Reports around town were that the Hex were just starting, but they were quite low in the river systems yet, but anticipation was high and a hatch could “happen any day” along either the Au Sable or Manistee River systems. Better reports of Hex were coming from the Au Sable, but good reports of holdover Brown Drakes, Isonychia, and sulphur mayflies on the Manistee water were being told with the possibility of being among the first to see Hex on that river. The good reports of “non-Hex” hatches on the Manistee, along with the inability to obtain a car spot on the Au Sable system (shuttling of cars and boat trailers between put in and take out) forced us to fish the Manistee river system for all three days. Our first two floats were repeats of the sections between “Hole in the Wall” to “Yellow Trees”, with our third being from “Burnt Cabin” to “Weber’s.” These sections of water are extremely beautiful and are what you come to expect from Northern Michigan Rivers as they are full of cedar sweepers, tag alders, undercut banks, lumber, and deep holes on the outside bends. Our game plan was to fish streamers and or hoppers during the daylight hours in an attempt to raise a bigger fish, prior to the evening and night hatches. Each night, our plans were to stick it out long past dark to hopefully hit the hatch and then sleep in a bit prior to attending meetings with our friends at Grayrock.
The first two trips produced several smaller brook and brown trout on streamers, with a couple of nicer fish lost sometime between hookup and picture taking. We had a very thick hatch of Brown Drakes for a 150 yard section of this river right at dusk, but no feeding fish to speak of. We did hook and land a few 7 – 9 inchers, but not much else was feeding at the time. On the second day, after seeing several rises to the occasional Iso mayfly, we took some fish blind drifting an Iso emerger pattern over likely spots, whether we had seen a rise there or not.
As for ourselves, we were happy and appreciative for another wonderful night on the river with each other as friends, but no real stories to tell. That was about to change……
The third day (June 21, 2013) really had us excited for the Hex as more and more reports were being told of Hex in the systems, but we were not the only ones who were after them. Due to the large number of fishermen, we once again had difficulties in getting a car spotted on the AuSable, which relegated us to the Manistee (never a bad thing in its own right) to hope for a brown drake or Iso hatch. We decided to float a lower section of the river to hope for a few early Hex mixed in with the Brown Drakes and Iso’s. We had heard reports that they had started low in the system on the Manistee as well. After a quick trip to the grocery store for dinner supplies (might I recommend Little Town Jerky brats…..of any flavor) we were ready to give it another try. To this point, we had an excellent time at Grayrock and our fishing experiences were memorable, but our catching was leaving a little to be desired. We needed a better night to turn this thing around. We needed that “one fish” to remember.
The float was once again both beautiful and held extreme promise for a good night. The temperatures were certainly up from the previous two cool northern Michigan nights, and there were more bugs around. We were seeing a few more drakes and Iso’s coming off the water than we had the previous two nights. We were also seeing more fisherman sitting on their “spots” along the banks in anticipation of the Hex as word was obviously getting out. From guys with equipment from the large box stores, to guys with equipment from the specialty shops; to guys with beers in their hands to guys with books in their hands; everybody was getting ready for what hopefully was going to be an epic night……any day now. We were extremely jealous of the one gent who had “cleared his schedule for the week” as he was most certainly going to experience Hex 2013.
Once again we fished hard, changing flies and tactics as often as we deemed necessary with absolutely no success. We had floated, fished, and fed for approximately three hours with nothing to show for it. We knew that we were about a 45minute float from our take out and night was quickly approaching, so we decided to set up on a good looking stretch of water and wait to see if the bugs would come out to play. Ironically, the stretch of water we decided to set up on, was just upstream of a public access site and easily reached by foot, but who were we to pass up a good looking spot. We sat, talked, and took pictures of the Super Moon, which was orbiting the Earth closer that it would for another year.
The night was perfect as it was, but one thing would make it better……..if only the bugs would start. As we talked and told stories, frustrations, and dreams, I noticed relatively regular rising fish just over Jason’s left shoulder as I looked at him. Since I was in the bow of the boat, this fish was rising upstream of our holding spot and on the inside bend of our special spot. I watched this fish rise for probably 20 minutes or so, before I told Jason about it. During a lull in our conversation, I said, “Hey, Jason……check out the little riser on the inside corner…..it is the only fish I see working, but I think it is a littler fish.” As we looked back upstream in the waning light of the night, we could only see an occasional dimple in the reflection of the moon on the water. The water showed some irregularity on its surface in this spot, as there was some structure around, but it was most definitely on the inside bend and not where you would expect bigger fish to be. Amongst the rippling surface of the water in this spot, you could occasionally see concentric rings rise from above where this fish was feeding, but they were very subtle and small…….not the big slurper that we were hoping for. Jason turned, looked, and saw what I had been looking at and said “Want to go for him? I will row us back up so you can cast for him”, to which I replied “Naw, don’t worry about it…..he seems little and not worth the trouble.” Jason in his infinite wisdom and common sense, replies with, in hind sight the most intelligent comment of the night, by stating “Kirk, we have nothing else better to do”……….so we rowed back upstream 20 yards and waited for the rising to continue.
After 5 minutes or so the rising started again and I began fishing. The fish was on river left, working a 5 foot section parallel to the bank about 3 to 4 feet off from it. There were a couple of stumps tight against the bank but nothing to interfere with my casts. Casting upstream and throwing an upstream mend allowed the fly to drift over the entire feeding lane without drag and I put about 5 casts over the spot to no avail. I then saw that the fish had moved upstream another 2 feet, evidenced by a rise in a new spot and I took out more line on my back cast and dropped the Iso emerger ahead of the new riseform that we saw……..I was bound and determined to get this “nine inch fish” so that we would not be skunked for the night. I cast, I mended, the fly the fish took, I lifted up, FISH ON, and then the questions began. Jason, who did not see the take, but heard the tail slap, said…”whoa, how big it it?” to which I answered with boundless sagacity…..”not sure.” The fish certainly felt heavy, but I was not sure it was due to the size of the fish or due to the fact that the current was heavy, but I certainly was putting a bend in my Karma Kane Shelbyville 88 bamboo rod.
We were not able to put a tape measure on the fish, but taking measurements of a picture of the fish inside of my net, tells us that this fish was at least a 22” Manistee brown, that I am extremely glad that Jason decided to “row back to.” Thanks Jason……….I owe you one.
p.s. On the way out of town to return to family obligations, we needed to stop and fuel the truck for our return trip………..guess who we saw!
Maybe next year!