3-28-05 - Back on the water with Karl
Waters Fished: Root River, Pike River, Lake Michigan
(Pike River Mouth)
Fish Caught: 1
Outing Date: 3-28-05
Air Temp: low 30's, rising to 50's
Water Temp: Root 40F, Pike 38F
Water Level: Root 200 CFS, Pike around 30 CFS
Water Color: both somewhat cloudy, visibility 1-2'
Fish Species: Steelhead
Pattern Fished: Spawn, Egg Patterns
Pattern Color: Threw the gamut. Chartreuse produced
Fishing Quality: Tough
Karl Kaufman is BACK! After his first outing with
me back on 3-15, he decided he hadn't
quite gotten enough steel...who could blame him! We had a lot of
fun back then...perhaps we'd get into more fish! Karl had 2 days
to fish; remember it's key in spring steelheading...if you want
to have those really good days you have to fish more than once a
We started our day at sunrise on the Root. Cold
nights had been keeping the water temperatures low...the Root was
only 40F. Karl was eager to get his hands back on the centerpin,
so we drifted spawn for the first hour of the day, which had been
the best time for most folks who'd been drifting spawn days prior.
Well, no luck for us on the centerpin and frankly,
we were both ready to do some fly fishing (a mutual favorite for
both of us). Off to the Pike, where I thought we'd find warmer water
and possibly some fish on the redds.
Turns out the water was COLDER on the Pike (this
smaller body of water will naturally cool faster). We headed downstream
towards some commonly productive spots...while walking downstream
along a pool something spooked from the tail and swam upstream towards
us, leaving only the telltale V-shaped wake on the water's surface.
We continued hiking downstream, stopping to fish
some pools while I watched downstream in the riffles, both heads
and tails, hoping to see activity. We decided to keep moving, and
while walking along the bank I noticed a large fish quite literally
at our feet. "FUCK" I shouted - no sooner did I sight
it than it bolted upstream for the pool we had just fished. I gritted
my teeth...I had been watching that riffle and redd for 20 minutes
and hadn't seen a thing...assuredly she had been there all along.
This was not the kind of morning either of us had been hoping for.
After scouting easily a mile or river, we started
fishing our way back up. Midway in our hike, we spent some time
working on a cast that would help Karl get his line across stream
in tight quarters. While "clearing" the pool - specifically
trying to drift every inch of it in an organized manner - Karl's
line tightened up. He pulled back gently on it, expecting one of
many snags we had encountered. Imagine both our surprise when the
rock he was snagged on started swimming upstream.
Karl was in for a great fight...this steelhead
rolled and thrashed. At one point a fish jumped several feet upstream
from where we *thought* Karl's fish should be...it couldn't have
been Karl's fish...we both made a mental note, "there's more
than one fish here".
I didn't have an easy landing spot but managed
all the same to get into the water with the net...once it was all
over Karl sat with a steelie in the 30" range...quite possibly
the 2nd largest of his life. After quick photos and a somewhat difficult
release of this spent and played-out female, we celebrated with
a break and a smoke. The day had been made for both of us...eeking
out a fish in difficult conditions. It was a moment to be relished.
Eventually we got back to task and continued fishing,
working all the likely spots, including those where we had noticed
activity earlier. After fishing ALL of the productive water in this
mile long stretch, we moved to another backwoods section of the
Pike...Karl was very interested in seeing more of the water and
staying away from the crowds. Well, honestly, I don't recall bumping
into ANY other anglers this day.
In our next stretch, much of the structure has
again changed...seems to do that every year. A new log jam has formed,
collecting loads of debris and trash. It's truly nasty. Thankfully
this log jam isn't stopping any fish movement.
As we hiked upstream, I caught a glimpse of two
fish on a redd in a rather unlikely spot (mostly sand bottom). Despite
being very far downstream from them, perhaps we had not been quiet
enough in our approach, as the moved upstream into a deep bend which
was choked with logs. I suggested we continue upstream and our our
way back, check to see if they were back at it.
Sure enough, an hour later, we walked back to the
redd and from far upstream, sighted the pair. It was now about 2:00
PM, bright sun shined down..this was going to be really tough. The
largest problem....high banks and lots of trees would make distance
casting impossible. Karl would have to get in close if he was going
to even have a shot.
Karl was definitely game...I crouched upstream
on the bank, blocked by a tuft of long grass but still able to see
the pair. Karl walked back a good 50 feet from the bank and headed
downstream...at the appropriate spot he too crouched, kept a large
tree between him and the redd, and approached. Karl surely had his
I watch as Karl slid around to the front of the
tree and sat there...30 feet from the fish. Still an impossible
cast. Karl carefully approached, at one point hands and knees, until
at the edge. The pair was still there, completely undisturbed. Karl
swung his legs around and slowly slid down the bank...he now stood
less than 15 feet from the pair who were still OBLIVIOUS to his
Several casts were made...eventually the female
started feeling the pressure and swam upstream into deep water.
Still, the male remained briefly - Karl got another shot or two
before he vanished upstream. So far we'd crapped out, but I suggested
we wait...this is the first time this year that spooked fish have
returned to their redd. Spawning pressure must be building on these
Sure enough, the male came back downstream looking
for his mate. Another few casts were made but again, he disappeared,
this time downstream. Somewhere in these tense moments I had made
my way downstream to now be right above Karl on the bank, sitting
motionless, waiting. 5 minutes went by...no fish....were we bested?
Karl came up on the bank and we rerigged...this
is time for a big red streamer. Upon returning to the water, Karl
fished the deep bend immediately downstream from the redd...while
fishing the male literally swam up 2 feet BEHIND HIM and went upstream
in search of his mate. NUTS!
Several more times the male returned and on one
of his last appearances, Karl got his attention. Karl hand swung
the big red streamer across, then down and was lifting his rod tip
for the next cast. As the fly waked upstream, the male moved off
the redd and made a beeline for the fly. He was now only 2 feet
behind the fly and I started shouting "LEAVE IT IN THE WATER,
LEAVE IT IN THE WATER"! The Steelhead was like a shark, sizing
up the prey, just waiting for the perfect moment. Karl was already
in mid-cast. In less than a second, the fly popped off the surface
and landed across the stream...the male simply paused and then continued
on upstream again.
Finally, despite many chances, after being a no-show
for 15 minutes, we conceded this battle to the fish. I think Karl
will likely tell you this was one of the most exciting, challenging
moments in his steelhead career. I will remember it for a LONG TIME.
It was now definitely afternoon, we were approaching
"tired". One last ditch effort was made down at the mouth
of the Pike...despite reports of fish downstream we came up empty
handed. Rather than fish ourselves to death, we took our victory
and headed to Gander Mountain...Karl had decided he needed my latest
centerpin. We might as well get it outfit while we were there. Tomorrow...oh
you bet we'd get into another fish...or two...