Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

My Short History of Bass Tournaments

Reeds Lake 1951, Jake Lucas (Not just a trout fisherman!)

My neighbor knew I was a trout fisherman and asked if I’d be interested in fishing some bass tournaments. This was back in the 1980s. I jumped at the chance. He had a nice bass boat, something completely foreign to me, and I knew he did some local tournaments regularly. He was a master with plastic worms and taught me the basics. As a team, we didn’t do that well the summer we fished together and I blame myself -I should have been experimenting more. (He got me started on plastic worms and there was no turning back.) He eventually dumped me for a guy that should have gone pro. That was a brief letdown but it didn’t take me long to get back into tournaments.  Generally it is a team fishing sport – two guys in a bass boat. There was no rule requiring two guys in a boat – anyone that paid the entry could fish alone if it came to that, and being a bit of a loner anyway, I decided to try it. I had a twelve foot aluminum boat, a trolling motor, and a Subaru station wagon to put it on. I rigged up a cooler as a live well and started entering tournaments – against guys like my old neighbor and his talented semi-pro friend.

The start of a tournament is pretty macho. I would pull my aluminum v-bottom out into the mix of overpowered bass boats revving their engines and smell the gas fumes and try to hang on as their wakes rocked my boat. As soon as the water settled I’d point my boat to the nearest shore and start tossing whatever made sense. I kept up on the latest BASS news so my arsenal was current if not overwhelming. Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids was my main tournament. Wednesday nights. The tournament was three hours ending at 9:00PM. Next to the boat launch is an elaborate expanse of docks jutting out behind Rose’s Restaurant, and that was always my first stop. Other anglers hit these docks too, but I had a nice advantage – I could maneuver my little boat inside the jutting structures and fish very quietly, backing the little boat around. I took my time and that can be a good thing.

The tournaments usually paid three places, but sometimes five places if there were a lot of boats. Winning was based on total weight brought in. They had a giant analog scale and basket to load the catches so you could watch the dial swing around and jitter on the weight. Weigh-ins drew a crowd, not just the anglers.

I placed just often enough to break even over my tournament lifetime which was pretty good. It was always a thrill to go home with fifty or a hundred bucks and slap it down on the counter to my wife’s surprise and glee.  The other cool thing was getting respect from those teams of fishermen who shook their head at the guy in an aluminum boat. It really wasn’t about the money. It was somewhat about the competition. But mainly I just like to go fishing.

Quicksand in Michigan Streams

Everything I know about quicksand I learned from Tarzan movies. The main thing to know is: bad guys don’t make it out, but good guys and gals always do. If you’re a bad guy, please stop reading. Quicksand on a trout stream is a little different than sand bogs in Africa, but there’s some similarity. They are both camouflaged so you don’t see it until it’s too late and if you make it out alive you’ll have an interesting story to tell even if no one believes you.

Quicksand on a trout stream is harder to see since it’s underwater. The stream bottom appears normal except there is no visible hole (sand covers it) so you don’t know it’s here until you start sinking. In waders it’s pretty scary since swimming doesn’t feel like an option.

I’ve found quicksand on the Pine River in Lake County and the Sturgeon River in the Pigeon River State Game Area. On the Pine, the particular spot I know of is a few bends downstream from Raymond Road. The first time I ran into it I was alone. I scrambled to get out and it was like running in place up a sand dune. It was easy to see the exact spot afterwards because a cloud of light gray silt poured out like smoke.  An hour later, walking the bank downstream, the silt was still pouring out.

A couple years later I fished the same stretch with Feral Tweed and mentioned it to him right before we got there (it was hard to forget). I was in the lead and sure enough I stepped into it and the same thing happened. Here again, I didn’t see the hole – it looked just like the rest of the sandy stream bottom.  A film of sand over the hole made it invisible.

The Sturgeon River has at least one spot I know of in the section they call the Valley which is upstream of the notorious Ford property. The same thing happens, but without the silt pouring out. How dangerous it is I don’t know. You start sinking and your reactions take over. This spot is near the left bank (fishing upstream) opposite and below a couple giant evergreen trees that lean out over the water from right the bank. If the stream is low it’s easy enough to wade around (since I know the exact spot), but with high water I get out on the bank and get back in above it.

How prevalent and dangerous are these quicksand spots?  If you are careful wading, meaning testing each step which you should be doing anyway, then you will likely get off with a small adrenaline rush and some exercise. Best not count on Tarzan to rescue you. He’s busy.

1961 Apache Chief Tent Camper

Camping near Grass Lake marsh

I found the tent camper pictured above in the want ads for $200.00.  I won’t say when, but I will say I have owned it longer than the original owners, so that would make me older than the camper. They took great care of it and their main advice was never put it away wet. I took that advice and after all these years the canvass is still 100%.

It’s a great piece of engineering. It has an aluminum box on wheels with doors on the side for storage, a mattress on top of the box, and a full size tent with attached collapsible tent poles that fold over the mattress for storage. The mattress keeps me off the ground in cold weather, it absolutely doesn’t leak, there is room for two more guys on the floor plus an aisle down the middle so it’s roomy enough for three if need be. The storage compartments handle all my camping gear including sleeping bags, a screen tent, tarps, cookware, tackle and tool boxes, etc. In bad weather, which can happen at either end of Michigan’s trout season, it stays warm inside with just a propane lantern.

There is a coolness factor to owning and using something this old. People ask about it at campgrounds and want to look inside. Apache had a great idea. I guess the popularity of dinette campers convinced them to abandon the idea. That’s really too bad since it is such a practical design.

Around ten years ago Feral bought a similar used camper of a different brand. Feral painted some Ghost Brown Trout on the box, inspired by a humorous rewrite of the classic cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

(see youtube for the video “ghost brown trout.” Feral does some mean electric mandolin, Luther on vocals.)

Update: This camper is a 1960 JC Higgens, manufactured by the same company (Vesely Mfg.) for Sears. It is very similar or identical to the  1960/61 Apache Scout.

1961 Apache Scout - click on image to enlarge

1961 Apache Chief

If you see these tent campers together at a campground or remote spot somewhere in northern Michigan, stop in and say hello. We’re friendly. If you like to eat trout we may have some extra in the cooler you can take home for your dinner.

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