Fly Tying Expo, November 7, 2015

Below is the flyer for the 2015 Fly Tying Expo hosted by the Great Lakes Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers.  The Fly Tying Expo will be held at the Causeway Bay Hotel in Lansing Michigan from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday, November 7, 2015.

The Fly Tying Expo is a major source of income for the Great Lakes Council.  The income generated from this event helps support the conservation of our fishery resources, promote fly fishing as a method of angling and protect and expand fly fishing opportunities.

Get your tickets today!

-The Fly Factor Staff

Trout, Grouse and Elk

Late September is the time of year I look forward to for my annual "cast and blast" that takes place in Northern Michigan each year.
This is the time I hunt grouse and fish for Brook trout.
My favorite area south of the bridge is the Pigeon River State Forest. This is the largest tract of wild land in the Northern Lower Peninsula and is the core area of Michigan's wild Elk herd. The Elk are scattered throughout this huge tract of land and one of my favorite Brook trout rivers, the Black River, runs through the heart of a traditional rutting area. To fish the river in the fall of the year is a pleasant adventure that I look forward to for the fish themselves....the bonus is to have Elk bugling in the early morning at first light in the surrounding hills.
I have spent many mornings through the years at this time of year in this very special place fly fishing for Brook trout in their spectacular fall spawning colors, while several bulls announce their presence in the hills and meadow along the river. I have had the privilege to have an entire stretch of river to myself with the sound of Elk seemingly surrounding me to create an atmosphere that suggests you could be in a western state or Province, while a mere three hours from home.
     Then there are the Trout themselves, which is what lead you to this river valley in the first place, and are reason enough for the short pilgrimage north.
    If you have never had the pleasure to look at a male Brook Trout in the fall, you Are missing out on a different kind of 'color tour 'that takes place along with the changing of the leaves in the hardwoods. The other color tour I am referring to takes place under water, and is a sight that only a fisherman is privy to. A beautiful fish to admire all year long, now transforms into a painting, with exaggerated markings and a sunset orange belly that no doubt helped it to achieve the lofty status of our State Fish.

Beautiful Brook Trout from Early Fall 2015 - Photo Curiosity of Mark Karaba

Beautiful Brook Trout from Early Fall 2015 - Photo Curiosity of Mark Karaba

    After the music of the Elk has subsided in late morning and you have held in your hand and admired enough Brook trout to hopefully sustain you for another year, you can slip off your waders and pull on your favorite hunting boots and head for the Aspen thickets in search of grouse and woodcock.
If you are lucky, you will look in the game pouch you have not visited for a year and find among the year old twigs and leaves a few grouse feathers from a successful past hunt that brings a smile to your face and gives you pause.
This could be the reason a bird hunter never cleans out the bottom of his or her hunting vest. Maybe If we were to clean out our pockets and game pouch and throw away the twigs and sticks that have accumulated there along with the feathers, we may be throwing away a memory from the recent past that leads us to the present ,and fills us with anticipation which truthfully is the force that drives us.
     To be in a wild place in the fall such as the Pigeon River forest gives the sportsman more options than time allows for in a busy world that always pulls at you with domestic chores and general commitments with a perpetual 'to do list ' that waits for us very patiently back at home. At some point the 'to do' list creeps into your head and reminds us that this escape to the wild to fulfill our passion is a temporary fix that has some consequence, big or small, depending on how your personal world turns.

Guide and Author, Mark Karaba, with Grouse harvested in Northern Michigan. Photo Curiosity of Mark Karaba.

Guide and Author, Mark Karaba, with Grouse harvested in Northern Michigan. Photo Curiosity of Mark Karaba.

     Regardless, we push ahead through yet another poplar stand with intense anticipation of the thunderous flush of a grouse, we wade around just one more bend in the river with a promise to ourselves that we will stop after just one more cast, because we want to hold one more Brook trout in our hand and sit on the river bank and admire the scarlet maple tree before turning away to succumb to the 'list' at home. By now the list is moving to the forefront of your thoughts, and at this point in your life you have learned to accept the balance of duty and wanderlust to chase trout and birds and elk because if things all work out as in the will be back next year to this very spot, and if history does in fact repeat itself, nothing will have changed in the woods and river, and you will be a full year older and just maybe, the 'list' has gotten smaller and leaves you to be quiet and still to hear the Elk bugle with even more clarity.


Upper Peninsula Exposure

I have been waiting for the inspiration to find me to allow me to put my thoughts in order ,and finally write about our recent camping trip to the Upper Peninsula.
Nothing really spectacular occurred. Nothing that stands out really about the whole
Ten days of camping that hasn't been experienced before by someone else I suppose. You know,the Bald Eagles that were sighted nearly every day ,and the Ospreys that seemed to lead our canoe down the beautiful, wild Escanaba River as we drifted and paddled, and fished.
The anticipation and excitement (at least for the first day) of not knowing what lay ahead on this sprawling, remote river that we had not canoed before.
     There were rapids and deep runs ,and areas of sheer bedrock that the river flowed over, and huge rock gardens that we bottomed out on in the canoe.
There was of course, fly fishing and birds to watch, and so many wild flowers to try to identify. We picked wild raspberries and looked in vain for the venerable blueberries that did not do too well across all of northern Michigan it seems.
    We fished on a stretch of the river that had a waterfall dumping into the main river from a smaller tributary that came in from the north  where the entire river as far downstream as far as you could see ,had carved its way through the bedrock and exposed the rock walls that contained it.  The River itself and it's wild diversity, along with the possibility of seeing wildlife such as bear or even a moose, created a pleasant distraction that made concentrating on casting and following a drifting fly a refreshing challenge to a familiar routine.
There were smallmouth bass in all the places one who fishes for them with a fly rod expects them to be, in the log jams and the deeper and slower runs. They were aggressive and explosive, and had the 'pull' of a fish that made its living in this tannin stained, steep gradient river system.


    Aside from what the river had to offer and show us, there is always some back road or "two track" cruising to be done to just look at the country and experience the lay of the land. The constant slow drive with no hurry, and no one to rush you to allow time to check out the animal tracks and learn more about the area you are now a part of.....though temporary in truth, you explore as though you just purchased a cabin in the woods near here, and you want to acquaint yourself with your surroundings and neighbors, though few they are.
     There were the two sets of bear tracks we saw and took photos of, and one or two wolf tracks following the sand road in the direction we were traveling,though made the night before, and a few coyote tracks with one actual sighting of one wanting to cross the road ahead of us.
      The main focus I suppose on this particular adventure was the camping itself.
It seems that Julie and I have a knack or just good luck to find a remote campground that is vacant or nearly so, that affords us the privacy and solitude that we demand in seeking out a sanctuary for 're-charging' our internal batteries ,and avoiding an engaging neighbor that seeks out company in such a way that makes me suspicious of their motive for camping in the first place so far from home!
    This was our first real 'out bound' stay in the small camper trailer. Though small in stature, it has all the comforts of home on a much smaller scale.
There was a very comfortable and cozy bed. A small shower and toilet with miniature vanity and sink. A refrigerator/freezer and cook stove plus water heater that runs on propane.A water tank with a twelve volt pump that supplied our water to sink and shower. An awning for shade and rain protection.
We had a chainsaw and cut firewood every couple days for the constant campfire in the fire pit a few feet from the camper door.
We pumped water from a hand pump into a vessel and poured it into the holding tank through an improvised 'funnel' (pop bottle) every couple days.
     So here we were back in the woods with nearly all the comforts of home.
Refrigerator, hot water, comfy bed, stove, fire and firewood, and most important of all....solitude and quiet. The kind of quiet that we seek out . Quiet from noise and lights and cars and everyday distractions with everyday commitments that make their own sounds that usually manifest themselves in the form of a ringing phone or the 'ding' of a new email that we MUST check and respond to.
     We did spend some time in the the town nearest us for a meal or two and general shopping which, in this context is more novel than a chore and is done in a way that just becomes part of the vacation itself. I mean, we don't know anyone in Gwinn that we run into to 'chat' or catch up with. We only exchange pleasantries with total strangers that in itself is fun and novel and can be as stimulating as the other aspects of the vacation, especially if the stranger (I suppose WE are the strangers here) offers a tip or advice on a hot fishing spot or where a moose was recently spotted.
     It seems that I for one, am constantly drawn to the north country and the pine and spruce forest that has lead me to nearly all parts of northern Michigan and five Canadian provinces. I am constantly missing and seeking that clean fresh pine scented air with a sky that's a shade or two of deeper blue, and maybe the sound of the rolling, sometimes crashing waves of Lake Superior.
    Having been many places of the north or the mountains gives me satisfaction that I crave to sooth the wanderlust that is an affliction I suppose.
Having a place like the Upper Peninsula, that has so much to offer for the seeker of wild things and wild places makes one justifiably proud to live in the great state of Michigan.

Mark Karaba

Co-Founder / Fly Fisherman Guide

The Heat is On

As spring turns to summer, the heat that coats us like a wet blanket begins to creep into our days and nights. It's hard to escape it and those of us without central air better hope to have a window unit or two.

The "dog days" of summer or the "summer doldrums" are rapidly approaching. Folks typically associate this as a very difficult time to fish. I just think back to frigid 10 degree days of January sitting in my den tying flies dreaming of warm days and open water and I become reminded of the opportunity that I have now. This is not the time to make excuses like oh it's too hot or muggy.

When targeting bass it's all about the early morning hours and the end of the day, the last hour or two of light. This is top water time. Foam popping flies ranging from size 2 to 8 in a variety of colors work well. Black, white, grey, tan and green should cover most everything. I also prefer a deer hair fly with rabbit tail. This fly is deadly on shy smallmouth and largemouth. I use it primarily as a night fly for large brown trout, but quickly found out how deadly it was for bass as well. I don't bother trying to tie terrestrials to match the hatch for bass. But it's a good idea to have beetles, ants, hoppers, and dragonflies in a variety of colors and sizes for the more selective trout. There are numerous patterns out there that will catch plenty of fish. I also like patterns that imitate frogs and mice for "mousing" after dark.

I always doubted how much attention a trout paid to mice believing they were primarily feeding upon frogs until one evening while fishing the AuSable river waiting on the Hex hatch. A mouse was working over a particular stretch of bank that I was sitting on. I was in his way and he would disappear underneath the bank. I actually heard him entering the water and observed him fall into the water a couple of times. I realized how close in proximity mice actually get to the lairs of giant opportunistic brown trout. There have been many nights that I've heard fish attempt to feed on the bank. Pushing prey into the shallows or feeding on prey right at the waters edge. It's similar to behavior of bottle nose dolphins that push redfish into the shallows. Frogs, mice and fish are all fed upon in the shallows and are good choices to imitate in low light and after dark.

Large fish tend to feed in the mornings, evenings and especially after dark with the elevated water temperatures. Bass can withstand higher variations in water temperature, but large fish rarely leave shady banks, logjams or shallow spring water seeps that offer a reprieve during the warmest parts of the day. Trout start to seek coldwater reprieve once the water reaches 70 degrees and night offers a drop in water temperature steadily throughout the night and eventually rises again during the afternoon and mid-day periods. There are armies of fly anglers that pursue trout after dark religiously. I have personally caught numerous trout between 15-20" after dark and the opportunity to catch something in the 25" range is common. An explosive eruption on the surface is your cue that the fish has attempted to eat, wait until you feel the fish to set the hook, or slowly sweep your rod tip until you feel pressure ensuring that the fly has driven home into the fishes jaw. In darkness the fish feel much more comfortable exposing themselves and move about freely into feeding lanes.  Often times these fish bury themselves in the wood all day long and night is the only opportunity we have to make a decent presentation.

Fishing in the dark takes some getting used to. You have to use all your senses and this is not the time to obsess over your fly landing exactly next to cover. Fish will move for your fly as long as they can see it or can follow the wake it leaves. This is not the situation to worry about drag free drift and swinging down and across and casting quartering upstream is the norm. Sound from gurglers or popping flies can help a fish to home in on your fly. SLOW down and make one cast where in the daylight you might make 5 presentations. Start out casting to areas that you know you can get a drift without snagging any wood or branches and feed more line as you gain confidence in your fly placement.

You should be prepared when fishing at night and it is not wise to wade where you are not familiar with. Fishing with a buddy is advised and they can help you net your fish and take that once in a lifetime photo. You should have bug dope, a thermacel, and any other form of repellent you can think of. A headlamp is a must and an extra flashlight.

Inevitably fishing late means you’re going miss the early morning unless you plan on burning the candle from both ends. That's when afternoon fishing terrestrials to the banks and wood can pay off. Cooler water seeps near shore offer reprieve from warmer water and are often shaded from riparian vegetation. I have made the mistake of fishing to likely seams and feeding lanes in 2-3 ft. of water only to bust a fish behind me in 6"-12" of water with its nose to the bank. It's something that you don't forget very easily. If your wet wading you will feel the temperature changes and often can locate the spring seep. Remember this spot for the next time and make sure to fish it. Long outside bends with shade offer prime targets for hoppers and grassy undercut banks should be targeted as well. Remember to consider how the fish will position itself. Often times they will be positioned with their noses to the bank watching for an opportunity to feed on whatever is at the water’s edge or even flying above the water surface.

After a nice wet wade you can go grab a bite to eat and take a nap before you return to the river that evening. This is not a bad way to spend a couple days of fishing on vacation or on the weekend. Don't worry you'll just be dragging at work for a couple days until you get used to it and by then you'll be thinking about doing it again. Fishing at night offers solace and a reprieve from the norm. I've come to enjoy this time of year and all that it has to offer. Consider fishing outside your comfort zone this summer and reap the rewards!

Brett Riser
Co-Owner of The Fly Factor Guide Service located in Southwest Michigan

River Report - Slipping into Summer

The middle and upper Kalamazoo River has been overtop its banks for approximately three weeks and finally we are starting to get a little reprieve from all the high water. Some folks downstream have experienced flooding way down toward Allegan and New Richmond which is almost to Lake Michigan.

Up here in the middle and upper Kalamazoo watershed we rarely get enough of a swell to overtop its banks. So this has been quite unusual, but serious flooding jeopardizing homes is very rare this far up in the watershed. However I did hear that a few people needed rescuing while floating down the river during this high water. Not a good time to float the river especially if your not experienced. The faster water can  get you into trouble quickly. Floating the river is safe now but the water is still at least a 1-2 ft. high for this time of year which should provide the fish some added security to make it through July and August when summertime mean temperatures get near 80 degrees.


A few new trees are in the river in the places that don't need it and not enough trees in the restoration stretch between Saylor's and Ceresco which is disappointing. Hopefully they still have plans on anchoring some large trees in that stretch. And I've heard from a very reliable source that this should happen. The river itself looks amazing and the potential for water quality and the fishery in the future is immense. It's kind of ironic that an oils spill spurred so much attention to a wonderful river that needed attention and probably never would have received it on such a large scale. Not saying an oil spill is good thing but maybe now what conservation folks and outdoorsman have wanted for years will start to happen at an accelerated rate.

The trees upstream in the long run will be good, but can make it a challenge to navigate successfully downstream. Be prepared to portage or bring something with you to cut your way through upstream of Albion. The farther downstream you get the more likely you will be able to float through as the river gains cfs (volume) the wider the stream tends to be. Passage in small tributaries that dump into the Kalamazoo will have new blowdowns and movement of jams is common. So don't be surprised if your favorite spot has changed some.

I will say this the fish are fat and they look happy. I don't think I've seen a skinny fish since the post spawn and the 72 degree water is inviting. Typical of the Kalamazoo the fish are buried in the wood with an occasional teenager keyed up in the bubble line maybe sitting behind a gravel shelf.

The pondweed and the grass mats that cover the edges of the river and sometimes the entire cross section are really starting to form. Just remember that a small depression will form behind the base of the plant and the longer and thicker the plant the more cover it will provide from above. Fish will sit in the blazing sun below this mat. Don't just fish the edges or shady parts of the river this time of year. Grass holds fish wether in two feet of water on the river or in 8 ft in a lake.

When fishing a "jam" hit the head or leading edge of the jam and twitch or strip the fly tantalizing it as close as possible. Rusty Gates preached it for dry fly fishing bugs for trout this time of year and the technique works for smallmouth. Subsurface streamers for trout during the daytime and surface flies in low light is the general rule. When your in a boat floating with the current you can stall your fly out out and strip it right in front of the fishes nose teasing him into striking.

Consistent weather now has provided some consistent fishing. Mark, Bill and I fished Sunday downstream of Marshall and caught 7 fish the biggest was Marks 18 1/2 inches. Not bad and came right off the wood. I took fellow MSU alum, hunting buddy, and friend out last Thursday, Coree a Masters student who just received his degree from OSU in wildlife. He literally picked up fly fishing in 10 minutes, a super talented athletic guy, he was fishing effectively enough to catch fish. He moved two fish and lost one. But hey that's just how it is. Sometimes they just seem to be fed up and the river can be quite stubborn.

We are slipping into the summer routine here as are most rivers and weather patterns. Muggy days and moisture hanging in the air is our morning greeting. Early morning and evening fishing topwater and streamers are the ticket. It's summer...


Brett Riser


The Tug

So why has Smallmouth bass on the fly become such a hot topic ? The pull...the tug ,the 'take'..that's why. If you fly fish and have not pursued these feisty fish with a streamer ,you are missing out on big fun . Chances are , if you are a trout fisherman (fisher person for the PC crowd),if you live in the great state of Michigan, or Wisconsin, you are within near casting distance of a river that holds smallies.
     If you are totally set on fishing pristine ,clear and cold hard bottom rivers and streams such as classic trout waters typically are, you need a new perspective.
Some of the water we here at The Fly Factor fish,our 'home waters' if you will, are for the most part are not unlike many northern rivers. The Kalamazoo River is a perfect example . You can wade many stretches of the upper river and if you didn't know better , you would assume it was indeed a trout river and in fact, an occasional brown trout is caught as a bonus.
      We employ drift boats for the most part and wear our waders to allow for the option to wade certain stretches that allow for a more deliberate approach and presentation...also this helps to create a little diversity and the client can slow down and cast from a static position as opposed to the sometimes "machine gunning " of being in a boat and casting to cover as it presents itself.

      The deal here is,that many anglers are missing out on great fishing that occurs in some cases, very close to home. The fight and pull of a 15" bass in moving water will put a smile on the face of an angler that may have looked down on warm water fish as somehow beneath them . And technically speaking,while fishing from a drift boat, the smallmouth are 'beneath you' in the most literal sense.....that's the game bring a new perspective AND the fish to the surface, have fun close to home with a fly rod and open up a whole new world that is bass fishing with a fly that once experienced, you yourself can become 'hooked' as the tug is going to surprise you ,and allow for a quality experience close to home.

                 "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they
Are after"........ Thoreau

Mark Karaba
The Fly Factor

Getting Started Fly Fishing; What better time than now?

Fly fishing isn't really that really I'm being serious. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but in all reality it's not. It was hard for me though and took years to become effective enough to actually become efficient at it.

I've taught quite a few people how to fly fish in less than 45 minutes. And have had them catching smallmouth on the fly in that amount of time.

Granted these folks were different than most, but in all reality I've worked with all levels and it's not that complicated. Us "experts" would like to make it seem like you need to be absolutely one with nature and have spent a lifetime to be able to catch a fish on a fly. It takes years to reach higher levels and to master certain styles or techniques but to cast line effectively and efficiently enough to deliver a fly to a fish is pretty straightforward. This is the nuts and bolts of fly fishing and also explains how a complete novice can grab a fly rod and catch a 20" plus trout their first time out. It's probably also to inspire us and torment us at the same time.

Learning is sped up tremendously by a good teacher. I fumbled about for years as a teen teaching myself and would have benefited greatly from a mentor or guide. Even in my early years at college I should have hired a guide every chance I had instead of worrying about having enough money to chip in on the next kegger.

And I would suggest doing just that and taking some lessons or spending time with a mentor to save valuable time and effort. It's a lot like a good golf game and swing...lots of muscle memory and moving parts that can easily go wrong or with proper teaching can more often than not go right. It's very hard to see what your doing wrong but someone watching you on the other hand can correct problems almost instantly. 

I alluded to muscle memory and this is something that just takes time. AND if you start out incorrectly your digging yourself a major hole. Good form, good instruction, and a little willingness and effort to learn and you'll on your way to success. 

Before you know it with some effort you'll be catching bass, pike, bluegills, trout and anything else you can think of. If there's a fish there is a way to catch it on the fly!

I would recommend buying an affordable outfit with line spooled for you and your local fly shop can get you started. Here in the Marshall/Battle Creek area, Paul Jakubiak owner of Uncle Jakes

can hook you up and is one of the best instructors I know (he taught me how to tie my first fly). Also, Brian Bieleki at Nomad Anglers in Okemos has gone out of his way to hook me up many times. And has helped out plenty of anglers in mid and west michigan. Nomad has a huge following...

Don't spring for the expensive rod and reel start out with something in the $100 range (and that's a $100 for the rod and a $100 for the reel otherwise your wasting your time). No wait I have a reason for this - well made expensive rods are much quicker, and less forgiving which are way harder to learn on. If you have a little more to spend in your budget - nothing wrong with the 175 dollar range. Talking price ranges - $300 for a rod is mid range and $800 is expensive. I buy all my "expensive" rods slightly used or at discount. I like to let the more affluent guys break them in for me or get a deal.

