Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Burnt Clutch Camp

Section 4 lake

For a while there Feral Tweed, Natch and I set up remote camps in the Pigeon River State Game area which had the advantage of avoiding campground fees of 15 dollars a night, which adds up quickly into real money if we camped for several days. I mean, that could be beer money. We found some great spots to camp off old two tracks including one on Grass Lake Road near Section 4 Lake, an off the beaten path round bowl of a lake that in theory holds fish. The camp spot was open and large enough for several tents and room to park a couple vehicles.

Every year I sent out emails, with a map, to people I thought might come up and this always included Mike and Denny. Mike had a pop-up tent camper, an early model with the two slide out beds and a hand crank system to lift the roof. Leveling the camper was always a chore. Mike carried some special boards to put under the jacks to make things easier but no matter where he set up true level was a fleeting idea. Mike and Denny usually camped at a state forest campground, often at the Pigeon River campground on the main blacktop coming in from Vanderbilt. So we were surprised to see Mike’s Subaru wagon hauling his pop-up camper to our remote spot.

The camp area is elevated above the road grade a few feet so the entrance had a small hill. Mike surveyed the camp and decided to back the pop-up trailer in which made sense since it would allow him to guide the trailer into a somewhat level spot and be able to pull out easily. Mike pulled up past the entrance, cut the wheel and we all watched as the trailer made the appropriate angle into the entrance and edge up the small hill. Then stop. We could hear the engine revving so stopping made no sense. Pretty soon smoke started pouring out from under the car. Mike was riding the clutch unaware of what was happening. We observers started exchanging glances and I think it was Feral that shouted for Mike to hold it. Meanwhile Mike had done a pretty good job of fogging the camp area for mosquitoes.

To us onlookers it was surreal. Mike had a long history of driving stick-shifts. It seemed like he was content to burn up the clutch. He had to know he wasn’t moving. When he finally cut the engine the damage had been done. Not to the car, to Mike. A man can’t make a spectacle at trout camp and go unpunished. The jokes about driving and naming the camp spot after the event were almost routine starting at beer o’clock. I wish I could say Mike was gracious and self-deprecating about the affair but instead he blamed Feral and I which made it even funnier. I mean, how was it our fault? To our disbelief he said we picked the spot knowing he would burn up his clutch.

When we saw he was so touchy about it we backed off. Honest. If it was anyone else, me for instance, it would still be on the table. Out of respect for Mike we buried the thing quickly. As a footnote, Mike and Denny didn’t camp near us for years after that. I don’t know if this played a part in their decision but from then on we always made a special point of driving over to “their camp” to say hi and hang out a bit. I am not sure why I am writing this post but if anything bad happens to me in the next few days in may involve a curse from the grave. For the record, if I ever burn out a clutch at trout camp you won’t read about it here.

Fall Trout Camp 2018

Natch fishing backwards

If there’s a story about trout closer 2018 it’s that we needed cold weather to get fish moving up the trout streams and it happened, at least on the Pigeon River. Feral and I fished the Sturgeon twice, saw one brown trout about 18 inches and a couple small ones and that was it. Feral was so discouraged he went bird hunting (partridge) for a good part of the closer. Lots of long walks with a vintage Montgomery Wards 20 gauge pump he picked up somewhere for two and a quarter. He was determined to add a couple birds to our annual trout dinner. Didn’t work, scarce birds, but fortunately Natch and I went over to the Pigeon River where we found some pretty good fishing.

First trip, funny story. Natch and I were on a sandy stretch of the Pigeon and he caught a nice brown about 16 inches. I took the lead and caught one 19 inches. He took the lead and stopped at a pool too deep to wade and told me to make a few cast with my lure figuring maybe a trout might like what I was throwing. So, standing behind me, he made a long cast back downstream to where we had just fished. See the photo above. 21 inch male hook-jawed brown. Now that I think about it, that story isn’t so funny. Two days later I caught another brown about 19 inches on a different stretch of the Pigeon and Natch pulled out another 21 incher. That’s a disturbing trend.

Luther with 19 inch brown trout

Denny came up for one night. We were happy to see him. That was last Friday and it started raining that evening about the time we started thinking campfire for warmth. I had pitched a screen tent in case of rain so we set up lawn chairs in there and drank beer to get warm. Natch brought some home brew whiskey kind of thing which I tried and liked but held off. Natch is ten years younger and has an iron stomach. I am usually surprised by the variety of things he can mix down there. Denny headed home Saturday. I think he’s been too accustomed to camping in a heated trailer with Mike, our departed and missed brother.

I fished a second stretch of the Pigeon with Natch on Saturday. We jumped in the river off the Shingle Mill pathway and fished upstream to the Elk Hill Equestrian Campground. It was a long and treacherous journey that produced a couple fish (my second 19 incher) but it was brutal walk back to the car across low ground with tight saplings and heavy grass, and a hill made for mountain climbers. If we ever try that again we will be spotting a car at the campground. Lesson learned.

Natch suits up, just off the Shingle Mill Pathway

Feral picking out a good lure on the Sturgeon

On Sunday Feral said he was bird hunting again so Natch and I decided to fish another stretch together. So far we had been catching plenty of fish and there was one more section of the Pigeon we were thinking about, with some dread. Downstream from Tin Bridge. There’s no fisherman’s path along the river. You bust your way through saplings and pines and tall grass that hides stumps designed to trip you up or put holes in your waders. The grass is waist deep and woven so tight you tear grass when walking through it. By the time we made it downstream to a bend that looked promising we had to drink half a bottle of water and eat a nut trail mix snack just to see straight.

Natch spent part of the walk in figuring out how to get me out if I were to have a heart attack. The answer: tie two logs together and lay me on top, push me off, and hope I float down to the next campground. No real chance of me making it but I appreciate the thought. Seriously, if you get hurt back in there it’s time to make peace with the world.

Natch’s second 21 inch brown

We hadn’t fished but one or two bends before Natch hooked up with another decent fish. It came from under a grassy bank. From then on I was determined to catch something over 21 but it never happened. I did catch a nice rainbow, about 16 inches. It was surprising because brown trout seem to take over and dominate streams. I should mention while Natch and I fished Tin Bridge, Feral fished the Pigeon where it crosses Sturgeon Valley Road and pulled out a 16 inch brook trout. So there you go, exceptions to the rule.

Luther with a Rainbow

Natch and I were gone so long Feral decided to drive over to Tin Bridge and look for us. We were a couple hundred yards downstream of the bridge when I heard a whistle. Knew right off it was Feral. He joined us and took the lead.

Luther and Feral below Tin Bridge

Natch stayed back and took some photos. I was hoping to see Feral catch a really good brown – this was it, the end of the season, last stretch. Didn’t happen but the closer was everything we could have imagined. Productive fishing, some great campfires (Natch brought a chainsaw), a fish dinner cooked up with cajun fish mix, beer, fall colors getting traction. Good conversation, lots of humor. Doesn’t get any better.

New “Songs” tab

I’ve added a new tab at the top of the page for songs which may or may not have anything to do with trout fishing although the first song has a lot to do with it. I re-wrote lyrics to the old classic song Ghost Riders, laid down some guitar and vocals with free software and convinced Feral to lay down some lead with his electric mandolin (after we polished off a twelve pack). Surprisingly coherent considering. Feral triple picks the mandolin like a mad man. Will add other songs over time.

Trout Fisherman wins Bass Tournament

Luther heads to Reeds lake

If you read the post “My short history of Bass Tournaments ” posted in October of 2011 you’ll see I have some bass tournament experience. In the late 1980’s a neighbor, Dave Hedburg, invited me to fish a few tournaments and taught me plastic worming. He eventually partnered up with a semi-pro named Dick Courser but by then I was starting to enjoy competitive fishing. So I started fishing open tournaments, alone, with a 12 foot aluminum boat, a 1950’s Minnkota trolling motor and an ice chest live well. And did OK. But that was a long time ago. I went back to my roots, trout fishing, which I’ve have been doing since age 10.  I am good at trout fishing small streams. Lake fishing is a different animal.

Mid-Week Therapy – Grand Rapids Division of West Michigan Bass held another tournament last night at Reeds Lake. I fished there a couple weeks ago and did a post (scroll down to see it). Met some great people and had a blast, but caught only one keeper which I even hated to mention because Reed’s Lake has a lot of bass, including some lunkers. Fast Forward to yesterday.

I always figure everyone has a shot at big bass. Winning the tournament is a different story. Many teams in this division bring in 5 fish bags consistently. My goal for the tournament was two keepers, hopefully one of those a big bass.

Right away, things started happening. One hour into the tournament I had 5 fish including one I guessed at 4 to 5 lbs. I have two live wells in the boat, and only one of those works but the pump is so noisy I brought a bucket to keep refreshing the water. I put the big bass in the forward live well figuring if I caught another good one it would be easier to figure out which bass to cull from the rear live well. Every ten minutes I filled the bucket and poured it into each live well – I wanted these bass healthy and weigh-in was a long ways off.

I wormed the docks and fished the flats out past Rose’s restaurant. Fishing alone is a two-sided coin. A partner can bring in some fish, but if you are alone you can move at your own speed, in my case painfully slow, with plastic worms (Culprits and Berkeley Power Worms). Normally you can feel a tap as the worm drops but that was the exception, not the rule. Most fish were caught letting the worm sit on the bottom and tightening the rod just enough to see if anything was happening. Spooky fish, is all I can figure.

So two hours to go and the search was on for bigger bass (to cull the 14/15 inchers in the rear live well). And the bites slowed down. It took an hour to get another one, but it was huge, over five pounds. I culled the smallest fish and put this in the front live well with the other nice one. Then I lost a really good bass which was a good lesson. It went straight up and jumped out of the water, shaking off the hook. From then on I held the rod tip down in the water and reeled hard to keep the fish from jumping.

Fifteen minutes to weigh-in I was fishing the docks on the park side and felt something touch the worm. I couldn’t believe it, another huge bass. I culled a smallest bass and added this one. Plenty of time to park the boat by the ramp.

I weighed in right away. I grabbed what I thought was the biggest bass and it weighed 5.490 lbs. Then I pulled the other 2 lunkers out of the weigh-in bag and laid them on the ground in order to make sure the one weighed was the largest. It was, but it was close. The total five fish bag weighed 19.220 lbs. Pinch me. I never imagined a haul like this. And I forgot my camera!

Screen capture, tournament results

So what explains the difference between the two Reeds lake tournaments? There was another tournament there on Monday and maybe, just maybe, the fish released from that tournament were still holding in the general area. Not to discount the win, it took some skill and luck, but that might explain it… My best night of bass fishing ever.

Jordan Lake

COTM -South (Case of the Mondays) Tournament Directors

It was one of those perfect nights to be out fishing a bass tournament. Cloudy sky, calm water, good people. I didn’t imagine for a second I had much chance of winning the tournament, but winning big bass is always possible. Big bass pays about $60 depending on how many boats. There were eighteen boats entered. Eighteen experienced teams that know the lake. For my part, fishing alone, I figured just relax, experiment a bit, try some lures that I know catch bass. Find something that works.

First thing I noticed was it didn’t look like Jordan Lake. Someone had moved the boat launch a quarter mile west so nothing looked familiar. At take-off I motored east along the north shore and figured out what happened. I wasn’t going crazy after all.

I fished the north shore, not far from the boat launch, concentrating on some emerging vegetation in murky water. I tried a variety of lures including a spinner bait, a pop-r, a rattletrap, a jig and finally had a nibble on a culprit worm. It took 40 minutes to catch the first fish which was under size (bass have to be 14 inches). I kept tossing the culprit which has a lot of swimming action, but eventually traded that for a Berkely powerworm, which has swimming action but adds scent. I boated three more bass on the powerworm but only one was a keeper, about fifteen inches. Then the fishing died. Had another tap on a worm but didn’t connect. If there is good news, I feel like my worming skills are back up to speed.

With one small fish I started thinking about my overall chances, not a good thing. I headed back to the dock at about 9:00 (tournament ran until 9:15). At Reeds Lake last week I waited until everyone else had trailered their boats before loading up myself, mainly because a one-man trailer loading process is tricky and feels like it is taking forever, while others wait. So at Jordan I trailered the boat about 10 minutes early, then released my one keeper bass. I know, I should have weighed in. At least I wouldn’t be listed on the WMB bass website as last place. In the future – no more wimping out! I could have finished as high as 12th place. An improvement over Reed lake.

A note to trout fishing readers – this is a fun diversion, more trout stories soon. If we could just get some serious rain…

Reeds Lake Bass Tournament

It’s been decades since I fished a bass tournament so it is safe to day I’m not up on the latest lures and techniques. As a much older guy without a workout routine another concern was stamina. Don’t laugh – 3.5 hours of standing and guiding a boat with a foot pedal while fishing is not easy. A third concern was backing my bass boat down the ramp without destroying my neck. So I had a couple reservations but signed up anyway.

West Michigan Bass, a local club, has tournaments all over west Michigan. Week nights and weekends. If you are a member ($40/yr) you can fish any of the tournaments. You can also join/fish a division which has lakes in your local area. It is all well organized. Their website westmichiganbass dot com automates membership and explains the rules, and posts the results of tournaments next day. Check out their website – it is really well done.

So last night I fished a Reeds Lake tournament. Reeds lake is located in the middle of East Grand Rapids and has a nice public park. There’s no beach but residents have a nice spot to just relax and enjoy the lake. The public boat launch does not include parking so you need to launch your boat then find a spot on the street for your vehicle and trailer. I arrived early and it was not hard to find a parking spot.

I received a few comments when I launched my 1980 Nissan bass boat. (In the foreground of the top photo). I think the boat is older than most of my competitors and may have been a novelty to them. The boat still looks good and is fully functional. I did carry a bucket, though, in case the live well pump failed. It did, glad I had the bucket.

I started out fishing a cluster dock in front of Rose’s Restaurant. I caught a small fish, just under the size limit and tossed it back. Then fished a weedy flat, more docks, then returned to Rose’s. I never fired up my 90HP Nissan outboard, but should have, just to clean out the cobwebs. I caught one keeper. 2.6 lbs or so, and weighed in at the scales as proof I didn’t get skunked, and actually finished the tournament. The West Michigan Bass website this morning shows: L. Rude placing 14th out of 18 boats in the “Midweek Therapy – Grand Rapids – Evenings” division. I actually weighed in more bass than four 2-man teams so there is some small consolation in that.

I’m a bit sore this morning but feel good about getting out there and competing. WMB ran a great tournament – so a sincere thanks to the guys that organized and ran the sign-up and weigh-in. It couldn’t have been more professional. I have my eye on a Jordan Lake tournament coming up, been years, but that is another great West Michigan bass lake. May go trout fishing in the mean time, more good exercise and a trout dinner reward.

Casting Practice on the Little South

Denny, a trout camp irregular, sent Feral and I an invite to camp this last weekend with the idea the trout would be biting with the predicted rain storms. I didn’t want to pass on a chance to camp, and maybe play some late night guitar, but there was nothing about the weather report that suggested we might stay dry. So a fun night of beer and guitar was possible, but unlikely. I said yes, we set up camp in a drizzle, and hit the streams.

I fished a stretch with Denny on the Little South. It was the first time we shared a stream together in years. I hung back mostly and noticed right off he had the Lucas underhand flip cast down solid. The other thing I noticed was his set-up, a Shakespeare 1810 reel and a spinning rod with the reel seat at the base of the rod. Turns out he modified a standard spinning rod in order to get what he wanted. Spinning rods with long cork handles and sliding rings are getting hard to find, and you pay a lot for them. Denny made do and it worked because he was slinging a bargain bin minnow bait (60 cents!) into tight cover. I have to start looking harder at bargain bins because his lure was convincing.

The stream was up a little from summer levels but clear as glass, which is good and bad. The fish can see the lures, and the fish can see you. I hung back mostly watching Denny work the cover and talk about everything. I would never call Denny a motor-mouth because sometimes a motor fails. (ha!) I was entertained. He caught a small keeper and lost one that might have been pretty good. Like a pro he rested fish for a couple minutes if he saw one make a pass at his lure. Basically letting the fish get back to its feeding spot, then making the same cast. Often good for fish.

After a night of rain we went back to the Little South, but this time we cut off a couple stretches, with the idea I would meet up with Denny in 2 hours so we could head back and break camp before the 11:00 AM check-out. The morning fish was productive. I caught 3 decent browns and missed a very nice one, probably 18 inches. Denny caught a keeper and saw a good one also. I caught the fish in the photo below which is larger that you might think. That’s a #11, 3-hook Rapala. The fish was probably 15 inches.

So Denny and I both have stuff drying out in our garages this morning. And a fun trip behind us. Feral didn’t camp but did show up at dusk, with Jake, his son, to jam guitars but the rain picked up as they pulled in. They hung out for a bit, but no sense standing around getting soaked. Jake has a commission from the city of Alpena for a park sculpture which requires some serious metal working tools and skill. Feral has a machine shop and the two of them are fabricating some pieces for the sculpture on weekends. Denny just returned from Nazareth, PA where he built a guitar in a small class run by Martin Guitar employees. He needs to put on a finish coat before he takes it camping. My thought, some dry weekend let’s try again.

Michigan Fishing Regulations

Every year I buy my fishing license in March and make sure I grab the latest regulations booklet (usually available where you buy a license). If there is a major change to any rule it is often highlighted at the beginning, which is helpful. Beyond that I try to follow my own trout stream rules to stay legal, like never keep a trout under 12 inches (should be legal and I know I can get two good fillets), don’t keep more than three trout over 15 inches (which I never would anyway), five fish total in my possession, (no problem), and be nice to DNR officers.

In the booklet each species of trout or salmon is charted against stream types so it is possible to find specific trout and stream information but for some reason it is very hard to actually picture that chart in my head when I go fishing. To confuse the issue some streams have their own rules by county, and some streams do not allow lures (flies only). Catching a trout in a lake is much more complicated with six lake types and assorted size limits and rules. Better have the booklet handy, not to mention a county map.

Here’s an idea for a phone app. Stand next to a stream or lake and push a button and it tells you the name of the stream or lake, the trout sizes and possession limits, lures allowed, and the open season. An app to confirm you are not breaking the law if you start fishing! The app would be free and downloadable when you buy your license. This would save the cost of printing a 65 page booklet every year that nobody wants to wade through, a booklet so confusing there is no guarantee the reader will not break the law by accident.

The alternative to this idea is too horrible to imagine.. Simplify the Rules. For my part I have a hard time understanding or believing that every year the myriad of trout stream rules is reviewed with some practical goal in mind. I can picture two executives going over last years manual line by line and saying,”Sounds good. Let’s keep it.” I hope there’s more to it than that.

Tiny Spinners

Feral called me about noon on Tuesday which was overcast with a chance of rain. He said he was going to look for oyster mushrooms and maybe hit a trout stream. I asked if he’d like some company fishing so we met up on the Little South Branch (of the Pere Marquette). The stream was clear as glass and it was 2:00 PM with no rain in sight. So not ideal for fishing. I was surprised when he tied a small spinner. He mentioned that he had a bad luck streak going missing fish with minnow lures. They kept getting off or not getting hooked at all. He had sharpened the hooks and it didn’t help.

Spinners are good for hooking trout. The trailing treble hook is right where it needs to be when a fish strikes. Big spinners have lots of flash which can be enticing to decent size trout but small spinners may not look like much food so large trout may pass them up. Right away Feral started catching small trout that were clearly under the size limit. He kept at it though and soon caught a dinner trout about a foot long. But we weren’t seeing many fish and Feral mentioned once or twice he thought the Baldwin River was carrying some color, meaning stained water or even muddy. That translates to more aggressive fish so we cut out early and headed to the Baldwin.

There was a car parked at Bray Creek campground (where Bray Creek empties into the Baldwin) and we figured someone was fishing but didn’t know if they went upstream or downstream. As we talked, standing around in our waders, another fisherman pulled up and was wondering about our fishing plans. His name was Bill. He had driven up from Indiana and wanted to do some fly fishing. While talking to Bill two guys emerged from the stream, just finishing up, so Feral and I decided to head upstream and leave the lower river to Bill. Downstream there are a couple spots open enough to fly fish – if you know what you are doing. We suspected Bill knew what he was doing. He mentioned fishing until dark.

Going up from Bray Creek the stream is full of trees and branches leaning over the water, deep holes near impossible to cast and generally a challenge for spin fishing. Feral kept throwing the tiny spinner. The great thing about a small spinner is casting accuracy. Enough weight to bend the rod tip for underhand flip casts. So Feral zinged the small spinner into tight spots and caught small fish, finally getting a second dinner size trout about an hour into the stretch. As he put that one on a stringer I flipped a minnow bait in the exact same place he caught his trout and hooked up with another keeper. By then it was about 5:30 and I had a couple hour drive ahead of me so we cut out early (before reaching the bridge at 40th Street).


Back at the vehicles Feral left a note for Bill, the Indiana fly fishermen, to let him know how we did. We mentioned fichigan while talking earlier so maybe we’ll hear back.

Brook Trout in the Shallows

I visited my local creek again and rather than flooded it was well in the banks and the sun came out… the other thing that can go wrong. I should have went early morning when it was sprinkling. Still, the fish were biting. I caught five browns and one brook trout which was a nice surprise. About 16 inches. I don’t remember ever catching a brook trout on this stream but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in there. Farther upstream they are likely common. I fish near where the creek empties into the Rogue River, where browns are dominant.

I caught him at the top of a deep, sharp right-hand bend, a place almost impossible to cast. I had to negotiate over a log and step into deep water then shuffle up to the inside bank. This left only a few short underhand casts, 10 feet or so, into pockets of branches leaning into the stream. And one cast straight upstream where the water was shallow. He took the lure in the shallow water and headed to the deep bend. I had to pull back on the rod and reel quickly to keep him out of dark mess on the opposite bank. The trout was hooked good and I was stuck in the stream where it was impossible to get out. I would have liked to set him on the bank for a nice photo but I could see nettles. I unhooked him with my needle-nose pliers and set him loose.

I released the browns too, which were similar in size, one or two a little smaller. I only saw one “lunker” brown which made several passes at my lure but I finally had to give up on him when I snagged a branch on the opposite bank.

Turned out to be a great escape from work. I do illustration work out of my house and when I get busy I often work weekends, which has been the case for about a month. So a little fishing on a Sunday afternoon was just what I needed to forget the workload and relax. A little camping soon would help too.

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