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

 

Under Water Steelhead – Pic of the Day

Kevin Feenstra shares his image of Drew Rosema holding a beautiful Great Lakes Steelhead.

 

Scott fly rods

Radian Review

Steel and Radian Spey

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a gear head. I have enjoyed being a member of Scott’s pro staff for more than a decade but will always give you an honest opinion about any given model of Scott rod if you ask. They have made many models of fly rod, and I have owned a lot of them. Many of them–but not all–have been rods that I like. Furthermore, as a guide, I have had the ability to cast a lot of different rods by other manufacturers. This is due to the fact that clients are always bringing their own rods into the boat. In this day and age, it is more difficult to find a truly bad rod. It is even more difficult to find a truly great rod that sets itself apart from all the other choices. To me, a rod has a couple of hoops to jump through to be a truly great rod. The two questions I ask myself are:

1) Is the rod versatile or is it limited in function?–This question is something that each person needs to ask when they purchase a rod. Some rods are great for dry flies, some are great for streamers, etc. Very few can do it all.

2) The second questions that I ask about a rod is something that is more apparent to a fishing guide. That question is “Is this rod durable?”. If you use a rod or reel a reasonable amount during the course of the year, and pack it and dry it after each use, you are not likely to test the limits of durability of your stick. As a guide, rods see constant use and exposure to the elements. It is blatantly obvious over time which rods are consumer grade and which are really meant to last.

There is a rod that has hit the market over last couple of years, the Scott Radian. I am happy to write this brief review that confirms that the Radian is indeed a great rod. It is more than adequate at most tasks, in fact, it is downright awesome at many of them. Furthermore, it is an extremely durable rod. Because of its versatility and its durability,I strongly recommend this rod to anyone looking for a new fly rod for fishing in Midwest waters.

I can’t recommend ever putting your fingers this close to a musky!

Here is a breakdown of the Radians that I have used extensively and a little breakdown on the performance of the rods.

Radian 908/4: This is a great heavy duty freshwater rod. It pairs with 200-300 grain sink tips, and can cast large flies better than many 9 weight rods. It is a good steelhead rod but is also a really nice smallmouth rod. When over lined, it becomes a popper fishing machine. Recently, I took this rod musky fishing alongside of 9 and 10 weight rods. I found that I put the heavier rods away and just fished this one. It was capable of casting the large flies and putting the wood to large toothy ones. I dream of the day that Scott builds the Radian in a 9 weight, but for now this is a great alternative.

Radian 907/4: This is a great streamer/smallmouth rod. As a seven weight, it is more of a niche rod for freshwater use. It is at its best with a floating line for smallmouth fishing or a 200 grain sink tip for below surface work. A good smallmouth rod needs to be able to cast a tight loop, so that flies don’t catch overhanging trees while fishing from the boat. This rod fits the bill.

Radian 906/4: Hey, I am not in the retail business, and wouldn’t typically say this. However, the 906 Radian is one of the finest all purpose freshwater rods for a Michigan angler. I own a few of these; they are my bread and butter guide rod. They are also the rod that can do just about anything you could ask while fishing for trout and smallmouth bass. This rod can cast a dry fly delicately. It has a very satisfying feel when it loads and is equally at home with a sink tip and short leader. It also roll casts nymphs and weight with ease. I don’t think it would have a problem with light duty steelhead fishing for that matter.

When I go out and fish on my own, the 906 is the rod that I always grab. The Little Muskegon River runs behind my house; it is a fair trout stream and a good place to catch smallmouth. Often times I will work my way upstream casting dry flies for trout in the riffles, only to turn around and fish heavy crayfish patterns on the way down for smallmouth. This rod handles both of these tasks easily and enjoyably. It is available with or without a fighting butt, which is a nice option to have. I always use the model with the butt attached, but you may prefer the other option.

Radian Spey 1308/4: I received this rod a few weeks ago. Aesthetically, it is a cool looking rod with orange wraps and an unsnapped blank. When I first put it together, I was a little bit concerned because it is a pretty stiff blank. I have had several shooting head rods with apparently similar action, and really didn’t like them. All this skepticism was put to rest upon the first cast of the rod. It has a great, muscular feel and casted an intermediate skagit line and a scandi head with equal ease.

OK, so these rods are great fishing rods, and they have a great deal of versatility. But how well do they hold up? I can’t guarantee this, but I am pretty sure that they know my name at the Repair Department of Scott Fly Rods. There have been years that I have sent back 15 or more broken rods in a single year. Guiding in the Midwest is inherently hard on equipment. This is especially true when you make your living casting flies with lead eyes through much of the year. Since receiving several of the Radians, not a single one has broken in over a year of heavy use (this is the main reason for this favorable review). They are heavily reinforced as is apparent on the blank. This includes fishing in all sorts of heavy and extreme weather, and being pelted by weighted eyesand split shot. I watched helplessly as a Radian was crushed by the weight of a robust angler. Somehow, the rod survived.

Due to their great performance and durability, I can recommend the Scott Radian line of rods to any Midwest angler. The 6 weight is a star and if you are looking for a fantastic, premium, all around rod, this is the best option I have seen. The other models, including the spey, are equally impressive. The versatility and the durability of the Scott Radians makes them an extraordinary series of fly rod.

Kevin Feenstra