Thursday, September 29, 2016

 Fly Fishing the Mitt - The Clinton River

Written by: Tyler Coleman

Not a bad way to kill time at home. Stripping streamers in hopes of finding hungry fish. Photo by Tyler Coleman

As many of you know from my last Wild Trout Wednesday post, we have relocated to Michigan. With an overwhelming amount of water around us I started off by fishing what was most convenient: our backyard. We currently live on the Clinton River which is home to a wide variety of fish and 83 miles of fishable water so I plan to explore it as much as possible. The weather has been fairly inconsistent with one day of sun and heat while the next a short down pour causing a drop in water temp and almost zero visibility. A few days the water was flowing from the storm drains so intensely that it knocked down full size trees over hanging the river. It's tough to figure out new water when there is no stability but it keeps me entertained to keep trying new flies, techniques and sharpening up my skills. Every day I try to learn something new about the water or fish behavior in this environment and with constant change it seems I do. The large rivers seem to be a mix of fishing techniques from the small creeks I love and even throwing in some lake characteristics just to keep you on your toes. There isn't a day that goes by that my wife couldn't look out the window and see me walking the yard trying to get a better understanding of the water. 

Sunset pike cruising for a snack. I watched this fish turn around for my streamer and jump on it like an alligator. Photo by Raphael McGeorge 
This river never ceases to surprise me. One morning it's all large mouth outback so I fish with those as a target. The next day I go out with the same fish in mind and a species I have never seen before comes out of the same spot a bass was hiding in the day before and nails my streamer. After an awesome fight on my five weight Clearwater and a few quick photos of the catch I had to hop on my phone and figure out what the fish even was. A little bigger gear would have been more appropriate but coming from primarily fishing small Arizona creeks and urban ponds I never ran into a situation where it was needed. 

Bowfin are incredibly aggressive eaters and a blast on the fly. Photo by Anastasia Coleman
On a different day I was going out to searching for a big bass that was hanging out under a tree a few days before. I threw my sculpin a little past where I had seen the fish holding and immediately there was a splash. Faster then I could even process what was going on something ran a crossed the river taking me to the backing. I tend to have a good feel on my float line to strip set (thanks to a lot of dry fly carp fishing) so my reaction was ahead of my thoughts. I hoped an even larger bowfin was on the line but after some battling I was shocked to see a nice size common carp. These fish have been one of my favorite to catch since I first picked up a fly rod and to catch one in a new environment with that wild fish fight was a treat. I heard a joke recently saying warm water fishing is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you are going to get. This river has continued to prove that to be true and I feel the excitement of a variety of possible species is what keeps me going back for more.

A familiar species but with that wild river fish fight. These guys are even more fun to fight in a water with less fishing pressure. Photo by Anastasia Coleman

The main branch of the Clinton River flows for 83 miles with many tributaries and drainages that contain both warm water and cold water species. The river even has a Michigan Steelhead run in the Spring. The more we explore the river the variety of fish change. In some of the drains I have seen nice sized Carp, smaller Pike, Rock Bass, Large Mouth Bass, small Gar and a variety of crappie. Before moving to Michigan I purchased an old Coleman canoe from a friend and have been using that to travel the areas of the river you can not get to from the shore.

Even crappie are a blast on a glass 3wt. Anastasia wet wading in one of the Clinton River tributaries. Photo by Tyler Coleman

Fly fishing in general can sometimes be pretty tough but mix in unstable banks, no ability to wade and water quality that is said to be dangerous to swim in and you have some challenging fishing ahead of you. Fishing the river in our backyard has been a little easier thanks to my garage sale special long handled salmon net. Getting the fish in the net is usually the end goal for most people but insuring the fish is safe and released in a timely manner is even more important. The added difficulty with writing these articles or taking picture for social media is always making sure to keep the fish wet. In our yard we use that net to keep the fish in the water until we are ready to take the picture and then to place the fish back into the water, revive and release.  It's not common for me to have fish out long enough to need much revival especially for hardy warm water species but I always want to make sure they live on to fight another day. Its tough sometimes when you just see a picture of a fish and don’t know the story behind that photo or how it was handled. We strongly encourage the "keep em wet mentality" even if it may not always appear so in our posts.  Here are a few more photos from the river and its tributaries. Keep an eye out for the next Wild Trout Wednesday post as we explore the Mitt in search of wild trout.  Make sure to follow us and the new Orvis Fly fishing page on Instagram at @thecolemancollection and @Orvisflyfishing.


   This Rock Bass was holding in a way typical to trout snugged under a rock which supports the reason for their name. 

More Crappie on the Superfine. 

The kids have been busy fishing too! Digging up some worms and dropping a line in keeps my daughter entertained whenever we are at the house. Bait fishing is how I built my love for fishing growing up and I hope to do the same with all of our kids. Eventually they can earn a fly rod and hit the streams in search of wild trout. 

 Anastasia helping Sebastian with his first Perch. Photo by Tyler Coleman

My daughter Devyn almost hyperventilated when she came up and told me what she had caught. She even kept it wet in a large bucket of water so we could get a picture.  Photo by Tyler Coleman


Jumbo rock bass from a small stream.  

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