The Hunt Is On

Written by: Chris “Uber” Raines

Big PM Brown

The author with a spring hog from the Pere Marquette.

photo courtesy Chris Raines

As a full-time fly-fishing guide on the Pere Marquette River in northern Michigan, I enjoy year-round fishing to a variety of species of trout, salmon, and steelhead. As the spring steelhead guiding season winds down in late April/early May, the fishing pressure drops and some of the best trout fishing of the year is at hand.

After I’ve been on the water for the better part of two months–through the wind, rain and snow– the warm days of late spring are a godsend. As the water temperatures increase and the last of the steelhead finish spawn, the trout fishing turns on. With the murky turbid water that comes from our spring rains, streamer fishing is the first true time to target the resident big browns that prowl our waters. The steelhead egg supply is dwindling by then, so the largest, most aggressive fish are looking for an easy meal. This typically comes in the form of a small trout, sculpin, or unlucky fry. Big fish need to eat big meals.

Cloudy, overcast days offer shots at multiple trophy fish. Part of the streamer game is “moving” fish, and even a miss on a giant trout is counted in the win column. Many times, large golden orange slobs will “roll” on your fly in an unsuccessful attempt at inhaling it. This is generally followed by a litany of obscenities to make a trucker blush.

Once you regain your composure, the pursuit continues. Fur and feather are combined in an artistic manner to create the illusion of a swimming meal. Profile and color are very important in the design of the fly. Materials such as rabbit strip, chinchilla, marabou, and synthetics are combined to create a varied assortment of patterns. Huge offerings, from 5- to 6-inch-long articulated rabbit-strip leeches imported from Alaskan fly boxes to small fry imitations, rule the roost this time of year. Dainty dry-fly boxes are exchanged for large briefcase-type boxes to hold these creations.

McGinnis Extra Stout

Big meals that move a lot of water, such as the McGinnis Extra Stout,
will catch the eye of huge trout on the prowl.

More important than even the color, shape, or configuration of the fly, presentation is critical. A great-looking fly dragged through skinny fishless water in a poor fashion will produce few results. However a piece of palmered fur on a hook stripped and ripped through a log-infested deep-cut bend will surely cause some fish to investigate. A bouncing, fast, erratic retrieve stripped and pulled deep through the wood will make even the wariest of browns take notice. Roll casting is the most effective way of putting the fly in the “kill zone.”

All you need is for the fish to make one mistake. Providing the fly is of sufficient design, the retrieve is just right, and the fish is there, you are always one cast away from the fish of a lifetime. Just seeing them and making a mental note of their whereabouts is considered a real achievement, for knowing where they live is half the battle. The season is long, and the hunt will continue.

Chris “Uber” Raines guides at Pere Marquette River Lodge in Baldwin, Michigan.

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