerging and wet flies. I had one brief hookup on a streamer early on, but it didn't last beyond 4 or 5 head shakes. At one point, B watched a group of nice sized trout snarfing down salmon eggs behind a group of redds. If we were in the mood to drift eggs under an indicator, we might have caught more fish. Or maybe not.
Fishing in these circumstances, among spawning and dying salmon, requires steady nerves. A spawning or fighting salmon will jump clear of the surface occasionally crashing down in a big splash. They're big animals, weighing up to 40 pounds, so the splashes can sometimes be startling when they're suddenly close by. These big salmon are functioning in, what I assume has to be sort of a 'seriously hungover' state of pre-death. They'll cruise right up to your legs and suddenly realize you're not a stump or a stone and charge off with a big splash or wake. Or they'll rip past your legs out of nowhere. You catch them in your peripheral vision in the split second before they zing past your ankles. Once in a while, a seemingly dead one along the bank will come to life and splash or zip away out into the depths. Flyfishing is darn good cardiac exercise in more ways than one.
We ended our fishing day a about 5:30 pm. My shoulder was beginning to feel sore, B's leaky foot was feeling cold and it was beginning to rain. The rain increased to a steady shower as we drove home. Maybe that'll bring a few steelhead upstream and flush out some of these smelly kings.
B's catch to mine, approximate ratio: 5:0
Wildlife sightings: pretty scant - a kingfisher, a sharp-shinned hawk, a few herring gulls, some forest floor rodentia
Culinary selections: McDonald's burgers and cheesy popcorn
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yeah!
Enjoyment grade for the day: A
UPDATE: I must rectify a glaring omission: the wet fly B successfully used was her new spider-based invention. Whoops....
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