Probably one of the last hex photos you’ll see posted this year is of a friend of mine, Bert. Bert’s grin in the picture doesn’t tell the entire story. He’s a fairly new fly fisher, and that night was his first hex trip to my knowledge. When I dropped the anchor to set up on this fish, I had no idea it was as big as it ended up being. But, within a few seconds of the fish eating, it was 25 yards downstream tight to a log jam. I flipped on my headlamp in excitement to see Bert fumbling with much more slack line than he should have been, and I knew landing this fish would take just as much luck as skill. Fortunately, after a moment or two of disarray in the boat, the fish was netted and quickly photographed amidst laughter. That sequence sort of sums up hex season for me. Plenty of chaos, confusion, and laughter all wrapped into a bunch of late nights.
I’d say hex season has all but ended on most rivers around the state, and I’m only mildly upset that this is the case (although I did hear several flutter by while I was on the river Saturday night). In the wake of the big bugs, my excitement about mousing has increased (pun intended) and I’ve remembered the diverse fishing opportunities that late summer presents a fly fisher. Several evenings waking flies over the past week and a half were met with only mild success, but I’m certain that the night fishing will only get better. In addition, I spent several days fishing hoppers, having fun with a new nymph rod, and chasing smallies. A couple of the really good photos from those trips are shown below. They were taken by photographer Lance Nelson who is great at his job and a fun guy to have in the boat. You can check out more of his work on Instagram @riseform.
After all that rain last month, the rivers up north are finally back to the flows and clarity we’re used to, and they’ve begun to warm pretty quickly. I’ve heard of clouds of Tricos on the North Branch of the Au Sable in the mornings. I’ve seen Isos and a few Cahills on the Upper Manistee when I’ve sat and watched. Depending on the river, blind fishing an Iso is probably still one of your safest bets to bring a fish to the surface. As we move forward, start pounding cover with your favorite terrestrial patterns. Skunks, Chernobyls, just make sure it has rubber legs. Don’t be afraid to drop a small ant pattern off the back of your big bug. Erich Gross, here at Nomad, ties an awesome sunken ant pattern for this occasion. For you night fishers, I tend to think of mousing a lot like I do streamer fishing. If I’m not moving fish on one pattern in spots I think I should be, I’ll usually cycle through a few more patterns and see if they work. Most of the fish I’ve found that’ve been willing to eat this year have come from the soft water behind sweepers, or just off the center of a slow, shallow seem. I expect that as the moon begins to wane, inside bends and long shallow flats may start fishing a little better. Whether you prefer size 20 something mayflies, foam and rubber legs, mousing at night, or switching to warmwater species, be sure to appreciate the variety of options that late summer in Michigan has to offer.
Forth of July has come and gone and Hex have essentially done their last spinner falls but, that doesn’t mean summer is over. There is a ton of fishing left to do. Break out your hopper dropper box, heavy glow lines and mice or grab your 7 wts and hit our local prime smallmouth rivers and toss streamers and poppers. Flows are at good wading levels across the state and fish have been active. July and August present some pretty great opportunities for fly fishing around the state of Michigan.
It is with gratitude and sadness that we announce we will be shutting the doors on our Rochester Hills location this weekend. We truly appreciate the support over the past 2 years but, after looking at expenses, retail climate, and lease options, we feel it’s more important to focus on our original two stores in East Lansing & Grand Rapids. Thank you to everyone who supported the shop, took part in classes and helped promote the store. We look forward to the next chapter for Nomad Anglers and what adventures are to come.
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A few nights ago we finally had one of those nights that you dream about. A lot of blurry fish pictures, bent rods, and joyful chuckles in the boat until 4:00 am. I’ll follow that by saying that for several nights prior to that we got our tails kicked. By the weather, by the bugs, by the trout. When the weather and bugs cooperated, the trout that we set up on seemed to be the smartest in the river. Then, something changed. Good drifts that had been going uneaten, began getting eaten. Fish that seemed like they were only rising sporadically finally got into a rhythm. Fish that rose 30 yards behind the boat began rising before we floated by. Most of all, it seemed like hard work had finally started paying off. Although, I did shave my beard. I’m not totally superstitious, but I think this may have played a role in all this.
This time of year it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of trying to find big bugs and big fish after dark. Don’t get me wrong, chasing bugs and fish are all that I think about at work during the day. But, I had the pleasure of watching a new fly angler land her first trout last Saturday during an afternoon float. It was a pretty 7 inch brook trout that ate a dust bunny she lazily skated in the film. On a side note, as we really get into attractor season, the dust bunny is one of my favorite daytime patterns for this time of year, as well as the Purple Patriot and a small #14 Chubby Chernobyl. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the progression of emotions in that short 40 second fight. Her immediate confusion about the tug at the end of her line quickly turned to shock, and finally to elation once she realized she’d landed her first trout on a fly. No head lamps, no deet, no pressure. Just flip flops, shorts and some floatant. This was just as special for me as slipping the net under a twenty inch fish for a close friend the following evening.
Unfortunately, I’ve had commitments other than fishing the past two evenings and haven’t gotten to see how this cold front has really affected things. Last week I wrote that consistent daytime temperatures around 80° were speeding things up on the rivers here in Northern Michigan. But, the past few days the weather has changed. It’s been rainy and cold, and I see several days forecasted in the 60’s coming up. I think this may end up being a good thing to tell you the truth. I doubt anglers will go out and see crazy Hex spinnerfalls or clouds of Isos above the riffles every evening, but there will be bugs and there will be fish caught. The cold and rain will keep the Hex hatching and spinning on the Au Sable for a while longer. The Upper Manistee is still relatively high and dirty. It seems like that weird stage between drakes (which were still going strong through the weekend) and Hex may last a few extra days on the Upper Manistee this year. Chatting with other anglers this past weekend was amusing. For every one that said they had a great night, there was at least one that said they didn’t. I overheard a conversation between anglers at the takeout that involved the statement “wonky and weird” on one side and “one of my best nights” on the other. I don’t think this has much to do with the difference in angler skill level. I believe it is much more attributable to chance. The whole right place, right time idea. The one thing that I’ve learned about fishing during late June/early July is that it is all about putting in the work. Stay patient and persistent and it will pay off, probably handsomely.
A few bends down from the launch last night Justin hooked a fish while casting a new rod. As he played the trout, I reached to the place where the net is usually kept in the boat… no dice. “Did we grab the net?” I asked, sarcastically. The answer was no, so after quickly releasing the fish we debated whether rowing several hundred yards back to the launch or walking back on what appeared to be a road on the satellite map (it wasn’t) was the safest bet to quickly get the net before continuing the evening float. We went with option two, and before I knew it, I was jogging back to the truck in flip flops. To make matters worse, the road turned out to be an overgrown powerline of ankle deep muck. This made for a wonderful start to the float. As for as the actual fishing is concerned, the bugs were sparse and the ones that we were chasing never showed up. Despite this, most of the trout that we cast to, we caught. At least we used the net.
In short, we’ve had to work pretty hard for the trout that we’ve caught over the last week, and the hatches on most rivers here in northern Michigan are moving along quickly now that daytime temperatures have consistently been around 80®. Drakes can still be found in the rivers that take a little longer to warm up. I watched a nice fish feed on hatching drakes around 10:00 am while wading the river for work yesterday morning. He seemed far too big to be showing himself in the bright sun at that time of day. Maybe he knew I was working and didn’t have a rod handy. On Monday evening I worked several fish feeding on Isonychias in a heavy riffle. For those of you who’ve never fished Isos, they are a blast. Because they emerge in faster water, the fish feed on Isos relatively aggressively. I’ve found that this makes presentation slightly less important than normal, and that fishing a wetfly off the bend of your dry is effective. Unlike the big bugs that we often chase this time of year, this hatch stays pretty consistent for the better part of a month and I look forward to the next chance I get to go sit and work fish eating Isos.
Anglers in the southern portion of the state should be able to find Hex pretty regularly at this point, and I heard the first report this morning of Hex on the windows of local businesses surrounding a lake here in northern Michigan. I would imagine that many anglers up here have begun chasing them in the warmer, lower sections of systems like the Au Sable and the Pere Marquette. I expect that within the next few days those chasing will find. Being the first angler to put a Hex pattern over a big fish can pay great dividends. I plan on chasing drakes at least once more, and I’ll probably begin looking in the muck for Hex shucks too. There is also a good chance that I get out the box of mice in the next few days and travel to some streams that I know don’t get a strong Hex hatch. This seems like a nice way to get a section of river to myself. If you’re going to make the trip up north, don’t be afraid to do a little exploring and take some chances. Some of my best nights have begun with a strong feeling of doubt that I had made the right decision about where to fish. In my opinion, it is much better to get to a system before the bugs arrive than after they’re gone. But, don’t forget the net.