Written and Photos by Tyler Coleman
It's very hard to beat small streams, aggressive brookies and glass rods with good friends.
It often seems that my fishing trips do not go as planned. Leaving later than I wanted to, weather changes, car trouble and slow days on the water can all make the trip a little less enjoyable. Our first trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was planned last minute and sort of spur of the moment; in a car we had not driven far from home yet. To our surprise we arrived without any problems and enjoyed the new scenery along the way. We were excited to explore the U.P. for the first time together! The first day up there we decided to go check out a new spot for Skamania with the rafts. Jason and I set out in hopes of finding some fish but with low water conditions it seemed we may have been a week late. This was my first time floating a river while fly fishing so I enjoyed the ride down stream with views of lush forest around us. The conditions were not in our favor and with no sign of fish we decided to search for more promising water. While driving around prospecting new spots another car crashed right into the rear drivers side wheel of our Jeep pushing us off the road and rolling us onto our side. As I laid on the ground sideways, staring at the ground through the windshield I couldn't help but wonder if other people have the same luck I seem to have. We were both ok but this would put an end to having two vehicles in the UP and crushed one of Jason's fly rods. We dusted off, did the typical scene of an accident conversation then hitched a ride home from the guy who hit us. Being angry would not change the situation and that small country town mentally was pretty refreshing to see on both sides of the incident. Sincere apologies, hand shakes with meaning and respect are sometimes hard to find now a days. The rest of the night was spent relaxing with some good food, raised on their farm, a few cold drinks and plenty of talk about future fish.
We woke up slow and sore with not much of a plan for the day. I figured I would wander around their property and see if the small tributary that ran across their land held any fish but, was more looking to relax rather than worry about catching anything. It wasn't long before I saw a splash where my hopper was drifting and my line went tight. Though it wasn't big the fish had some fight to it which is even more fun on a 3wt glass rod. When I got the fish to hand I saw it was a small native Brook Trout. Being a char lover this was exciting and my first truly native brook trout that I had caught. The other places I have fished for brookies were all stocked originally but have had natural reproduction for decades which makes them considered wild trout. The plan of not really trying to fish was out of the window and I knew that much of my trip would spent wandering these woods. The Michigan weather had other ideas and the cloudy day quickly changed to pouring rain. Luckily I had a rain jacket in my pack so I held out under some trees while Jason took his daughter back to the cabin on his four wheeler.
The brookies weren't the only thing excited to see my hopper and soon I found a few more species that called this creek home. Natural reproduction Steelhead Par and fingerling Coho Salmon were eager to feed so I pushed down stream to avoid them and look for more brook trout. Switching my fly set up for a little deeper reach; I wanted to see what was hiding in the under cuts. Jason had met up with me to hangout while I explored so I filled him in on how things had been going. The creek was getting better as I went with more pools, deeper runs and more nice banks with under cuts. I knew the possibility of good size fish we great the further we explored. Every spot I fished since the rain stopped was bringing four or five fish successfully with a good amount of 8-10" brook trout. I added a little more depth to my hopper dropper rig for these new spots and quickly hooked into a good size fish. I yelled for Jason to grab my net because there was no way I wanted to chance letting this one get slack in the line and head for the logs. My rod was bent more then I had even seen it on a small stream but I still couldn't get a clear view of just how big this fish was. The fight seemed longer then it was and with much relief Jason was holding a 15" plus brookie in my net. This was the fish I had been waiting for since moving to Michigan. I have caught many good fish and species here but a good size Native Brook Trout in a small stream has been my goal. Even with the car accident this trip was going pretty good thanks to our hosts being such great people but this fish was the flash on the fly. Jason and I talked more about the possibilities of this water and my love for char. There was plenty of day light left and not even the mass amount of insects that though we were dinner couldn't discourage me from hiking further. I landed more good sized fish but nothing as big as the one earlier and eventually we called it a day riding back on Jason's four wheeler to the cabin.
There was no lack of healthy native trout in this small tributary. Photo by Jason Sutton
The next day we woke up early and checked out some other rivers before our wives wanted to use the car and go hiking with the kids. Again the spots we checked out just weren't the right conditions for the type of fish we had hoped to find. Every water way was so different from the last making it interesting even without fishing. We decided to head back and check out more of the tributaries close to where we were staying. The sun was out, the humidity was higher and we spent as much time fighting off mosquitos as we did fishing. Today Jason borrowed one of my rods and wanted to get in on the small stream action since he only brought heavier gear for larger waters. This type of fishing is what I have spent the majority of my time with a fly rod exploring so it was exciting to explore it with a friend that doesn't typically fish tiny over grown streams.
We took the quad further down stream to see if we could find some more good size fish lurking in the undercuts. The plan was to hike from where we parked even further down stream and then fish our way back up but the woods had other ideas. It was obvious that this water gets little to no fishing pressure and the lack of trails might be partially responsible. Winding deer paths, surprise mud pits that look like stable ground but sink you up to at least your knees and incredibly over grown terrain make navigating your way a long the water a real chore. Not many fly fisherman I have met would like to spend their day on the water bush whacking more then casting. The temptation was too much so we fished a few spots finding great looking brook trout in every stretch. Most brook trout streams I have fished you were lucky to find ten inch plus fish but here it seemed to be a common size. Jason looked to be having a good time with the eager fish which made the day even more enjoyable for me. As we pushed through some bushes back into an over grown section the foliage opened up and gave us a view of a nice spot. I stood back and watched Jason as he sent a bow 'n arrow cast into the water. His fly drifted passed a log and a large shadow shot out boiling under the hopper. The fish didn't eat so he tried again with similar result from the large fish. The next cast was right in the sweet spot and a smaller fish came out attacking the surface bending his rod. The bigger fish was not convince and most likely wouldn't be after the excitement of the other one being caught. We were both happy to know there were more then a few larger brook trout hiding in the area.
The fishing slowed down as we got further into the day but it never stopped. We began heading back to where we had left the quad and of course fished along the way. One spot had a small tree that had fallen, sitting in the bend of the creek so I was pretty confident that it would hold a nice size fish. I stayed behind some brush and sent my flies across stream with a splash knowing it had been attracting fish all day. The hopper went under faster then I could blink so I stepped out to fight the fish. A ten inch or so steelhead par was on the line but with thrashing of the fight a larger fish had come out and eat my dropper fly. This fish was much bigger then the one that was on my hopper and I watch them play bumper cars around the creek until Jason caught up and grabbed my net. The smaller fish shook off but a thick 13' Brook Trout was safely landed. This was a great way to top off the day so we decided to head up the trail a bit and tried not to fish the way back but still caught some smaller fish.
Under cut finds.
My favorite type of fishing so far has been small forgotten streams with native trout, glass rods and great colors. While we had gone up there looking for larger species which would have been great, I can't help to be thankful for the way things worked out and all the great fish that were caught. Thank you to Jason and Alexandria for the invite and my wife for letting me be me. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan did not disappoint and I am counting down the days until I can get back up there in search of wild trout.
Follow along on our adventure on Instagram and Facebook @thecolemancollection for more photos.