Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Advice”

The Creek

I fish a couple small streams properly named creeks because at summer levels you can’t navigate them with a toy boat. After a good rain that all changes. Water spills over to low swampy areas. The water turns to chocolate and any trout inhibitions about chasing lures disappears. If it is muggy, it is down right stifling along the creek. You can taste the humidity breathing. By early summer the vegetation is always thick and dangerous. Nettles and poison ivy in particular so when you land a trout and need to go to the bank to unhook or field dress it – beware.

Which brings me to last Saturday afternoon. We had a good rain in west Michigan on Thursday night. I guessed correctly my favorite creek might be flooded though it turns out not muddy, which can be good also, the trout can see lures from a good distance. That just means longer, more accurate casting is needed.

There’s a good technique I haven’t mentioned before on fichigan. It paid off twice on Saturday and here’s the idea. When the water is high, logs spanning the stream that are normally exposed, are submerged. These are good holding spots for trout and I typically cast to the back end (downstream side, note that I fish wading upstream) and hope the noise of the lure landing near the log will attract the attention of a trout. This often works, trout hear the splash and check it out.

When a river or creek is flooded and I can see the water running over the top of logs I cast over the log with a floating minnow, lightly jerk it a few times so trout below the log see it coming, then I stop winding and let the lure float to the surface so it goes over the log. As soon as it is over the log I start winding again and wait for an explosion.

You may not be able to tell from the photo but the trout in the net measured 22 inches. That was my first fish of the day. I admired it, took the photo, unhooked it and turned it loose. It took the lure within a second or two of floating over the log.

I moved upstream casting the bank and working the cover and came to another submerged log. It looked like maybe an inch or less water running over the log but that’s enough. I did an underhand flip cast placing the lure a few feet upstream of the log, twitched the lure on the surface, watched it float over and started reeling. Same thing, another explosion.

This one was smaller but probably 17 or 18 inches.

Here’s the other lesson about small creeks. I pulled him up on the bank and felt the familiar sting of nettles on my index finger. I stuck my finger in the soothing cold water and rubbed it on my waders to wipe off any oil or whatever it is that provides nettle sting. That helped. I released the trout unharmed and kept fishing. Later toward evening I noticed a small spot of rash on the wrist of the same hand. Poison ivy, but the patch is about the size of a quarter so I was lucky. Also picked up a tick, buried in my leg. Here again, I take precautions for that too. I sprayed my main long sleeve fishing shirt with Permethrin this spring, doused it good, but the tick likely fell in my waders and crawled up the leg.

Back to fishing. I caught several more trout, not large, but always exciting. I didn’t keep any but maybe next time. I only fished half the stretch. The last time I went up this “creek” I saw a two footer jump clean out of the water. I saved the last half of the stretch for the next downpour.

The Zinc River

Two honest fishermen

There’s a trout stream located near the middle of the lower peninsula that Feral and I have avoided mainly because of it’s reputation for pollution. I always imagined zinc-plated trout in a mud bath with toxic bubbles rising with every boot step on the sink-hole muck bottom. Feral suggested the trout would be surprisingly heavy from lead content. The Michigan DNR has an on-line publication called Eat Safe Fish Guidelines, with regional info on what fish from what streams you might want avoid, and it turns out with the Zinc River  we were worried about the wrong things. It’s the PCBs and Mercury you need to watch out for!

Zinc-plated Brown Trout

Feral and I could have avoided the Zinc River for the rest of our lives except for occasional rumors of giant brown trout. So, on a fluke, last weekend we decided to drive over and at least look at the river. It meanders through a local park so we pulled in there and were surprised to see a fisherman heading up to the parking lot. Paul, didn’t get a last name, wasn’t lugging any trout but was happy to discuss the river. He fishes it regularly and had some photos on his iphone. Some very nice fish. His goal: Catch a 30 incher.  Umm… that’s our goal.

Feral and I did a small stretch on the upper river to see what it was about and the first thing we noticed was it looks like the Pine River.. Same nice mix of sand, gravel, clay, good cover. The second thing we noticed were the trout which were biting even though it was late morning and sunny. We caught a half dozen trout up to around 15 inches, didn’t see any lunkers, but we did see some good looking cover that could hold huge trout. We walked away with a different point of view. In the future, Paul needs to brush up on his lying skills, Feral and I need to do more exploring, and I ask you to please forget you read this post.

Jake Lucas flip cast illustrated

If you search for Jake Lucas using the search tool on this site you’ll get a bit of history. Part of his legacy, besides teaching so many of his friends and family his trout fishing techniques, was his patience teaching us all how to flip cast. As a trout fishing tool it’s hard to imagine not having this as part of the arsenal. I use it for 90% of my casts. The ability to drop a lure where you want it on a congested small trout stream makes all the difference. If you can master this – your success will improve.  If you click on the illustration it should be full screen, use your browser back button to return to the post.

Note that the cast is one fluid motion, using the wrist only – not the arm. There is a tendency, when learning this, to jerk your arm forward. Keep your upper arm glued to your side. For practice put on a practice plug and set up some targets in your yard, paper plate size, scattered about. Get used to stopping the forward motion of the lure as it goes above the target by pinching the line against the rod handle. This is fairly critical. Stopping the lure right above the target, on a trout stream, translates to dropping the lure into the stream just shy of the far bank, or piece of structure. Saves lures, catches fish.

The flip cast illustration shows a vintage Shakespeare closed face reel. One of the important design features is how near the reel body is mounted to the rod making the distance between the line and the rod handle minimal, in effect,  making it easy to pinch the line / stop the lure. Sadly, all of the close face spinning reels on the market, the trigger spins, have the the body of the reel mounted way below the rod.  It’s possible to pinch the line to stop the lure, but it is harder to do. If anyone working for a reel manufacturer sees this post I hope they will pass this information along to the design department – the reel body can be moved right up next to the rod. Thousands of Shakespeare reel fans will appreciate your efforts. The add below shows Jake with some trout and one of several closed-face reel models made back in the fifties and sixties.

Sadly, Shakespeare tried to reintroduce the model 1810 reel in the eighties or nineties, as the 1810 II. The marketing department and bean counters must have insisted the reel needed to be sold for under $30.00 because it was a shadow of it’s former self. If Shakespeare would have doubled the quality and price – they would have had a winner.

Dinner Trout

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My wife has been asking me to bring home some trout for dinner so when I called up Feral to see if he wanted to go fishing last Saturday I told him up front that was the mission. We started on a upper stretch of the Pine River in Lake County which was not as high or muddy as we had hoped. Still, Feral caught a nice brown about 14 inches and I was surprised by a Brook Trout. We don’t keep brook trout, even for the skillet, under the assumption that releasing them may help the population. We catch one brook trout to every 20 browns so it is an event just to see one and appreciate the beautiful coloring.
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Feral kept the brown trout though. He too was thinking “trout dinner.” Feral has some markings on his fishing rod to confirm fish size which you can see on the photo below. If you click on the photo ( use browser back button to return) you can see his markings at 15, 20 and 25 inches. That’s not a hoax, Michigan streams give up brown trout that large, especially in the fall. As far as we’re concerned though, smaller trout taste better, let the big ones go.
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Feral mentioned the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River and the thought was maybe it received a bit more rain than the Pine, in which case the fishing might be excellent. So we headed south. The river was spectacular and the weather cooperated with rain and drizzle interspersed with bright sunshine, back and forth. The temp was around 70 so it was comfortable to wear rain gear.

We started catching fish right away and seeing some pretty nice fish, upwards of twenty inches, but the big ones seemed to be looking only, following the lure back or making passes without a strike. The better news was the dinner size trout, keepers around 12 to 14 inches, were hungry. Feral kept a couple and I kept three figuring that was about right for my wife and I.
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I cooked the trout on Sunday, September 11, a day of reflection and sadness for America. The horror of 9/11 still makes no sense to me. I spent part of the day writing an editorial, for my own sanity, just to try to understand, and part of the day watching Saving Private Ryan. When my wife came home from work at 5:00 I dove into cooking the trout. It was good. She said I need to bring home trout more often. I didn’t do well with table talk.

Muddy Waters

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A tornado passed though Grand Rapids on the 20th, this one was shrouded in torrential  rain. I watch the event unfold on TV. News 8 tracked the path using radar and maps right down to street level so even though sirens were blaring in my neighborhood, I was confident I was miles outside of the path. At one point, when the tornado was directly west of me, I looked out my front window and saw low gray rain clouds moving rapidly west, a phenomena in itself. The tornado was sucking the clouds out of my neighborhood. Fortunately the tornado damage was not bad – no lives claimed and mostly tree damage rather than homes.

Fast forward to yesterday, more rain predicted and cooler weather, good trout fishing weather. I checked the condition of the Rogue River using the home page link, “Daily Stream Conditions in Michigan.” It had a light blue dot signifying water level was much above normal which meant, in effect, that the Rogue River feeder creeks would be flooded. Time to hit a feeder creek.

As suspected, my target stream was high and muddy. I put on my biggest 3-hook floater minnow and worked my way upstream casting to the opposite bank as well as right up the middle. When the streams are muddy, fish can be anywhere. First fish, 20 inches. I netted it, de-hooked it, took a quick photo, measured it with a de-liar, and eased it right back in the water. Elapsed time, about a minute and a half. I try to move fast in order to make sure the fish is OK with minimal trauma and it was. It darted away. I’m glad I measured it. I had guessed about 18 inches.
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This particular stream is almost impossible to fish without a good drenching. It is normally so low and clear you are lucky to see fish and may swear it doesn’t support a trout population, let alone large trout. But when it is high and muddy, the dynamic changes, suddenly this sleeper comes alive.

I continued upstream and lost one about 16 or 17 inches right at the net, but made up for it with another the same size. I had a stringer with me and was tempted to keep it but I had only been fishing about an hour and if I keep fish for the skillet I would rather have a couple 12 inchers – better tasting to my mind. Nothing wrong with these trout though – absolutely beautiful stream brown trout. A little Cajun seasoning and a cold beer and no complaints.

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I did catch some smaller fish, on my biggest lurer, two around 8 to 10 inches, and only mention it to anyone that may believe you need tiny lures to catch small trout. Just not the case. Trout like a big meal. Further, if you are fishing muddy water, best to fish a large or flashy lure because trout need to see the lure though the muddy haze.

After about two hours of fishing I was amazed to see a trout jump vertically clear out of the stream. I don’t know what he was after. The fish was two feet long, the largest fish I have seen in this stream. I was able to move into casting position and worked the hole as best I could. Even tried a second lure thinking maybe something different might entice it. Nothing. It’s a little hard to ease past a hole like that. By then I was almost up to the bridge. I placed a cast into some cover and saw a nice one make a pass at the lure. Couldn’t get him to do it again so I placed a cast right up the middle of the stream and saw a swirl. Maybe a nice fish. It hit the second cast but didn’t hook. I tried again and it hit the lure again and didn’t get hooked. So I put on a deeper diving crank bait and this time he was hooked.

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He was about 17 inches. I unhooked him with my long nose pliars right in the stream versus netting him. I should have been more circumspect and kept him because my wife loves brown trout. When she heard the garage door she came out and asked how I did. I told here I did well, listing the sizes, followed by, “I  didn’t keep any.” She said she didn’t want stories, she wanted trout.

Fishing theTributaries

Big brown 1

I had a very interesting time on a small tributary to the Rouge River this weekend. It rained Friday night so I was pretty sure the stream would be carrying some extra water which is really needed on water this small for spin fishing. It turned out to be my best day of fishing (so far) this year with a couple brown trout over sixteen inches and one over twenty. And several smaller trout. It was all catch and release.
I arrived about eight thirty in the morning and hiked into a normal put-in place which surprisingly was cleared away with a path right down to the stream. Someone had placed stair steps right into the river which was a shocker as I considered this section of stream to be “off the beaten path.” I tossed a lure from the top of the steps and right away a 16 inch brown came out from under a log for a quick look. After a couple casts he hit it and stayed on for about six seconds but managed to get off. So without even getting into the river I had some action.

The tributary

The stream, as I had hoped, was up and carrying a lot of mud. This was perfect as it allowed me to sneak up the river without being spotted by the trout and allowed me to make short casts upstream and perpendicular to the bank. On small water like this the trout often hit when the lure is at the rod tip. Explode may be a better word. I use an ultra light rod and spincast reel with 10 or 12 lb test Trilene XL line. In other words, a rod and reel that allows me to make pinpoint accurate casts into tight cover and monofilament line that will not break off on a huge trout.

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I tossed a variety of lures including a gold super vibrax spinner and several minnow baits of various sizes and styles. When fishing muddy water the main thing is the trout need to see the lure so something with a lot of flash is helpful. As mentioned earlier I caught trout of all sizes and that tells me this is a very healthy stream. Small trout, ten to twelve inches with go after the same lures as the larger trout so if you are new to spin fishing don’t be surprised if a tiny trout hits your biggest lure, or vice versa. If you try fishing the smaller tributaries to notable trout streams, and can time your trip so the water is up and muddy, you will be surprised by the size and number of trout available.

Holding 22 inch brown

 

 

Hook-Jawed Brown Trout

Feral with a hook-jawed brown trout, Pigeon River

Feral with a hook-jawed brown trout, Pigeon River

We don’t focus on catching on big male brown trout when working our way up a remote stretch of stream. Trout fishing is more than that even though the idea seems to pop up when a deep hole offers some hope. Catching a hook-jawed brown trout is a rare occurrence and should be. If it were easy there would be no magic. I took a friend /novice fisherman out fishing one time on the Pere Marquette and he caught a 21 inch male brown trout on his first trip and I thought: Oh oh.. this ruins it for him. It will be years before he catches another brown like this. That’s if he sticks with it. It would have been much better if he worked at it for a couple years so he could appreciate the event.

How magical is it? The lure stops and you realize there is some anchor heavy weight there and then the line starts moving and maybe you see the fish and maybe you don’t. You pray your line doesn’t break while computing the odds of moving whatever it is past the blowdowns and logs out to a clear patch of stream where you may be able to get the net under the fish and oops, did you did you remember the net? Things move quickly and the odds are not so great. There are a million ways to lose a good fish – even for those detail-oriented responsible anglers that oil their reels and change line often.

I was fishing the Sturgeon River up by Vanderbilt one time and the river was high and muddied up to where I could see about a foot into the water. I had been tossing big minnow baits, floaters, but knew if the trout were on the bottom they would have to be in pretty shallow water to glimpse the lure. So I put on a big spinner, a Mepps Black Fury which has yellow polka dots against a black blade. There was a fairly deep run off to my left and I cast above the run and wound the reel slowly so the spinner would go deep. The lure stopped. The pole did some slow bends and then I felt the fish rise toward the surface. The fish was coming up for a look.

Luther with hook-jawed brown trout, Sturgeon River

Luther with hook-jawed brown trout, Sturgeon River

It reminded me of a spotted leopard when it materialized into view. The colors were stunning and bright. My heart stopped and I knew that moment, that picture, would always be lodged in my random access memory. I can still see it.

Feral and I have caught a few monsters – and we are not alone in our group. Mike, Denny, Jake, and more recently, Natch, have had those magical days when the lure suddenly stops and they wondered how to get the lure off that darn sunken log. Then the logs starts moving. Two foot brown trout with hook jaws. If you have just taken up small stream trout fishing, streams the width of a two-lane blacktop and under, and have not caught a hook-jawed brown, your time will come. They’re in there.

The Truth about Trout

Anyone with a stick, six feet of monofilament, a hook and a worm can catch a trout. I did, age 9, fishing the Baldwin River at Bray Creek campground. I lowered the worm down in front of a log so it swept underneath and was rewarded by a 12 inch brown trout. It was a thrill that kept me at it the rest of my life. If I remember right that was also the trip where I fell into the river and had only a single pair of pants so I had to sit at the campfire in a blanket while the pants dried out. The pants fell off a stick perch into the fire but were rescued more or less.

We were camping with my grandpa and grandma, Jake and Gladys Lucas and maybe because my brothers and I were such a handful Jake would send us on foot races though the walking trail at dusk to tire us out and thereby get a chance at some peace and quiet. He’d time us with a pocket watch and in my mind’s eye we ran those trails at about 30 miles per hour. One time I passed a deer fleeing wolves and was fortunate it didn’t follow because Grandma would have shot the deer and Grandpa would have had to wrestle it from the wolf pack.

Jake and Gladys Lucas

Jake and Gladys Lucas

Jake taught us how to appreciate the outdoors and even more important – how to earn money with honest work (mowing his lawn, weeding Grandma’s vegetable garden, shoveling the driveway in the winter). There was no free ride. We would go fishing on our camping trips but we had to cut our own fishing poles from saplings and dig our own worms. Jake was good for a hook and a little monofilament. It was one great adventure and the lessons we learned you don’t find in books or school.

Back to trout and truth. If an obnoxious nine year old can outwit a trout so can you! And you don’t need expensive equipment. My current rig consists of a 25 dollar Zebco underspin reel and a Gander Mountain cork handle spinning rod that cost about forty. My only real expense is lightweight Hodgeman waders which run about a hundred and now have so many patches that I am patching the patches with Seamgrip at five dollars a tube. There is one other major expense – fishing lures and count me in if anyone wants to march on Washington in protest. Or Finland.

If you decide to try trout fishing for the first time you could do worse than fishing the Baldwin River. Check DNR maps for access spots – but you can get in at Bray Creek campground and fish upstream or walk the trail downstream and fish back up. Catch it on a rainy day when the river is rising. Wade slowly upstream and throw a few casts at the tail end of each log or stump. Try to place a cast in front of cover at a 45 degree angle. Use small spinners if you want to catch a lot of fish. Use floating minnow baits and reel like mad if you want to catch bigger fish. Bring some bug spray for mosquitoes. Wear Polaroid sunglasses (make sure they are polaroid). They cut the glare on the water and that saves lures since you can see where you are casting. Then also enable you to see trout that follow the lure. If he doesn’t take your lure, count to twenty and cast again at the same spot.

I don’t think I’m up to saplings and worms anymore. Wading and casting cover for trout is a lifetime adventure with it’s own challenge: you need to become proficient at casting small lures next to the bank under overhanging branches at 30 feet. I suspect the satisfaction is not unlike a golfer that makes a 30 foot putt. Except I get fresh trout for dinner.

Wading Deep

Wading Deep

One of the interesting things about trout fishing is meeting whatever challenge comes up. In order to catch trophy trout you have to put yourself into a position where you have a genuine shot at getting a big fish to take your lure. It may be necessary to wade though deep holes, balance on invisible and unstable logs, lean into a hard current, and try to lob an awkward cast into thick cover while swatting that mosquito that is buzzing you ear.

Successful trout fishing is all about making the perfect cast and to do that you need to be in the right spot whether in the middle of the stream or near the bank. And you have to be on the move – continually working cover with a few select casts and then pushing further upstream to the next piece of cover. Generally you stay on the inside of bends so you cross the stream constantly. Imagine a shoot-em-up video game where you are constantly moving forward and blasting enemy that come into view. Sort of like that but you need to be as accurate with your casting as you are with your imaginary rifle.

But this post is about wading deep. If I take the route up through the stream that others don’t – I know may be rewarded. I am often on my tip toes in water so muddy or stained that my feet are my eyes. It’s ballroom dancing on a minefield. You learn to walk sideways in a fast current to reduce drag and gauge the steepness of the decline into pools and whether you can muster your way around some trash or blowdown to stay in the stream. Climbing up on the bank to go around blowdowns or deep pools is a last option – you want to stay in the water because that is where to make the next perfect cast. The one that takes a big trout.luther on Pigeon 2

 

If you teach a Girl to Fish

Someday they may bring you a fish and that would be great. Nothing like a fresh fish for the grill or skillet. I wish I would have spent more time fishing with my daughters but maybe the important thing is not the amount of time we spent fishing, but the fact that we did fish. Now, when they get the opportunity, it is not some foreign thing. There is fun to be had. My youngest daughter sent me this photo last summer when visiting her Uncle Bill. Her cousin Brent rented a charter on Lake Michigan and Lisa was game.
Lisa with Salmon

Lisa teaches outdoor biology and is our family’s world traveler including trips to exotic lands to catalog wild amphibians and reptiles. Handling fish? No problem.

I wish my oldest daughter had been there too – I would have loved another photo!  As kids the two of them were competitive about catching bluegills out of Big Star lake and I expect Sara would have been in the hunt right along with Lisa.

Feral has a daughter also whom he taught to fish – not just boat fishing but wading trout streams. Patti has stopped by at trout camp a couple times and once asked to fish with me. We went to a mosquito infested spot on the upper sturgeon that can be described as difficult to wade and cast but that did not slow her down – she took a nice trout out of a hard to cast pool. Wow.

Patti with Brown Trout

So here is the message: If you are a young man with daughters please share your outdoor experiences. Don’t stereotype your young daughters as too feminine to enjoys the things you enjoy. Someday they may bring you a fish, and memories to last a lifetime.

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