So apparently I have a blog that has fallen on a bit of hard times... It used to be filled with adventures throughout the year, exploits both on and off the water, along with some big piles of flies and show pictures. This last year I chose to cut back on the fly and most show pictures, as both Facebook and Instagram make them available to most, and focus here on some of the time I spend on and around the water. That worked well for a while…and then show season happened.
This year was supposed to be a year that I cut back on shows but it simply did not work out that way. The schedule did start out with some holes in it which would allow me to stay home but opportunities for new shows and workshops popped up and gobbled up those weekends. The result of these additions was that in a year with more wholesale and retail orders than ever (and thank you for those!) I have been gone a portion of 14 of the last 17 weeks. As you can imagine orders have gotten backed up more than normal for this time of year and I found myself in a bad place mentally…just beat down and unhappy with myself. I needed a mental recharge more badly than ever.
As if on cue I got a call from Jac Ford a few weeks ago about heading up for two days on the water with him. We had tried to get out when I went up to teach a workshop for his ‘20+ Club’ but the weather forecast was for standing temps of -28 or colder so we called it off. I knew that I was behind on fly orders but I seemed to be getting less productive by the night as I was just mentally out of the game, so I said let’s do it. This reschedule weekend was at a time when it would likely still be questionable weather and many would be chasing steelhead so we figured to have some light crowds as we swung for the fences on a notoriously fickle stretch of Michigan’s beautiful AuSable River.
Before I knew it the time had passed and I was driving north on Friday with the live broadcast of Miami’s Ultra Music Fest cranked loud enough that I could feel the bass in my stomach and a premium cigar clenched in a toothy grin. I met Jac at his cabin, which has been in his family since they built it in the 1920s and proceeded to have a couple beers as I started to decompress. If I am being totally honest with myself I really did not know Jac very well outside of reputation and talking with him a few minutes at a time over the years at fly shows, and of course the couple hour workshop at his house. It was great to kick back and trade some stories with a guy that has seen a whole lot of water.
I popped up minutes before my alarm was set to go off on Saturday ready to roll. Jac made us a huge breakfast of eggs, potatoes and bacon to keep the body fueled through a morning that was going to be cold. We had about an hour to the river to more stories were shared to pass the time driving through northern Michigan’s alternating rolling farm fields and forest. As we got close to the river we snuck a peek and of course this was one time the weather guy was right…it was 6 degrees and not a cloud to be seen. We rolled in to the AuSable Angler to catch up with owner Bruce Graff and grab Jac’s boat. That boat was covered in frost so thick that any worse and I think you’d just have to call it ice.
We got the boat over to the river and dropped it in pretty quickly, and away we went as the first boat off for the day at about 9. I had my 9wt Clutch Arc strung up and throwing 350gr Coastal Express like it was nothing. Good thing too as I cast, and cast, and cast… We were in definite zero or hero water and with the temp drop and bluebird skies things were bound to be tough. Jac and I talked and laughed our way down the river with him on the oars and me hitting every conceivable piece of water. Sunny and shallow, sunny and deep, shadow and shallow, shadow and deep, banks, center river, different retrieves and flies…nothing seemed to matter. It is tough to pattern fish when you aren’t seeing any! After about 6 hours we dropped anchor and put down a couple massive three meat sammiches as we gathered ourselves to get back at it.
About two hours later we were in a stretch that has some cabins as well as some decent cover. I cast up to the bank and started a quick retrieve. While I was retrieving I looked over my shoulder and said “Hey Jac, I’m going to catch their pet trout”…and as I said it I watched his eyes get big. Quickly swinging my head back around I saw a fish that looked as big around as my calf and a couple feet long tracking right behind my fly. I kept it moving with a couple of rod twitches but was running out of room as it was mere feet from the boat. As I was about to have to try something desperate like a trout figure8 the fish inhaled the fly and as I set the hook the opposite direction I watched it come sliding right back out as his head turned to the side with just a small prick to remind him of his near encounter. The adrenaline from the near miss kept me going for a while, but I knew from the knot deep in my stomach that was one miss that will haunt me for a long time. We fished out the rest of the next three hours or so without another follow. Round one to Mio.
