Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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

 

Dinner Trout

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My wife has been asking me to bring home some trout for dinner so when I called up Feral to see if he wanted to go fishing last Saturday I told him up front that was the mission. We started on a upper stretch of the Pine River in Lake County which was not as high or muddy as we had hoped. Still, Feral caught a nice brown about 14 inches and I was surprised by a Brook Trout. We don’t keep brook trout, even for the skillet, under the assumption that releasing them may help the population. We catch one brook trout to every 20 browns so it is an event just to see one and appreciate the beautiful coloring.
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Feral kept the brown trout though. He too was thinking “trout dinner.” Feral has some markings on his fishing rod to confirm fish size which you can see on the photo below. If you click on the photo ( use browser back button to return) you can see his markings at 15, 20 and 25 inches. That’s not a hoax, Michigan streams give up brown trout that large, especially in the fall. As far as we’re concerned though, smaller trout taste better, let the big ones go.
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Feral mentioned the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River and the thought was maybe it received a bit more rain than the Pine, in which case the fishing might be excellent. So we headed south. The river was spectacular and the weather cooperated with rain and drizzle interspersed with bright sunshine, back and forth. The temp was around 70 so it was comfortable to wear rain gear.

We started catching fish right away and seeing some pretty nice fish, upwards of twenty inches, but the big ones seemed to be looking only, following the lure back or making passes without a strike. The better news was the dinner size trout, keepers around 12 to 14 inches, were hungry. Feral kept a couple and I kept three figuring that was about right for my wife and I.
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I cooked the trout on Sunday, September 11, a day of reflection and sadness for America. The horror of 9/11 still makes no sense to me. I spent part of the day writing an editorial, for my own sanity, just to try to understand, and part of the day watching Saving Private Ryan. When my wife came home from work at 5:00 I dove into cooking the trout. It was good. She said I need to bring home trout more often. I didn’t do well with table talk.

Muddy Waters

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A tornado passed though Grand Rapids on the 20th, this one was shrouded in torrential  rain. I watch the event unfold on TV. News 8 tracked the path using radar and maps right down to street level so even though sirens were blaring in my neighborhood, I was confident I was miles outside of the path. At one point, when the tornado was directly west of me, I looked out my front window and saw low gray rain clouds moving rapidly west, a phenomena in itself. The tornado was sucking the clouds out of my neighborhood. Fortunately the tornado damage was not bad – no lives claimed and mostly tree damage rather than homes.

Fast forward to yesterday, more rain predicted and cooler weather, good trout fishing weather. I checked the condition of the Rogue River using the home page link, “Daily Stream Conditions in Michigan.” It had a light blue dot signifying water level was much above normal which meant, in effect, that the Rogue River feeder creeks would be flooded. Time to hit a feeder creek.

As suspected, my target stream was high and muddy. I put on my biggest 3-hook floater minnow and worked my way upstream casting to the opposite bank as well as right up the middle. When the streams are muddy, fish can be anywhere. First fish, 20 inches. I netted it, de-hooked it, took a quick photo, measured it with a de-liar, and eased it right back in the water. Elapsed time, about a minute and a half. I try to move fast in order to make sure the fish is OK with minimal trauma and it was. It darted away. I’m glad I measured it. I had guessed about 18 inches.
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This particular stream is almost impossible to fish without a good drenching. It is normally so low and clear you are lucky to see fish and may swear it doesn’t support a trout population, let alone large trout. But when it is high and muddy, the dynamic changes, suddenly this sleeper comes alive.

I continued upstream and lost one about 16 or 17 inches right at the net, but made up for it with another the same size. I had a stringer with me and was tempted to keep it but I had only been fishing about an hour and if I keep fish for the skillet I would rather have a couple 12 inchers – better tasting to my mind. Nothing wrong with these trout though – absolutely beautiful stream brown trout. A little Cajun seasoning and a cold beer and no complaints.

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I did catch some smaller fish, on my biggest lurer, two around 8 to 10 inches, and only mention it to anyone that may believe you need tiny lures to catch small trout. Just not the case. Trout like a big meal. Further, if you are fishing muddy water, best to fish a large or flashy lure because trout need to see the lure though the muddy haze.

After about two hours of fishing I was amazed to see a trout jump vertically clear out of the stream. I don’t know what he was after. The fish was two feet long, the largest fish I have seen in this stream. I was able to move into casting position and worked the hole as best I could. Even tried a second lure thinking maybe something different might entice it. Nothing. It’s a little hard to ease past a hole like that. By then I was almost up to the bridge. I placed a cast into some cover and saw a nice one make a pass at the lure. Couldn’t get him to do it again so I placed a cast right up the middle of the stream and saw a swirl. Maybe a nice fish. It hit the second cast but didn’t hook. I tried again and it hit the lure again and didn’t get hooked. So I put on a deeper diving crank bait and this time he was hooked.

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He was about 17 inches. I unhooked him with my long nose pliars right in the stream versus netting him. I should have been more circumspect and kept him because my wife loves brown trout. When she heard the garage door she came out and asked how I did. I told here I did well, listing the sizes, followed by, “I  didn’t keep any.” She said she didn’t want stories, she wanted trout.

Folks that Share Their Bluegills

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

There’s two kinds of people that share bluegills. The ones trying to get out of cleaning some because they didn’t catch enough for a mess (um me?) and then there are the wonderful people that open a bag of fillets, start cooking, and invite their friends. Feral and I lucked out last night up at Little Leverentz.

I had fished once with Chuck Raison on Leverentz and met his wife his Rita once also, but yesterday it turned into guided adventure fishing two new lakes for Feral and I, topped off with a gourmet meal: deep fried cajun batter bluegills, butter fried wild mushrooms and fresh corn.

gourmet dinner

Feral said Rita was a cook and that was an understatement. We almost didn’t have fish with the meal because we started eating them the minute they came out of the fryer. I mentioned in a earlier post that Chuck is a lake expert, which means two things – being adventurous enough to find new lakes and knowing what to do when you get there. So our fish dinner was compliments of his and her expertise.

Chuck with a bluegill

Chuck with a bluegill

We started the day fishing a small pond down by Brohman which had small gills and soon left there to fish Shelly lake, also near Brohman. This lake is a hidden treasure with nice campsites and I can see Feral and I hitting this lake for over-nighters in the future. Lots of bass and bluegill. It was the middle of the day however and the sun was taking its toll on us so we headed back toward Baldwin to camp and to fish Little Leverentz. It gave me a chance to grill chuck on some of his fishing tactics and of course then there was the cook out. Thanks from Feral and Luther!

Nuclear Chili Dog

Nuclear Chili Dog

Rock Bottom and the out of Tuners may have run it’s course since I took up the mandolin. Last Friday night Feral and I knocked down a few cold ones up at Leverentz and when the sun finally set we needed some light to see the mandolin fret boards. ( Feral had his Kentucky mandolin, I had my Eastman). It was too hot for a campfire but I had a cheap LED flashlight from Harbor Freight. Feral had a styrofoam hot dog container to wrap around it and bingo, ambient light for a late night jam session. On seeing the glowing light, Feral, formerly Rock Bottom, hit upon the idea of a Nuclear Chili Dog and it may be the start of a whole new era of creative music or an excuse for another cold beer, remains to be seen.

I’ve been working on a variety of songs that are wide open for extended jams including some Bob Dylan, Bad Company, Marshal Tucker, and there’s always Neil Young classics. Two mandolins together may sound like an ear full but it really was interesting in it’s own way. Would have liked to hear Keith add some distorted soulful guitar against some of the rhythms but maybe that will happen in the fall. Natch on bongos would add some nice color also.

Had another thought on band names: Tractor Bob and the Bad Clutch, which sounds more bluegrass, and Feral suggested Blind Lemon Luther. Maybe I need to learn some blues licks on mandolin…

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