Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Morel Mushrooms”

Opening Day Success

When trying to figure out a slant for this post Feral said, “We could call it “We didn’t get skunked” but then went on to say, “that’s about the lowest form of bragging.” I had to agree and laugh. Considering our haul, including morel mushrooms, I’ll try to frame the day in more glorious terms. For starters, we pulled nice fish out of busy crowded streams and Feral talked five morels right out of the ground. Even more incredibly, get ready for this, our waders did not leak. The measure of success keeps rising.

We started up on the Pine River hitting the most inaccessible spot we know and had a group of fishermen walk past us two minutes after we got in. They didn’t start fishing the hole right in front of us so we knew the river gods were smiling on us. The Pine was carrying some mud and wadable and we starting seeing fish right away. I had one about 17 or 18 inches make several passes at my lure, then caught one about 15.

After about a hundred yards we had to get out of the stream and could see the group of fishermen working a big deep hole up ahead…so we decided to hit our reliable mushroom spot.

Feral stops for a bite to eat

Normally our mushroom area has cars parked on both sides of the road but none today, a Saturday, so that was not a good sign. Still, Feral, using magic powers that escape me, started conjuring up some of these delectable treats while I went cross-eyed trying.

From there we went down to the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette and parked between groups of campers. The Little South was high, clear, and wadable and we managed to cut off a fair stretch. Feral caught a good pan fryer and our casting was finally starting to get precision – dropping the lures into congested overhangs and being surprised by the fish we weren’t seeing. When the Little South is clear as glass the brown trout are buried deep beneath the banks. If you are not risking lures casting into deep overhangs your chances are slim.

We wrapped up the day with a cold beer back at the truck. Our “trout camp” weekend is still a ways off but it is hard to let the opener pass by without at least a day trip. No matter the haul, getting out sets the stage for another great year.

Spring Trout Camp 2014

Natchl with 66 Apache Chief

We had a late start camping this year finally meeting up at Leverentz Lake which is centrally located in Lake County, Michigan and therefore putting us close to several great trout streams. We set up camp on wet ground and were surprised when Natch showed up with a vintage 66 Apache Chief camper. I had my 61 Apache Chief so if you are a fan of old campers and swung in you would have seen two classic campers made in Michigan a half a century ago. Natch’s 66 Chief is in great shape including the canvas. His version has a rubberized floor (Nice!) and an add-a-room option that zips into the awning. (click on any photo to enlarge, backbutton to return) I’ll do a separate post on his camper sometime in the future.

We ran up to the Pine River with the idea of stopping at our morel mushroom spot first and then hitting the stream. The morels were up. Feral scored a nice bag of about 30 and Natch and I picked up another dozen or so. The Pine River was flooded but we had guessed that ahead of time. We went in south of six mile road and cut off a couple short stretches mostly casting from the bank. I caught a brown trout about 17 and tossed him back figuring we were camping for a few days and would likely catch more if we wanted a trout dinner.

Thunderstorms blew in and the next morning we woke to a downpour. When that happens, and in Michigan we count on it, we put on waders and rain jackets and look for fishable trout water because hanging out at a wet camp is no fun. We knew the Pine was flooded and, from experience, the Little Manistee, The Baldwin and main tributaries to the PM, the Middle Branch and Little South would be at flood stage and impossible to wade. So Natch, Feral and I drove to a far upstream (headwaters) stretch of the Little South where the water is is normally a foot deep. It too was flooded but at least we could get in the river. Rain came down in sheets and wind gusts rocked the treetops. Feral commented it looked like tornado weather as the sky took on a strange color.

Natch and Feral are trout addicts like me so we spent several hours getting in and out of the stream and casting every piece of trout cover. I went fishless but Feral and Natch each caught several in the 12 to 16 inch range and released them. Natch was wearing a go-pro camera so at some point maybe he’ll send a video I can post.
Natch and Feral, Little South

This might sound like blasphemy but one reason we released all trout is because we were thinking about pike for our trout camp “fish dinner.” When the weather broke we went out on Leverentz Lake with our kayaks and I was fortunate to catch a pike around 26 inches that provided a nice plate of boneless fillets. Natch also got lucky and caught the biggest bass I’ve ever seen come out of Big Leverentz.  Might have gone 5 pounds but we didn’t have a scale handy. He released it because it wasn’t in season and we don’t normally eat bass.


Luth with Pike

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Feral prepared a fried morel mushroom appetizer as a prelude to our pike dinner. A couple beers and trout camp magically transformed from dreary Kansas to the Land of Oz.

On Saturday, Keith rolled in. Keith has been to a couple trout camps now and when the guitars come out at dusk it is his job to play the heck out of some of the classic rock songs that we all know but can’t remember the words to. So that puts Feral, lead vocalist for “Rock Bottom and the Out-of-Tuners” in a position of having to make up words on the fly while I struggle to recall old songs that combine killer electric guitar with some acoustic guitar – so I am at least contributing something. Not an easy job if the Labatts beer is flowing.

Keith with Gibson

I always mention Keith’s exceptional guitar playing but he is a story teller like Feral and Natch with a vast reservoir of odd experiences. So the guitar is great but he fits right in as person. When Natch and I took him morel mushroom hunting with dubious results (2) it wasn’t a problem. We just knocked down a cold beer and talked about whatever came to mind. So guitar or not, he’s in.

I’m always circumspect about asking non-fishermen to trout camp mainly because if it rains we fishermen take off for the streams. If it’s overcast we hit the lake.  Keith seems to have a radar about the weather and shows up at just the right time – sunny and seventy and time to jam.

It was all over way to fast. The lake was beautiful and we had the campground to ourselves. We caught trout and pike. Morels were up. A great start to another year.

Camp 2014


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.

A Morel Dilemma

It’s January 6 and the temperature is almost fifty in Michigan. When I stepped outside I was transported to trout camp first by the warmth and then the earthy smell of spring. Reality checked my imagination but not my enthusiasm.  Spring brings the new trout season, and a backup pastime of Morel Mushroom hunting. Mushroom hunting finishes a close second.

We find the early black morels, and as the season progresses, the half-caps. We (Feral and myself) don’t have a spot for the later white morels but maybe that’s because we’re looking in the wrong place – we keep going back to the black morels areas. It’s vexing to think back to our grandpa opening the trunk of his 65 Chevy Impala and seeing two bushels of white morels. I don’t have a clue where he found the mother lode but it’s possible those days are gone, at least on public land. A good day for us is a few dozen two inch Black Morels to fry up with some trout. And that’s enough. We fry them in butter until they are about 25% of their original size and crispy. People compare the taste of morels to steak, but to me it’s more like eating bacon. Are we frying them too long? I’ve read you need to cook them thoroughly.

If you haven’t tried mushroom hunting here’s a good tip: Look for cars parked along the road in late April and early May. Most everyone expects to see other hunters so you will not be breaking any code. I have read books on morel mushroom habitat and what else I can add has very little value unless you are a naturalist with a degree in botany. Look near Elm and Ash trees, white barked trees like Birch, Poplar, and Aspen, and in evergreens like White Pine. Look where the sun is warming a hillside early in the season, and shaded hillsides late. Alongside water is good including drainage ditches along a road.

If you have never been mushrooming it’s wise to go with an expert the first time. It is encouraging to see someone else find some. If they help you spot some it will be much easier to gain some confidence – they are difficult to see, especially the black ones.  And the expert can cull your bag for the false morels, the poisonous variety that can wreck an otherwise nice meal.

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