No hero shots, just an experience of a lifetime
Let me just say that I don’t make regular exotic fly fishing expeditions that involve far away places with guides and pampered lodging. After all, I live in southwest Montana and can drive to Idaho or the coast whenever I have the urge to chase migratory fish. My wife has relatives in Oregon so none of this is a stretch. When I do decide to go on an “exotic” trip, it is usually planned well in advance and researched long before I ever book tickets. It is not like I go bonefishing and chase tarpon every winter or travel to New Zealand or South America when the fishing gets tough in the Big Sky State. That would be nice, but on an architect’s salary I don’t have that luxury. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining, I do have my opportunities so I try to choose them well. I also have a wife who is very understanding and totally cool. I take pride in my blue collar approach to fishing and hit it face on with pragmatism, research and science.
So I just returned from such a trip to western Michigan to get an insight and basic understanding of Michigan’s world famous rivers with the promise and hope of abundant fishing opportunities for migratory fish. Michigan has always seemed like one of those places that was just too good to be true. Far enough away from the east coast to avoid most of the amateur crowds but accessible enough making it easy and affordable. This is all set on the backdrop of the crashing fisheries throughout the Pacific northwest. For years we've been seeing problems and declining numbers up and down the coast.
It is hard not to raise expectations when you see pictures of 20 pound steelhead, 15 pound lake run browns, 30 pound Chinook, 12 pound Coho’s and even an opportunity to catch record sized land locked Atlantic Salmon. You don't really care that they grew to these sizes in a lake rather than an ocean. Sure, all of these fish are exotic transplants, but they have been in the Great Lakes for generations and are doing so well that “wild” numbers outpace most of what we see on the west coast. In the course of five days of fishing, I witnessed seeing such fish with my own eyes.
As 2020 seems to keep throwing curveballs, this trip would be no different. Michigan would see months of no rain and record November temperatures in the mid 70’s with sunshine. I don't want to aggravate all the flat earther/science deniers and have them light their hair on fire but we saw people floating in shorts in Mid November, that is just ridiculous. This is not exactly conducive fishing conditions. Skittish fish and low clear waters meant that many fish were still staging in Lake Michigan waiting for that all important water push and change in weather. The fish that were already in the rivers were grumpy and not wanting to play.
On one hand you risk travelling during an historic pandemic. You take a week off from work, you have high expectations and have been researching and planning this for months. Then there is the emotional and financial investment. In the end I came away without touching a fish all week and one might consider this an epic failure, but I have been chasing weary steelhead for far too long to know that there are never any guarantees with these silver ghosts. One day they are there, and the next day, they aren't.
The real reason this trip was one I will remember for the rest of my days was my opportunity to get to know the legendary Matt Supinski. Dam this man holds so much knowledge and is one of the fishiest guys I know. He may not be the right guide for those who need that rigid and structured direction, but I really enjoyed his quirkiness and eccentricities. We spent hours laughing. He is also credited with being a great chef and is known for making the best dam sandwiches on earth. We seemed to be on the same wave length all week long. For me it was more of a clinic then a guided trip. I got to see just how special these rivers are and what a unique place western Michigan is. Not since my days as a disciple to the late Gary LaFontaine have I looked up to a fishing figure of his stature. Matt is the real deal and a true jedi master. I am grateful because he shook me out of my preconceptions and comfort zones. I came away with a richer knowledge, new techniques and a different perspective... Isn’t that why we fish?