Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Gear”

2022 Fall Trout Camp

Feral and Jake on the Pigeon

They say be careful what you wish for and we got our wish… A cold spell with rain that would bring large brown trout upstream to spawn. Not exactly good camping weather. We fished the Sturgeon and the Pigeon and had our best luck on the Pigeon. (Not counting the 25 inch hook-jawed brown trout Natch fought on the Sturgeon before watching the lure fly loose.) We kept some browns for a Cajun trout dinner and Jake and Feral took a few home. We camped at Pickerel Lake, site #5, which was just large enough for the Scamp and two tent campers. The fire pit was back at the rear, out of the wind, so that worked out great. About that wish for bad weather.. we still had campfires every night, even in a cold drizzle.

Denny and his wife Lorraine camped over at the Pigeon River campground on Sturgeon Valley Road. They came over the first night with a loaner guitar for Feral, custom built by Denny. A Martin kit with antique tuners and 12th fret neck joint. I played a couple songs on it and it had that great Martin tone. Wish we could have jammed a little longer, it was cold. Sorry I didn’t get a photo!

Luther and Natch

Natch and I made a trip to no-man’s land on the lower Pigeon, downstream from Tin Bridge, a stretch I keep vowing to never fish again because the walk in is so brutal… no good trail and a lot of brush busting to get past a half mile of open flat stream to reach the good holes and bends. Ironically we had no good luck (except for a small brook trout) until we were almost back to the bridge where Natch caught an 18 inch brown. We made a deal with Feral and Jake – they had to bring back two small ones or one 18 incher for dinner and we would do the same. Natch saved the day for our tough trip. When we got back to camp they had a cooler full of trout. They downplayed it like it was no big thing.

Natch with 18 inch Brown.

Feral and Jake went bird hunting a couple times. They both had double barrel percussion cap shotguns and hiked for miles. One trip lasted four hours so I give them some credit for stamina. They saw some Woodcock and took shots but no bird for the grill. I learned something about primitive weapons: cleaning them is a lot of work involving hot water down the barrels and lubricant on everything. They had it down to a science but it still took a half hour or better.

Bird hunting in Elk Country
Double barrel percussion cap shotguns and the cleaning station
Classic reels and nice brown trout

I cooked up the trout and made breakfast in the Scamp trailer every day, so I earned my keep as a cook, if not a fisherman. That’s two eighteen inch trout frying in the pan. I filleted them boneless and halved them so we each had two pieces to go with the baked beans. Next time I’ll remember to bring some homemade tarter sauce using Polish dill pickles. The photo I really wish I had was the final game board after beating Natch at chess. I expect he will be wanting a rematch.

Brook Trout Water

Feral and Jake have been torturing me with phone calls and photos of their fishing trips up on the Pine River near Mikado:).
According to Jake…
“The weather turned dark yesterday. Pretty suddenly. I made quick plans with Feral to head to the Pine and try out the stretch from the tubes to the campground. After driving through a downpour that wreaked havoc on Harmony Weekend, an art fair in Harrisville, we turned off F30 onto the dirt road to the campground. Two young guys fishing by the bridge said “no rain as yet’ but we could hear thunder in the distance. We put on our waders which were still wet inside from the last trip.” (see the earlier post, Fishing in a Downpour) and headed upstream.

Feral with his new Diawa reel

“The stretch looked promising with deep holes and grassy banks. Casting was difficult and we did some pruning as we moved upstream to ensure better casting lanes next time we did the stretch. We saw fish. Some nice browns and lots of brook trout. I caught a couple small ones and Feral took a brook trout worth keeping for dinner. It was a good trip up through some really pretty country. We kept thinking we would see a bear. It never rained. Funny how that happens sometimes.”

According to Feral, ” I made a cast that ricocheted off a log right into a nice pool impossible to cast. Jake didn’t question it.”

Fishing in a Downpour

Feral on the Pine River near Mikado

Fishing in a downpour and the river’s rising. And the water’s getting milky. From my experience this is the absolute best time to be on a trout stream. The trout start feeding aggressively and move out into the middle of the stream. And they can’t see you. They can hit within a foot of the rod tip. It’s the perfect time to put on a slow flashy spinner or large flashy Rapala. Time to see the big ones come out from under the banks.

But that’s not the way it happened for Jake and Feral so the killer story I had hoped to write about fishing downpours, after seeing the above photo of Feral, went right down the drain.

According to Jake, “The stream was low and clear. I caught a 19 inch brown on the first bend. Feral took a good one soon after for the freezer. We had some light rain on and off but were well into the stretch when it started raining hard. Heard some distant rolling thunder. Nice ambiance. We were soaked through when it cut loose. It rained right down the waders making it a sloshy walk back to the truck. The river came up quickly. We couldn’t believe we didn’t catch another fish after the downpour.

Jake with a very nice Brown.

So there you go. My best fishing advice debunked. That said, if they did the same stretch again, right away, I suspect they would have done much better…

The Basement Office

After a failed trip to catch a trout ( it happens) I found myself in my home office appreciating the comfortable setting. I’m surrounded by some of collecting I have done at estate sales so that adds to it. You can see the King Kong etching by Michigan artist Bruce McCombs, and the painting, by Feral, of me on the Sturgeon River drinking a beer in the rain. The brown trout mount is a 25 incher caught on the Sturgeon. The guitar is a 70’s Ventura which is a solid maple copy of a D-size Martin. A great guitar.. really sweet tone that just keeps getting better. I have been learning a new song, Times have Changed by Bob Dylan, another masterpiece of metaphors and abstract thinking. It’s actually an old song but new to me. The song won an academy award for best song for the movie Wonder Boys.

The second photo shows the messy side of the office. The easel has some artwork I started for the Calder Arts Festival last June but didn’t finish in time. It’s inked line art of a raft I was on in the WLAV raft race back in the early 70’s. Basically done from a photo. I was going to watercolor it but then froze… not really sure if it would be as nice as I imagined. On the wall behind the table is an acrylic painting I did for a trout camp challenge a few years back based on a white chair spotted on a bluff overlooking the Pine River. Long story but if you go back in the archive of fichigan you’ll find the story. The artwork of a sparely dressed woman painting a nude girl in a white chair was actually pretty tame compared to my fishing buddy’s entries, well, Natch in particular. He really shook up trout camp. The photo on the wall is the notorious Phillips Gang, another post in fichigan. I’m about twenty in the photo.

With my patent drafting work on a slow burner I did some writing last week, a short story for the annual “Write Michigan” contest which I have entered a few years running with no success. But heh, I’m trying. This time I’m entering a horror story born of a nightmare. Woke up thinking there were elements of the dream that could make a very original story. I’m hopeful. We’ll see.

I need to get out for more trout. Will keep you posted.

The Second Cast

I drove up to the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River this week after watching a weather report saying there would be an all night rain. When I arrived there was no evidence of rain. It is a good hour and a half drive so I made the most of it. It was frustrating because I saw trout and had two hit the lure but no solid hook-up. I fished for an hour and a half before calling it quits and driving up to the Pine River, another half hour, hoping that it might have rained further north.
There are lots of stretches on the Pine to choose from. (No sign of rain.) I decided on a stretch that is easy to wade and easy to get back to the car. My back was sore from wading the Little South (and too little exercise) and I was hoping to make short work of finding dinner. I didn’t see trout in some of the best initial holes and found myself looking into a narrow opening in some overhanging branches. An extremely difficult cast up to the shadowed river edge. I had put new line on my reel and felt confident about my casting so I made an underhand flip cast which landed exactly where I hoped. Half way back I couldn’t see the lure but saw a very nice brown trout porpoise as it looked for the lure. He didn’t take it so I waited a few minutes to make the same, exact pinpoint cast. The pressure was on. You might compare it to making a very difficult, long putt twice in a row. Or hitting the bulls-eye twice in a row with a re-curve bow at fifty yards. You get the idea, don’t flinch under pressure. This is the trout dinner. So I made the cast and the lure went up under the branches and landed within inches of the first cast. This time the trout was there and ready. It was hooked good. I field dressed it and put it on the stringer. I fished another bend and called it quits. I had dinner. I felt like I had earned it.

Jake Lucas Press Clipping

Jake Lucas, trout fishing mentor to Feral, Denny, and I, spotlighted in the Grand Rapids Press, August 1954. Incredibly, he used a bait casting reel and rod to fling spinners. He eventually switched to Shakespeare closed-faced spinning reels and sliding-ring cork handle spinning rods. If the clipping is not readable you may need to used a desktop computer… Luth


Laid up with a cold listening to some songs I wrote/recorded long ago

She causes scandals everywhere she goes
She drinks too much, she talks too loud
Everybody knows
She’s notorious for breaking all the rules
She lines ’em up, she knocks them down
She’s no-one’s fool

Beneath the cool surface, behind the bright veneer
Beyond the statuesque facade and past the second beer
She gets you on the dance floor and curtsies when you’re through
She’s not what you expected… But she expected you

Her reputation proceeds her with a shout
Your snobby friends, your relatives
Will all find out
They will be laughing at this little joke
It’d be my guess they can’t accept
What they don’t know

Beneath the cool surface, behind the bright veneer
Beyond the statuesque facade and past the second beer
She gets you on the dance floor and curtsies when you’re through
She’s not what you expected… But she expected you.

This is on the Without a Hitch music CD by Wrong Agenda – available in the Kent District Library. All songs loosely based on Alfred Hitchcock and his movies.

Apache Camper Hand-Off

My 1961 Apache Chief camper has accounted for the majority of hits on the fichigan blog. People love these old campers and have clubs dedicated to their preservation. Mine served me well. The canvas is still very good. No worries about bad weather. This year I bought a 2006 Scamp trailer and didn’t need two campers so I gave the Apache to Jake, Feral’s son. Jake you might remember as the artist in Alpena, Michigan that did the bike path sculpture as well as the art nouveau bike racks downtown. He’s a blacksmith and artist of amazing talent. He was at trout camp this spring and asked about the camper.

I met Jake and Feral up at Burnt Clutch, a remote (free) camping spot, to pass along the camper and do some fishing. I was protesting the fee increase at the Pigeon River rustic campgrounds – see previous post. It was a one-night trip. We fished the Pigeon River together, the three of us wading up the river and taking turns in the lead. Jake was using what I thought was a vintage Shakespeare close-face spinning reel and rod but it turns out the reel was a South Bend 1200. It seemed to be an exact copy of a Shakespeare 1776 leaving me to wonder if Shakespeare made reels for South Bend in the fifties?

Jake took the lead and caught a twenty inch brown trout right away. He was placing the lure with precision next to the bank and working the cover well. I was impressed. I hadn’t fished with him in a while. He caught a second nice brown on his next turn up front.

Feral and I were out-fished (and getting used to that with Natch) but now Jake, another upstart, had us making jokes to cover our pain. We recovered enough to catch a couple pan fryers but, hey.

Jake with his 1961 Apache Chief camper. I ran through the process of set-up and take-down with him, and threw in some wheel bearings and misc stuff he might appreciate. There are other posts about this camper if you use this blog’s search engine which tell some history. I purchased it for $275 so long ago it is embarrassing to admit when. I sure got my money’s worth.

Michigan’s Proposal 1

comes back to haunt Michigan campers. It looked good on paper: A constitutional amendment to allow money from oil and gas mining on state-owned lands to continue to be collected in state funds for land protection and creation and maintenance of parks, nature areas, and public recreation facilities; and to describe how money in those state funds can be spent.

The constitutional amendment would:

• Allow the State Parks Endowment Fund to continue receiving money from sales of oil and gas from state-owned lands to improve, maintain and purchase land for State parks, and for Fund administration, until its balance reaches $800,000,000. • Require subsequent oil and gas revenue from state-owned lands to go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund. • Require at least 20% of Endowment Fund annual spending go toward State park improvement. • Require at least 25% of Trust Fund annual spending go toward parks and public recreation areas and at least 25% toward land conservation.

It passed 4,154,745 to 774,509.

Now the proposal, which had universal appeal as a way to improve our outdoor experience, is being used as justification for raising campground fees across Michigan. According to the DNR website the money from oil and gas leases is drying up, campground use is on the rise, and more money is needed to maintain campsites. A rustic campsite in the Pigeon River State Forest now costs $20 per night up from $15 per night, a 33% increase. This at a time when families are struggling with increased inflation.

I visited two of the rustic campgrounds last Friday, Pickerel Lake and Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. It was a beautiful day in June. There was one camper at Pickerel Lake and no campers at Pigeon Bridge. Doing the math, five days of camping plus the recreation pass needed to drive into a campground costs $112.00. If you buy the recreation pass when you arrive it is $117.00. Seems high for a tiny plot of land and use of an outhouse. What maintenance? True, Pickerel Lake has giant boulders brought in from somewhere because they look cool (watch your bumpers backing in) and a lake with no beach, but it is peaceful. I just wonder how many Michigan families are going to look at their budget and decide to stay home. Today, 1.4 million Michiganders fall below the poverty level, but more importantly, the United Way’s ALICE Report shows that 43% or 4.3 million of working Michigan households struggle to afford the necessities like housing, childcare, food, technology, health care and transportation. As far as I can tell the proposal allowed for more boulders added to the campgrounds, just not people.

Next post: Jake gets the 1961 Apache Chief camper.

Trout Camp, Spring 2022

We decided to camp at a remote spot on the Pine River again this spring. It has been a favorite spot going back thirty years or more. The Pine (in Lake County) may be the best trout stream in Michigan. We always catch trout and always have a shot at a twenty incher. This year was no exception.

I arrived first hoping to find level ground for a new camper trailer, my first real trailer. A 2006 Scamp 16. Fiberglass “eggshell” campers do not come up for sale often and when they do they go fast. I was fortunate to call first. I still have my vintage 1961 Apache tent camper and I may sell it, but it is hard to price something that may be the only one like it with the original canvas in excellent shape. Update: Gave it to Jake. The 61 Apache Chief will still find it’s way to trout camp!

The Scamp worked out well: a great dinette that converts to a large bed in seconds, bunk beds, a 2-burner stove for cooking, a propane fridge, lots of other stuff that may or may not get used like air and a microwave that need shore power. It’s a learning curve – a small house packed into a tiny space.

Natch showed up later that evening and we had the first of many great campfires and time to knock down some beers, laugh, and catch up. The next morning we fished a stretch together and he pulled in what I thought would be the largest trout taken, a 19.5 incher.

I moved up to get a picture and had massive wading boot failure which cut our fishing short. We ran into Big Rapids looking for wading boots and found none at the Dunham’s store so we tried Wal-Mart. They had no wading boots but did have a pair of black work boots for $25 so I bought those a size large and they worked great! I am tempted to try to find some regular felt-bottom wading boots because they provide excellent traction, even on clay shelves, but may stick with these. Can’t beat the price.

Luther with a keeper

The stream conditions were the best we have seen in years – a dark coffee stain that kept the trout from seeing us as we waded up the river. Likely the best year we have had on the Pine as far as trout caught. We kept two only for a trout dinner and released the rest.

Sorry about that Lightfoot

Feral showed up with Jake and we had an excellent jam session around the campfire. Jake brought a vintage guitar, an off brand that was made by Martin in the nineteen thirties. Bob had my mandolin and Natch had bongos and a tambourine. I had my Ventura camp guitar. I re-wrote a classic Lightfoot song. “The Wreck of a Jeep that was Feral’s. The gist of the song was Feral nursing a dying Jeep to trout camp. It went quite well considering everyone there, save me, are Jeep lovers. Also tried some new songs, Losing my Religion and Kryptonite. Another roaring fire: special thanks to Natch who brought a battery powered electric chain saw. Best invention ever. We played into the night.

Feral triple-picks the mandolin

During the day we drove to our Morel mushroom spot but they just weren’t up in numbers. We picked up maybe eight and fried them up crispy and added eggs for breakfast the next day. On the way to our mushroom spot Natch spotted a church sign that had us laughing enough to stop and get a photo. The Mother’s Day message was quite unique. Two days later the sign was edited and we had to laugh about that, including whatever conversation took place with the pastor for the re-write.

We made a “bank” fishing trip one evening to a spot I had seen a huge brown trout knowing if it hit again there was room to land it. I tossed a large Rapala and worked the deep bend pretty well but couldn’t get him to rise. We tried a couple more spots and it was a fun excursion though fishless.

Feral was heading home on Monday so late Sunday afternoon he fished the stretch below camp. He was determined to catch the largest trout. He was gone a long time, enough for me to get a little concerned. I called him to see how it was going and he had just landed a 22 inch brown trout. He took a photo and sent a text message, then released the fish.

The view from camp..

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