I woke to a thunderstorm last Sunday at 2:00AM and two things went through my mind: The weedkiller on my lawn just washed away and I should be fishing. Spin fishing at night is fraught with problems so there was zero chance of me getting up. The storm lulled me back to sleep. By 6:00 AM, my average rising time, the roads were almost dry but that didn’t stop me from googling a radar map near a trout stream thirty miles north and checking rainfall stats. Two tenths of one inch. So I packed my gear and headed north having no idea if that amount of rain would muddy up a small stream and launch a trout feeding frenzy. Here’s my trout tip of the month: No.
But I did catch a small trout and saw others in the glass-clear water. Had one large trout explode the water without getting hooked. I would have liked to catch a decent size trout for dinner but that’s the thing about trout fishing. It’s not just about the fish. Or dinner. You get immersed in the rhythm of fishing and the beauty of the surroundings and it resets your life aggravations clock back to zero.
I set the alarm for 5:30 but rose at 4:50. The weather prediction for Tustin Michigan, up near the Pine River, was 60% rain. It’s about a two hour drive north for me. I had small spatter on the windshield around Big Rapids but nothing after that. I wasn’t discouraged but knew from experience that if it starts raining on a trout stream my chance of success doubles at a minimum. And the size of the keepers goes up. I pulled into the old canoe landing site off Raymond Road and was happy to see no other cars. I didn’t have to second guess if another fisherman went up or down stream and whether I was fishing behind someone. Never a good thing. I put on my waders and took the high banks upstream a few hundred yards and scaled the steep bank down to the stream. The river looked good considering no rain. It was carrying a little mud and the river depth was higher than expected considering the minor drought we’re in. I put on a floating minnow and slowly waded upstream working each piece of cover. I had new 10lb XL fishing line which helps casting and adds insurance for landing big browns.
The fishing was slow. I saw a few browns dart out from cover but they just weren’t interested in chasing the lure far and they didn’t bother taking a second look. About an hour into the trip I approached a wing dam of fallen logs that stretched almost the width of the stream forcing water through a deep trough near the left bank. I fished the opening and moved up just below the wing dam to cast up in front of it and had a strike. I made the same cast and hooked a rainbow about sixteen inches. Nice fish. My enthusiasm cranked back up after that but it was the same thing – work cover with good casting and see only an occasional flash. So after another half hour I decided to call it and wade back downstream to my get-in spot. I debated fishing to the bridge, a ways further, but the walk back to the car on a hot blacktop sounded bad. Here’s were it gets interesting. I waded back downstream around the last bend and there was another fishermen. Where did he come from?
We talked for a bit and I was surprised to hear he had driven up from Saginaw. So he made a two hour drive also. He was parked at the canoe landing and must have followed me upstream unaware I was ahead of him. I felt bad. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He said the fishing was slow and I can only imagine considering I may have spooked many of the fish that might have chased his lure. A spinner, by the way, with a rooster tail. A good choice for summer trout. He took it in stride. Anyway, a nice guy hoping for rain like myself but just glad to get out no matter what. He said he was going to fish up to the bridge and I hope he did well. There’s some nice holes and cover up that way. I told him about this blog and asked to take his picture. Didn’t get his name but maybe he’ll comment on the post.
I wished I would have taken a photo of the rainbow! They’re pretty scarce on the Pine so it would have made sense. It’s filleted and in the fridge so that’s that.
Over the winter I found an online search tool that works similar to google maps but has property lines and owner data. I was able to zero in on the Pigeon River state game area and was surprised to see a section of land I did know the state owned – with the Sturgeon River running through it. I met Natch up at Pickerel Lake for a one-nighter with a goal of fishing that very remote stretch. We had to bust through a cedar swamp and climb over bow-downs to get to the river. I wore my permethrin tick sprayed shirt and hat and was glad for it. Natch picked up a tick and managed to pull it out. We found others trying to make a home of his fishing vest. But this is supposed to be a fishing report.
We saw and caught fish but it required some short pin-point casting. You couldn’t wade for more that ten steps before getting out to go around trees. The fish were hungry but we had to drop the lure right in front of them and hope they would catch it within the short space of winding back. The water was clear increasing the chance the fish would spot us and hide. Here’s one Natch caught. Very obviously a brown trout with the spots if you are not sure of your trout species.
Camping at Pickerel Lake was interesting. Natch arrived a half hour ahead of me and noticed the campsite we normally grab was taken so he drove out to the Pigeon River campground to kill some time. When I arrived not fifteen minutes later our campsite was open and the folks left a pile of store bought, dried, split wood. Some of it still bundled with plastic wrap. All we needed to do was fetch some kindling for the evening fire. I took it as a good omen.
This was left over for whomever camped there next. Hope they also took it as a good omen.
We had a group challenge to bring an interesting bottle opener to spring trout camp and Natch brought his A-game. He made this one for me. The opposite side of the opener has trout camp date specifics. All hand carved.
I went a different route and found some vintage combination pen knife/cork screw/bottle openers on ebay to hand out. (see below) I thought it made sense for mushrooming and self defense. If a bear attacks quick open a beer and hand it to him…
Natch picked one shaped like a bottle, which was unique, and these are left over. Feral and Jake never made it to camp which was disappointing considering they rallied me on the bottle opener idea. Actually Feral made a cameo appearance for a quick mushroom hunt but had to leave. He’s busy with home repairs, and moving, but that seems pretty thin considering trout camp is like new years for all of us.
The Fishing was amazing. I set up camp about 3:30 PM Thursday and headed for the river. I caught three nice browns, all 15 in or better, and saw others. Stream was low and clear, not ideal, but the fish were hungry. Basically work any deep water with lures. I took photos for proof but any trout fisherman in Michigan knows what a nice brown trout looks like so I’ll forgo posting the photos. Update – might as well show the trout…
Morel Mushrooms were spotty. Natch and I found some on Friday. The next morning we fried them up crispy and mixed them with scrambled eggs. It was pretty incredible.
Sunday rolled around and the weather report said thunderstorms moving in at 10:00 PM. Natch and I decided watching the thunderstorm roll in would be worth packing up wet on Monday so we stretched a tarp out in front of our fire pit. We had the fire ready to light and loaded up with dry elm. Previous fires cut from the same downed log burned so hot we had to set the camp chairs five foot away. So that was the plan – sit under the tarp, watch the storm, and light the fire. You might say it was a staged contest between the storm and the fire. Could rain put out a fire that was truly a furnace?
We were pounded by rain but stayed dry. We had a score of munchies that are too embarrassing to list. Lots of beer and whatnot. The view was amazing.
I made a bit of a haul this morning at an estate sale in Ada, Michigan. It was day 2 of the sale and everything was 50% off. I found two thick anthologies, one of ghost stories and the other science fiction, both like new for a dollar a piece, a 3-pack of D’Addario Phos. Bronze guitar strings for two dollars, an extra large denim shirt I am going to douse with permethrin tick spray for mushroom hunting, one dollar. But the best find was out in a shed.
A vintage Coleman single burner propane stove. This caught me by surprise because I wasn’t aware of Coleman using this design whereby the propane tank provides a third leg to the base. I have one of these by another maker which you may have seen in earlier posts. It is a very practical design- just pull out the legs, attach the propane, set it on the table and light it. I found one of these early Coleman’s for sale online which they claim is circa 1955 but I would be surprised if it were that old because I’m not sure the propane tanks have been around that long! Anyway – I paid six dollars.
The trout season starts the last Saturday in April and Feral, Natch and Jake have been emailing trying to figure out a plan. The only thing we seem to agree on is two spring trout camps this year, one up by Baldwin and one by Vanderbilt. The first trout camp includes this twist of entertainment – bring an interesting bottle opener, whether hand made or antique or just unusual. It is safe to say the bottle openers will get some use…
When I drove up to see Jake and Feral, last post, I had a second agenda which was swing over to the Pigeon River State Game Area and fish a section of the Pigeon that stays open all year. You can keep rainbow trout, but that’s it. I have caught rainbows on the stretch but mainly brown trout which move upstream in the late fall to spawn. It’s a chance to catch a monster, take a couple pictures, and put it back in the river which I normally do anyway, preferring to keep small pan fryers if I want a trout dinner.
It was a long day starting at 5:00 AM driving to Alpena for my visits and then west over to Gaylord and north to the river. I was on the river shortly after 3:00 PM and finished the stretch by 5:00. I packed a tent and sleeping bag figuring to camp but it sounded like an lonely outing so I drove back to Grand Rapids. I figure I spent about ten and a half hours driving and it made for a long, tiring day. Did I get a photo?
This one came out of a deep sandy section upstream of a large island. I lost another brown that was a bit larger – right at the net. It came out of a piece of cover that didn’t look like much. It jumped a couple times so I could see it was big. I should have been concentrating on keeping it from jumping by holding the end of the pole in the river. He threw the hook coming out of the water. So it was an eventful trip but must report the large migratory brown trout were not up there yet. You know when they get there because they are everywhere and usually hungry.
The hand forged copper and steel bicycle sculpture above was designed and built by blacksmith Jacob Moss Idema (Jake to fichigan readers). It is located on a bicycle path in the town of Alpena, a sleepy artist community in northeast Michigan. Jake followed Feral’s footsteps with jewelry design and repair at Bolenz Jewelry then branched off into metal working and sculpture. When the town’s art’s commission saw his amazing work they commissioned two more sculptures including a pair of bicycle racks (see below) and a large sculpture representing the town and the historical importance of the Thunder Bay River, his next big project. In order to fully appreciate his work it helps to know all metal parts are bent and fabricated using a forge including hot rivet assembly. Nothing is bolted. Jake often calls on Feral to help with fabrication and assembly of his art projects. Feral has some chops in metalwork himself including hand fabrication of black powder blowgun firearms, which he invented and sells privately.
Feral (left) and Jake leaning on Jake’s spectacular hand forged bicycle rack.
Jake also sells unique one-of-a-kind collectibles including knives, pendants, belt buckles and other items at Chippewa Valley Leather in Alpena. If you are looking for unique gifts for any occasion the store also specializes in hand-tooled leather goods. The store front is just behind Feral in the photo. 210 N 2nd Ave.
A day before heading up to fall trout camp I checked local estate sales online and found a photo of the above artwork. The author’s name was listed so I checked online for his bio and found he is a noted magazine illustrator from the early 20th century. I went to see the artwork and they were asking in the range of two thousand, more than I could feel comfortable spending. I made a low offer on day two of the sale and managed a good deal. The title is “Girl with Victrola.” I am sure at auction the artwork would sell for substantially more for several reasons. It is a slice of Americana, the subject girl is beautiful, and there is great interest in American illustrators.
H. J. Soulen update:
I contacted the estate of H. J. Soulen hoping to find where my illustration was published and while they could not provide that information they did send me a photo of another illustration they have that is very similar – including the same girl. The archivist, Leslie, suggested that the illustrations may have been used in the Saturday Evening Post somewhere between 1910 and 1920 based on the clothes, Victrola record player, and typewriter. I found and searched an online Post archive without luck but will hopefully find other possible sources of publishing because I would very much like to read the story Henry Soulen illustrated.
I am especially fascinated by the artwork because I spent most of my life as a technical illustrator drawing machines …wondering if I could beak out of that into more interesting work like this. When I see the skill needed to compose such a magnificent piece as this, I am humbled.
I wasn’t sure what to expect up at Silver Lake, Mears, Michigan because rumor had it that local efforts to control the exploding weed growth were working – which had an adverse effect on the fishing. Silver Lake is a swimming and recreation lake first, fishing takes a back seat because most homeowners want sand, not weeds. I didn’t bother bringing a fishing pole on a family visit to see Bill and Karen who have a beautiful home opposite the dunes.
It turns out Bill was up for a challenge. We had access to a nice deep-V fishing boat and motor so we rose early and headed to the one spot in the lake that had reed beds thinking it might provide some bass structure. I was skeptical, Bill was focused. We had a strong wind out of the east, not good, so we anchored just outside of the reeds and went to work. Bill bought some crawlers and tried those with bobbers and/or just tossed them overboard with sinkers while I poured through his tub of artificial baits. I would like to say my finesse with plastic worms payed off but instead watched Bill find a workable pattern, bobbers with half-crawlers, just inside the reeds. He took three nice bass inside an area of about six square feet. It was surreal.
This was humbling. About the time we were ready to leave he took one of his poles and handed it to me – hoping I might catch something. A second later the bobber went down and I pulled in a bass that might have gone five inches. That is stretching it.
Advance notice: To liven things up at our fall trout camp (late September) we’re holding the first annual Mosquito Art & Lager Fest. Trout Camp buddies will bring one or more original pieces of artwork to hang from trees in the campsite. This includes paintings of any style or media, drawings, collage, photos, photoshop art, sculpture, any form of art. There is one stipulation – it must include a white plastic chair like the one in the earlier post “The Chair.” Judging to take place after an evening of typical trout camp behavior (reduced mental capacity). Maybe there is a prize for best entry, maybe not. Feral suggested a can of bug spray. Entries will be posted in a fichigan blog sometime after the close of trout season. Expect some interesting art…