Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Survival”

Fall Trout Camp 2017

In early September I start googling weather predictions for Vanderbilt, Michigan in hopes of cold weather for the trout closer, with rain. Maybe I jinxed it. This may go on record as the hottest September ever with temps in the 90’s. Global warming? Camping was tough. The only way to cool off was diving in Pickerel lake. Or setting up a lawn chair right in the water. Feral devised a minnow trap so we had bait for fishing. Pickerel lake has bass, bluegill, perch, and planted rainbow trout. We caught bass and perch, but minnows are a top bait for most everything.

Minnow trap from a gallon water jug

We did catch a few stream trout. Natch caught a couple dinner size browns, Feral maybe no, I caught a small brown and a fat rainbow about 17 inches. We worked the streams early AM but that didn’t help much. Normally big brown trout come up the Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers in the late fall to spawn… but it takes cold weather and rain.

Luther with a rainbow trout

Natch took “most bass” honors

Feral tried partridge hunting with his 22 but failed to see any on a 5 mile hike down the road and around the lake. He later commented that he should have taken two beers instead of his 22, he would have shot just as many.

Feral strikes a classic hunter pose

We stayed up pretty late every night and had a couple good guitar/mandolin/bongo jams. I learned a new song on guitar for the closer, “Everybody wants to rule the world.” Somehow the lyrics seem fitting for the political chaos going on, even though the words are pretty abstract. Feral did some impressive triple picking on the mandolin. Natch provided some rhythm which was impressive too, considering he was going back and forth drinking bottled White Russians and Bud Light all night. It may have been a political statement whereby he effectively diluted USSR influence on US politics. Regardless, the man has an iron stomach.

We packed up on Monday, a day ahead of schedule. We couldn’t face another afternoon of the blistering heat!

 

 

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Free Tent, Campsite 2, Leverentz Lake

Big Leverentz campground was full except for a tiny site sandwiched between others and campsite 2 which overlooks the parking area but offers some sense of remoteness, like the corner table in a restaurant. I brought a guitar and a mandolin and when Feral and I camp there’s a pretty good chance we’ll knock down a few beers and jam. Having a remote spot is good since there’s less chance we’ll disturb other campers. Conversely, other campers sometimes stop by to listen and sometimes we get surprised by very talented musicians that want to jam.

I stopped at a garage sale earlier in the week and found a pretty nice camp cot for ten bucks. I have one already so I called Feral to see if he was interested. He was so when I packed for the trip I grabbed an old tent large enough for two cots so he could try it out. The tent is made from thin nylon material and I had a vague recollection it may not be good in the rain so I checked the weather report before heading north. Weather dot com said 20% chance of rain and which I took to mean a 20% chance of rain rather than rain 20% of the time.

The fishing on Levernetz was good, pike and bass. Late afternoon it clouded up and around six some light rain went through. Feral and I set up a tarp between trees to provide a shelter for our camp chairs. The rain stopped and we cooked some hot dogs over charcoal to get something warm in our bellies. Beer was good, and we had plenty. We jammed till about midnight and from this high point on a hill we could see other campfires die out as we delved deeper and deeper into our catalog of obscure folk and rock songs. Then the rain hit. We packed up the instruments and ran for the tent.

My pillows were wet and I had a small puddle in the middle of my sleeping bag. This must have been from the earlier rain. Not a good sign since it was now pouring. Feral fared slightly better. The top corner of his bag was damp but the main body was dry. A puddle had formed near the door so we had to climb on to the cots and remove our boots carefully. I managed to get comfortable because one half of one pillow was dry. I fell asleep but woke up an hour or two later because the beer pressure was rising. My left arm was soaked which explained why I was a bit cold. I went out to find a tree and when I returned I lifted the sagging bulges from inside the tent and was rewarded by the ploosh sound of water cascading over the tent walls.

I woke up at 7:00 and was not shy about getting up (and letting Feral sleep in). He heard me rustle and asked if it was time to get up. Yes. Feral had a tough night. Water dripped constantly on his head. The rain had stopped and we had planned to break camp early as we both had things planned for Labor day. So we packed up quick. If you are fast there is a nice cabin tent at campsite 2, Leverentz Lake that is just the thing in dry weather.

Gold in Them Thar Streams

I thought Feral was the champion of get rich schemes until Natch showed up at trout camp with gold panning equipment. Theory has it there is gold in all Michigan streams. Who’s theory, I don’t know, but we gave it a try knowing any glittering specks found on the bottom of a pan were worth $1244.00 per ounce, or about two cents a speck.

Natch dug a bucket of gravel out of a stream famous for trout. We knew from years of experience that trout like gold lures so it stands to reason that if trout like the color gold, the river probably had some. I watched from the bank as Natch filled a five gallon bucket with gravel and tried to carry it out of the stream. Not sure what the bucket weighed but the steam water level rose a notch up his waders with every step. Physically, Natch was a foot shorter by the time he reached the bank, and a good eighteen inches shorter by the time he reached the truck. I offered to help lift the bucket up to the truck bed but thankfully he was too much of a man to accept my offer.

