Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

The Creek

I fish a couple small streams properly named creeks because at summer levels you can’t navigate them with a toy boat. After a good rain that all changes. Water spills over to low swampy areas. The water turns to chocolate and any trout inhibitions about chasing lures disappears. If it is muggy, it is down right stifling along the creek. You can taste the humidity breathing. By early summer the vegetation is always thick and dangerous. Nettles and poison ivy in particular so when you land a trout and need to go to the bank to unhook or field dress it – beware.

Which brings me to last Saturday afternoon. We had a good rain in west Michigan on Thursday night. I guessed correctly my favorite creek might be flooded though it turns out not muddy, which can be good also, the trout can see lures from a good distance. That just means longer, more accurate casting is needed.

There’s a good technique I haven’t mentioned before on fichigan. It paid off twice on Saturday and here’s the idea. When the water is high, logs spanning the stream that are normally exposed, are submerged. These are good holding spots for trout and I typically cast to the back end (downstream side, note that I fish wading upstream) and hope the noise of the lure landing near the log will attract the attention of a trout. This often works, trout hear the splash and check it out.

When a river or creek is flooded and I can see the water running over the top of logs I cast over the log with a floating minnow, lightly jerk it a few times so trout below the log see it coming, then I stop winding and let the lure float to the surface so it goes over the log. As soon as it is over the log I start winding again and wait for an explosion.

You may not be able to tell from the photo but the trout in the net measured 22 inches. That was my first fish of the day. I admired it, took the photo, unhooked it and turned it loose. It took the lure within a second or two of floating over the log.

I moved upstream casting the bank and working the cover and came to another submerged log. It looked like maybe an inch or less water running over the log but that’s enough. I did an underhand flip cast placing the lure a few feet upstream of the log, twitched the lure on the surface, watched it float over and started reeling. Same thing, another explosion.

This one was smaller but probably 17 or 18 inches.

Here’s the other lesson about small creeks. I pulled him up on the bank and felt the familiar sting of nettles on my index finger. I stuck my finger in the soothing cold water and rubbed it on my waders to wipe off any oil or whatever it is that provides nettle sting. That helped. I released the trout unharmed and kept fishing. Later toward evening I noticed a small spot of rash on the wrist of the same hand. Poison ivy, but the patch is about the size of a quarter so I was lucky. Also picked up a tick, buried in my leg. Here again, I take precautions for that too. I sprayed my main long sleeve fishing shirt with Permethrin this spring, doused it good, but the tick likely fell in my waders and crawled up the leg.

Back to fishing. I caught several more trout, not large, but always exciting. I didn’t keep any but maybe next time. I only fished half the stretch. The last time I went up this “creek” I saw a two footer jump clean out of the water. I saved the last half of the stretch for the next downpour.

Trout Camp 2017

Natch on the Zinc

Our annual spring trout camp coincided with the Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan, an annual event that draws upwards of 30,000 bikers. I speculated ahead of time the campground at Leverentz would be filled up with big Harleys turning the campground into a motocross track. Cold rain dampened the biker turnout, only one motorcycle found the campground, a young couple that seemed leery of the loud and rowdy fishermen. So much for my imagination!

The cold rain helped the fishing. We fished the Pine, the Zinc, the Little South and the Middle Branch of the Pere Marquette. We caught decent fish on all streams. Natch took big fish honors with a 21 incher on the Zinc. I followed that up with one about 15 inches, shortly after tripping and going in for a swim. My leg was over a boulder and I couldn’t stand up so water poured into the top of my waders. That did it for my camera but Natch had his iphone.

One a single trip around Big Leverentz Lake Feral caught seven pike. He kept one for the skillet along with a trout from the Pine. We powdered then with shore lunch brand cajun fish mix and pan fried them while knocking down way too many Labatts. Before long the guitar and mandolin came out and Natch surprised us with a tambourine. We played the long version of Buenos Tardes Amigo (Ween) whereby the beer influenced the order and spontaneity of verses. It’s a long song anyway but we had no trouble stretching it to 20 – 25 minutes.

Feral on the Pine

We stopped into Baldwin to check out the motorcycles. Bikes were lined up on both sides of main street and vendors were set up to sell food, clothes, trinkets, beer, you name it. We saw a lot of tricked out bikes including a vintage Harley from the 1940’s. We had to hand it to the bikers that showed up despite the cold and rain. Most show up every year no matter what. Last year they had snow so at least it was a minor improvement this year.

Luth and Feral, photo by Natch

The Zinc River

Two honest fishermen

There’s a trout stream located near the middle of the lower peninsula that Feral and I have avoided mainly because of it’s reputation for pollution. I always imagined zinc-plated trout in a mud bath with toxic bubbles rising with every boot step on the sink-hole muck bottom. Feral suggested the trout would be surprisingly heavy from lead content. The Michigan DNR has an on-line publication called Eat Safe Fish Guidelines, with regional info on what fish from what streams you might want avoid, and it turns out with the Zinc River  we were worried about the wrong things. It’s the PCBs and Mercury you need to watch out for!

Zinc-plated Brown Trout

Feral and I could have avoided the Zinc River for the rest of our lives except for occasional rumors of giant brown trout. So, on a fluke, last weekend we decided to drive over and at least look at the river. It meanders through a local park so we pulled in there and were surprised to see a fisherman heading up to the parking lot. Paul, didn’t get a last name, wasn’t lugging any trout but was happy to discuss the river. He fishes it regularly and had some photos on his iphone. Some very nice fish. His goal: Catch a 30 incher.  Umm… that’s our goal.

Feral and I did a small stretch on the upper river to see what it was about and the first thing we noticed was it looks like the Pine River.. Same nice mix of sand, gravel, clay, good cover. The second thing we noticed were the trout which were biting even though it was late morning and sunny. We caught a half dozen trout up to around 15 inches, didn’t see any lunkers, but we did see some good looking cover that could hold huge trout. We walked away with a different point of view. In the future, Paul needs to brush up on his lying skills, Feral and I need to do more exploring, and I ask you to please forget you read this post.

Opening Day Success

When trying to figure out a slant for this post Feral said, “We could call it “We didn’t get skunked” but then went on to say, “that’s about the lowest form of bragging.” I had to agree and laugh. Considering our haul, including morel mushrooms, I’ll try to frame the day in more glorious terms. For starters, we pulled nice fish out of busy crowded streams and Feral talked five morels right out of the ground. Even more incredibly, get ready for this, our waders did not leak. The measure of success keeps rising.

We started up on the Pine River hitting the most inaccessible spot we know and had a group of fishermen walk past us two minutes after we got in. They didn’t start fishing the hole right in front of us so we knew the river gods were smiling on us. The Pine was carrying some mud and wadable and we starting seeing fish right away. I had one about 17 or 18 inches make several passes at my lure, then caught one about 15.

After about a hundred yards we had to get out of the stream and could see the group of fishermen working a big deep hole up ahead…so we decided to hit our reliable mushroom spot.

Feral stops for a bite to eat

Normally our mushroom area has cars parked on both sides of the road but none today, a Saturday, so that was not a good sign. Still, Feral, using magic powers that escape me, started conjuring up some of these delectable treats while I went cross-eyed trying.


From there we went down to the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette and parked between groups of campers. The Little South was high, clear, and wadable and we managed to cut off a fair stretch. Feral caught a good pan fryer and our casting was finally starting to get precision – dropping the lures into congested overhangs and being surprised by the fish we weren’t seeing. When the Little South is clear as glass the brown trout are buried deep beneath the banks. If you are not risking lures casting into deep overhangs your chances are slim.

We wrapped up the day with a cold beer back at the truck. Our “trout camp” weekend is still a ways off but it is hard to let the opener pass by without at least a day trip. No matter the haul, getting out sets the stage for another great year.

Jake Lucas flip cast illustrated

If you search for Jake Lucas using the search tool on this site you’ll get a bit of history. Part of his legacy, besides teaching so many of his friends and family his trout fishing techniques, was his patience teaching us all how to flip cast. As a trout fishing tool it’s hard to imagine not having this as part of the arsenal. I use it for 90% of my casts. The ability to drop a lure where you want it on a congested small trout stream makes all the difference. If you can master this – your success will improve.  If you click on the illustration it should be full screen, use your browser back button to return to the post.

Note that the cast is one fluid motion, using the wrist only – not the arm. There is a tendency, when learning this, to jerk your arm forward. Keep your upper arm glued to your side. For practice put on a practice plug and set up some targets in your yard, paper plate size, scattered about. Get used to stopping the forward motion of the lure as it goes above the target by pinching the line against the rod handle. This is fairly critical. Stopping the lure right above the target, on a trout stream, translates to dropping the lure into the stream just shy of the far bank, or piece of structure. Saves lures, catches fish.

The flip cast illustration shows a vintage Shakespeare closed face reel. One of the important design features is how near the reel body is mounted to the rod making the distance between the line and the rod handle minimal, in effect,  making it easy to pinch the line / stop the lure. Sadly, all of the close face spinning reels on the market, the trigger spins, have the the body of the reel mounted way below the rod.  It’s possible to pinch the line to stop the lure, but it is harder to do. If anyone working for a reel manufacturer sees this post I hope they will pass this information along to the design department – the reel body can be moved right up next to the rod. Thousands of Shakespeare reel fans will appreciate your efforts. The add below shows Jake with some trout and one of several closed-face reel models made back in the fifties and sixties.

Sadly, Shakespeare tried to reintroduce the model 1810 reel in the eighties or nineties, as the 1810 II. The marketing department and bean counters must have insisted the reel needed to be sold for under $30.00 because it was a shadow of it’s former self. If Shakespeare would have doubled the quality and price – they would have had a winner.

Cold Beer on Cold Openers

Natch with 2 beers

We used to do our trout opener up on the Pine River in Northern Lake County. There’s quite a lot of state land up there and you can pick up permits at any DNR station for remote camping. The river was at the bottom of a very steep hill and we would do some bait fishing on the slope because of a deep hole that held a lot of promise. It was a tricky climb down and a worse climb out so we would make sure to take several beers because there were no volunteers to make beer runs.

Temperatures on the opener, the last Saturday in April, are all over the place, but usually cold. We, Natch, Feral and I, and any other regulars, would cut some sapling forks and lob big crawlers with sinkers into the dark pool and then crack a beer. Funny what you remember but I recall the sound of bottles clanking in our pockets as we made our way down the hill.

A cold beer and expectation of a giant trout latching on to the crawlers was all we needed. We’d sip our beer and stare at the rod tips which slowly swayed with the pull of the current. If a trout picked up the crawler the rod tip would jerk slightly and then it was a gamble on the best way to set the hook. I would usually pick up the rod slowly and lightly feel the line for a familiar tap tap – then rear back.

We caught very few trout and could have learned a lesson from Jake Lucas, who used to go up small streams with a fly rod and 1810 Shakespeare reel, constantly moving and dipping a crawler in front of logs and other cover. As kids, Jake took Feral and I up mosquito infected feeder creeks and watched as he would limit out with crawlers in an hour. So we know how to do it proper, but bank fishing a deep hole with a cold beer has it’s own magic. A couple buddies hanging out knocking down a cold beer on a cold evening. You know you are alive. A good trout is a bonus.

Remote Camp on the Pine River

Your Michigan Recreational Passport

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The current governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder of Flint water crisis fame, made some sweeping changes affecting campers in Michigan when he first took office. All residents now need to purchase an eleven dollar recreational passport ( per vehicle) to access our state land and campgrounds. It was promoted as a way to shore up our natural resources with the attendant flag waving that usually accompanies bad news. The DNR did get an influx of money and I am the first to say that DNR has a history of providing valuable service as environmental watchdogs. Something else changed with the current administration however, and if I remember correctly, I believe the DNR now reports to the Bureau of Land Management which controls, among other things, permits for clear cutting.

All that aside, and I am not sure of particulars, I would like to relate some personal experience regarding the trickle down affect of the recreational passport. A few years ago Feral and I went up to the Pine River in northern Lake County to fish a stretch of river on state land. There is an access spot off Raymond Road which has a two track entering a big clearing which at one time had campsites managed by the DNR. Before reaching the clearing the two track spits and the right side leads to another two track that that parallels the river. All state land. Nice river access.

Feral and I usually park in the large clearing and walk the other two track downstream in order to fish back upstream to the large clearing. There was a large group of friendly campers there. We said hello and went fishing. Halfway through our stretch we could see a man fishing from the bank so we got out of the stream to go around him, so as not to disturb his fishing. After a subdued greeting he related this story. He and his sons had been camping in the same spot along the Pine river for 10 plus years on opening day, which was right up the hill. We knew the spot, but hadn’t camped there ourselves. A DNR officer told them they could not camp there because it was too close to the river and threatened them with a ticket if they did not pull their tent and move to the other side of the two-track. They moved but unfortunately there are no campsites on the other side of the two track, so they gave up a nice clearing with fire pit and pitched their tent in the condensed woods on the other side.

We felt bad for the man and his sons, expressed dismay, and continued on our way upstream fishing. When we exited the stream by the big clearing with the campers, they had a story to relate. It seems a DNR officer told them they had to leave. This group stood their ground explaining they had been camping there for years and saw no reason to leave. My understanding is the the DNR officer came back shortly thereafter and told them they could stay because the DNR previously managed campsites there. So far, so good.

Fast forward to the next year. The big clearing, this beautiful scenic spot, was clear cut. If you click on the photo below you can see the tops of some camper trailers in the clearing. They lined up their campers to try to block the view. You can imagine how they felt.

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The story does not end there. Feral and I went downstream like the previous year and came across the guard rail in the top photo. It was placed at the spot the man and his sons were kicked out of the previous year. There is a second, identical guard rail about ten steps to the right. The DNR made sure no one gets to camp in that lovely remote spot on the Pine River. Here’s a photo of the camp spot with Feral kneeling by the fire pit.

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I know, pretty nice. The river is over the hill, beyond Feral. In a nutshell, the recreational passport program and land management programs under Rick Snyder resulted in decimation one of the most beautiful spots I know along the Pine River, and almost as bad, placed ugly guard rails to make sure no one camps in what was once a nice spot enjoyed by the man and his sons for ten years. The guard rails, by the way, are of dubious use. Based on what we could see, it would not be hard to drive around them.

I don’t know which is more disgusting, ugly guardrails in the middle of nowhere or clear cutting a scenic spot used for decades by Michigan campers. These are the kinds of things I will be considering when it’s time to elect another Governor. That along with the poisoning of residents and deflecting blame.

The Notorious Phillips Gang

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Left to right, Feral Tweed, Mr. Phillips, Luther Rude, Shotgun Stalter and D. Buttermore, also known as “Shoots Down Wire” to the local tribes.

Mr. Phillips, the leader of the notorious Phillips Gang met his maker and there’s been dangerous talk about how the rest of us should come clean. I ain’t about to confess to the Cedar railroad job or any of the other half dozen crimes that the local constable tried to pin on us, but I will say that our reputation as outlaws was earned honestly. I ran with the Phillips gang for nearly two years and fortunately for us, Mr. Phillips was too smart for the local constable, the G Men and the Pinkertons.

I recall one time G men had us dead to rights, surrounded and outnumbered and Mr. Phillips recognized one of the deputies. He struck up a conversation with the man and pretty soon they was reminiscing about some prank he and the man’s cousin played on a school principal and that gave Feral time to drop the loot down a badger hole. Next thing you know the other G men was leaning in to hear the story and Mr. Phillips asked one of them if he was related to somebody and then a whole different story spewed out. The G men was all circled around Mr. Phillips following along and pretty soon the guns was all holstered and they was offering us a ride into town so they could buy Mr. Phillips a beer at the local watering hole.

It didn’t matter what mess we was in it was always the same story. Mr. Phillips would recognize someone in the posse and talk his way right out of the situation. The odd thing was none of us ever made a buffalo nickle from one of them robberies cause Mr. Phillips had a heart big as a circus elephant. When it was time to divvy up proceeds Mr. Phillips would launch into a story bout some family or kids that needed some help and by the time he was done with the gut wrenching poverty story we all knew we had to put in our share. In his own way I guess Mr. Phillips taught us a lesson: Crime don’t pay.

Bray Creek Wedding

 

George, Deb, and Father Ron Schneider

My sister Deb and her husband George renewed their wedding vows after forty years of an amazing life and marriage. They both love the outdoors and have camped throughout Michigan including this favorite spot along the Baldwin river near Bray Creek. Deb has an ongoing battle with early onset Alzheimer disease which she has fought with grace and humor in spite of the enormous challenge. George has been a pillar of strength, always at her side, refusing to let the circumstance undo their way of life and love for each other. I couldn’t be more proud of George and more amazed by both of their strength.

It was a holy marriage and renewal of vows. Father Ron Schneider presided over the ceremony which included special prayers for Deb included a laying on of hands and anointment with oils. Father Ron is soft spoken man of God with a kindness and caring that pulled everyone together, including family members who have passed on to another life, including my mom and grandparents who took us camping at Bray Creek when we were children.

The wedding had a dress theme (hippie) which provided a lot of fun and humor. The costumes were amazing and for anyone passing by it must have seemed a time warp. Father Ron wore a genuine Native American shoulder garment which was beautiful and provided some spiritual dignity. I would like to credit Father Ron for the break in weather. It was pouring rain all over Michigan. On my two hour drive to the campsite it rained all the way, stopping suddenly when I was a half mile from the campground. When I left four hours later, the rain picked up again right at the same spot. The wedding was dry. I can’t explain it.

The wedding procession, Josh in the foreground

The wedding procession, Josh in the foreground

George and Deb have two boys, Josh and Dan, and it was so nice to see them and their families. Their son Josh and wife Chihiro, and daughter Mei, are truly an international family. They live in Michigan and travel to Japan every year so Mei can attend school and experience Japanese culture. Mei speaks English and Japanese and is currently studying Chinese. Josh is a famous, professional photographer. He just sold a photo to National Geographic. (Josh, please send me a group photo!)

Deb with Josh, Chihiro and Mei

Deb with Josh, Chihiro and Mei

Dan and his wife Win are Michigan residents also. Dan is a much sought after controls engineer, and inventor, working for an international material handing company. It’s only a matter of time before Dan is recruited by another high tech company though I hope he stays in Michigan. Dan and Win’s costumes were remarkable, I swear, right out of Woodstock.

Lorraine, Chihiro, Mei, Dan and Win

Lorraine, Chihiro, Mei, Dan and Win

So Deb and George’s life has been blessed, and no matter what the future holds, those of us that witnessed their renewal of vows feel fortunate to have attended and acknowledge what a special life they have.

2016 Trout Season Closer

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I met Feral, Natch, and special guest Chopper up at Pickerel Lake for the trout season closer and on the way up it threatened rain. I would have been happy to set up in a downpour if it would have muddied the rivers. No such luck but the clear steams did give up a few keepers and one lunker. Feral and I did a stretch on the Sturgeon late Friday afternoon and he popped several keepers while I nailed sunken logs. I finally realized I didn’t have my polaroids. Pretty critical error. Helps to see into the water!

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Feral with Polaroids

Natch arrived too late on Friday to fish but we had a pretty good jam around the campfire, Natch on bongos, Feral on mandolin and I had my guitar. Pretty diverse song set ranging from Pink Floyd to Ween to Bruce Hornsby. A Nuclear Chili Dog night.

On Saturday morning Natch and I headed over to the valley to fish the Sturgeon. I headed up to the horse bridge and he headed down the big hill by the Ford property. I heard a shout and next thing I saw was him running back up the hill. He had come face to face with a badger loping up the path. We went back down to check it out and found the badger den right on the foot path.

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Been great to get a photo …or not. We really didn’t want to see a badger charge out of the hole.

So I went upstream and Natch fished the lower section. The stream was clear and the fishing was slow. I had one about 16 inches bat my lure but I couldn’t get him to strike again. Saw a few smaller fish. Normally at this time of year the huge browns move upstream to spawn and this is a chance at two foot lunkers but I can only guess the season is messed up this year by global warming. So I walked the river back downstream to meet Natch and talked to a couple guys backpack camping by the bridge. They had seen some nice fish, including losing a big one. I mention the stream gives up some nice trout in the fall but it helps to have a flooded or muddy river. I mention fichigan saying they could find pictures and it turns out they had seen the website – it comes up searches in for Sturgeon River. I could kick myself for not getting a picture of the two of them by their camp. Feral and I have talked about camping in the valley for years but never got around to it.

I followed the river until I found Natch and he had a good story but no fish. A two footer broke him off. He was using some pretty light line, 6 lb test, and a new fishing rod designed for ice fishing (my first impression). The odds were against him. I felt bad for him but at least this was an indication big fish were in the river and heading upstream. So we went back to the valley again on Sunday and he fished the same stretch. I was going to fish with him, trading off the lead like I do with Feral, but decided to head back up river on my own.

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Natch fishing the valley, Sturgeon River

I had a pretty unremarkable trip. Saw some small ones. Walked the shore up to the bridge thinking I could get the photo of the backpackers but they had broke camp. Headed back to meet Natch and this time his story was a little different. He caught the lunker he lost on Saturday! He made the exact same cast to the same piece of cover and the fish slammed his lure again. He released the fish but took a photo. Strangely, it is a rainbow, not a brown. I have no explanation. I have caught tiny rainbows on the Sturgeon, years ago, but figured the browns ( and brook trout, upstream) had taken over. While Natch and I fished the valley, Feral went to the upper Sturgeon and pulled out a couple decent dinner trout so in the grand scheme of things, it is good that my buddies caught some decent fish even though my reputation took a hit. Great camping though, and for the record, no ticks and no mosquitoes.

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Natch’s rainbow on the Sturgeon

 

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