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Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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Your Michigan Recreational Passport

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Notorious Phillips Gang

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Left to right, Feral Tweed, Mr. Phillips, Luther Rude, Shotgun Stalter and D. Buttermore, also known as “Shoots Down Wire” to the local tribes.

Mr. Phillips, the leader of the notorious Phillips Gang met his maker and there’s been dangerous talk about how the rest of us should come clean. I ain’t about to confess to the Cedar railroad job or any of the other half dozen crimes that the local constable tried to pin on us, but I will say that our reputation as outlaws was earned honestly. I ran with the Phillips gang for nearly two years and fortunately for us, Mr. Phillips was too smart for the local constable, the G Men and the Pinkertons.

I recall one time G men had us dead to rights, surrounded and outnumbered and Mr. Phillips recognized one of the deputies. He struck up a conversation with the man and pretty soon they was reminiscing about some prank he and the man’s cousin played on a school principal and that gave Feral time to drop the loot down a badger hole. Next thing you know the other G men was leaning in to hear the story and Mr. Phillips asked one of them if he was related to somebody and then a whole different story spewed out. The G men was all circled around Mr. Phillips following along and pretty soon the guns was all holstered and they was offering us a ride into town so they could buy Mr. Phillips a beer at the local watering hole.

It didn’t matter what mess we was in it was always the same story. Mr. Phillips would recognize someone in the posse and talk his way right out of the situation. The odd thing was none of us ever made a buffalo nickle from one of them robberies cause Mr. Phillips had a heart big as a circus elephant. When it was time to divvy up proceeds Mr. Phillips would launch into a story bout some family or kids that needed some help and by the time he was done with the gut wrenching poverty story we all knew we had to put in our share. In his own way I guess Mr. Phillips taught us a lesson: Crime don’t pay.

Bray Creek Wedding

 

George, Deb, and Father Ron Schneider

My sister Deb and her husband George renewed their wedding vows after forty years of an amazing life and marriage. They both love the outdoors and have camped throughout Michigan including this favorite spot along the Baldwin river near Bray Creek. Deb has an ongoing battle with early onset Alzheimer disease which she has fought with grace and humor in spite of the enormous challenge. George has been a pillar of strength, always at her side, refusing to let the circumstance undo their way of life and love for each other. I couldn’t be more proud of George and more amazed by both of their strength.

It was a holy marriage and renewal of vows. Father Ron Schneider presided over the ceremony which included special prayers for Deb included a laying on of hands and anointment with oils. Father Ron is soft spoken man of God with a kindness and caring that pulled everyone together, including family members who have passed on to another life, including my mom and grandparents who took us camping at Bray Creek when we were children.

The wedding had a dress theme (hippie) which provided a lot of fun and humor. The costumes were amazing and for anyone passing by it must have seemed a time warp. Father Ron wore a genuine Native American shoulder garment which was beautiful and provided some spiritual dignity. I would like to credit Father Ron for the break in weather. It was pouring rain all over Michigan. On my two hour drive to the campsite it rained all the way, stopping suddenly when I was a half mile from the campground. When I left four hours later, the rain picked up again right at the same spot. The wedding was dry. I can’t explain it.

The wedding procession, Josh in the foreground

The wedding procession, Josh in the foreground

George and Deb have two boys, Josh and Dan, and it was so nice to see them and their families. Their son Josh and wife Chihiro, and daughter Mei, are truly an international family. They live in Michigan and travel to Japan every year so Mei can attend school and experience Japanese culture. Mei speaks English and Japanese and is currently studying Chinese. Josh is a famous, professional photographer. He just sold a photo to National Geographic. (Josh, please send me a group photo!)

Deb with Josh, Chihiro and Mei

Deb with Josh, Chihiro and Mei

Dan and his wife Win are Michigan residents also. Dan is a much sought after controls engineer, and inventor, working for an international material handing company. It’s only a matter of time before Dan is recruited by another high tech company though I hope he stays in Michigan. Dan and Win’s costumes were remarkable, I swear, right out of Woodstock.

Lorraine, Chihiro, Mei, Dan and Win

Lorraine, Chihiro, Mei, Dan and Win

So Deb and George’s life has been blessed, and no matter what the future holds, those of us that witnessed their renewal of vows feel fortunate to have attended and acknowledge what a special life they have.

Nuclear Chili Dog

Nuclear Chili Dog

Rock Bottom and the out of Tuners may have run it’s course since I took up the mandolin. Last Friday night Feral and I knocked down a few cold ones up at Leverentz and when the sun finally set we needed some light to see the mandolin fret boards. ( Feral had his Kentucky mandolin, I had my Eastman). It was too hot for a campfire but I had a cheap LED flashlight from Harbor Freight. Feral had a styrofoam hot dog container to wrap around it and bingo, ambient light for a late night jam session. On seeing the glowing light, Feral, formerly Rock Bottom, hit upon the idea of a Nuclear Chili Dog and it may be the start of a whole new era of creative music or an excuse for another cold beer, remains to be seen.

I’ve been working on a variety of songs that are wide open for extended jams including some Bob Dylan, Bad Company, Marshal Tucker, and there’s always Neil Young classics. Two mandolins together may sound like an ear full but it really was interesting in it’s own way. Would have liked to hear Keith add some distorted soulful guitar against some of the rhythms but maybe that will happen in the fall. Natch on bongos would add some nice color also.

Had another thought on band names: Tractor Bob and the Bad Clutch, which sounds more bluegrass, and Feral suggested Blind Lemon Luther. Maybe I need to learn some blues licks on mandolin…

Opening Day on the Pine

Kayak angler on the Pine River

Kayak angler on the Pine River

( click on photos to enlarge, browser back button to return) Feral and I fished a stretch of the Pine River on opening day. We parked at an old campsite off 6 mile road and walked downstream past a sharp bend figuring we would fish the bend then work our way upstream past the camp spot. We didn’t see any other anglers so I was surprised to hear Feral talking to someone almost immediately. He had taken the lead and was at the top of the bend. It was an angler in a kayak and he had a fish on. I didn’t see the fish so he may have released it. I took a photo (above) and soon his uncle, in another kayak showed up. They were friendly and talkative, not always the case when you meet other anglers, so I took their photos and mentioned this blog.

The kayak angler's uncle

I caught an average size brown in a hole just upstream and Feral lost one the same size upstream a little further but fishing was tough. The stream was clear as tap water and we started pretty late in the morning. So we cut the trip short and had breakfast in Tustin, then ran over to our morel mushroom area to see if they we up. Unfortunately no, but it was just nice getting out and walking through the woods.

Two Months till Trout Opener

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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!

Mandolin

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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