Monday, March 19, 2012

Trout on the Rogue

The Rogue River at Sunrise
We were heading to Michigan this weekend, and there was no way I wasn't going to be fishing in this incredible weather. After about a hundred texts, I had two partners, a location, and a quarry: trout. My friends Rob and Mark and I were going to fish the Rogue River for steelhead.

Woke up at 5am on Saturday, which of course was actually 4am for me due to the time zone change. If it means fishing such a great spot as the Rogue River, I don't mind getting up that early at all. Made a pot of coffee, put on some long underwear to go under my jeans under my waders, and for the first time this year busted out my new fishing/wading vest.

It's a nice lightweight one from L.L. bean, with tons of pockets and places to hide fishing gear. The problem is I'm not really sure how you're supposed to keep lures in the pockets... And in one pocket there is a piece of white fur or something with a safety pin on the back. What the hell is that for? Pretty sure it has something to do with holding flies for fly fishing, but I know almost nothing about that world of fishing...

I kneeled on the floor, my tacklebox open and my vest on me, trying to figure out how to move lures to my vest. Do I put them loose in the pockets? Do I stick them to the furry thing? Do I have to use little boxes, and put those in my pockets?

Well I only had one little box, so I filled it with a bunch if homemade inline spinners and shoved it into a pocket. I still had tons more lures I wanted to take, so I just shoved those in pockets too- hooks and all! Pretty sure that's not what you're supposed to do, as I immediately began hooking my fingers anytime I went into the pockets... But hey you do what you gotta do for fishing.

After a few minutes by vest was about 10 pounds heavier, filled with anything and everything that might possibly catch me a fish on the Rogue River. This was the very same river I waded back in November searching for salmon. I didn't find any salmon, but I did land my first brown trout. It was a tiny fish, but was one of the highlights of my fishing year. I knew there would be a variety of trout in the river, and of course spring-run steelhead salmon. Although it would have been amazing to hook into one of those, I knew I'd be ecstatic catching even a tiny trout of any species.

I put on my vest, a few hooks poking through my pockets, and I made a last ditch google search for "spring steelhead lures" as I downed my coffee. The Internet told me most people fly fish for steelhead; if not, most people used spawn (fish eggs) under a bobber. I didnt have any spawn. The third option seemed to be small inline spinners. Well I was in luck, because id been making spinners all winter and had a ton of them, many dangerously poking through my vest.

Around 5:45am Mark arrived, not awake yet either, and we quickly loaded my mini with gear and headed out. Let me tell you, nothing says fishing more than two guys and a ton of fishing gear in a green mini cooper.

By the time we got to the river, it was about 7am; I'd consumed the better part of a pot of coffee, and was itchin' to go fishin'. Somehow, all three of us had miscalculated (read: misread) when sunrise was. When Rob showed up a few minutes later, it was still absolutely and completely dark outside, save the waning gibbous moon poking through the trees. Sunrise was at 7:50, not 7:05!

Unsphased, we hopped into our waders and trekked into the dark.

Many who know me know about the strange neorological condition I experience called synesthesia- basically all my senses are connected. When I hear music I also literally see it, like an abstract "fantasia" or something. The same thing with any sound, like rushing water. As we walked along the river in the dark, the pulsing white paintings of the water rushing illuminated the darkness to me, a strange juxtaposition with the almost complex darkness.

This is kind of what our trek looked like
(we had fishing rods instead of guns)
As I followed Mark and Rob through the foliage, it reminded me of a mission in Call of Duty where you're a sniper sneaking into an enemy base. The outdoors is still pretty new to me, and there are many experiences I've only had in video games- like a bunch of guys, loaded down with gear, hiking through the forest on a mission. It was great to do this in real life, even though I was armed with a fishing rod, not a sniper rifle. Hopefully it would be just as deadly to the fish!

We passed many fisherman, apparently waiting for sunrise to enter the water. After a few minutes, we reached our destination and entered the water- we didn't wait for sunrise, it was fishing time! Rob and Mark easily waded through the water, but it took me a few minutes to regain my "river legs." i momentarily forgot how to wade, and went very slow to avoid getting all my gear prematurely wet. Rob directed us to a promising looking spot, and we began fishing. rob gave me some tips regarding casting location and retrieval speed, which I promptly forgot- I was still trying not to fall of in the quickly moving water!

We fished as the sun came up, and we were able to see our surroundings slowly lit up by the sun. As it shone through the trees, rays of fog lit up like laser beam security systems in art museums in movies (you know what I mean). The scene could not have been more beautiful. It was hard to focus on fishing when my surroundings were so beautiful... But not that hard.

I threw inline spinners, little white marabou jigs, and some plastic spawn imitation stuff that Mark gave me, which was apparently at least 10 a years old. Rob got a hit early on, but was unable to hook the beast. After a while we saw some steelhead jump out of the water, confirming we were in the right place!

Fishing buddies
Rob on the left in a nice fly-fisherman pose
Mark on the right not fishing for some reason...
Although there were definitely fish there, we couldn't get them to take our lures. After a while we decided to move downstream, working our way back to our cars. The scene was idyllic, but nobody was catching fish- and there were tons and tons of fishermen (and fisher-ladies) all along the river. A quick hike around a seemingly abandoned paper mill and a short drive upstream, and we arrived at our new spot just downstream of the Rockford dam.

Walking along the bridge, we looked down and saw at least three big fish (steelhead?) hanging out in the river. They seemed to be taunting the 20-or-so anglers standing in the river in the short stretch around the bridge. The water was so clear (I'm not used to that in my normal Illinois spots!) I wondered if the anglers could see the fish staring back at them.

We hiked through a gauntlet of thorny brush and finally made our way to spot near the steelhead. Rob stayed on the bridge, helping us find the fish. Mark I both proceeded to hook everything around us, except of course fish. The banks were lined with thick foliage; I spent about 10 minutes untangling my line from a single jerk-of-a-bush. The anglers in the river watched in amusement (or apathy, it was hard to tell).

I decided to move farther upstream, to avoid both the bushes and other angler's lines. I saw a guy catch a "nice" brown (I thought it looked humongous) which only fueled my fishing lust.

I fished for a while, and although I didn't get a single tap on anything I threw, every 10 seconds or so I saw a little skinny fish (baby trout?) jump out of the water just feet in front of me. The fact that I was standing in 3 feet of water and these jumps were almost at eye-level made it even more exciting. (remember, I'm super short)

A homemade spinner
Mark caught a fish! I quickly hopped over to see him unhooking a super nice brown, must have been at least 18". I marveled at the beautiful fish, and speedily ran back to my spot. He caught on a tiny silver mepps, retrieved very quickly. I pawed through my hook-lined-pockets, causing many small holes in my hands, until I found the smallest spinner I had. I lost a few upstream, so I only had one small spinner. This was the first one I'd made with a floating fluorescent body, originally with hopes of catching fox river walleye. Let's see if it could entice trout...

I cast it out far as I could upstream, and reeled in as fast as I could. Immediately I had a bump that was unmistakably a fish!! Fish!!

Forgetting Rob's earlier advice, I'd mostly been retrieving kind of slow, thinking I would be too fast for the fish. Now that I was burning the lure through the water, the fish were interested! I saw the flashes of 3+ fish following my spinner as it came toward me in the clear water.

Second cast, a hit, and then it felt like I was pulling my spinner over corrugated cardboard... As it came closer I saw a fish attached to my lure. FISH ON! It took every fiber in my body to avoid jumping up and giggling at the 8" fish I'd caught. Had I been alone, the river would have echoed with the high pitched squeals of a five year old!

I reached for the fish, excited for a photo, and it jumped off circle hook and slipped back into the water. That's ok, I thought, I'll just tell everyone it was a 19 incher. For the 3 seconds I saw it out of the water, I knew it was a trout, but I didn't know which one. Not a steelhead, probably a baby brown.

Next cast, another bump, and another trout! Same deal, as soon as it approached my hand it acrobatically jumped off the hook and back into the water.

A few casts later, same thing... Well at least I was figuring out a pattern for these fish! My homemade spinner, 2 feet below the surface, retrieved quicky.

And then, finally, I managed to get one in my hand long enough got a snapshot! Of course it was the smallest one I'd caught, and as no sooner than I'd captured it in my photo library, with a quick wiggle it was back in the water. I later google image searched, and confirmed it was a brown.

I know it looks like I'm strangling it, but I was holding it
pretty lightly.. you can see the tail starting to move- it jumped
right after this picture was taken!

Soon after that we had to go, due to our wives expecting us back... But all in all an amazing morning fishing! Although I still hadn't hooked into a beast of a steelhead, or any beast for that matter, the experience was awesome... And I did in fact catch four trout on a homemade lure, wading the beautiful Rogue River, with some great fishing buddies.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a great trip out!!! There is something special about standing waist deep in a crystal clear river catching little trout - I don't what it is, but it's hard to beat.


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