Blake Sherburne rows while Kenny Mlcek and editor Nick Green fish one of their favorite Northern Michigan streams. The trio learned an important lesson during that float — venturing out of an angler’s comfort zone can help hook big fish.


As I usually do when I get the OK from my fiancé, I headed North this past weekend to meet some friends and spend a few days fishing some of our Northern Michigan streams.

Friday, I fished the flies-only section of the Pere Marquette River. This fabled stretch treated me well — I landed about 10 fish ranging from 8 inches up to 14 inches on nymphs and hoppers. It always amazes me how well that section of water fishes with hoppers.

The bikini and canoe hatches were light — something I have come to both loathe and enjoy when I am on the water. People watching sometimes trumps angling, there is no denying that.

I spent the day hurling my heavily-weighted size 14 nymphs underneath a foam hopper that tripled the size of any natural hopper falling to its death from the bank. Fish moved, sometimes long distances, to take a look at my hoppers and nymphs.

The water was low and clear, conditions which help an angler target where trout might lie but also cause the big boys to go into hiding underneath banks and logs. I did see two trout that were at least 20 inches, though. They are there.

I have caught fish over 20 inches during the middle of the day in that stretch. I have also caught a fair amount of upper-teens fish in that stretch. I use mostly unnamed nymphs that I tie. I think they kind of resemble mayflies. They work.

It is almost instinctual now to tie on those same nymphs when I fish all Michigan streams. However, this weekend I was reminded that altering our preconceived ideas of what works can yield big dividends when we find ourselves on new or old water.

Saturday, my friend Ken and I woke up at about 6:30 a.m. We were set to meet our friend Blake for a float on one of our local streams that holds a dear place in my heart — it is where I learned to fly fish. It changed my life, helped to determine my career path and made me who I am today.

We put in the river at about 7:30 a.m. I have always fished the same aforementioned nymphs on this river and have caught fish on them — though none as big as on the Pere Marquette River.

The day was moving along according to plan — there weren’t many kayaks or canoes, we were getting fish in the 8- to 10-inch range pretty consistently and we were enjoying each other’s company. The tales of fish we had hooked and lost were abound.

Ken was ripping streamers through holes, Blake was nymphing and I was hopper-dropper fishing.

It was about a third of the way through our float when Blake decided to try some big, ugly nymphs that one of our favorite fly shop owners, Brian Pitser of The Northern Angler, had recommended. He talked about fishing the river with Kelly Galloup and how Galloup caught big browns in fast water using these big, brown, rubber-legged nymphs.

Within two casts, Blake hooked and lost a brown about 17 inches. Not even an hour later, he hooked and lost an even bigger fish.

It was puzzling. We had fished that river more times than we could count, assumed we knew all there was to know about it and thought we caught the best fish it had to offer at any given time. We were wrong. All three of us learned something that day — be open to new ideas, more importantly, new nymphs, even if they are hideous and you don’t think a wary brown trout would ever eat them.

Blake and I have always talked about fishing with confidence throughout our angling relationship. Saturday gave new meaning to that phrase. If someone tells me to fish something — especially if they have the knowledge like a local guide would — I will fish it. And I will fish it with confidence.

We finished the day with some boated fish, which felt good. The better feeling was what we went home with that night, though — a new fly in our vest to trick some browns into meeting our nets.