After what seems like a holiday marathon for some, family gatherings, work parties, dinner after dinner, and more food, you feel like you run right into a brick wall. January in northern Michigan truly slows the pace of life almost to a screeching halt with winter settling in, showing its cold grasp on the beautiful landscape we live in. Some outdoor enthusiasts love this time of the year and take to the ski hills, snowmobile trails, and frozen lakes and ponds. January in Michigan can also offer what a select few are constantly in search for, a place of solitude.
Solitude can be defined as a state of seclusion or isolation, or lack of contact with people. Fly fishing Northern Michigan’s streams in January provides such a place for those that want to unwind, relax, think, and even reflect on the time that has passed and look at the year ahead. The silence of winter can almost be deafening with its soft white blanket and leafless trees. The swoosh of your crisp waders followed with the exaggerated crunch of the snow beneath every step of the trail, you enter into a world few have experienced. As you slide in off the snowy bank you are greeted with the bright shimmer of light bouncing of the riffles. You find yourself waist deep at your favorite winter pool knowing that it is just you and the fish at your feet. The frosty air tickles your nose as you strip line from the reel preparing for your first cast. As your flies enter the water searching for steelhead, you find yourself transported almost to a different world, a world of solitude.
Everybody needs a little solitude in their lives. Whether that place is on an ice covered pond in the middle of nowhere, cozied up at home with a good book, or even standing in a busy shopping mall, solitude gives a person that mental break from their everyday grind. Having personally fished thousands of days and being blessed with a fish’s presence through many of them, I find myself asking what it is that draws me to such a place, day after day, season after season. It was Henry David Thoreau that said it best, “Many go fishing without knowing it is fish they are not after.” Many days this rings true to any angler whether they fish once a year or 7 days a week. Some go fishing just to get away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives. There are others, modern day vagabonds more on their own accord, in search of the rivers to escape from anybody and everybody. For the rest including myself, fishing is more of a passion of necessity. All have a common bond that they share in that they are all in search of solitude. Catching fish, of course, never hurt anyone either and puts the icing on the cake on an afternoon of fishing.
Fly fishing Michigan’s rivers in the still of winter can provide that much needed get away as old man winter gets settled in. Granted with the normally cold temperatures, there are only a few windows of opportunity to get out and be able to fish, but steelhead and brown trout fishing can still be good even in the dead of winter. The key to success usually has little to do with flies and tippet size, but more about timing. There is always a fish feeding somewhere at some time, but more often than not, there are a few more when the water temperatures warm. It usually does not take much, just a degree or two can be enough. Sunny or mild days when temperatures reach the freezing mark or better usually provide the needed bump in water temperatures and make for a fun afternoon of fishing. Fish tend to be more grouped up this time of the year too, making them more accessible in fewer places. Fishing the deeper, slower pools where most of the trout and steelhead hang out will give you a better chance as well. Patience and perseverance can go a long way as well to help with a successful day. Fish can be sluggish depending on conditions requiring a few more casts than you may usually try. Swinging spey patterns or fishing with egg patterns or nymphs under an indicator will strike interest from your targeted quarry.
Fishing doesn’t have to be the only thing to enjoy on a sunny winter’s day. The river provides an excellent place for photography as well. There is nothing like the clear day after a freshly fallen snow. Snow covered trees, wildlife, and the shadows of the low sitting sun all make for good picture taking. The river itself is a thing of beauty as it meanders its way through the winter landscape. The banks sometimes extended with a shelf of layered ice entrancing the camera’s lens into an icy kaleidoscope. The snowy backdrop makes for some great and colorful fish pictures as well.
So the next time you think about staying inside with your hot cocoa for yet another day this January, grab some clothes, your camera, and fishing gear and head out in search of a little solitude for yourself. For more information on winter fishing, fly tying, or an updated fishing report check out www.flyfishingmichiganrivers.com or like us on Facebook.