Life Cycle Midwest Steelhead

Life Cycle of a Midwest Steelhead

I was thinking about steelhead this weekend–they are still quite a ways off but it is hard not to think about them from time to time.    Things look optimistic for this fall; the reports from the big lake are pretty good and the fish are abundant and healthy.     Another indicator that we have about steelhead is by looking at the summer steelhead.   I spend most of my time on the Muskegon, and though we don’t have a sustained summer run, we do get stragglers.   This year  stragglers have been big–this is another indicator of health of the steelhead in the lake.

This spring, we had a period of high water, and I spent my time when the river was flooded photographing steelhead that had moved up into tiny springs that were now swollen.    The photos of these fish can be found here.      You think that steelhead are an awesome fish and then you watch them go through water that seems impassable and realize they are even more amazing than you once thought.

Eventually their mission is complete, fry hatches, and the life cycle continues.    Those fish that were hatched in these tiny streams have a better chance of survival.  The water in these small streams  is cold all year.

Thanks for looking and enjoy the rest of the summer!

Kevin Feenstra

 

anchored podcast

April Volley Anchored Podcast – Kevin Feenstra

anchored podcast

Make sure to check out Kevin Feenstra on April Vokey’s Podcast – Anchored.  Kevin Feenstra who is a great friend, an incredible guide on the Muskegon River, and a Mangled Fly Contributor.  Was Interview by April Vokey at his home in November.  April and Kevin discuss Midwest Steelhead, you will enjoy this episode click this link to go to iTunes – or go to April Website and find the episode as well.

migratory fish

Respect for Migratory Fish

Fighting the Current

Each spring, the river floods, and at some point I have a few days off.   It is not that steelhead can’t be caught on those days.     Fly fishing, however, requires that the fish see the fly and if I don’t feel that this minimum requirement can be met, cancellations are the likely  result.     Steelhead are of course a great gamefish.   They are my favorite fish.     I also have a tremendous respect for steelhead and other salmonids as they migrate.     They really do amazing things as they traverse rivers big and small.     When I had some cancellations last week, I visited several small streams and witnessed these marvels of nature working their way up river.

Steelhead take advantage of small creeks when they are flooded.      As soon as this tiny, tiny creek became high enough for travel, up came the fish in droves.

In any creek, steelhead take advantage of breaks in the current.    In fishing terms, these are snags.   Steelhead love structure just like any other fish.     They need the structure for protection in small places but they also need the break in current that these provide.

In this stream,  a series of tiny water falls existed.    I did not see the steelhead leaping over them, but they had definitely been clearing them, most likely at night.

The fact that there was little water in the stream was not an issue to these fish at all.   I saw some fish temporarily stranded as they worked their way through the shallows.

Steelhead are a precious commodity, this year more than ever.   The Great Lakes fisheries are in a period of change, with the decline in baitfish populations and the subsequent increased pressure on other species, such as steelhead.    Now more than ever, they need a little respect.     This means protecting the fish while they are in the rivers, and protecting them on the small scale even as we fish and handle them.    They deserve it!

Kevin Feenstra

 

 

streamer colors

My Favorite Colors from January-May

I have no affiliation with the people who make a certain product, but I have to say that some of their stuff is  brilliant.    The product that I am speaking of is ice dub, and between ice dub and the various colors of flashabou, I could guide every day with little else than thread and hook (though I do like some feathers and fur too:)).        During the months of January-March, I rely very heavily on one color family of ice dub.    The colors are olive, peacock-eye, peacock, and black peacock.     These colors seem to imitate the same things to the fish.     It could be that the sheen on this color scheme is just plain appealing to fish (it is an attractor color).   On the other hand, it could be that many of the bait fish in the river take on a peacockish tint during the winter months.

When I started looking underwater in the winter, I was surprised at just how many creatures had a bluish/green tint in the winter months.    The darter above is just one example of this color scheme in nature during the winter and spring.    Crayfish, scuds, gobies, and other fish also have this peacock overtone to their colors.

Whether it is just naturally attractive, or whether it is due to the colors occurring in nature, or some combination of the two, I am not entirely certain.    At the end of the day, these colors of ice dub just work great for catching predator fish.

Through the first half of the year, flies with this color scheme can be fished in several different ways.    They can be swung on sink tips through flat runs during the winter months for steelhead.      Another option is to fish the soft edges of the stream for resident trout with smaller olive or peacock based flies.     I really enjoy swinging wet flies for trout and this is a great extension of wet fly fishing through the winter months.   Yet another option is to tie weighted sculpins and fish them below an indicator for trout.    Often times a nymph pattern is fished on a dropper between the indicator and the weighted sculpin.

This post mentions the months of January through May.  However, as a guide, these colors are in my box year around, no matter what species I am guiding for.     Give this color family a shot on your local stream.    I am pretty sure that it will work!

Thanks for reading this!

Kevin Feenstra

salmon fry

Fishing Salmon Fry

Each year, in February and March, salmon fry pop out of the gravel and quicky grow to be an inch in length.   They feed on anything, including the remnants of their ancestors.    As this process begins, they become a food source for everything else in our rivers, including all manner of fish, birds, etc.    Steelhead feed heavily on salmon fry, and there are things about these fry that make them vulnerable to a predator like a steelhead.

Often times, water is high in the spring.     When water levels become high, the fry are pushed to the edges of the river.   Any run that holds steelhead near the edge of the river in these conditions will be a great place to look for a steelhead on a fry pattern.

Notice from the picture above the prominence of the eye in the salmon fry.   Your fly must exhibit this trait if it is going to be effective.   This is especially true if you are fishing the fry pattern as a nymph.   The slow nymphing presentation will make the fish picky about whether the fly has this one prominent feature.

Fry patterns can also be morphed into good swung fly patterns.   Because they are prone to be towards the surface of the river,  a small swung fly that is the shape of the fry, but not necessarily the same color, works great throughout the spring.    A small black and copper leech, for example, the size and shape of a fry, is deadly during the spring.       Often times it pays to swing small and colorful flies in the spring.

This is a typical night of tying for me at this time of the year; fry patterns in one form or another are always on the menu.   You can tie the thorax of these patterns any color, but pink always seems to work the best.      Typically, some of the holographic colors of flash work well on sunny days, as they make the fly twinkle in the current.

As the salmon fry head downriver and grow to a larger size, the process is repeated as steelhead and sucker fry emerge later in the spring.   These are on the menu of steelhead, brown trout, and every other predator too.

Thanks for reading this post!   Get out on the river and enjoy spring-like fishing conditions!

Kevin Feenstra

Fragile Things

When I was growing up, my dad loved watching birds.    I remember driving down a dirt road one day and seeing a wild turkey.   At the time, wild turkeys were just being reintroduced and seeing one was an extremely rare occurrence.    My dad screeched the car to a halt and fortunately no one was injured as cars sped bye (and gave obscene gestures).

The same can be said of bald eagles.   When I first started fishing the Muskegon River, it was a very rare occurrence to see a bald eagle on the river.   Now, it is a daily occurrence (this pic was just taken today).     A lot of things have come back and there are great stories in our natural resources about these things.

One thing that is really obvious if you are a guide is how fragile nature is.     Though many things have come back, others become increasingly rare.   In the past 200 years, our rivers have changed drastically.     Some fish, such as grayling and blue pike, are totally extirpated from our state.     We have filled vacancies in our ecosystems with some great fish, such as the steelhead and brown trout.   Other openings are filled with invasive species and our game fish are in a constant struggle to hold their place in the environment.   We have to be careful to protect our great game fish, so that they will always have a prominent place in our rivers and streams.

Kevin Feenstra

winter steelhead

The Dead of Winter and Fishing Tactics

The last week was one of the coldest of this winter.    We didn’t get much snow but it sure was cold!    After a couple of days indoors, I needed to get outside, if only for a little while.    I know most of you can relate to this after being indoors for a while.   I went down to the river to take some photos on a dreary day.

One of the things that I look for is falling water when it is very cold.    Often times, falling water makes really cool ice formations along the banks of our great rivers.

Another great photo opportunity is when there is lake effect snow in the area.    Often the sun will break few for a little while in the afternoon, making for a beautiful array of pastel colors in the dwindling light.

It may sound crazy but winter is one of my favorite times to photograph things underwater.  The reason for this is that the water is extremely clear at normal water level in the winter.   Additionally, most fish and insects move very slowly in the cold water, making them easy to photograph.

I sure was glad when the weather did finally break today, allowing me to hook a few steelhead.    My favorite places to fish in the dead of winter are the inside of bends and behind fallen trees.    Trout and steelhead to a lesser degree congregate in the slower water as it holds oxygen and food sources in the winter.

Last year, we were fishing quite large baitfish patterns as there was a lot of lake run browns in the Muskegon.   Each year is different, and this winter we are fishing smaller patterns in the same types of water.   These smaller patterns catch as many steelhead as last year’s larger flies.   Since the lake runs aren’t as abundant, the smaller swung flies take advantage of the stream trout that are biters.   A slight change in tactics makes for some relaxed fishing, sometimes with many bites in the course of a day.

A lot of times I look for sandy bends that have a bit of deeper, darker water between the lighter colored bottom and the swifter current.    Often times these are productive places for a variety of game fish.

As spring gets closer, there will be a period of excellent fishing in these areas as stone fly nymphs move in close to shore, and king salmon begin to hatch.   You don’t need to necessarily match these hatches below the surface, as the increase in subsurface activity makes the fish search out moving targets.

When you look at rivers every day, you see the subtle changes that occur day to day.    Soon the signs of spring will be apparent.   For now, I am happy to fish whenever the weather breaks.

Enjoy this time of the year!–Kevin Feenstra

February steelhead fishing

February Fly Tying and Fishing Reports

February steelhead fishing

  • Happy February!  For those ski bums out there, better get it in before it’s gone.  Winter is already on the downhill slide.  In the world of unemployed fishing guide (like myself), what February means is only 1 more month until Prime Time starts again.  New fishing reports for the Manistee River and the Muskegon River after a great weekend of weather.  With a good mix of steelhead around on the west side of the state, and new fish starting to already show up for the Spring push, things are looking good.  February has been a long time favorite, with plenty of fish around and less people.  Makes for some good fishing.
  • Fly Tying Event at Muskegon River Fly Shop  , I’ll be tying February 19th and will be focusing on baitfish patterns for Pike / Muskie.   Contact Justin to sign up.  If you can’t make the 19th, check out Drew Rosema on February 5th , Drew will be tying Steelhead Patterns.  Check out Kevin Feenstra on February 26th as well, you will not be disappointed.  Should be a great couple events, if you haven’t stopped by Justin’s shop he has one of the best fly tying selections in northern Michigan.
  • February 12-14th I’ll be in Milwaukee , WI at the Muskie Expo, if you happen to be in the area stop by.  I’ll be hanging out with Brad Petzke of Rivers North, with some new things (that I can’t talk about yet) in the booth.  Plus I’ll have the new muskie shirts available, they just showed up this weekend.  They look great.  Will get them on the web here soon as well.  I’m looking to expand my Muskie calendar, if your interested in a trip contact me.  Going on my 5th year of chasing these amazing predators.  I look forward to learning additional water this year, and piecing together more of the puzzle.
mangled fly

The Icy Cold Rewards

Cold air into cold water

These are a few of my favorite recent photos.   Without a doubt, January is one of the hardest times to fish for steelhead, especially if you are waiting for a pull.    It really is rewarding when you have a chance to land one.   This year it is even more so, as it was a challenging fall.

The Reward of a Very Cold Day

The fish above took a fly after the better part of a day without a bite.    I was very excited to fish on this day as I had a pair of battery powered heated gloves.    The gloves were a $120 failure but near the end of the day, the fish made the time on the water a success!

Until We Meet Again

 

A steelhead is a flash of lightning and a  splash of color in an otherwise dreary day.    This fish viewed its home and went there….See you next year, I hope!!!!

-Kevin Feenstra

fishing sunglass repair

Fishing Sunglass Repair

fishing sunglass repair

These sunglasses are in need of repair. This is not the first time, as you can see if you look carefully…

When you think of destructive forces in nature, you think of various storms and earthquakes, etc.     On a smaller scale, you could argue that a two year old is similar.   Our son Zach is a wonderful source of joy in our lives.   However, he possesses a unique destructive ability, and some pieces of gear have fallen prey to him in recent months.

Most recently, my favorite sunglasses are the victim.        I mistakenly set them down in a reachable spot, and before I knew it, they were vaulting majestically across the room, only to break upon impact on the wood floor.   I find that rather than send things back for repair, I will try to fix them myself if at all possible.    Sending a piece of gear back to the factory takes time, and that time is valuable with useful things like sunglasses.    Also, my experience with sunglasses is that after you send them back, they might not be repairable.     A few weeks down the road, you might hear that they are being sent back to you unfixed.   Thus, Do-It-Yourself repair might be an option.

There is a simple, inexpensive way to fix the broken arm of a sunglass.   Here is a list of things you need to make this happen:

  1.   1″ of heat shrink tube, just larger than the arm of the sunglasses.    This is available in many colors, including clear, though black is the most common.
  2. A heat source; a heat gun is your best option because it usually won’t melt any part of the sunglasses (can’t make any promises, so you are on your own with this).    A small butane torch could also be used, as well as a lighter.  However, these are more likely to cause damage to your glasses (I have most unfortunately learned this the hard way).
  3. Gorilla Tape or other similar product:     This is optional.   You could also use glue to prep the arm.   The shrink tube itself may be sufficient.
Sunglass repair tools

This is all you need for a simple repair of most sunglass arms

Here are the steps to fixing them, in images:

Step one

Step 1: Measure an inch or so of tape

Step 2 sunglass repair

Step 2: Wrap the tape over the broken arm. This by itself would not make the arm strong enough.

Step 3 of repair

Step 3: Using an electric heat gun on its lowest setting, slowly heat the shrink tubing until tight around the end

finished with sunglass repair!

That’s it, you are done!

That’s all there is to it!    It may not look pretty.  However, usually it blends in quite well and no one is looking at your ears.    This is especially true if you are catching fish…

Thanks for looking!

Kevin Feenstra