Pere Marquette fishing report [27-28 Dec 2005]
B and I were lucky enough to enjoy 2 full days of steelhead fishing on the Pere Marquette River this week. We spent Monday with her family enjoying Christmas festivities, then Tuesday and Wednesday in the river. B's parents were kind enough to provide lodging and to take care of Dylan during those 2 days so we didn't have to feel guilty about leaving him alone at home. Dylan had a great time with their springer spaniel and I think he couldn't have cared less about our absence.
Last week, the weather forecast caused doubt that it'd be warm enough for fishing. But fortunately, the forecast changed as the target days neared and the weather eventually warmed up to make wading and fishing quite comfortable. We've enjoyed several consecutive days with high temps of 35-40 oF. The heat wave has melted most of the 12-18" of snow we've been shoveling around for the past few weeks. As a result, river levels have come up a bit and have been fairly cold from the 32-35o water trickling in. 35o fish are not particularly active but are certainly not completely inactive either. The weather was cloudy, overcast and occasionally rainy and we figured we'd have an excellent chance of catching some steelhead or at least a few trout.
Our plan was to fish on Tuesday by ourselves and on Wednesday, we hoped to join a couple of our favorite Flygirls, Jen and Mandy, for a more social day on the river. Sadly, Jen and Mandy couldn't make it (damn flu!) so we fished both days as just a tandem. We like the flys-only stretch of the PM and fished within this stretch both days.
Tuesday started badly and stayed that way until late afternoon. We waded well upstream from our access point to fish a large deep run where B has caught a steelie or two in the past. I hadn't fished for 20 minutes before I caught my hook on an underwater snag and had to break it off to free it. Now, this happens all the time during winter steelhead fishing. Cold steelhead lay on the river bottom and spend energy only when necessary. So to tempt them with a fly or other bait, it's necessary to drift them deeply, through all the submerged branches, rocks and potential snags. Most experienced steelheaders agree that "if you're not losing a few flies, you're not deep enough." So, it's not a big deal to have to break off your fly in order to continue fishing. We try to tie leaders and flies to make sure that the line will break at the fly or just a few inches above it and leave very little monofilament flapping in the stream. This time, however, my line broke at the wrong end - the loop attached to the fly line broke leaving me just a stump of floating fly line with nothing to re-tie or to attach another leader. Damn it! My fly, tippet, leader, swivel and float were left on the stupid branch that snagged me. Dang it! I did not have the necessary materials with me to repair this and it would not be a good on-stream tie-job for me anyway. B had another reel and line that I could use, I just had to wade and hike back to the car to get it. So off I went - I hiked to the car and back and worked up a pretty good sweat inside my neoprene waders and fleece in the process. But, at least I could continue with B's reel. Back at the stream, I re-rigged and got back to fishing - complaining the whole time because B's line doesn't cast like mine, yada yada. Neither of us had hooked or caught anything yet and I was now a giant crab.
A few minutes later, while we were still fishing this particular hole, I could hear B just upstream around the bend, chatting with the occupants of an approaching drift boat. Then, GUSPLASH! "Whoa, are you OK?" asked one of the men in the driftboat. "Yea." and a small laugh from B. I headed upstream. The splash had sounded kinda big. Like more than just a little misstep. Sure enough, she was wringing a lot of water out of one looong arm of her outermost fleece pullover. Her entire left side was drenched. "Are you OK? Did you fill up your waders?" I asked, afraid of her answer. "Yea, I'm OK. No, I don't think I got any in my waders. Well, not too much anyway." she hoped. She had apparently stepped off the bank into a silty, schlucky river edge and it was a lot deeper than she thought it'd be. She lost her balance and tipped over sideways into the 2' deep water. I tried to help her remove her wet fleece pullovers and gloves, wring them out and get them back on quickly. "Do you want to change into some dry clothes?" "Nah, I don't think I need to. I think this'll be alright." "OK, but I've got more dry fleece in the car." We hoped the her fleece would be warm enough even though it was wet. This often works in warmer weather, but neither of us had never done this in 35 degrees before. "I can't believe those 3 guys didn't laugh their asses off at me. Huh." she said. Now, we were 2 giant crabs. Before 20 minutes had passed, B changed her mind. Her long underwear shirt was wet enough that it was making her feel cold. So we waded, crossed and hiked back to the car where we stripped her down to nothing and then layered on dry and not-too-wet fleece until she felt better.
Putting her hat back on, she discovered that her favorite polarized sunglasses were broken. Snapped in two. "Damn it!" She dug out her backup glasses, we took a deep breath and headed back to the river. We didn't wade all the way back to where we started, but instead headed for a very long, fairly deep run that flows past a series of 2 or 3 downed pine trees and partially submerged stumps. It was probably 2 or 3 pm by this point. I'd briefly hooked a steelie by the tail in here before and B had hooked a great big one last year that behaved like a big fishy rocket and broke her off on an underwater obstacle.
Here our luck changed a little, a very little, bit. After drifting eggs and nymphs down this long stretch a couple of times - I'd made probably 60 casts - I returned to the top to fish it again. Am I drifting deep enough? Too deep? Not hitting just the right lane? Don't forget to fish the near side... My bobber floated and dipped as the split shot ticked along the high points of the river bottom waving the unweighted egg just off the bottom. Partway through, my bobber dipped and I lifted. Hmmm, something heavy, a stick maybe. A fish? Hmmm, I could move it a little to the side and toward me, but it would not come up at all. Oooh, defintely not a stick. A bit more pressure... and the hook came out of the water flying through the air toward me. Dang it! It was a fish. A big trout or a steelhead. I think I had a tough winter steelie that didn't even know he was hooked yet and I'd lost him. Disappointing, but an improvement nonetheless. I hollered to B just downstream at the next hole, then waded down to join her.
B had tied on a small olive wooly bugger and was drifting it through the tail end of a shallower, but sheltered hole. She caught 2 pretty little rainbows just after I started fishing the the top of the hole with her. The first was a nice 12" specimen with a narrow, bright pink stripe from his gill plate all the way to his tail. (My camera was too cold to snap a photo or you'd have a picture to go along with this description.) Right away, she caught another in the same spot. The second trout was a bit smaller.
Over the course of the day, we'd chatted briefly with 3 guide boats floating past and with a few wading anglers. The first gentleman said he'd caught a steelhead, but the others reported catching no more than a trout or two. I guess we fared about average. We quit fishing at about 5:00 PM and headed into Baldwin for a warm dinner at Deb's Sportsman's Lounge. A cup of hot coffee and B finally felt warm again.
On Wednesday, we got an earlier start and returned to the same flies-only stretch of the PM. The day was again very overcast and hazy and we endured the occasional misty rain. Air temperature was similar but the water was a bit warmer - as high as 40 oF. We fished the same holes we'd drifted on Tuesday, plus a few more. There was a bit more angler traffic to compete with and we were passed by another 3 or 4 driftboats. All anglers reported dismal results. No more than a trout or two caught by the lot. We caught nothing all day, but no one fell in, no one broke anything and no one was injured. On our way back to the car, we spotted a pileated woodpecker posing in the top of a tree on the opposite bank for a lengthy inspection.
Fleece quotient: 2 heavy + a rain jacket
Lost flies: next question...
Wildlife sightings: lots of red-tailed hawks, an eastern kingfisher, lots of tufted titmice and chickadees, a brown creeper and 2 pileated woodpeckers
River flow rate: 850+ ft3/s
Water temperature: 33-40 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Not really, but 11'3" is almost a spey...
Enjoyment grade for the day: A
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