In Michigan the last weekend in April means shaking off winter in style and that's exactly
what writer Charles Sams invites us to do. Enjoy!
The morning of February 20th my vehicle thermometer read -20 Fahrenheit. I never thought I would say for two straight winters that it has been too cold to ice fish. I thought about the irony of plowing through two-foot snow banks in my undershirt and waders three years ago on the Upper Manistee. I don’t think we hooked any fish that day but the sunshine sure felt good on my face and it was incredible to see the world come alive from its winter sleep. It felt like summer but sure looked like winter.
The fog settles in as the snow melts off and covers the little valley that the East Branch of the Au Sable flows through. I can’t see the hundred year old, hundred foot tall white pines but I know they are there. I wonder if there is any use in fishing yet because I won’t be able to see the bushy tan caddis I have selected as an attractor/strike indicator. I know the fish can see a prince nymph but it’s hard to keep the drift drag free and stay tight enough to it to strike on an upstream cast when you can’t see the dry. The fog had lifted by the time we suited up and rigged our rods. I remember that tan caddis and prince nymph fooling some fish. The East Branch is tight and I remember a downstream drift, one where you can just shake out line until the fly is over the hole, worked better.
"I hear "Fish on!" from just downstream by the bridge and turn to see a ghostly figure..."
We stood around in the campground drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and watching three foot snow drifts melt. The gal who runs the place came out and said, "You should have been here yesterday. You would not have been able to get to the campsites". It feels good to be out of the house after the long winter and I can't tell if I am shivering because the sun is going down or in anticipation of opening day. You tell old stories about places you've fished, the ones that got away, and that time you fell in over at McMaster's Bridge. The hole was so deep you had to breast stroke out of that one, thank goodness it was August. Falling in the river while fly fishing is a rite of passage, like being baptized in the name of the fishing gods.
We stood at the top of the stairs and watched trout rise in the bubble line off the end of a little dock. The cars whizzed by out on M-72 and a dog barked at one of the cottages across the road. It was a rare Hendrickson and olive hatch on opening day. We crossed over and I was able to get set up and pick off a brookie and a brown right off the bat. I sat against a 4X4 retaining wall in front of a canoe livery and just took things in for a while. The canoeists and tubers obviously were not expecting this weather the last weekend in April or it would have been much busier.
We stood at the same stairs a year later and turned our heads away from the wind and the stinging little ice pellets. The sun was gone and so were the bugs. I like that bubble line in front of the dock so I throw an olive bugger down and across on a floating line and strip it back. Nothing. I turn away from the wind, pull the hood of my jacket around my face, and change flies to a black leech. I hear "Fish on!" from just downstream by the bridge and turn to see a ghostly figure with a doubled fly rod working his way down. The rod throbs in his hand and the fish boils, and damn it's a good one. I throw my rod down on the bank, the same bank I sunned on the previous year, and pull my net off the magnet. Then, just as quickly as it was there, it's gone. Ice pellets are landing on our faces, melting, and running down onto our smiles.
The thermometer on the car reads +19 Fahrenheit this morning. It's getting warm enough to ice fish now so opening day of trout season must not be far off. I don't have time to ice fish. I have to get things ready. It won't be long now until I have another opening day story to tell.
Chuck Sams lives in South Lyon, Michigan near the banks of the Huron River and its smallmouth bass. He is the recent winner of the Trout Unlimited 10 Special Places essay contest. He is also the author of a book of cowboy stories called Winner Rides Away available at Amazon.com and a new and upcoming Detroit private eye series entitled Detroit Gumshoe.
This is Chuck's 2nd contribution to The QE Journal. Can't wait for more.