Guided and Hosted Fly and Spey Fishing Trips for Steelhead and Brown Trout with    
Fish Lake Run Outfitters  

Click here to edit subtitle

Blog

Are wild trout really that different?

Posted on May 13, 2020 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)



An obviously stream-born fish



I've been asked before on numerous occassions whether or not wild trout are truly different than stocked fish, and my answer has always been resondingly yes. In nature and appearance, wild fish are different and should be held to a different standard. I've seen anglers post pictures of giant trout with worn fins from a creek that, if left to its own devices, would struggle to produce even an upper teens fish. I've heard anglers brag of fifty fish days from single pools that without man's hand should hold in total perhaps ten fish scattered throughout. I've driven past lines of cars parked next to a stream because the hatchery truck was just there a day or two ago. These are the obvious answers to the question. But it might not be the only perspective to use.

Fishing wise, I find that streams that offer wild trout fish better throughout the year, season in season out. There's a reason to it. Stocked trout, particulary stocked catchable adults, are a put and take fishery. The hatchery truck puts them in. Anglers, including feathered ones and other predators, take them. And the stream is once again largely barren. When the state stocks even high numbers of catchable fish in a stream that isn't protected by catch and release regulations or gear restrictions, it doesn't take long for the stocked fish to vanish.

While it is true that long term holdover trout can take up residence in a stream, even a system that experiences heavy pressure, and offer some fishing opportunities once the bulk of the fish are removed, there are fewer of these fish than the wild trout densities in even moderately productive wild streams. All you need to do to confirm this is fish a stretch of stocked trout water in late June or early July, water that looks on the surface very productive to trout. Rocky bottomed, in-river structure, feeding lanes, perhaps even bugs coming off in the evenings. The only thing that's missing is the trout.

Wild stream trout, however, need to maintain resident populations sufficient enough to populate a watershed, meaning that in systems where wild trout are, wild trout are present somewhere in the system every day throughout the year. They offer fishing opportunities long after the the local stocked systems peter out from catch and kill. This is what truly makes these systems special, and worth protecting- the wild fish in these systems are worth more swimming in the river than frying in a pan. Though it is true that without the stocking efforts, opportunities for fishing trout in our general region would be more limited, places where trout are thriving without stocking efforts adds to overall angling opportunity. This is what truly makes wild trout different than a stocked fish- they live in the watersheds that are healthy enough to provide productive, though perhaps challenging, angling year round, not simply in the days or weeks after the hatchery truck drove by.   


Why Lake Ontario's crazy good salmon fishing right now scares me

Posted on September 22, 2017 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)


A good sized salmon from the recent salmon trip



Let me start this by saying I'm not a scientist, only an interested individual who spends a great deal of time on the water trying to understand and looking into aspects of fishing that really interest me. With that said, I have a pretty good understanding of many of the issues facing the future of the Great Lakes cold water fisheries, particularly king salmon. By now it is no secret that the 2017 Lake Ontario and her tributaries salmon season has been one of the best if not the best season in recent memory, both in numbers of fish and in size of fish captured. And this is not just limited to Lake Ontario, either. All you have to do is look catch rates from the two big salmon producers- Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario- and it is a no brainer. A 42 pound king was caught out of Lake Michigan in August. A 39 pounder was reeled in on Lake O. The Salmon River has seen the largest run of early fish, some of them well over 30 pounds, returning between the first two weeks of September than any season I can remember. On September 8 when we were fishing, there was large numbers of fish all the way up to the Upper Flies Only Zone.

And people are really, really excited by it. For good reason. Last salmon season was a bit of a bust. Lower numbers and low water made it challenging but fish were there. To be sure, I'm excited about the fishing that's going in in Lake Ontario and the tributaries too. But I'm also pretty concerned. The reason I'm concerned is that with all these big salmon around, they're eating a lot of baitfish. Alewives in particular. And the population has taken a really big hit recently. As I write this, the cold winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 resulted in very few young of the year fish being produced. To be sure the back to back warm winters of 2015-16 and the record warm 2016-17 resulted in high production (especially 16-17), right now the alewife population in Lake O is made up of predominantly year class 1, 2, and 5 fish. And of those, it is the year class 5 that are the ones especially needed to spawn. In fact female alewives don't usually mature until year 4 or 5, though males mature a bit early (usually 3 or 4).

What this means is that there is likely only one year class of sexually mature and productive alewives in Lake O right now. And there are a lot of big, hungry salmon. And those warm winters of 15-16 and 16-17 didn't only help out the alewives. Smolt survival through the first winter in the lakes during that time was likely equally high. I suspect the next couple years will also have good salmon fishing. But the result of this really good salmon fishing means that more fish will be fighting for fewer alewives (the primary food source for kings). Those year 1,2 and 5 classes are the targets of the  salmon. And like I said, there seem to be quite a lot of them around.

So when the foraging for bigger alewives becomes difficult, as will likely occur in the next year or so once the numbers of year 5 alewives continue to drop, you can bet the farm that the salmon will start keying in on the smaller classes even more. The salmon will end up needing to eat more smaller alewives to make up for the lost larger meals. And this starts what in statistics is called a positive feedback system (though only positive in name as it only amplifies the problem). The salmon need to exert more energy to catch and eat more smaller alewives resulting in their need to eat more smaller alewives to make up for the energy lost hunting down and eating the last meal. Sort of a catch 22: by needing to target smaller meals, they will need to eat ever more increasing small meals to replace energy exerted.

Once this occurs, it is very difficult for a population of prey species to replace the individuals that have been eaten, let alone expand a low population to higher numbers. And this appears to be where we are, or will be very soon with Lake O alewives. If any more proof is needed, all you have to do is look at the salmon crash in Lake Huron that really hit in 2004. Until about 2001, salmon numbers and size were stable, but not alewife populations. In fact 2001 was a banner year for size and numbers. Within a few years afterwards, king salmon virtually disappeard from the lake. 

While Lake O is very different that Lake Huron, some things remain similar. Predator and prey populations need to be balanced. If a man made system, such as stocking, is attempting to do so, then it must understand outside influences such as natural reproduction. It has only been in the last five years that wild reproduction of king salmon was really evaluated in Lake O, and the results were startling: lakewide roughly 50% of all kings are naturally reproduced, in the Salmon River that number is more like 75%. With all that natural reproduction going on, is it still necessary to stock that many kings?

While they sure are a blast to catch, are we allowing the kings to eat themselves out of house and home? Nature will find a balance, and if we are not careful, it may be a balance we don't like. One of the first signs will be emaciated adult kings showing up in increasing numbers. It will be sporadic at first- a few here, a few there over the course of a season. Then a more as time goes on, until the problem becomes impossible to ignore any longer. That's the way it went for Lake Huron. Check out some of these pics of starving kings from before the crash:

 

and:





Big heads and tails, but hungry kings. Photos from Michigan DNR.


Those are pics are from back in the early 2000's. I saw a picture that got my attention yesterday:






That's Garrett Brancy from Douglaston Salmon Run holding a fresh run chrome king. All I could think of was how much it reminded me of those hungry Lake Huron salmon. Though hopefully it was simply a fish that really, really sucked at hunting while out in the big, open water, it still makes me nervous.

The Lakes are changing. The water is cleaner. Alewife populations are low all the way through. If given the choice I'd rather fish for fewer, bigger fish than more smaller ones. And the problem with planning for the more smaller ones is it's easy for uncertainties such as hard winters to disrupt a plan. We can all suffer through a bum salmon year if a harsh winter kills more smolts than expected. Does it suck? Of course. But we tighten our belts and make it through.

But a few harsh winters, or maybe even just one, can spell doom for a prey population if there are too many predators around. Maybe we don't even need the harsh winters if there are just way too many mouths to feed. It'd be a shame to see the big kings go. And this current salmon fishing makes me nervous. I hope I'm wrong.


Tight lines guys,


 - D   




 

 


     

2016 In Review

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)



In the winter, keeping a high rod tip while swinging can really slow down the swing and keep it deep- right where it needs to be fished


Wow, pretty hard to believe it is already 2017. As we go forward in the new year, I thought I'd take some time to reflect on what 2016 had to offer. On the whole, fishing was steady- not the greatest run I've ever seen, but far from the worst. During the spring run, the Chagrin fished much better than the Grand though we did have some lights out days on the larger water. This was partially due to the high water the Grand saw nearly all spring long, and by the time the levels dropped consistently, the water was warming up fast. Another good thing we saw last spring was a strong presence of 3 to 6 pound fish, though we found quite a few much larger. This good showing of one and two winter fish in the mix last spring should mean that the 2017 spring run should have a high number of three winter fish, the 8 to 12 pound plus fish. 


During the fall run, we saw the reverse. Very low water for nearly the entire month of October. This kept most fish from entering until around the last week of the month. Interestingly enough we did see quite a few salmon in the Erie creeks in October, including Pinks, Cohos, and Kings. Then when we started getting water consistently, the Catt stayed offline for most of the fall season. This resulted in our focus on the smaller area creeks for the majority of the fall season, with only a few days spent on the Catt during good conditions. Like the spring, the fall run numbers were not the highest we've ever seen, but the fishing remained consistent and generally resulted in a handful of fish landed per day per angler.


Probably the brightest note of the fall season was the high prevalence of good sized lake run browns in the Erie creeks. This is something that I've been noticing more and more over the last three seasons. While steelhead numbers may be a bit lower than normal, we are more than making up for it with trophy browns. Our biggest Erie brown this season was ten pounds, but we lost a few much larger fish, and it seems like the fish averaged somewhere near eight. We're pretty stoked about this fishery as it continues to develop, and would like to see where it goes. The strain New York stocks is domestic browns. There are other strains available that grow much larger and migrate further up river than lazy domestics (wouldn't it be nice to see some 30 pound seeforellen browns?!), but only time will tell.


Anyways, spent the first few days of the New Year hitting the Catt. The water was up, but the visibility was just good enough to get me out of the house. Didn't find any out there in the cold, but boy what a beautiful time to spend on the water. Enjoy it while you can. April will be here before you know it.


 - D

Thinking about fall...

Posted on July 23, 2016 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)



Well we are in the dead of summer now. Still a little more than two months out, and with daily highs in the 90's, theres not a lot of steelhead fishing to be had! To pass the time, why not focus on filling your boxes for fall? When I sit at the bench, many times the fly that I create or the pattern I tie uses difficult materials or techniques. The more I fish, the more I like to experiment and use rhea, lady amhearst, and other materials that can be troublesome. But again, the more I fish, the more I have come to realize that these flies are tied more for my enjoyment than the fish's. A steelhead is not a particulary picky fish. Find a well rested and unharrassed fish and it will more than likely eat whatever you put in front of it, whether it is a traditional salmon fly, a marabou spey, or a simple woolly bugger.


Recently the flies I've been cranking out have been old reliables that I've fished for years. Enter the marabou spey. The fly above is known as a hobo spey. They are relatively quick on the vise, can be tied in many colors and weighted or unweighted, and they catch fish. Pretty much all you do is spin a couple marabou feathers in different colors onto a hook and tie it off. Recently I've been using more Scandinavian style overwing flies such as the whiskey hangover- to good success, and haven't really fished a hobo spey in a while. But as I've been tying them lately, I remember some of my first takes I ever had swinging streamers. A marabou pattern caught my first Cattaraugus Steelhead, swung on a light sinktip. Sometimes in slower tailouts, they can even be fished on floating line and long leader as sparser tied marabou sinks well when waterlogged if given a quick strip to get it under the surface. It also has a ton of movement, and puts fish on the board. With each fly I tie, I can feel my excitement grow.


So while you sit at the vise this summer and fill your box. Tie up some old patterns that you used to fish years ago. We go through cycles. We push the envelope with the newest and most up to date techniques and materials. It leads to progression and personal growth as an angler. But growth without remembering our roots is meaningless. One of the best ways to see just how far you've come is to revisit some of those old fly patterns. Along with the nostalgia it will bring, I guaranteed you fished those flies for a reason. 


Me, I'm pretty fired up about getting another tug on a hobo spey.

 

Hard work and elbow grease

Posted on October 22, 2015 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)

With so many technological advances in the fly fishing industry it's so easy to get caught up by the next new thing and forget last years gear all together. While I am just as guilty of this as others, I do try to go through older gear to find a use for it. Maybe it's as simple as picking up a ten or fifteen year old rod, admiring the cracks in the finish and pits in the cork- the marks of a well fished rod. A rod with many stories to tell. Or maybe it's going through a box of old old fly lines, chopping sections up to use as light shooting heads on stream trout rods.


Recently while visiting my grandfather, we walked into his basement rod collection, my eyes fell to a two peice orange 8 1/2 foot fiberglass 8 weight fly rod, and the white mate rod next to it. My dad had told me over and over again throughout the years how my grandfather bought those rods for himself and my dad. The white one was Opa's and the orange one was dad's. Those rods used to be in our house. In fact the first steelhead I ever caught was on the Grand River in Ohio. The fish took a white jig-fly under an indicator. I was fishing witout any weight, and probably three or four feet off the bottom, so that fish had to move pretty far to take the fly. As I picked up the rod, I noticed the finish was peeling, the wraps were fraying, the ferules were corroded and stained. The rod bore the testiment of age from cork to tip. So I took it. And I messed around. Peeled all the wraps, removing the rusty eyelets. The more I stripped the rod down, the more the blank breathed. I took a dremmel and cut the dry and cracked cork and the stained and corroded reel seat. Finally with a fine plast wire brush, I dremmeled off the yellowing and peeling finish. The rod was stripped down to the blank.


I've built a few rods from blanks and kits before, so I knew what needed to be done. As I wrapped new thread on chrome guides and eyelets, and polished the metal ferules back to a shine, the rod was alive again. With a new perma-gloss finish, the blank shined in the light of my workbench. All I needed was a good reel seat. And today it came. With five minute epoxy, I fixed the reel seat to the blank. All that I need now is a matching clicker-pawl and I have a throwback steelhead setup. Digging through my boxes I found a gold Pflueger clicker-pawl. The pairing is beautiful.


