Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “brown trout”

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

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.

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.

100_1961

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

 

Catching a Lunker on the First Cast

Feral withLunker Brown

Feral loaned me some photos over Thanksgiving and a few took me right back to the stream. Several years back we were doing the trout closer up by Vanderbilt and we fished a stretch of the Pigeon that requires a lot of walking to reach. After the long trudge in we  decided hey, we made it this far, we may as well keep going a few more bends. Ultimately we knew it meant 3 hours of wading upstream to get to our takeout point, and another quarter mile walk through tangles back out to the truck. We went a bend to far, so to speak, and we found ourselves on a gravelly stretch that didn’t look to promising. Feral took the lead. There was a downed spruce angled back towards us, almost completely across the river. Feral moved up so he could run a lure in front of it. His first cast was slammed by the brown in the above photo. I believe it was twenty seven inches and that meant some soul searching.

We don’t usually keep big fish – the small ones taste better. Still, it was a trophy in anyone’s book and we could always grill it, or if he wanted to consider the idea, have it mounted. So Feral decided to keep the fish. He put it on a stringer and that is where the real soul searching begins because it meant lugging six pound of flopping lively fish while wading upstream through the most treacherous water we fish, over beaver dams, getting out around deep holes, etc. There is a little known formula: The weight of the fish times the speed of the river times distance = the actual weight of the fish, so about thirty five pounds by the time Feral crawled up the bank to head for the truck. There is a second four-mula that comes to mind: Four Motrin + Four Beers. Just the thing for a compressed main spring.

As far as I know that fish still resides in his ex-wife’s freezer. Once Feral stops having painful flashbacks of his longest ever trout stretch I expect that trout will grace the wall of his basement. Not over the workbench where he’d have to look at it every day. That would be cruel. In the furnace room next to the water heater.

Feral on the Pigeon

Feral pointed out in  his comment he thought the top photo was a brown trout from the Sturgeon River… and he may be right. The above photo is likely the lunker caught on the Pigeon.

Pigeon River Country Closer

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

Feral works a bend on the upper Sturgeon

The trout season came and went and I was fortunate enough to have several memorable camping/fishing trips this year with buddies that really bring something to the table – not the least a desire for adventure. For our trout season closer, Feral and I were joined by Natch first and Keith later up at Pickerel Lake which is centrally located in the Pigeon River State Game Area.

Natch is a trout camp regular having put up with Feral and I for something like a dozen years – so this year we told him he has graduated to “Honorary Member 2” not the least because he outfished Feral. I have asked Natch to write a first hand account of his trip to the Sturgeon River on the day we set up camp where he will hopefully mention those anglers whom he admires so much and have provided so much inspiration. It would be embarrassing, but not out of the question, for me to have to edit that kind of information in to his post. As a teaser, here’s a picture of the smallest of three fish, a twenty incher, he caught on a single pass at the river.

Natch's smaller brown trout

Natch’s smaller brown trout

The thing about Natch and Feral is they are both game for adventure and this year it was put to a test. I won’t go into a lot of detail here – look for a post later about Dog Lake Flooding, a pike haven of some repute. If the trip in to the flooding doesn’t destroy your truck, and you don’t fall through the floating bog mass, and the whitewater and freezing rain don’t exhaust your stamina, you might catch a… OK, I have said too much already. I’ll do a post with photos.

We also took the kayaks out on Pickerel Lake which was fun but not to productive. We caught a handful of bass and a couple perch but we had to work for those.

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Luther and Feral at the boat landing

Natch on Pickeral with Feral in the distance

Natch on Pickerel with Feral in the distance

Natch pulled out Sunday night and then it was up to me and Feral to prove we could still catch a trout and fortunately The Pigeon River, recently decimated by a silt fish kill by the Song of the Morning dam, still holds trout if you know where to look and when to fish. In the fall, large brown trout move upstream into the decimated area and you might believe the fish kill never happened. Feral and I took a couple big trout – but we were amazed that Feral also caught two brook trout about 10 inches. I don’t know what that means but it could be the brook trout were hardier than the browns when the dam was opened.

Trout camp would not be trout camp if we didn’t play some guitar and knock down some beers over a campfire. Keith, another adventurer, came up Monday for one night – which is a good four hours drive both directions for one night of camping. Somebody conk me in the head with my guitar as I didn’t get a campfire photo of Keith playing. Keith is good enough to sit in with any world-class band and add killer lead guitar and he wasn’t about to pass on the chance to play with “Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners” which is a name unfairly placed on Feral and I by jealous contemporaries who may not realize we own an electronic tuner.

We played some of our standards, like Buenos Tardes Amigo by Ween, but Keith really cooked when I started jamming the old JJ Cale song “Call me the Breeze.” Keith has some blues rock mojo and that took over. He played my old Les Paul Studio through a battery powered Roland Street Cube and rocked the campground. The other highlight was listening to him play my Martin acoustic including doing some of his own jams. A cold beer, an acoustic guitar played by a master, a warm fire… no further explanation needed.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral lights a fire with extra virgin cooking oil.

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

Feral and Keith, morning coffee

I woke up a little before them, poured a coffee, and went down to the lake and took a few photos. Another reason why camping gets in your blood. I heard an elk bugle out past the lake through the fog.

Morning coffee, Pickeral Lake

Morning coffee, Pickerel Lake

So look for some more posts on the fall camping trip to Pigeon River State Game Area: Dog Lake Flooding; Natch’s account of 3 monster browns out of the Sturgeon, and some video Feral and I took on the Pigeon with big browns.

Summer Trout

100_1106

Lake County had a downpour last Friday and I was concerned about driving up to fish with Feral Saturday morning because the rivers up there flood so quickly. I didn’t have to worry. The downpour brought the rivers and streams back up to normal shallow depth which is to say – not so good for trout fishing. The water was clear. You couldn’t tell it rained. I don’t know what the streams looked like before the rain but I suspect we could have picked trout like mushrooms.

We fished a stretch of the Pine River and Feral caught the “summer trout” pictured above but that wasn’t enough to convince us to stick it out for long. Normally deep (and treacherous) holes were wadable – up to a point. I crossed the stream in a deep spot and could literally feel cold water pour in my waders around mid-navel.  Good to know. I’ll have to dip them in the goop tank or buy new before fall when we do our “closer” up in Pigeon River country. Leaky waders in warm weather is one thing, in the fall it’s a curse.

The one (other) surprise Saturday was someone (Trout Unlimited?) added some log structure intermittently throughout the river. It didn’t help our fishing but I suspect when the rivers rise the new cover will hold fish. I appreciate their efforts even though the Pine does a pretty good job on it’s own of carving out new fish holding spots.

As a trout stream, the Pine is one of Michigan’s best naturally reproducing streams so tampering with it seems risky. I don’t know enough about stream biology to know if the work done to add fishing structure might not affect spawning areas but hope those who attempt to improve it fully understand they are tampering with mother nature. Most likely they are hoping to catch more “Summer Trout.” I can appreciate that.

Guitars, Morels, Labatt’s and Trout

Morels & Brown Trout

Trout camp doesn’t get any better. We scored on trout, mushrooms, and northern pike.  And entertainment. I invited an exceptional guitar player to camp knowing he would fit in with our strange group.  Keith H played in various bands around GR in the seventies and eighties, including putting himself though college doing gigs. If you were around then you might remember “Einstein” which played venues across the state. He hasn’t lost his touch. Toward evening we pulled out the guitars and he opened up with Superstition (ala Stevie Ray Vaughn version of the Stevie Wonder song). The cat can play.

Keith trades in the Lead Paul for a Strat

Keith trades in the Lead Paul for a Strat

Feral provided vocals and made up lyrics on the fly for some songs, and the melody on others. Natch tried to remedy that by looking up lyrics on an ipad and holding them up for Feral to read. Feral was seeing double from the Labatts and staying in time with Keith’s perfect rhythm probably seemed foreign to him after jamming with me for so many years. I played an acoustic guitar on some songs while Keith played the Lead Paul (pronounced “led” – like the metal) through a Roland “Street” which is a battery powered guitar amp and PA rolled into one. (Remind me to jam with Keith before beer o’clock).

We camped at Big Leverentz and we had the campground to ourselves. It was almost spooky. If it was rainy I would understand but the weather doesn’t get any better in Michigan for camping – low seventies with a quiet breeze. Feral fried up some morel mushrooms on Saturday night – about 40 we found up by the Pine River. They lasted about five minutes because everyone was being polite. Icy Labatts and morel mushrooms. I don’t have to explain that to anyone.

Feral with the Mushroom bag

Feral with the mushroom bag

Big Leverentz gave up several nice Pike including one about 3 feet. Fishing for pike  always results in catching bass – they hit the same lures, so we caught and released a lot of bass including one about about 3-1/2 pounds. Natch caught bass almost non-stop on Culprit plastic worms, which is also a good pike bait. Trout fishing was also good. Feral and I went back up to the Pine to check again for mushrooms (found another 40) and took a couple of decent trout, two browns about 16 inches, which we cooked up on the last day. We lost other trout and saw a few that were in the twenty plus range.

Denny with Washburn

Mike and Denny came over from Bray Creek and we shared the fish and mushrooms with them as an evening snack. Denny had his Washburn acoustic guitar and played a song done by “The Band” and we all joined in. Can’t recall the name of the song but it was a nice way to cap off a great trip.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: