Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “brown trout”

Twenty Four Inchers

So a spin fisherman sees a fly fishermen at a good bend in the river and asks how he is doing. The fly fisherman is excited. “Twenty Four Inchers.”
Spin fisherman: “That’s funny, I caught four twenty inchers.”
– Feral Tweed humor.

I should point out that Feral is an expert fly fisherman also, not just spinning gear.

So Feral and I decided to go trout fishing when no sane trout fisherman bothers. No rain for a week. Low clear river. Around 11:00 in the morning to make sure the trout were deep into cover. Sun was out and bright. We ate a giant breakfast in Tustin with too much coffee. We fished one of the most popular stretches of the Pine River in Lake County. We tried to stack the odds against us but it didn’t work. We caught trout anyway. Feral kept three for dinner. Good pan fryers. I would like to say we really killed it but we didn’t see any lunkers and fishing was spotty. Good casting saved the day – zinging lures into tight cover and really doing the dying minnow action with floating minnows. We had to drop the lures right on their noses to get them to strike.

Feral field dressing trout.

We fished a couple hours, changed lead a dozen times, talked about the trout closer in September. Hoping for bad weather and giant brown trout.  Twenty-four inchers.

Baldwin River

A week ago Feral called to report the Baldwin River was not just over the banks, but over the roads. They had ten inches of rain which put a real damper on the Trout-o-rama festival including blocked roads into and out of town. But that was a little over a week ago. I had the morning off so I drove up there with the idea of fishing the Baldwin if it was wadable. The weather report said possible rain and that was actually a bonus, not to raise the river more, but to get the trout actively feeding. Add rain, double your trout.

It rained but five minutes so it didn’t help. I caught one nice trout, about 17 inches, on the stretch below Bray Creek Campground. There’s a poorly marked walking trail which follows the hillside and drops down to the river in two places. I went as far downstream as I could figuring that would have the least overall fishing traffic. I would post a photo of the trout except the lens of my camera phone must have been wet so I have three fuzzy photos of a large blob surrounded by green stuff.

I didn’t see many trout. The stretch is mostly gravel and shallow. Casting the cover takes some patience and skill because the river is more like a creek, overgrown with lots of blowdowns. Still, if you can zing the lure into tight spots it can produce trout.

Feral and I have been threatening to go camping and trout fishing since the opener but this is the year where bad weather (clear skies and 90 degree temps) or various commitments keep sidetracking plans. I’m afraid to blink: the trout season closer will be upon us.

Fall Trout Camp 2018

Natch fishing backwards

If there’s a story about trout closer 2018 it’s that we needed cold weather to get fish moving up the trout streams and it happened, at least on the Pigeon River. Feral and I fished the Sturgeon twice, saw one brown trout about 18 inches and a couple small ones and that was it. Feral was so discouraged he went bird hunting (partridge) for a good part of the closer. Lots of long walks with a vintage Montgomery Wards 20 gauge pump he picked up somewhere for two and a quarter. He was determined to add a couple birds to our annual trout dinner. Didn’t work, scarce birds, but fortunately Natch and I went over to the Pigeon River where we found some pretty good fishing.

First trip, funny story. Natch and I were on a sandy stretch of the Pigeon and he caught a nice brown about 16 inches. I took the lead and caught one 19 inches. He took the lead and stopped at a pool too deep to wade and told me to make a few cast with my lure figuring maybe a trout might like what I was throwing. So, standing behind me, he made a long cast back downstream to where we had just fished. See the photo above. 21 inch male hook-jawed brown. Now that I think about it, that story isn’t so funny. Two days later I caught another brown about 19 inches on a different stretch of the Pigeon and Natch pulled out another 21 incher. That’s a disturbing trend.

Luther with 19 inch brown trout

Denny came up for one night. We were happy to see him. That was last Friday and it started raining that evening about the time we started thinking campfire for warmth. I had pitched a screen tent in case of rain so we set up lawn chairs in there and drank beer to get warm. Natch brought some home brew whiskey kind of thing which I tried and liked but held off. Natch is ten years younger and has an iron stomach. I am usually surprised by the variety of things he can mix down there. Denny headed home Saturday. I think he’s been too accustomed to camping in a heated trailer with Mike, our departed and missed brother.

