We got in about 6 days of dawn to dusk swinging minus a few hours of daylight driving on the trip. Drove just under 2400 total miles and18.5 hours and through the night each way. All that way to catch fish and it sure was worth it. I so needed to get away and I was dying for a road trip.
Hit Cattaraugus Creek in NY at first light Monday morning on the way out. I love the Catt to begin with and it's also about the half way point to Michigan so it made a great place to stop to break up the trip. Water levels were a little high over the weekend so I didn't know what to expect when I got there. Checked the water level and clarity at one of the bridges, saw it was prime, picked up a license as fast as possible and hit the river.
One thing that struck me immediately was how much the river has changed since the last time I was there a couple of years ago. I heard there was a flood that moved things around but I had no idea it was so drastic. What I considered to be the best 3 or 4 runs for swinging flies were either gone, filled with wood and debris, or just too shallow to be the prime lies they were before. I wasn't exactly sure where to start and looked at it as a challenge to learn again like new water. In past trips to the Catt when the water conditions were prime like they were now it was more like catching than fishing especially for steelhead fishing. This time we had to work a little more for the fish. We worked our way through what we thought were some good looking runs and in between the slower pools where the nymphers and centerpinners and such were fishing and hooked up here and there. Enough to keep us interested anyway. John picked up a nice buck late in the day in a pretty unlikely looking spot.
We stayed at a Red Roof that night and fired up a big pot of beans and franks with my camp stove on the sidewalk for supper. "Franks and Beans!" became a theme for the trip. The temperature really dropped that night and we had a chilly start the next morning. Pro tip: Don't leave wet wading boots in the cargo box overnight when it's below freezing. We had a little delay on the side of the river while we blasted the heat in the car to thaw out our boots.
We had a slow start to the day fishing some of the runs we had luck in the day before. I didn't see anyone else doing much so the drop in temps might have held off the bite until later in the day. John and I both picked up a fish just before noon then we decided it was time to head off to Michigan.
John had a piece of the drag in his Ross Momentum fail after his reel froze overnight. So don't leave wet wading boots and wet reels in the car overnight when it is freezing. We knew we would be passing the Great Lakes Flyfising Company on the way in Michigan so we gave them a call. They were great in helping us out and left a replacement part for the reel we picked up after hours. This shop gave us some great information last year on our first trip to the area. I especially like their selection of flytying materials for tying steelhead flies. Stuff you don't find at the average flyshop.
We arrived in Newaygo, MI on the banks of the Muskegon late Tuesday night. The next morning we parked at the end of a dirt road in the dark close to a spot we fished last year. We had a hard time finding the path in to the river in the dark so just took off in the woods in what we thought was the right direction. We ended up finding the river but downstream a ways. The river was a lot lower than last year and had a lot of weeds and leaves in the drift at this spot. Fishing at first was a little frustrating but we kept at it. There were a lot of salmon left in the river and a few steelhead were just behind them presumably picking up the eggs the salmon were dropping. These fish didn't seem too interested in our streamers though. We fished a few good runs and had a couple of tugs and brief hookups but didn't bring anything to hand until early afternoon when John finally got us on the board with a smaller but feisty steelhead. I had a good time watching the fish jump over and over while John fought with a giant birdsnest in his running line. We walked back to the car and when we got out to the dirt road our car wasn't there. We were both in a panic for a few minutes before realizing we weren't even on the same dirt road. We made our way through the woods again and after a few minutes were back on the right road and at our car.
We headed to another spot to fish out the rest of the day. I worked a big fast run and hooked up after switching to a 12.5' piece of T14 and a big sculpin. This was the first steelhead to get me to my backing on my spey rod as it took off jumping downstream in the heavy current.
Thursday we floated the PM with Jeff Hubbard from Outfitter's North He worked his butt off trying to put us on fish on a cold, rainy fall day. The low, clear water really put us at a disadvantage. We could see some steelhead in holes we fished when floating over them or looking from the bank but they just weren't interested enough to commit to our flies. The PM is a very beautiful little river definitely worth fishing again under more favorable conditions.
Friday we fished with Kevin Feenstra on the Muskegon from his jet boat. Last year when we fished with him the fishing was red hot to start the day including a double where I bent the hook out on a fish but tapered off as the light came up. This year the day started off slow initially but once the sky lightened up the fishing really turned on. The sun never stayed out for long and we had nearly ideal steelhead conditions with overcast skies and light snow on and off all day. Almost every fish we hooked up was big and hot. John and I were doing everything we could to stay connected to the fish and I had a little better luck doing so. These fish were running, rolling and jumping in the big water. I brought a couple of fish to the boat in the morning.
We had another awesome day fishing with Kevin and were making plans to fish with him next year on the drive back to the hotel room. If you want to learn a little more about Kevin and fishing the Muskegon he has a new video out about swinging flies for steelhead that can be found at Swing a Big Fly
On Saturday we finished our trip up on the Muskegon but never touched a fish. The day was much more pleasant and sunny which probably didn't help the fishing. Around 3pm we packed up the car and drove through the night arriving back home in Maine midmorning.