Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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.

Over the Banks

I can’t tell you how many times I made the drive, sometimes local, sometimes distant, only to find the trout stream over the banks. Doesn’t stop me from fishing but I know right away the odds are not going to be good.  Main problem: fish won’t see the lure cruise by in deep water, meaning 3+ feet , particularly if the water is stained or muddy. Trout hug the bottom. It helps to know the stream well so you can cast to shallow areas and increase the odds of fish spotting the lure.  I usually cast a large floating minnow hoping fish will see it wobble by. I put on a deep-diver, occasionally, selectively, if I am pretty sure I won’t get hung up on a sunken log.

So that was the scene on Saturday. I finished off a work project in the morning, threw my waders and gear in the SUV, and hit my local go-to stream for brown trout. No cars parked at the trail entrance so I suited up, sprayed on some deet, and made the walk downstream to my put-in spot. This stream is usually so shallow you can step in but to be safe I sat on the bank and slid in. About 3 feet deep. And dark, The lure disappeared less than a foot down. That said, right off I caught a fish about 16 inches. Started getting some follows too. Nice fish. They would porpoise near the surface at the rod tip.

I waded where I could but had to figure out as I went along where I could cross the stream to access the best casts and cover. So there was a lot of getting in and out, seeing if I could cross, and casting from the bank. I was seeing enough fish to keep it interesting and could feel a bump once in a while, fish bumping the lure but not getting hooked.

After an hour I had caught and released four fish and kept thinking – in one or two days this stream is going to be perfect. Easy to wade, clear enough water to see what I’m casting into, and ready to give up some huge trout. So I quit after about an hour, not really discouraged, but knowing the timing of this trip could have been better. I zig-zagged back downstream along the bank figuring that would be the easiest path back to the car. Not sure if I will make the trip again in two days but the whole summer is ahead. I hope to do a lot more trout fishing this year.

Spring Trout Camp 2018

Our minds elsewhere. The things we hope for like plentiful trout, pike, and morel mushrooms fell together better than we could imagine. The streams were up and stained. Feral, Natch and I caught around ten trout each. We fished the Little South Branch and Feral made one trip to the Baldwin River. We usually hope for a downpour but the fish cooperated anyway. Browns up to seventeen inches. Might have seen a few larger.

One of Natch’s nicer brown trout

The pike were biting too. Feral caught a record 7 pike on one trip around Big Leverentz in his new fishing kayak, a sit on top model. Feral has some serious mojo on pike. Natch and I struggled on the lake even though I was throwing the exact same lure as Feral. The lake was beautiful as ever.

Mushrooms were not really up but we still managed 3 skillets on 3 nights, fried crispy in “I can’t believe it’s butter.” Not sure why I didn’t grab a stick of real butter. I forgot a list of things I normally remember to bring to trout camp. Gloves to break branches for the fire. My coffee cup, a yeti from my daughter. My sandals. Other stuff. Natch brought some moonshine that went down smooth the first night. Remarkable since it was his first batch and only two days old. Mason jar moonshine. We came up with a couple marketing names but darned if I can remember.

We had the campground to ourselves. We set up on site one on the big lake. Feral pitched a new Cabellas backpack tent and I had my ’61 Apache Chief. Natch brought his ’64 Apache

As I said at the beginning.. our minds were elsewhere. Mike, a trout camp regular, an older brother of Feral and I, was in hospice care. Liver cancer. At first, there seemed to be some hope of beating it. I wrote an earlier post called “Mike” hoping he would read the post and understand my respect for him as a person. Don’t know if he read it but I tried to let him know my thoughts about him on my visits.

Mike passed away early Sunday morning, May 6, 2018. I was startled awake that night. I don’t remember a dream, only a sudden intense fear of death. Woke me up. It was dark in the tent. I managed to get back to sleep. I got the call that morning.

Even when you expect news like that it is hard to face the emotions. Happy it was over for him because he endured a lot of pain. Very sad for his wife and kids and grand-kids. A loss for myself of someone I could always turn to. Sad for Denny, his best fishing buddy. Sad for all the other people he touched in his selfless life.

Natch proposed a toast to Mike on the last night at camp. I thank Natch for that. Up to that point we were knocking down beers, making stupid jokes and conversation, our normal routine. Not sure Mike would approve of so much beer but he would have fit right in, laughing and joking with the rest of us.

Opening Day 2018

Feral and I stopped, mid-afternoon, at a remote spot on the upper Baldwin River figuring we might run into The DFA Hunt Club, a group of bow hunters we found camping on this same quality camp spot a couple years back. Their main menu was beer drinking and getting out of the house after a long winter. So Feral and I were surprised by this group of actual trout fishermen. They didn’t show us a cooler of trout but they talked a good game including referencing famous authors on the subject and describing in some detail their own trout tactics. Like placing Panther Martins in tight spots with a slingshot cast. When Feral mentioned using snippers to cut out casting lanes in heavy overgrowth further down river they were right there with him. Been there. Done that. It was refreshing to meet trout fishermen that wade streams and understand what it takes to get a trout with a spinner. Most guys we talk to with spinning equipment lob crawlers off bridges.