I fished a second stretch of the Pigeon with Natch on Saturday. We jumped in the river off the Shingle Mill pathway and fished upstream to the Elk Hill Equestrian Campground. It was a long and treacherous journey that produced a couple fish (my second 19 incher) but it was brutal walk back to the car across low ground with tight saplings and heavy grass, and a hill made for mountain climbers. If we ever try that again we will be spotting a car at the campground. Lesson learned.

Natch suits up, just off the Shingle Mill Pathway

Feral picking out a good lure on the Sturgeon

On Sunday Feral said he was bird hunting again so Natch and I decided to fish another stretch together. So far we had been catching plenty of fish and there was one more section of the Pigeon we were thinking about, with some dread. Downstream from Tin Bridge. There’s no fisherman’s path along the river. You bust your way through saplings and pines and tall grass that hides stumps designed to trip you up or put holes in your waders. The grass is waist deep in some places and woven so tight you tear grass when walking through it. By the time we made it downstream to a bend that looked promising we had to drink a bottle of water and eat a nut trail mix snack just to see straight.

Natch spent part of the walk in figuring out how to get me out if I were to have a heart attack. The answer: tie two logs together and lay me on top, push me off, and hope I float down to the next campground. No real chance of me making it but I appreciate the thought. Seriously, if you get hurt back in there it’s time to make peace with the world.

Natch’s second 21 inch brown

We hadn’t fished but one or two bends before Natch hooked up with another decent fish. It came from under a grassy bank. From then on I was determined to catch something over 21 but it never happened. I did catch a nice rainbow, about 16 inches. It was surprising because brown trout seem to take over and dominate streams. I should mention while Natch and I fished Tin Bridge, Feral fished the Pigeon where it crosses Sturgeon Valley Road and pulled out a 16 inch brook trout. So there you go, exceptions to the rule.

Luther with a Rainbow

Natch and I were gone so long Feral decided to drive over to Tin Bridge and look for us. We were a couple hundred yards downstream of the bridge when I heard a whistle. Knew right off it was Feral. He joined us and took the lead.

Luther and Feral below Tin Bridge

Natch stayed back and took some photos. I was hoping to see Feral catch a really good brown – this was it, the end of the season, last stretch. Didn’t happen but the closer was everything we could have imagined. Productive fishing, some great campfires (Natch brought a chainsaw), a fish dinner cooked up with cajun fish mix, beer, fall colors getting traction. Good conversation, lots of humor. Doesn’t get any better.

Opening Day 2018

Feral and I stopped, mid-afternoon, at a remote spot on the upper Baldwin River figuring we might run into The DFA Hunt Club, a group of bow hunters we found camping on this same quality camp spot a couple years back. Their main menu was beer drinking and getting out of the house after a long winter. So Feral and I were surprised by this group of actual trout fishermen. They didn’t show us a cooler of trout but they talked a good game including referencing famous authors on the subject and describing in some detail their own trout tactics. Like placing Panther Martins in tight spots with a slingshot cast. When Feral mentioned using snippers to cut out casting lanes in heavy overgrowth further down river they were right there with him. Been there. Done that. It was refreshing to meet trout fishermen that wade streams and understand what it takes to get a trout with a spinner. Most guys we talk to with spinning equipment lob crawlers off bridges.

Our day started much earlier. I set my alarm for 5:00 and had my car packed figuring to pick up Feral up in Baldwin early, but not too early. There was a plate like moon at the end of my street when I took off. Looked like someone ground off a small sliver off the top left corner. The sky was clear, temp had to be in the thirties. I pulled into Feral’s drive about 7:00 and we made a quick plan to hit fast food for breakfast, check the Zinc River, then hit some spots on the Pine up near near Tustin.

Slow start on the Zinc. I took the lead and realized I had a problem with my spinning reel. The pickups were not catching the line so the lure would land and it took a critical moments to start reeling back. Not good as I watched my lure drift into some junk on the far side of the stream. I told Feral to go around and take the lead. He worked the immediate cover and moved upstream while I crossed some treacherous stuff to get the lure. When I returned to the shallow side I put my rod in my left hand and buried my right hand inside my jacked, under my left arm, to warm up my fingers. I watched Feral make a couple casts then he stopped, transferred his rod to his left hand and buried his right hand inside his coat like I had just done. Then he turned back downstream, saw me standing like that, and started laughing.

There’s a famous painting of Napoleon Bonaparte standing with one hand buried in his coat. That was us, two Napoleons standing in the middle of a cold river. That could be why Napoleon had his hand buried in his jacket: a darn cold morning.

