The Pere Marquette River Fly Fishing Report

All thankful and well here in the north woods of Michigan, and the fishing has since rebounded from some challenging conditions this past November when the water ginned to a point where the steelhead could hear a pin drop in your boat their guards were up so much… But at least we had some this year when such conditions take hold thanks to all that water in September and early October that drew up early numbers of fish.  Though fishing was tougher than most Novembers, October, and even later September were a gift when it comes to early fall steelhead and trout fishing with frequency, at least while that water was good and tannic.  Larger browns feeding on eggs and streamers kept the game alive even when the steelhead bite was in and out… Steelhead on the strip were common early on, then we had to work for it before I started adding some egg agendas daily which kept the rods bent and the confidence higher, which lasted till the first couple of weeks of November before we got some more moisture and finally brought some newer fish to the table, which we had some good, good fun with.  December so far has been the best steelhead fishing so far, however, weather has us slowing a bit allowing me to write a report, but I can’t imagine a more average to above average year to recommend the trip north in the white of it all.  Fish are running bigger this year, and we have gotten a couple of them, but we have lost some dandies as penance for fishing so close to the source… But it was sure fun watching you folks try.  Such years make us better anglers!

Challenges do make us better anglers, as we need to adjust in adverse conditions to the ever-changing fly-fishing approach.  This fall has been one of those seasons where timing is partial, technique allows possibility, conditions set the pace, and the sunshine is evil whenever present; this especially when applied to streamer applications with single handed rods when seeing your presentation is a must.  Fishing pressure has been present, or at least was more so before the gun opener when many cleared out to fill up the freezer with tree cattle.  Indicator fishing has been strong lately with clear water keeping them weary, but we are still finding a few on the strip and even swing as well.  Limited swing attempts so far this fall for my boat, but for any interested in the approach, it’s a lower technique style of angling then say the constant machine gun firing of a stripped fly or constant mending and adjustments needed for a good dead drift.  Trout fishing surprisingly, (and likely thanks to the above average water temps), had been improving greatly as we came into December, where just a couple weeks ago we were struggling with the immediate post spawn lag of the fish where they just want to rest and regroup from all the sexiness in their lives as of late.  Steelhead fishing is now on the rebound thanks to some much needed moisture which I can tell you is already moving some very new fish into the system.  All rivers are reporting good movements of fish, and chrome ones at that.  It’ll take awhile to right the wrong of this gin clear water this fall, but with the rains in past weeks, coupled with a little snow melt and a busy forecast on the incoming, I foresee a fantastic end to this unique fall steelhead run.  All sections are producing fish right now, and conditions could use another bump in flow, but again, populations are there and with any melts in the near, I can see plenty of fishing opportunities yet to come this 2016.  Watch the weather… The windows are there!

Steelhead fishing is worth talking about right now, even with the post spawn, warmer water/late fall scenario going on with the browns right now.  Streamer bite early this season was awesome for the steelhead trout here on the PM this year; added waters in September and October prompted the steelhead in as early as the 3rd week of September.  Rains kept the steelhead happy and even higher in the system for several weeks before we experienced a very dry period, which ended up slowing the fishing greatly in two different ways through the gut of November.  First, the water was so clear that what steelhead were in the system, (which was plenty early on), were tough to present to with anything less then perfect dead drifting skills and they were so wooded up it was like drawing a sliver from your finger via a stripped streamer.  All around tough, this following one of the best early starts to steelhead fishing we had seen in awhile.  Second, with the flows low, then clearing, the fish were subject to more light and less food, so they began falling back out to the lake almost daily to look for more cover within the depth… As populations began to dip, and water cleared to almost blue, we struggled for some time to get it done, which we did most days, but worked very hard to do so.  Recently we have come into some rain/snow days which are now offering some relief in water color, moving debris and feed down again, and allowing for some more fish to move up from the lower river to gain some steam on our hopeful grand finally of 2016, which we could use after those couple weeks in November.  Pier heads are primed, and water is getting some flow for the go of our best fall push of fish yet.  Forecast says yes, water levels begging… We’ll just have to stand by and see what comes in the form of moisture these next few weeks to hold us over for the winter months.  As of right now, I’m very happy with the current count of steelhead in the system, though it could be better… What we need more is water conditions in which to engage them without having to walk on eggshells.  Fishing these conditions will certainly make you a better angler, with or without success as you learn how to fish with stealth and not just another cast in the pool.

