Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Pigeon River State Game Area”

Pigeon River Brown Trout

Feral and I usually close out the trout season in the Pigeon River State Game Area mainly because there are two exceptional trout streams for brown trout, the Sturgeon and the Pigeon. We count on the weather turning nasty at the end of September but this year we had cold weather and low, clear streams. For big browns in the fall – it helps to have rivers at almost flood stage which triggers the spawn and movement of large brown trout into the upper stretches of the rivers. So we didn’t get our wish, but still caught a couple nice fish over twenty inches. Our cohort, Natch, upstaged us this year with a trip to the Sturgeon where he took even larger fish. No video, but a recount of his story with photos will be posted later on Fichigan.

Dog Lake Flooding

Panorama of Pickeral Lake

It had been thirty years since Feral, his buddy Jeff and I fished the remote flooding up in the Pigeon River State game area. In my mind at least it started taking on mythical proportions as northern pike water. On that fateful day decades ago we pulled in too many pike to count including some twenty inchers that had obviously been attacked by much larger pike, with teeth gouge marks surrounding their bodies. Feral cleaned up that day with a yellow in-line rooster tail spinner and that meant every third cast he was pulling in the small but abundant pike. We didn’t latch on to one of the monsters prowling the dark water…but there was no doubt they were in there. Fast-forward to this fall on annual trout camp closer, this time with kayaks and the means to get back into that remote water.

Natch drove. He has a pickup truck designed to haul big things and 3 kayaks in the back was no problem. We stopped at the ranger station to pick up a map – just in case – which was lucky because the road into the flooding was unmarked. Still, we needed a GPS. The road was overgrown and unused. That may have been a good clue. The road, or opening,  was just wide enough to get the truck through if the side mirrors were tucked in. The further we went, the tighter it got – so I’ll thank Natch for keeping his cool which is hard to do driving a new truck through a virtual canopy of claw-like branches and blowdowns. There was no turning around once we started: Feral speculated the 3 kayaks sticking up over the rear gate would be like the prongs of a treble hook, so even backing out was out of the question.
Luther and Feral ready for Dog Lake
At the end of the trail we found a clearing and what used to be a channel out into the flooding. 30 years put the flooding another 50 yards out from the landing. 50 yards of floating bog: grass and roots that sunk down with every step – like walking on a carpet laying over a swimming pool. We had to drag the kayaks over the bog and couldn’t help but wonder who would break through and disappear first. We leaned on the kayaks for stability and dragged them over the clumps of floating grass.
Luther making the mucky trek to water at Dog Lake
Everything in the above photo is floating on water. No telling how deep.
Luther and Feral on Dog Lake
Natch launched last and took this photo as he paddled out into the flooding. (All photos by Natch) Somehow everything looked bigger than I remembered. Maybe it was the vantage point of a kayak versus a rowboat – sitting closer to water level.

The wind picked up right away and the temperature nose-dived. Fortunately we were bundled up good with lots of layers so we planned it right. When the sun went behind the clouds it felt like the temp dropped ten degrees in a matter of seconds.

I started working the upwind portion of the flooding, in part to avoid wind drift, but could only make a couple casts with a 3/8 ounce white spinner bait and then I was too far from shore. So it was cast, paddle, cast, and I worked myself into a comfortable but fishless rhythm. Natch and Feral did their own exploring and soon we were scattered around the flooding, beyond yelling distance. I expected both of them were hauling in fish so I experimented with lures including a pop-r around some lily pads figuring if there was bass around – that is a pretty good draw. Still, cast after cast – nothing.
Luther paddling on Dog Lake
After an hour I headed to a centrally located island where I saw Natch fishing earlier. We were all thinking the same thing: converge there and see how everyone is doing. First consensus – not so good. The pike were missing.
Big catch on Dog Lake by Natch
This fish, caught by Natch, confirmed our worst fears: Piranha had eaten all of the pike in Dog Lake Flooding. I expect the pike put up a good battle but it may have come down to attitude. Piranha are vicious. Here, Natch employs the Vulcan Nerve Pinch which subdues all manner of carbon based life forms. We could have switched fishing tactics but not one of us remembered to bring along the rules and regs so the we didn’t know about legal limits or even whether piranha are in season.  So we called it a day and headed back to the floating bog mass.
Natch waiting on Luther and Feral coming off Dog Lake
I’m happy to report we all made it back to solid ground.  We were up for the challenge but I guess you can’t “go back.” 30 years is a long time. I’m going to ask Feral to make a sign for the trailhead:  Dog Lake Flooding – Enter at Your Own Risk.  A skull and crossbones would do nicely.

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.

Pickerel Lake

Natch and Feral check out Pickerel Lake

The Pigeon River State Game Area in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan is home to some great trout streams and also some nice lakes including Pickerel Lake which has a campground and boat launch (unpaved for row boats and canoes). There’s a sandy swimming area but it’s not a beach proper where the sand extends beyond the lake. Most people lay out blankets on a grassy area near the boat launch and swim there.

The lake has a variety of fish species including rainbow trout, bass, perch and bluegill. A couple of us trout fishermen stopped at the boat launch one night and talked with a guy who pulled up in his row boat. He showed us his catch and he had a respectable number of decent bluegills and a few trout.

The next evening, as a social endeavor, we decided to try fishing the lake from the shore which allowed us to gab while experimenting to see what might work for the trout. A pair of Loons was working the lake and having much better luck than ourselves – so we waded out from the boat launch and tossed our crawlers out past the drop off. We stripped out line and went back to shore and set up some forked sticks and waited. It didn’t seem like we had the right program until we got ready to leave and found three fish on our various lines including a bass, a perch, and a rainbow. By then it was dark but we learned a lesson – hold onto the line and feel for the strike.

Working the shoreline at Pickerel Lake

A year later we tried it again. This time we worked the shoreline by the campground and caught a respectable number of bass, bluegill, and a few trout. Here again it was more of a social engagement, lots of jabs, a cold beer, and a chance to fish a different way than the more serious solo trout fishing we do on the trout streams. The lake produces fish easily. Use crawlers or worms with or without a bobber. Someday I’d like to take a boat out on the lake and explore, fish the drop-offs, and cast for bass.

The DNR made some improvements to the campground a year ago in hopes of luring more campers. If you are thinking about checking out the Pigeon River area it is a nice spot to camp for fifteen dollars a night. There’s a ranger station further up Sturgeon Valley Road (turn left on Twin Lakes Road after you cross the Pigeon River) that provides free maps of the two tracks and hiking trails. Driving around in the morning or evening you can see deer and elk. I’ve seen some postcard bull elk just driving around.

Pickerel Lake is centrally located to some of the best trout streams in the state including the Pigeon and the Sturgeon. Fishing the lake in the evening is a nice change of pace from wading and casting streams.

Witching Hour Trout

Luther and Feral after dark

If you are like me it is hard to stop fishing as the sun creeps to the horizon even when you know that walking out in the dark will be a bad trip. If I am fishing with someone else, like Feral, it is doubly hard because I know if I fall into a beaver hole and break a leg he’ll get me out or at least can direct someone back to the spot. I imagine he’ll recast some of the better holes on the way out, but eventually someone will come for me.

It’s true you can catch big trout during the day, especially in stained or muddy water, but nightfall offers trout free rein of the stream. They stop worrying about Osprey or other predators. They like the cover of darkness and that’s when the larger fish move out to center stream and go on the hunt.

I recall a time on the Pigeon, before the fish kill from the Song of the Morning dam, when Feral and I did an evening stretch by walking down stream and fishing back upstream past where we had parked. It was getting dark and we didn’t want to stop even though we knew we would have to walk out through saplings thick as spaghetti growing in a mud bog with beaver holes (near the stream) that were hidden by lush tangled saw grass. The stream itself had beaver dams spanning the stream and places you had to climb out and try to slip back into deep water, then do a wader dance on tip toes to get to solid footing. I hope I painted that picture clear enough – some places aren’t really made for wading, and after dark you need a special mindset called denial.

We knew there was a nice bend upstream that held good fish and we were not disappointed. The bend had a straight section leading up to it that had overhanging grass and saplings but was clear and open enough for working good casts right to the bank. From there it veered slowly to the left with the same cover overhanging brush and some various stumps and trash that broke up the stream flow enough to be big trout holding places.

When Feral and I fish together we have a system where one guy takes the lead until he gets a fish, or for one or two bends, in which case he is embarrassed enough at not catching anything he reluctantly offers the lead back to the other guy. When the lights go down this unseemly gentleman behavior goes out the window and we scientifically determine who leads by reviewing who has done the best so far and maybe the other guy should get a chance. On this night it didn’t matter who went first because we caught several fish out of the same bend. It happens like that sometimes. The fish cooperate and the fishermen don’t fall in a beaver hole on the way out.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: