Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Fishing Stories”

Mosquito Art and Lager Fest 2020

If you read the earlier posts about Mosquito Art starting back at spring trout camp it would help explain the artwork we set up last weekend at Pickerel Lake. We had the summer to work on entries. I did three paintings but two were purely for the entertainment of my fishing buddies. Feral and Natch each brought artwork. One of Jake’s friends had him bring a tiny chair piece but my photo turned out blurry. So not a lot of art but we did have a lot of fun.

Without further ado here was my main entry, called M-80s. We used to hear fireworks go off down on the bend of the river where we first spotted the white chair. I speculated about what might be just beyond the hill.  There is some glare from the plexiglass but you can see the composition. That’s a tiny box of M80’s on the white table.

Feral’s entry, below, was political. He tried to explain it to us but he gets pretty abstract in his ideas and even more abstract in his execution. I may need a written explanation for this post.

Natch’s entry, below, was a two-piece sculpture including a chair and store manikin. If the purpose of art is to challenge viewers to reflect on the world they live in, then Natch is the clear winner. His entry was a topic of conversation throughout the weekend – from humor to concern.  He’s a very talented graphic artist so I was expecting something quite different.

On the second night I brought out my second artwork which was framed “book cover” art and a pocket book I produced on Lulu publishing. The book contains some mildly ribald, funny short stories about the adventures of Feral, Natch and Luther. And some other short stories including horror and science fiction. I put the artwork up in the campfire light and read the new Feral, Natch and Luther stories as part of the art experience. My cohorts were pretty entertained. I brought copies of the book for everyone that showed up. I am tempted to donate a couple to the Kent District Library but I am not sure how they would be received. I’m afraid the book would be judged by the “pulp fiction” cover, not by the writing.

I should mention that Denny joined us. He didn’t bring an art entry ( I was disappointed – he’s a professional photographer) but he did bring a guitar he built  himself. A Martin D-28 kit. It sounded incredible and I wish we would have spent more time jamming. I brought a small bass guitar to camp because Natch showed some interest in trying bass. He is left-handed so it was awkward until he turned it upside down, which made my questionable instruction a bit tricky. He was knocking out some basic bass to some of our best jams so I hope he considers pursuing it.

We did go fishing. It was fall trout camp. Rivers were low and clear, no large migratory brown trout. Somehow Natch caught a lunker. I swear Feral and I need to rethink our big fish strategies if we hope to compete. Seems like every year, no matter how tough the fishing, Natch takes a nice brown. This one measured 20 and 1/2 inches.

With Covid still in play we cooked all of our meals at camp. I bought a Blackstone propane griddle that we used for breakfast and supper which turned out to be pretty handy. You can cook just about anything on them and clean-up was easy.

So we’ll do this again, another Mosquito Art Fest, probably based on some obscure observation at spring trout camp.

The Chair

Natch, Feral and I own backpack tents in case of over-nighters. No sense dragging a tent camper for a fast trip. Dispersed camping, our first shot at camping under Covid-19 restrictions, was allowed on the last weekend of May so we organized a fast trip to a remote spot on big hill overlooking the Pine River in Lake County. We had camped there before but it had been a lot of years. We cleaned up the spot with rakes, a fore-thought. It rained on Friday so I bought a couple bundles of firewood in Tustin. Natch usually brings a chainsaw but he was traveling light.

We were interested in fishing but somehow just getting together to hang loose and drink beer was more important. I bought crawlers with that in mind. We are not bait fishermen but it is a recurring theme. An excuse really, not a theme, to set up chairs along the stream, drink a six, and joke about stuff. We launch crawlers into the river with no real expectation of success. If someone catches a trout, and it has happened, it is an incentive to send someone back to camp for more beer.

Our first bait fishing spot (see 1st photo) was on a big bend a half mile downstream from camp. (Yes, we actually toted chairs, coolers, bait and poles that far through tick infested woods.) A geologist might remark on the unusual topography of the river. Opposite us, on the other side, you can see a heavily eroded sheer wall with trees roots exposed. Also a white plastic lawn chair. After a few beers that chair started taking on a life of it’s own. First as a future painting with an unabashed women sitting in it, unaware of three fishermen below. From there it turned into a movie script with ramped up suspense and Natch directing. That’s the thing about getting together with these two characters. Conversation can go anywhere and often does.

Natch and Feral

We stumbled back into camp after dark ready for a campfire and hot meal. Natch brought a store-bought forked stick hot dog holder I initially laughed at but came to appreciate quickly because the next thing I knew I was gulping down a cheese brat on a bun and not bothering with the ketchup because that was too much work. Then we had a crisis where the fire was dying and darned if Natch didn’t magically transform the fire into a perfect piece of cubism art.

Generally speaking we accomplished everything we needed to accomplish over the weekend. Which is to say: nothing. Based on that I am tempted to call it trout camp but we’ve tentatively planned a trip in June after the State Forest campgrounds open. Might include guitars and a detour even further into the Twilight Zone.

Bridge-Out

When I suggested to Feral we meet up at the Pine River yesterday he said let’s meet at the bridge-out. I suspected he meant six-mile bridge but it has been so long since they put in the bridge I thought maybe he had another spot in mind like a washed away landowner bridge or something. No, “bridge out” is six mile bridge. We met there but drove to a more remote spot that tests a vehicle suspension and paint finish. The rut and rock strewn two-track narrows down to nothing with side-scraping branches before opening into a small clearing. I have never seen anyone else park there. As a bonus, it is a short walk to the stream and an easy walk back when you are done fishing.

The morning fog was still hanging over the stream.  I gestured for Feral to take the lead, a bad habit I picked up over the years. He was throwing a silver minnow, a yozuri, which was small but has nice action.  I lost a gold Rapala almost immediately on a sunken branch too deep to retrieve.  While I was retying Feral feral caught and released a small brown trout then moved up and had a larger one make several passes. It didn’t want his yozuri but took my small silver Rapala.  Things picked up from here. I won’t go into details but we were passing my net back and forth as we caught good trout. I had hoped for two dinner trout and Feral was thinking the same. Here are the two I kept. I just finished field dressing the larger one and was ready to add it to the stringer.

So we went back and forth taking the lead. Feral ended up with two browns of similar size. We hung the stringers on a tree while getting out of the waders. Doesn’t make a good photo but you can see four nice trout. Note: if you click on the photo it will upload larger, use your browser back button to return to the post.

From there we headed to our Morel mushroom area which turned out to be a failed attempt. We were certain the conditions were right but with the early spring and back and forth cold weather I can’t say if we missed them entirely or if they are going to be sprouting like dandelions in a day or two. I’ll have to wait for a report from Feral who doesn’t have such a long drive.

Feral at our Morel Spot

October on the Pigeon

There’s a section of the Pigeon River up near Vanderbilt that stays open year round but with some restrictions for keeping trout. The Pigeon winds through some very remote country with a a great mix of gravel bottom and sand bottom areas. In the late fall large brown trout move upstream to spawn and it is a chance to catch (and release in my case) a trophy fish. I rose early Monday morning and made the four hour drive.

I could see from weather reports and the DNR daily report on stream conditions (right hand column) that the river was going to be high. I thought by the time I was up there the stream water level would drop. Instead, the river was very high and carrying a lot of mud making it resemble a moving, watery vanilla milkshake. I had never seen a river look quite like this.

When I dipped my lure in the water it totally disappeared six inches down. So, not good. It would be nearly impossible for fish to see the lure. I put on my biggest, flashiest #13 silver minnow and started casting. There’s a good sandy stretch that Feral, Natch and I have all caught good fish and that was my destination.

I managed to get into the stream just above a beaver dam but crossing to the other side where I could place a few critical casts was impossible and dangerous. If I was not alone I might have chanced it.  So I backtracked out and went up to a spot upstream where I knew I could makes some casts along the bank. I managed to get into the stream and fish a good bend. Long story short – I never saw a fish, not even a strike. But that’s OK. Just needed to get away for a day. Take one more shot. It’s a long time before trout season comes around again.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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