Fly rod designers use a weighting system to define the size of fly line the rod should cast best.  Fly reels will follow suit by stating that they are for 5-7 weight and so on. Think of 1 wt as very small and progressively increasing in number increases in size. Relatively speaking a  3 wt is for smaller fish like small trout and panfish, a 6 or 7 wt is capable of handling larger fish like bass and steelhead and finally 8-10 wt for salmon and large saltwater species. A 4 wt is a good all around rod and a 7 wt for larger fish, like bass and pike. I was told to grab a 5 wt and an 8 wt to start, but i really wish I would have been advised to get a 4 wt then a 7wt. The five is just a little to beefy for small flies and fish but too small for decent sized streamers so I advise going with the 4 wt which is perfect for trout dries and nymphs, medium to small sized wadeable streams, and allows for enjoyment while fighting fish like trout, sunfish, bass and others. If you go down to a 3 wt you will be disappointed in your ability to fight and turn decent sized fish and you'll have a hard time throwing size 6 streamers or larger, something you'll need for trout and bass streams. The 7 wt is perfect for bass streamers, steelhead, and applications for large trout - like mousing or hexing. 

Affordable rods with decent quality leave you: TFO (designed by the grandfather of modern fly fishing- Lefty Kreh) and St. Croix make quality affordable rods. Orvis, Scott, Winston, and Sage are the next natural progression. These companies are starting to make more affordable rods in the $300 dollar range. Some companies with historic names in the industry make rods in the $100 dollar range but just keep in mind your not getting that $300 or better rod blank. A local company that's getting a lot a attention is Mystic Outdoors rods. They are based in Portland, MI just west of Lansing.

It's also important to explain the thought process on choosing what you buy and why. The general idea is that you want a better rod in the 4 wt and not to worry so much about the reel. This is because you'll be catching smaller fish and the rod is more important than the reel. I generally agree with this, however your going to need a reel that can pick up line quickly when you get into a nice fish. Some would argue that you still don't need that because your going to have a hard time getting a fish on the reel (picking up all the excess line from casting so the line is reeled in vs. not getting it on the reel and pulling the fish in by your reeling hand with pressure from your rod hand) which can be true, but just being able to have that capability and just for the ease of reeling in your line go with something with a larger arbor. By larger I mean the diameter of the reel as well as considering the width. The larger the diameter the more line it will pick up. Sage used to make an affordable reel that I still have (and use) the 1600 series. Then it morphed into the 1800 series and now the current 2200 series has replaced the latter. Orvis makes a nice mid arbor reel and offers a few other options depending on what you're willing to buy. 

The thought process with investing in a good reel for the 7 wt is that you will be fighting bigger fish with the ability to test the drag. This holds but the only drawback to cheating on the rod is that a cheaper heavier rod can take its toll whole casting all day long. 

I'm not going to overwhelm everyone with explanations of rod action and soft tips, bend etc. this is not the place or time to talk in depth about this. Mistakenly most teachers muddle that point to the beginner with to many technicalities. Thise are things that come in to play later in the individuals progression. 

A moderately priced rod and reel is more than adequate to learn on and it shouldn't be an obsessing point.  Get in the game and purchase your first setup and start the process of beginning a pursuit toward something you've always dreamed of.

Brett Riser

The Fly Factor

Trout Opener 2015

Well, another opening day has come and gone here in the great state of Michigan. 

The conditions were certainly more favorable than in certain past years with the snow gone from sight in the northern lower peninsula and moderate to low water levels. On the famed AuSable, where I have spent many opening days but, this year the water temps were the deciding factor in the slow fishing.

At the Keystone Landing, on the 'Holy Water', the water temp on the afternoon before the opener was a chilly 39 degrees. On Saturday, in spite of the sunshine , the water temps remained in the high thirties and I believe I saw a high water temp of 44 degrees. The nights were cold with frost, and the wind was out of the north east most of the weekend. I saw a substantial hatch of Olives in the afternoon on Friday with many flies on the water and not a single rise. The Trout were just not 'looking up' in the cold water in spite of the available bugs on the water. I spoke to a group of anglers in the restaurant in Grayling and they had Hendricksons on the water at Wakeley on Sunday without ever seeing a rising fish.

    So it goes as they say. It was still good to feel the water rushing past waders that had been in a suspended (pun intended) state of dryness for too long and the sky was a classic, northern deep blue that helped remind me of why I do what I do, and that catching is not always fishing in of itself.

Julie and I spent The forenoon in Lovells, as has been a tradition for a few years at the Fly Fishing Museum enjoying the fishing artist display held there this year.
For those not familiar with the Museum, it is a wonderfully rustic log structure that though diminutive in stature, is jammed full of reminders of the historic role that Northern Michigan streams, notably the three branches of the AuSable River, have contributed to fly fishing and conservation of precious resources. Walking around inside the place makes me feel connected in a warm and fuzzy kind of way, and it just makes me feel good to know so many people care about something that happens to have been a very important part of my life for a very long time..........probably why my youngest son is named 'River AuSable Karaba' (poor kid).

    After we left the museum, we followed our yearly tradition and headed to Fullers North Branch Outing Club. Now here is a place that if you Google 'fly fishing history in Michigan', well, it should be first on the first page. This the old Douglas Hotel that had as regular guests in its day such as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and many iconic wealthy industrialists as regular patrons. It is owned and operated by Judy Fuller and has been brought back to its historic condition, and you can even see the old guest register on the counter with names that are recognizable throughout the world. They were trout fisherman that got together as is still done today, to get 'up north'. They headed to the cold, clear and crisp northern air and waters that as I have said many times before, are always better than at home.

   And so as a traditional trout opener has ended, so begins an entire new season for those of us with this particular affliction that is fly fishing.  And soon the arrival of the front wave of bird migration will show up and we will be treated to a new chorus of song to harmonize with the sound of flowing water around our legs, and the cedar and sweet fern, in time, it will become that familiar elixir that makes us day dream in our waking hours of the cold and seemingly endless winter months. There will be a rise and a familiar ring on the water, and the sky will fill with mayflies and Cedar Waxwings, and we will realize that this is real and now.

And so it begins.

Mark Karaba
The Fly Factor

Spring Thinking

Well we've all got that early season fishing itch and the way the last two winters have gone we couldn't deserve relief more. This is the time to turn thoughts to that first excursion of the new year. For trout traditionalists its the last weekend of April. Bass enthusiasts used to have to wait until Labor Day, but luckily now we have an early catch and release season that opens April 25th. Some folks have been lucky enough to sneak out and fish for steelhead ( for me the last two years have been extremely challenging), but if you're like me, you have to pick and choose your adventures and life's curve balls have lowered the amount of winter steelhead hours I've been able to log. Gas, lots of snow, and home restoration have taken precedence.

That's all about to change. Warming trends and spring melt are just around the corner. And it's time to think about where and what you want to fish for.

Northern pike will spawn under the ice and right after ice-out; walleye will be running up our river systems to spawn ; and yellow perch and crappie will be spawning on nearshore shelves and flats.

For me though thoughts turn to rivers - trout and bass in particular. March and April typically mark our first significant hatches of insects. Early winter stoneflies are active, you'll see them emerging on what's left of the snow on the banks. Nymphs are an effective strategy this time of year. Trout actively feed in very cold water (32 and above). Streamers really start to produce and a warming trend can really get things going. Be careful to check the reg's on your local trout stream to insure an enjoyable trip to the river free of a ticket from your local Conservation Officer (CO). Around here on our inland streams, generally Type IV (blue) designated trout streams are all that's open. This will offer you a chance to test out that new gear and get your "wading legs" back. Some winters are harder on fish than others, and brown trout are fall spawners so there's no need to worry about interrupting reproduction. Cooler water temperatures aid in revival, but be mindful of a hard winter on the trouts ability to recover from a long fight. Lower water temperatures slow its metabolism and lower the amount fish feed during the winter. A fish can burn up most of its fat stores and a long hard fight can bring a spring fish to the brink.

Contrary to some peoples fool hearty belief bass FEED YEAR ROUND (if you don't believe me go ice fishing and if you're not able to pull that off ask an ice fisherman if he's ever caught a bass), but they can be hard to target effectively until temperatures climb into the mid to upper 40's. Bass are cold-blooded and presentations should be tailored to water temperature. Throw current in the mix and most experienced anglers don't know how to adapt. Current speed and depth should dictate how much weight you will need. Talking flies - this is accomplished by dumbbell eyes or lead wrapped around the shank. Clouser type flies or crayfish imitations are my favorite this time of year and allow a slower presentation. Casting slightly downstream allowing the fly to sink before short strip- pause retrieves or small "pops" of the rod which allow the current to move the fly slowly downstream into a waiting predators mouth. Another effective retrieve when things get real slow is to employ a "float" (bobber), by setting the depth to barely tick the bottom in likely holding locations in the tails of pools or next to structure, which have a lower current velocity allowing a large predator to expend less energy and still ambush with little effort or resources expended.

Repeated casts to likely lies and experimenting with weight and sink time is probably more important than covering water. Fish will be in the best of spots - holes, eddies or deep pools, or the best available. I've seen times where a fish didn't strike until about the 15th drift. Sometimes the fly has to be in that sweet spot for a lethargic fish to decide to eat. Fish aren't spooky this time of year. Very little fishing pressure and slower reaction times allow mistakes to go without consequence.

Sunny afternoons are usually more  productive than early morning or evening. So make sure you get a good breakfast, don't forget any gear, and catch up on a little sleep on the weekend this time of year (we're all still a little sluggish and trying to shake off the winter blues). It sounds cliche, but it's real and it's something that mother nature puts all gods creatures through. Some have evolved different methods of coping ( hibernation, exercise, eating too much, drinking too much etc.).

Smallmouths typically spawn at lower temperatures than largemouth, mid-fifties to low-sixties (13-17 degrees Celsius - if your one of our Canadian friends or if you took for granted what your middle school science teacher told you about the US adopting European standards) but largemouth will spawn at the same temperatures but typically when water reaches and exceeds the 60 degree mark. Remember that shallow lake areas with darker sediment tend to warm faster than streams. Lakes can warm significantly faster than rivers. Snowmelt and cold rains lower stream temperatures. Extreme switches in weather patterns from cold to hot can stimulate a short spawning season so be sure to pay close attention to stream conditions. Some seasons have long drawn out spawning while others are very short windows.

Largemouth and smallmouth water is typically thought of as separate in rivers. But they're habitats overlap and I've seen them use the same areas to spawn as well as areas to overwinter.

Largemouths will actively seek out warm, sediment laden, coves and bays or eddies, and oxbows that can be 3-5 degrees warmer than the rest of the waterbody. On large rivers this tends to be in the lower river or delta areas. Remember that the sun warms the north shores faster due to the fact that we are in the northern hemisphere and the sun resides in the southern portion of our sky this time of year.

Pay attention to environmental visual clues. Vegetation can be a clue to water temperatures and stream conditions. Plants like yellow and white lily pads can clue us in. Just when they begin to shoot for the surface is usually the time fish flock to these incubating areas that help to speed the development of egg clutches developing inside the female. As pads start to unfold on the surface fish begin to progress throughout stages of the spawn and will most likely move to locations more suitable to make nests and to spawn. I like paying more attention to aquatic vegetation than riparian trees, which is a better indicator of water temperature compared to those old adages like "bass bed when the dogwoods are in bloom".

Females feed heavily up until they spawn. I've seen the spawn happen in early May and also saw it happen the end of May and through June. Of course nothing is set in stone when it comes to a fish and multiple waves of spawning is also typical depending on weather patterns. Keep in mind I am speaking of weather patterns and latitudes in southwest Michigan.

When the spawn happens fast it can present a short window. Two years ago on the Kalamazoo, cold weather, with unusual short-sporadic warm ups left fish and local anglers bewildered. I was excited and readily anticipated what I knew was going to be the "the perfect time to target big fish", but I had to sit out a week and a half because the river was "blown out". I also had to wait until the weekend, elongating my return to the river, when I had enough time for a float trip. When I finally returned, the river had come down and cleared up and I returned with high anticipation - all that was left was guarding males. If you've ever caught these fish they are some of the most aggressive fish you'll ever encounter, little tough guys- about 8-12 inches. But they are left to defend their young and if you find yourself in this situation it's best to give them a break, and float downstream and come back another time. Smallmouth fry are amazingly quick growing and I've found them to be much more elusive than largemouth fry ( maybe a reason they are so successful in moving water). No worries, this is a short window and before you know it fry will disperse and the males hormones and instinctive protection of young will subside.

Soon after dispersal males and females put their feedbag back on to recover from resources lost during the spawn.

One more thing to consider when fishing on moving water is higher spring flows typically position fish shallower. Dropping water levels will leave spawning beds abandoned on rivers with extreme fluctuations, luckily southwest Michigan streams typically only experience slight fluctuations compared to southern reservoirs and tail races.

Before long May will transition to early summer. This period will mean warmer air and water temps, leading to much anticipated top water action and faster streamer retrieves. Until then enjoy the early-springtime in- between-time! Take advantage of early season catch and release opportunities and Type IV designated streams.

While everyone else is out scouting turkeys and thinking about last years deer season I'll be out testing new flies, waders, and seeing how the rivers swift current and high flows have shaped my favorite streams and creeks. It just might  come in handy in June and July when fish pick more aggressive feeding lanes and expose themselves. I would rafter wade through a newly formed fish holding depression in a feeding lane in April than June.

Enjoy the break in the weather and "live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth!" - Henry David Thoreau

See you on the water! And book a trip with that guide you've been wanting to fish with or on that river you've always wanted to fish.

Brett Riser

The Fly Factor

The Swing of It

It seems that one can hardly  read about streamer fishing these days without hearing about swinging a fly. I am not questioning the effectiveness of this technique ,as this is and has been my personal method of streamer fishing for many years. I have employed this technique for Trout and SmallmouthBass
with  good success . Though ,I have found that with trout if I am able to cast directly upstream or up and across and strip the fly directly back to me ,I have a lot more hook ups. One issue here would be the amount of weight on the particular fly and the distance of the cast. It doesn't take long to strip a fly back in a fast current. Even with a long cast,It can be quite a workout .
     I will add here ,that though the  technique for swinging a streamer for trout and smallmouth is basically the same,I have found this anomaly. A  Strike from a trout with no hook up usually means its time to move on. A smallmouth, not so much. Another way to describe the inherent difference between the take of a trout and that of a smallmouth might be explained like this.......a trout takes a swipe at the streamer and feels the sting of the hook ( or not )and says ,hum...I don't believe that was a food item!
A smallmouth on the other hand may think,..give me another shot at that thing whatever it was !
      My intent here ,before I digress into the beaten to death subject of swinging a streamer ,is to discuss fishing a nymph on the swing.
Let me qualify this by saying for what it's worth,that I am a nymph fisherman when it comes to Trout. Drop me off on a unfamiliar stream and,unless there is evidence that a  hatch is 'on' ,if allowed only one type of fly it would definitely be a nymph. Show me a rising trout during a sporadic hatch, and I will swing a nymph past it.
I have spent thirty years fishing with a nymph ninety percent of the time. I have been fishing with friends who will take up a position on a log,lean against a tree,light a smoke and wait. Wait for a reason to fish with a dry fly. I always comment that ," I came  to fish." I will never criticize the joy of having a Trout rise to a dry fly. Who would ? And I am not foolish enough to stick with my nymph rig when there is obvious surface activity taking place and the Trout are refusing my sub-surface offering. I do carry a few drys in my pouch for this reason.
    Almost all the nymphs I tie are weighted. Either a bead head or a wrap of tungsten .
I have never tied a nymph to match a traditional pattern. None of the ones we are all familiar with look anything more like the natural than what I tie.
 Here is a simple tip....when on the stream,bend down,reach in the water,and pick up a stone. Maybe a baseball size one. Turn it over.Look at what is crawling around on it and study it for a moment. Then go  home and tie something that looks like that.
Something "buggy". That's it. You don't need to go to YouTube and watch some dude tie a Prince nymph,a Hares ear,or a myriad of patterns that are just that,patterns. However,if you are one of those traditional people that has to have a blueprint for every venture into the unknown,you know the guy who actually SAVES  the directions to a "some assembly required"type of whatever well , this may all be too risky for you.
   My point here is...this is the place you can experiment. Step out of the norm and have some fun. Explore . I have no reason to suggest that traditional nymph patterns don't work. That would be foolish. They  do work of course.
I just feel that this is the area that you can create something on your own and enjoy the additional pleasure that comes with tying a fly of YOUR design and catching a trout with it !
     Now, about the presentation . I like to cast down and across. I will sometimes even mend the line to the downstream side of the fly to create more of a 'belly' in the line. This also helps to present the fly sideways to the trout. It appears as though the fly or natural, is swimming right  in front of the fishes nose.This  is always what I try to imagine when I place the fly where I want it.That it is going to swim directly in front of a trout and all it has to do is open it's mouth or lunge  forward to eat it.  Not having to chase it,but so close and tempting that it causes a  reaction bite. I must back up here and explain that , this whole technique works well in a moderate to slower flow or gradient. Some water is simply to fast to swing a small fly .
Sometimes in fast water you will move the fish and feel a bump but not get a hook up. You must decide through trial and error or plain experience if you need to slow the fly down.
  If you feel that the fly is moving too fast ,do an upstream mend and 'stall ' the fly just before it enters the fish zone.
Another technique I employ is ,to let my fly line straighten out downstream, then lift my rod tip to bring the fly back toward me,then roll cast a downstream loop in the line without picking the fly out of the water. This will when the line catches up to the leader swing the fly at a slightly slower rate of speed.
   Roll casts. I rarely back cast when fishing down and across. I have fished for hours and covered a half mile of water and only used a roll cast the entire time.
It's easy, takes less effort, saves flies and , I am able to place the fly with much more accuracy . A weighted fly is not that much fun to false cast.
    Learning to cast a fly in general with a dry fly, can be done on the lawn. That's all about timing and loop.
Learning to roll cast  , just add water. You need the resistance and drag on the fly line from the water to turn the line over to its full extension.
Though to some and maybe most fly anglers, maneuver of the roll cast is elemental and part of their repertoire . I personally rarely see another angler using the roll cast up or down. Though in fairness ,my survey of how many anglers use a roll cast has a small demographic . Mostly because I try real hard to fish where I do not see other anglers.
     My leader set up is typically shorter and heavier . This type of presentation puts the fly in front of the fish before the leader ,so you can shorten up .
Also,you will occasionally get a violent strike that comes against an already taut leader that the current is pulling on with virtually no slack. I have had some  fish with some weight break off on the take.
One thing I have forced  myself to do to reduce the numbers of break offs on the take is....hold the line loosely in my left (line) hand  and still maintain control. It is the most efficient way to create slack to allow for shock when a fish hits that moving fly.
      If you have a fairly new and expensive rod chances are it has a fast tip.
If you are trying to learn to roll cast and seem to be working to hard at it, Try a slower action or medium action rod. More parabolic if you will.
I suppose some may disagree with me about slower rods for roll casting, but to me it is a no brainier .
  I own several fast action rods. I love them.The faster the better for casting big flies or streamers,or even dry flies for that matter. But when I am on a skinny piece of water and know I will be roll casting, I grab a slower rod.
     Most nymph fisherman nowadays use a strike indicator. A bobber.
This is a very effective way to fish with a nymph downstream. It allows me in faster water to mend and slow the fly down and let it drop lower into the fish zone. This is the same effect as casting directly upstream and retrieving the line enough to be able to lift the rod tip when a strike or take occurs .
    The other tried and true method of presenting a nymph is "high sticking".
This is a up and across cast on a shorter line and holding the rod tip fully extended to keep as much fly line off the water as possible thus creating less drag and allowing the fly to ride closer to the bottom where the fish are.
This can either be done with a strike indicator,or the traditional way of watching the end of the fly line to stop or twitch forward indicating a take or bottom. Either way,this is when you instinctively lift to set the hook.
      I recently fished a stream in Tennessee that was of a fairly steep gradient and full of rock of all sizes. This was a perfect size  and flow for my favorite method of swing ing a bead head nymph. I had never fished this particular stream before . The water was slightly below' bank full ' and appeared very wadeable .
The first hour moved no fish and I changed flies several times, adding a small split shot a foot above the fly. I finally caught a 10" rainbow quite by accident as my line trailed below me as I was distracted. This gave me hope. On a deeper run on the far bank, I reeled up and added another small shot above the other one and cast again.
A solid thump took me by surprise and I had a large fish on for three seconds before he came off. I re -cast  to the same run ,and on the third cast I felt the same take and was into another very good fish. As I don't use a net much anymore ,I played the fish to the shallow bank where I eventually beached it.
It was a beautiful ,solid 18" rainbow with a very wide and bright crimson stripe from its large gill plate all the way down its side. I was able to snap a quick photo with my phone before reviving him and watched him stabilize, remain upright ,and slowly swim away.
   I had covered some good water before this run that held these two good fish but my fly was moving too fast and riding too high. The added weight put the fly in the zone and slowed it down enough to become attractive to the fish without having to expend too much energy and not have to chase it. This was very early spring and the water was below normal temps. I have seen trout chase a large streamer in these conditions ,as a larger potential meal apparently is worth the effort.
   Experience will tell you about the swing speed and fly depth. It is a method that goes against what most fly fisherman have ingrained in their heads about drag and mending. It is hard to convince some to mend DOWMSTREAM and create a belly in the line that causes the fly to be presented across in front of a trouts nose .
    Give it a try.
PS.......the The Fly Factor will be airing some video on this method in the very near future keep checking us out. We are under construction but adding new media weekly .


Mark Karaba

The Fly Factor