Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Dinner Trout

100_3062

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.
100_3060

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.
100_3059

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.
100_3064

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

100_3035

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.
100_3033

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.

100_3034

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.

100_3037

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.

Sleeping with the Fishes

2015-12-10 10.17.52

There’s a hiking trail at the end of my street that loops around through some woods and if the weather is decent I get some exercise with a long walk. The woods have aspen, maple, lots of oak and even some sycamore. So it’s a nice walk and I stop sometimes to enjoy the view. This year the weather is all messed up with December temperatures in the fifties here in Michigan so I am getting some extra walking in. The leaves are down of course and the landscape is gray and visibility has opened up. On my walk yesterday I spotted a fish hanging from a tree about 25 yards off the trail.

It didn’t make any sense of course. My first thought was someone is sending a message. I have been watching Dexter re-runs on Netflix and killers leaving calling cards is apparently common. Not to mention the mafia which I learned about by watching the Sopranos. So looking at the fish hanging from the tree I was hesitant about approaching it. On the other hand I didn’t want to call the police since it could be a child’s prank. I decided to investigate which I felt was my duty as a human being. As I got closer I could see it looked like one of those talking rubber bass that were popular with sportsmen a few years back. I half expected it to start talking as I walked up but could see a hook in it’s mouth holding it shut. I backed away and continued my walk but on the next loop I stopped again and decided I had better investigate further.

When I turned the fish over I could see the side was slit open and there was something stuck inside. It was a plastic pill bottle and it looked like a note inside the bottle. So I pulled out the bottle and read the note. Go Fish was the header and below it were several signatures and dates. I had stumbled on a Geo-cache. If you are not familiar with the term, there is a sport where folks hide treasures and post GPS coordinates. Geo-cache hunters look up coordinates online and go find the treasures. Geo-caching is a harmless fun sport but I found myself a little disappointed the fish didn’t start talking, possibly spouting out an eerie encrypted message I would need to decipher using all of the detective skills I’ve picked up watching TV.

2015-12-10 10.38.36

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.

100_2354

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

Fish Camp 2015

Feral on Pickerel

Feral on Pickerel

Normally we call it trout camp which sounds a lot better. This year the trout streams were low and clear (tough fishing) and the weather was balmy so we concentrated on perch and bluegill at Pickerel Lake up in the Pigeon River State Game Area. Not that we didn’t try for trout. Feral picked up a small brook trout, Denny a very nice brook trout, and the rest of us should have tried harder. But the panfish were biting. We tight-lined a split shot with a small hook with half a crawler and felt for the bite, typically on the bottom. We kept enough for two dinners and it was all good.

Denny with a nice Brook Trout

Denny with a nice Brook Trout

With the nice weather it was also a year for exploring and treasure hunting. We hiked a mile into Mud Lake and found the remains of an old home or possibly a fancy resort including a huge field stone fireplace and a tennis court. Feral had his two metal detectors but all we found were shell casings, bottle caps and odd junk. Not the diamond studded gold-ring early-retirement plan I was hoping for.

Mud Lake Resort

Mud Lake Resort

We did find one treasure. Feral and I fished the Pigeon on Friday morning and we spotted a sled runner used to haul logs in the early 1900’s. A remnant of Michigan’s early logging days. Feral told Jake about it and he wanted it for an art project so four of us crossed a bog and river to retrieve it. It weighed about a 100 pounds soaking wet.

Natch grabs the sled runner

Natch lugs the sled runner across the Pigeon

Jake with sled runner

Jake holding the prize

Natch and I had our antique campers which typically draws a lot of interest. The campground was full and one person mentioned their father had one like mine. Another person took photos. There’s a post in the archive on my 1961 Apache Chief but I need to do a separate post on Natch’s 1966 Apache Chief. It’s pretty sweet including an add-a-room option (not shown) and fancier body style reminiscent of 1960’s Ford Falcon.

apache campers

We had a guitar jam on Saturday night with Jake on acoustic bass, Natch on bongos, Denny and I on guitar and Feral belting out some lyrics. Mike recorded some of it with his camera phone and I haven’t seen the footage but Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners may have lived up to their name. Or not. A camper across the way commented to Feral about enjoying the music.

I was looking forward to the Lunar Eclipse on Sunday but clouds rolled in. We did catch a glimpse but didn’t get a photo. Still, it was a great night to hang at camp, tell stories and absorb some outdoors. Needed that.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: