Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Survival”

Winter Reading

One way to get through winter (waiting for the next trout season) is catch up on reading. Here’s a few suggestions…

If you long for the days when American’s thought the British had a monopoly on crass self-important, egotistical men with power you should read Larry McMurtry’s Barrybender series starting with Sin Killer. A pompous English Lord drags his family and servants on a hunting trip to the old west at a time when the American Indians were not buying Manifest Destiny. Lord Barrybender gets chiseled down to size. At times hilarious, at times horrifying, an amazing read.

Not sure why it took so long for me to read Frank Herbert’s Dune. Considered the greatest science fiction ever written it is a very accessible human story in a world of spectacular imagination. Like a lot of science fiction publishers wanted nothing to do with it. First published by Chilton, the folks that bring you car repair manuals. It is my goal to find a Chilton copy of the novel at a garage or estate sale.. A true prize. Then read it all over again.

There is a new category of fiction that blends science fiction and fiction with in your face humanity. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead should be required reading for all high school students. It follows a African American girl as she flees slavery. The depiction of slavery is one thing, how whites use her in a live museum diorama to show how the trip to America on a slave ship was a pleasant experience is quite another. You will learn, make that feel, more about black history. All in the confines of masterful storytelling.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami is another work of fiction/science fiction that left me stunned. A young boy in middle school picks an outcast, unathletic girl to be on his team when no one else wants her. Their lives become entwined in a parallel world where no deed goes unanswered. One of those books that makes you rethink what we are doing here.

A book I kept putting off for a lifetime, The Diary of Anne Frank. I was afraid to read it knowing it was a true story with a tragic ending, a basis for nightmares. Instead it was uplifting to watch how a young girl could put aside the horror of captivity and continue her studies and writing without dwelling on her circumstance. When the diary stops you realize the true horror of the holocaust isn’t the tragic image of the death camp survivors, but rather the loss of of people that could have made a real difference in the world.

Mail Order Rockets

If you’ve ever scoped the back pages of a comic book from the sixties you’ve seen ads for products that appeal to young boys:  X-ray specs, 1001 insults for everyday use, two-headed nickles, Joe Atlas body building so you can kick the butt of the bully that stole your girlfriend. The list is extensive and there was something for every boy. Including my little brother.

Feral was the engineer and physicist of the family by age ten. If paper route money wasn’t going for comic books it was used to test the laws of physics and good sense. Explosives were of great interest including cannons and rifles. Small combustion engines. By age ten he had a better understanding of how most things work than most men I know at age sixty. When an ad for rocket engines showed up in the back of a Batman comic he was on it like John Glen.

We had just moved into a small upstairs apartment in a very old neighborhood. The houses sat right next to each other except where a driveway might flow to a garage behind a house. A house fire on the block would likely take the whole block in an hour. Not urban planning at its best. My divorced mother was raising three boys and a daughter while completing her education. We were often left alone to find our own excitement.

Feral watched the mailbox like a hawk until his package arrived. The rocket engines, two included, looked like CO2 cartridges used in high powered BB guns. A flash pan was suspended below the cartridge by a wire frame. The rocket scientist needed to fill the pan with lighter fluid or some other flammable substance and light it to ignite the rocket engine. Once the cartridge reached a certain temperature the rocket engine ignited which would then propel anything it was attached to forward. The rocket could not be pointed vertically to the stars, but rather horizontal to the earth else the flash pan fluid would spill out.

We were suspicious about whether they really worked. Feral asked a neighbor boy, Buddy, if we could clamp a rocket in a vice in his dad’s garage. The garage was about fifty years old and made of wood that was dry as paper. The vice was bolted to a bench a few feet from the double swing-out door. On a side note, I had made the mistake of mentioning the rocket project to my mother, and she was concerned, but not enough to kill the project.

We clamped the rocket in the vice and filled the flash pan with gasoline and touched her off. And waited. Flames licked the rocket cylinder for maybe a minute while we shook our heads, sure it was a hoax. Then magic – a slow roar as flames shot out of the rocket cylinder about 4 feet stopping just inches from the tinderbox garage door. Our enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the realization we could burn down the garage. Buddy freaked out of course. I opened the garage door so it wouldn’t catch fire and we waited for the flames to die out. There is no way to turn off the rocket. It lasted several minutes and Feral was satisfied with the test.

Afterwards I went back home, next door, to our upstairs apartment and found my mother in the living room where she was crouched down refinishing a piece of wood furniture. As a practical but somewhat thoughtless joke I pretended I burned my hand. My mother jumped up, grabbed my hands, turned them over, turned them over again, and looked in my eyes. Then she slapped me so hard I may have seen stars. I received the “don’t cry wolf ” lecture after she cooled off, about a year later. (This is the only know instance of my mom hitting one of her kids.)  In my defense, my sad humor may have been caused by the nervous underlying realization we could have burned down the whole neighborhood.

Feral still had the second rocket engine. He related this story to me years later. He mounted the rocket on the top of a plastic model car. One with axles and wheels that rolled well. He and a friend took it out in the street, lit the engine, and watched it take off at rocket speed right down the middle of the street. Then it veered to the right and slid under someone’s parked car where it lodged against the curb with the rocket engine still burning. This rocket was identical to the first so flames were shooting out four feet. I understand there was some panic involved this time also since automobile gas tanks and rocket flames do not co-exist well.

Again, there was not much Feral could do. No off switch on a rocket engine. I would need to confirm this but I believe he and his buddy didn’t wait around to see what happened next. They were, of course, just kids.

Burnt Clutch Camp

Section 4 lake

For a while there Feral Tweed, Natch and I set up remote camps in the Pigeon River State Game area which had the advantage of avoiding campground fees of 15 dollars a night, which adds up quickly into real money if we camped for several days. I mean, that could be beer money. We found some great spots to camp off old two tracks including one on Grass Lake Road near Section 4 Lake, an off the beaten path round bowl of a lake that in theory holds fish. The camp spot was open and large enough for several tents and room to park a couple vehicles.

Every year I sent out emails, with a map, to people I thought might come up and this always included Mike and Denny. Mike had a pop-up tent camper, an early model with the two slide out beds and a hand crank system to lift the roof. Leveling the camper was always a chore. Mike carried some special boards to put under the jacks to make things easier but no matter where he set up true level was a fleeting idea. Mike and Denny usually camped at a state forest campground, often at the Pigeon River campground on the main blacktop coming in from Vanderbilt. So we were surprised to see Mike’s Subaru wagon hauling his pop-up camper to our remote spot.

The camp area is elevated above the road grade a few feet so the entrance had a small hill. Mike surveyed the camp and decided to back the pop-up trailer in which made sense since it would allow him to guide the trailer into a somewhat level spot and be able to pull out easily. Mike pulled up past the entrance, cut the wheel and we all watched as the trailer made the appropriate angle into the entrance and edge up the small hill. Then stop. We could hear the engine revving so stopping made no sense. Pretty soon smoke started pouring out from under the car. Mike was riding the clutch unaware of what was happening. We observers started exchanging glances and I think it was Feral that shouted for Mike to hold it. Meanwhile Mike had done a pretty good job of fogging the camp area for mosquitoes.

To us onlookers it was surreal. Mike had a long history of driving stick-shifts. It seemed like he was content to burn up the clutch. He had to know he wasn’t moving. When he finally cut the engine the damage had been done. Not to the car, to Mike. A man can’t make a spectacle at trout camp and go unpunished. The jokes about driving and naming the camp spot after the event were almost routine starting at beer o’clock. I wish I could say Mike was gracious and self-deprecating about the affair but instead he blamed Feral and I which made it even funnier. I mean, how was it our fault? To our disbelief he said we picked the spot knowing he would burn up his clutch.

When we saw he was so touchy about it we backed off. Honest. If it was anyone else, me for instance, it would still be on the table. Out of respect for Mike we buried the thing quickly. As a footnote, Mike and Denny didn’t camp near us for years after that. I don’t know if this played a part in their decision but from then on we always made a special point of driving over to “their camp” to say hi and hang out a bit. I am not sure why I am writing this post but if anything bad happens to me in the next few days in may involve a curse from the grave. For the record, if I ever burn out a clutch at trout camp you won’t read about it here.

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.

The Tick

Last summer after a trip to a local trout stream I found a tick buried in my leg. I picked him off but a day or two later while showering I felt a tiny bump while washing my bottom. I figured I missed a tick and tried to see in the bathroom mirror but could not twist my body enough. I took a hand mirror and tried to double mirror the area but that was not working either. Then I remembered my camera phone! I took a photo and zoomed in and yikes! My immediate thought was “this is a photo no man should ever have to see.” Then I thought: I should send this to my wife, see if she recognizes this part of my anatomy. Fun right? I was tempted but thought better of it and decided not to hit the send button.

About two hours later my wife arrived home from work and went upstairs to change out of her work clothes. She came back downstairs wearing an outfit guaranteed to stop cold any possible thought of intimacy. I can only describe it as the cardboard box of woman fashion – absolutely no indication whatsoever of womanly curves and attractions.  At first I thought “what is going on.” Then I thought, “oh oh, I must have sent her that photo.”

It didn’t come up in conversation but later on it occurred to me there may be a huge market for woman’s “don’t even think about it” clothing. Hows this: A boxy sweatshirt with an electric carving knife emblazoned on the front. Stovepipe pants made of canvas ( lined with soft felt for comfort). House slippers resembling rhino feet. A warm snood with spiky hair curlers. I’d get the message. Might be a turn-on to some guys though.

Mike

I have held off doing a post about Mike, one of the trout camp regulars, mainly because he is more of a philosopher than a fisherman. After the sun sets, around the campfire, Mike is the guy with astute observations and philosophical ideas about the world. We try not to hold that against him. I am not saying he is not a great fisherman, of the people I fish with he is maybe the best underhand flip caster and my understanding is that his biggest brown trout surpasses my own, which I also try not to hold against him.

At some dark point in his life he started showing up at trout camp with golf clubs. Or a sketch pad on which he would draw Botticelli nudes. He briefly tried bass guitar, harmonica, and bongos but traveled to a different drum so it comes as a surprise he felt uncomfortable jamming with Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuner’s, the original “different drum” trout camp jam band.

I find myself revisiting some of the camping trips and stretches of trout water Mike and I fished together. Back when the steelhead were first introduced to Michigan streams Jake Lucas, our grandfather, took us on weekend trips to the Little Manistee / Indian Club in the spring. According to the the legend on the back of the photo below, Mike and I were good for a seven pounder each, Jake caught two eight pounders. Sound fishy?

Thinking back, seems like Mike was always Jake’s most apt pupil. And Mike was tough. He would go ice fishing or smelt dipping with Jake, deer hunting, Mike was game for whatever came up. And no complaints, which was a hit with grandpa.

I recall a trip up to the Pine River in Lake County, just Mike and I, whereby he waded without waders on a cold day that turned miserable. We fished upstream from the canoe landing off Edgetts Road. I was bundled up pretty good but cold rain started coming down. I kept asking Mike about heading back and finally he agreed. He had to be freezing! We decided to cut across country through some bad brush fraught with nettles and various prickers and by the time we got to the vehicle he was scraped up good but no problem. No complaints. So that is how I think about Mike, whether he is sketching a nude, is buried in a book, talking philosophy, or taking an afternoon nap. He’s tough. He paid his dues. He doesn’t have to prove anything at trout camp.

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!

 

 

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.

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