Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Advice”

A Trout too Far

Feral with a respectable stringer

I posted this a month ago but took it down the next day. Hard to explain why other than the story left me spooked. It is an honest post. And maybe a lesson.

I called up Feral this week ( early August) to see if he wanted to go trout fishing and mentioned keeping a couple for dinner. He groaned when he heard that. That’s a sure way to jinx a trout trip. But he was game so we headed up to the Pine on an overcast morning. Feral had left all of his trout lures up at his second home so when we reached the river I opened my two small totes of lures and told him to pick out whatever he liked. He picked an old standby that I had used earlier this year and did well with, a small floating minnow. I picked a similar but larger lure and we fished for about an hour with Feral catching one keeper. The fishing was slow and the wading tough so I opted to head back to the car for a break and to rethink the fishing. We decided to try another stream and when we arrived there we had a beer and sandwich on a high bluff overlooking the stream. We took a path downstream and got in at a bend and right away Feral started catching trout. He was placing the lure into tight spots up under overhangs and dropping it right next to the bank. I can’t remember him casting so darn good and the lure could have been made for that stream because his precision casts were rewarded again and again. It was so fun watching that I was content to follow, though I did take the lead here and there. My larger lure had a couple follows but nowhere near the constant action of Feral’s smaller floating minnow.

So this is where it gets interesting. We had enough trout for our dinners. Feral was dragging a good stringer which divided nicely. Then he caught a trout about sixteen inches and standing there watching him hold the trout I asked if he was going to release that one.. we had plenty. The gears were grinding and finally he said he was going to keep it. There was no reason he couldn’t. He could always keep it for a second meal or freeze it. But in my mind it was one fish too many. He cleaned the fish and added it to the stringer. I took the lead but we were both thinking we would call it quits soon and there was a logical get out spot up around a bend or two. We came to an interesting piece of trout cover on our left that was divided into three separate castable areas and I managed to see a flash in the first area but didn’t catch him. I moved up to the second castable spot and Feral moved up to the first. From my vantage point I could see down into the water where he was casting. Suddenly he had a fish on and it broke off the lure, the lure that was responsible for catching our dinners. He apologized for losing the lure but frankly I was going to give it too him anyway, for providing the entertainment and dinner. No problem. I gave him a second lure and he made the same cast with me looking right down into the water where he cast. I saw a flash which in my mind was a rainbow trout, silvery and more rounded shape than the brown trout we were catching. Feral made the exact same cast and this time the fish was on but did managed to get off. Feral said it was a pike. He saw it close up before it threw the lure. No doubt, a pike. That of course would explain how the first lure was lost. Pike have sharp teeth known for cutting fishing line. The pike never felt the hooks on the first lure and cut the line. So he was not shy about chasing a second lure.

We headed back to the car shortly after that. On the way Feral commented on how Jake Lucas, our mentor, would have been proud of us heading to the river and bringing home supper. But in my slightly off center universe I was thinking about the large trout on the stringer. Did keeping that trout set off a chain of events leading to a lost lure to a northern pike on a trout stream? What was the pike doing there? I had never heard of or seen a pike on that stream. If Feral had tossed back the big trout earlier, a trout to far, how else might have the fishing played out? Was there a lesson?

Shallow Water Trout

I tried fishing my remote nameless creek twice this year but both times it was flooded and over the banks with the water opaque like a milkshake. I fished fifty yards each time and left because the fish could not see my lure and I couldn’t see the log structure. Yesterday I put new line on my reel, ice in my cooler, and headed there again hoping to finally find it fishable. I stopped where the creek crosses under a gravel road in big tubes to get a look and it didn’t look good: super low water level and very clear. I debated heading north to the Pine River but it was already mid-afternoon so I put on my waders and walked downstream.
When I reached my normal entry spot I was thankful I put new line on the reel – it makes it much easier to cast right next to the bank or under branches and into tight dark areas. I knew the shallow water was going to be a challenge but to my amazement the trout were hungry and very aggressive. A sort cast in front of a messy blowdown brought the trout below out into the open into sandy shallows where it grabbed the lure and put up a good scrap. It was a shade over twenty inches. I let him go. I like to keep smaller trout for dinner.

I fished for about an hour and a half and caught four good dinner trout. I also tossed two back and one broke off a brand new lure – so it was a pretty remarkable day. Trout dinner for Memorial Day!

 

Bridge-Out

When I suggested to Feral we meet up at the Pine River yesterday he said let’s meet at the bridge-out. I suspected he meant six-mile bridge but it has been so long since they put in the bridge I thought maybe he had another spot in mind like a washed away landowner bridge or something. No, “bridge out” is six mile bridge. We met there but drove to a more remote spot that tests a vehicle suspension and paint finish. The rut and rock strewn two-track narrows down to nothing with side-scraping branches before opening into a small clearing. I have never seen anyone else park there. As a bonus, it is a short walk to the stream and an easy walk back when you are done fishing.

The morning fog was still hanging over the stream.  I gestured for Feral to take the lead, a bad habit I picked up over the years. He was throwing a silver minnow, a yozuri, which was small but has nice action.  I lost a gold Rapala almost immediately on a sunken branch too deep to retrieve.  While I was retying Feral feral caught and released a small brown trout then moved up and had a larger one make several passes. It didn’t want his yozuri but took my small silver Rapala.  Things picked up from here. I won’t go into details but we were passing my net back and forth as we caught good trout. I had hoped for two dinner trout and Feral was thinking the same. Here are the two I kept. I just finished field dressing the larger one and was ready to add it to the stringer.

So we went back and forth taking the lead. Feral ended up with two browns of similar size. We hung the stringers on a tree while getting out of the waders. Doesn’t make a good photo but you can see four nice trout. Note: if you click on the photo it will upload larger, use your browser back button to return to the post.

From there we headed to our Morel mushroom area which turned out to be a failed attempt. We were certain the conditions were right but with the early spring and back and forth cold weather I can’t say if we missed them entirely or if they are going to be sprouting like dandelions in a day or two. I’ll have to wait for a report from Feral who doesn’t have such a long drive.

Feral at our Morel Spot

Trout Season 2020

There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Michigan has been hit hard by the Covid 19 virus and my heart goes out to all front line workers and especially doctors and nurses whose lives have been imperiled. I cannot imagine the hospital scenes played out on the media and what it must be like to walk into danger like so many brave people are doing. I am trying to do my part. I acknowledge I could be a carrier even without symptoms, wear a mask in public, and adhere to social distancing. The strict rules in place for Michigan are working.

The lifeline for me not going crazy is trout fishing. So far I have visited a couple flooded rivers without much luck. I like to wade the rivers fishing upstream and flooded rivers pose several problems including personal danger and difficult trout. Trout lay on the bottom, gorge on nightcrawlers, and never see lures swimming by. So yesterday, sun shining and rivers down close to normal, I drove up to the Pine River in Lake County and fished a short stretch that always seems to produce a trout. I started seeing trout right away. Two batted the lure without getting hooked. I switched to a small floating minnow and stopped seeing fish but decided to stay with it knowing it was a matter of time. It’s a lure I have great confidence in, a plain gold Rapala.

When wading for trout I cross the stream back and forth putting myself on the inside of bends and opposite whatever looks like trout cover. I caught the brown trout above by staying to the right side of a natural wing dam formed by down timber and branches. It wasn’t pretty. Branches were sticking up and forward making casting difficult. If you catch a limb you may wreck the hole wading in to retrieve the lure. To add to the drama casting a floating minnow is like throwing a curve ball – the wind can drag the lure out of it’s presumed path. Did I mention it was windy yesterday?

I made several cast in front of the structure inching closer each time to figure out the next best cast. I finally lobbed a cast up along the far bank and let it drift to the very front corner, then reeled like mad. The trout slammed it and was hooked good. Then I had the problem of dragging the trout away from the cover which involved leaning back with the rod and wading backwards. The trout cleared the mess fighting the entire time. I netted him mid-stream and found the closest spot to de-hook and field dress him. It’s about seventeen inches. He’s dinner tonight.

So next up is the annual Trout Opener with Feral and Natch. So far it is looking like dispersed camping may be allowed on May 15. We have our fingers crossed on that. I need to hang with the fishing buddies for a couple days as part two of not going crazy with the epidemic. Social distancing will apply.

Twenty Four Inchers

So a spin fisherman sees a fly fishermen at a good bend in the river and asks how he is doing. The fly fisherman is excited. “Twenty Four Inchers.”
Spin fisherman: “That’s funny, I caught four twenty inchers.”
– Feral Tweed humor.

I should point out that Feral is an expert fly fisherman also, not just spinning gear.

So Feral and I decided to go trout fishing when no sane trout fisherman bothers. No rain for a week. Low clear river. Around 11:00 in the morning to make sure the trout were deep into cover. Sun was out and bright. We ate a giant breakfast in Tustin with too much coffee. We fished one of the most popular stretches of the Pine River in Lake County. We tried to stack the odds against us but it didn’t work. We caught trout anyway. Feral kept three for dinner. Good pan fryers. I would like to say we really killed it but we didn’t see any lunkers and fishing was spotty. Good casting saved the day – zinging lures into tight cover and really doing the dying minnow action with floating minnows. We had to drop the lures right on their noses to get them to strike.

Feral field dressing trout.

We fished a couple hours, changed lead a dozen times, talked about the trout closer in September. Hoping for bad weather and giant brown trout.  Twenty-four inchers.

The Intervention

After posting so much non-fishing stuff over the winter Feral speculated whether an intervention was required. Ballerina statues, book recommendations…that stuff was not going to cut it with my blog readers. We joked about that for a while then drove up to the Pine River near Bristol. There’s lots of state land and river access up in the northeast corner of Lake County and after the opener you pretty much have the streams to yourself. We pulled into popular spot for camping and youth partying and fished a stretch neither of us had visited in years. A wide bend of river swings around an open field then narrows down and cuts though woods into a large deep pool. The river was high and muddy. The bend is relatively shallow which looked promising. Third cast and Feral hooked a nice brown about sixteen inches. I was still fumbling around picking a lure.

The way it works with Feral and I is this: when you catch a fish the other guy takes the lead. Or, you get so embarrassed about not catching something out of good cover you tell the other guy to take the lead. So I stepped in the river above him and started casting to some sparse overhanging cover on the opposite bank, finally seeing a fish that missed my lure. I worked that fish for a few minutes and finally hooked and landed him. Another brown, maybe seventeen inches.

Feral moved back in the lead. Wading was difficult with large rocks and boulders deep enough you had to inch your way along blind. We managed to cross the river in waist deep water but the narrows through the woods was so deep we had to get out a couple times. We crossed back to the other side of the river above the deep pool, again, inching our way across blindly.

Feral had me take the lead after going fishless on the deep pool (understandable – bottom hugging fish likely never saw his lure). Right off I overcast some cover on the opposite bank and hooked my lure on a log jutting out. A brand new eight dollar lure. So I broke it off and went back across the river and tried to find it. Somehow it disappeared. Later, back at the car, Feral said I should have cut the line so I could snag and follow the line right back to the lure. Very good advice, just a bit late. We had a good laugh about great advice an hour late.

I hated to give up on the Pine (and a real good shot at a lunker) but Feral is more circumspect about treacherous wading and suggested the Little South (branch of the Pere Marquette). The Little South is much smaller water and much easier to wade. It had missed what must have been a deluge that flooded the Pine. The water was high and coffee color though which was inviting under the overcast, cloudy sky. Once again Feral hooked a nice fish while I was putting on a lure. Another brown with spectacular color.

I decided to drop down a bend below Feral and try that, telling him I would catch up soon. I caught two keepers right away then circled back through the woods to catch up. He was having similar luck. The coffee colored water was providing just enough opacity the fish weren’t seeing us but they were seeing our lures.

Honestly, we caught so many fish we lost track. We released them all. I should have kept a couple for the skillet but we were sort of caught in a rhythm. The sun would peek out from behind the rolling clouds once in a while and warm us up, then it would darken down again making the river that much more inviting. We were both tired but wanted to keep going. We finally cut out about seven-thirty PM which made for a long day.

Casting Practice on the Little South

Denny, a trout camp irregular, sent Feral and I an invite to camp this last weekend with the idea the trout would be biting with the predicted rain storms. I didn’t want to pass on a chance to camp, and maybe play some late night guitar, but there was nothing about the weather report that suggested we might stay dry. So a fun night of beer and guitar was possible, but unlikely. I said yes, we set up camp in a drizzle, and hit the streams.

I fished a stretch with Denny on the Little South. It was the first time we shared a stream together in years. I hung back mostly and noticed right off he had the Lucas underhand flip cast down solid. The other thing I noticed was his set-up, a Shakespeare 1810 reel and a spinning rod with the reel seat at the base of the rod. Turns out he modified a standard spinning rod in order to get what he wanted. Spinning rods with long cork handles and sliding rings are getting hard to find, and you pay a lot for them. Denny made do and it worked because he was slinging a bargain bin minnow bait (60 cents!) into tight cover. I have to start looking harder at bargain bins because his lure was convincing.

The stream was up a little from summer levels but clear as glass, which is good and bad. The fish can see the lures, and the fish can see you. I hung back mostly watching Denny work the cover and talk about everything. I would never call Denny a motor-mouth because sometimes a motor fails. (ha!) I was entertained. He caught a small keeper and lost one that might have been pretty good. Like a pro he rested fish for a couple minutes if he saw one make a pass at his lure. Basically letting the fish get back to its feeding spot, then making the same cast. Often good for fish.

After a night of rain we went back to the Little South, but this time we cut off a couple stretches, with the idea I would meet up with Denny in 2 hours so we could head back and break camp before the 11:00 AM check-out. The morning fish was productive. I caught 3 decent browns and missed a very nice one, probably 18 inches. Denny caught a keeper and saw a good one also. I caught the fish in the photo below which is larger that you might think. That’s a #11, 3-hook Rapala. The fish was probably 15 inches.

So Denny and I both have stuff drying out in our garages this morning. And a fun trip behind us. Feral didn’t camp but did show up at dusk, with Jake, his son, to jam guitars but the rain picked up as they pulled in. They hung out for a bit, but no sense standing around getting soaked. Jake has a commission from the city of Alpena for a park sculpture which requires some serious metal working tools and skill. Feral has a machine shop and the two of them are fabricating some pieces for the sculpture on weekends. Denny just returned from Nazareth, PA where he built a guitar in a small class run by Martin Guitar employees. He needs to put on a finish coat before he takes it camping. My thought, some dry weekend let’s try again.

Michigan Fishing Regulations

Every year I buy my fishing license in March and make sure I grab the latest regulations booklet (usually available where you buy a license). If there is a major change to any rule it is often highlighted at the beginning, which is helpful. Beyond that I try to follow my own trout stream rules to stay legal, like never keep a trout under 12 inches (should be legal and I know I can get two good fillets), don’t keep more than three trout over 15 inches (which I never would anyway), five fish total in my possession, (no problem), and be nice to DNR officers.

In the booklet each species of trout or salmon is charted against stream types so it is possible to find specific trout and stream information but for some reason it is very hard to actually picture that chart in my head when I go fishing. To confuse the issue some streams have their own rules by county, and some streams do not allow lures (flies only). Catching a trout in a lake is much more complicated with six lake types and assorted size limits and rules. Better have the booklet handy, not to mention a county map.

Here’s an idea for a phone app. Stand next to a stream or lake and push a button and it tells you the name of the stream or lake, the trout sizes and possession limits, lures allowed, and the open season. An app to confirm you are not breaking the law if you start fishing! The app would be free and downloadable when you buy your license. This would save the cost of printing a 65 page booklet every year that nobody wants to wade through, a booklet so confusing there is no guarantee the reader will not break the law by accident.

The alternative to this idea is too horrible to imagine.. Simplify the Rules. For my part I have a hard time understanding or believing that every year the myriad of trout stream rules is reviewed with some practical goal in mind. I can picture two executives going over last years manual line by line and saying,”Sounds good. Let’s keep it.” I hope there’s more to it than that.

Tiny Spinners

Feral called me about noon on Tuesday which was overcast with a chance of rain. He said he was going to look for oyster mushrooms and maybe hit a trout stream. I asked if he’d like some company fishing so we met up on the Little South Branch (of the Pere Marquette). The stream was clear as glass and it was 2:00 PM with no rain in sight. So not ideal for fishing. I was surprised when he tied a small spinner. He mentioned that he had a bad luck streak going missing fish with minnow lures. They kept getting off or not getting hooked at all. He had sharpened the hooks and it didn’t help.

Spinners are good for hooking trout. The trailing treble hook is right where it needs to be when a fish strikes. Big spinners have lots of flash which can be enticing to decent size trout but small spinners may not look like much food so large trout may pass them up. Right away Feral started catching small trout that were clearly under the size limit. He kept at it though and soon caught a dinner trout about a foot long. But we weren’t seeing many fish and Feral mentioned once or twice he thought the Baldwin River was carrying some color, meaning stained water or even muddy. That translates to more aggressive fish so we cut out early and headed to the Baldwin.

There was a car parked at Bray Creek campground (where Bray Creek empties into the Baldwin) and we figured someone was fishing but didn’t know if they went upstream or downstream. As we talked, standing around in our waders, another fisherman pulled up and was wondering about our fishing plans. His name was Bill. He had driven up from Indiana and wanted to do some fly fishing. While talking to Bill two guys emerged from the stream, just finishing up, so Feral and I decided to head upstream and leave the lower river to Bill. Downstream there are a couple spots open enough to fly fish – if you know what you are doing. We suspected Bill knew what he was doing. He mentioned fishing until dark.

Going up from Bray Creek the stream is full of trees and branches leaning over the water, deep holes near impossible to cast and generally a challenge for spin fishing. Feral kept throwing the tiny spinner. The great thing about a small spinner is casting accuracy. Enough weight to bend the rod tip for underhand flip casts. So Feral zinged the small spinner into tight spots and caught small fish, finally getting a second dinner size trout about an hour into the stretch. As he put that one on a stringer I flipped a minnow bait in the exact same place he caught his trout and hooked up with another keeper. By then it was about 5:30 and I had a couple hour drive ahead of me so we cut out early (before reaching the bridge at 40th Street).


Back at the vehicles Feral left a note for Bill, the Indiana fly fishermen, to let him know how we did. We mentioned fichigan while talking earlier so maybe we’ll hear back.

Over the Banks

I can’t tell you how many times I made the drive, sometimes local, sometimes distant, only to find the trout stream over the banks. Doesn’t stop me from fishing but I know right away the odds are not going to be good.  Main problem: fish won’t see the lure cruise by in deep water, meaning 3+ feet , particularly if the water is stained or muddy. Trout hug the bottom. It helps to know the stream well so you can cast to shallow areas and increase the odds of fish spotting the lure.  I usually cast a large floating minnow hoping fish will see it wobble by. I put on a deep-diver, occasionally, selectively, if I am pretty sure I won’t get hung up on a sunken log.

So that was the scene on Saturday. I finished off a work project in the morning, threw my waders and gear in the SUV, and hit my local go-to stream for brown trout. No cars parked at the trail entrance so I suited up, sprayed on some deet, and made the walk downstream to my put-in spot. This stream is usually so shallow you can step in but to be safe I sat on the bank and slid in. About 3 feet deep. And dark, The lure disappeared less than a foot down. That said, right off I caught a fish about 16 inches. Started getting some follows too. Nice fish. They would porpoise near the surface at the rod tip.

I waded where I could but had to figure out as I went along where I could cross the stream to access the best casts and cover. So there was a lot of getting in and out, seeing if I could cross, and casting from the bank. I was seeing enough fish to keep it interesting and could feel a bump once in a while, fish bumping the lure but not getting hooked.

After an hour I had caught and released four fish and kept thinking – in one or two days this stream is going to be perfect. Easy to wade, clear enough water to see what I’m casting into, and ready to give up some huge trout. So I quit after about an hour, not really discouraged, but knowing the timing of this trip could have been better. I zig-zagged back downstream along the bank figuring that would be the easiest path back to the car. Not sure if I will make the trip again in two days but the whole summer is ahead. I hope to do a lot more trout fishing this year.

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