Invoking the blessings of a prominent South Pacific weather pattern is not unusual for fishermen. Author Charles Sams nails the reverence, trade-offs and down-right fun of the Michigan "Christmas" experience.
God bless the child or Dios bendiga al niño in Spanish. Our local meteorologists here in Michigan call it El Niño, and when it develops, the far northern jet stream stays well north of the Great Lakes. It bottles up the super cold air in Canada and allows all the fly fishing fanatics and river bums an extended season. It keeps us off the ice and in the rivers, where we belong and where we long to be.
The appearance of the child means you need to adjust your fly fishing calendar. This year our normal cloudy and wet October was replaced with blue bird skies and temperatures in the 70’s F. The streamer guys, the dudes that like to toss six inch feather boas against the logs and banks, are bummed. The tradeoff though, can be epic dry fly fishing well into November. The type of fall dry fly fishing that you find in John Geirach books, where he and A.K. Best cast their lots as riverside Gypsies for a month or more. The type of fall dry fly fishing that allows you to camp in a tent, drink bourbon at night under the Milky Way, and land browns that measure in the teens fishing on top. The flies are small and tippet smaller, but the chance to fish a dry fly in October-shirt-sleeves only comes around once every few years, when the child shows up.
The streamer guys, the dudes that like to toss six inch feather boas against the logs and banks, are bummed.
It’s hard to hold back winter in Michigan, the streamer bite develops late in November and spills into December. But the beauty of the whole thing is, that come Christmas, you can still fish during the day without gloves and the river is still open and flowing. The trout are spawned out, put on the feedbag and large chunks of fur and feather that swim when stripped do the trick. The temperatures cool down and streamer fishing with its cast and retrieve can keep a fisherman warm while they wait for that epic follow and vicious take that hungry browns are known for.
It’s a thing of beauty in December that only the child can provide. We’ll take our chances into January and February because, after all, the child brings warmth and we have tons of water still open to fishing. But warmth is relative, the average high temperatures drop into the upper 20’s F and if we are making it slightly above freezing during the day then we are living large. The nighttime temps keep it cold and the fish’s metabolism slows way down, this is when a good nymph game can get you far. It’s often sight fishing and an eagle eye for spotting fish in the sandy river bends and a good high stick repertoire can make it happen. They won’t move far but they still got to eat. In the end it’s enough to make a man forget about tying flies and more than one person has sifted through a sparsely populated fly box on the last Saturday of April the spring after the child comes.
It was 56 degrees in northern Michigan on Thanksgiving Day. It felt more like steelheading weather than deer hunting weather and the long range forecast screams fishing weather for the foreseeable future. We passed around the turkey, the stuffing, and the pumpkin pie. There were peeks of sun outside and the Detroit Lions were actually winning a football game.
My mom finally went around the table asking each of us, "What are you thankful for?"
The young ones mentioned video games and some of the older ones mentioned each other. Somebody talked about their love of beer.
I answered, "I have a job and my health, but I am most thankful for the child."
My mom looked at my kids, her grandchildren, and said, "I know, aren't they beautiful."
"Not them," I smiled, "El Niño, we're going to be fly fishing all winter this year."