December 19, 2012
No, Mary. No blue sky anywhere. It began snowing before we hit the river and continued through the dark hours. The dusting on the trees makes even very familiar stretches of river look new, the white accents highlighting things the eye normally skips over.
As mentioned in yesterday's post, we're on Stan Blood's drift boat. Well, he shares ownership with two fellows named Duso and Iverson. Thus the boat's name: SID. I call it El Sid. "I call it Sidney," Stan says. "I enjoy rowing Sidney around more than almost any other physical activity." I like that way he qualified that. Aside from the obvious human needs we all have, steelheading is a physical activity, too. Stan loves steelhead, but he does have this thing going on with Sidney.
"Gliding down a river in a drift boat is life's finest form of tranquility," Stan says. That's a comparative statistic. When the boat stops, all hell breaks loose. Sometimes. At any rate, Sidney aided in the ongoing quest to determine which is better: Treated or untreated spawn? Sorry, good friends who donated treated stuff for us to try. In five days of side-by-side testing against simple salt and sugar cures, every fish but one came on the natural stuff. When I take eggs from a fish, I tie them into spawn bags with Red Wing Tackle netting, Spider Thread, and (sometimes) colored Spawn Sac Floaters. I snip Thread and excess netting, letting the bag fall into a plastic tub with a screw-on top. I then cover the bags with mineral oil and put the tubs in the freezer. Each tub contains about what I would use in a day during a hot bite or where small browns and smolts are plentiful. The mineral oil is inert. It's stable, non toxic (people use it as a laxative, of course), and it has no scent. But it takes on the scent of the eggs and disperses it ahead of your presentation, which might be one big reason why the natural stuff has consistently outproduced treated spawn for me since I started using this method over 30 years ago.
Mary's rod is a 9.5-foot G. Loomis blank custom tied by Thorne Brothers. She's using a Daiwa Tournament spinning reel spooled with green 8-pound Ande Premium monofilament. The constant snow and wet weather, and the fact that she caught steelhead every day but one notwithstanding, this was her favorite day of the trip. "Getting to spend a day with Stan on Sidney was the best," she told me later. "And it was my favorite because I caught fish doing something I don't really feel I'm very good at." Which is drifting bait along bottom — something that doesn't come easy for a lot of people. "And because we hadn't run out of the good bait yet," she laughed. We don't kill Pere Marquette fish no matter how badly we want fresh eggs. Steelhead, salmon, and browns naturally reproduce here, making every fish precious. We watched some other guys slip past us with inflatables that had fish tethered to their boats. It's legal, so they're within their rights, and they were nice guys. I don't blame them. But, in my opinion, PM steelhead should be protected from harvest entirely. We have lots of stocked rivers to harvest big salmonids from all around the Great Lakes. The PM, the Little Manistee, and several other rivers with naturally-reproducing steelhead should be off limits to harvest.
Getting back to bait: A lot of guides prefer treated stuff because it toughens the skin of the eggs, making them easier to work with or a better choice for fishing with egg-loop snells. But, in so doing, you prevent the egg from distributing its natural scent as well. I don't think replacement scents and alternate scents work as well and side-by-side comparisons have always bear that out. Treated eggs maintain color and translucency longer, but scent is the final trigger. If vision was all that mattered, plastic eggs would work better than the real thing. While that sometimes happens, it's rare. Especially in conditions like these (water temperatures of about 37°F), when steelhead seek slower current lanes.
But this trip was like sending a probe to Mars, where mission specialists put numerous experiments on board, not just one. Comparing natural with treated spawn was just the first thing we analyzed. Our second through fifth experiments were far more fascinating.
But, for pure entertainment value, it's hard to top Sidney, fine rods, simple rigs, and Stan (Lee Boy) Blood.