We didn’t get back to the cabin until about 9 and needed to get some food down. I kicked back after grabbing a beer for both Jac and myself as he cooked up some massive ribeyes and potatoes. It didn’t take long for the food to disappear…it was amazing. Dishes got knocked out and I think the physical day and food coma struck at the same time, so I crashed out between checking basketball scores.
Sunday morning came quick and I was again up before the alarm, only this time a little more sore than the previous morning. Jac made breakfast sandwiches for the road as we were going to drop my car off closer to 75 to shave time for me heading home that night. With the car dropped we again headed north. Along the way I checked and we were looking at it being significantly warmer of a day with some potential cloud cover later in the day, and wind.
Sunday morning my youngest brother John was going to meet up with us for the day. After quickly swapping his gear over in to the truck we got the boat to the water and shoved off. I honestly did not know what to expect from John out of the boat. He has been fishing more than just about anyone I know the last couple years as he lives right close to the river but I had not seen him in action other than some short line casting during Tricos, and sinking lines with big flies are a totally different game. Within a few short minutes I was blown away…dude can cast. We proceeded to work our way down river as we caught up and told more stories. We were working twice as much water since we had both rods going, but still just were not seeing the results. Did I mention this river can be fickle…?
As the morning progressed the cloud cover started to build and the wind found us. It went from mostly a calm day to steady swirling winds of 20-30 and gusts of much more. The wind certainly kept us on our toes both with our casting as well as our retrieves. We made it past the pet trout bench without seeing the previous fish again; I tried to stay positive and focused but admittedly some doubt started to creep in. About an hour later we were canvassing both banks and my brother made a great cast river right so I threw a cast in to a shallow bank river left that drops in to a god trough. That retrieve did not make it back to the boat as a ball of buttery fury erupted on the fly after only a few strips and it was on. It was one of those strikes that leaves no doubt and you hardly have to do anything except hang on to set the hook. After a good fight there was a thick 18” brown in the net. It wasn’t the size of the fish the day before but that didn’t matter at all as it was gorgeous. We kept it in the water and got over to a shallow bank so I could get out to deal with the fish and get a few shots. He stayed in the water and was lifted briefly out for a single picture at a time; after a couple shots I removed the hook and cradled him in the water for about a split second before his powerful paddle of a tail rocketed him back to his deep trough. Fucking Mio!
This shot was from one of the nice calmer moments but as we continued on downstream the weather seemed to take a pretty bad turn. It went from windy to WINDY. I swear at one point having the anchor down as John retied his rig was the only thing that kept the boat from blowing back upstream. It was everything Jac could do to keep some semblance of a drift down river, many time having to push the oars just to move downstream at all. We picked our spots to cast when the wind died down to allow it but it was tough going. With about an hour to go the snow started and it was sideways. We had given it a good go but I had nearly six hours home so we made the call to start the push out a little after four. Round two – split decision. You never beat Mio, you only hope to coax a little love before she slams the door back shut.
It was awesome to have spent the day on the water with John and Jac. I certainly look forward to doing it again and hopefully getting some shots of John with a Mio hoss. The snowy drive home didn’t feel as long as it usually does as my head was occupied with what ifs to keep my mind off the road. What if I hadn’t hung that one time right before a prime trough? What if I’d used chartreuse? What if I hadn’t turned my head to Jac…would I have maybe gotten the Saturday fish to commit? Or would I have froze (hope not)?
I got a good night sleep and hammered out a good day back at the desk job. This week starts a long stretch of chipping away at orders until they are done. Shows are over so it is time to get the delivery interval back to the standard 7-10 days instead of the bloated interval as it currently stands. Scheduled this week is looking like around 75 hours of vise time before I sleep next Sunday night. Put on some coffee, it’s going to be some long stretches at the vise!