Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot

On a recent guide trip I thought about, “what makes a hero shot”. Which lead me to, “what makes an anti-hero shot”. Which further lead me to, is possible you can have an “anti-hero shot” and yet still have the “hero shot?” The answer is a resounding yes.

However, let me explain it better. In order for me to write an ode to the “anti-hero shot”, I have to first define what the “hero shot” is. A hero shot, for those that don’t know, is a picture of someone holding big fish. That fish, for example, could be a steelhead, salmon, northern pike, bass, etc. The hero shot usually gets posted on the different social media channels for various reasons, not the least of which is to get “likes.” That’s all fine and I need to come clean. I am guilty of posting the hero shot and have done it on many occasions.

This past week I did a guide trip on the Kalamazoo River for steelhead. I went there because I wanted to avoid the crowds, which we succeeded in doing. We fished the lower section, where I had been successful many times in the past.

The guide trip was, quite frankly, tough. We used all the tricks, from spawn and beads to back plugging and trolling. We worked hard for seven hours, covering all the usual runs, holes, pockets, seams, timber, etc. No bobber went down, no poles bent and no fish to net.

Finally, after about the seventh hour and near the end of the trip, the bobber went down in a riffle section of the river. Fish on! A dime bright steelhead was on the line, fresh from Lake Michigan. As a result, it jumped, tailed on the water and did a little run. A fight ensued, the fish was netted, unhooked and held up for the “hero shot.”

Man holding a skippy steelhead from the Kalamazoo River
Skippy steelhead

Certainly you can tell, from the picture, the steelhead was lucky to tip 3 pounds on the scale. Call it what you want, a skippy, dink, jack, whatever, and laugh, but we worked hard for that fish.

After that, the trip ended and we ran down river to boat launch and chatted some more about the day. The clients thanked me for the trip, got in their truck and head back home. We didn’t find any large steelhead that day, as a guide, I was frustrated. I couldn’t give them the hero shot they might have been looking for and it wasn’t for lack of trying. They worked hard and so did I.

The Real Hero:

To sum all this up, I came to the realization the hero of the day, or any day for that matter while on the river, is the client not the size of the fish. That is to say, when the client works hard all day, they don’t give in to frustration, they don’t complain and they keep going during the toughest of conditions, they are the real heroes. To me that defines the “small fish” anti-hero shot with a hero in it.

Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot:

My little skippy, the anti-hero people think you are
As an angler I have longed for you
My heart has ached through the trials and tribulations 
of the day
fighting snags, wind, snow and rain
You come fresh from the big lake all dime bright
ready for that mighty big fight
my bobber goes down and I set the hook
You jump with scorn as I reel you in
net in hand and land you 
You many not be the beast I was hoping for 
but you’re a steelhead none the least
I hold you in my hands for the picture
before letting you go
don’t be embarrassed of your size
for what people didn’t see was I persevered

and for me that was the real prize

Captain Tom Werkman

Getting Ready for Fall Fishing

Fall is one of the best times of the year to fish the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan for salmon and steelhead. The hot days and warm nights turn to warm days and cool nights.  The green leaves turn to oranges, reds and yellows and the salmon start their annual pilgrimage into the Muskegon, Grand and White rivers as well as and other tributaries.  Smallmouth bass and northern pike become even more aggressive as they fatten up for the long winter.

With the salmon pilgrimage the fall steelhead follow as they find a food source, salmon eggs, in the rivers along with other aquatic insects and smolt.  They stay in the systems until they migrate back out into Lake Michigan in the spring after they spawn.  Trout are on the prowl as well, fattening up for winter on the abundant biomass in the area river systems.

During this time, at least on the Grand River, it’s important to use multiple techniques to maximize your success.  There are various techniques that can be used but here are some that we prefer.

Fly Fishing:

Chuck-n-Duck:

  • Chuck-n-Duck:  The Chuck-n-Duck method can be used for salmon, trout and steelhead.  With salmon, once they enter the upper river systems and start to spawn, they no longer feed.  As a result, they will no longer eat your presentation.  At this point, the goal of this technique is to “line” the fish in the mouth as the flies drift into their path to hook and then land them.  With steelhead and trout this method can be effective in the deeper holes and pools.  If you see fish spawning, please remember to not target the females on their redds and to fish the pocket water.   The pocket water typically will hold trout, and male salmon and steelhead.  If you remove the female off her redd she will be exhausted and stressed from the fight and may no longer have the energy to spawn, thus effecting future populations

Streamers:

  • Streamers:  Streamer fishing involves using either floating or sink-tip lines tied to leaders with descending strength to a fly that looks like a smolt, minnow, or another form of baitfish.  With this method the fly is “stripped” through the water and as it is stripped imitates a moving baitfish.  Typically the predator fish will instinctively react to the movement and strike the streamer in an aggressive bite.

Indicator / Bobber:

  • Indicator / Bobber: This technique involves using floating line tied to leaders with descending strength to tippet.  In order to get your fly/flies down, various size split shot is used.  The bobber is positioned on the leader so it can be adjusted to the changing river depth. If the bobber goes down you have a bite.  The bobber don’t lie.  This form of fishing is much more subtle than streamer fishing and is used when the water temperature is much colder and the fish are lethargic.

Center Pin:

  • Centerpin fishing, also called float fishing, is a fishing technique which uses a centerpin rod, a centerpin reel, and spawn, skein, an artificial fly or bead coming off of a leader of various descending strengths to tippet.   Centerpins are designed to freespool line off the reel and allow for a natural downstream drift of your float presentation without any interruption.  In order get the line down, various size split shot are used to keep the line vertical in the water column for a natural presentation of the fly, bead or bait.

Crankbaits & Plugs:

  • Plugs are a popular type of hard-bodied fishing lure. They are widely known by a number of other names that include crankbait, wobbler, thundersticks, minnow, shallow-diver and deep-diver. The term minnow is usually used for long, slender, lures that imitate baitfish, while the term plug is usually used for shorter, deeper-bodied lures which imitate deeper-bodied fish. Shallow-diver and deep-diver refer to the diving capabilities of the lure, which depends on the size and angle of the lip, and lure buoyancy.  These lures are used when an anchored boat is positioned upstream and the lures are dropped off the back of the boat about 60 to 120 ft depending on the depth of the hole.  The current will take the lure back and once the the line set, will “dive”/ wobble to trigger a strike.
  • Crankbaits are another deadly technique for catching fish.  This technique involves casting toward the bank and positioning your rod downstream and slowly retrieving the lure.  During the first stages of the salmon run in the lower sections of rivers this can elicit and violent strike.

What ever method or technique you use, make sure to get out on the river and enjoy this time.  It only comes once a year and life is way to short to not enjoy it and catch fish. Tight lines all.