Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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Trout Fisherman wins Bass Tournament

Luther heads to Reeds lake

If you read the post “My short history of Bass Tournaments ” posted in October of 2011 you’ll see I have some bass tournament experience. In the late 1980’s a neighbor, Dave Hedburg, invited me to fish a few tournaments and taught me plastic worming. He eventually partnered up with a semi-pro named Dick Courser but by then I was starting to enjoy competitive fishing. So I started fishing open tournaments, alone, with a 12 foot aluminum boat, a 1950’s Minnkota trolling motor and an ice chest live well. And did OK. But that was a long time ago. I went back to my roots, trout fishing, which I’ve have been doing since age 10.  I am good at trout fishing small streams. Lake fishing is a different animal.

Mid-Week Therapy – Grand Rapids Division of West Michigan Bass held another tournament last night at Reeds Lake. I fished there a couple weeks ago and did a post (scroll down to see it). Met some great people and had a blast, but caught only one keeper which I even hated to mention because Reed’s Lake has a lot of bass, including some lunkers. Fast Forward to yesterday.

I always figure everyone has a shot at big bass. Winning the tournament is a different story. Many teams in this division bring in 5 fish bags consistently. My goal for the tournament was two keepers, hopefully one of those a big bass.

Right away, things started happening. One hour into the tournament I had 5 fish including one I guessed at 4 to 5 lbs. I have two live wells in the boat, and only one of those works but the pump is so noisy I brought a bucket to keep refreshing the water. I put the big bass in the forward live well figuring if I caught another good one it would be easier to figure out which bass to cull from the rear live well. Every ten minutes I filled the bucket and poured it into each live well – I wanted these bass healthy and weigh-in was a long ways off.

I wormed the docks and fished the flats out past Rose’s restaurant. Fishing alone is a two-sided coin. A partner can bring in some fish, but if you are alone you can move at your own speed, in my case painfully slow, with plastic worms (Culprits and Berkeley Power Worms). Normally you can feel a tap as the worm drops but that was the exception, not the rule. Most fish were caught letting the worm sit on the bottom and tightening the rod just enough to see if anything was happening. Spooky fish, is all I can figure.

So two hours to go and the search was on for bigger bass (to cull the 14/15 inchers in the rear live well). And the bites slowed down. It took an hour to get another one, but it was huge, over five pounds. I culled the smallest fish and put this in the front live well with the other nice one. Then I lost a really good bass which was a good lesson. It went straight up and jumped out of the water, shaking off the hook. From then on I held the rod tip down in the water and reeled hard to keep the fish from jumping.

Fifteen minutes to weigh-in I was fishing the docks on the park side and felt something touch the worm. I couldn’t believe it, another huge bass. I culled a smallest bass and added this one. Plenty of time to park the boat by the ramp.

I weighed in right away. I grabbed what I thought was the biggest bass and it weighed 5.490 lbs. Then I pulled the other 2 lunkers out of the weigh-in bag and laid them on the ground in order to make sure the one weighed was the largest. It was, but it was close. The total five fish bag weighed 19.220 lbs. Pinch me. I never imagined a haul like this. And I forgot my camera!

Screen capture, tournament results

So what explains the difference between the two Reeds lake tournaments? There was another tournament there on Monday and maybe, just maybe, the fish released from that tournament were still holding in the general area. Not to discount the win, it took some skill and luck, but that might explain it… My best night of bass fishing ever.

Jordan Lake

COTM -South (Case of the Mondays) Tournament Directors

It was one of those perfect nights to be out fishing a bass tournament. Cloudy sky, calm water, good people. I didn’t imagine for a second I had much chance of winning the tournament, but winning big bass is always possible. Big bass pays about $60 depending on how many boats. There were eighteen boats entered. Eighteen experienced teams that know the lake. For my part, fishing alone, I figured just relax, experiment a bit, try some lures that I know catch bass. Find something that works.

First thing I noticed was it didn’t look like Jordan Lake. Someone had moved the boat launch a quarter mile west so nothing looked familiar. At take-off I motored east along the north shore and figured out what happened. I wasn’t going crazy after all.

I fished the north shore, not far from the boat launch, concentrating on some emerging vegetation in murky water. I tried a variety of lures including a spinner bait, a pop-r, a rattletrap, a jig and finally had a nibble on a culprit worm. It took 40 minutes to catch the first fish which was under size (bass have to be 14 inches). I kept tossing the culprit which has a lot of swimming action, but eventually traded that for a Berkely powerworm, which has swimming action but adds scent. I boated three more bass on the powerworm but only one was a keeper, about fifteen inches. Then the fishing died. Had another tap on a worm but didn’t connect. If there is good news, I feel like my worming skills are back up to speed.

With one small fish I started thinking about my overall chances, not a good thing. I headed back to the dock at about 9:00 (tournament ran until 9:15). At Reeds Lake last week I waited until everyone else had trailered their boats before loading up myself, mainly because a one-man trailer loading process is tricky and feels like it is taking forever, while others wait. So at Jordan I trailered the boat about 10 minutes early, then released my one keeper bass. I know, I should have weighed in. At least I wouldn’t be listed on the WMB bass website as last place. In the future – no more wimping out! I could have finished as high as 12th place. An improvement over Reed lake.

A note to trout fishing readers – this is a fun diversion, more trout stories soon. If we could just get some serious rain…

Reeds Lake Bass Tournament

It’s been decades since I fished a bass tournament so it is safe to day I’m not up on the latest lures and techniques. As a much older guy without a workout routine another concern was stamina. Don’t laugh – 3.5 hours of standing and guiding a boat with a foot pedal while fishing is not easy. A third concern was backing my bass boat down the ramp without destroying my neck. So I had a couple reservations but signed up anyway.

West Michigan Bass, a local club, has tournaments all over west Michigan. Week nights and weekends. If you are a member ($40/yr) you can fish any of the tournaments. You can also join/fish a division which has lakes in your local area. It is all well organized. Their website westmichiganbass dot com automates membership and explains the rules, and posts the results of tournaments next day. Check out their website – it is really well done.

So last night I fished a Reeds Lake tournament. Reeds lake is located in the middle of East Grand Rapids and has a nice public park. There’s no beach but residents have a nice spot to just relax and enjoy the lake. The public boat launch does not include parking so you need to launch your boat then find a spot on the street for your vehicle and trailer. I arrived early and it was not hard to find a parking spot.

I received a few comments when I launched my 1980 Nissan bass boat. (In the foreground of the top photo). I think the boat is older than most of my competitors and may have been a novelty to them. The boat still looks good and is fully functional. I did carry a bucket, though, in case the live well pump failed. It did, glad I had the bucket.

I started out fishing a cluster dock in front of Rose’s Restaurant. I caught a small fish, just under the size limit and tossed it back. Then fished a weedy flat, more docks, then returned to Rose’s. I never fired up my 90HP Nissan outboard, but should have, just to clean out the cobwebs. I caught one keeper. 2.6 lbs or so, and weighed in at the scales as proof I didn’t get skunked, and actually finished the tournament. The West Michigan Bass website this morning shows: L. Rude placing 14th out of 18 boats in the “Midweek Therapy – Grand Rapids – Evenings” division. I actually weighed in more bass than four 2-man teams so there is some small consolation in that.

I’m a bit sore this morning but feel good about getting out there and competing. WMB ran a great tournament – so a sincere thanks to the guys that organized and ran the sign-up and weigh-in. It couldn’t have been more professional. I have my eye on a Jordan Lake tournament coming up, been years, but that is another great West Michigan bass lake. May go trout fishing in the mean time, more good exercise and a trout dinner reward.

Casting Practice on the Little South

Denny, a trout camp irregular, sent Feral and I an invite to camp this last weekend with the idea the trout would be biting with the predicted rain storms. I didn’t want to pass on a chance to camp, and maybe play some late night guitar, but there was nothing about the weather report that suggested we might stay dry. So a fun night of beer and guitar was possible, but unlikely. I said yes, we set up camp in a drizzle, and hit the streams.

I fished a stretch with Denny on the Little South. It was the first time we shared a stream together in years. I hung back mostly and noticed right off he had the Lucas underhand flip cast down solid. The other thing I noticed was his set-up, a Shakespeare 1810 reel and a spinning rod with the reel seat at the base of the rod. Turns out he modified a standard spinning rod in order to get what he wanted. Spinning rods with long cork handles and sliding rings are getting hard to find, and you pay a lot for them. Denny made do and it worked because he was slinging a bargain bin minnow bait (60 cents!) into tight cover. I have to start looking harder at bargain bins because his lure was convincing.

The stream was up a little from summer levels but clear as glass, which is good and bad. The fish can see the lures, and the fish can see you. I hung back mostly watching Denny work the cover and talk about everything. I would never call Denny a motor-mouth because sometimes a motor fails. (ha!) I was entertained. He caught a small keeper and lost one that might have been pretty good. Like a pro he rested fish for a couple minutes if he saw one make a pass at his lure. Basically letting the fish get back to its feeding spot, then making the same cast. Often good for fish.

After a night of rain we went back to the Little South, but this time we cut off a couple stretches, with the idea I would meet up with Denny in 2 hours so we could head back and break camp before the 11:00 AM check-out. The morning fish was productive. I caught 3 decent browns and missed a very nice one, probably 18 inches. Denny caught a keeper and saw a good one also. I caught the fish in the photo below which is larger that you might think. That’s a #11, 3-hook Rapala. The fish was probably 15 inches.

So Denny and I both have stuff drying out in our garages this morning. And a fun trip behind us. Feral didn’t camp but did show up at dusk, with Jake, his son, to jam guitars but the rain picked up as they pulled in. They hung out for a bit, but no sense standing around getting soaked. Jake has a commission from the city of Alpena for a park sculpture which requires some serious metal working tools and skill. Feral has a machine shop and the two of them are fabricating some pieces for the sculpture on weekends. Denny just returned from Nazareth, PA where he built a guitar in a small class run by Martin Guitar employees. He needs to put on a finish coat before he takes it camping. My thought, some dry weekend let’s try again.

Brook Trout in the Shallows

I visited my local creek again and rather than flooded it was well in the banks and the sun came out… the other thing that can go wrong. I should have went early morning when it was sprinkling. Still, the fish were biting. I caught five browns and one brook trout which was a nice surprise. About 16 inches. I don’t remember ever catching a brook trout on this stream but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in there. Farther upstream they are likely common. I fish near where the creek empties into the Rogue River, where browns are dominant.

I caught him at the top of a deep, sharp right-hand bend, a place almost impossible to cast. I had to negotiate over a log and step into deep water then shuffle up to the inside bank. This left only a few short underhand casts, 10 feet or so, into pockets of branches leaning into the stream. And one cast straight upstream where the water was shallow. He took the lure in the shallow water and headed to the deep bend. I had to pull back on the rod and reel quickly to keep him out of dark mess on the opposite bank. The trout was hooked good and I was stuck in the stream where it was impossible to get out. I would have liked to set him on the bank for a nice photo but I could see nettles. I unhooked him with my needle-nose pliers and set him loose.

I released the browns too, which were similar in size, one or two a little smaller. I only saw one “lunker” brown which made several passes at my lure but I finally had to give up on him when I snagged a branch on the opposite bank.

Turned out to be a great escape from work. I do illustration work out of my house and when I get busy I often work weekends, which has been the case for about a month. So a little fishing on a Sunday afternoon was just what I needed to forget the workload and relax. A little camping soon would help too.

Over the Banks

I can’t tell you how many times I made the drive, sometimes local, sometimes distant, only to find the trout stream over the banks. Doesn’t stop me from fishing but I know right away the odds are not going to be good.  Main problem: fish won’t see the lure cruise by in deep water, meaning 3+ feet , particularly if the water is stained or muddy. Trout hug the bottom. It helps to know the stream well so you can cast to shallow areas and increase the odds of fish spotting the lure.  I usually cast a large floating minnow hoping fish will see it wobble by. I put on a deep-diver, occasionally, selectively, if I am pretty sure I won’t get hung up on a sunken log.

So that was the scene on Saturday. I finished off a work project in the morning, threw my waders and gear in the SUV, and hit my local go-to stream for brown trout. No cars parked at the trail entrance so I suited up, sprayed on some deet, and made the walk downstream to my put-in spot. This stream is usually so shallow you can step in but to be safe I sat on the bank and slid in. About 3 feet deep. And dark, The lure disappeared less than a foot down. That said, right off I caught a fish about 16 inches. Started getting some follows too. Nice fish. They would porpoise near the surface at the rod tip.

I waded where I could but had to figure out as I went along where I could cross the stream to access the best casts and cover. So there was a lot of getting in and out, seeing if I could cross, and casting from the bank. I was seeing enough fish to keep it interesting and could feel a bump once in a while, fish bumping the lure but not getting hooked.

After an hour I had caught and released four fish and kept thinking – in one or two days this stream is going to be perfect. Easy to wade, clear enough water to see what I’m casting into, and ready to give up some huge trout. So I quit after about an hour, not really discouraged, but knowing the timing of this trip could have been better. I zig-zagged back downstream along the bank figuring that would be the easiest path back to the car. Not sure if I will make the trip again in two days but the whole summer is ahead. I hope to do a lot more trout fishing this year.

Opening Day 2018

Feral and I stopped, mid-afternoon, at a remote spot on the upper Baldwin River figuring we might run into The DFA Hunt Club, a group of bow hunters we found camping on this same quality camp spot a couple years back. Their main menu was beer drinking and getting out of the house after a long winter. So Feral and I were surprised by this group of actual trout fishermen. They didn’t show us a cooler of trout but they talked a good game including referencing famous authors on the subject and describing in some detail their own trout tactics. Like placing Panther Martins in tight spots with a slingshot cast. When Feral mentioned using snippers to cut out casting lanes in heavy overgrowth further down river they were right there with him. Been there. Done that. It was refreshing to meet trout fishermen that wade streams and understand what it takes to get a trout with a spinner. Most guys we talk to with spinning equipment lob crawlers off bridges.

Our day started much earlier. I set my alarm for 5:00 and had my car packed figuring to pick up Feral up in Baldwin early, but not too early. There was a plate like moon at the end of my street when I took off. Looked like someone ground off a small sliver off the top left corner. The sky was clear, temp had to be in the thirties. I pulled into Feral’s drive about 7:00 and we made a quick plan to hit fast food for breakfast, check the Zinc River, then hit some spots on the Pine up near near Tustin.

Slow start on the Zinc. I took the lead and realized I had a problem with my spinning reel. The pickups were not catching the line so the lure would land and it took a critical moments to start reeling back. Not good as I watched my lure drift into some junk on the far side of the stream. I told Feral to go around and take the lead. He worked the immediate cover and moved upstream while I crossed some treacherous stuff to get the lure. When I returned to the shallow side I put my rod in my left hand and buried my right hand inside my jacked, under my left arm, to warm up my fingers. I watched Feral make a couple casts then he stopped, transferred his rod to his left hand and buried his right hand inside his coat like I had just done. Then he turned back downstream, saw me standing like that, and started laughing.

There’s a famous painting of Napoleon Bonaparte standing with one hand buried in his coat. That was us, two Napoleons standing in the middle of a cold river. That could be why Napoleon had his hand buried in his jacket: a darn cold morning.

We didn’t last long there. Feral likes smaller streams so we cut out and headed north. We stopped at an upper stretch of the Pine River accessed from a gravel road running south off 20 Mile Road. There were two cars parked there and a couple guys in waders so we checked to see if they were finishing up or just heading out. They hadn’t fished yet so we talked a bit. One guy had a fly rod, at least eight foot in length. I can only think of one or two spots on that part of the river where he might be able to back cast but I didn’t mention it. We wished them luck and cut out, not wanting to encroach on their morning.

From there we checked the old canoe landing off Raymond Road. There’s usually a large group camped there but they must have found a new spot ( ideally not clear cut). There were several cars there and some guys standing around in waders. We chatted with them a bit and went looking for another spot. There’s several access spots off 6 Mile Road including a spot we use to camp. People were parked there so we went to a place I call “A two track too far,” a tight vehicle scratching path that seems to wind nowhere and end nowhere, but is walking distance to a less trafficked part of the river. We parked there and walked through the woods to the stream.  I worked some interesting cover while Feral moved upstream. He caught a decent brown right way so I moved up close to get a photo. Not a big fish but a things were looking up: Mainly it was warming up, no other fishermen around, and the trout were hungry.

Feral on the Pine River

We caught two more fish after that, nothing to write about. The only surprise was how the long winter had re-shaped the stream once again. Some of the big holes looked different, filled in more, some downfalls and structure were pushed aside or re-positioned further downstream. A gentle reminder, one we didn’t need, that time is rushing by and nothing stays the same. We didn’t keep the fish even though I brought a cooler. It was enough to get out, test the equipment ( no leaks in the wader!) and look forward to trout camp 2018.

Dark Mornings

OK, morning are dark until the sun comes up. And there is nothing foreboding or ominous about dark mornings to a fisherman. I didn’t mean it that way. Unless tripping on a tree root in your waders sounds ominous. Dark mornings are for when you just can’t wait to go fishing so you answer to an alarm clock, negotiate through the black cityscape toward the highway, push it up to the speed limit and maybe, if you are running late, the horizon starts to glow. This on a day off from work where you really would have appreciated some sleep.

The stream looks great in the dark, like a long black pool. You have to slide into the water from the bank so you sit down, push off, and hope your feet hit bottom. In the dark there’s no telling if the stream is high or if the spot you’ve chosen is deep. A little adrenaline rush. Suddenly you are where you want to be. Let the games begin. What lure to latch onto the cross-lock snap? Move out to the center of the stream or stay put and work the far bank? Is that a branch just below the surface and how do I work the lure close but avoid a snag? Your focus is sharp.

Trout are active in the dark, feeding in relative safety. If you have a camouflage jacket all the better because you want to be invisible. You move slow, picking your casts, dropping the lure in the best spots. When trout can’t see you they may strike your lure a second before it reaches the rod tip. An explosion that stops you heart.

Sometimes you see a fish follow the lure. Sometimes you feel a tug or jerk and see nothing: A fish hit, but the hook didn’t take. So you rest the fish. Good rule: count to a hundred and cast to the same spot. You only make it to fifty. You cast. If the fish did not feel the hook he will try again, usually more aggressive. If the second cast did not work you cast to a wider area, he is in there somewhere.

You move upstream, wading slow, being quiet. You hear trickling water where run off enters the stream off a steep bank. You place a cast to that spot because you once caught a nice brook trout there. No one home today. You move on.

Every sweeping bend, every stump, even the deep channel in the middle of a straight has a possible decent trout. When it is dark the odds rise in favor of a trout that is eighteen inches or better. By the time you feel morning warmth from the rising sun you have a couple trout for dinner. And a photo of the big one you let go.

Hess Lake

The other guys

Feral made a pitch to ice fish on Hess Lake last Sunday and I blame myself. If I hadn’t foolishly mentioned ice fishing in the previous post I could have done something more constructive like planting corn early. The mere mention of Hess Lake brought back memories from 20 years ago and slaying crappies – one after another. Can a lake change in twenty years?

Feral set the meeting time for 8:00 AM and I had to imagine his other fishing buddy, Chuck, a lake expert, shaking his head. Crappies, if I remember right, bite at night, in the dark. On the other hand, if we could find them, and drop minnows into their midst, it could be workable. My job was to pick up some pike minnows for tip-ups, Chuck and Feral would get wax worms and crappie minnows. I found a bait shop open in downtown Newago at 7:30, bought half a dozen pike minnows and mentioned Hess Lake to the store owner. Reading his expression was difficult, but not impossible. He had just sold me six pike minnows and now he didn’t want to be discouraging.  I mentioned crappies and pike. He struggled to think of something good to say.  I said I fished Hess lake a long time ago.  He said Hess was a great crappie lake twenty years ago. I knew he wasn’t lying.

Feral, Chuck and I had all found the same internet post about where to fish. Four hundred yards out from the boat landing, veer right. As it happens, two other ice fishermen headed out on the ice minutes ahead of us and it appeared they read the same post. Hess Lake is 755 acres, huge, so if these guys turned around, it probably seemed like we were following them. We ended up on the same acre, OK, 1/4 acre, but they were cool about it, even talkative, which is always a good thing.

If you can imagine 755 acres of ice and a total of five guys fishing on a Sunday morning you may understand a reality that slowly dawned on the five guys.

It actually started well, one of the other guys pulled out a crappie right away, within seconds of dropping a line. Great, right? Feral and I set out a few tip-ups for pike (one fish equals a whole meal!) and then started working on finding crappies, bouncing from hole to hole. I caught one decent crappie, 9 inches, and Chuck caught another. Not much shouting from the other guys but they were toughing it out. Tiny perch were biting, trending smaller as the hours went by, whereby the smallest perch might have brought some honor if we would have pre-thought having a smallest fish contest.

Chuck with a small mess of crappies

Luther scores big

About four hours in I started thinking about what I might put in a fichigan post. One idea was getting a ticket for loitering on Hess Lake. That had possibilities, DNR watching us with binoculars and wondering what we were doing out there. And not really wanting to walk the 400 yards to see if there was evidence of fishing (an actual fish).


Feral, ice dancing

When we finally decided to call it the other guys stopped over to chat and commiserate. I mentioned fichigan, posting a photo of them, and then blaming them for the fishing. That got a laugh. I give them a lot of credit: as we were leaving they set up some ice tents. Fours hours of tough fishing and they were just getting started. Sometimes the fishing does a one-eighty so it is possible they did OK. Really.

Cold Snap

Michigan has a long gap between the last day of regular trout season and the start of the next. I usually turn to indoor hobbies when winter arrives though Feral and I have ice fished a couple times over the last few year. Once on Leverentz Lake with his buddy Chuck, an expert on lake fishing, ice of not. A few days ago I tried to paint Feral and Chuck from a photo but my attempt at watercolor turned somewhat muddy from over painting. I may try painting this again in hopes of doing a better job. I will say this about the painting – it looks cold out there and it was. Feral and I set up tip-ups for pike and Chuck concentrated on panfish and perch. Chuck caught a mixed dozen. Feral and I got zip but enjoyed watching Chuck work his magic.

Feral and I used to write letters back and forth in the winter, snail mail, hyping the distant trout season. We’d add a photo or two from the previous season. Fun getting a real letter instead of email. I may start that up again. If he reads this post I may get an invite to ice fish, ideally on a sunny day with temperatures more toward freezing rather than the zero temps we have now. A nice mess of bluegills, crappies or perch would taste pretty good about now. A trout dinner is along way off.

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