Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Fishing Stories”

Sleeping with the Fishes

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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.

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Fishing theTributaries

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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.
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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.

Catching a Lunker on the First Cast

Feral withLunker Brown

Feral loaned me some photos over Thanksgiving and a few took me right back to the stream. Several years back we were doing the trout closer up by Vanderbilt and we fished a stretch of the Pigeon that requires a lot of walking to reach. After the long trudge in we  decided hey, we made it this far, we may as well keep going a few more bends. Ultimately we knew it meant 3 hours of wading upstream to get to our takeout point, and another quarter mile walk through tangles back out to the truck. We went a bend to far, so to speak, and we found ourselves on a gravelly stretch that didn’t look to promising. Feral took the lead. There was a downed spruce angled back towards us, almost completely across the river. Feral moved up so he could run a lure in front of it. His first cast was slammed by the brown in the above photo. I believe it was twenty seven inches and that meant some soul searching.

We don’t usually keep big fish – the small ones taste better. Still, it was a trophy in anyone’s book and we could always grill it, or if he wanted to consider the idea, have it mounted. So Feral decided to keep the fish. He put it on a stringer and that is where the real soul searching begins because it meant lugging six pound of flopping lively fish while wading upstream through the most treacherous water we fish, over beaver dams, getting out around deep holes, etc. There is a little known formula: The weight of the fish times the speed of the river times distance = the actual weight of the fish, so about thirty five pounds by the time Feral crawled up the bank to head for the truck. There is a second four-mula that comes to mind: Four Motrin + Four Beers. Just the thing for a compressed main spring.

As far as I know that fish still resides in his ex-wife’s freezer. Once Feral stops having painful flashbacks of his longest ever trout stretch I expect that trout will grace the wall of his basement. Not over the workbench where he’d have to look at it every day. That would be cruel. In the furnace room next to the water heater.

Feral on the Pigeon

Feral pointed out in  his comment he thought the top photo was a brown trout from the Sturgeon River… and he may be right. The above photo is likely the lunker caught on the Pigeon.

Pigeon River Country Closer

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

The trout season came and went and I was fortunate enough to have several memorable camping/fishing trips this year with buddies that really bring something to the table – not the least a desire for adventure. For our trout season closer, Feral and I were joined by Natch first and Keith later up at Pickerel Lake which is centrally located in the Pigeon River State Game Area.

Natch is a trout camp regular having put up with Feral and I for something like a dozen years – so this year we told him he has graduated to “Honorary Member 2” not the least because he outfished Feral. I have asked Natch to write a first hand account of his trip to the Sturgeon River on the day we set up camp where he will hopefully mention those anglers whom he admires so much and have provided so much inspiration. It would be embarrassing, but not out of the question, for me to have to edit that kind of information in to his post. As a teaser, here’s a picture of the smallest of three fish, a twenty incher, he caught on a single pass at the river.

Natch's smaller brown trout

Natch’s smaller brown trout

The thing about Natch and Feral is they are both game for adventure and this year it was put to a test. I won’t go into a lot of detail here – look for a post later about Dog Lake Flooding, a pike haven of some repute. If the trip in to the flooding doesn’t destroy your truck, and you don’t fall through the floating bog mass, and the whitewater and freezing rain don’t exhaust your stamina, you might catch a… OK, I have said too much already. I’ll do a post with photos.

We also took the kayaks out on Pickerel Lake which was fun but not to productive. We caught a handful of bass and a couple perch but we had to work for those.

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Natch on Pickeral with Feral in the distance

Natch on Pickerel with Feral in the distance

Natch pulled out Sunday night and then it was up to me and Feral to prove we could still catch a trout and fortunately The Pigeon River, recently decimated by a silt fish kill by the Song of the Morning dam, still holds trout if you know where to look and when to fish. In the fall, large brown trout move upstream into the decimated area and you might believe the fish kill never happened. Feral and I took a couple big trout – but we were amazed that Feral also caught two brook trout about 10 inches. I don’t know what that means but it could be the brook trout were hardier than the browns when the dam was opened.

Trout camp would not be trout camp if we didn’t play some guitar and knock down some beers over a campfire. Keith, another adventurer, came up Monday for one night – which is a good four hours drive both directions for one night of camping. Somebody conk me in the head with my guitar as I didn’t get a campfire photo of Keith playing. Keith is good enough to sit in with any world-class band and add killer lead guitar and he wasn’t about to pass on the chance to play with “Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners” which is a name unfairly placed on Feral and I by jealous contemporaries who may not realize we own an electronic tuner.

We played some of our standards, like Buenos Tardes Amigo by Ween, but Keith really cooked when I started jamming the old JJ Cale song “Call me the Breeze.” Keith has some blues rock mojo and that took over. He played my old Les Paul Studio through a battery powered Roland Street Cube and rocked the campground. The other highlight was listening to him play my Martin acoustic including doing some of his own jams. A cold beer, an acoustic guitar played by a master, a warm fire… no further explanation needed.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

I woke up a little before them, poured a coffee, and went down to the lake and took a few photos. Another reason why camping gets in your blood. I heard an elk bugle out past the lake through the fog.

Morning coffee, Pickeral Lake

Morning coffee, Pickerel Lake

So look for some more posts on the fall camping trip to Pigeon River State Game Area: Dog Lake Flooding; Natch’s account of 3 monster browns out of the Sturgeon, and some video Feral and I took on the Pigeon with big browns.

Newago State Park

Roger's Pond, Feral in the 70's

Roger’s Pond, Feral in the 80’s

Feral and I had been wanting to get back on the Muskegon River ever since he sold his place on Rogers Pond, a backwater to Roger’s Dam, the furthest upstream dam on the Muskegon. The pond gave up huge smallmouth, northern pike, giant catfish and we saw one or two tiger muskie that were surreal. This was a long time back. We looked like hippies, our kids were toddlers, and the economy was not even a topic of conversation. Okay, a very long time ago.

Last weekend we decided to do something about it and did an overnighter at Newago State Park which sits on the banks of Hardy Pond which is the impoundment/ backwater of Hardy Dam. The impoundment forms a lake with over 50 miles of shoreline so we put a few miles on my old Nissan bass boat. An old timer at the campground told us to fish the channels if we were after bass and pike and so that was our program – we raced upstream and pulled in several of the many channels carved into the rocky hillside.

But first, more about the camping. The park has 96 rustic campsites (at $12 per night) and darned if it wasn’t almost full. I pulled in Saturday morning to get a site and it was a little confusing. There is a ranger station at the entrance ( unusual for a rustic campground) but it was closed. A sign said check the posted list of reserved sites and don’t set up camp on one of those sites, with another qualifier that said most reserved sites will have a placard with an “R” on them to indicate reserved. I drove though the loops and found a site and checked to see if it was on the reserved list – and it was open so I set up. I went back to pay and the rangers were still not there. And there didn’t seem to be a way to pay, which was important since I needed to leave in order to pick up Feral. After some looking I found campsite envelopes in an unmarked green box, and then saw there was a hidden slot for paying right above the envelopes. Here, a sign might help?

The sites are not quite so remote as the online hype which seemed to indicate a small forest between each site. We were surrounded by people. Everyone was nice so it wasn’t a problem. In fact, it was very peaceful – enough folks around to feel like you are in a community, and no one so loud as to be a obnoxious.

But we were there for the fishing. We needed to get our bearings and figure out some patterns and Saturday was mostly dedicated to just that – figuring out the where and how. We caught some largemouth off blowdowns and had some pike hits in the weed beds and did just well enough keep us focused. The chance for a huge pike, muskie, walleye or bass was always in the back of our minds – big water means big fish. We finally knocked off about eight o’clock and had some late dinner, a cold beer, and played some acoustic guitar.

On Sunday morning we broke camp first thing so we didn’t have to worry about check-out time. The fishing was spectacular. We hit some upstream channels, and by channels I mean standing or slow water in bays that are carved out of the rocky hillside. Largemouth were congregated near any blowdowns or submerged timber. The pike would come out of nowhere and slam our spinnerbaits. We didn’t catch any monsters but we caught a lot of fish, including small and largemouth bass, pike, and some chunky rock bass.

Most fishermen that fish Hardy Pond are after the walleye – so we had zero competition. While they were out fishing the main river we went from overhanging tree to overhanging tree pulling out bass after bass. What a great time!

Summer Trout

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Lake County had a downpour last Friday and I was concerned about driving up to fish with Feral Saturday morning because the rivers up there flood so quickly. I didn’t have to worry. The downpour brought the rivers and streams back up to normal shallow depth which is to say – not so good for trout fishing. The water was clear. You couldn’t tell it rained. I don’t know what the streams looked like before the rain but I suspect we could have picked trout like mushrooms.

We fished a stretch of the Pine River and Feral caught the “summer trout” pictured above but that wasn’t enough to convince us to stick it out for long. Normally deep (and treacherous) holes were wadable – up to a point. I crossed the stream in a deep spot and could literally feel cold water pour in my waders around mid-navel.  Good to know. I’ll have to dip them in the goop tank or buy new before fall when we do our “closer” up in Pigeon River country. Leaky waders in warm weather is one thing, in the fall it’s a curse.

The one (other) surprise Saturday was someone (Trout Unlimited?) added some log structure intermittently throughout the river. It didn’t help our fishing but I suspect when the rivers rise the new cover will hold fish. I appreciate their efforts even though the Pine does a pretty good job on it’s own of carving out new fish holding spots.

As a trout stream, the Pine is one of Michigan’s best naturally reproducing streams so tampering with it seems risky. I don’t know enough about stream biology to know if the work done to add fishing structure might not affect spawning areas but hope those who attempt to improve it fully understand they are tampering with mother nature. Most likely they are hoping to catch more “Summer Trout.” I can appreciate that.

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