Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

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.

2016 Trout Season Closer

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I met Feral, Natch, and special guest Chopper up at Pickerel Lake for the trout season closer and on the way up it threatened rain. I would have been happy to set up in a downpour if it would have muddied the rivers. No such luck but the clear steams did give up a few keepers and one lunker. Feral and I did a stretch on the Sturgeon late Friday afternoon and he popped several keepers while I nailed sunken logs. I finally realized I didn’t have my polaroids. Pretty critical error. Helps to see into the water!

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Feral with Polaroids

Natch arrived too late on Friday to fish but we had a pretty good jam around the campfire, Natch on bongos, Feral on mandolin and I had my guitar. Pretty diverse song set ranging from Pink Floyd to Ween to Bruce Hornsby. A Nuclear Chili Dog night.

On Saturday morning Natch and I headed over to the valley to fish the Sturgeon. I headed up to the horse bridge and he headed down the big hill by the Ford property. I heard a shout and next thing I saw was him running back up the hill. He had come face to face with a badger loping up the path. We went back down to check it out and found the badger den right on the foot path.

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Been great to get a photo …or not. We really didn’t want to see a badger charge out of the hole.

So I went upstream and Natch fished the lower section. The stream was clear and the fishing was slow. I had one about 16 inches bat my lure but I couldn’t get him to strike again. Saw a few smaller fish. Normally at this time of year the huge browns move upstream to spawn and this is a chance at two foot lunkers but I can only guess the season is messed up this year by global warming. So I walked the river back downstream to meet Natch and talked to a couple guys backpack camping by the bridge. They had seen some nice fish, including losing a big one. I mention the stream gives up some nice trout in the fall but it helps to have a flooded or muddy river. I mention fichigan saying they could find pictures and it turns out they had seen the website – it comes up searches in for Sturgeon River. I could kick myself for not getting a picture of the two of them by their camp. Feral and I have talked about camping in the valley for years but never got around to it.

I followed the river until I found Natch and he had a good story but no fish. A two footer broke him off. He was using some pretty light line, 6 lb test, and a new fishing rod designed for ice fishing (my first impression). The odds were against him. I felt bad for him but at least this was an indication big fish were in the river and heading upstream. So we went back to the valley again on Sunday and he fished the same stretch. I was going to fish with him, trading off the lead like I do with Feral, but decided to head back up river on my own.

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Natch fishing the valley, Sturgeon River

I had a pretty unremarkable trip. Saw some small ones. Walked the shore up to the bridge thinking I could get the photo of the backpackers but they had broke camp. Headed back to meet Natch and this time his story was a little different. He caught the lunker he lost on Saturday! He made the exact same cast to the same piece of cover and the fish slammed his lure again. He released the fish but took a photo. Strangely, it is a rainbow, not a brown. I have no explanation. I have caught tiny rainbows on the Sturgeon, years ago, but figured the browns ( and brook trout, upstream) had taken over. While Natch and I fished the valley, Feral went to the upper Sturgeon and pulled out a couple decent dinner trout so in the grand scheme of things, it is good that my buddies caught some decent fish even though my reputation took a hit. Great camping though, and for the record, no ticks and no mosquitoes.

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Natch’s rainbow on the Sturgeon

 

Dinner Trout

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My wife has been asking me to bring home some trout for dinner so when I called up Feral to see if he wanted to go fishing last Saturday I told him up front that was the mission. We started on a upper stretch of the Pine River in Lake County which was not as high or muddy as we had hoped. Still, Feral caught a nice brown about 14 inches and I was surprised by a Brook Trout. We don’t keep brook trout, even for the skillet, under the assumption that releasing them may help the population. We catch one brook trout to every 20 browns so it is an event just to see one and appreciate the beautiful coloring.
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Feral kept the brown trout though. He too was thinking “trout dinner.” Feral has some markings on his fishing rod to confirm fish size which you can see on the photo below. If you click on the photo ( use browser back button to return) you can see his markings at 15, 20 and 25 inches. That’s not a hoax, Michigan streams give up brown trout that large, especially in the fall. As far as we’re concerned though, smaller trout taste better, let the big ones go.
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Feral mentioned the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River and the thought was maybe it received a bit more rain than the Pine, in which case the fishing might be excellent. So we headed south. The river was spectacular and the weather cooperated with rain and drizzle interspersed with bright sunshine, back and forth. The temp was around 70 so it was comfortable to wear rain gear.

We started catching fish right away and seeing some pretty nice fish, upwards of twenty inches, but the big ones seemed to be looking only, following the lure back or making passes without a strike. The better news was the dinner size trout, keepers around 12 to 14 inches, were hungry. Feral kept a couple and I kept three figuring that was about right for my wife and I.
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I cooked the trout on Sunday, September 11, a day of reflection and sadness for America. The horror of 9/11 still makes no sense to me. I spent part of the day writing an editorial, for my own sanity, just to try to understand, and part of the day watching Saving Private Ryan. When my wife came home from work at 5:00 I dove into cooking the trout. It was good. She said I need to bring home trout more often. I didn’t do well with table talk.

Muddy Waters

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A tornado passed though Grand Rapids on the 20th, this one was shrouded in torrential  rain. I watch the event unfold on TV. News 8 tracked the path using radar and maps right down to street level so even though sirens were blaring in my neighborhood, I was confident I was miles outside of the path. At one point, when the tornado was directly west of me, I looked out my front window and saw low gray rain clouds moving rapidly west, a phenomena in itself. The tornado was sucking the clouds out of my neighborhood. Fortunately the tornado damage was not bad – no lives claimed and mostly tree damage rather than homes.

Fast forward to yesterday, more rain predicted and cooler weather, good trout fishing weather. I checked the condition of the Rogue River using the home page link, “Daily Stream Conditions in Michigan.” It had a light blue dot signifying water level was much above normal which meant, in effect, that the Rogue River feeder creeks would be flooded. Time to hit a feeder creek.

As suspected, my target stream was high and muddy. I put on my biggest 3-hook floater minnow and worked my way upstream casting to the opposite bank as well as right up the middle. When the streams are muddy, fish can be anywhere. First fish, 20 inches. I netted it, de-hooked it, took a quick photo, measured it with a de-liar, and eased it right back in the water. Elapsed time, about a minute and a half. I try to move fast in order to make sure the fish is OK with minimal trauma and it was. It darted away. I’m glad I measured it. I had guessed about 18 inches.
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This particular stream is almost impossible to fish without a good drenching. It is normally so low and clear you are lucky to see fish and may swear it doesn’t support a trout population, let alone large trout. But when it is high and muddy, the dynamic changes, suddenly this sleeper comes alive.

I continued upstream and lost one about 16 or 17 inches right at the net, but made up for it with another the same size. I had a stringer with me and was tempted to keep it but I had only been fishing about an hour and if I keep fish for the skillet I would rather have a couple 12 inchers – better tasting to my mind. Nothing wrong with these trout though – absolutely beautiful stream brown trout. A little Cajun seasoning and a cold beer and no complaints.

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I did catch some smaller fish, on my biggest lurer, two around 8 to 10 inches, and only mention it to anyone that may believe you need tiny lures to catch small trout. Just not the case. Trout like a big meal. Further, if you are fishing muddy water, best to fish a large or flashy lure because trout need to see the lure though the muddy haze.

After about two hours of fishing I was amazed to see a trout jump vertically clear out of the stream. I don’t know what he was after. The fish was two feet long, the largest fish I have seen in this stream. I was able to move into casting position and worked the hole as best I could. Even tried a second lure thinking maybe something different might entice it. Nothing. It’s a little hard to ease past a hole like that. By then I was almost up to the bridge. I placed a cast into some cover and saw a nice one make a pass at the lure. Couldn’t get him to do it again so I placed a cast right up the middle of the stream and saw a swirl. Maybe a nice fish. It hit the second cast but didn’t hook. I tried again and it hit the lure again and didn’t get hooked. So I put on a deeper diving crank bait and this time he was hooked.

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He was about 17 inches. I unhooked him with my long nose pliars right in the stream versus netting him. I should have been more circumspect and kept him because my wife loves brown trout. When she heard the garage door she came out and asked how I did. I told here I did well, listing the sizes, followed by, “I  didn’t keep any.” She said she didn’t want stories, she wanted trout.

Folks that Share Their Bluegills

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

Chuck and Rita on Shelly Lake

There’s two kinds of people that share bluegills. The ones trying to get out of cleaning some because they didn’t catch enough for a mess (um me?) and then there are the wonderful people that open a bag of fillets, start cooking, and invite their friends. Feral and I lucked out last night up at Little Leverentz.

I had fished once with Chuck Raison on Leverentz and met his wife his Rita once also, but yesterday it turned into guided adventure fishing two new lakes for Feral and I, topped off with a gourmet meal: deep fried cajun batter bluegills, butter fried wild mushrooms and fresh corn.

gourmet dinner

Feral said Rita was a cook and that was an understatement. We almost didn’t have fish with the meal because we started eating them the minute they came out of the fryer. I mentioned in a earlier post that Chuck is a lake expert, which means two things – being adventurous enough to find new lakes and knowing what to do when you get there. So our fish dinner was compliments of his and her expertise.

Chuck with a bluegill

Chuck with a bluegill

We started the day fishing a small pond down by Brohman which had small gills and soon left there to fish Shelly lake, also near Brohman. This lake is a hidden treasure with nice campsites and I can see Feral and I hitting this lake for over-nighters in the future. Lots of bass and bluegill. It was the middle of the day however and the sun was taking its toll on us so we headed back toward Baldwin to camp and to fish Little Leverentz. It gave me a chance to grill chuck on some of his fishing tactics and of course then there was the cook out. Thanks from Feral and Luther!

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…

Fish Camp turned Trout Camp

Feral on Big Leverentz

Feral on Big Leverentz

When fishing is not just bad but so bad there is speculation about whether a lake has been poisoned off I often get called in as a consultant. I received a desperate call from Feral and Natch begging me to come up to Leverentz Lake because they had made multiple trips around the lake, tossing their best pike lures, without a glimpse of a pike. I don’t normally do pro-bono work but I made the drive knowing how much they respect my ability and opinion.

The situation was even more desperate than I thought. Feral, who’s usually game for a  beer or two on a hot evening fish was going out cold sober. I thought that in itself might throw off his game. Natch had gray hair which was surprising because only last fall it was brown. As I listened to their plight I noticed a group of adults and kids, about twenty total, heading from the fishing dock to the parking lot. Feral yelled, “Any luck?” The whole group looked slightly dazed and zombie like. One man turned to yell back, “One perch,” indicating with his fingers a length of 3 to 4 inches.

That was not a good sign but my normal position in a case like this is: the fish are there. They are momentarily turned off. Time to pull out my bag of tricks and show how it’s done. I encourage Feral and Natch to give it another try but Natch threw his hands up and said,”No way.” To my and Feral’s amusement Natch said he was going trout fishing. To set that scene it hadn’t rained for maybe a week. The streams were low and clear. The sun was out. It was hot. Add those up and it is almost comical to hit a trout steam. Not impossible to catch a fish, but an extreme challenge.

So Feral and I took the kayaks out on Big Leverentz and tossed every lure in our arsenal that might begin to entice some action. Spinner baits, crank baits, top-waters, plastic worms, spoons, rooster tails. Lures with a reputation and history of catching northern pike. We worked the drop-offs, the flats, the cove, we were determined not to leave the lake without a pike. Eventually the sun started sinking along with our resolve. Time to re-group back at camp.

Natch's Steelhead

Natch’s Steelhead

Call it divine intervention? A deal with the devil? Fate? The jury’s out but Natch came back with a trout story we had to accept because it was backed up, wisely, with cell phone photos in my email. On a stretch of the Baldwin river he caught a twenty-something steelhead along with multiple brown trout from small to sixteen inches. He said the browns were all over his minnow bait from the moment he stepped in the stream.

Baldwin river brown trout

I don’t know if it was depression, lake burn-out, or what, but Feral for the first time ever crashed out early and forgot to lock his beer cooler in his van. Natch and I built a campfire and stayed up to about 1:00 ignoring Feral’s cooler as best we could.

 

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

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!

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.

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