(Webslinger’s Note: Welcome to the Anglers’ Fishing Page. Look for articles and such about the experience of fishing the Au Sable and other nearby coldwater gems. We would to hear from you! Pictures and poems are fine as well. This is NOT a fishing report page although we will include links for streamflow info and weather. There are plenty of places to learn the latest fishing info. Our goal is to present the rest of it from those epic days to the one that got away to just being there. We hope that you like it.)
Ode To Those Freakin’ Hendricksons
Ah, the Hendrickson. At first breath, it sounds so distinguished. Like it has advanced degrees, the pedigree of a blue blood one percenter, and over-engineered rooms all filled with the finest vino in the basements of its multiple estates.
Actually, Hendrickson is an ancient Scottish name with its own family crest. Well, that’s nifty. But, with apologies to proud Scots in waders, in my little part of the world the Hendrickson is nothing but an oaf living off the reputations of far more ethical mayflies.
Up here in northern Michigan, the Hendrickson opens the annual parade of river bugs. (Unless you count the Black Stonefly, which is more like the fat old impotent afternoon drunk who waddles out in front of the St. Paddy’s Day band in the middle of Main Street.) The Black Stone is a harmless lout wallowing in low expectations, but this Hendrickson is some kind of shifty combination of cheerleader-temptress, cuff linked personal injury attorney, and class clown.
The males appear first, if at all, and never on any kind of schedule approximating a working man’s calendar. Oh, sure, you’ll get phone calls from your upstate buddies when you’re in rush hour traffic on a balmy Tuesday night in early April: “We had henny sailboats all over the place today!” But on a Saturday or Sunday? Fuhgettaboudit. Stay home and buy Powerball tickets instead. Oh, those weekend emergers are out there in the currents somewhere, but there’s always an east wind or a torrential Friday night rain that turns the streams to chocolate by hatch time on Saturday. You can even try to wire this thing with some kind of contrived mid-week business meeting up north and catch a warm breeze out of the south. Trust me, the water temps will linger in the forties and those Henny males will shrivel back into their shucks with a bad case of the shrinkage, and the river, unbroken by trout snouts, will convince you the Silent Spring has finally arrived. Meantime, back at the office the boss will look at your empty cubicle and wonder if it’s finally time to let you go.
Then you have the indecisive and chronically disoriented females who, almost without exception, immorally abort egg-laying after hours of wasted energy hovering just inches
above the current. We’re talking about clouds of dainty hotty spinners here, dancing for you, yellow eggs all aglow on their butts behind their smooth mascara-colored bodies, until the sun fades and the girls wave goodbye with wings all a-winking, untouched as they whisk away right back into the cool cedars of despair on the opposite bank. The cabin boys and I witnessed it again last year on Tax Day, but we’re too old and bruised to fall for those hollow flirtations. We just sat there in blue jeans, chewing cigars on the deck, and flipped off the last lingering prostitutes.
By mid-May, the wildflowers will pop after two straight weeks of warmth and the homeless guy who hangs out at the gas station in your one-stoplight town will tout an armload of morel mushrooms. And you’ll head to the river, hours early, on a warm morning, so hopeful you won’t even check the weather forecast. In your silly bliss, you’ll give a sideways glance to the Brown Drake box and count the days ‘til that Memorial Weekend spinner fall. Then you’ll grab handfuls of sulphurs and popcorn caddis, drive to a favorite bend an hour from town, wader up, and jump in the current with your four weight and prissy CFO reel.
Within moments, a fresh north wind will suck twenty degrees out of the thermometer. The sun will die behind a purple sky to the west. Ice pellets – nature’s own buckshot – will pelt the back of your neck.
And in the middle of the season’s last snowstorm, the browns and brookies will erupt and you’ll be nothing but a glowering chaperone at the Henny Prom. The males and females will disco and fall by the thousands into the river, all around your untouched sulphur, as your other fly box, a veritable housing project full of unemployed Hendrickson males and females, sits in a dark corner of your downstate bedroom.
You can fly your pretty pregnant butt all the way back to Scotland for all I care.
– John Bebow, Second Vice President
This Michigan winter’s Cicely-plus snow piles would have Dr. Joel Fleishman looking twice. The towering size of our endless piles resolved any doubt that the snow we remember from childhood really was that big, not like the myth of large drinking fountains in elementary school. We all of us will always remember this winter even through any coming dementia haze But there was a first for me this winter in early January arriving at my cabin.
While unloading I heard or rather didn’t hear something that was always there—the river. The North Branch flows fast and strong, a symphony of tones, as it rushes to its nearby confluence with the Main. Its sound is as much a part of the landscape here as the pine scent and seemingly unnaturally bright star light. Yet this winter it had frozen over completely somehow. The quiet was deafening. Weeks, then months passed without even a sliver of open water.
After snow-blowing yesterday, both at home twice and the office twice, what seemed like yet another eight inches, I was still on top of the week’s work, Weather.com said Grayling would be 45 degrees on Friday (so fishable), I needed another day at Duane’s to finish work on my new bamboo rod, and Bonnie had to work late Wednesday and Thursday.
So I loaded up and headed Up North for a couple of days, knowing I could work from the cabin, or at least I convinced myself I would. Just south of Saginaw the temp dropped to single digits but there was no snow on the roads and it was clear there hadn’t been any.
As I drove, I puzzled over where I would fish and when. There is little open trout water this year—Keystone or down below the dam at Mio, where I waded a week ago, had been my forced substitutes for two months. Neither had been productive the last two months The season’s snow pack on my wooded driveway had melted now and then frozen again leaving a thick, slick sheet of ice, making the steep hill down to the cabin particularly tricky.
Trickier was carrying my unloaded gear over crunchy snow and ice without falling. As I paused at the door to find my key in the dark; everything went quiet—-except the river. I looked out over the rail to see it was open and not just a little So the next day I could fish the convenient, familiar nooks and log jams of the North Branch, hoping to renew acquaintances with certain brown trout that stalk these waters on occasion.
It may not actually be spring yet but open water was the first sign the back was broken on this very grumpy old man winter for this old man.
Busy the next morning with various client emergencies, real and perceived, and that afternoon scuffing then varnishing the guide wraps on my new bamboo, it wasn’t until the late the next afternoon that I ventured down to the river, armed for battle—from waders to rod with a tail-biter olive streamer as ammunition.
Starved for new water of the winter’s many snows by the ice that had covered it so completely, the water level had dropped as foot or more below the remnants of the almost three foot thick shelf ice.
I stood for the longest time, not scouting the river for fish as usual, but trying to imagine the sounds and sights of the massive chucks of ice breaking then rolling down the river tumbling, colliding, pounding the shore ice, scraping the gravel bottom, dragging and pushing debris at will. Although I had only been away a week, I missed that show. Only a winter like this one could give us such a dramatic spring.
You can guess the one remaining sign of spring I stalked now. It was not from the easy, slow water but from the heavy, churning current mid-river. And it struck with force and fury, pulling line for the instant before I lifted the rod tip for the set, causing him to jump from the water and then fight and fight as though it were June, as though this brown trout was unaware he was supposed to be lethargic with winter’s cold, like the rest of us.
The instant I released him, he darted away full speed. It was spring for him, too