Trout fishing has been on the mend for sure, but it can’t last long… Normally water temps by now don’t allow for the best window to tally up some post spawn for the smaller watersheds, where the tail-waters thrive in the post spawn and fall short on the pre-spawn.  Our pre-spawn brown trout bite this year was great, and normally by now, steelhead are the best option in those upper/middle sections to keep the strip audience in attendance, but not this November!  Lately fishing streamers up higher has been producing decent numbers, and especially some sizable browns.  Middle sections offering a better overall size of trout and better steelhead potential, but fewer, where the upper sections are offering more trout per mile, but likely a bit wiser due to added fishing pressure in those bodies.  Egg fishing for browns is all but gone save a couple rusty Coho still about, but even those are tougher to find and even tougher to target fishing behind with the clarity being where it is.  Trout nymphing is a great way to target the smaller browns late season/post “eggin”, but the streamers are still running the show while color holds.  Yellow and “SHAT” are doing the most work lately, with black & silver playing roles in the steelhead game.  Fire Tiger was doing well when we had color, so was white; since then they have liked brighter colors with lower contrast to the sky they look at them against.  Consider that fact whenever you’re tying… Their perspective is a better one to have in mind when spinning the next presentation bullet.  Speed seems to set the tone when fish have too much clarity as they are allowed more time to critique these patterns from a distance versus pouncing on them in short order like they do when there is less window in which to decide to kill or pass on the opportunity.  Speed forces the same timeline of critique and then allows you to cover more water as a result.  Commitment is always toughest when water is clearest, but good salesmanship at the end of the presentation while the tunnel vision is in full force will likely have you bent in a good way as long as you believe that the best part of the sales pitch, which is the end of it, is the most potent.  Believe that the fish is noticing your actions, and you will fish the fly better… Some of the loneliness logs you’ll ever see on a sandbar still have large troll like trout as friends…  Just because the water isn’t there doesn’t mean the trout aren’t!

Tommy Lynch/The Fish Whisperer Guide Service

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Best patterns lately have to be the “marbled glo-bug”, as it is as close to a bead as one can tie.  Perfect ball, in a variety of colors, only limited by your egg yarn and foam varieties and then combinations, it has been deadly in the gin this year.  With a curve ball clown, it seems to sell the best, and you can differ those as much based on river color, locale, and even status of fishing pressure within.  When the water was really clear I was running some nymphs thinking I could tap that with the nymphy undercut, but even when I caught a couple few on the bugs, they were only keeping up with the eggs… A truth I know but second-guessed myself in those conditions.  Streamers have been in and out good with cloudy days and talent setting the pace.  If you can cast a streamer, and are willing to fish all day for a few to half dozen encounters, it simply works, but if you’re learning, there are certainly better times of the year to try fishing a streamer.  “Eggin” simply pays the bills if you need the money shot or are not into it beyond just catching one on a fly, but make no mistake, technique goes a long way down that dead drift which has some distance in clear water conditions.  Swing fishing offers the best chance of landing a fish that takes a fly as the hook-set and presentation are limited thanks to the taunt line and held presentations where the fish do allot of the work for you by coming to a stationed fly, and more or less hooking themselves with the already taunt line to the reel limiting any kind of line management.  My addiction to swing fishing resides in the cast more than anything as I’m colder fishing it and I forfeit allot of water to engage it.  After fishing as many days, I found those that could actually fish more than half the day with a true “DEAD DRIFT” were the ones catching fish in the gin, (save a few areas in the river where a swung egg, or even bobber, could sell as good as a well presented fly).  Fly fishing is something we all get better at as we do it more and more that muscle memory allows for a new curve of learning each engagement… That said intermissions in those engagements could stall that learning curve.  Some clients that I have fished for years and years only fish but a couple few times a year with a fly rod, even away from these queer techniques we engage steelhead with, sometimes struggle to reacquaint themselves with the rigs they’ve used many years in a row… But those that fish with frequency, in any way, away from steelhead, but always keeping the fly rod handy and near are the ones that can knock the rust of in minutes instead of hours and then produce more angling, and then fish as a result.  We are only able to fish as well as we are able to forfeit time to this sport and away… And as a result we are only a product of time spent staring into the water trying to come up with answers… There are no savants in this push for achievement with a cast and a fly… What we can only hope is that we do improve each time we engage that so when those magical bite windows open, we as anglers can do more with that window as that is it’s own reward.  Seeing a presentation that takes time to master, then improve, then create upon, allows a fly fisherman to dive into a little deeper end of the sport fishing pool for a reward given less, but so much more fulfilling because…  This year I saw that, I saw people as much or more pleased with one fish because it took more to catch it, or entice it to the streamer to almost bite where dirty water almost guarantees the assassination of the fly.  Even bobber and swing guys got a taste of the tough, but when fishing gets like this you have to do more to get it done, which in itself is the essence of fly fishing, and each time we have to work harder for that achievement, the more worth we afforded ourselves when it does in fact happen.  It was my pleasure being your guide while we tried to sort it out, and none of you got anything less than positive when it came to the next cast, and for that, you should consider yourselves anglers in that motivation.   