We didn’t last long there. Feral likes smaller streams so we cut out and headed north. We stopped at an upper stretch of the Pine River accessed from a gravel road running south off 20 Mile Road. There were two cars parked there and a couple guys in waders so we checked to see if they were finishing up or just heading out. They hadn’t fished yet so we talked a bit. One guy had a fly rod, at least eight foot in length. I can only think of one or two spots on that part of the river where he might be able to back cast but I didn’t mention it. We wished them luck and cut out, not wanting to encroach on their morning.

From there we checked the old canoe landing off Raymond Road. There’s usually a large group camped there but they must have found a new spot ( ideally not clear cut). There were several cars there and some guys standing around in waders. We chatted with them a bit and went looking for another spot. There’s several access spots off 6 Mile Road including a spot we use to camp. People were parked there so we went to a place I call “A two track too far,” a tight vehicle scratching path that seems to wind nowhere and end nowhere, but is walking distance to a less trafficked part of the river. We parked there and walked through the woods to the stream.  I worked some interesting cover while Feral moved upstream. He caught a decent brown right way so I moved up close to get a photo. Not a big fish but a things were looking up: Mainly it was warming up, no other fishermen around, and the trout were hungry.

Feral on the Pine River

We caught two more fish after that, nothing to write about. The only surprise was how the long winter had re-shaped the stream once again. Some of the big holes looked different, filled in more, some downfalls and structure were pushed aside or re-positioned further downstream. A gentle reminder, one we didn’t need, that time is rushing by and nothing stays the same. We didn’t keep the fish even though I brought a cooler. It was enough to get out, test the equipment ( no leaks in the wader!) and look forward to trout camp 2018.

Trout Camp 2017

Natch on the Zinc

Our annual spring trout camp coincided with the Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan, an annual event that draws upwards of 30,000 bikers. I speculated ahead of time the campground at Leverentz would be filled up with big Harleys turning the campground into a motocross track. Cold rain dampened the biker turnout, only one motorcycle found the campground, a young couple that seemed leery of the loud and rowdy fishermen. So much for my imagination!

The cold rain helped the fishing. We fished the Pine, the Zinc, the Little South and the Middle Branch of the Pere Marquette. We caught decent fish on all streams. Natch took big fish honors with a 21 incher on the Zinc. I followed that up with one about 15 inches, shortly after tripping and going in for a swim. My leg was over a boulder and I couldn’t stand up so water poured into the top of my waders. That did it for my camera but Natch had his iphone.

One a single trip around Big Leverentz Lake Feral caught seven pike. He kept one for the skillet along with a trout from the Pine. We powdered then with shore lunch brand cajun fish mix and pan fried them while knocking down way too many Labatts. Before long the guitar and mandolin came out and Natch surprised us with a tambourine. We played the long version of Buenos Tardes Amigo (Ween) whereby the beer influenced the order and spontaneity of verses. It’s a long song anyway but we had no trouble stretching it to 20 – 25 minutes.

Feral on the Pine

We stopped into Baldwin to check out the motorcycles. Bikes were lined up on both sides of main street and vendors were set up to sell food, clothes, trinkets, beer, you name it. We saw a lot of tricked out bikes including a vintage Harley from the 1940’s. We had to hand it to the bikers that showed up despite the cold and rain. Most show up every year no matter what. Last year they had snow so at least it was a minor improvement this year.

Luth and Feral, photo by Natch

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.

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.

Fishing theTributaries

Big brown 1

I had a very interesting time on a small tributary to the Rouge River this weekend. It rained Friday night so I was pretty sure the stream would be carrying some extra water which is really needed on water this small for spin fishing. It turned out to be my best day of fishing (so far) this year with a couple brown trout over sixteen inches and one over twenty. And several smaller trout. It was all catch and release.
I arrived about eight thirty in the morning and hiked into a normal put-in place which surprisingly was cleared away with a path right down to the stream. Someone had placed stair steps right into the river which was a shocker as I considered this section of stream to be “off the beaten path.” I tossed a lure from the top of the steps and right away a 16 inch brown came out from under a log for a quick look. After a couple casts he hit it and stayed on for about six seconds but managed to get off. So without even getting into the river I had some action.

The tributary

The stream, as I had hoped, was up and carrying a lot of mud. This was perfect as it allowed me to sneak up the river without being spotted by the trout and allowed me to make short casts upstream and perpendicular to the bank. On small water like this the trout often hit when the lure is at the rod tip. Explode may be a better word. I use an ultra light rod and spincast reel with 10 or 12 lb test Trilene XL line. In other words, a rod and reel that allows me to make pinpoint accurate casts into tight cover and monofilament line that will not break off on a huge trout.

big brown 2

I tossed a variety of lures including a gold super vibrax spinner and several minnow baits of various sizes and styles. When fishing muddy water the main thing is the trout need to see the lure so something with a lot of flash is helpful. As mentioned earlier I caught trout of all sizes and that tells me this is a very healthy stream. Small trout, ten to twelve inches with go after the same lures as the larger trout so if you are new to spin fishing don’t be surprised if a tiny trout hits your biggest lure, or vice versa. If you try fishing the smaller tributaries to notable trout streams, and can time your trip so the water is up and muddy, you will be surprised by the size and number of trout available.

Holding 22 inch brown

 

 

Spring Trout

Feral on the Little South Branch

Feral on the Little South Branch

Managed to get away for an overnighter with Feral whereby we fished the heck out of Leverentz (for pike and bass) with lake fishing specialist Chuck Raison who was kind enough to bring a boat. We had our kayaks with us but there was a strong wind directly out of the east that would have kept us paddling instead of fishing. So Chuck was kind enough to motor us around. Unfortunately it was a cold front also. I don’t have to tell pro anglers what that means for fishing. I saw one Pike that came up for a look. I was the guy with all the luck.

Chuck and Feral

Chuck and Feral

So Chuck headed out and Feral and I decided to hit the streams. First choice Pine River up by Tustin to a small upstream stretch we hoped would not be flooded. The cold front followed a whole day of steady rain so it was taking a chance to drive up there. And it was flooded. We threw some lures from the bank but didn’t stay long. We decided to try an upstream stretch of the Little South Branch of the PM and that was wadable, but high. Right off the bat Feral hooked into a nice fish, a brown trout about 17 inches. He kept that and I took the lead. Another ten minutes I had a nice brown hit my lure but it didn’t stay on. I cast back to the same spot and she came up again. She was hungry. A couple more casts and she grabbed the small minnow lute and we had two fish. Feral wanted them both so we had two on the stringer.

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The stream was more interesting than we remembered. We used to fish this stretch when we were very young. Our Grandpa would spot us along the river which has a couple parking spots along a high ridge. You can’t get lost and the river is generally shallow so it’s a great place to introduce young kids to wading and spin fishing. I couldn’t help but think of him when we caught the two trout – thinking just how much we owe him for teaching us not only trout fishing but for sharing his appreciation of the outdoors.

We had a campfire, a guitar and a 4-string banjo and ripped off a couple old Johnny Horton songs then got creative on some Neil Young songs. Feral finds some interesting lead parts flat picking the banjo and I was willing to sacrifice my vocal chords to hit the melodies so that was a good way to close out a tough but fun day on the water.

Wading Deep

Wading Deep

One of the interesting things about trout fishing is meeting whatever challenge comes up. In order to catch trophy trout you have to put yourself into a position where you have a genuine shot at getting a big fish to take your lure. It may be necessary to wade though deep holes, balance on invisible and unstable logs, lean into a hard current, and try to lob an awkward cast into thick cover while swatting that mosquito that is buzzing you ear.

Successful trout fishing is all about making the perfect cast and to do that you need to be in the right spot whether in the middle of the stream or near the bank. And you have to be on the move – continually working cover with a few select casts and then pushing further upstream to the next piece of cover. Generally you stay on the inside of bends so you cross the stream constantly. Imagine a shoot-em-up video game where you are constantly moving forward and blasting enemy that come into view. Sort of like that but you need to be as accurate with your casting as you are with your imaginary rifle.

But this post is about wading deep. If I take the route up through the stream that others don’t – I know may be rewarded. I am often on my tip toes in water so muddy or stained that my feet are my eyes. It’s ballroom dancing on a minefield. You learn to walk sideways in a fast current to reduce drag and gauge the steepness of the decline into pools and whether you can muster your way around some trash or blowdown to stay in the stream. Climbing up on the bank to go around blowdowns or deep pools is a last option – you want to stay in the water because that is where to make the next perfect cast. The one that takes a big trout.luther on Pigeon 2

 

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