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11 May 2006
Manistee River fishing report [5-7 May 2006]

Land hoB and I enjoyed a well-deserved, up-north, 4-day fishing trip with about a dozen Flygirls this past weekend. We all stayed with Schmidt's Outfitters in Wellston using their lodging facilities as our group HQ and their guides for driftboat fishing on area rivers on Saturday and Sunday.

B and I got off to a late start tearing ourselves away from home and work on Friday morning. After checking ourselves in at Schmidt's in the late afternoon, we continued on to fish for a couple of hours before dark on the Manistee River below Hodenpyl dam. The Hodenpyl stretch has become one of my favorites. The big, wide water reminds me of western rivers - lots and lots of water and woods with hardly any houses. The rainbow trout in this section are also big and beautiful - descendents of the McCloud River strain of redband rainbow trout transplants many years ago. Hodenpyl is one of the places I look forward to fishing with my spey rod. I took my 7-weight spey out for some exercise on Friday night, but I hooked only one fish and didn't land it. B caught a small rainbow. By the time we got back to the cabins, we'd missed dinner. A couple of slices of pizza from the gas station would have to do.

B, Cliff and the last nice brownSaturday morning, we met our guide, Cliff. He's a fun, interesting and knowledgeable guy - he's currently building a log cabin of logs he felled and peeled this winter. We were happy to enjoy his company and expertise for 2 days. Over breakfast we confered and decided to fish below Tippy Dam for the day. B and I have never floated or waded much in this lower section of the river and fishing reports had been recently very favorable. We put in at Tippy and floated downstream to Sawdust by lunchtime, catching quite a few fish on the way. After lunch, we motored back up to the dam and floated the same stretch again. Even though it was a fairly sunny day, we caught lots of smallish rainbow and brown trout and a few 14-16" trout - all on small white and light colored streamers in the morning. Cliff had us jerk-stripping these streamers on floating lines - counter to our attraction to sinking tips. It took a bit of focus to mentally adapt to his technique. He assessed that trout were keyed in on newly hatched salmon fry, or alvins. In the afternoon, we caught a similar array of fish by twitching a sub-surface, rubber-legged bug called a 'Wet Michigan Skunk' (pictured below) also on floating lines. Neither B nor I had ever used this particular fly before and we were quite amazed at the effect it had on the trout. Every trout, large and small, within 12 feet of the fly would turn to check it out. The wet skunk is a very simple fly that doesn't appear to mimic any natural food source, but it definitely turns heads. My hands were already tired and sore from field work during the week; a long day of twitching a fly rod was taking its toll. I made sure to keep the Advil flowing. Between the two of us, we probably caught 40-50 trout - a very very good day. The big fish of the day - an 18-incher - was caught by Cliff while he demonstrated how he wanted us to twitch the fly immediately as it landed on the surface.

The river was quite a popular place on Saturday; drift boats and jet boats were numerous. One boat even held a film crew. However, many of the other anglers were fellow Flygirls and Cliff slowed down for a friendly chat with a few other guides. We were among a river of friends. And playful bank swallows. Dinner on Saturday night was a predictably large, entertaining Flygirl group affair. Without intense or overly purposeful organization, the group managed to pull together an impressive spread.

The magic Michigan SkunkOur Sunday morning again started out early with a good breakfast at the Wellston Inn. The cloudy, rainy weather promised good fishing. Cliff, B and I decided to float the river below Hodenpyl dam. We put in at the Woodpecker access and floated down to Red Bridge. A noisy Caspian tern entertained us while Cliff slid the boat down the stairs and got us loaded up for the day. We started with light streamers on sinking lines and caught a handful of small trout below the dam. Shortly, however, the clouds cleared away, the sun grew brighter and the fishing turned off completely. We occasionally hooked a couple of fish, but floated long fishless stretches between them. My right hand was really sore - I could barely make a fist or firmly grip my rod - and as a result my casting and fly twitching were not very effective.

In the absence of fish, we were joined by an osprey, an immature 'mud-head' bald eagle, a pileated woodpecker and a common tern. Bank swallows and spotted sandpipers were numerous all along the river. Cliff also decided to fill in the long spaces between fish with a little casting instruction. He tried hard to slow down my forward cast and help me to be more patient. I do think it helped. Some time after lunch, we got into a lengthy discussion about growing up female in a household that did not necessarily encourage girls to embrace fishing or other outdoor sports. Cliff's new baby daughter will grow up learning to fish, to shoot, to garden and to respect nature. She's a very lucky little girl. Just as B and I were expounding on the benefits and ramifications of Title IX and how girls now grow up with different experiences, we were passed by a young dad on a paddling and camping trip with his daughter. She looked to be about 6 years old. Another very lucky little girl. Cliff was unaware of Title IX and how it's impacted our female experiences. We were able to teach him a little something too.

B caught the 2 biggest, and 2 last fish of the day toward the end of our float. First, she brought a nice 14" rainbow to the boat. He had a large chestnut lamprey [Ichthyomyzon castaneus] clamped onto his gill plate. Cliff pinched off the lamprey and released the trout sans baggage. A bit later, B enticed a beautiful, 14-15" Gilchrist strain brown trout to chase her wet skunk at least 20 feet before he nabbed it. We got him to the boat and realized he had 2 chestnut lamprey latched onto his side. Cliff also removed these lamprey and swiftly dispatched them. These two particular trout benefited greatly from our catch-and-release fishing.

We stopped at the gas station for a box of epsom salts on the way back to Schmidt's. I needed to soak my hand if I was to get in another day of fishing. My hand was sore but my mental state was peaceful. The rest of the Flygirls had packed up and were headed home. B and I were glad we had one more day on the river to look forward to.

Fleece quotient: 0 to 1.5
Lost flies: not as many as we'd expect
Wildlife sightings: muskrats, a mink, a 'mudhead' bald eagle, osprey, pileated woodpecker, Common and Caspian Terns, Eastern Kingfishers, 1000s of bank swallows,
Schmidt's lodging accomodations: 5 out of 5 stars
Breakfast at the Wellston Inn: 5 out of 5 stars
Air temperature: 50-65 oF max
Water temperature: 54-56 oF
Injury report: abused hands
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yea!
Enjoyment grade for the trip: A++

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