Using Ice to Learn more about Trout

Russ Maddin showing me the way on the ice

So January and February are for the most part a michigan fishing guides off season.  Besides breaking down the rivers and learning new spots for the up coming spring run, or tying a couple hundred more flies.  I’ll try to venture out on the ice a few times a season on the vast amount of inland lakes.  Living in northern michigan, more lakes than I previously thought are stocked with trout.  I have to be honest, I am way more adept at reading a river than I am a lake.  But with the use of a couple maps and a Vexliar  getting my bearings on the breaks and drop-offs is not that hard.  Also with the added benefits of having a good friend and ice fishing master in Russ Maddin showing you a couple hot spots helps too.
The key reason for venturing out on the ice this time of year is to have those bearings for when the ice out occurs.  As you can argue my next point all you want, but it’s the honest truth.  If you are a big trout chaser, the biggest brown, rainbow, or laker trout are going to come from a lake.  This light-bulb was turned on after reading Bernie Taylor’s book 5 years ago.  Example is the world record brown trout caught a few years ago from the Manistee River.  This was not a river trout, it was a lake-run brown that ventured up the river.  Big trout meaning trout over 10 pounds, get big in a lake not a river.   Trout that live in a lake can eat and be lazy, while a river trout has to keep battling current.
With so many inland lakes being stocked with trout (browns, rainbows, and lake trout) the fly angler has a great opportunity to target these trout in the spring after ice out.  All three species are going to be looking for that warmer water in the spring, and most days this warmer water is shallow.  Perfect for the fly angler! Thermal warming from the sun brings the bait-fish shallow, and if you can find the bait-fish you will find the predator’s that hunt them.
Now how I use the ice, is when you can’t find these trout shallow, you have to know where to find them when they go deep.  Just like in a river their are certain hunting grounds that hold fish.  Being able to find these hunting grounds with a foot of ice underneath you will give you a head start for the upcoming spring melt.  Michigan anglers have so many opportunities, getting out and finding them is the fun part.

Inland lake brown caught on a smelt pattern

Michigan Bald Eagles

 Fishing today on the Manistee River was highlighted by one of my favorite birds the Bald Eagle.  We had the opportunity to witness a handful of different eagles fly around, over, and perch next to us as we floated down the Manistee River.  While winter steelhead fishing is most likely the most overlooked time of year for anglers to hit the river, as you have read before is one of my favorite times of year to fish!

 As I have mentioned in previous blog posts winter fishing has a special place in my heart. The wildlife runs abundant, most likely because their are less anglers present.  But also because the river gives life.  Deer use the river as their primary source for drinking water, as it’s one of the only places to find unfrozen water. Ducks, geese, and swans need open water to feed and to hide from predators.  But predators or scavengers hunt the river banks looking for an easy meal, as winter is not for the weak.
Now with all this wildlife using this corridor in a mixture of ways, when floating down the river you have an opportunity to see nature in it’s true setting.
I can’t say every-time I venture out in the winter I see wildlife like today.  But the days I don’t see this, it has my attention.  I then start to wonder what is going on. What has mother natures attention?  Is their a storm on the way, what does Barometric pressure do to wildlife?  Then the correlation between mother natures wildlife and my steelhead starts to take shape.  Now this is unproven but it’s amazing to watch how it’s all related.  Put it simply, when birds, deer, turkeys, and eagles are moving so are the fish!

If you love wildlife and you love a little steelhead along the way, nothing beats winter fishing.  Still plenty of weeks left before the crowds start to show.  Feel free to contact me via email at jray@hawkinsflyfishing.com for open dates.

P.S.  We found a nice batch of steelhead today as well, but the eagles still made the day!

HD Pro Underwater Camera

Have some things on the radar that I’m pretty excited about, don’t want to spoil the surprise but deals with the world of underwater.  I shot this little underwater video above, about a month ago, that honestly took about 5 seconds to do. I came home from this little test shoot and started to think that if I put some serious time into setup what else could one do????  The HD Pro is a cool little toy and the quality that you get from the camera for the size is pretty amazing.  Also take a second and check out HD Pro’s youtube page to watch some crazy skiers and snowboard’s do what they do best.
Since I spend most of my time above the water, I can’t wait to see what I learn when I take the HD Pro below the surface.  HD Pro has dozens of mounts that you can use so getting some unique shots and angles, this going to be fun.  Check back in a few months to hopefully see some new videos. I’ll try to keep you posted on the events with some small clips.

I shot the small video above for a steelhead sculpin pattern that I have used for a couple years.  There is a step by step page at the Hawkins site, here is the link for the DV Steelhead Sculpin
Tight Lines,
Jon Ray

Not a fan of Flash

For the most part working outside during the day I can use natural light. I am not a fan of flash photography. But there comes a time and a place for flash. Flash can be a creative tool. Example of this are two pictures from above, both taken about 10 seconds apart. Dave S. joined me for a day of steelhead fishing, and if you steelhead fish you know early morning can be good. Well we started at 8am this past week, still a low light situation. As luck would have it on our second or third cast of the day, a playful 5-6 pound hen was twisting, turning, jumping, and running through the run we were fishing. Dave made quick work and the fish was in the net.

Now comes the fun part of photography. How to take a picture with little to no light, and not have a blurry photo. Blurry photo because my shutter speed has to be longer with limited light, and since I shoot freehand when guiding, not much time to set up a tripod. The bottom picture I had to get my ISO up to 1600 to get any-sort of picture, but quickly taking the pic and looking into the LCD I was not happy. My natural light limited and my ISO was really not high enough, but was max out on the camera. I just was not pulling out the chrome nature of the fish. While I only currently have a pop up flash on my Canon 40d, (currently saving my pennies for the Canon Speedlite 580ex II) I switched to ISO 400 and shot a quick pic with the pop flash. Much better.
While I still like using natural light as much as possible, I also want to get better at the art of flash photography. Hope to show more examples of this in future posts. I recently took a class in TC at the college, about using flash. Can’t wait to get the Speedlite, pretty amazing how the two (camera body and external flash) work together understanding ISO and shutter speed. Gotta love technology.

Always Interesting on the Manistee River

What is always interesting about fishing, is for the most part you never know what your going to catch. I try my best to keep everybody on their toes when we are our there casting. As you never know what cast will result in a fish of a lifetime or just something different. Well yesterday we had an encounter with Esox Lucius other wise known as the “northern pike”. While the big ones of the Manistee (over 40+”) I do not see very often and my couple quick encounters always seem to get off, this 30″ specimen was hooked about as perfect as one can with such a toothy creature.

Honestly if one was going to target big Esox the next couple months are about prime, from now until there spring spawn. As the big northern pike will use river mouths and warm water discharges from the many harbors and ports along the michigan coast for their winter hunting grounds. While I personally don’t find them as the strongest fighters, there aggressive nature makes them a great target on the fly. And anything that decides that my flies are good enough food items to eat is always cool with me!

Winter Trout Fishing Video

Last winter I had the opportunity to fish with Ed McCoy for a couple hours just below Tippy Dam. Winter time trout fishing is pretty much over looked here in Michigan but honestly it can be pretty easy, as trout are schooled up and eager for any sort of properly presented meal. Enjoy the video.

Double Headers and Streamers, you never forget

There are certain moments on the river that I never forget. Now yes it is part of my job to remember where I catch fish, but certain moments are burned deep into the memory banks. Certain fish you never forget. You hold onto these memories to share with other anglers and to relive each and every time you fish that particular area.

Now each steelhead to me is a special steelhead, but also with certain moments or places certain steelhead are different or “more special” as well. A steelhead that will travel an unknown amount of distance to engulf a streamer is a “special” steelhead. You remember the places where you catch these “special” fish. You look at these runs different, you remember the 100’s of cast that it took to give you the pull you where looking for. You remember the the numerous fly changes that it took to bring that steelhead to hand. You never forget the fish that eat’s your streamer!
As I said before each steelhead is a special steelhead, but another memory that is hard to forget is when the stars are alined perfect and you find yourself with a double header. You want to talk about having your hands full of chrome, these memories are for sure special. One anglers will talk about for years. “Remember that time” kind of stories, when we had that double and this one went that way, and that one went this way. Steelhead truly never make it easy, but I love the memories that they bring!

Fall Steelhead and Beckman Nets

Sorry for the lack of postings, been working hard on the river and having a hard time finding some unique shots as hot chrome as been making us look funny at times. But had the chance to hold onto one of the beauties today for a little longer. This 8-9 pound buck gave us all we could handle today. But then once we put him in my new Beckman Net , he calmed down and let me get close and personal. I hope to get some more time on the lens as I have streamer trips coming up and will hope to capture a little spey casting.

River and early signs are all looking good for steelhead!

Fall Steelhead with Fall Colors

Fall Colors and Fall Steelhead are headed towards peak!
Simply put my favorite time of year. I love the hunt for chrome!

Brook Trout Fall Colors

Amazing colors from a brook trout from the Upper Manistee River, late summer and early fall are some of the best times of year for fishing and for photography. This brook trout was on full display. I can’t wait for the coming weeks as news of a couple steelhead are around, and fall browns start to show off their yellows.