Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Fishing Stories”

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


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.

Drift fishing for Bass

Mike with the first bass

Mike with the first bass

If someone were to suggest drift fishing for bass a week ago, I would be a little skeptical. If the intended bait was made of plastic I might roll my eyes. But that is where I found myself this week. My brother-in-law Bill keeps a johnboat up at his home on Silver Lake (the lake that abuts the sand dunes) and he invited his friend Mike V, and myself out one morning. The wind was straight out of the East which usually means tough fishing, and it coincided with a cold front, which usually means very tough fishing.

It was like the perfect storm for no fish. Bill motored us upwind for the drift and set Mike up with a tube lure with split shot a foot up from the lure. Bill set up his pole with a purple worm which he modified by cutting off the curly tail, and hooking it dead center with a bait hook. They lobbed the baits over the side and we slow drifted in front of the cottages on the southwest corner of the lake.

I decided to use the standard stuff – a texas rigged power worm, a spinner bait, and a pop-r, all old standbys, rather than try the drift fishing. So I was casting like mad, blindly, when Mike hauled in the first bass, a chunky 2-1/2 pounder. Bill was next and lost a nice fish right at the boat. Meanwhile I started reconsidering just what the heck they were doing. Two fish for one short drift – not bad!

Bill dropped anchor in front of some reeds on the west end of the lake and said it was a good spot. We worked that area a bit and I caught one on a power worm, then we worked along the west shore and all caught bass. I picked up a nice one on a white spinner bait, semi hoping I might just catch a big pike or maybe even a walleye.

Bill takes one on a modified purple worm

Bill takes one on a modified purple worm

We decided to do another drift and Mike and Bill both caught bass again during the drift. There is no question now about whether it makes sense – with the right lures, particularly tube lures, drift fishing for bass is viable option. It helps that Silver lake is a great fishery with a lot of bass but I credit Bill for coming up with such a productive fishing technique. I plan to try that on some other lakes when the fishing gets tough.


Pine River, Lake County

Six Mile Bridge over the Pine River

Michigan has several Pine Rivers. The Pine River in northern Lake County holds some nice brown trout, rainbows, and the occasional brook trout. It gets fished heavily on the opener but through the summer you most likely will get the stream to yourself other than some canoeists on sunny days. Feral and I went up there this weekend mainly because it rained Friday and we hoped for a stained or muddy stream – something to help get the trout in a mood to chase lures. We parked at Six Mile Bridge and went upstream from there. The river winds though some private property but in Michigan that’s not usually a problem – just stay in the stream. (Rules vary by river.)

Fishing was tough. It looked like rain while we put on our waders so we took our rain jackets, but after the first bend the sun came out and we knew we would have to do some coaxing to get a fish. The water was low and clear. Feral and I changed lead every couple bends and tossed a variety of lures without seeing a fish. When that happens I start making dicey casts into thick overhanging brush and trees over deep water where it would be impossible to retrieve the lure should it hang up. Lost one lure but I managed to retrieve an expensive Rapala by breaking the lure off and then fighting my way though a tangle of vines on a sheer bank.  Not my best day of casting.

Feral wearing camouflage to up the odds

Clouds rolled in and clouds rolled out. When they rolled out the stream lit up like jewelry and even the polaroids didn’t help. We entertained ourselves talking about previous times up that stretch and where we had taken good fish so there were a lot of short conversations that petered out.

Pine River, summer of 2012

We did end up with two trout, a rainbow and a brown, but we tossed them back. Both fish were caught at the end of the stretch so maybe fishing would have picked up a bit. We stopped at an access point on a two-track that runs south off Six Mile Road and we had a long walk back to the truck.

When we reached six mile we saw a large dog on the road that was ambling away from us and Feral talked about how he was once harassed by a huge wild dog that closed in on him every time he turned his back to walk away. He threw the dog a fish and the dog took it and then left him alone. As he was telling me this some dogs started howling and running toward us from a house close to the road. Fortunately they were all bark and we diffused the situation by talking to them. The owner ran out and called the dogs. I think he was surprised to see two guys in waders walking down the road. Not a lot of fishermen hitting the rivers this summer. Might be the driest season on record.

Salmon Adventure

My bother-in-law Bill DeJong and I met up with his friend Larry Byl last night for a quick excursion on Lake Michigan. Larry has a home on the lake and a very amazing set-up. He trailers a 16 foot deep-v right on the beach and uses a winch hooked to a post to back the trailer in and out of the water. The boat is set up with rod holders and down riggers, dipsy divers, and planer boards. It took just a few minutes to launch and once underway another fifteen minutes for Larry to put out six lines. Bill drove the boat while I watched Larry pay out line and adjust the various rods.  Every inch of the boat is utilized and three guys would be about the limit.

Larry sets a downrigger

Lake Michigan was choppy and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would get worse.  The sun was dropping to the horizon and I could see Little Sable Point Light House in the distance. While I was taking it all in, we had the first strike. Larry grabbed the pole and handed it to me. I have done a lot of fishing so I’m no stranger to the drill, but Salmon on Lake Michigan is another animal.  (I normally fish inland lakes and small trout streams.) It felt like a motorized anchor on the end of the line – I reeled line in, it pulled line out.  I finally got it up to the boat and Larry netted it. A King Salmon with a glittering body that would make my wife’s polished silver look tarnished. A spectacular fish.  My first impression: 30 lbs. Larry’s impression: 18 lbs. I guess I go with Larry’s impression.

Bill takes the wheel while Larry sets lines

Bill was next. We had moved offshore about a mile and a quarter when the drag on one of the planer board poles started zinging. The fish was way out there and Bill had his hands full. He worked the pole and reel by dipping the rod while he reeled like a madman but it still took maybe eight minutes to get the fish near the boat. The fish made a run to the starboard side and Larry got concerned about the other lines. The fish went port side and Bill thought for a moment he was off but then felt the fish surge again. I caught a glimpse of the fish as he rolled on the surface – a giant head was all I saw. All of a sudden he was gone. I felt bad for Bill partly because I had an idea of how much energy it took to get the fish that far. Larry, seeing Bill’s disappointment, tried to take out the sting by saying how he (Larry) should have pulled in a line that got in the way.  My own history tells me that even when you do everything perfect you lose fish.  It’s the one that got away and every good angler has a story.

We had a slow stretch then and when I say slow it was maybe fifteen minutes before the rods started dancing. I saw Larry grab the starboard planer board pole but he said the fish was on and off. Meanwhile the pole right next to it started up and he handed that one to Bill. This fish came in quite a bit easier and Larry netted the small but fat Coho. A beautiful fish.

By now the sun had set but strangely it was still light out.  Might be some sort of big lake phenomenon.  Larry pulled in lines and readied the boat for the trip home. We cruised nearer to shore for the ride back and I tried to get a photo of the lighthouse. It is still a working light house though built in the 1870’s. It was too dark to get a good shot.

We pulled the boat back up on the beach using Larry’s trailer and winch system and Larry was kind enough to do a quick filet job on the salmon. He has a knife that would scare a samurai warrior. A couple minutes and we had some boneless filets washed, bagged, and ready for the grill. I tried to thank Larry for the great adventure but he shrugged it off like guys tend to do.  What a night.



Ducks on a Trout Stream

Maybe you can relate to this. Occasionally I come around a bend and all heck breaks loose. It is usually two, but sometimes several ducks or geese hanging out.  Since I fish wading upstream that is the direction they head to get away from me. They slap their wings on the water and take off like a slow prop plane on a runway – it takes a while to get airborne and in the meantime they boil the water and spook every trout within a hundred yards. If that were the end of it, oh well, but they usually land a few bends upriver and forget about me until I come around that bend and repeat the process. It may be the only thing worse than unknowingly following another fisherman up the stretch. I ask you what’s worse: Knowing why the fish are turned off or wondering why the fish are turned off. Either way about all you can do is get out of the stream and do a big circle to get ahead of the problem.

This reminds me of another problem but one that usually goes away quickly – beaver on trout streams. I was caught by surprise on the Baldwin one time by a loud slap noise and a fat furry head bee lining toward me and creating a wake. I panicked and started backing up but it stopped ten feet from me and went back upstream. The slap of the tail is meant as a warning and I can tell you – instinctively it comes across as one. It’s loud. Another time Feral and I were fishing the Pigeon up by Vanderbilt and came around a bend and saw one on the bank that looked like a black bear cub – it was that big and chunky. Since the Pigeon is bear country, we did a quick freeze to figure out just what we were looking at. Beavers are actually fairly common on trout streams and if you see them they usually just cruise past you like small furry submarines. No danger really, but there is a quick moment of knowing you are sharing space with a wild animal.

The only real danger on a trout stream is getting run over by a canoe. It’s all unlicensed drivers with no training required. Someone needs to invent a canoe with a steering wheel and foot brake. Canoeists may hurt the trout fishing with their noise but on the other hand they provide some entertainment too, so maybe it evens out. One time Feral and I came upon a small group of young people on the Pine River that had pulled over to make some shore lunch. They were on the outside of a wide deep bend, we were on the inside. They were animated and friendly. One geeky kid wanted to re-setup his backpack camp grill to show us how cool it was. So far it had been a hot unproductive day of fishing and we were happy for the diversion. They had some cold beer and offered and we said sure. They threw a can across the river to Feral and he almost went in catching it. They asked if I was ready and I said yes so they lobbed another one over. I lifted my fishing net and caught it. They thought that was hilarious. We thanked them and headed on our way, two ducks waddling up the river.

Jake Lucas Trout Diary

Jake Lucas, my grandfather and fishing mentor to family and friends, kept a written diary of his daily trout catches on Michigan streams from 1954 to 1976. The diary includes place, weather conditions, baits or lures, largest fish, total fish and other notes. The diary may represent the only existing record of the trout population of brook trout, browns and rainbows (not to mention steelhead) in many of Michigan’s noted trout streams though this time period. While the diary is in spreadsheet format, he was inspired to add this account after a couple great days of fishing.

1965 – May 6

Fished Little Manistee above public fishing site at Indian Club Bridge. Hooked a large RB (rainbow) in a deep run by some stumps on a curve. He jumped and then he tore downstream for 40 or 50 yards. I turned loose the reel and he unwound line from the reel faster than anything I have ever hooked. He turned into the slow side of the stream and moved up into a drift and got loose.

Had a strike by another RB in front of the drift. Hooked another one about 20 feet in front of the same drift. Played it until I thought I could get it into my net. Had it close in front of me and started the net up it’s tail – then he turned head first into the net and a hook caught the net and the fish pulled loose.

I was ready for a straight jacket. Boy: I was mad and disgusted.

Hooked another one in a run of water by some raft type cover. He was smaller than the other two and I finally got him into the net downstream about 75 or 100 yards. It was a 27 inch male. I took it back to the car and met Doc (Dr. Pratt) at about 11: AM. He had an 18 + a 12 inch Brown. In the afternoon went back to the same area (points 3 to 5) caught another 27 inch female, + one 20 inch male and had another good one and my line broke inside the reel because of a grooved pickup pin.

Friday AM, May 7

Hooked a big one and he broke my line so quick I didn’t have a chance. I think the grooves in my rod tip cut it. Hooked a big one by the tail and lost it. I just could not wear it down. He got off after going downstream from me. Hooked a really big one but he went downstream and just dogged it in the middle of the stream. Felt like I was hooked to a snag because I could pull hard and he would just stay there. Finally he bore downstream rolled on the surface and the hook came out.

The following is a handwritten note in Jake’s diary from Doc Pratt (first a client for Jake’s guide business, later to become a close fishing buddy)

I never saw anything to beat this – what it takes Jake has and aplenty. Accuracy and handling and the lure in the water tell a tale and my experience was worth every cent – a real pleasure.



When Feral and I first started camping on Michigan’s trout season opener, a long time ago, we camped on a bluff overlooking the Pine River in Lake County. We had a friend from childhood join us for the first couple years, he passed away, but I think about him now and then. Al loved to hunt and fish. He was a bit of a rogue – never holding on to employment long, made do day-to-day, was generous with whatever he possessed even though it was never much, and was fun to be around.

Back then we were very ambitious about opening day and would go down to the river at the strike of midnight to fish. This usually involved some beer, crawlers, and warm clothing including waders. Just down the hill from camp there was a nice bend of deep water that allowed us to toss the crawlers and set up fork sticks, or just fish by feel as the crawlers washed across the sandy bottom. We were not expert wormers but we usually caught a few trout. The bank there had lush grass and we would set a lantern up far enough back from the river to avoid spooking the fish. We could see our shadows against the tall bank opposite us. It was usually cold enough to see our breath, but maybe because of the beer, maybe because of the anticipation of trout, we could forget the cold and concentrate on the goodness of the gathering and joke about anything.

Al made do with his fishing equipment. Where Feral and I would try to use just enough hook and sinker to present a crawler to wary trout, Al would launch a concoction of spinners rigged to a home made crawler harness loaded down with metal objects like keys instead of lead. He would usually have a fishing pole best described as used – most likely acquired though some barter the day before the trip.

I recall one time in particular where we had a pretty slow night up until Al hooked up on a big fish. If I remember right, his fishing pole was a two piece and on setting the hook it became two pieces with the end of the rod sliding down the monofilament into the stream. Catching trout at night is never pretty, but Al trying to land this fish with half a pole set a new standard. He said the fish was a big and we believed him since only a large fish was likely to move the conglomeration of hardware attached to the end of his line. We all imagined a giant hook-jawed brown trout. We knew the Pine was capable of giving up such monsters and we were ready to witness it.

Al was standing on the bank and I don’t recall if he had waders but the next thing we saw was him jumping in the stream and going after the fish. He was able to control the fish with half a pole so the construct of hooks were doing their job. He fought the fish like a man possessed and in no time he managed to pull it near the bank. He reached down and lifted up, to our surprise, a five pound sucker.

I am sure Feral had some encouraging, heartfelt words of consolation for Al but those have been long forgotten. The event was the highlight of the trip – but is just one of many stories where Al provided something extra to make a gathering special.  RIP Al. You were a true fisherman.

For those who remember Al and his love of the outdoors, here is a painting I did in 2004 of Al and Feral, painted from a photo taken during archery deer season, most likely in the late 70’s. Al was an avid bow hunter as well as fishermen.  Those were such fun times!

Allen Zoppa & Feral Tweed

Allen Zoppa & Feral Tweed

Manistee River Brown Trout

Natch has been joining Feral and me for trout camp going on about fifteen years. He’s had a couple of interesting nicknames including one that had to do with burning wolmanized lumber in camp but that’s another story. Fall trout camp 2011 didn’t fall together but Natch, like the rest of us, made a year-end foray to a local stream late in September. I’ll let him tell it.


Since it sounded like the closer might be rather thin on bodies this year I chose to do some insulation work up north at the cabin. However, I did rip off a 3-hour stretch on the Manistee River near M-72. I had never been down that way and thought I would check the water out. It runs pretty shallow with a few small holes under some brush and logs. It was overcast when I started but became sunny halfway into the stretch. I saw plenty of little ones (10″-12″) that would come out from underneath cover but not aggressive enough to actually hit the lure. After about a half-hour I noticed a college-age guy walking along the bank up top on a trail. He was carrying a clipboard and wanted to know if I would answer a few questions like “what are you fishing for? Keeping or releasing? What bait?” etc. As he walked away I caught a 12 inch Brown and he came back to check it out.

I continued fishing in hopes of seeing some deep water. An hour or so later, I came around a bend with a long straight away and a few cabins.  Jutting about 20 feet out from the other side of the river was a massive log – a good 3 feet in diameter. The water was rushing under it causing a nice wash out. I placed a cast tight up under some brush along the front edge of the log and reeled in my double-hook silver minnow.  About halfway back the lure dropped under the log. Bam! I was hung up with no hopes of getting my favorite lure back. Or so I thought. All of a sudden my line headed upstream. The fish came to rest in the middle of the river. I slowly approached with net in hand. Just as I reached for him, splash! Off he went back toward the log. My heart was pounding as my drag started to slip. I still wasn’t sure if this was my 20+ inch trout or not. After a couple of tense minutes, I landed him. The tape measure read 19″.

It wasn’t the 20″ class trout that continues to elude me but it made my adventure on a new stretch of stream well worth it. I released the trout and continued for a few more bends. Nothing,  so I headed back. When I came to the log I debated on whether to give it another whirl.  I noticed two fly fishermen just around the bend so I gave it a few minutes of casting and headed back to the truck.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: