Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Camp”

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.


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.


John with Feral (holding the trophy knife)

John with Feral (holding the trophy knife)

Camped on a hilltop overlooking the Pine River in northern Lake County we heard the unmistakable growl of a big motorcycle coming up the sandy 2-track. It was a surprise visit from Feral’s brother-in-law John. Taking a 1000 pound Honda Goldwing trail riding is not a sport many men would attempt but John wrote his own rules. This was before helmet laws came and went. If I remember right he was wearing a cowboy hat right out of a spaghetti western.

John came bearing gifts. John was a craftsman. He had made a fish filet knife with a bone handle and a bone sheath. He proposed it belonged to whomever caught the biggest trout on the opening weekend of trout season, the reason for our gathering. It turned out to be a traveling trophy for the group. For the next 15 years whomever caught the biggest trout won the knife for a year and right to carve their initials, and year, in the bone sheath. After 15 years there was very little space to carve anything. I think Feral has the retired knife.

Back then, in my early days of guitar, with Feral on mandolin, we would bang out some popular folk songs aka Bob Dylan, CSN&Y, 70’s stuff that was defining our messed up generation. Strangely, John took campfire music to be just that – songs that resonated around campfires a generation before us. Think “Frog went a Courting”. Songs I vaguely remembered from grammar school music class. And it was all fun, particularly if we were knocking down a few cold ones before scaling the big hill down to the river for some night fishing.

It’s been about ten years since I saw John last. I got word this winter that he passed away. Cancer got him. I’ll say this about him – he was a lot of fun back in our early camping days and when he smiled, which was all the time, you couldn’t help but smile right along with him.


Spontaneous Campground Jams

Feral with D-35

Feral with the D-35 Martin

I hitched up the bass boat and tossed in the camping basics, grabbed my acoustic guitar, and jumped on the freeway. It was the fastest I have ever gotten out of town. This was on a Friday, with cold rain in the forecast Saturday noon. I needed to get in one last camping trip this year. I swung by to pick up Feral and he tossed in his gear along with a borrowed classical guitar and we set up our tents at campsite one on Big Leverentz. Feral put the classical guitar in his tent and I mentioned he should keep it locked in the truck but he wasn’t too concerned.

We launched the boat and hit the lake with high expectations. I think the fish must have decided to go camping too, in the middle of the lake. Discouraged, we went back to shore and ate a sub sandwich and downed a beer. A stranger walked by and mentioned that he thought he saw a guitar case earlier when we were setting up. The reason he mentioned it was he and his buddy also brought guitars. They were camping too. We told him to stop by later if they wanted to jam.

After dark we pulled out the guitars and set a small lantern in the fire pit as we didn’t have logs for a fire, but the ambiance was still good, in part made so by the warm night and cold beer. It helped there were no bugs out, mosquitoes or otherwise. We played a couple songs and soon the other camper, Kyle, showed up carrying a guitar case. He apologized saying his buddy had crashed out early but he wanted to stop by. That was a shame because based on Kyle’s description of his buddy, we had a lot of music in common, including Jethro Tull which may not be familiar to a lot of people.

Kyle, though, was into blues and said he was working on some patterns. I wouldn’t call either Feral or myself bluesmen and don’t recollect whether we even played any blues, but we played the heck out of some songs and got to know Kyle who added some tasty lead licks here and there. As happens most times, Feral started telling stories and Kyle had some himself so there was no dead space between jams and pretty soon our limited supply of beer was the only source of blues for the entire evening. As the beer disappeared and the guitar playing sounded better and better, Feral and Kyle both indicated, in subtle competitiveness, how each had started drinking at an earlier hour that day than the other guy, so that was a running joke, which sounds lame in the telling but was funny if you were there and under the influence. When I say influence, I mean everything: camping, night air, starlit sky, crossing paths with someone you didn’t know 5 hours earlier, who just happen to glimpse a guitar case, and who turns out to be a guitar player willing to take a chance and play guitar with two strangers.

Spontaneous jams – this has happened before at Leverentz Lake. One year we set up at Little Leverentz and a young couple noticed we had instruments and stopped to ask if we “jammed.” Sure! So they stopped over and she played mandolin (which Feral played at the time) and the young man played an acoustic guitar that he had strung with nylon strings for the high b and e strings, which produced some interesting tones. We had a good jam that lasted pretty late, partly because some other young campers across from us came over and so that jam turned into an all out campground party. I don’t know what time we crashed out but a thunderstorm rolled in that night that literally shook the ground with shock waves. Feral and I had an old cabin tent and that fell down on top of us. When we crawled out in the morning trees were down and the young couple camping next to us were gone – but left their tent there. I suspect the violent storm was a bit much for them and they found a motel. A smart decision in retrospect.

Another night, Feral and I camped at site two on Big Leverentz, which is on a hill and somewhat remote from the other campsites. The whole campground appeared empty. We had some electric guitars and battery powered amps and got a little loud. Suddenly we saw a lantern wobbling down the road to our site. Three young guys, around high school age, came into camp and said they heard us jamming and could they listen? They did more than listen, one said he was a guitarist so we handed him a guitar and he cranked out some Creedence and various other jams and that turned out to be pretty interesting night also.

Pigeon River Brown Trout

Feral and I usually close out the trout season in the Pigeon River State Game Area mainly because there are two exceptional trout streams for brown trout, the Sturgeon and the Pigeon. We count on the weather turning nasty at the end of September but this year we had cold weather and low, clear streams. For big browns in the fall – it helps to have rivers at almost flood stage which triggers the spawn and movement of large brown trout into the upper stretches of the rivers. So we didn’t get our wish, but still caught a couple nice fish over twenty inches. Our cohort, Natch, upstaged us this year with a trip to the Sturgeon where he took even larger fish. No video, but a recount of his story with photos will be posted later on Fichigan.

Pigeon River Country Closer

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

The trout season came and went and I was fortunate enough to have several memorable camping/fishing trips this year with buddies that really bring something to the table – not the least a desire for adventure. For our trout season closer, Feral and I were joined by Natch first and Keith later up at Pickerel Lake which is centrally located in the Pigeon River State Game Area.

Natch is a trout camp regular having put up with Feral and I for something like a dozen years – so this year we told him he has graduated to “Honorary Member 2” not the least because he outfished Feral. I have asked Natch to write a first hand account of his trip to the Sturgeon River on the day we set up camp where he will hopefully mention those anglers whom he admires so much and have provided so much inspiration. It would be embarrassing, but not out of the question, for me to have to edit that kind of information in to his post. As a teaser, here’s a picture of the smallest of three fish, a twenty incher, he caught on a single pass at the river.

Natch's smaller brown trout

Natch’s smaller brown trout

The thing about Natch and Feral is they are both game for adventure and this year it was put to a test. I won’t go into a lot of detail here – look for a post later about Dog Lake Flooding, a pike haven of some repute. If the trip in to the flooding doesn’t destroy your truck, and you don’t fall through the floating bog mass, and the whitewater and freezing rain don’t exhaust your stamina, you might catch a… OK, I have said too much already. I’ll do a post with photos.

We also took the kayaks out on Pickerel Lake which was fun but not to productive. We caught a handful of bass and a couple perch but we had to work for those.

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Natch on Pickeral with Feral in the distance

Natch on Pickerel with Feral in the distance

Natch pulled out Sunday night and then it was up to me and Feral to prove we could still catch a trout and fortunately The Pigeon River, recently decimated by a silt fish kill by the Song of the Morning dam, still holds trout if you know where to look and when to fish. In the fall, large brown trout move upstream into the decimated area and you might believe the fish kill never happened. Feral and I took a couple big trout – but we were amazed that Feral also caught two brook trout about 10 inches. I don’t know what that means but it could be the brook trout were hardier than the browns when the dam was opened.

Trout camp would not be trout camp if we didn’t play some guitar and knock down some beers over a campfire. Keith, another adventurer, came up Monday for one night – which is a good four hours drive both directions for one night of camping. Somebody conk me in the head with my guitar as I didn’t get a campfire photo of Keith playing. Keith is good enough to sit in with any world-class band and add killer lead guitar and he wasn’t about to pass on the chance to play with “Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners” which is a name unfairly placed on Feral and I by jealous contemporaries who may not realize we own an electronic tuner.

We played some of our standards, like Buenos Tardes Amigo by Ween, but Keith really cooked when I started jamming the old JJ Cale song “Call me the Breeze.” Keith has some blues rock mojo and that took over. He played my old Les Paul Studio through a battery powered Roland Street Cube and rocked the campground. The other highlight was listening to him play my Martin acoustic including doing some of his own jams. A cold beer, an acoustic guitar played by a master, a warm fire… no further explanation needed.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

I woke up a little before them, poured a coffee, and went down to the lake and took a few photos. Another reason why camping gets in your blood. I heard an elk bugle out past the lake through the fog.

Morning coffee, Pickeral Lake

Morning coffee, Pickerel Lake

So look for some more posts on the fall camping trip to Pigeon River State Game Area: Dog Lake Flooding; Natch’s account of 3 monster browns out of the Sturgeon, and some video Feral and I took on the Pigeon with big browns.

Ghost Anglers

I was sitting on the edge of my bed strumming an unplugged electric guitar when my deceased Uncle Boyce walked in. He was wearing waders. I debated whether I should point out he had passed away and decided not to say anything. Instead I got off the bed and went to him and he was very tall which made me realize I must be size of a child since he was not a tall man. I asked, “how was the fishing” and he said, “not good.” As I looked at his face it started to vanish. I woke up right away and lay there wondering how Boyce could just pop into a dream from nowhere.

Boyce was my mother’s older brother. Most of my memories of him are from early childhood when our family moved in with my grandparents to get away from my father. What I most remember about Boyce is his warmth as a person. He was always happy to see us and when he was around everything was more special. He was a high school teacher which must have been the perfect job for him – surrounded by young minds that would appreciate his warmth and energy.

Boyce and grandpa were fishing buddies and would camp together. More so than I probably realized. I have told this story a couple times but not on the website. Feral’s boy, Jake, named after grandpa, and I fished a stretch together on the Sturgeon River up by Vanderbilt and after we got back to the car we found an older guy just hanging out there. He was in waders so we got to talking about fishing and he mentioned he was a teacher in Montague. Boyce, who had passed away a few years before that, taught in Whitehall, which is the neighboring town, so I asked if he knew Boyce.

The question almost startled him. He took a deep breath and said, “Boyce was my best friend.” I told him Boyce was my uncle and he started reminiscing, telling us about how he and Boyce would camp with Jake (Grandpa) and after a few beers Jake would pull out an old bait casting rod and tie a rubber ball to the line. Jake would cast/pitch the ball to Boyce and his tipsy buddies who would be at the plate with a bat. If you can imagine this.. Jake, who did trick casting demonstrations on Michigan Outdoors TV show in the 60’s, would pitch the ball using an underhand flip cast, his specialty, and would control the ball as it moved toward the batter. He had a variety of casts including a diabolical curve ball, a fast ball that would slow way down as it reached the plate, you get the idea. It was hard to hit a Jake Lucas pitch. When you did connect Jake would stop the fly ball by thumbing the level wind spool, reel in the ball, then cast and hit you as you ran toward first base. So if he didn’t strike you out, he tagged you on the way to first.

So that was an eye-opener for me, not the “casting rod” baseball, I knew about that because Grandpa played that with us kids in the backyard. The eye-opener was uncle Boyce getting tipsy on beer with his buddies. It had never occurred to me that my respectable uncle had a fun adult life with regular buddies. Until that moment I always had the same vision of him as a kind, happy family man. A dedicated, fun teacher.  I would give anything for a time machine to go back and have a beer with that group. And watch grandpa cast that ball.

Uncle Boyce with brown trout

Boyce Lucas with a nice brown trout

Somehow I lost his name, but I’ll thank whomever I met up by the Sturgeon for readjusting my point of view because now I can’t help but smile when I think of Boyce… hanging out with some fishing buddies and knocking down a couple cold beers. Doesn’t hurt that Grandpa is in the picture. Those two would be fun at any trout camp.

Boyce, no more dream visits though, please, that was too spooky.

Guitars, Morels, Labatt’s and Trout

Morels & Brown Trout

Trout camp doesn’t get any better. We scored on trout, mushrooms, and northern pike.  And entertainment. I invited an exceptional guitar player to camp knowing he would fit in with our strange group.  Keith H played in various bands around GR in the seventies and eighties, including putting himself though college doing gigs. If you were around then you might remember “Einstein” which played venues across the state. He hasn’t lost his touch. Toward evening we pulled out the guitars and he opened up with Superstition (ala Stevie Ray Vaughn version of the Stevie Wonder song). The cat can play.

Keith trades in the Lead Paul for a Strat

Keith trades in the Lead Paul for a Strat

Feral provided vocals and made up lyrics on the fly for some songs, and the melody on others. Natch tried to remedy that by looking up lyrics on an ipad and holding them up for Feral to read. Feral was seeing double from the Labatts and staying in time with Keith’s perfect rhythm probably seemed foreign to him after jamming with me for so many years. I played an acoustic guitar on some songs while Keith played the Lead Paul (pronounced “led” – like the metal) through a Roland “Street” which is a battery powered guitar amp and PA rolled into one. (Remind me to jam with Keith before beer o’clock).

We camped at Big Leverentz and we had the campground to ourselves. It was almost spooky. If it was rainy I would understand but the weather doesn’t get any better in Michigan for camping – low seventies with a quiet breeze. Feral fried up some morel mushrooms on Saturday night – about 40 we found up by the Pine River. They lasted about five minutes because everyone was being polite. Icy Labatts and morel mushrooms. I don’t have to explain that to anyone.

Feral with the Mushroom bag

Feral with the mushroom bag

Big Leverentz gave up several nice Pike including one about 3 feet. Fishing for pike  always results in catching bass – they hit the same lures, so we caught and released a lot of bass including one about about 3-1/2 pounds. Natch caught bass almost non-stop on Culprit plastic worms, which is also a good pike bait. Trout fishing was also good. Feral and I went back up to the Pine to check again for mushrooms (found another 40) and took a couple of decent trout, two browns about 16 inches, which we cooked up on the last day. We lost other trout and saw a few that were in the twenty plus range.

Denny with Washburn

Mike and Denny came over from Bray Creek and we shared the fish and mushrooms with them as an evening snack. Denny had his Washburn acoustic guitar and played a song done by “The Band” and we all joined in. Can’t recall the name of the song but it was a nice way to cap off a great trip.

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