Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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..

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.

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