My grandfather bought that rod from K-Mart in the 70's for what I'm guessing was less than twenty-five bucks back then. It's was a no-name rod company. Some fleeting sports supplier that faded into obscurity. The Pflueger I remember picking up when I got into steelheading in the early to mid 90's. I spent less than fifty bucks. The total setup expenditure, including the replacement parts for the refurbished rod, is less than $125. In an era of rods that cost upwards of a thousand dollars, and reels to match costing hundreds, it's refreshing to find something and work with it. With a little love, hard work and elbow grease, you can make a one of a kind. An original. The rod and reel are great. For anyone who has never tried, casting glass is slow and full of melody. And clicker-pawls have matched steelhead as long as the fish have been chased with the fly. So maybe this year, instead of scouring the websites for the newest and hottest gear, we explore our man caves, sports closets, and garages. You just may find something exciting. I found a great rod and reel for a dry line.



Setting the epoxied reel seat



It'll catch a fish or two more...

Fishing high and dirty

Posted on October 17, 2015 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Over the past few days, we've had a weather system move through dumping rain and even snow at times. The water is both a blessing and a curse for our creeks and rivers. On larger systems like the Catt, it seems like a heavy dew will blow her out. So a half inch of rain definitely will. On Friday, I headed out early to fish. Even the little creeks were high and dirty, so I knew the mainstem of the Catt would be. But I headed up anyways. When I got there, no surprise, she was flowing a chalky milk, with only a few inches of visibility. But it was a beautiful day and I checked out some spots.


Low and behold, some of her main feeder tributaries were running clear and with decent flow! These smaller fingers attract fish when flows are right, and the flow was right so I wanted to check it out. I started at the pull off and fished my way down. It seems the more I fish larger water, the more I forget just how fun swinging streamers on a small creek can be. As I worked the water, I came to familiar runs where I have pulled fish out from log jams and cut banks. As I reached an hard turn with a cut bank on the other side I paused and watched the sun break through the clouds. This particular stretch has been good to me. I swung my streamer through anticipating the solid pull of a stout fish, only to be rewarded by my line coming through to a stop. No takes on this swing. Or so I thought. As I positioned my anchor for a small snap t cast, I watched a decent resident brown in full spawning colors come out and eat it, the streamer shaking in his mouth as he darted back to the deep. With so much slack in my line I could not get a set on him and my streamer pulled to the surface to be cast again. A few feet down below, I noticed a redd in the tailout, maybe 15 inches across. Looks like he had a mate. You just never know what you'll find when you explore.


When I reached the mouth, where the feeder dumps into the main stem. The clear water extended down the river right bank for several hundred yards. The strip, maybe only 15 feet wide made a beautiful seam between the heavy silt flow and the spring feed water. In these conditions fish will sit right near the bank in that seam, and finding these places can often save what would otherwise be a skunk. Because I often fish this stretch of river, I knew that the creek mouth formed a slot maybe a few feet deep down the river right, while the middle was a large gravel riffle only calf deep for quite some time before forming a deep pool. Despite the visibility, I waded out to the center, casting to the right bank and swinging into the dirty. Each step down, I knew the slot deepened. There had to be a fish somewhere along that line. Before I knew it I was a couple hundred yards down from where I started, standing in near waist deep water. My consciousness began to warn me, and I had reached the point where I was no longer confident wading further. I wanted to keep fishing. I know there are fish somewhere along that seam. But I turned back. As anglers our best asset is ourselves. Our instincts and intuitions. It helps us pick the right fly. It helps us fish the right water. It helps us catch fish. And it tells us when to turn back. And now was that time for me. To continue would not be safe. Though I took a risk fishing as far down as I had, I only did so because I was confident in my abilities and knew the terrain. Without that confidence, we second guess and make mistakes. And no fish is worth the greatest mistake of all. Though the contrary is often said as epitaphs to the fishing partners we lose in life, there really are no steelhead in heaven.


 Some pics of scenery.


The seam between the the spring and the mainstem.



Beautiful scenery

First Report of the Season and Loss of a Good Buddy

Posted on September 17, 2015 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

With cooler nights and rain over the weekend, on Sunday I went out to explore one of the local Ohio Creeks. Though the flow was perfect, the recent rains had muddied the waters. In the early season, even a little bit of rain can color the water. It generally takes a few good showers to bump the flow up enough so that the silt deposited during spring storms on the riverbank flushes out. Water temperature was in the upper 50's though. I'd expect the first push of fish to be nosing around the mouth waiting for the next pulse of water to start shooting up.


On a second note, a good buddy of mine, Mark Gaissert, passed away Saturday night in Alaska. He and I guided together for 5 years in Alaska and was great fisherman, guide and friend. We spent countless days chasing trout, salmon, or wild Alaskan steelhead. Mark you will be missed. Hope the runs are good up there. Wet a fly on Sunday for you buddy. No steelhead yet. Here's a pic for you bud.