July 23, 2008

Trout Fishing Picks Up

GRAYLING, Mich. _ If you're among those who've decided to vacation in Michigan rather than make more expensive trips out of state, and you also happen to like trout fishing, you probably couldn't pick a better year.

Rain and cool temperatures aren't the stuff of a tourism promoter's dreams, but they're just what the doctor ordered for making trout and trout anglers happy.

It might have been late July, but the air temperature was 63 and the water 55 on a recent trip on the Manistee River with guide Tony Petrella and his pal and riverside resident Jim Powers.

After we saw four trout rise within 10 minutes to pick off natural flies, Petrella said, "That's more fish rising than I've seen in two weeks."

But while they also rose at some mayfly and caddis patterns, they weren't serious about it.

Several times we were so close that we saw the trout come up under the fly only to turn away with a splash at the last second.

After the trout turned up their noses at flies with burgundy, green and brown bodies, Powers rummaged through his fly box and pulled out an orange-bodied tarantula, a variation on the rubber-legged Michigan skunk.

That did that trick, and he soon began hooking up with fish that mostly darted out from undercut banks and logjams.

We fished from about 9 a.m. to noon on a day that started out overcast, saw a little sunshine and ended in a drizzle.

The best time to fish is from about 6 p.m. until dark, but Powers still raised about 25 trout and boated and released eight of them.

"I think the Manistee is the finest big trout fishery in the country," Petrella said. "You can fish some of those tail race waters in other places and get big trout, but not in the numbers we have here.

"In this river, the big trout come out of the depths. That's what sets it apart from the Au Sable. The Manistee has a lot more deep water and 100-year-old logs sunk on the bottom.

"The big fish don't feed on the surface at midday a lot, but if you can catch one of those perfect nights during the (Hexagenia) hatch, you'll never get a better shot at catching a lot of big trout."

Petrella said that water temperatures in recent days have been 50-60, five to 10 degrees below what's usually seen in late July.

"We often see 70 degrees by now. When it gets that warm, I won't fish because it's too hard on the trout," he said.

We launched Petrella's Au Sable boat a few miles below M-72 and got out about four miles downstream. The river is heavily wooded and sparsely settled along this stretch, and because most of it can be waded, it's suitable for anglers in kayaks or canoes.

I was in the Deward section of the Manistee above Cameron Bridge a few days earlier. This stretch has a lot of open grassy areas, and as I walked through the fields, I pushed up squadrons of inch-long grasshoppers that in a week or so will be providing a major feast for trout.

But wherever you are on this river, you probably can count on good fly fishing right through the dog days of summer.


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