Sunday, February 13, 2011

VALENTINE'S WEEKEND STEELHEAD/CULINARY FEST!........PURE MICHIGAN CHROME COMES HOME!

OMG!!!.................what a fabulous weekend was had by all that came out for our winter celebration weekend of outstanding Italian Gourmet cuisine by Chef Frank and the steelhead that decided to show up for the event blew my mind!
Having three boats go out on Saturday-steelhead and trout fishing- everyone caught fish and had a memorable culinary extravaganza!
 I personally had the pleasure of guiding Gene Kelly who came with his lovely wife Meg from Boston, MA. Gene guided with me on Friday and Saturday and the fish gods really gave us an amazing look into what is to come on the run this spring.


 Gene has fished all over the world- Iceland's Big Laxa for Atlantic salmon- out west-Alaska etc.-BUT!........has never steelhead fished before. He said there was this magazine sitting on his office desk for years, with a guy in a white and black winter camo coat holding up a large winter steelhead against a snowy background. We always thought about catching a winter steelhead and given the terrible cold east coast winter, he and Meg just wanted to get away for the weekend. With a 580.00 round trip flight from Boston to Grand Rapids "for the two of them-plus rental car-that's unbelievable", they found us at the Gray Drake surfing the web when they punched in winter steelhead.
So Friday, after two nights of minus 15 below temperatures, it was going to get up to a balmy 19-20 degree F day. It was snowing pretty good and windy as we started our winter special trip-250.00 from noon to dark. I showed Gene the finer aspect of deep drift Great Lakes nymphing the pools and runs and he started to get the idea. The weather was nasty and Gene had a strike which he failed to capitalize on and set the hook!. But there was always Saturday, with the promise of sun and 30 degree weather which would greatly warm up the water and a stable high pressure would hopefully get things on the bite.........hopefully!
When we got back to the lodge and a hot fire place, Gene said embarrassingly,"OMG, you are the guy on the cover of that Fly Fisherman Magazine I've been looking at for three years-I couldn't recognize you with all that head and neck gear on.......what a small world!", he said!
Saturday came and conditions were balmy-even tropical feeling as we started around 11:30 in the hot sunny 30 degree F weather."I'm gonna hit the pools that have had the sun on them since morning", I said to Gene. "Your the boss, he said".My goal for Gene on his first winter steelhead trip was to hook, fight and land a steelhead-I didn't care what size the fish was, just to get the monkey off his back!
In the first pool we started at, I worked the run/pool from the top down very slowly and carefully covering every inch of water. Gene's drifts and presentations were looking good."WHAM..........holy crap, I got a fish on !, Gene said.This fish hit really hard and busted water and charged downstream then up- violent head shakes mind you! It absolutely hammered the Iceman February super minnow streamer with a vengeance as Gene pumped the Mirage and Helios 10foot 8 weight perfectly -having big saltwater and Atlantic salmon experience. When the fish came up as I readied the net, I couldn't believe how chrome and big the Valentine's hen steelhead really was. "I haven't seen a female steel this big in a long time", I said. We landed the gorgeous princess and took some great images-HURRAY- big chrome first of a Lifetime steelhead in the boat - the day was made. Artifical fly-no chumm...lol!- and life couldn't be better. We high fived and celebrated a victory dance. It was only 1:30 and we had a lot of time left . Having seen only one other boat all day in the stretch I was working, we proceeded to another"all day sun pool" which had to have been warming -up nicely. Gene and I were already glowing!- and whatever else came would be a bonus!
 We worked this long pool all the way down for about an hour and again""""KABAHM!......a violent strike and another humongous chrome hen came flying out of the water in an aerial display and the fight and chase was on!!!!!
I could barely lift the damn net under the fish- she was a pig!-again on the iceman minnow!I decide to tie them longer and very sparse and the movement of the ice fibers was too much for this big alpha female to resist. Gene shit himself when we finally got it in the net."I really am speechless........two giant hens- middle of February and your first steelhead trip!- DUDE!....go play the lottery- this is Amazing!, " I told Gene. It's one thing to get one giant hen, but to stick another even bigger then the first.......that just doesn't happen after sub-zero weather and low water for weeks. 
I then told Gene, for the almost two decades I've been winter steelhead guiding, the Valentine's Day push of chrome big fat hen steelhead has been as timely as the swallows coming back to Cappistrano-they are perfectly gorgeous specimens. Water was on the slight rise- it went from33 to 36 F- STEADY HIGH AND THE BITE WAS ON! The longer days of photo -light period was triggering the steelheads neroendocrine pineal/hormonal glands and despite bitter cold water and temps, the spring migration is on. The "SIZE" of the fish means these females have been hammering gobies in the big lake just like they are in Lake Ontario- this is Very,Very promising for what is to come March/April/May- hold on tight for some BEASTS TO COME!
As for the Culinary side , all the couples that partook of Chef Frank Zamarripa's masterpiece were blown away!
Courses:
classic minestrone zuppa
Mediterranean Spot Prawns, fire grilled with crushed chili rub,heirloom tomatoes,asparagus and Morel Mushroom Risotto
Parmigiana-Reggiano sweet pea agnoloti, San Marzano toasted basil red sauce,tellicherry peppar
Braised Short Rib and roasted quail, winter root vegetables, super Tuscan Veal Demi
Tiramisu and berries--------------DELISH!
                                      ( an awesome shot of Dave's male taken by his guide-Drew!)
SO.......................there you have it! A true winter weekend celebration of all the great things we have in Michigan to offer..........we are very blessed!