A long time bucket list of mine had been to participate in a fly-in fishing trip to northern Canada, and in the early part of June last year, I was able to finally check it off. If you are unfamiliar with these endeavors, they are all pretty much the same concept. Drive as far north into Canada that roads will take you, hop on a float plane to any of the hundred remote outpost camps on any of the million lakes up there and start fishing. As long as you can keep from being devoured by a bear, trampled by a moose or suffocated by a swarm of ruthless, evil, hate filled bugs…you will no doubt catch more fish than you can possibly imagine. Besides the obvious appeal of fishing for a week straight, the biggest pull for me was how remote these locations are. You’re out on your own, miles and miles from civilization, surviving off only the gear you bring in and the game you catch (sorry…no “keep em’ wet” happening there) all the while taking in nature that hasn’t been completely altered or trodden over by a herd of humans every weekend. It was an awesome experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat with the only negative memory being those damn bugs (pro tip: don’t let them get INSIDE your bug suit…nightmares). But as the resident new guy on this blog, I thought I’d share one of the things I’d do differently if I were to partake in such an adventure again; my approach and plan for catching fish. I’ll break it out for you.
Where we were fishing:
As with the vast majority of water in northern Canada, the two major species we would be pursuing (and living off of) were walleye and pike, of which I have very little experience fishing for. The particular body of water we were on consisted of a decent sized river opening up to a 7 mile by half mile lake with two other rivers that exited on the other side. Our outpost was located at the mouth of the river feeding in, and I was told that we would be spending most of our time around there for walleye and in the river and its tributaries for pike. The walleye were known to hang by structure in water anywhere from 10 to 20ft with pike patrolling the edges and shallow tributaries. We also would be taking a crazy adventurous day trip, 15 miles up river to a set of falls that are known for holding monster brook trout (trout rule, ‘eyes drool!).
How I planned on catching fish:
At the point I was planning for this trip, I had fully converted my fishing techniques to the fly and had all but rid myself of anything relating to gear fishing. I knew pike would be easy. I would treat them like hyper aggressive trout, slap some wire on the end of my leader and throw big, gaudy streamers at them. Walleye were another story. They aren’t known to be a regular target for most fly fisherman and finding large quantities of information on how to go about it was difficult. But the Internet is full of crazy people like myself and I was able to find enough articles to put a plan in place. My idea was this: I’d set up an 8/9wt rig with a long-headed 300gr sink tip line and tie up a bunch of weighted
leech and clouser patterns with colors ranging from black/purple to chartreuse/orange. I figured that if after I cast out as far as I could, I gave the fly ample time to sink before slowly stripping it in, I’d be close enough to the target depth to get in walleye range. Solid plan right? I should note, my father-in-law, who has been on countless number of trips to this lake, and would be with me on this one, thought I was a fool to only bring a fly rod. So much so, that he went out and bought me a spinning gear combo package so that I’d be guilt ridden into bringing gear with me. He wasn’t taking any chances as I’d be part of the equation of whether he ate dinner or not each night. What’s that they say about listening to those that have gone before you in life?
How it turned out:
Yea…not nearly as well as I thought and I was grateful for that spinning gear. The big thing I forgot to factor in was that I’m a novice who, at the time, couldn’t cast to save his life (an accurate metaphor given the circumstances) nor understood the fish or environment I was fishing in. Let’s break this down:
-When you are a very inefficient at casting, a 300gr line with heavy flies is not only a bear to control, but will wear you out lickety split. Add in that I’m a walking stick figure with a career that emphasizes typing speeds over strength, and I was well worn out after a full day behind my rig. This made my accuracy and distance garbage and I spent more time out of the fishy zone than in it.
-I was the only guy using a fly rod. And since piloting an outboard powered boat is near impossible while casting one, that meant the speed and positioning of said boat was almost always in favor of the hardware guys. When trolling, I couldn’t cast fast enough to accurately hit my zones or keep my fly deep enough if we were in walleye territory. When holding still, we were usually out far enough that I had to muster up monster casts to get to where the fish were. Again, my weak casting did not help me here. We had a 5th guy lined up to go with us that is a fantastic fly fisherman which, had he not had to bail at the last second, would have made this a moot point. But if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, oh what a Christmas it would be. I was going to a camp designed around hardware…not sure what I expected.
-I didn’t tie nearly as flashy patterns as I should have. The water levels were abnormally high and strong winds had the water very cloudy. I obviously could not have predicted this, but you should prepare for everything on a trip like this. The only places I had any success were in the tributaries were the water was clear or low. But the name of the game that week was either motion (more than an articulated streamer can provide) or flash, neither of which my patterns overly excelled at. This was the most obvious the day we spent at the falls. I was the first in the water and on my fourth cast landed a real nice brookie on a white boogieman pattern. At last, I thought, it’s my time to shine! That was the last fish I caught that day. My boogieman was crusty leftovers in the eyes of the trout once they saw the Mepp’s my uncle’s were throwing. And they could cast them farther and faster than I could ever dream of. They put up some impressive numbers of some of the biggest brook trout I’ve seen and left me with my one measly fish and a sore shoulder on the boat ride home.
Did I catch fish on my fly rod? Is the pope catholic? I hooked up with plenty of hammer
handled size pike and even proved my theory correct with a few walleye. But I had to work my butt off to get them while my companions were kicked back slaying them one after another (literally) with spinning gear. And believe me…they let me know it. I eventually gave up and just switched to my spinning rod. I still refused to jig or troll…what a boring and uninvolved means of fishing. But I ended up having a fantastic time ripping stick baits for pike and spoons or spinners for walleyes and ended up with the record for most consecutive fish per cast by going 10 for 10 on pike one night. Quick side note here…the pike in that lake were some of the most aggressive, brutal predators I’ve seen. If it moved, it was food. They would come up and take chunks out of walleye we had on stringers and I swear to you, one even smashed a Rapala that was covered in a foot of weeds. Made for some fun times…but nature, you scary….
What I’d do differently:
Obviously, get better at casting. It’s coming up on a year since that trip and although I’m far from being Paul Maclean, I’ve made big improvements in this category thanks to some relentless backyard practicing and some great guidance from a friend. I also think I’d upgrade my fly rod. Over the summer I switched my Redington Crosswater 6wt over to a Mystic Reaper and it made a world of difference in my casting, especially for large streamers. I think if I did the same for my big streamer rod (combined with even more practice) I’d have a better time at it. But maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to have three Reapers in my collection. Also, I think I’d focus all time with my fly rod on hunting trophy pike and just be happy if a walleye randomly hits my fly. For walleye, I’d upgrade my spinning gear, chuck heavy spinners with ease and be happy doing it. Or pack in some steaks and leave the monotonous task of working a jig to others. Finally, I’d bring along a better assortment of flies. And I’m not talking about anything super fancy here…did you read the part about that pike hitting a grass covered lure? But maybe a little something more to get their attention and mix it up like some floating frog/mouse patterns or a pack of flashabou tied to a hook. That’d get it done.
So at the end of it all, these shortcomings with my fishing strategy by no means took away from an awesome trip. For that matter, it’s made me realize that living in Michigan, I’m limiting myself…just a bit…by swearing off gear fishing for life. The fall salmon run for instance has all be written off for me since I’ve given up the ol’ chuck n’ duck. So I think this September, IF the salmon come back up the river and I have an opportunity to get in there and battle it out, I’ll be throwing plugs and hot n’ tots instead of streamers and eggs. OK no joke…it was really hard to type that. But I’m trying to be open-minded and I promise I won’t be petitioning for this blog to be renamed michiganflyandgear.com. Fly or die people. But, in the meantime, I’m going to go look at pictures of steelhead sized brook trout, Bob Ross level Canadian sunsets and Fireball stealing in-laws to remind me of an incredibly memorable trip…and to keep practicing casting. So hey ya’ hosers, keep some tight lines eh?