Unlike many fly fishermen, I’ve never been much of a morning person. It’s not that I don’t enjoy waking up before the birds to a fresh pot of coffee and being the first person on an unspoiled river. If there’s anything in life that can get me out of bed, it’s definitely fishing. However, the convenience and success of evening fishing has stolen the majority of my outings in recent years, not to mention the fact that I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. This season has been somewhat of a departure from my usual fishing schedule. A relatively new neighbour of mine also happens to share a passion for fly fishing, especially on the Grand River. Due to our schedules and family commitments, we decided to start making some early morning trips to the Grand. It’s about a 45 minute drive from our place, so being there before 6 am means waking up at or before 5 am – and if you know me, that’s no small feat.
Admittedly, as great a river as the Grand is, I haven’t fished it too much in the past few years. Most of my time has been spent on other less popular rivers. However, the several trips we’ve made so far this year have reminded of a few things I had forgotten:
1. Morning is an amazing time to be on the water
Stepping out onto the water at the crack of dawn is a wonderful experience. The crisp morning air, quiet, calm and undisturbed water instantly makes you forget how difficult it was climbing out of bed. With the entire day ahead of you, your sense of urgency is non-existent. Wildlife is abundant and fish are still a bit more careless than they might be after a day of dealing with anglers. On a morning trip last week, we were greeted by a pair of playful deer as we stepped into the river. They remained for several minutes before finally realizing we were there, after which they calmly walked back to the river bank out of sight.
Birds were also plentiful and active. An osprey sat at the top of a tall tree, watching us fish for a good 30 minutes before deciding to show us how to catch a real fish. I heard a huge splash behind me, turned around and saw a splash that I imagined could only be caused by a large boulder falling into the river. A second later, the osprey emerged with a good sized fish in its claws.
A lowly seagull also decided to out-fish us and as can be seen below, happily feasting on its fresh catch.
Unfortunately for this poor gull though, he was not the biggest bird on the water that morning and shortly after his meal was stolen by a great blue heron. Needless to say, he did not seem happy.
2. There are a lot of big fish in this river
Wildlife was not the only excitement we witnessed on the river. Caddis hatches and undisturbed pools reminded me of just how many browns are in this river. One nice thing about the Grand is that a tiny fish here is generally 8-10″ due to the decent size of stockers. Average fish are a bit bigger and fish in the high 20’s are taken often. While we had a few nice fish roll on us, most of the fish we caught were in the 10-14″ range. I’m not complaining, I’ll take those fish any day. I’ve always found the larger fish on the Grand quite picky, no doubt due in large part to the sheer number of flies they have seen in their long lives. In clear water conditions, especially when fishing a dry fly, it seems even a 6x tippet or the slightest of water disturbance can alert them.
The fly of the month for us has been the Bubble Caddis Emerger. I just started tying and fishing this fly and I have to say, so far it hands down beats fishing a more typical elk hair caddis. The fish here seem to prefer it and it’s nice that it can be fished both as a dry or an emerger.
3. At least some of the stories about clowns on this river are true
Ah yes and then there’s the clowns. I’ll start by saying that in the countless times I’ve fished the Grand in the past, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid them. I’m sure it’s not as bad as people say, certainly nothing like the real circus found on the lower sections of some rivers during a good steelhead run. Nevertheless, a couple hours into fishing one morning, we ran across one such person.
We were fishing a productive stretch of water and started working the water directly in front of us. We were carefully covering all of the water, working out towards the other (deeper) side of the pool which seemed to be holding some better fish. We noticed a person enter the river downstream, dressed entirely in black. He stood around for a minute or two after which he crossed to the other side of the river and began stomping upstream with rod in hand. We weren’t quite sure what to make of him – it was hard to see from a distance, but he certainly wasn’t wearing your typical fishing gear. It was a cold morning and he was dressed in long, plain black cloth. He literally walked right into the pool we were so anxiously working towards, no more than 40 feet away from us and began casting across the river directly into the water we were fishing.
It’s a good thing I was in too good of a mood (and am generally too nice a person) to say anything, because I have honestly never seen anyone be so rude or bold on a river in my life. He made casts that were no more than a few feet from our drifts. Eventually he moved on upstream, while we were left to ponder what just happened and deal with the fact that he just spooked every fish in the river.
Thankfully, you shouldn’t expect to see this stuff too often and it was already later in the morning. One more plus for early mornings on the river though: increased chance of avoiding situations like this one.