2. Fish Hard.
Currier says "Fish Hard" a lot. And he lives it. I rowed A LOT on this trip. Reber had never rowed before (but he did great!), and Stanifer, he likes to row, but he LOVES to fish. Our boat was usually last downstream, which gave me an opportunity to watch the master at his game. Currier is a machine. His casting stroke is effortless; delivering his flies on target every time. When we would stop for drinks, Currier would rig up and let his flies swing downstream, just in case a fish swam by and wanted a snack. He seemed eager to take his turn on the sticks, and when he was on the oars, he worked his ass off for Terry and Steve; holding the raft in potential hot spots and slicing into every nook he thought might harbor fish. Fly Fishing is Jeff Currier's job. And he has an impeccable work ethic.
Day two of our float, we got a little better start. After another excellent breakfast at the Kozy Kitchen, We loaded into our vessels and right before launch, Reber purposed a wager. $10 to the boat that catches the most fish, any species. The biggest fish was to be the tiebreaker. Terry scoffed, "How about a buck?" to which Stanifer pointed out that he did, in fact, have The Jeff Currier in his boat! Currier suggested we at least make it worth our time and purposed we up the ante to $50 a boat. We all agreed and launched our boats for another beautiful day on the Manistee.
I started out on the oars. We were in real competitive mode, and Jeff spanked a small fish soon after our departure. We had a lot of chasers, but eaters were few and far between. We were the last boat in the group. I watched the other boats line and chose a different route, not wanting my angler's fly to be the third flies the targets had seen. Though the water was at normal levels and the air was hot, the fish seemed to huddle up on the soft side of the stream. Our opponents concentrated on fishing the fast water and deep runs where the smallmouth usually in those conditions. I believed the influx of spawning king salmon had thrown the fish off and caused them to abandon the fast water for the refuge of the weedy slack water. My assumption paid off at after the first three hours; our boat was in the lead with five fish, the biggest being a 16" fish Reber caught on a popper, his preferred tactic. Currier's raft was in second with four, and Uncle Mike not far behind with three.
I had fished a bit in the first two beats, but I had one of those days where I was doing a good job of wrapping my line around the horn, gear bags and the anchor. Reber seemed to have the hot hand with his popper, and as we entered a technical rowing section of the river, I switched back to the oars. Three hours later, at the next check-in, we had only added a fish to our total, Uncle Mike added another, and team Currier, a big zero. For the final push, I was ready to fish.
Stanifer took the oars. He had rigged by leader up to fish two streamers "Currier Style." I chose a flashy chartreuse Clouser minow along with my pattern, the Aunt Flo, which Stanifer was having good luck with on a challenging fishing day. Stanifer stayed close to Terry's raft. Currier was on the oars. After an hour time of no action, we entered a stretch of river with lots of structure on both sides. I noticed Currier was hugging the soft side. He was watching us. In the next hour, I was on fire! I had decided to go for numbers instead of size and pounded 10 to 12-inch fish, doubling up twice, though I never landed two in the boat at once. With every fish, we became louder in our celebration. Currier would turn and look and give us a grin. Stanifer stayed tight to them. After an hour, I had added seven fish to our count.
Currier road their raft to the streambank and said he needed a beer and a shot of Yukon Jack. Of course, we obliged him. We chatted for about forty-five minutes and were off again. I now had the hot had and soon took what would be my biggest smallie of the trip. We screamed and high-fived like we just won the Super Bowl. Currier shook his head and grinned from ear to ear.
We now had a commanding lead. Not even the great Jeff Currier could make up that many fish in what we estimated to be an hour and a half left of our float.
I took the sticks back and cranked the music up. G&R. AC/DC. Black Betty. All the classics. We drifted back a bit but did catch up to the raft to see them release a large fish and high five. No worries, biggest fish is the tie-breaker, not the contest. Stanifer caught a couple more fish, just to pad the lead a bit and all three of us missed fish in the last quarter of a mile before the boat ramp. Stanifer had a pig on for a few seconds only to lose it.
Uncle Mike was already on his way back to the cabins when we landed at the ramp. Terry's group was pulling their boat out as we approached. We met at the conference center at D-Loop for dinner with Dave and Amy, the owners of D-Loop. Uncle Mike was making fantastic grill steaks, and Terry made his famous Voo-Doo Shrimp. We by the time we got there, dinner was almost ready, and the guys were willing to pay us. Currier said he had switched to a Chernobyl Ant on that final stretch, but still on managed to land a total of seventeen fish, the exact number we had brought to our boat. The large fish happened to be a Northern Pike that was big by normal Esox standards, was over 20" and thus, the greatest fish of the day. We opened our wallets.
Currier later admitted to me that he had pulled over during my hot streak to try and cool me off and see what we were using. Tactics I sure he learned competing for Team USA in the World Fly Fishing Championships.
I told him I was glad he won. "After all" I added, "How could I go home and tell Carter that we whipped his hero's ass in a fly fishing competition!" We had a good laugh, a beautiful meal, and a fabulous night.
We do want a rematch.
3. Variety is the Spice of Fly Fishing.
Currier almost always fished two flys. And when the bite was off, he didn't hesitate to change his fly or technique. At the end of day two, all three boats were having success with small popper patterns. Currier went one step further by switching to a Chernobyl Ants, and by doing so, closed the gap and won the competition. Sometimes I find myself sticking with a fly, or more often a technique for too long and limiting potential success. Call it stubbornness, arrogance or laziness, having the wear with all to make subtle or significant changes to your tactics can often be the difference between a good or terrible day on the water. I find myself stuck in ruts on our local waters. There are days I will not take any nymphs with me so that I have to commit to fishing a dry fly or streamers. Variety is the spice of life, the artist, and fly fishing