White River fishing report [10 April 2006]
B and I hooked up with our friend Speytrout for a long-awaited fishing trip to the White River in Oceana County, MI this week. We'd planned this outing months ago to coincide with Speytrout's vacation schedule. We'd hoped to time the spring steelhead run just right and enjoy a day of arm- and smile-tiring steelhead fishing.
We headed out Monday morning on the long drive northwest and arrived to find a couple of driftboat trailers already parked at our access point. The day was bright and sunny and afternoon temperatures were predicted to hit almost 70 oF (21 oC) so we were expecting a comfortable day. The river flow was high, but receding - just the ticket for turning on steelhead - in theory anyway. The water was too high and fast to cross the river, but not impossible to wade. The depth and the tinge of color in the water would help fish feel safely hidden and secure.
Speytrout was already rigged up and waiting for us when we screeched into our parking spot. We jumped into our summer-weight waders, spooled up our long 7- and 8-weight rods and hiked upstream through the woods in search of good-looking spots. The path followed the stream and occasionally led us up along high banks where we could scan the stream below for signs of spawning activity. We saw some, but very few, excavated areas of gravel. We hiked as far as we could go without the luxury of crossing the river, waded in and began casting streamers on heavy sinktip lines toward deeper, darker seams and pools, working our way downstream.
I waded out to a small island, from which I could reach a nice looking seam along the far bank. I casted as close to the bank as possible to a soft little pocket where I thought I saw some fish rising or tailing - not sure which. I mistakenly bounced a cast off the sandy bank and was surprised to startle a pretty good sized, dark-colored snake right into the water. Whoopsie! I hadn't seen him until he dropped from his warm sunny perch. It was probably a blue racer [Coluber constrictor foxi]. He was significantly larger than a little garter snake. A few minutes later I noticed another smaller blue racer flinch in response to a splashy cast close to the bank. I'm glad I didn't scare him into the water too. I covered the whole pool and seam 3 or 4 times with several different streamers, then gave up and waded back to the bank. B and Speytrout had not had any luck yet either.
Black stoneflies were plentiful - falling onto the water from the trees in a gentle flurry. They were slightly distracting - they like to crawl up the body of a wading angler, much like they crawl up the bank foliage out of the water. Their crawly bodies tickle and cling, interrupting casting and concentration on fishing. There were infrequent, but regular, surface rises after them. I also noticed one branch of flowering pussy willow reaching out over the water at one point. The rest of the tree had not yet followed.
We took a break for lunch after a couple hours of absolutely nothing but casting and wading. We hiked the half-mile or so back to the car and were greeted by a small chorus of wood frogs that had started 'quacking' in a little marshy spot near the road. We casually dined on PB&J sandwhiches, cheese, summer sausage, hard-boiled eggs and sunshine. We chit chatted about all things fishing and caught up on a few other life details - it's been awhile since we've fished with Speytout and we had a bit to catch up on. After awhile, we headed back upstream to give the steelhead another chance.
We thoroughly covered several more really good-looking pools, runs and pockets without catching anything. Not even a little trout. It was hard to believe our lack of success - the water and conditions were so theoretically optimal. By mid-afternoon, three or four guide boats had passed us and they didn't report catching much either. Some of them were using spawn and had managed a trout or two, but no one had hooked a steelhead. We continued fishing until our arms and shoulders were no longer capable of heaving the heavy lines. The burn of tired muscles would have vanished in a nanosecond, however, if any of us had hooked a fish. As we hiked back toward the car along the high stream banks, we saw several pair of steelhead hovering over shallow gravel beds. They weren't there earlier in the day. Perhaps the run on the White is just getting started.
For those keeping score, B and I have now landed 0 steelhead since I started writing about it here....
Fleece quotient: 0.5-1 light
Lost flies: 5 or 6
Wildlife sightings: woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, black stoneflies, blue racers, wood frogs
Steelhead score: 0/0, no effin' action whatsoever
Air temperature: almost 70 oF
Water temperature: 48 oF
Injury report: flaming arm, shoulder and back muscles; damaged psyche
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Shoulda, but no.
Enjoyment grade for the day: B-
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