Arkansas Unicorn Hunt 2017 officially has two spots open.  One slot in the 1st session, (Feb7-12), and another 3rd session, (Feb 17-22).  $1,300 per person due by the 1st of January.  Includes lodging at The Firehouse of Cotter… Guided Fly Fishing for the biggest stream trout in the world over 4 days/nights… With lodging extending 5 nights.  This trip isn’t for beginners; it’s for advanced streamers anglers looking to see next level brown trout come to flies as large as planter rainbows.  7-9wt rods, sincere sink tips and rapid fire casting with larger flies fished with action and intention to get post spawn hungry trout looking to rebound calories after spawning.  Most groups are pretty rowdy, but everyone is into the same thing… FISH, TIE, EAT….  Repeat… Sleep is optional, but we do have a great bed for you.  Call the house for details on this as it was already filled up, but a couple people bailed so we are going to fill them up with some new meat.  All on crew are veteran to the affair, and are pretty loose with plenty of name calling and taunting all in good fun.  If you can play well with others, are down with the BIG FLY… Give me a shout and we can see if we can get you on step for this.  If you feel that you are close to this evolution, maybe we can get you up to speed with a trip or two here in Michigan to get you the techniques and strategies needed to get the job done while down at the world series of brown trout fishing.  While writing this, I may have had the first session seat fill, so get back with me soon before this option is gone.  Last year was a big water year, this year will be more normal, and presentation will factor in greatly as fish will be more apt to study and consider versus notice and sack.  It’s always a great time with a serious group of anglers, that don’t take too much seriously at all, save maybe seeing the next level brown trout up close and personal!  

So I would like to say thanks folks for the most well booked fall of the career… For the first time my wife had to mark a few days off instead of worrying about filling them up.  Lately, with steelhead and brown trout fishing improving, I’ve decided to open up some of December as conditions look to hold and fishing may be getting a great boost of potential from the recent rains and the promise of more.  Brown trout bite will last at least another couple, maybe few weeks before really slacking off, but steelhead fishing does nothing but pick up every time we get a shot of water to bring up another shot of them.  Water now is lower and clearer than we would like, but it is normal now… Color in the water will open up all the other sections of river besides lower and middle ones where there is still just a little cover for them now.  Streamer bite should be great this week with the added water, or at least for a few days while it churns up some food and color for them.  Again piers were lined with fishermen and fish, and all we need is some water to get them all up in the system and old man winter doesn’t seem to appear yet on the forecast so I’m all about engaging the fishing till the conditions run out.  It was a tougher pill early last month, but there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel… And be thankful that there are at least fish in the river right now as clear as it’s been… There are many years where clear water doesn’t even afford us fish when it gets that gin.  Those early rains at the end of summer, early this fall are the only reason we have had eyes on the prize when fishing the gin this fall.  Fish are overall bigger this year it seems, and very well off considering how slim those later jack kings were… And I for one am looking forward to a great back half of December fishing.  WE MAY WORK ALL WINTER, or at least till I head to Arkansas early in February.  If you would like to strip, bob, or swing your steelhead this late fall/winter, give a shout and we can get you in the book.  Trips will be based on daily conditions following the 15th of December.  Any highs not above 25 degrees will be a wash, as fighting the equipment isn’t as fun as fighting the fish.  Thanks again for a banner fall folks!!! Give us a shout if you want to get some in the snow this winter, numbers are there… Hope you all have a great holiday season and be safe driving out there!