Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Camp”

October Camp

October may be the best time to camp in Michigan. The fall colors are spectacular. Weather can be good or bad but if you pick your weekend it can be dry, seasonal jacket weather which is great for fishing, hunting, trail walking, kayaking, whatever calls.

Feral and I are trout fishing addicts and usually call it quits at the end of the regular fishing season, the last Saturday in September. Upon closer review of the rules and regulations I noticed one of our favorite streams, the Pigeon, has a section that stays open all year for rainbow trout. We decided to give try. I met Feral up at the Pigeon River State Forest Campground on Sturgeon Valley Road last weekend. The stream is closed there, but we knew some spots on the open water further downstream that hold good trout, down toward Tin Bridge.

It helps to have a 4WD vehicle to get back in there. I upgraded my trout car this year to a 2000 Lexus RX300, a short wheelbase, good clearance vehicle with 4WD or AWD, there is some confusion about which, but we had no problem getting to Tin Bridge, and also explored some other old two-tracks that were even more remote and less drivable. A Lexus trout car? Don’t laugh.

We hiked downstream from Tin Bridge and I must say the walk in is brutal. We followed the stream but there is no trail to speak of, so a lot of branch busting and detours away from the stream. We found some giant mushroom balls on the way. Feral said they are edible if you catch them at the right time, but these were past due.


We arrived at a nice sweeping bend with a deep undercut bank. No luck there but before long we were catching (and releasing) some decent brown trout, nothing huge, but up to about 16 or 17 inches. We didn’t catch a rainbow trout. The browns were all very dark colored, possibly due to the black silt problem from the dam spillage a few years ago.


On the second day we hit a remote spot accessible off of the Shingle Mill Pathway. We ran into a group of young backpackers with small dogs. The dogs had saddle bags! I guess they had to carry their weight, no slackers in that group. We followed the trail downstream and cut in east to intersect the river. There’s a nice mix of gravel and sandy areas including some deep bends. On one of those Feral was up ahead and had a huge trout, possibly a steelhead, follow his lure back, but the fish didn’t strike.

Scene of the crime

He motioned for me to cast up above him with my lure, thinking the fish might spot him if he moved. I made the long cast and sure enough, it slammed my lure, rolled on the surface, and broke off. (I had just put new 10lb test line.) Lost my favorite lure, but mainly felt bad for the fish. We both guessed it was a two footer, a brown. Hopefully he was able to dislodge the lure.

We caught more trout as we moved up the stream, or I should say Feral did. I held back, overthinking the loss of the big one. Feral was sticking his lure into pretty tight spots and taking fish. Again no rainbows, but decent browns which he released since they were not in season.

Back at camp we had campfires both nights. We usually scavenge for wood but I found a good deal on split logs just outside of Vanderbilt. Five buck for a nice load that lasted hours. We played guitar and mandolin the first night, running though a lot of classic Dylan, John Prine, as well as some newer songs that are good jams. The second night we talked for hours just staying up enjoying the fire. October Camp is on the calendar for next year. The woods were almost hypnotic with bright colors. Fishing was good but a rainbow trout for dinner would have been nice.

Advertisements

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!

 

 

Trout Camp 2017

Natch on the Zinc

Our annual spring trout camp coincided with the Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan, an annual event that draws upwards of 30,000 bikers. I speculated ahead of time the campground at Leverentz would be filled up with big Harleys turning the campground into a motocross track. Cold rain dampened the biker turnout, only one motorcycle found the campground, a young couple that seemed leery of the loud and rowdy fishermen. So much for my imagination!

The cold rain helped the fishing. We fished the Pine, the Zinc, the Little South and the Middle Branch of the Pere Marquette. We caught decent fish on all streams. Natch took big fish honors with a 21 incher on the Zinc. I followed that up with one about 15 inches, shortly after tripping and going in for a swim. My leg was over a boulder and I couldn’t stand up so water poured into the top of my waders. That did it for my camera but Natch had his iphone.

One a single trip around Big Leverentz Lake Feral caught seven pike. He kept one for the skillet along with a trout from the Pine. We powdered then with shore lunch brand cajun fish mix and pan fried them while knocking down way too many Labatts. Before long the guitar and mandolin came out and Natch surprised us with a tambourine. We played the long version of Buenos Tardes Amigo (Ween) whereby the beer influenced the order and spontaneity of verses. It’s a long song anyway but we had no trouble stretching it to 20 – 25 minutes.

Feral on the Pine

We stopped into Baldwin to check out the motorcycles. Bikes were lined up on both sides of main street and vendors were set up to sell food, clothes, trinkets, beer, you name it. We saw a lot of tricked out bikes including a vintage Harley from the 1940’s. We had to hand it to the bikers that showed up despite the cold and rain. Most show up every year no matter what. Last year they had snow so at least it was a minor improvement this year.

Luth and Feral, photo by Natch

Cold Beer on Cold Openers

Natch with 2 beers

We used to do our trout opener up on the Pine River in Northern Lake County. There’s quite a lot of state land up there and you can pick up permits at any DNR station for remote camping. The river was at the bottom of a very steep hill and we would do some bait fishing on the slope because of a deep hole that held a lot of promise. It was a tricky climb down and a worse climb out so we would make sure to take several beers because there were no volunteers to make beer runs.

Temperatures on the opener, the last Saturday in April, are all over the place, but usually cold. We, Natch, Feral and I, and any other regulars, would cut some sapling forks and lob big crawlers with sinkers into the dark pool and then crack a beer. Funny what you remember but I recall the sound of bottles clanking in our pockets as we made our way down the hill.

A cold beer and expectation of a giant trout latching on to the crawlers was all we needed. We’d sip our beer and stare at the rod tips which slowly swayed with the pull of the current. If a trout picked up the crawler the rod tip would jerk slightly and then it was a gamble on the best way to set the hook. I would usually pick up the rod slowly and lightly feel the line for a familiar tap tap – then rear back.

We caught very few trout and could have learned a lesson from Jake Lucas, who used to go up small streams with a fly rod and 1810 Shakespeare reel, constantly moving and dipping a crawler in front of logs and other cover. As kids, Jake took Feral and I up mosquito infected feeder creeks and watched as he would limit out with crawlers in an hour. So we know how to do it proper, but bank fishing a deep hole with a cold beer has it’s own magic. A couple buddies hanging out knocking down a cold beer on a cold evening. You know you are alive. A good trout is a bonus.

Remote Camp on the Pine River

2016 Trout Season Closer

100_3067

I met Feral, Natch, and special guest Chopper up at Pickerel Lake for the trout season closer and on the way up it threatened rain. I would have been happy to set up in a downpour if it would have muddied the rivers. No such luck but the clear steams did give up a few keepers and one lunker. Feral and I did a stretch on the Sturgeon late Friday afternoon and he popped several keepers while I nailed sunken logs. I finally realized I didn’t have my polaroids. Pretty critical error. Helps to see into the water!

100_3066

Feral with Polaroids

Natch arrived too late on Friday to fish but we had a pretty good jam around the campfire, Natch on bongos, Feral on mandolin and I had my guitar. Pretty diverse song set ranging from Pink Floyd to Ween to Bruce Hornsby. A Nuclear Chili Dog night.

On Saturday morning Natch and I headed over to the valley to fish the Sturgeon. I headed up to the horse bridge and he headed down the big hill by the Ford property. I heard a shout and next thing I saw was him running back up the hill. He had come face to face with a badger loping up the path. We went back down to check it out and found the badger den right on the foot path.

100_3071

Been great to get a photo …or not. We really didn’t want to see a badger charge out of the hole.

So I went upstream and Natch fished the lower section. The stream was clear and the fishing was slow. I had one about 16 inches bat my lure but I couldn’t get him to strike again. Saw a few smaller fish. Normally at this time of year the huge browns move upstream to spawn and this is a chance at two foot lunkers but I can only guess the season is messed up this year by global warming. So I walked the river back downstream to meet Natch and talked to a couple guys backpack camping by the bridge. They had seen some nice fish, including losing a big one. I mention the stream gives up some nice trout in the fall but it helps to have a flooded or muddy river. I mention fichigan saying they could find pictures and it turns out they had seen the website – it comes up searches in for Sturgeon River. I could kick myself for not getting a picture of the two of them by their camp. Feral and I have talked about camping in the valley for years but never got around to it.

I followed the river until I found Natch and he had a good story but no fish. A two footer broke him off. He was using some pretty light line, 6 lb test, and a new fishing rod designed for ice fishing (my first impression). The odds were against him. I felt bad for him but at least this was an indication big fish were in the river and heading upstream. So we went back to the valley again on Sunday and he fished the same stretch. I was going to fish with him, trading off the lead like I do with Feral, but decided to head back up river on my own.

100_3080

Natch fishing the valley, Sturgeon River

I had a pretty unremarkable trip. Saw some small ones. Walked the shore up to the bridge thinking I could get the photo of the backpackers but they had broke camp. Headed back to meet Natch and this time his story was a little different. He caught the lunker he lost on Saturday! He made the exact same cast to the same piece of cover and the fish slammed his lure again. He released the fish but took a photo. Strangely, it is a rainbow, not a brown. I have no explanation. I have caught tiny rainbows on the Sturgeon, years ago, but figured the browns ( and brook trout, upstream) had taken over. While Natch and I fished the valley, Feral went to the upper Sturgeon and pulled out a couple decent dinner trout so in the grand scheme of things, it is good that my buddies caught some decent fish even though my reputation took a hit. Great camping though, and for the record, no ticks and no mosquitoes.

img_2139

Natch’s rainbow on the Sturgeon

 

Fish Camp turned Trout Camp

Feral on Big Leverentz

Feral on Big Leverentz

When fishing is not just bad but so bad there is speculation about whether a lake has been poisoned off I often get called in as a consultant. I received a desperate call from Feral and Natch begging me to come up to Leverentz Lake because they had made multiple trips around the lake, tossing their best pike lures, without a glimpse of a pike. I don’t normally do pro-bono work but I made the drive knowing how much they respect my ability and opinion.

The situation was even more desperate than I thought. Feral, who’s usually game for a  beer or two on a hot evening fish was going out cold sober. I thought that in itself might throw off his game. Natch had gray hair which was surprising because only last fall it was brown. As I listened to their plight I noticed a group of adults and kids, about twenty total, heading from the fishing dock to the parking lot. Feral yelled, “Any luck?” The whole group looked slightly dazed and zombie like. One man turned to yell back, “One perch,” indicating with his fingers a length of 3 to 4 inches.

That was not a good sign but my normal position in a case like this is: the fish are there. They are momentarily turned off. Time to pull out my bag of tricks and show how it’s done. I encourage Feral and Natch to give it another try but Natch threw his hands up and said,”No way.” To my and Feral’s amusement Natch said he was going trout fishing. To set that scene it hadn’t rained for maybe a week. The streams were low and clear. The sun was out. It was hot. Add those up and it is almost comical to hit a trout steam. Not impossible to catch a fish, but an extreme challenge.

So Feral and I took the kayaks out on Big Leverentz and tossed every lure in our arsenal that might begin to entice some action. Spinner baits, crank baits, top-waters, plastic worms, spoons, rooster tails. Lures with a reputation and history of catching northern pike. We worked the drop-offs, the flats, the cove, we were determined not to leave the lake without a pike. Eventually the sun started sinking along with our resolve. Time to re-group back at camp.

Natch's Steelhead

Natch’s Steelhead

Call it divine intervention? A deal with the devil? Fate? The jury’s out but Natch came back with a trout story we had to accept because it was backed up, wisely, with cell phone photos in my email. On a stretch of the Baldwin river he caught a twenty-something steelhead along with multiple brown trout from small to sixteen inches. He said the browns were all over his minnow bait from the moment he stepped in the stream.

Baldwin river brown trout

I don’t know if it was depression, lake burn-out, or what, but Feral for the first time ever crashed out early and forgot to lock his beer cooler in his van. Natch and I built a campfire and stayed up to about 1:00 ignoring Feral’s cooler as best we could.

 

1966 Apache Chief Camper

Feral and Natch with the 66 Chief

Feral and Natch with the 66 Chief

Natch spent a few too many camping trips on hard ground so he started looking on craigslist for a tent camper. At spring trout camp this year he showed up with a camper similar to my 61 Chief and I knew I had to do a post.

Based on photos and catalogs found online he has a 1966 Apache Chief and it could well be the last single bed Apache Chief ever manufactured. Starting in the early 60’s Vesely Manufacturing started offering the Apache Eagle with double slide out beds, a design which laid the foundation of pop-up campers still in use today. They phased out the single bed Apache after 1966. So Natch and I have the first and last Apache Chief single bed models produced by Vesely Manufacturing.

100_2354

I should also mention that Jake inherited Feral’s 1961 JC Higgens camper based on the 1961 Apache Scout which was manufactured by Vesely for Sears. Last I knew Jake was looking into canvas replacement. There’s a post buried in the fichigan archives on that camper – try JC Higgens in the search tool if interested.

Here’s an ad for the 66 Chief. The ad is definitely 60’s and might explode the “politically correct” meter in multiple directions but you can get a sense of the camper utility. Note that you can click on photos to enlarge, use your browser back button to return to the post.

66 Apache Ad

Fish Camp 2015

Feral on Pickerel

Feral on Pickerel

Normally we call it trout camp which sounds a lot better. This year the trout streams were low and clear (tough fishing) and the weather was balmy so we concentrated on perch and bluegill at Pickerel Lake up in the Pigeon River State Game Area. Not that we didn’t try for trout. Feral picked up a small brook trout, Denny a very nice brook trout, and the rest of us should have tried harder. But the panfish were biting. We tight-lined a split shot with a small hook with half a crawler and felt for the bite, typically on the bottom. We kept enough for two dinners and it was all good.

Denny with a nice Brook Trout

Denny with a nice Brook Trout

With the nice weather it was also a year for exploring and treasure hunting. We hiked a mile into Mud Lake and found the remains of an old home or possibly a fancy resort including a huge field stone fireplace and a tennis court. Feral had his two metal detectors but all we found were shell casings, bottle caps and odd junk. Not the diamond studded gold-ring early-retirement plan I was hoping for.

Mud Lake Resort

Mud Lake Resort

We did find one treasure. Feral and I fished the Pigeon on Friday morning and we spotted a sled runner used to haul logs in the early 1900’s. A remnant of Michigan’s early logging days. Feral told Jake about it and he wanted it for an art project so four of us crossed a bog and river to retrieve it. It weighed about a 100 pounds soaking wet.

Natch grabs the sled runner

Natch lugs the sled runner across the Pigeon

Jake with sled runner

Jake holding the prize

Natch and I had our antique campers which typically draws a lot of interest. The campground was full and one person mentioned their father had one like mine. Another person took photos. There’s a post in the archive on my 1961 Apache Chief but I need to do a separate post on Natch’s 1966 Apache Chief. It’s pretty sweet including an add-a-room option (not shown) and fancier body style reminiscent of 1960’s Ford Falcon.

apache campers

We had a guitar jam on Saturday night with Jake on acoustic bass, Natch on bongos, Denny and I on guitar and Feral belting out some lyrics. Mike recorded some of it with his camera phone and I haven’t seen the footage but Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners may have lived up to their name. Or not. A camper across the way commented to Feral about enjoying the music.

I was looking forward to the Lunar Eclipse on Sunday but clouds rolled in. We did catch a glimpse but didn’t get a photo. Still, it was a great night to hang at camp, tell stories and absorb some outdoors. Needed that.

Spring Trout Camp 2015

Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette

Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette

I need to start calling it fish camp or just drop any reference to fishing altogether because when my buddies and I meet up in the spring it can be hit or miss. This year we caught some good northern pike out of Big Leverentz but the trout streams were so low and clear I quit after a half hour. Natch pulled a small brown out of the Little South and that was a miracle. Mike and Denny arrived the evening before Feral, Natch and I broke camp (wet camp, it rained that night) so they had the advantage of rain and caught some steelhead out of the Baldwin. OK, “Fish Camp” is sounding reasonable.

Mike's Steelhead

Mike’s Steelhead

Feral with a Northern Pike for Dinner (Big Leverentz Lake)

Feral with a Northern Pike for Dinner (Big Leverentz Lake)

“Beer Camp” may be a better name since it’s the only constant. Feral, Natch and I drink Labatts Blue and just before heading up I saw a new Labatts TV commercial. It starts with a guy in a black bear suit carrying a six of Labatts and suddenly he’s surrounded by beautiful women and a song starts playing which has absolutely nothing to do with beer or the happy guy in the bear suit. The song is “These Eyes” by the band Guess Who. Pretty killer song and totally irrelevant to the commercial which adds a coolness factor. So I learned the chords before heading to camp. When I started playing the chords on my acoustic guitar Feral jumped right in singing. Wow. So if we change the name to “Beer Camp” it would have it’s own theme song.

Keith, Natch and Feral enjoying the lake and telling stories

Keith, Natch and Feral enjoying the lake and telling stories

Or maybe “Guitar Camp” works. We had a couple good guitar jams over the long weekend. Keith played some great acoustic and then switched to the Les Paul and played some absolutely killer lead on Adios Amigo by Ween and also over some Tom Waits songs. I played rhythm and Feral belted out the lyrics. Live music at camp doesn’t get any better.

Keith jams on my 000-16 RGBT Martin

Keith jams on my 000-16 RGBT Martin

Keith pulled out Sunday morning and Denny and Mike came up Sunday evening. Denny had his Martin D-35 and played some very interesting obscure songs. He’s a walking encyclopedia of songs so we never know what he’ll play. So we had a great jam Sunday night too. Natch auditioned as bongo player for Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners and I’m waiting to hear from Feral if catching the only trout disqualified him from band membership.

Denny warms up his 70's D-35 Martin

Denny warms up his 70’s D-35 Martin

Feral and Mike discuss world affairs

Feral and Mike discuss world affairs

Finally, we could call our spring get-together “Luther’s Car and Trailer Repair Camp.”The starter went out on the Slownoma and I managed to crawl under the vehicle and install a new one Sunday afternoon with the help of Natch and Feral. They drank beer and encouraged me. On the way home a wheel bearing went out on my 1961 Apache Chief camper so I did a roadside repair on that. Fortunately I carry tools, spare wheel bearings and grease in my rusty tool box so I didn’t need to leave the camper on the roadside. All told, I’d rather have mechanical problems at camp or on the way home. Main thing is getting there!

2014 Fall Trout Camp

Natch fishing the stretch below Tin Bridge

Natch fishing the stretch below Tin Bridge

In a strange turn of events Feral did not make it to trout camp this fall but that didn’t stop us other die-hards from converging on Pickerel Lake campground up in Pigeon River country. Natch, Mike, Denny and I worked in a few days of fishing. Mike and Denny stayed at a private campground with amenities, which was surprising, since he and Denny have a long history of camping at Pickerel. But they stopped over on Friday night for some campfire and music. Denny had his Martin and played some James Taylor and John Prine and I might have surprised them when I played “Norma Jean” by Elton John (a song about Marilyn Monroe) and a pop song called “Wake me Up” by Avici.

Natch arrived after dark and that was my chance to have him audition as bongo player for Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners. Unfortunately Rock Bottom (Feral) was not present so he may have to audition all over again. The main thing is Natch kept reasonable good time with the two beer drinking guitar players and he drinks my brand – so he will be getting a very strong recommendation.

Mike warms up the bongos while Denny fingerpicks his D-35

Mike warms up the bongos while Denny finger picks his D-35

The fishing, ah the fishing. Fall Trout Camp is our chance to fish rivers that give up huge brown trout (in the 25 inch class). Giant browns move upstream in the fall but it usually requires blustery cold weather and rain. This year we had perfect camping weather. So camping was great….though everyone kept commenting it’s just not the same without Feral and turning to me for answers. I really didn’t have any answers but suggested next year we camp in Feral’s back yard if that’s what it takes to get him to trout camp. (Trout Camp… It’s not entirely about the trout.)

Natch on the Sturgeon

Natch on the Sturgeon

I fished a couple of stretches of river with Natch and let me tell you – when the going gets tough, Natch gets going. What you don’t see in this photo is the log strewn bottom and gale force river trying to drag him backwards. I often get out and go around this spot on the Sturgeon because the wading is treacherous. The other thing I wanted to say about Natch is he can really zing a lure into tight cover and that’s a requirement for small stream trout fishing. He uses a side arm cast rather than the “Lucas” underhand flip cast so it was interesting seeing him drop lures under low overhead branches and other tight spots.
Natch on Sturgeon 3
Notice the water line on Natch’s fishing vest.

Tin Bridge
I have been wanting to post a photo of the new Tin Bridge ever since the old tin bridge destroyed the frame, exhaust, and brake line on my old Nissan Pathfinder. (see post The Incident at Tin Bridge). The new bridge belongs on a superhighway! Strangely, where the blacktop ends the rutted two-track requires a 4 wheel drive monster truck for passage.

For those wondering about the Pigeon River and the Song of the Morning Dam a sign posted at the bridge indicates they are drawing the dam down to prevent any more accidental spills (the last one decimated the trout population for miles with silt) so measures are being taken. I fished a section called Cornwall Flats and the bad news is it had new levels of silt and the fishing was tough. I caught a ten inch brook trout and a smaller brown but I suspect it will still be a long time before the stream recovers. Areas that did not have silt last year have silt buildup this year. Maybe drawing down the dam isn’t the answer?

Cornwall Flats section, Pigeon River

Cornwall Flats section, Pigeon River

Notice the silt on the bank. The bottom of the stream was black from silt throughout much of this stretch of river. The water was clear so the black steam bottom made it seem like I was walking in a pool of India ink. A bit strange…

So no giant brown trout to report this trip – you’ll have to search the archives if you want to see photos of the real monsters that come out of the Sturgeon and Pigeon in the fall. Maybe next year it won’t be summer weather in late September. That would help.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: