Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Pine River Rainbow

I set the alarm for 5:30 but rose at 4:50. The weather prediction for Tustin Michigan, up near the Pine River, was 60% rain. It’s about a two hour drive north for me. I had small spatter on the windshield around Big Rapids but nothing after that. I wasn’t discouraged but knew from experience that if it starts raining on a trout stream my chance of success doubles at a minimum. And the size of the keepers goes up. I pulled into the old canoe landing site off Raymond Road and was happy to see no other cars. I didn’t have to second guess if another fisherman went up or down stream and whether I was fishing behind someone. Never a good thing. I put on my waders and took the high banks upstream a few hundred yards and scaled the steep bank down to the stream. The river looked good considering no rain. It was carrying a little mud and the river depth was higher than expected considering the minor drought we’re in. I put on a floating minnow and slowly waded upstream working each piece of cover. I had new 10lb XL fishing line which helps casting and adds insurance for landing big browns.

The fishing was slow. I saw a few browns dart out from cover but they just weren’t interested in chasing the lure far and they didn’t bother taking a second look. About an hour into the trip I approached a wing dam of fallen logs that stretched almost the width of the stream forcing water through a deep trough near the left bank. I fished the opening and moved up just below the wing dam to cast up in front of it and had a strike. I made the same cast and hooked a rainbow about sixteen inches. Nice fish. My enthusiasm cranked back up after that but it was the same thing – work cover with good casting and see only an occasional flash. So after another half hour I decided to call it and wade back downstream to my get-in spot. I debated fishing to the bridge, a ways further, but the walk back to the car on a hot blacktop sounded bad. Here’s were it gets interesting. I waded back downstream around the last bend and there was another fishermen. Where did he come from?

We talked for a bit and I was surprised to hear he had driven up from Saginaw. So he made a two hour drive also. He was parked at the canoe landing and must have followed me upstream unaware I was ahead of him. I felt bad. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He said the fishing was slow and I can only imagine considering I may have spooked many of the fish that might have chased his lure. A spinner, by the way, with a rooster tail. A good choice for summer trout. He took it in stride. Anyway, a nice guy hoping for rain like myself but just glad to get out no matter what. He said he was going to fish up to the bridge and I hope he did well. There’s some nice holes and cover up that way. I told him about this blog and asked to take his picture. Didn’t get his name but maybe he’ll comment on the post.

I wished I would have taken a photo of the rainbow! They’re pretty scarce on the Pine so it would have made sense. It’s filleted and in the fridge so that’s that.

New Water

Over the winter I found an online search tool that works similar to google maps but has property lines and owner data. I was able to zero in on the Pigeon River state game area and was surprised to see a section of land I did know the state owned – with the Sturgeon River running through it. I met Natch up at Pickerel Lake for a one-nighter with a goal of fishing that very remote stretch. We had to bust through a cedar swamp and climb over bow-downs to get to the river. I wore my permethrin tick sprayed shirt and hat and was glad for it. Natch picked up a tick and managed to pull it out. We found others trying to make a home of his fishing vest. But this is supposed to be a fishing report.

We saw and caught fish but it required some short pin-point casting. You couldn’t wade for more that ten steps before getting out to go around trees. The fish were hungry but we had to drop the lure right in front of them and hope they would catch it within the short space of winding back. The water was clear increasing the chance the fish would spot us and hide. Here’s one Natch caught. Very obviously a brown trout with the spots if you are not sure of your trout species.

Camping at Pickerel Lake was interesting. Natch arrived a half hour ahead of me and noticed the campsite we normally grab was taken so he drove out to the Pigeon River campground to kill some time. When I arrived not fifteen minutes later our campsite was open and the folks left a pile of store bought, dried, split wood. Some of it still bundled with plastic wrap. All we needed to do was fetch some kindling for the evening fire. I took it as a good omen.

This was left over for whomever camped there next. Hope they also took it as a good omen.

The Bottle Opener

We had a group challenge to bring an interesting bottle opener to spring trout camp and Natch brought his A-game. He made this one for me. The opposite side of the opener has trout camp date specifics. All hand carved.

I went a different route and found some vintage combination pen knife/cork screw/bottle openers on ebay to hand out. (see below) I thought it made sense for mushrooming and self defense. If a bear attacks quick open a beer and hand it to him…

Natch picked one shaped like a bottle, which was unique, and these are left over. Feral and Jake never made it to camp which was disappointing considering they rallied me on the bottle opener idea. Actually Feral made a cameo appearance for a quick mushroom hunt but had to leave. He’s busy with home repairs, and moving, but that seems pretty thin considering trout camp is like new years for all of us.

The Fishing was amazing. I set up camp about 3:30 PM Thursday and headed for the river. I caught three nice browns, all 15 in or better, and saw others. Stream was low and clear, not ideal, but the fish were hungry. Basically work any deep water with lures. I took photos for proof but any trout fisherman in Michigan knows what a nice brown trout looks like so I’ll forgo posting the photos. Update – might as well show the trout…

Morel Mushrooms were spotty. Natch and I found some on Friday. The next morning we fried them up crispy and mixed them with scrambled eggs. It was pretty incredible.

Sunday rolled around and the weather report said thunderstorms moving in at 10:00 PM. Natch and I decided watching the thunderstorm roll in would be worth packing up wet on Monday so we stretched a tarp out in front of our fire pit. We had the fire ready to light and loaded up with dry elm. Previous fires cut from the same downed log burned so hot we had to set the camp chairs five foot away. So that was the plan – sit under the tarp, watch the storm, and light the fire. You might say it was a staged contest between the storm and the fire. Could rain put out a fire that was truly a furnace?

We were pounded by rain but stayed dry. We had a score of munchies that are too embarrassing to list. Lots of beer and whatnot. The view was amazing.

Vintage Coleman Single Burner

I made a bit of a haul this morning at an estate sale in Ada, Michigan. It was day 2 of the sale and everything was 50% off. I found two thick anthologies, one of ghost stories and the other science fiction, both like new for a dollar a piece, a 3-pack of D’Addario Phos. Bronze guitar strings for two dollars, an extra large denim shirt I am going to douse with permethrin tick spray for mushroom hunting, one dollar. But the best find was out in a shed.

A vintage Coleman single burner propane stove. This caught me by surprise because I wasn’t aware of Coleman using this design whereby the propane tank provides a third leg to the base. I have one of these by another maker which you may have seen in earlier posts. It is a very practical design- just pull out the legs, attach the propane, set it on the table and light it. I found one of these early Coleman’s for sale online which they claim is circa 1955 but I would be surprised if it were that old because I’m not sure the propane tanks have been around that long! Anyway – I paid six dollars.

The trout season starts the last Saturday in April and Feral, Natch and Jake have been emailing trying to figure out a plan. The only thing we seem to agree on is two spring trout camps this year, one up by Baldwin and one by Vanderbilt. The first trout camp includes this twist of entertainment – bring an interesting bottle opener, whether hand made or antique or just unusual. It is safe to say the bottle openers will get some use…

New Items for Sale page

I thought I might sell a couple things on the blog in order to pay the overhead which doesn’t really amount to much – so don’t feel any obligation! I posted a music CD I produced in the 90s that was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock movies. It’s a little dark which you might suspect. You can hear two songs from the CD on the songs page/tab which are typical of the professional production. If you are in Kent County, MI and have a library card you can likely borrow the CD from the Kent District Library system – do a search for Without a Hitch by Wrong Agenda.

Just added: a short story collection featuring four mildly ribald fishing stories written as part of the Mosquito Art Contest / fall trout camp. A word of warning – these stories made good entertainment for inebriated fishing buddies but may not be suitable for puritanical dowagers with sex hangups. The book contains other stories ranging from horror to science fiction and also features a story by Feral which I consider one of the best fishing stories I have ever read. I painted the pulp fiction cover starting with a portrait photo of a current TV star who may or may not be recognizable.

Between Trout Seasons

I found a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway last summer but put off reading it until now. I have read some of his short stories, in particular, the Nick Adams stories including the one about hopping off a train in the middle of nowhere and collecting black grasshoppers which had adapted to a burn over area and using them for trout fishing. And eating an onion sandwich. Hemingway is a very visual writer. I didn’t know what to expect with this novel but so far, about a third of the way through, I can say it is about as much fun as The Grapes of Wrath. Hemingway’s ability to write visually includes graphic descriptions of man’s inhumanity toward man in the fascist war in Spain that roughly coincided with WW2. The suspense may be my undoing. I am under the spell of two characters falling in love faced with the task of blowing up a bridge. The odds of success are slowly dwindling while their fate, if captured, is torture.

In November I entered a short story in a contest held by our local Library. I labored with a very long short story for about a week before deciding file that one away. The story I entered may be considered “flash” fiction. Kind of a new phenomena. One page stories. I didn’t set out to write flash fiction. It just happened. I have no idea how the story may be viewed by the judges and know that it is always hit or miss whether a story finds an audience with the right judge. But it’s fun to enter and see what happens. Results are posted in February so it’s enter and find something else to do.

Pigeon River Late Fall

When I drove up to see Jake and Feral, last post, I had a second agenda which was swing over to the Pigeon River State Game Area and fish a section of the Pigeon that stays open all year. You can keep rainbow trout, but that’s it. I have caught rainbows on the stretch but mainly brown trout which move upstream in the late fall to spawn. It’s a chance to catch a monster, take a couple pictures, and put it back in the river which I normally do anyway, preferring to keep small pan fryers if I want a trout dinner.

It was a long day starting at 5:00 AM driving to Alpena for my visits and then west over to Gaylord and north to the river. I was on the river shortly after 3:00 PM and finished the stretch by 5:00. I packed a tent and sleeping bag figuring to camp but it sounded like an lonely outing so I drove back to Grand Rapids. I figure I spent about ten and a half hours driving and it made for a long, tiring day. Did I get a photo?

This one came out of a deep sandy section upstream of a large island. I lost another brown that was a bit larger – right at the net. It came out of a piece of cover that didn’t look like much. It jumped a couple times so I could see it was big. I should have been concentrating on keeping it from jumping by holding the end of the pole in the river. He threw the hook coming out of the water. So it was an eventful trip but must report the large migratory brown trout were not up there yet. You know when they get there because they are everywhere and usually hungry.

Jake

The hand forged copper and steel bicycle sculpture above was designed and built by blacksmith Jacob Moss Idema (Jake to fichigan readers). It is located on a bicycle path in the town of Alpena, a sleepy artist community in northeast Michigan. Jake followed Feral’s footsteps with jewelry design and repair at Bolenz Jewelry then branched off into metal working and sculpture. When the town’s art’s commission saw his amazing work they commissioned two more sculptures including a pair of bicycle racks (see below) and a large sculpture representing the town and the historical importance of the Thunder Bay River, his next big project. In order to fully appreciate his work it helps to know all metal parts are bent and fabricated using a forge including hot rivet assembly. Nothing is bolted. Jake often calls on Feral to help with fabrication and assembly of his art projects. Feral has some chops in metalwork himself including hand fabrication of black powder blowgun firearms, which he invented and sells privately.

Feral (left) and Jake leaning on Jake’s spectacular hand forged bicycle rack.

Jake also sells unique one-of-a-kind collectibles including knives, pendants, belt buckles and other items at Chippewa Valley Leather in Alpena. If you are looking for unique gifts for any occasion the store also specializes in hand-tooled leather goods. The store front is just behind Feral in the photo. 210 N 2nd Ave.

Henry James Soulen

Girl with Victrola – H. J. Soulen   (18 in x 26 in)

A day before heading up to fall trout camp I checked local estate sales online and found a photo of the above artwork. The author’s name was listed so I checked online for his bio and found he is a noted magazine illustrator from the early 20th century. I went to see the artwork and they were asking in the range of two thousand, more than I could feel comfortable spending. I made a low offer on day two of the sale and managed a good deal. The title is “Girl with Victrola.” I am sure at auction the artwork would sell for substantially more for several reasons. It is a slice of Americana, the subject girl is beautiful, and there is great interest in American illustrators.

H. J. Soulen update:

I contacted the estate of H. J. Soulen hoping to find where my illustration was published and while they could not provide that information they did send me a photo of another illustration  they have that is very similar – including the same girl. The archivist, Leslie, suggested that the illustrations may have been used in the Saturday Evening Post somewhere between 1910 and 1920 based on the clothes, Victrola record player, and typewriter. I found and searched an online Post archive without luck but will hopefully find other possible sources of publishing because I would very much like to read the story Henry Soulen illustrated.

I am especially fascinated by the artwork because I spent most of my life as a technical illustrator drawing machines …wondering if I could beak out of that into more interesting work like this. When I see the skill needed to compose such a magnificent piece as this, I am humbled. 

 

A Trout too Far

Feral with a respectable stringer

I posted this a month ago but took it down the next day. Hard to explain why other than the story left me spooked. It is an honest post. And maybe a lesson.

I called up Feral this week ( early August) to see if he wanted to go trout fishing and mentioned keeping a couple for dinner. He groaned when he heard that. That’s a sure way to jinx a trout trip. But he was game so we headed up to the Pine on an overcast morning. Feral had left all of his trout lures up at his second home so when we reached the river I opened my two small totes of lures and told him to pick out whatever he liked. He picked an old standby that I had used earlier this year and did well with, a small floating minnow. I picked a similar but larger lure and we fished for about an hour with Feral catching one keeper. The fishing was slow and the wading tough so I opted to head back to the car for a break and to rethink the fishing. We decided to try another stream and when we arrived there we had a beer and sandwich on a high bluff overlooking the stream. We took a path downstream and got in at a bend and right away Feral started catching trout. He was placing the lure into tight spots up under overhangs and dropping it right next to the bank. I can’t remember him casting so darn good and the lure could have been made for that stream because his precision casts were rewarded again and again. It was so fun watching that I was content to follow, though I did take the lead here and there. My larger lure had a couple follows but nowhere near the constant action of Feral’s smaller floating minnow.

So this is where it gets interesting. We had enough trout for our dinners. Feral was dragging a good stringer which divided nicely. Then he caught a trout about sixteen inches and standing there watching him hold the trout I asked if he was going to release that one.. we had plenty. The gears were grinding and finally he said he was going to keep it. There was no reason he couldn’t. He could always keep it for a second meal or freeze it. But in my mind it was one fish too many. He cleaned the fish and added it to the stringer. I took the lead but we were both thinking we would call it quits soon and there was a logical get out spot up around a bend or two. We came to an interesting piece of trout cover on our left that was divided into three separate castable areas and I managed to see a flash in the first area but didn’t catch him. I moved up to the second castable spot and Feral moved up to the first. From my vantage point I could see down into the water where he was casting. Suddenly he had a fish on and it broke off the lure, the lure that was responsible for catching our dinners. He apologized for losing the lure but frankly I was going to give it too him anyway, for providing the entertainment and dinner. No problem. I gave him a second lure and he made the same cast with me looking right down into the water where he cast. I saw a flash which in my mind was a rainbow trout, silvery and more rounded shape than the brown trout we were catching. Feral made the exact same cast and this time the fish was on but did managed to get off. Feral said it was a pike. He saw it close up before it threw the lure. No doubt, a pike. That of course would explain how the first lure was lost. Pike have sharp teeth known for cutting fishing line. The pike never felt the hooks on the first lure and cut the line. So he was not shy about chasing a second lure.

We headed back to the car shortly after that. On the way Feral commented on how Jake Lucas, our mentor, would have been proud of us heading to the river and bringing home supper. But in my slightly off center universe I was thinking about the large trout on the stringer. Did keeping that trout set off a chain of events leading to a lost lure to a northern pike on a trout stream? What was the pike doing there? I had never heard of or seen a pike on that stream. If Feral had tossed back the big trout earlier, a trout to far, how else might have the fishing played out? Was there a lesson?

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