Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Gear”

Two Months till Trout Opener

Grizzly watercolor 2

Luther’s rough copy of a Charles Reid masterpiece

And time on my hands. Trout fishermen in Michigan have some serious waiting between seasons, seven months approximately, Sept 30 through the last Saturday in April. Most fishermen take up deer and small game hunting to stay busy but in my case I have been away from hunting so long it is hard to jump start that program again. I’ve had a variety of pastimes over the years, from writing screenplays and stories (and this blog) to watercolor and acrylic painting to guitar and songwriting. I am happiest whenever I am doing something creative and don’t know why that is. There seems to be an undefined need to leave some legacy or proof that I existed for a short tour of planet earth. (Aside from my beautiful daughters!) So it turns out that the lag between trout seasons offers a chance to dive into an art form. Problem is: what next .. or do I reboot one of my earlier past-times?

A few weeks ago I bought a mandolin. I’ve never played one but always liked the sound, especially over an acoustic guitar. Feral plays guitar, banjo and mandolin so as a jamming partner he’s there every time we camp, but we also have a buddy, Denny, that started holding winter jam sessions in his out building, a pole barn set up for his glamour photography business. I took the mandolin to Denny’s last jam session and played an old Marshall Tucker song, Fire on the Mountain, which went well considering I struggled to find the correct scales and chords. It was encouraging!


I also played an original song called “Love Your Waitress” which is a three chord bluegrass song, my first attempt at writing a bluegrass hit. I should mention it is a song honoring waitresses, not about falling in love with them. I am getting more and more interested in bluegrass mainly because bluegrass players have so much fun and also because there are interesting things going on in that music genre. My youngest daughter, Lisa, gave me some CDs for Christmas including artists Iron Horse, Mandolin Orange, and  The Devil Makes Three, all of which might be considered fringe bluegrass. Great stuff, non-traditional and out there.  So it looks like some mandolin practice while waiting for the trout opener.

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

Fathers and Sons


I took this photo of some fathers teaching their boys how to cast and fish up at Big Leverentz lake. The dock is a great place to try for bluegills and I hope they got a few. That’s all it takes to hook young boys on fishing!

Happiness is a new pair of waders…

that don’t leak. I finally upgraded or at least that’s my hope. I dipped my last waders in the goop tank one too many times. Leaks were springing through multiple layers of congealed rubber patch and there was no telling which patch was failing. Every trip meant a soaked sock and leg and by the time I was done camping the clothesline full of wet jeans was bending trees inward.

I was scientific this time picking out waders. It started with a Cabella’s weekly ad showing their Premium Dry-Plus waders on sale, reg $159.99 down to $111.99. Premium Dry-Plus? The name alone was enough to start me dreaming. As a perpetual cheapskate/knowledge buyer I looked the Cabella waders up online for reviews and like all reviews online the comments were all over the place. Troutnot said they leaked after one season, EZdrifter said they were short on the rise, and RussRuss said the feet were to small. Overall they rated 4.6 out 5 stars so most anglers were very happy. But still that was not enough to make me beeline directly to the local store.

The invisible man tries on waders

The invisible man tries on waders

As a knowledge buyer I mapped out a trip to every wader selling store in the area starting with Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dunham’s and finally over to Cabella’s. If there was a better deal out there I planned to find it before committing.

Gander didn’t even have waders on display. I asked a teller and he pointed at some boxes on the wall by the shoes and after a quick look I headed to the main aisle to leave where I found, surprisingly, a bunch of boxed waders under a 50% off sign. The waders were odd sizes of a brand I never heard of marked down from $300 to $150. Nothing my size and nothing ultralight, which is a must.

From there I went to Dicks Sporting Goods and they did have a wader display. The store samples were tiny reproductions of the actual waders and the store clerk joked about how they were originally made for the Munchkins on Wizard of Oz. Then he got serious and asked me if I fished cold rivers. I told him that’s all there is in Michigan. He sort of excused himself after that, probably figuring I knew more about waders than he did. Unfortunately nothing was on sale and they also had no ultra light waders. So I ran over to Dunham’s with a 20% off anything coupon I had cleverly printed out right before leaving home. Dunham’s had a half dozen waders tucked in the corner of a standing shelf and nothing my size. So it was time to check out Cabellas.

If you have never been to Cabellas it’s better than a trip to the Museum of Natural History. They have some of the best taxidermy in the world on a centrally located fake mountain with smaller displays dispersed throughout the store. A mountain lion taking down a young elk. Wolves. Bears. Caribou, you name it. And they have waders, a whole section dedicated to the art of wading. Prices from $89 up to $400 plus. Camouflage waders, rubber waders, neoprene waders, heavy duty ultra-light waders, entry level waders. Wading socks. Wading boots. Hip waders. It took ten minutes just to find the waders in the ad. They were down to the last pair of size large Premium Dry-Plus waders and after quick check to make sure they were not short in the rise and the foot size was OK I was so caught up in the moment I splurged for the $111.99 and didn’t look back.

With a little luck they won’t leak on opening day. See the post Waders 101 from a few years back for some general advice on what to look for and why ultra-lights make sense.

Herm’s Hideout

Herm's hideout 1

In one of those complicated wife’s friend’s husband’s buddy has a a guitar jam every Thursday night things… it actually worked out. I took a chance and managed to sit in on one of the guitar jams last fall and thought I would go again this week. Herm has a garage/pole barn he fixed up including a finished room with a heater, PA system, chairs and guitar stands – enough to sit about a dozen people in a circle. Musicians of all skill levels show up and take a seat and everyone gets a chance to perform a song in clockwise rotation. Most folks I’ve seen are pretty good vocalist and a couple of guys, Corky and Rick, are pretty good pickers. Another guy, not sure of his name plays a bass made from a steel wash tub and the neck off a stand-up bass and it sounds great – he is right in there which helps the rhythm when a lot of un-mic’d instruments are hitting chords.

Some of the guys are a bit older than myself. Not sure if this dates it but they drove the circuit in downtown Grand Rapids with their Detroit muscle cars back when Japan was famous for transistor radios. A couple gray hairs in evidence. So when my time came up I wasn’t sure if they’d warm up to newer stuff meaning 70’s stuff which is still pretty ancient in the grand scheme of things. I opened with Rocket Man by Elton John and it went over well, so I was encouraged to try some other classics like Fire on the Mountain/ Marshal Tucker and a old Ozark Mountain Daredevils tune, It Probably Always Will. Herm said from the get go I should play what I like to play – don’t pander to the group. Variety is good. So maybe next time I’ll try some more progressive stuff. Maybe even some originals.

Herm on acoustic guitar

Herm on acoustic guitar

There’s a sign on one of the doors that says the Wannaabe’s and that is a name that sort of stuck for the group. According to Herm, historically, the group is comprised of folks who couldn’t give up their day job to persue music. I didn’t mention Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners, my successful band with Feral Tweed featuring session guitarist Keith H and bongo player Natch because there is no point in bragging. There’s a good chance we’ll give up our day jobs when all of us turn 65, then look out music world.

Ice Fichigan

Feral and Chuck, Pettibone Lake.

Feral and Chuck, Pettibone Lake.

There are only so many novels I can read before I have to get outside for a day even in the bitter cold of Michigan. So once or twice a year I call Feral and line up a day of ice fishing. Last Saturday I met up with Feral and his buddy Chuck and we went to Pettibone Lake up by Bitely, Michigan. There was plenty of ice and just enough action to keep us out there till mid afternoon. All three of us set up 2 tip-ups for pike – the grand prize as far as a good meal, and used a regular ice rod for pan fish. (In Michigan you can have 3 lines out.)

Feral with a 3-lb Largemouth Bass

Feral with a 3-lb Largemouth Bass

While Feral was setting up his second tip-up he caught a 3-lb bass on his first tip-up.  He popped another bass, a little smaller, on his other tip-up a short while later. Bass are not in season so those they went back in the water. Throughout the rest of the day we had maybe 8 flags and lost several more bass right at the hole. Feral caught one small pike on a tip-up and turned it back. I caught a small pike on a waxworm while jigging, but Pike have to be 24 inches to keep, so that went back down the hole too.

small pike
Chuck spent some time experimenting with his jigging rod and found some perch right on the bottom. We had speck minnows, wax worms and spikes and the perch went for the spikes. Once he had the pattern figured out Chuck bounced around from hole to hole to see if he could find a concentration and did get a half dozen out of one hole. I won’t comment on how big they were but Chuck gave the perch to Feral who owns a jeweler’s loupe so maybe he managed some fillets. Now that would be a video!

Chuck finds the perch

Lake Perch – considered by many to be the best tasting fish.

Hauling Kayaks

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Feral and I decided to attack the kayak hauling problem last weekend and went though several “floor engineering” solutions ranging from PVC pipe to galvanized pipe to a couple treated lumber designs and finally cobbled together the construct in the above photo. We may have overengineered the final product but then we won’t be worried about the kayaks falling off and the upside is we can use it to store the kayaks off the ground in his garage this winter. Drop the tailgate and it slides right out of the back. The whole project took us a couple hours and of course we had to try it out so we ran over to Big Leverentz.

I heard thunder as I was setting up my tent and ten minutes later the rain came down in sheets so we killed about and hour back at Feral’s while it blew through and sure enough the sun reappeared like magic and the temperature went from 80s to 70’s and it doesn’t get any better than that for camping. The lake was calm as glass and I know from experience a summer rain can turn on the fishing so we launched the kayaks and proceeded in opposite directions around the lake and met midway to compare fish stories as we didn’t have actual fish to compare. By the time we reached the dock we had 3 bass total and decided to sell the kayaks and go back to trout fishing. Not really, but we should have gone trout fishing.

Jim and Eric at Leverentz

We met a couple interesting guys on the dock that were casting for bass. Eric and Jim were up from Indiana for the weekend. Jim has some property over by Wolf Lake and they had spent the day checking out smaller lakes and happen to end up at Leverentz. Jim showed us his top bass lure, a Heddon Baby Torpedo which is a floater with propellers at the front and back that churn the water. He said he caught one bass off the dock and we were inclined to believe him in spite of the fisherman’s code.

Back at our campsite a young guy stopped by and asked us if we had change for a twenty so he could pay the camping fee ($13). He mention he was from St Joesph, MI and we mentioned a nephew who’s a photographer that lives in St Joe and he came back with Josh Nowiki? and we said: That’s him!  So Josh is getting famous. I mentioned the photo he took of the Chicago skyline from across Lake Michigan and the young camper said he had seen that one also and knew Josh’s work. So we need to mention that to Josh next time we see him.

Feral had his mandolin and I had my guitar so we jammed out some Tom Waits and even a couple original songs before calling it a good night.

2000 GMC Sonoma Troutmobile

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The 2001 Subaru Forester Troutmobile (see earlier post) turned out to be a temporary solution which developed a head gasket problem that even a part-time weekend mechanic like myself was afraid to tackle. Too bad because I liked the car but it did have a major drawback in that it was too wimpy to pull my 17′ fiberglass bass boat – so that was an issue I could never resolve. I sold the forester to a mechanic that understood the engine problem and likely replaced the gaskets in a day – so happy trails to him and I mean that sincerely.

After much anxiety and a couple test drives of vehicles found on craigslist I went with the GMC Sonoma pictured above. It has 98K on the odometer, auto trans, 2.2 L 4 cylinder for better mileage (but still tough enough for towing the boat), a third door with the extended cab, heated side view mirrors, broken radio, and darn it, no trailer hitch. So I have that ahead of me but know I can install a hitch myself and save a couple bucks. Coinciding with purchasing the truck I pulled a muscle or disk in my back so the vehicle has been parked in front of my house for a week with the sad face you can also see in the above photo. That might be my imagination.

The searing back pain spasms are subsiding and my wife left a grocery list on the counter so I must be doing something wrong. I’ll make that tortuous trip to Meijers but you know I’ll be tempted to buy a twelve pack of Labatts and make a detour north to visit Feral because wading a trout stream is doctor recommended medicine for a sore back. OK, the doctor recommended yoga but anyone that has ever waded a trout stream can appreciate the similarity.

It remains to be seen whether the Sonoma can live up to the reputation of my earlier troutmobiles because it has some giant shoes to fill. Like the Pathfinder (see The Incident at Tin Bridge – try the search tool) which may have been disintegrating below my feet but it sure got the job done. Or the Xterra which saved me from extinction in spite of the concrete wall, but that’s another story.

Spring Trout Camp 2014

Natchl with 66 Apache Chief

We had a late start camping this year finally meeting up at Leverentz Lake which is centrally located in Lake County, Michigan and therefore putting us close to several great trout streams. We set up camp on wet ground and were surprised when Natch showed up with a vintage 66 Apache Chief camper. I had my 61 Apache Chief so if you are a fan of old campers and swung in you would have seen two classic campers made in Michigan a half a century ago. Natch’s 66 Chief is in great shape including the canvas. His version has a rubberized floor (Nice!) and an add-a-room option that zips into the awning. (click on any photo to enlarge, backbutton to return) I’ll do a separate post on his camper sometime in the future.

We ran up to the Pine River with the idea of stopping at our morel mushroom spot first and then hitting the stream. The morels were up. Feral scored a nice bag of about 30 and Natch and I picked up another dozen or so. The Pine River was flooded but we had guessed that ahead of time. We went in south of six mile road and cut off a couple short stretches mostly casting from the bank. I caught a brown trout about 17 and tossed him back figuring we were camping for a few days and would likely catch more if we wanted a trout dinner.

Thunderstorms blew in and the next morning we woke to a downpour. When that happens, and in Michigan we count on it, we put on waders and rain jackets and look for fishable trout water because hanging out at a wet camp is no fun. We knew the Pine was flooded and, from experience, the Little Manistee, The Baldwin and main tributaries to the PM, the Middle Branch and Little South would be at flood stage and impossible to wade. So Natch, Feral and I drove to a far upstream (headwaters) stretch of the Little South where the water is is normally a foot deep. It too was flooded but at least we could get in the river. Rain came down in sheets and wind gusts rocked the treetops. Feral commented it looked like tornado weather as the sky took on a strange color.

Natch and Feral are trout addicts like me so we spent several hours getting in and out of the stream and casting every piece of trout cover. I went fishless but Feral and Natch each caught several in the 12 to 16 inch range and released them. Natch was wearing a go-pro camera so at some point maybe he’ll send a video I can post.
Natch and Feral, Little South

This might sound like blasphemy but one reason we released all trout is because we were thinking about pike for our trout camp “fish dinner.” When the weather broke we went out on Leverentz Lake with our kayaks and I was fortunate to catch a pike around 26 inches that provided a nice plate of boneless fillets. Natch also got lucky and caught the biggest bass I’ve ever seen come out of Big Leverentz.  Might have gone 5 pounds but we didn’t have a scale handy. He released it because it wasn’t in season and we don’t normally eat bass.


Luth with Pike

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Feral prepared a fried morel mushroom appetizer as a prelude to our pike dinner. A couple beers and trout camp magically transformed from dreary Kansas to the Land of Oz.

On Saturday, Keith rolled in. Keith has been to a couple trout camps now and when the guitars come out at dusk it is his job to play the heck out of some of the classic rock songs that we all know but can’t remember the words to. So that puts Feral, lead vocalist for “Rock Bottom and the Out-of-Tuners” in a position of having to make up words on the fly while I struggle to recall old songs that combine killer electric guitar with some acoustic guitar – so I am at least contributing something. Not an easy job if the Labatts beer is flowing.

Keith with Gibson

I always mention Keith’s exceptional guitar playing but he is a story teller like Feral and Natch with a vast reservoir of odd experiences. So the guitar is great but he fits right in as person. When Natch and I took him morel mushroom hunting with dubious results (2) it wasn’t a problem. We just knocked down a cold beer and talked about whatever came to mind. So guitar or not, he’s in.

I’m always circumspect about asking non-fishermen to trout camp mainly because if it rains we fishermen take off for the streams. If it’s overcast we hit the lake.  Keith seems to have a radar about the weather and shows up at just the right time – sunny and seventy and time to jam.

It was all over way to fast. The lake was beautiful and we had the campground to ourselves. We caught trout and pike. Morels were up. A great start to another year.

Camp 2014


Bank Fishing for Brown Trout

Natch and Feral asking for advice

Natch and Feral hanging on my every word.

Bank fishing is a very enjoyable way to fish for trout because it combines sitting in a chair with the illusion of doing something productive. Maybe you can relate to that. Here are some tips to make the experience memorable and with a lot of luck, catch a trout.

You’ll need at least two buddies who are more serious about bank fishing than you because someone needs to catch a fish, otherwise what’s the point? Study the faces above and try to find guys that look different. Maybe that nerd from work. Or that guy that drinks Pepsi all day?

The important details: If possible, cut your forked stick before you head down to the stream because that will allow you to set up in the best spot while your buddies are cutting their sticks. The best spot will be the one that is upstream of the big pool so when you cast your line it drifts to the middle of the pool so your buddies have to get their lines out of the way. If your line does cross theirs, shake your head and make a face to let them know you’re not used to fishing with amateurs.

If you get a bite (rare) or hook a trout (more rare) deliberately move downstream so they have to get out of the way. Add some excitement by flailing the rod so they understand they could get an eye poked out. Then let the the trout zig zag the whole pool so your buddies are relegated to strictly watching. This is your moment – put on a show! Caution: This can backfire. If the trout is under ten inches try to release it discretely before they get a look.

Between bites most anglers like to lie about the huge trout they caught in the very same pool. Believability goes up in direct proportion to the amount of beer in the cooler so if you are prone to reminiscing make sure someone, preferably one of your buddies, bought the right brand of beer and ideally carried the cooler down to the stream by himself. Make sure you do a few jerky spasms and mention your bad back well ahead of time, ideally back at camp when it’s time to gather firewood. If it still falls on you to bring the beer – make sure it’s not twist tops and that you have the only opener. Someone needs to regulate consumption. It’s for their own good.

A comfortable chair is a must. If you have a leather recliner that will fit in the back of your pickup and will roll down the hill to the stream – that is ideal. (If you have a winch you can use to get it back up the hill – even better). Barring that, try to avoid those confounded collapsable camp chairs that sit crooked on level ground. You know the type. You have to be a yoga expert to get out of them.

Tackle: Don’t use your good stuff. The chance of getting hung up on a log on the bottom of the stream is 100%. Breaking the tip off your pricey Fenwick rod is a loss no angler can afford. Now’s the time to haul out the garage sale surf rod with wrought iron core. Something with backbone. Grab a reel with light line – chances are you’ll only catch tiny trout anyway and light line has some advantages that go right to strategy.

Stream Strategy: When you get hung up on a log pretend it is a lunker and break your line quickly. It’s the big one that got away and your status as a bank fisherman jumps ten points.

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