Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Escape from G.R.

I took the old highway north, M-37, because it’s more relaxing. One lane was shut down in two spots but it was a small delay. I swung by Feral’s, up in Baldwin, to see if he was home. Thought he might want to go with me up the Pine River but his truck was gone. That was fine. It was one of those days where you suspect you may not be good company for anyone. A day to clear your head, not make conversation. Trout fishing is a good remedy for a lot of things. Sort of like driving. You put it on autopilot. Your mind can go places while you keep busy.

There’s a nice spot on the upper Pine I used to fish quite a bit. Smaller water. You take a gravel road until it ends and a two track continues. No public access signs. The two track splits and you veer left and finally stop at a turnaround. Fishermen that have been around for a while know the spot. It’s in Oceola County, not Lake. So that was my destination. The water was high and muddy but wadable. I put on my waders and took a car window selfie. My phone has a button for selfies but the photos are always pretty stark. A little too much reality if you know what I mean.

Right off I lost a nice brown trout about seventeen or eighteen inches. Lost him while fumbling for my net. Time to get my head into fishing. No auto-pilot. Catch fish, including two for dinner. I caught a small one and tossed him back figuring I had just started and more would come. Famous last words. A couple bends later I caught one about sixteen inches then wished I had kept the small one. That would have been perfect.

From there I saw a few trout make passes at my lure but no luck hooking them. I pushed my way further and further upstream, often in chest deep water against strong current. I started feeling it in my lower back but really wanted another fish. After fishing a deep pool I climbed out of the river and walked the bank back downstream. I had a sandwich at the car and decided to fish another stretch, one I had some confidence in but didn’t require a lot of walking.

If I thought the river was deep upstream, I should have expected tougher wading further downstream. Still, I climbed in the river and headed up against the current. I had to feel my way along with my feet. It’s easy to trip on hidden boulders or get caught on logs. So I moved forward one step at a time sideways to the current to minimize drag. I finally caught that second dinner fish. Pure luck, really. It’s hard for the fish to see the lure in muddy water, never mind catch it. It was about the same size as the one I tossed back earlier. Maybe twelve inches or so. Good for the skillet. I headed back to the car.

A week ago I was watching a news segment on CBS where they asked local newsmen what their perfect fathers day would be like. One guy said “put me in a dark room and close the door.” I have been laughing about that ever since. Not sure I could go with his idea but do understand what he was talking about. He should take up trout fishing.

Art Projects

In addition to blogging I like to torture myself with art projects including painting, writing fiction, and songwriting. In the span of two months I worked on three such projects, the first being a short story which I entered in the Write Michigan short story contest sponsored by the local library system. The story was about first love in the ninth grade (her name was changed) and was based on my own experience. Writing it was cathartic and surprising – I remembered small details that had been buried for decades. The odds of getting selected as a finalist were pretty slim, over a thousand entries, and sorry to report my story was not selected. Something I thought would help my chances is that the story has it’s own humor and authenticity. Past contest winning stories published in yearly anthologies are not happy stories, instead focusing on difficult subjects.

Art project 2, I saw a notice for art entries for the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts 2019. I had not picked up a paint brush in years but decided do an acrylic painting. The big question was what to paint. My thought was paint a night time cityscape with two women in an alley. I didn’t have models so I used photos of young women off a yoga clothing website. I do technical illustration for a living so composing the picture went quickly but when it came time to paint the picture I couldn’t capture what was in my imagination. The two models turned out well but the night scene ended up being a strange surreal composition which I worked and reworked until it had nothing to do with my original idea, but was interesting in it’s own sake. I entered it in the festival but sorry to say it was not selected. I repainted the scene twice now, the last time removing the girl’s clothing which at least adds a dimension of risque. It occurs to me the question I should have asked myself originally was not “what do I want to paint,” but rather, “what do I want to say.”

Art project 3, I decided to write/record a new song. The song is called “I am a Scientist.” It’s a ballad about a scientist that goes to a salvage yard and builds a rocket car from a 1960 Plymouth. He meets an alien in outer space that resembles Marilyn Monroe (except for the extra eye) and the two get married on Planet 9. They have a daughter they name Frankenstein whom they encourage to become a doctor or a nurse (and one day heal this universe). Frankie has other ideas: she wants to be scientist. I am collaborating on the song with my buddy Scott, producer, accomplished guitarist, and owner of Frontier Recording sound studio in Copemish, Michigan. When the song is finished I’ll post an mp3 in the songs page/ tab of this blog.

The Intervention

After posting so much non-fishing stuff over the winter Feral speculated whether an intervention was required. Ballerina statues, book recommendations…that stuff was not going to cut it with my blog readers. We joked about that for a while then drove up to the Pine River near Bristol. There’s lots of state land and river access up in the northeast corner of Lake County and after the opener you pretty much have the streams to yourself. We pulled into popular spot for camping and youth partying and fished a stretch neither of us had visited in years. A wide bend of river swings around an open field then narrows down and cuts though woods into a large deep pool. The river was high and muddy. The bend is relatively shallow which looked promising. Third cast and Feral hooked a nice brown about sixteen inches. I was still fumbling around picking a lure.

The way it works with Feral and I is this: when you catch a fish the other guy takes the lead. Or, you get so embarrassed about not catching something out of good cover you tell the other guy to take the lead. So I stepped in the river above him and started casting to some sparse overhanging cover on the opposite bank, finally seeing a fish that missed my lure. I worked that fish for a few minutes and finally hooked and landed him. Another brown, maybe seventeen inches.

Feral moved back in the lead. Wading was difficult with large rocks and boulders deep enough you had to inch your way along blind. We managed to cross the river in waist deep water but the narrows through the woods was so deep we had to get out a couple times. We crossed back to the other side of the river above the deep pool, again, inching our way across blindly.

Feral had me take the lead after going fishless on the deep pool (understandable – bottom hugging fish likely never saw his lure). Right off I overcast some cover on the opposite bank and hooked my lure on a log jutting out. A brand new eight dollar lure. So I broke it off and went back across the river and tried to find it. Somehow it disappeared. Later, back at the car, Feral said I should have cut the line so I could snag and follow the line right back to the lure. Very good advice, just a bit late. We had a good laugh about great advice an hour late.

I hated to give up on the Pine (and a real good shot at a lunker) but Feral is more circumspect about treacherous wading and suggested the Little South (branch of the Pere Marquette). The Little South is much smaller water and much easier to wade. It had missed what must have been a deluge that flooded the Pine. The water was high and coffee color though which was inviting under the overcast, cloudy sky. Once again Feral hooked a nice fish while I was putting on a lure. Another brown with spectacular color.

I decided to drop down a bend below Feral and try that, telling him I would catch up soon. I caught two keepers right away then circled back through the woods to catch up. He was having similar luck. The coffee colored water was providing just enough opacity the fish weren’t seeing us but they were seeing our lures.

Honestly, we caught so many fish we lost track. We released them all. I should have kept a couple for the skillet but we were sort of caught in a rhythm. The sun would peek out from behind the rolling clouds once in a while and warm us up, then it would darken down again making the river that much more inviting. We were both tired but wanted to keep going. We finally cut out about seven-thirty PM which made for a long day.

2019 Trout Opener

Natch with a surprise Rainbow on the Little South

The trout opener is “new years day” to most fishermen in Michigan. From here on you can add short hops to a local stream or try to organize some adventure with your buddies. Feral and Natch are always game for a long weekend we can call trout camp and this last weekend we met up at Big Leverentz for that purpose. We could have waited another week to help our morel mushroom search but still managed enough for a small skillet. We topped that off with some brown trout from the Little South Branch of the P.M.

A small skillet of Morels

Feral concentrated on Big Leverentz for pike but fishing was tough. After a couple laps around the lake Feral went to a bait shop and bought some new lures hoping to find something that might work. On the last day he had a strike on a jointed gold Rapala that was about eight inches in length – a huge lure with lots of flash. I bet he dropped a ten spot on that lure. Unfortunately the pike missed the hooks. Normally Big Leverentz gives up some big pike in the spring. I suspect the cold front blowing in from the east was the problem.

Big Leverentz

We had a good campfire all three nights and some interesting jam sessions with Feral on mandolin, Natch on bongos and me on guitar. I played some new stuff (for us): Tennessee Whiskey (Chris Stapleton), The Boys of Summer (Don Henley), and Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac). Feral played some Tom Waits songs and Buenos Tardes Amigo by Ween. We started out pretty tight and in tune and I can’t say where we ended up other than happy to be sitting around a warm campfire joking about ridiculous stuff.

So this is it, the new years for old trout fishermen.

Estate Sale Sculpture

Graceful Ballet by Joan Coderch

Trying to fill my days to trout season took a strange turn. I went to an estate sale last Thursday and saw the above porcelain sculpture. It had a 250 dollar sticker on it and I kept going back to look. I knew nothing about porcelain figures but it was so beautiful I was tempted. What stopped me was thinking maybe these are sold at Pier One and pretty common. What did I know? I finally tore myself away and left.

The next day I woke up and decided to go back. I stopped at the credit union and picked up a couple hundred in cash. It was still there and as luck would have it all items over 100 dollars were 25% off. Still, I knew nothing about it. I carefully lifted it up and saw a maker mark on the bottom, Lladro, Made in Spain, so I googled Lladro ballerina with my cell phone and found one for sale in a specialty shop in Florida for 1800 dollars. My instincts were good! The estate sale folks had the original box which was custom designed to protect it for shipping so the trip home was stress free.

Since buying it I have been looking up Lladro figurines online. This one is pretty special. It is a retired model “Graceful Ballet” with a gloss finish, 17 inches tall, by the artist Joan Coderch. The photo hardly does it justice. Now I am thinking I need to find an equally impressive Lladro because I have two daughters. I found a couple online that might compare but they cost thousands of dollars. My girls may have to draw straws.

Winter Reading

One way to get through winter (waiting for the next trout season) is catch up on reading. Here’s a few suggestions…

If you long for the days when American’s thought the British had a monopoly on crass self-important, egotistical men with power you should read Larry McMurtry’s Barrybender series starting with Sin Killer. A pompous English Lord drags his family and servants on a hunting trip to the old west at a time when the American Indians were not buying Manifest Destiny. Lord Barrybender gets chiseled down to size. At times hilarious, at times horrifying, an amazing read.

Not sure why it took so long for me to read Frank Herbert’s Dune. Considered the greatest science fiction ever written it is a very accessible human story in a world of spectacular imagination. Like a lot of science fiction publishers wanted nothing to do with it. First published by Chilton, the folks that bring you car repair manuals. It is my goal to find a Chilton copy of the novel at a garage or estate sale.. A true prize. Then read it all over again.

There is a new category of fiction that blends science fiction and fiction with in your face humanity. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead should be required reading for all high school students. It follows a African American girl as she flees slavery. The depiction of slavery is one thing, how whites use her in a live museum diorama to show how the trip to America on a slave ship was a pleasant experience is quite another. You will learn, make that feel, more about black history. All in the confines of masterful storytelling.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami is another work of fiction/science fiction that left me stunned. A young boy in middle school picks an outcast, unathletic girl to be on his team when no one else wants her. Their lives become entwined in a parallel world where no deed goes unanswered. One of those books that makes you rethink what we are doing here.

A book I kept putting off for a lifetime, The Diary of Anne Frank. I was afraid to read it knowing it was a true story with a tragic ending, a basis for nightmares. Instead it was uplifting to watch how a young girl could put aside the horror of captivity and continue her studies and writing without dwelling on her circumstance. When the diary stops you realize the true horror of the holocaust isn’t the tragic image of the death camp survivors, but rather the loss of of people that could have made a real difference in the world.

Craigslist Guitar

Ventura V-29 Guitar

The long cold winter that sandwiches Michigan’s trout season gets filled with a variety of activities including jamming with some buddies. Denny, a trout camp regular, has a pole barn set up on his property with a working wood stove and a PA system to handle scads of microphones. Denny has a wide reach of friends – many of them musicians like himself that jumped aboard the acoustic locomotive that swept the country in the sixties and seventies. Denny’s monthly jam sessions are a place to talk music, guitars, and play classics. There are no rules other than come prepared to share a few songs. It’s about the music but it also a nice place for show and tell if you have something to share. Hence this post about a craigslist guitar.

Last fall, about the time winter blew in, I was thinking about finding a cheap camp guitar. I have a very nice Martin and worry about theft when camping. It has never been a problem but figure there is some wisdom toting something less expensive around. So I started checking craigslist hoping to find a bargain. I purchased the Ventura V-29 in the above photo for $225.00 from an old gentleman with a living room full of guitars. He was selling off a few to refresh his collection. I sat down and played the Ventura and was struck by the workmanship, bass response, and pretty amazing volume.

Back at home I played it and played it some more but was distracted by a mid-range twang that had me second guessing the purchase. The guitar top had a slight bow that was throwing off intonation and it occurred to me a new bone saddle to replace the guitars (cheap) adjustable saddle might make a real difference to tone. It would take an expert Luthier to carve a new saddle to fit the oversize slot of the stock saddle – and correct the intonation – while still keeping the guitar’s action (playability) low. It would be a true engineering feat.

A search for a Luthier in West Michigan turned up North Coast Guitar Co located downtown Grand Rapids on Wealthy Street. Google reviews were all very positive so I took a chance and set up an appointment. The owner, Russel Olmsted, listened to the idea and was not intimidated by the challenge – recognizing it was a real challenge. A week later I picked up the guitar and was amazed by his work. The intonation was dead on and the sound opened up. $125 very well spent.

So I took the upgraded guitar to Denny’s jam session and sat between Denny playing a Martin HD28 and Corky who plays a high end Taylor. My $225 dollar guitar with the new $125 dollar saddle held it’s own in such esteemed company. The only problem now is I don’t want to take this guitar camping. I’m afraid it might get stolen.

Mail Order Rockets

If you’ve ever scoped the back pages of a comic book from the sixties you’ve seen ads for products that appeal to young boys:  X-ray specs, 1001 insults for everyday use, two-headed nickles, Joe Atlas body building so you can kick the butt of the bully that stole your girlfriend. The list is extensive and there was something for every boy. Including my little brother.

Feral was the engineer and physicist of the family by age ten. If paper route money wasn’t going for comic books it was used to test the laws of physics and good sense. Explosives were of great interest including cannons and rifles. Small combustion engines. By age ten he had a better understanding of how most things work than most men I know at age sixty. When an ad for rocket engines showed up in the back of a Batman comic he was on it like John Glen.

We had just moved into a small upstairs apartment in a very old neighborhood. The houses sat right next to each other except where a driveway might flow to a garage behind a house. A house fire on the block would likely take the whole block in an hour. Not urban planning at its best. My divorced mother was raising three boys and a daughter while completing her education. We were often left alone to find our own excitement.

Feral watched the mailbox like a hawk until his package arrived. The rocket engines, two included, looked like CO2 cartridges used in high powered BB guns. A flash pan was suspended below the cartridge by a wire frame. The rocket scientist needed to fill the pan with lighter fluid or some other flammable substance and light it to ignite the rocket engine. Once the cartridge reached a certain temperature the rocket engine ignited which would then propel anything it was attached to forward. The rocket could not be pointed vertically to the stars, but rather horizontal to the earth else the flash pan fluid would spill out.

We were suspicious about whether they really worked. Feral asked a neighbor boy, Buddy, if we could clamp a rocket in a vice in his dad’s garage. The garage was about fifty years old and made of wood that was dry as paper. The vice was bolted to a bench a few feet from the double swing-out door. On a side note, I had made the mistake of mentioning the rocket project to my mother, and she was concerned, but not enough to kill the project.

We clamped the rocket in the vice and filled the flash pan with gasoline and touched her off. And waited. Flames licked the rocket cylinder for maybe a minute while we shook our heads, sure it was a hoax. Then magic – a slow roar as flames shot out of the rocket cylinder about 4 feet stopping just inches from the tinderbox garage door. Our enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the realization we could burn down the garage. Buddy freaked out of course. I opened the garage door so it wouldn’t catch fire and we waited for the flames to die out. There is no way to turn off the rocket. It lasted several minutes and Feral was satisfied with the test.

Afterwards I went back home, next door, to our upstairs apartment and found my mother in the living room where she was crouched down refinishing a piece of wood furniture. As a practical but somewhat thoughtless joke I pretended I burned my hand. My mother jumped up, grabbed my hands, turned them over, turned them over again, and looked in my eyes. Then she slapped me so hard I may have seen stars. I received the “don’t cry wolf ” lecture after she cooled off, about a year later. (This is the only know instance of my mom hitting one of her kids.)  In my defense, my sad humor may have been caused by the nervous underlying realization we could have burned down the whole neighborhood.

Feral still had the second rocket engine. He related this story to me years later. He mounted the rocket on the top of a plastic model car. One with axles and wheels that rolled well. He and a friend took it out in the street, lit the engine, and watched it take off at rocket speed right down the middle of the street. Then it veered to the right and slid under someone’s parked car where it lodged against the curb with the rocket engine still burning. This rocket was identical to the first so flames were shooting out four feet. I understand there was some panic involved this time also since automobile gas tanks and rocket flames do not co-exist well.

Again, there was not much Feral could do. No off switch on a rocket engine. I would need to confirm this but I believe he and his buddy didn’t wait around to see what happened next. They were, of course, just kids.

Burnt Clutch Camp

Section 4 lake

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Trout Camp 2018

Natch fishing backwards

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

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

Luther with 19 inch brown trout

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

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

Natch suits up, just off the Shingle Mill Pathway

Feral picking out a good lure on the Sturgeon

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

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

Natch’s second 21 inch brown

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

Luther with a Rainbow

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

Luther and Feral below Tin Bridge

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

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