We took the bucket back to our camp at Leverentz Lake and he didn’t mention panning for two days, or about the time it took to spring back to his normal height. To sluice gold you need some clean water so he backed his truck down the boat landing. Natch’s panning kit had three pans of various sizes and he passed them out and gave us some instruction for use. He showed us how to whirl water so the gold chunks would get caught on the pan’s built in ledges while the worthless rocky stuff flew out the sides. He made it look simple but for some reason all of my gold must have went out the sides with the worthless stuff. After one pan the novelty started wearing off.

Feral seemed like he was catching on, developing a rhythm and masterly technique. He called us over to view his pan. I could see a faint line of black sand at the bottom edge of the pan but nothing shiny. The reason he was excited was he was sure he was doing it right and if there had been any gold in the pan it would surly be laying right in the midst of the black sand. Uh huh, ok.

Feral lasted longer than I, but it was Natch who was determined, by sheer will, to find gold. He slowly emptied the 5 gallon bucket of rocks and gravel and when there wasn’t any more sludge to filter he lifted that bucket like it weighed a feather and put it right back in the truck. In retrospect, I am not sure if his main goal was empty the darn bucket or find gold, but I would not be surprised if he’s carrying a small vial of gold next time we meet.

Folks that Share Their Bluegills

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

There’s two kinds of people that share bluegills. The ones trying to get out of cleaning some because they didn’t catch enough for a mess (um me?) and then there are the wonderful people that open a bag of fillets, start cooking, and invite their friends. Feral and I lucked out last night up at Little Leverentz.

I had fished once with Chuck Raison on Leverentz and met his wife his Rita once also, but yesterday it turned into guided adventure fishing two new lakes for Feral and I, topped off with a gourmet meal: deep fried cajun batter bluegills, butter fried wild mushrooms and fresh corn.

gourmet dinner

Feral said Rita was a cook and that was an understatement. We almost didn’t have fish with the meal because we started eating them the minute they came out of the fryer. I mentioned in a earlier post that Chuck is a lake expert, which means two things – being adventurous enough to find new lakes and knowing what to do when you get there. So our fish dinner was compliments of his and her expertise.

Chuck with a bluegill

Chuck with a bluegill

We started the day fishing a small pond down by Brohman which had small gills and soon left there to fish Shelly lake, also near Brohman. This lake is a hidden treasure with nice campsites and I can see Feral and I hitting this lake for over-nighters in the future. Lots of bass and bluegill. It was the middle of the day however and the sun was taking its toll on us so we headed back toward Baldwin to camp and to fish Little Leverentz. It gave me a chance to grill chuck on some of his fishing tactics and of course then there was the cook out. Thanks from Feral and Luther!

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.

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The Fisherman’s Theory of Relativity

Relativity

Einstein’s theory of relativity states “there is no one true movement or frame of reference when speaking of events of the world.” A popular example is a man sitting on a cliff watches a cruise ship motor by at 20 miles per hour and on the deck a man rolls a bowling ball toward the bow at 20 miles per hour. To the man on the cliff the ball moves forward at 40 mile per hour but for the men on the ship it only moves at 20. So movements are relative.

That’s all well and good but that leaves the rest of us, especially fishermen, wondering just what is the practical application? Let’s just say I was able to get Feral to participate in a similar experiment whereby I have him overhand cast a #13 Rapala Floater forward at 50 miles an hour while standing on the bow of my bass boat also traveling 50 miles per hour. In the interest of science I’ll hunker down below the plexiglass windshield to lessen the drag co-efficient. I theorize that for approximately five seconds – time will literally stand still for the the lure, in effect actual time travel, then suddenly reappear a moment before Feral screams. A second theory postulates that a man standing on a dock watching this unfold would find it hysterical.

I ‘m not sure Feral would willingly participate so I have come up with a second experiment involving cannons of which Feral has some expertise. In this experiment a man (Feral) is shot out of a cannon mounted on the front of my bass boat. I will need to confirm human velocity from cannons and match the speed of the boat but the idea is we synchronize our watches before Feral slides down the cannon barrel. My theory is that when I discharge the cannon – time will literally stand still for Feral, i.e. Time Travel, for about five seconds as he travels forward at the same speed as the boat. I theorize also I will need to repair the boat’s plexiglass windshield unless he hangs up on the cannon proper, after which, the real excitement begins. If his watch was not destroyed in the blast or subsequent reentry into earth time proper and my theory is correct, his watch will be ticking five seconds behind mine and we will have concluded the first of many fun filled time-travel experiments. And that of course will be “step one” in our quest to find a single unifying theory of the universe.

Northern Pikeless

Luther at Dog Lake

Nightmares of Esox Lucius have haunted me since our failed excursion to Dog Lake Flooding a year ago. Oh we made it to the lake Ok which was an adventure in itself, but the missing esox still weighs heavy since I had sold my buddies on the sort of monsters you only see on Canada fishing youtubes. Were they in there but refusing all manner of spinnerbaits and lures? Not likely is all I can figure. Maybe a freeze out of the shallow lake destroyed the population. It couldn’t have been fished out since you almost have to parachute in. Three men in three kayaks working the shores could not convince a pike to attack in three hours. Three, three, three, does that ring sinister?

So we failed miserably and as the organizer I was grateful they did not leave me in that remote god forsaken bog. But the experience left me with an itch unrelated to the oak and ivy which has been germinating for well nigh a year.

Feral, as you recall, did not make fall trout camp. Did he secretly go Pike fishing on his own while Natch and I cast the raging rivers of the 45th parallel north? I suspect yes because my built in lie detector, call it a sixth sense, has been beeping in my brain like a Geiger counter whenever the topic of fall trout camp is on the table. Feral’s a sly one and admits to nothing. But in my minds eye, call it a seventh sense, he is sliding his kayak into the blue green waters of Lake county every day and reporting nothing.

I blame Feral for catching, filleting, and cooking my first fresh esox dinner. From lake to skillet it was the best fish dinner in my long fish dinner life. Secret recipe? Hardly. He powdered the fillets with a little flour and dropped them into some sizzling fake butter.  I stand here now in the shadow of great fishermen and say it was the lightest and tastiest fish to ever hit my stomach.

So maybe it was evil intent all along. Hooking me like a junkie with a single meal. Then begging off trout fishing to go after Pike on the sly. All I can say is – It is not over. Maybe there is still time to resurrect all wrongs and meet up for a last camp, this time dedicated to catching the elusive monster Esox Lucius.

Esox Lucius, photo courtesy Jake Lucas Archive

Esox Lucius, photo courtesy Jake Lucas Archive

The Man Cave

In the off season when good men go crazy knowing trout season is so far away it helps to have a place to escape so their wives don’t shoot them. Of course all men do not have that problem (wives) in which case their entire home is a man cave. I have one buddy in this situation who is kind enough not to rub it in. Each room in his 1920’s two story is dedicated to a hobby such as gas powered model airplanes, guitars, computing, hunting.  There is not enough table space in any one room to sit down a cold beer so when the couch is de-cluttered you set the beer on the floor at your feet. The solution of course is having a dedicated beer room but that could invite other problems like too much time dedicated to the one hobby.
Man cave 1

Feral has maybe the classic man-cave. The basement in his old bungalow could be rated on a variety if scales including horsepower. Feral is fascinated by machines and motors from the steam age forward and at one time or another he has torn apart, rebuilt or even built from scratch most any type of engine devised by man. He’s also fascinated by primitive weapons and has hand built scores of strange rifles including his own invention, the blowgun firearm. His current projects include a mini-bike that looks like a chopper which he wants to have ready for Baldwin’s annual Blessing of the Bikes and an antique Mighty-Mite outboard motor which may end up powering his fishing kayak.
Project Bike 1

There seems to be a direct correlation between square feet of man cave and a man’s hobbies. Fortunately for me my main hobby of trout fishing requires very few square feet so my man-cave is ten square feet of the garage. It’s not much space, but truth be told I am pretty comfortable in the 2000 square foot women cave attached to my small parcel.

Archery Deer Hunting

Bow Hunting 70s

I found the above photo in an old album and it seems like yesterday so the time machine in my head is very much alive. Our grandpa, Jake Lucas, tried every outdoor sport you can name as far as fishing and hunting and kindled that love in all of his offspring. From the time we could swim he took us out in his rowboat fishing, from the time we could pull back a bow and arrow we were practicing on the hay bale target in the back yard. I should probably mention we grew up on venison burger. Feral and I gravitate to fishing mostly, but there was a time when we couldn’t wait for deer season, in particular the October archery season. It is the most picturesque time to be out in Michigan’s woods with its foggy cold morning landscapes, brilliant turning colors and a chance to see all manner of wildlife.

Every year at this time I imagine/remember how great it would be to sit in a ground blind with my back against a tree watching over a misty low ground or swamp waiting for any sign of movement. It is so peaceful. Or still hunting, which is silent creeping through the woods on the small chance of stumbling on bedded deer and getting off a shot. I won’t kid anyone here – I was more likely to cut myself on an arrow than shoot a deer, and on that score, the deer won. My memories are tied up in the glimpses of giant deer with immense racks sneaking though the wood, and equally, the times when a small doe or fawn would come so close to my blind I could reach out and touch them. Or the camping. Someone would put a paper plate against the two track berm and we’d have bow practice to see who was shooting the best. And discussing among the hunters, as evening loomed, who would be hunting where after spending the whole day scouting for miles around the camp. And the hot bowl of stew after a cold night of seeing no deer. It was all good.

bow hunting 2

Our buddy Al after a good rain. Notice the sleeping bag and blanket hung over bushes. Back then (late 70s / early 80s) there was no such thing as a waterproof tent or a 5 dollar plastic tarp to cover a leaky tent. You could always count on a small lake settled somewhere on the floor after a good soaker.  The white dot above the blanket, off in the distance, is a paper plate for target practice. Not sure who took the shot below, could have been Feral or one several other guys that often met us for the archery deer season. Possible Jeff or Sam, both avid hunters and campers. Or Mike and Denny, two of our trout camp regulars that also bow-hunted.

bow hunting 3

Dog Lake Flooding

Panorama of Pickeral Lake

It had been thirty years since Feral, his buddy Jeff and I fished the remote flooding up in the Pigeon River State game area. In my mind at least it started taking on mythical proportions as northern pike water. On that fateful day decades ago we pulled in too many pike to count including some twenty inchers that had obviously been attacked by much larger pike, with teeth gouge marks surrounding their bodies. Feral cleaned up that day with a yellow in-line rooster tail spinner and that meant every third cast he was pulling in the small but abundant pike. We didn’t latch on to one of the monsters prowling the dark water…but there was no doubt they were in there. Fast-forward to this fall on annual trout camp closer, this time with kayaks and the means to get back into that remote water.

Natch drove. He has a pickup truck designed to haul big things and 3 kayaks in the back was no problem. We stopped at the ranger station to pick up a map – just in case – which was lucky because the road into the flooding was unmarked. Still, we needed a GPS. The road was overgrown and unused. That may have been a good clue. The road, or opening,  was just wide enough to get the truck through if the side mirrors were tucked in. The further we went, the tighter it got – so I’ll thank Natch for keeping his cool which is hard to do driving a new truck through a virtual canopy of claw-like branches and blowdowns. There was no turning around once we started: Feral speculated the 3 kayaks sticking up over the rear gate would be like the prongs of a treble hook, so even backing out was out of the question.
Luther and Feral ready for Dog Lake
At the end of the trail we found a clearing and what used to be a channel out into the flooding. 30 years put the flooding another 50 yards out from the landing. 50 yards of floating bog: grass and roots that sunk down with every step – like walking on a carpet laying over a swimming pool. We had to drag the kayaks over the bog and couldn’t help but wonder who would break through and disappear first. We leaned on the kayaks for stability and dragged them over the clumps of floating grass.
Luther making the mucky trek to water at Dog Lake
Everything in the above photo is floating on water. No telling how deep.
Luther and Feral on Dog Lake
Natch launched last and took this photo as he paddled out into the flooding. (All photos by Natch) Somehow everything looked bigger than I remembered. Maybe it was the vantage point of a kayak versus a rowboat – sitting closer to water level.

The wind picked up right away and the temperature nose-dived. Fortunately we were bundled up good with lots of layers so we planned it right. When the sun went behind the clouds it felt like the temp dropped ten degrees in a matter of seconds.

I started working the upwind portion of the flooding, in part to avoid wind drift, but could only make a couple casts with a 3/8 ounce white spinner bait and then I was too far from shore. So it was cast, paddle, cast, and I worked myself into a comfortable but fishless rhythm. Natch and Feral did their own exploring and soon we were scattered around the flooding, beyond yelling distance. I expected both of them were hauling in fish so I experimented with lures including a pop-r around some lily pads figuring if there was bass around – that is a pretty good draw. Still, cast after cast – nothing.
Luther paddling on Dog Lake
After an hour I headed to a centrally located island where I saw Natch fishing earlier. We were all thinking the same thing: converge there and see how everyone is doing. First consensus – not so good. The pike were missing.
Big catch on Dog Lake by Natch
This fish, caught by Natch, confirmed our worst fears: Piranha had eaten all of the pike in Dog Lake Flooding. I expect the pike put up a good battle but it may have come down to attitude. Piranha are vicious. Here, Natch employs the Vulcan Nerve Pinch which subdues all manner of carbon based life forms. We could have switched fishing tactics but not one of us remembered to bring along the rules and regs so the we didn’t know about legal limits or even whether piranha are in season.  So we called it a day and headed back to the floating bog mass.
Natch waiting on Luther and Feral coming off Dog Lake
I’m happy to report we all made it back to solid ground.  We were up for the challenge but I guess you can’t “go back.” 30 years is a long time. I’m going to ask Feral to make a sign for the trailhead:  Dog Lake Flooding – Enter at Your Own Risk.  A skull and crossbones would do nicely.

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