Our day started much earlier. I set my alarm for 5:00 and had my car packed figuring to pick up Feral up in Baldwin early, but not too early. There was a plate like moon at the end of my street when I took off. Looked like someone ground off a small sliver off the top left corner. The sky was clear, temp had to be in the thirties. I pulled into Feral’s drive about 7:00 and we made a quick plan to hit fast food for breakfast, check the Zinc River, then hit some spots on the Pine up near near Tustin.

Slow start on the Zinc. I took the lead and realized I had a problem with my spinning reel. The pickups were not catching the line so the lure would land and it took a critical moments to start reeling back. Not good as I watched my lure drift into some junk on the far side of the stream. I told Feral to go around and take the lead. He worked the immediate cover and moved upstream while I crossed some treacherous stuff to get the lure. When I returned to the shallow side I put my rod in my left hand and buried my right hand inside my jacked, under my left arm, to warm up my fingers. I watched Feral make a couple casts then he stopped, transferred his rod to his left hand and buried his right hand inside his coat like I had just done. Then he turned back downstream, saw me standing like that, and started laughing.

There’s a famous painting of Napoleon Bonaparte standing with one hand buried in his coat. That was us, two Napoleons standing in the middle of a cold river. That could be why Napoleon had his hand buried in his jacket: a darn cold morning.

We didn’t last long there. Feral likes smaller streams so we cut out and headed north. We stopped at an upper stretch of the Pine River accessed from a gravel road running south off 20 Mile Road. There were two cars parked there and a couple guys in waders so we checked to see if they were finishing up or just heading out. They hadn’t fished yet so we talked a bit. One guy had a fly rod, at least eight foot in length. I can only think of one or two spots on that part of the river where he might be able to back cast but I didn’t mention it. We wished them luck and cut out, not wanting to encroach on their morning.

From there we checked the old canoe landing off Raymond Road. There’s usually a large group camped there but they must have found a new spot ( ideally not clear cut). There were several cars there and some guys standing around in waders. We chatted with them a bit and went looking for another spot. There’s several access spots off 6 Mile Road including a spot we use to camp. People were parked there so we went to a place I call “A two track too far,” a tight vehicle scratching path that seems to wind nowhere and end nowhere, but is walking distance to a less trafficked part of the river. We parked there and walked through the woods to the stream.  I worked some interesting cover while Feral moved upstream. He caught a decent brown right way so I moved up close to get a photo. Not a big fish but a things were looking up: Mainly it was warming up, no other fishermen around, and the trout were hungry.

Feral on the Pine River

We caught two more fish after that, nothing to write about. The only surprise was how the long winter had re-shaped the stream once again. Some of the big holes looked different, filled in more, some downfalls and structure were pushed aside or re-positioned further downstream. A gentle reminder, one we didn’t need, that time is rushing by and nothing stays the same. We didn’t keep the fish even though I brought a cooler. It was enough to get out, test the equipment ( no leaks in the wader!) and look forward to trout camp 2018.

Dark Mornings

OK, morning are dark until the sun comes up. And there is nothing foreboding or ominous about dark mornings to a fisherman. I didn’t mean it that way. Unless tripping on a tree root in your waders sounds ominous. Dark mornings are for when you just can’t wait to go fishing so you answer to an alarm clock, negotiate through the black cityscape toward the highway, push it up to the speed limit and maybe, if you are running late, the horizon starts to glow. This on a day off from work where you really would have appreciated some sleep.

The stream looks great in the dark, like a long black pool. You have to slide into the water from the bank so you sit down, push off, and hope your feet hit bottom. In the dark there’s no telling if the stream is high or if the spot you’ve chosen is deep. A little adrenaline rush. Suddenly you are where you want to be. Let the games begin. What lure to latch onto the cross-lock snap? Move out to the center of the stream or stay put and work the far bank? Is that a branch just below the surface and how do I work the lure close but avoid a snag? Your focus is sharp.

Trout are active in the dark, feeding in relative safety. If you have a camouflage jacket all the better because you want to be invisible. You move slow, picking your casts, dropping the lure in the best spots. When trout can’t see you they may strike your lure a second before it reaches the rod tip. An explosion that stops you heart.

Sometimes you see a fish follow the lure. Sometimes you feel a tug or jerk and see nothing: A fish hit, but the hook didn’t take. So you rest the fish. Good rule: count to a hundred and cast to the same spot. You only make it to fifty. You cast. If the fish did not feel the hook he will try again, usually more aggressive. If the second cast did not work you cast to a wider area, he is in there somewhere.

You move upstream, wading slow, being quiet. You hear trickling water where run off enters the stream off a steep bank. You place a cast to that spot because you once caught a nice brook trout there. No one home today. You move on.

Every sweeping bend, every stump, even the deep channel in the middle of a straight has a possible decent trout. When it is dark the odds rise in favor of a trout that is eighteen inches or better. By the time you feel morning warmth from the rising sun you have a couple trout for dinner. And a photo of the big one you let go.

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