Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Trout Camp Highlights

a constantly changing post.. decided to put the images into an 8×10. Current fichigan crew as of last fall’s trout camp.

Biding Time till Trout Season

The above letter from Feral Tweed was a nice surprise and reminder I am not alone thinking about the upcoming trout season. We talked on the phone a while back and he mentioned doing small etchings and experimenting with materials. Seemed like a nice diversion to stay busy during a bitter cold Michigan winter.

I sent Feral some letters earlier. I found a notepad at a garage sale last year with the header “Principals Office, Grand Rapids Public Schools” where he went to high school. I wrote what looked like a note from the principal and dated it the year he was in 11th grade and stuffed it in an envelope. He didn’t know what to make of it until I sent several more, each of them accusing him of more and more outrageous behavior. When he figured out it was me getting creative I told him I have been hanging out with him and Natch for too long. When those two get together their sense of humor is usually at my expense.

No problem. That’s what buddies are for.

Henry Soulen (1888-1965)

Girl with Victrola – H. J. Soulen

I purchased the above magazine illustration done in the 1920’s by Henry Soulen, a “Golden Age” illustrator about two years ago at an estate sale. The illustration was done in oil and I was concerned about the frame which had glass pressed against the oil paint. I took it to a local gallery, Lafontsee Gallery, to have the glass removed. I browsed the gallery while the owner took the artwork to the fame shop in the basement. She came back upstairs smiling and said I was not going to believe what was on the back side of the painting. (It was covered/hidden by brown paper, standard framing practice.) She turned the art board over and showed me this.

All of the gallery workers gathered around to check it out. They loved the oil painting but were equally amazed at study on the back. Later, I did a search of archived magazines because it looked familiar and found it was a study for the cover of the Ladies Home Journal magazine, April 1922.

I am still trying to find out where the oil painting, Girl with Victrola, was published, along with a second illustration Henry did for that project, which I was fortunate to acquire from the Soulen estate. The estate added two studies Henry did for the second illustration, one of the man, a line drawing, and one of the girl done in watercolor. Here’s the watercolor which is spectacular on it’s own.

Here’s the second oil illustration featuring the girl in the watercolor study.

The studies Henry Soulen did for his final illustrations confirm just how dedicated he was to doing great work. American illustration, in particular “Golden Age” illustration, is finally getting recognition as great fine art. The man was a serious impressionist.

Burnt Clutch Camp 2021

I sent a text to Natch Saturday morning asking if he would like one last hoo-rah on the Pigeon River up by Vanderbilt and suggested Burnt Clutch Camp for an over-nighter. It took him less than a minute to text back yes. I pulled into Vanderbilt about 1:00 and stopped at the party store to ask about the unfinished bridge over the Pigeon at the state campground. It would save us some extra driving. Natch pulled in while I was talking with the clerk. She said people have been driving over the incomplete bridge but the grade does not line up with the surface of the bridge so it’s not a done deal. We decided to look. We adjusted the grade with timber and large rocks that were strewn about. Natch took his Jeep over first, then I took the Lexus RX300. We saved about an hour’s drive. BCC camp is a remote, free site for camping so you do have to post the remote camping form to be legal. I keep a few in my car for such times.

Burnt Clutch Camp looked good. The last time I camped at BCC, Michael, my deceased older brother, burned up the clutch of his Subaru backing a pop-up camper up a small grade into the clearing. (for full story type “clutch” in the search tool) I still think about Michael often. The blue clutch smoke has finally cleared. BCC is a large clearing with a pine needle floor overlooking a pond that ties into Grass lake. There’s a rock pile fire-pit and plenty of space for tents and vehicles. I chose it for the location – it’s a short drive to a section of the Pigeon that is open year around for rainbow trout. Mainly it is brown trout water, at least until the deadly silt problem caused by the Song of the Morning dam, but we have caught some rainbows and brook trout there. I was skeptical about catching a rainbow but then Natch is the wild card when it comes to pulling out the unexpected fish.

Natch insisted I take the lead on the first section, a deep sandy bottom bend that has given up some very large browns. Right off I had something on I thought was a log on the bottom which then started moving off to the side. I felt it turn downstream and suddenly the lure came free. Hard to explain the disappointment I felt. I wanted a good photo for this post. I was pretty sure I blew it. I signaled for Natch to take the lead. He fished the remainder of the deep sandy section and had a nice brown follow his lure but no takers. I took the lead back and fished some of the flatter less likely cover before waving him to take the lead again. When I said Natch is the wild card it is from years of watching him perform. His rig consists of a small open face reel and a rod about 4 foot long. It is surprisingly flexible and he can side-arm cast small lures into tight cover with precision. The only failing is trying to lob giant lures, something he tried and gave up on quickly. We did some trick maneuvering retrieving a No. 18 rapala off a bush over a deep hole.

So Natch was back in the lead and we approached some blow-downs and dark cover on the right as we worked upstream. He tossed a small rapala into a spot just down from a buried log and all hell broke loose. We could see it was big and it bent his fly-swatter pole over into a U-shape. I was downstream about fifteen feet and moved up with my net. It is always risky netting a fish for someone else. Natch had his net but did not object to me trying. It took a couple swoops to get the net under the fish and we were both amazed when I lifted the net. A rainbow, which is rare, which measured 21-1/2 inches. He let the fish go.

So yeah, Natch the wildcard.

We fished the remainder of the stretch seeing some small browns. I had a keeper on that might have gone 16 inches but it tossed my lure. We got off the river about an hour before dark mainly because if we had kept fishing the walk out turns into a small nightmare. Thick saplings you can barely get through. And we had a good photo. And there was lots of beer and such back at camp. And a fire. It was cold. Time for long johns.

And a guitar – my steampunk electric with a built-in battery powered amp and speaker. Nobody to disturb for miles except Natch who I punished for catching the giant rainbow. There may be a ballad in his future..

The fire was great but what sticks in my mind was how the pond lit up at dusk. It was better than the fire. We made plans to do it all over again next year – pick a nice weekend in late October and chill at Burnt Clutch Camp.

Trout Closer 2021

I met Natch, Feral and Denny up at Pickerel Lake Campground, Pigeon River State Game Area for the closing of Michigan’s general trout season. It was a week of huddling next to a campfire at night to take the chill out of the bones after fishing the Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers. We caught fish but nothing large. River access was hampered by a bridge out over the Pigeon that was supposed to be completed this summer. Further, the Pigeon was awash with gray silt coming from the Song of the Morning former dam site. To be clear, mismanagement destroyed fishing for miles on the Pigeon and now it is happening again. Some new effort must be taking place – I need to research this before commenting further. Access to our favorite stretch of the Sturgeon river was cut off by a washed out two-track ( a major thorough fare in the area ) requiring us to find a different route. The new route was an hour drive vs. twenty minutes from the campground.
So getting to our favorite spots was complicated.

We had a pretty good jam one night with Feral on mandolin and Denny on a guitar he hand built from a Martin kit. I brought my 000-16 Martin and hoped Natch would provide some rhythm but he was in the hang loose listening mode. I sang “A whiter shade of pale” and was booed off the stage when I hit the chorus. Feral did “buenos tardes amigo” to good applause and Denny, a song encyclopedia, did some John Prine. It was a very good night with a very good fire provided by Natch – a new specialty whereby he starts a fire with a wet roll of paper towels.

A cold closer once meant large brown trout have headed upstream from lakes to spawn but something’s wrong. The big fish have been missing the last few years in the Sturgeon and the Pigeon. (We have been fishing the Pigeon a couple miles down from the yoga camp where there’s less silt damage.) The culprit is most likely global warming which may push the spawn into November. No telling how that will play out as far as sustainability. No one saw a trout in the twenty inch range. That is quite a change from just a few years ago.

It’s hard to sit still at a cold camp so Natch and I went exploring in his Jeep. We found new access to the Pigeon but the route involved going where no man has gone before. OK, there may have been a faint two-track. The river was gravel bottom and looked like good spawning ground for trout so we were hopeful about seeing a lunker. The river gave up a couple small ones so we had fun.

The good news, saved for last: Feral’s son Jake has a new metal sculpture up in the bike pathway in Alpena, an exceptional work. It is hard for me to describe but it feels organic and is an example of his incredible blacksmith skills. It gets better. Jake showed up with his sister Patricia and she had some news. She wrote a graphic novel and found a publisher! She is working with the publisher to find the right illustrator and the publisher is leaving the decision to her. Wow. So much art talent in one family.

Thunderstorm Trout

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.

Pine River Rainbow

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.

New Water

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.

The Bottle Opener

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.

Vintage Coleman Single Burner

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…

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