Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Fishing Stories”

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.

A Trout Fisherman is Born

Natch has this annoying habit of out-fishing Feral and I… and now he’s dragging his son into the picture! Following story by Natch.

Lucas with Shades

Trout report from up north this past weekend: Lucas (13) and I went up north to get some work done on our cabin but he convinced me to hit a trout stream instead.

Day One, Stretch Number One: First, we hit the Manistee River south of CR612 along Goose Creek State Campground. The plan was I would fish in the stream and he would follow/fish from the bank since he didn’t have waders. We saw a couple of small browns follow our lures but no real action – until some canoers & kayakers came along. I decided to get out of the way and up on the inside bank of the bend and enjoy the show. I could hear them coming for several bends up stream. The middle canoe, with two ladies, decided they couldn’t make the turn and go under a fallen tree that went all the way across the stream. Their choice – let the current ram them up against the tree and tip their canoe. Nice. The good Samaritan that I am, I waited for them to both get wet before I waded over to drag their canoe out of the water, empty it, and help them get back on course.

After this excitement I had Lucas cut through the woods to meet me around a couple of bends. We met up on a long, sandy stretch. He decided he didn’t like me being the only one having fun in the stream so he proceeded to wade into the river with jeans and indoor soccer shoes. After about 15 minutes of that and no fish to show for it, he decided the water was getting rather cold. We agreed that since it was only around 3:00 we should run to Jay’s in Gaylord and see if they had any waders his size. Out of the river, through the woods and to the truck we went. An hour later we were at Jay’s trying on waders. We found some Caddis neoprene stocking foot waders that fit just about right with some room to grow if needed. Now we had to find some boots. I really didn’t want to drop big bucks on wading boots that he might outgrow by next spring so we headed to Walmart for some inexpensive hiking boots.

Day One, Stretch Number Two: There was still plenty of daylight so we headed out to find a stretch to rip off and try out his new waders. We decided to hit Kolka creek in Frederic. It is a bit smaller and shallower water so I figured it was perfect for him to get his wading legs under him and see what he could do. On top of that, I’ve crossed that stream at least a 50 times a year for the past 15 years and kept telling myself I should jump in and give it a whirl. What better time than now? Let’s do it. We pulled way down a two-track to get to the stream and proceeded to put our waders on. Time to get in the water. We noticed a lot of bug activity on top of the water. The stream is shallow but there is some nice cover and rocky bottom. We saw a couple of small trout follow our lures back but I was only able to catch a 10″ brown. We ended up catching up to another fisherman so we decided to head back to the truck and hit a different river since there was still some daylight left.

Day One, Stretch Number Three: We had about an hour or so of daylight left so we hit the Manistee River again – this time closer to our cabin and quite a ways upstream from our first stretch of the day. We hopped in the river and proceeded to cast all of the holes and cover. We had a few come out and give it a thought but they weren’t overly aggressive. We pushed on upstream. Lucas wanted to keep going even though the sun was getting lower and lower. I kept reminding him that we needed to get back to the truck with a little bit of daylight to guide us out. We cast several nice-looking areas but we could only pull out another 10″-12″ brown. Time to head back to the truck and rest up for tomorrow.


Day Two, Stretch Number One:  Back to the same stretch we left off the night before. We had better luck today. We were seeing more and Lucas caught his first brown trout – a 13″ beauty. I took the hooks out and handed it to him so I could get a photo of him holding it, but my warning of ‘they are very slippery’ wasn’t convincing enough I guess. No sooner did I grab my phone to take a pic and the brown squirmed his way out of Lucas’ hands and into the stream. Good thing Lucas took a pic of it right after I took the hooks out.

Onward and upward to the next hole. I ended up catching a couple more, a 10″ and a 16-1/2″ brown as we progressed through our 3-1/2 hour stretch. I am still amazed Lucas made it that far because that’s about all I can take for a single stretch. It took us nearly an hour just to get back to the truck (fishing here and there of course).

Summary:  He is hooked.

One week later.. 15-3/4 ” brown trout, way to go Lucas!

Sleeping with the Fishes

2015-12-10 10.17.52

There’s a hiking trail at the end of my street that loops around through some woods and if the weather is decent I get some exercise with a long walk. The woods have aspen, maple, lots of oak and even some sycamore. So it’s a nice walk and I stop sometimes to enjoy the view. This year the weather is all messed up with December temperatures in the fifties here in Michigan so I am getting some extra walking in. The leaves are down of course and the landscape is gray and visibility has opened up. On my walk yesterday I spotted a fish hanging from a tree about 25 yards off the trail.

It didn’t make any sense of course. My first thought was someone is sending a message. I have been watching Dexter re-runs on Netflix and killers leaving calling cards is apparently common. Not to mention the mafia which I learned about by watching the Sopranos. So looking at the fish hanging from the tree I was hesitant about approaching it. On the other hand I didn’t want to call the police since it could be a child’s prank. I decided to investigate which I felt was my duty as a human being. As I got closer I could see it looked like one of those talking rubber bass that were popular with sportsmen a few years back. I half expected it to start talking as I walked up but could see a hook in it’s mouth holding it shut. I backed away and continued my walk but on the next loop I stopped again and decided I had better investigate further.

When I turned the fish over I could see the side was slit open and there was something stuck inside. It was a plastic pill bottle and it looked like a note inside the bottle. So I pulled out the bottle and read the note. Go Fish was the header and below it were several signatures and dates. I had stumbled on a Geo-cache. If you are not familiar with the term, there is a sport where folks hide treasures and post GPS coordinates. Geo-cache hunters look up coordinates online and go find the treasures. Geo-caching is a harmless fun sport but I found myself a little disappointed the fish didn’t start talking, possibly spouting out an eerie encrypted message I would need to decipher using all of the detective skills I’ve picked up watching TV.

2015-12-10 10.38.36

Fishing theTributaries

Big brown 1

I had a very interesting time on a small tributary to the Rouge River this weekend. It rained Friday night so I was pretty sure the stream would be carrying some extra water which is really needed on water this small for spin fishing. It turned out to be my best day of fishing (so far) this year with a couple brown trout over sixteen inches and one over twenty. And several smaller trout. It was all catch and release.
I arrived about eight thirty in the morning and hiked into a normal put-in place which surprisingly was cleared away with a path right down to the stream. Someone had placed stair steps right into the river which was a shocker as I considered this section of stream to be “off the beaten path.” I tossed a lure from the top of the steps and right away a 16 inch brown came out from under a log for a quick look. After a couple casts he hit it and stayed on for about six seconds but managed to get off. So without even getting into the river I had some action.

The tributary

The stream, as I had hoped, was up and carrying a lot of mud. This was perfect as it allowed me to sneak up the river without being spotted by the trout and allowed me to make short casts upstream and perpendicular to the bank. On small water like this the trout often hit when the lure is at the rod tip. Explode may be a better word. I use an ultra light rod and spincast reel with 10 or 12 lb test Trilene XL line. In other words, a rod and reel that allows me to make pinpoint accurate casts into tight cover and monofilament line that will not break off on a huge trout.

big brown 2

I tossed a variety of lures including a gold super vibrax spinner and several minnow baits of various sizes and styles. When fishing muddy water the main thing is the trout need to see the lure so something with a lot of flash is helpful. As mentioned earlier I caught trout of all sizes and that tells me this is a very healthy stream. Small trout, ten to twelve inches with go after the same lures as the larger trout so if you are new to spin fishing don’t be surprised if a tiny trout hits your biggest lure, or vice versa. If you try fishing the smaller tributaries to notable trout streams, and can time your trip so the water is up and muddy, you will be surprised by the size and number of trout available.

Holding 22 inch brown



Reeds Lake Revisited

Reeds Lake, East Grand Rapids

Contrary to the above photo, Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids is bustling with activity on a Saturday morning. It’s a different sort of community. The streets are filled with morning joggers. Two girls drop off their kayaks for a morning cruise along the shore. Rosie’s Diner, to the left, has a series of docks jutting out holding all manner of ski and pontoon boats. Two ladies sit in a pontoon boat, no need to fire it up, they just sit and drink coffee and enjoy the lake. I watched a guy catch a ten inch perch standing on the boat launch dock. I made plans to meet Mike at 9:00 AM and standing there, soaking it in, wished I would have said 8:00 or maybe 7:00. The lake is calm. I came to fish.

Mike was right on time. I used the trolling motor to move us over to the drop off along  Rosie’s docks. I tossed plastic worms and Mike tossed soft plastic minnows. The water was a bit muddy and I wasn’t sure the fish would see the worms. Mike picked up a small bass and then lost another right at the boat. Jigging the flashy minnows was a pattern. Mike commented on all the baitfish he was seeing, some following his lure. That’s a good sign the lake is healthy.



Mike, the philosophical fisherman

We eased out on some some shallow flats and I tossed a top water, a Rebel POP-R, and caught a small bass, appreciating the fact I finally caught something because I was beginning to wonder. I get a little to caught up in the fishing sometimes, like it’s very important to be productive. After a bit we started talking about life, movies, politics, and also a blog Mike’s been thinking about writing. Kind of an advice for intelligent living blog centered on treating others like you would like to be treated, that sort of thing, and no doubt he has some interesting things to say. He spent most of his working life as a divorce attorney and has seen the worst of behavior and what it does for people. So some sage advice from one who knows might make an interesting blog.

Suddenly the sun was like a spotlight so I put on some sunscreen and fired up the boat motor, a 90 HP Nissan, and took a short flight to the other end of the lake to cool down. I needed to burn the carbon off the spark plugs. That’s my excuse. Actually, it might be a need for speed. The sixteen foot Nissan bass boat really cranks and it’s fun to drive. Had it up to about 50MPH, which is literally flying when you hit the wakes from other boats. After picking up my tackle box which went end over end we motored slowly along the shoreline and admired the beautiful homes on the lake. Estates might be a better word. Some people do pretty darn well.

Reeds lake is a great fishery filled with bass, pike, perch, and panfish. My only complaint might be the boat launch which forces you to back up on a busy street. The park committee could have put a turnaround at the launch and saved fishermen a lot of hassle. You need to park your vehicle and trailer on the street but there’s lots of parking.

So it was a great Saturday morning with a few bass, interesting conversation, and a nice boat ride. Thanks Mike! Coming soon – more trout stories!

Spring Trout

Feral on the Little South Branch

Feral on the Little South Branch

Managed to get away for an overnighter with Feral whereby we fished the heck out of Leverentz (for pike and bass) with lake fishing specialist Chuck Raison who was kind enough to bring a boat. We had our kayaks with us but there was a strong wind directly out of the east that would have kept us paddling instead of fishing. So Chuck was kind enough to motor us around. Unfortunately it was a cold front also. I don’t have to tell pro anglers what that means for fishing. I saw one Pike that came up for a look. I was the guy with all the luck.

Chuck and Feral

Chuck and Feral

So Chuck headed out and Feral and I decided to hit the streams. First choice Pine River up by Tustin to a small upstream stretch we hoped would not be flooded. The cold front followed a whole day of steady rain so it was taking a chance to drive up there. And it was flooded. We threw some lures from the bank but didn’t stay long. We decided to try an upstream stretch of the Little South Branch of the PM and that was wadable, but high. Right off the bat Feral hooked into a nice fish, a brown trout about 17 inches. He kept that and I took the lead. Another ten minutes I had a nice brown hit my lure but it didn’t stay on. I cast back to the same spot and she came up again. She was hungry. A couple more casts and she grabbed the small minnow lute and we had two fish. Feral wanted them both so we had two on the stringer.


The stream was more interesting than we remembered. We used to fish this stretch when we were very young. Our Grandpa would spot us along the river which has a couple parking spots along a high ridge. You can’t get lost and the river is generally shallow so it’s a great place to introduce young kids to wading and spin fishing. I couldn’t help but think of him when we caught the two trout – thinking just how much we owe him for teaching us not only trout fishing but for sharing his appreciation of the outdoors.

We had a campfire, a guitar and a 4-string banjo and ripped off a couple old Johnny Horton songs then got creative on some Neil Young songs. Feral finds some interesting lead parts flat picking the banjo and I was willing to sacrifice my vocal chords to hit the melodies so that was a good way to close out a tough but fun day on the water.

River Kayaks

2014-08-23 16.32.09

You have to love Michigan. The kayakers and canoeists, almost every one, apologized for interrupting our fishing. After a while Feral started telling kayakers we were the ones interrupting so don’t apologize! It soon became clear that they were having more fun than us and catching just as many trout. This was up on the Pine River, Lake County last weekend. Every ten minutes or so another group would come by.

It was my lame idea to go trout fishing on the hottest day of the year with the stream low and clear. So the mid-day sun was bearing down on two brain fried fishermen saturated with bug spray on top of sunscreen but Feral was sharp enough to mention how thirsty we were to a a couple guys that were leading one small group kayakers. They asked if we would like a beer and we knew our luck was about to change for the better. A cold bud  (thanks!) brought us back to reality or so we thought.

Around the next bend three guys were lined up on shallow gravel and appeared to be panning for gold. Feral mentioned the Pine was panned out back in the 1800s and it turns out they were just looking for something that fell out of a kayak. From there the talk degenerated to trout fishing. Their mildly amused wives and girlfriends did not want to stick around for fishing talk even though Feral was wearing a muscle shirt that displayed his crouching tiger arm tatoo.
2014-08-23 16.30.18

One of the guys, first photo, owns a place somewhere on the river downstream of Edgetts bridge. I felt a tinge of jealousy because the stars are aligned for him. He need only launch a kayak from his yard and he has a lazy trip down one of the most picturesque trout streams in all of Michigan. And when it rains, go fishing!


The Truth about Trout

Anyone with a stick, six feet of monofilament, a hook and a worm can catch a trout. I did, age 9, fishing the Baldwin River at Bray Creek campground. I lowered the worm down in front of a log so it swept underneath and was rewarded by a 12 inch brown trout. It was a thrill that kept me at it the rest of my life. If I remember right that was also the trip where I fell into the river and had only a single pair of pants so I had to sit at the campfire in a blanket while the pants dried out. The pants fell off a stick perch into the fire but were rescued more or less.

We were camping with my grandpa and grandma, Jake and Gladys Lucas and maybe because my brothers and I were such a handful Jake would send us on foot races though the walking trail at dusk to tire us out and thereby get a chance at some peace and quiet. He’d time us with a pocket watch and in my mind’s eye we ran those trails at about 30 miles per hour. One time I passed a deer fleeing wolves and was fortunate it didn’t follow because Grandma would have shot the deer and Grandpa would have had to wrestle it from the wolf pack.

Jake and Gladys Lucas

Jake and Gladys Lucas

Jake taught us how to appreciate the outdoors and even more important – how to earn money with honest work (mowing his lawn, weeding Grandma’s vegetable garden, shoveling the driveway in the winter). There was no free ride. We would go fishing on our camping trips but we had to cut our own fishing poles from saplings and dig our own worms. Jake was good for a hook and a little monofilament. It was one great adventure and the lessons we learned you don’t find in books or school.

Back to trout and truth. If an obnoxious nine year old can outwit a trout so can you! And you don’t need expensive equipment. My current rig consists of a 25 dollar Zebco underspin reel and a Gander Mountain cork handle spinning rod that cost about forty. My only real expense is lightweight Hodgeman waders which run about a hundred and now have so many patches that I am patching the patches with Seamgrip at five dollars a tube. There is one other major expense – fishing lures and count me in if anyone wants to march on Washington in protest. Or Finland.

If you decide to try trout fishing for the first time you could do worse than fishing the Baldwin River. Check DNR maps for access spots – but you can get in at Bray Creek campground and fish upstream or walk the trail downstream and fish back up. Catch it on a rainy day when the river is rising. Wade slowly upstream and throw a few casts at the tail end of each log or stump. Try to place a cast in front of cover at a 45 degree angle. Use small spinners if you want to catch a lot of fish. Use floating minnow baits and reel like mad if you want to catch bigger fish. Bring some bug spray for mosquitoes. Wear Polaroid sunglasses (make sure they are polaroid). They cut the glare on the water and that saves lures since you can see where you are casting. Then also enable you to see trout that follow the lure. If he doesn’t take your lure, count to twenty and cast again at the same spot.

I don’t think I’m up to saplings and worms anymore. Wading and casting cover for trout is a lifetime adventure with it’s own challenge: you need to become proficient at casting small lures next to the bank under overhanging branches at 30 feet. I suspect the satisfaction is not unlike a golfer that makes a 30 foot putt. Except I get fresh trout for dinner.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: