Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Advice”

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.

Dark Mornings

OK, morning are dark until the sun comes up. And there is nothing foreboding or ominous about dark mornings to a fisherman. I didn’t mean it that way. Unless tripping on a tree root in your waders sounds ominous. Dark mornings are for when you just can’t wait to go fishing so you answer to an alarm clock, negotiate through the black cityscape toward the highway, push it up to the speed limit and maybe, if you are running late, the horizon starts to glow. This on a day off from work where you really would have appreciated some sleep.

The stream looks great in the dark, like a long black pool. You have to slide into the water from the bank so you sit down, push off, and hope your feet hit bottom. In the dark there’s no telling if the stream is high or if the spot you’ve chosen is deep. A little adrenaline rush. Suddenly you are where you want to be. Let the games begin. What lure to latch onto the cross-lock snap? Move out to the center of the stream or stay put and work the far bank? Is that a branch just below the surface and how do I work the lure close but avoid a snag? Your focus is sharp.

Trout are active in the dark, feeding in relative safety. If you have a camouflage jacket all the better because you want to be invisible. You move slow, picking your casts, dropping the lure in the best spots. When trout can’t see you they may strike your lure a second before it reaches the rod tip. An explosion that stops you heart.

Sometimes you see a fish follow the lure. Sometimes you feel a tug or jerk and see nothing: A fish hit, but the hook didn’t take. So you rest the fish. Good rule: count to a hundred and cast to the same spot. You only make it to fifty. You cast. If the fish did not feel the hook he will try again, usually more aggressive. If the second cast did not work you cast to a wider area, he is in there somewhere.

You move upstream, wading slow, being quiet. You hear trickling water where run off enters the stream off a steep bank. You place a cast to that spot because you once caught a nice brook trout there. No one home today. You move on.

Every sweeping bend, every stump, even the deep channel in the middle of a straight has a possible decent trout. When it is dark the odds rise in favor of a trout that is eighteen inches or better. By the time you feel morning warmth from the rising sun you have a couple trout for dinner. And a photo of the big one you let go.

The Middle Branch

The Middle Branch and the Little South meet up at “The Forks” to create the main branch of the Pere Marquette River. I remember going up The Middle Branch so many years ago at dawn with Jake Lucas, my grandpa, and right off the bat he caught a 19 inch brown trout. Minutes later caught another the same size. We hadn’t gone 50 yards! I was about ten years old, tagging along to see how it’s done. He was using something I hadn’t seen him use before, a lead-head jig with white horse hair. He called it a doll fly. About all you can do with something like that is toss it like a spinner and let it drop to the bottom, bounce it along, and hope for a strike. I’ve tried jig fishing for stream trout a few times over the years but never had any luck with it. In the hands of a master is all I can figure.

I had an errand to run in White Cloud last weekend so I packed my waders figuring it’s only another half hour north to the Middle Branch. Might as well try for a dinner trout or two. I checked the Little South and the Middle Branch. The water was clear, it was mid-afternoon, the exact wrong time to hit a trout stream. Still, worth a try.

The Middle Branch is a very interesting stream. It’s loaded with trout but difficult to wade and cast. Half the time you are in waist high water, sometimes on tip toes. That adds another dimension to the underhand flip cast I use for 90% of my casting. To cast in chest deep water I use what might be called a revolver cast where, with arm up high, I swing the rod tip in a circle to launch the lure. Hard to explain, tricky to do. The other problem is the stream is so overgrown that getting out to get around a deep hole is treacherous, and dangerous. My older brother ran into some poison ivy on this stream few years back.

About a 100 yards up from the forks I came to the first bend, veering to the left. At the bottom end there’s a sunken log all the way across the stream and I moved up to about ten feet of it and laid a cast up past the log into some cover on the outside bank. A sudden hit and I knew it was a decent fish. Unfortunately the trout headed downstream and went under the sunken log so my line was wrapped around it. I stopped him and watched him zig zag next to me. In this situation you can try to net the fish and cut your line, or move up to the log and try to horse him forward in front of the log, which I did. The other possibility is feed your rod and reel over the top and under the log and that’s fair play too.

But I netted it reaching over the log. Nice fish. I decided right then to keep it for Sunday dinner and it’s a good thing because I didn’t catch another one. Saw a few but with the sun out and clear water it was tough fishing.

She measured 18 inches. I fried the fillets up with cajun fish mix, made rice pilaf with fresh mushrooms as a side, and my wife threw together a fruit salad. We washed it down with an icy Corona with lime. I should have taken a picture of the whole meal. Now that was a photo!

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.

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