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22 January 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [22 Jan 2006]

January afternoon on 'Secret Creek'It's been a long 3 weeks since our last fishing outing. While 3 weeks is a long time, we typically don't get out much during the month of January at all - normal Michigan temperatures are a tad cold for outdoor activities that require liquid water. This year though, January has been abnormally warm and extra conducive to winter steelhead and trout fishing - we just haven't taken full advantage. So we felt a bit lucky today to have a chance to head for a small nearby stream that remains open to fishing year-round, has marginal trout populations but has good runs of steelhead and salmon.

Several inches of new, untouched snow blanketed the riverbanks and the surrounding landscape. Our area received about 6 inches of snow in one quick storm on Friday night after several weeks of warm, above freezing temperatures. So this crisp, new, sparkly snow looked a little extra beautiful today. The air temperature was a comfortable 40 oF or so, and we enjoyed a recently-rare, partly-sunny sky. Water levels appeared to be about average for this time of year but the water color was a bit stained.

'Secret Creek' is a small tributary to a large river and it receives pretty heavy fishing pressure during the fall salmon migration for such a small waterway. It's a small, gravel- and boulder-bottomed stream, averaging 20-30 feet across and 1 to 3 feet deep. During the winter, angler traffic is normally almost non-existent. So when we arrived at about 1:30 this afternoon, we were surprised to see 3 fishermen in orange and camo leaving the stream at our chosen access. They had been drifting spawn and reported catching a few trout, but no steelhead.

A very nice 'Secret Creek' brown troutWe squeezed our fleece-clad selves into waders, rigged up our favorite steelhead fly rods and waded upstream. The footpath along the bank had very few footprints - probably just the 3 outgoing fishermen had been on the river since Friday. It's always nice to think you may be fishing to un-harassed fish. We hiked up to the first nice, likely steelhead-holding hole and began drifting yarn eggs and nymphs under a bobber. I started in the hole where B caught a really nice winter steelie a couple of years ago. I'd fished the hole first that day too. I had probably made 50 drifts through the short, narrow hole - hitting all the good seams, or so I thought. B came along and I offered it to her. She took the chance and also wanted to try out my rod. About 10 casts later, she hooked a nice male steelhead. After a short battle, I plunged my arms, and the sleeves of my pullover, into the 33 oF water to land the big fish, and B snapped a photo. She had caught the big steelie in my hole, with my rod, on my fly, and I froze my arms - but I got to hold the fish for the picture. Today, this hole yielded no steelhead, but I did catch a nice, colorful, 12" brown trout. I snapped a quick photo and returned him to the cold water.

January afternoon on 'Secret Creek'We fished our way upstream through 5 or 6 more good steelhead holes. Someone caught a big fish of some kind - probably a steelie - in one of them. I noticed wide drag mark through the snow. If not the 3 guys before us, then someone before them. We managed to catch 3 more trout between us - all browns. We didn't hook any steelies, though we were both quite confident we'd fished over some. As I fished the upstream-most hole before we headed back down, I noticed that my rod guides had begun to freeze up. I was standing in the shade of a high bank and the sun had set behind it. Without direct sunlight, the air temperature had dropped enough to necessitate knocking the ice off my rod every 15 minutes or so.

The day was noticeably longer compared to the last day we spent standing in a river. We fished our way back downstream, drifting through all the same holes and a couple more. It was about 6:00 when we reached our bridge and hiked out and onto the road. We chipped the ice off one last time, packed our rods away and headed home.

Fleece quotient: 1 mid + 1 heavy
Lost flies: 0!
Spills, mishaps, slip-and-fall accidents: 0!
Wildlife sightings: A flock of 15-20 cedar waxwings; downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers; squirrels; a kestrel
Air temperature: 30-40 oF
Water temperature: 34-36 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yep, my little one.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A

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