The hustle and bustle of life makes it tough to find solitude, and even tougher to remember. We fish all year in and amongst many fly fishermen all looking for that piece of solitude. Sometimes you have to walk many bends from the access, or float down several miles of river to find it, but there is one place it always is and that is winter.
There are fellows in Yellowstone that hike over 5 miles just to get to a section of river that has no roads in or around just because the trout up there were a few inches longer and there where almost no people up there. I feel more like a kid in winter then any other time of the year. There is something about that empty river that can take you back twenty years to days when you were fishing in wool and rubber. It is such a unique feeling, kind of like a deja vu you would like to experience a hundred times a day.
But I think the largest component of this experience is the lack of people and sound. There are no cell phones, or cars speeding through slush or traffic for that manner , or even people talking to you or around you; in fact there is no one around. Nobody to talk to, nobody to look at, and nobody to help you; you are alone! This day in age being alone, truly alone, if just for a little while is a commodity. Most people live urban and are very much attached to everyone around them, both strangers and familiars that get them through each and every day.
I wonder how many of those people have ever gone a day without emailing, phoning, texting, or even talking with someone, and of those how many did it without a TV, Internet, or Radio. We get so caught up with what is, what will be, and what we have to do, that we forget about what was. I just buried my dog Chinook this fall, and for him and I there is no more what will be, or what is; it will be all about the what was, and within that solitude I can visit him.
He used to follow me down the river while I fished in the winter. He would dig up mice and voles while I tried talking steelhead into taking my flies; it was a good deal for both of us. We did this often and alone, and in doing so we left thousands of memories on the river banks for me to visit whenever I feel the need.
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Memories are experiences waiting to happen again, and the key to those memories is solitude. Everyone who has ever fished for any amount of time has found that place at some point or another, but the hard part is to find your way back. For me a fly rod in hand, snow covered banks, icy guides, while trying to get a winter steelhead to bite my fly with the next closest person being a couple miles away, is that place.
I am sure that most of them occur on cold winter days when nobody would consider fishing and I find myself fishing alone with plenty of solitude and my memories of Chinook, the best fishing buddy I ever had!! Any of you that have fished the PM for any amount of time have probably seen Chinook; he was the black and white husky that loved food and attention, in that order.
Dry fly fishing for large stream browns in the dark is the most intense fishing anyone person can ever do and requires one to use all other senses outside of site to locate and target their fish. Searching for the largest of all browns that this state can yield; we tie on a Hex, freshen up the headlight batteries hoping the Hex flies get thick enough to entice the TOADS to the surface in a feeding frenzy. The Pere Marquette is my home river; I live near it, guide and fish it year round in a rather religious fashion.
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During the fall and spring months I keep myself busy by running nearly seven days a week for several month stretches. Salmon and Steelhead seem to be the fish of choice for the bulk of my fishing cliental. We make enough money in that time to take off most of the winter and a good portion of the summer months. We fish with everyone from millionaires to manure farmers, and they all love the sport that we take them out for a fee to see. Hands down the most addictive two hours of fishing any fly fisherman could ever experience without seeing a thing.
I look forward to the Hex Hatch more then any other month of the year as it often yields the largest trout of the year. Between buddies and big Browns, this one month of the year makes for memories and stories of a lifetime. Finding the first substantial night of the Hex is the best fishing for trout I have ever experienced.
Every year there is that 1 st Night, and it is quite magical. People often will fly huge distances or drive through many nights to get a taste of the kind of trout fishing that the Hex Hatch provokes. The biomass of bugs is so very large that no fish in the river can ignore what is happening and they begin feeding as if they had suitcases for stomachs. They feed without hesitation, sometimes inches from your person. There was no cast to the fish in question so I instructed my client to dangle it over his head because he was too close; the fish took the first the fly the first time it dabbed the water and then preceded to run clear around the boat a couple times before we got some type of angle on him.
The Hexigina Limbata is the largest of all the mayflies and provides the trout in the rivers that can sustain them and massive protein bender that is second to no other feeding moment in those fishes annual growth. The fly is so much larger then all the other hatches going on that when it gets thick, it pushes all the other hatches to the banks as they look like B-2 Bombers going through the Gray Drake swarms that are more or less ignored once the big Hexs fly.
They are large, yellow and creamy and have a wetness to them like no other adult mayfly.
Whenever one does hit you, you feel as if you need to wipe your face because it is like someone spitting on you. A couple of weeks of anticipation have already passed, and all the Hex patterns in your box are up to date. Evenings that stretch into early morning hours tying Yellow Drakes, Troutsmans, and Hex spinners and duns in every color of yellow and white that you can get your hands on. Foam and Deer bodies with oversize brown and grizzly hackles blanket the white interior of your fly box.
Batteries for the flashlight and headlamp are fresh and ready as well is a bottle of good bug spray. The two hours of fishing that one can hope to experience require hours of preparation to engage. Every night before our evening with the bugs, whether you need them or not, I always like to tie up a couple more Hexs; Ones that will surely be the ones they want for that particular evening.
Good meals and good buddies always accompany the first week Hexs. Steak and Potatoes with some type of pasta and a driveway full of 4X4s makes for some of the most memorable nights of my life. He drives up north an hour and a half from Muskegon on a nightly basis for a couple weeks in which case he can be classified as a Hex-maniac. Having a day job he is up at 7am daily works until 5pm, only to go home and gear up and drive up north in time for Steak and Potatoes; fish all night and make it home by 3 or 4 in the morning; pending on how late the Hex spinner flight goes till. The man can go all day and all night and still look the part the following day.
It is about 8pm and the guys are showing up and the grill is sizzling. Sean comes down the drive in a panic, jumps out of the truck and takes over the cooking details while I get one more bug tied. Sean is the cook on most events, and is very good at it. I giggle and flash to several seasons before and realize that the Hex is on.
After an hour of taunting your buddies on who is going to get the largest fish, all the while stuffing your face with a pile of carbohydrates and proteins that was prepared without error and to perfection by Sean, it is time to gear up. The shirts slowly decompose over the coarse of one months time; by the time it is over the shirt is coming apart at the seems and has sweat stains that cannot and will not be removed.
The hat is key and has to be disposable as well because when covering your person with bug spray the hat is sprayed directly several times each night.
ATTIC CONDENSATION: Out of Sight-Out of Mind?
If for some reason I forget my bug spray at home, the smell of deet on the hat is usually enough to keep the bulk of the bugs away from me. Waders, leaders, flies and fly rods being flung from one end of the house to the other, we all manage to get our gear and equipment in check. Goof having the most trouble because of leaving his house in such a hurry is running around like a squirrel on the last day of autumn.
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Winding and Dusty roads all the way to the spot; it is as intense a ride there as well the ride back with all the deer that cover the roads a few hours past dusk. Fisherman all over the state, still unaware of the fishing possibility that exists on this eve, are no where to be found when we get to the access. Not one car in the lot leaves us with a feeling of maybe instead of for sure on whether or not we would be seeing the first Hex Hatch of the year.
Unaware of the trails from last year, because of the lack of foot traffic in between seasons, we leave the getting to the spot to the dog. Chinook, who is by far my most trusted and loyal fishing buddy.
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Chinook who smells his way thru most of the Pere Marquette water shed, knows every trail on its hundred and some odd number of miles. Turn him loose at just about any access, launch, or even secret spots, and just follow the white of his curled Husky tail to the river, and even to certain spots. Killing and or eating every critter that crosses his path is his only reward for going on these outings, and he loves going every night.
He is invaluable when it comes to having someone watching your back for good fishing water. While I may be stopped and concentrating on the river in front of me, Chinook is lying calmly behind me listening to all the critters that move about, and informs me by standing up if a fisherman are coming down.
His hearing is astounding and his sense of smell even better. Walking thru spiders, ticks, and whatever Mother Nature can come up next, with we plow through the tall 5 foot grass and endless thicket of falling trees that cover the forest floor, we duck and dive thru the mess with a intensifying gleam in your eyes to see Hex flying thru the air.
Wiping sweat from our brows we make it to the first spot of the evening.
The Grief Whisperer: Mindfully Moving Forward
We begin to break apart and find our own spots for the evening; never being more then a couple bends away from each other just incase of a quality photo opportunity with a large brown we could yell to the other. After a quick break, we spread out across the area; with three bright flashlights crashing thru the darkness, followed by the trampling of critters that look to get out of our path then zip code it would seem by their panic. Making it down to the spot I have I have chosen by about quarter to ten, I post up here and grab a cold can of Dew from the Ziploc full of melted ice in my back pouch.
I sit down and call to Chinook with a whistle to stop from going any further down the river just incase he still thinks I am right behind him. All is calming now; no more jingling of lanyards and keys, or the rustling of tippet spools and fly boxes crashing around in my over fattened vest. This is all replaced by the sounds of a nocturnal ecosystem coming alive.