Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the category “Trout Gear”

Baldwin River

A week ago Feral called to report the Baldwin River was not just over the banks, but over the roads. They had ten inches of rain which put a real damper on the Trout-o-rama festival including blocked roads into and out of town. But that was a little over a week ago. I had the morning off so I drove up there with the idea of fishing the Baldwin if it was wadable. The weather report said possible rain and that was actually a bonus, not to raise the river more, but to get the trout actively feeding. Add rain, double your trout.

It rained but five minutes so it didn’t help. I caught one nice trout, about 17 inches, on the stretch below Bray Creek Campground. There’s a poorly marked walking trail which follows the hillside and drops down to the river in two places. I went as far downstream as I could figuring that would have the least overall fishing traffic. I would post a photo of the trout except the lens of my camera phone must have been wet so I have three fuzzy photos of a large blob surrounded by green stuff.

I didn’t see many trout. The stretch is mostly gravel and shallow. Casting the cover takes some patience and skill because the river is more like a creek, overgrown with lots of blowdowns. Still, if you can zing the lure into tight spots it can produce trout.

Feral and I have been threatening to go camping and trout fishing since the opener but this is the year where bad weather (clear skies and 90 degree temps) or various commitments keep sidetracking plans. I’m afraid to blink: the trout season closer will be upon us.

Art Projects

In addition to blogging I like to torture myself with art projects including painting, writing fiction, and songwriting. In the span of two months I worked on three such projects, the first being a short story, Alphabetical Order, which I entered in the Write Michigan short story contest sponsored by the local library system. The story was about first love in the ninth grade (her name was changed) and was based on my own experience. Writing it was cathartic and surprising – I remembered small details that had been buried for decades. The odds of getting selected as a finalist were pretty slim, over a thousand entries. Sorry to report my story was not selected. Something I thought would help my chances is that the story has it’s own authenticity, i.e. the young boy, me, comes off as an idiot. And the story has humor. Past contest winning stories published in yearly anthologies are not generally happy stories, instead focusing on difficult subjects like death and cancer, the two things most people want to avoid thinking about.  But there are some real gems… stories that show a side of life you never imagined. My favorite story, from a couple years back, was about a young girl’s marching band experience. After reading her story I developed great respect for any student that joins their school marching band.

Art project 2, I saw a notice for art entries for the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts 2019. I had not picked up a paint brush in years but decided do an acrylic painting. The big question was what to paint. My thought was paint a night time cityscape with two women in an alley. I used a photo of young women off a yoga clothing website.  I do technical illustration for a living so composing the picture went quickly but when it came time to paint the picture I couldn’t capture what was in my imagination. The two women turned out well but the night scene ended up being a strange surreal composition which I worked and reworked until it had nothing to do with my original idea, but was interesting in it’s own sake. I entered it in the festival but sorry to say it was not selected. I’ve repainted it twice now, the last time removing their clothing. May call it finished.

Art project 3, I wrote/recorded a new song called “I am a Scientist.” It’s a ballad about a scientist that goes to a salvage yard and builds a rocket car from a 1960 Plymouth. He meets an alien in outer space that resembles Marilyn Monroe (except for the extra eye) and the two get married on Planet 9. They have a daughter they name Frankenstein whom they encourage to become a doctor or a nurse (and one day heal this universe). Frankie has other ideas: she wants to be scientist. I am collaborating on the song with my buddy Scott, producer, accomplished guitarist, and owner of Frontier Recording sound studio in Copemish, Michigan. When the song is finished I’ll post an mp3 in the songs page/ tab of this blog.

Estate Sale Sculpture

Graceful Ballet by Joan Coderch

Trying to fill my days to trout season took a strange turn. I went to an estate sale last Thursday and saw the above porcelain sculpture. It had a 250 dollar sticker on it and I kept going back to look. I knew nothing about porcelain figures but it was so beautiful I was tempted. What stopped me was thinking maybe these are sold at Pier One and pretty common. What did I know? I finally tore myself away and left.

The next day I woke up and decided to go back. I stopped at the credit union and picked up a couple hundred in cash. It was still there and as luck would have it all items over 100 dollars were 25% off. Still, I knew nothing about it. I carefully lifted it up and saw a maker mark on the bottom, Lladro, Made in Spain, so I googled Lladro ballerina with my cell phone and found one for sale in a specialty shop in Florida for 1800 dollars. My instincts were good! The estate sale folks had the original box which was custom designed to protect it for shipping so the trip home was stress free.

Since buying it I have been looking up Lladro figurines online. This one is pretty special. It is a retired model “Graceful Ballet” with a gloss finish, 17 inches tall, by the artist Joan Coderch. The photo hardly does it justice. Now I am thinking I need to find an equally impressive Lladro because I have two daughters. I found a couple online that might compare but they cost thousands of dollars. My girls may have to draw straws.

Craigslist Guitar

Ventura V-29 Guitar

The long cold winter that sandwiches Michigan’s trout season gets filled with a variety of activities including jamming with some buddies. Denny, a trout camp regular, has a pole barn set up on his property with a working wood stove and a PA system to handle scads of microphones. Denny has a wide reach of friends – many of them musicians like himself that jumped aboard the acoustic locomotive that swept the country in the sixties and seventies. Denny’s monthly jam sessions are a place to talk music, guitars, and play classics. There are no rules other than come prepared to share a few songs. It’s about the music but it also a nice place for show and tell if you have something to share. Hence this post about a craigslist guitar.

Last fall, about the time winter blew in, I was thinking about finding a cheap camp guitar. I have a very nice Martin and worry about theft when camping. Theft has never been a problem but figure there is some wisdom toting something less expensive around. So I started checking craigslist hoping to find a bargain. I purchased the Ventura V-29 in the above photo for $225.00 from an old gentleman with a living room full of guitars. He was selling off a few to refresh his collection. I sat down and played the Ventura and was struck by the workmanship, bass response, and pretty amazing volume.

Back at home I played it and played it some more but was distracted by a mid-range twang that had me second guessing the purchase. The guitar top had a slight bow that was throwing off intonation and it occurred to me a new bone saddle to replace the guitars (cheap) adjustable saddle might make a real difference to tone. It would take an expert Luthier to carve a new saddle to fit the oversize slot of the stock saddle – and correct the intonation – while still keeping the guitar’s action (playability) low. It would be a true engineering feat.

A search for a Luthier in West Michigan turned up North Coast Guitar Co located downtown Grand Rapids on Wealthy Street. Google reviews were all very positive so I took a chance and set up an appointment. The owner, Russel Olmsted, listened to the idea and was not intimidated by the challenge – recognizing it was a real challenge. A week later I picked up the guitar and was amazed by his work. The intonation was dead on and the sound opened up. $125 very well spent.

So I took the upgraded guitar to Denny’s jam session and sat between Denny playing a Martin HD28 and Corky who plays a high end Taylor. My $225 dollar guitar with the new $125 dollar saddle held it’s own in such esteemed company. The only problem now is I don’t want to take this guitar camping. I’m afraid it might get stolen.

New “Songs” tab

I’ve added a new tab at the top of the page for songs which may or may not have anything to do with trout fishing although the first song has a lot to do with it. I re-wrote lyrics to the old classic song Ghost Riders, laid down some guitar and vocals with free software and convinced Feral to lay down some lead with his electric mandolin (after we polished off a twelve pack). Surprisingly coherent considering. Feral triple picks the mandolin like a mad man. Will add other songs over time.

Michigan Fishing Regulations

Every year I buy my fishing license in March and make sure I grab the latest regulations booklet (usually available where you buy a license). If there is a major change to any rule it is often highlighted at the beginning, which is helpful. Beyond that I try to follow my own trout stream rules to stay legal, like never keep a trout under 12 inches (should be legal and I know I can get two good fillets), don’t keep more than three trout over 15 inches (which I never would anyway), five fish total in my possession, (no problem), and be nice to DNR officers.

In the booklet each species of trout or salmon is charted against stream types so it is possible to find specific trout and stream information but for some reason it is very hard to actually picture that chart in my head when I go fishing. To confuse the issue some streams have their own rules by county, and some streams do not allow lures (flies only). Catching a trout in a lake is much more complicated with six lake types and assorted size limits and rules. Better have the booklet handy, not to mention a county map.

Here’s an idea for a phone app. Stand next to a stream or lake and push a button and it tells you the name of the stream or lake, the trout sizes and possession limits, lures allowed, and the open season. An app to confirm you are not breaking the law if you start fishing! The app would be free and downloadable when you buy your license. This would save the cost of printing a 65 page booklet every year that nobody wants to wade through, a booklet so confusing there is no guarantee the reader will not break the law by accident.

The alternative to this idea is too horrible to imagine.. Simplify the Rules. For my part I have a hard time understanding or believing that every year the myriad of trout stream rules is reviewed with some practical goal in mind. I can picture two executives going over last years manual line by line and saying,”Sounds good. Let’s keep it.” I hope there’s more to it than that.

George and Deb

I took my brother-in-law George to a secret fishing spot on the Pigeon River one time even though it was a crazy thing to do. George was an expert at anything fishing including the fine art of spin fishing brown trout streams. George fished fast, wading quickly upstream and tossing lures with precision. I could hardly keep up. When Feral and I fish together we are like old men, casting every hole at various angles and never in a hurry, so this was the expressway of trout fishing.

George caught several trout though I can’t recall the number or size. At some point we talked about my Grandpa, Jake Lucas, and George’s feeling like he was never really accepted by Grandpa as a member of the family. I was surprised by this, though had to admit Grandpa had his own peculiar way of seeing things. So George felt like an outcast, making the sharing of this fishing spot appreciated a bit more that it’s real value. George married my little sister, Deb, and my guess is Grandpa figured no man was good enough for her, but he was wrong in that thinking.

As it turned out my sister married a man of great character and strength. A kind man that adored her and supported her in sickness and health, a trial that took strength I can’t imagine. Deb had early onset Alzheimer and George contracted liver cancer while taking care of her. George passed away this week, within a month of Deb’s passing. Our whole family, and their many friends, are still trying to understand this tragedy.

Just after Debby passed I asked George if he found comfort in his faith, knowing he was raised a Catholic. He said over the years his faith had a lot more to do with spending time camping and enjoying the outdoors with Deb rather than formal religion. I could see the truth of this. They were always off camping somewhere, kayaking, hunting, fishing, morel mushroom hunting.. if it was a fun outdoor adventure, they had a story. Feral and I ran into them once in a while at campgrounds. Up at Silver Creek up by the Pine River, and at a couple different campgrounds in the Pigeon River state game area. It was always fun to see them. They’d invite us to supper, usually wild game like venison stew as in the photo below. They would load up a dutch oven and set it on coals, bingo, dinner ready later in the day.

I wish I would have spent more time with them but receive some comfort knowing they led the life that mattered to them, raised a wonderful family, and had many friends. They were loved and will be missed.

Opening Day Success

When trying to figure out a slant for this post Feral said, “We could call it “We didn’t get skunked” but then went on to say, “that’s about the lowest form of bragging.” I had to agree and laugh. Considering our haul, including morel mushrooms, I’ll try to frame the day in more glorious terms. For starters, we pulled nice fish out of busy crowded streams and Feral talked five morels right out of the ground. Even more incredibly, get ready for this, our waders did not leak. The measure of success keeps rising.

We started up on the Pine River hitting the most inaccessible spot we know and had a group of fishermen walk past us two minutes after we got in. They didn’t start fishing the hole right in front of us so we knew the river gods were smiling on us. The Pine was carrying some mud and wadable and we starting seeing fish right away. I had one about 17 or 18 inches make several passes at my lure, then caught one about 15.

After about a hundred yards we had to get out of the stream and could see the group of fishermen working a big deep hole up ahead…so we decided to hit our reliable mushroom spot.

Feral stops for a bite to eat

Normally our mushroom area has cars parked on both sides of the road but none today, a Saturday, so that was not a good sign. Still, Feral, using magic powers that escape me, started conjuring up some of these delectable treats while I went cross-eyed trying.


From there we went down to the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette and parked between groups of campers. The Little South was high, clear, and wadable and we managed to cut off a fair stretch. Feral caught a good pan fryer and our casting was finally starting to get precision – dropping the lures into congested overhangs and being surprised by the fish we weren’t seeing. When the Little South is clear as glass the brown trout are buried deep beneath the banks. If you are not risking lures casting into deep overhangs your chances are slim.

We wrapped up the day with a cold beer back at the truck. Our “trout camp” weekend is still a ways off but it is hard to let the opener pass by without at least a day trip. No matter the haul, getting out sets the stage for another great year.

Jake Lucas flip cast illustrated

If you search for Jake Lucas using the search tool on this site you’ll get a bit of history. Part of his legacy, besides teaching so many of his friends and family his trout fishing techniques, was his patience teaching us all how to flip cast. As a trout fishing tool it’s hard to imagine not having this as part of the arsenal. I use it for 90% of my casts. The ability to drop a lure where you want it on a congested small trout stream makes all the difference. If you can master this – your success will improve.  If you click on the illustration it should be full screen, use your browser back button to return to the post.

Note that the cast is one fluid motion, using the wrist only – not the arm. There is a tendency, when learning this, to jerk your arm forward. Keep your upper arm glued to your side. For practice put on a practice plug and set up some targets in your yard, paper plate size, scattered about. Get used to stopping the forward motion of the lure as it goes above the target by pinching the line against the rod handle. This is fairly critical. Stopping the lure right above the target, on a trout stream, translates to dropping the lure into the stream just shy of the far bank, or piece of structure. Saves lures, catches fish.

The flip cast illustration shows a vintage Shakespeare closed face reel. One of the important design features is how near the reel body is mounted to the rod making the distance between the line and the rod handle minimal, in effect,  making it easy to pinch the line / stop the lure. Sadly, all of the close face spinning reels on the market, the trigger spins, have the the body of the reel mounted way below the rod.  It’s possible to pinch the line to stop the lure, but it is harder to do. If anyone working for a reel manufacturer sees this post I hope they will pass this information along to the design department – the reel body can be moved right up next to the rod. Thousands of Shakespeare reel fans will appreciate your efforts. The add below shows Jake with some trout and one of several closed-face reel models made back in the fifties and sixties.

Sadly, Shakespeare tried to reintroduce the model 1810 reel in the eighties or nineties, as the 1810 II. The marketing department and bean counters must have insisted the reel needed to be sold for under $30.00 because it was a shadow of it’s former self. If Shakespeare would have doubled the quality and price – they would have had a winner.

Your Michigan Recreational Passport

100_2916

The current governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder of Flint water crisis fame, made some sweeping changes affecting campers in Michigan when he first took office. All residents now need to purchase an eleven dollar recreational passport ( per vehicle) to access our state land and campgrounds. It was promoted as a way to shore up our natural resources with the attendant flag waving that usually accompanies bad news. The DNR did get an influx of money and I am the first to say that DNR has a history of providing valuable service as environmental watchdogs. Something else changed with the current administration however, and if I remember correctly, I believe the DNR now reports to the Bureau of Land Management which controls, among other things, permits for clear cutting.

All that aside, and I am not sure of particulars, I would like to relate some personal experience regarding the trickle down affect of the recreational passport. A few years ago Feral and I went up to the Pine River in northern Lake County to fish a stretch of river on state land. There is an access spot off Raymond Road which has a two track entering a big clearing which at one time had campsites managed by the DNR. Before reaching the clearing the two track spits and the right side leads to another two track that that parallels the river. All state land. Nice river access.

Feral and I usually park in the large clearing and walk the other two track downstream in order to fish back upstream to the large clearing. There was a large group of friendly campers there. We said hello and went fishing. Halfway through our stretch we could see a man fishing from the bank so we got out of the stream to go around him, so as not to disturb his fishing. After a subdued greeting he related this story. He and his sons had been camping in the same spot along the Pine river for 10 plus years on opening day, which was right up the hill. We knew the spot, but hadn’t camped there ourselves. A DNR officer told them they could not camp there because it was too close to the river and threatened them with a ticket if they did not pull their tent and move to the other side of the two-track. They moved but unfortunately there are no campsites on the other side of the two track, so they gave up a nice clearing with fire pit and pitched their tent in the condensed woods on the other side.

We felt bad for the man and his sons, expressed dismay, and continued on our way upstream fishing. When we exited the stream by the big clearing with the campers, they had a story to relate. It seems a DNR officer told them they had to leave. This group stood their ground explaining they had been camping there for years and saw no reason to leave. My understanding is the the DNR officer came back shortly thereafter and told them they could stay because the DNR previously managed campsites there. So far, so good.

Fast forward to the next year. The big clearing, this beautiful scenic spot, was clear cut. If you click on the photo below you can see the tops of some camper trailers in the clearing. They lined up their campers to try to block the view. You can imagine how they felt.

100_2927

The story does not end there. Feral and I went downstream like the previous year and came across the guard rail in the top photo. It was placed at the spot the man and his sons were kicked out of the previous year. There is a second, identical guard rail about ten steps to the right. The DNR made sure no one gets to camp in that lovely remote spot on the Pine River. Here’s a photo of the camp spot with Feral kneeling by the fire pit.

100_2919

 

I know, pretty nice. The river is over the hill, beyond Feral. In a nutshell, the recreational passport program and land management programs under Rick Snyder resulted in decimation one of the most beautiful spots I know along the Pine River, and almost as bad, placed ugly guard rails to make sure no one camps in what was once a nice spot enjoyed by the man and his sons for ten years. The guard rails, by the way, are of dubious use. Based on what we could see, it would not be hard to drive around them.

I don’t know which is more disgusting, ugly guardrails in the middle of nowhere or clear cutting a scenic spot used for decades by Michigan campers. These are the kinds of things I will be considering when it’s time to elect another Governor. That along with the poisoning of residents and deflecting blame.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: