Wedge Flies

Guest Blogger: John Satkowski, Toledo, OH, fly tying demonstrator and instructor, you can find him @ River Raisin Fly Company on Facebook

After spending a ridiculous amount of money on tying materials, rods, reels, new line, and the latest and greatest gadgets, we find ourselves face to face with our scaled quarry. Have you ever sat back and thought about why we do all this just to catch a fish? For a fisherman, all that money and time spent preparing is worth it just to feel that tug at the end of your line. The moment your fly disappears or that strike indicator goes down, the little spike of excitement in your heart can be like a drug. We must get more and more of it to get our fix of this little thing called fly fishing. Cuts, bruises, and pain become inconsequential to watching a fish run at the end of your line. Norman Maclean once said, ”There's certainly something in fishing that makes a man feel he is doing right; I can't explain it, but it's very pleasant.” That indescribable feeling that Norman is talking about is just that, indescribable.

Wedge Flies
Wedge Flies

Many fishing trips go without a hitch, some do not. My friend has been telling about backtrolling plugs in winter for Steelhead in the Huron River from kayaks. I thought to myself sure that would be fun. I forgot however that I am not used to kayaks, I enjoy wading more than anything but I thought I would give it a try. We got our gear, loaded up the kayaks, and started paddling down a bit to set up our lines. Being February in Michigan the temperature outside was a little under 17 degrees. I got situated in my kayak and got my rod out. There is a small series of sunken trees and stumps off to the side of the river. While I was getting my rod and lure ready I stopped watching the river for a minute and that was my inevitable downfall. I got too close to the stumps and dumped the kayak. I submerged and immediately the ice cold water took my breath away. I managed to swim over to the side of the river and crawl out. I was completely soaked in freezing water and while I surveyed the river I realized something heartbreaking, I had went to the wrong side. The launch and car were on the opposite side of the river. I realized I had to get back to the car somehow so I stripped down to my boxers to get rid of the wet clothes and waders and put them in the kayak. I took a deep breath and started swimming back over to the other side. Believe me when I tell you that is the coldest I have ever been in my entire life. My friend laughed and then asked if I was all right. I looked at him and said, “I’m done, %^@#$ the steelhead” and I got in my car and drove home. It was a long, cold drive back home with no fish caught and my ego and legs bruised.

John and pike

Not all winter fishing trips end in hypothermic near death experiences however, some end up in a bloody mess. I love pike on the fly, and as soon as the water starts warming in the spring I start flinging streamers big enough to choke a horse at the toothy critters that are starting to stir. One such occurrence happened last year on a frigid Michigan day where the wind chill was -10 degrees. I had texted my fishing buddy to see if he wanted to go with me. He responded with,”Dude, it is -15 outside and you still want to fish?” I replied absolutely, “The fish don’t care how cold it is.” I arrived and got out of my car to grab my rods and flies and a sharp, icy wind hit me in the face immediately. Even I was starting to second guess this fishing session as I started thinking I should have stayed home and tied. But I was at the water and ready to fish so I cast out my streamer and started stripping. After the first cast, my guides and line were completely frozen.

Every subsequent cast I had to clear them off in order to get my fly out to where the pike could see it. The sun came out briefly and I made one good cast near the dead weed line and got a strike. I got the fish up and she was not the monster my buddy and I were looking for but a nice fish on a frozen day. A lump developed instantly in my throat when I realized I did not have pliers or forceps to take the hook out. Out of options and my hands already frozen I decided to try and just hold her mouth open and jiggle it out, this was when I realized I made a big mistake. The fish shook and sent her jagged, sharp teeth into the flesh of my hand. I quickly got a photo and sent her back on her way. When I looked down I realized the damage her toothy maw had done to my hand. Blood came gushing out of the jagged punctures and the area soon looked like a murder scene. Anybody who fishes for pike on the fly knows that there are two important things to bring, big flies and pliers. I learned on this day that lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten. Although I caught a fish on a nasty, cold day, my hand looked like I stuck it in a wood chipper. To this day there is a permanent set of pliers in my car just in case ole’ toothy decides to show up.


The last tale involves a mouth but not of the piscatorial kind. Spring is a great time for catching tank smallmouth with big streamers. I love chasing big bass around this time so I set out solo to just have some fun and relax. My first couple fish were not disappointing and it looked like it was shaping up to be a great day on the water. I walked around a small island and noticed a silt plum in a small cut into the island. I thought a couple big carp were tailing looking for crustaceans and nymphs in the silt. I switched up to a carp fly and made a cast. It felt like something had bumped my fly so I walked up a little closer to see if I could see the fish and make a better cast into their feeding zone. I saw the silt trail start rushing right towards me and I just inferred that I had spooked out the carp. I could not have been more wrong. I started backing up as fast as I could but higher water and a soft bottom made moving backwards difficult. I suddenly felt a really sharp pain on my shin and realized that whatever it was did not let go after the initial bite. I dragged myself to a sandy high spot and looked down. Attached to my leg was a snapping turtle, and it was madder than a three legged dog trying to bury something in an icy pond. I tried to get it off by sticking my forceps in the corner of the mouth and it would not let go. I finally gave him a hard smack on the shell and it released the vice grip it had on my leg and took a chunk of me for good measure. I had made the turtle mad when I disturbed the area where she was digger her nest on the side of the island in the loose soil. We stood there and stared at each other for a moment and gathering my senses I realized the turtle had bit straight through my waders. With cold spring water rushing starting to numb up my legs I got out and went to the car. After a quick trip to CVS to get some bandages and clean out the wound I scratched that place off my spring list of areas to fish. I don’t hold any ill will towards the turtle because she was just doing what turtles do, but I learned a lesson in turtle behavior that day.

With all the bumps and bruises that can accompany fishing, sometimes a scar can hold more memories than a photograph. You can refer to the scene in Jaws when Quint and Hooper are comparing their scars over a drink to see what our conversation is like before going to bed fishing in northern Michigan. But why do we do it, is it just for a fish? Is it the feeling of natural power surging at the end of a line? Is it a lonely impulse of delight? I am not sure but I know I love the feeling of anticipation when tying flies before a trip and the confirming glee watching that first fish bite it with authority and know that the fly worked. For me it is like solving a puzzle, what are the fish doing today and you catch one and you have solved a part of the puzzle.


For whatever reason you fish, the most important thing is you fish. The feeling of physical and emotional contentment after a good fishing session is without equal. So get out there and fish, make memories, and get dirty. Do not let the bad or negative things tug you away from the bliss of the sport of angling, let the tug be your drug!

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