Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Pine River”

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.

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 Flooded Rivers

Natch on the flooded Pine River, early spring.

Natch on the flooded Pine River, early spring.

I can’t count the number of times I drove up to the Pine River only to find it so flooded that it was impossible to fish. But here’s the thing – I had to try. When a rain starts the trout slam the buffet and that means any lure tossed into the water. It can last for a day, but if it’s a downpour then it can be a matter of hours before the river is carrying so much mud it seems like Nestles has a chocolate milk factory upstream. When the stream muddies up – the fish are still active but they are at the bottom of the stream and your lure is coasting past them like it’s in an alternate reality.

Stepping into a muddy, flooded river qualifies as entering an alternate reality. You can count on the stream being twice as deep as you expect, plus six inches. If you survive getting in, triangulate your position before taking a further step so when you trip over the submerged bottom log you will have some idea of where you might get back out.  Experienced anglers have a special way to enter flooded rivers that reminds me of a scene from Romancing the Stone and a long muddy slide, though the chances of landing on Kathleen Turner seems pretty remote.

Back to the River. OK, you made it in, now what? Since it is almost impossible for the trout to see your lure, your best bet is to upsize. If you normally throw a two hook minnow bait, grab a #13 three-treble silver or gold minnow. Casting will not be pretty. Lob the lure like it has cooties and try to pinch the line before it reaches its destination.  This will straighten out the lure before it enters the stream which is the best advice in this entire post.  If a three hook lure enters the water at an odd angle, it will most likely catch the fishing line and retrieve sideways or backwards, which doesn’t catch a lot of trout.

Don’t have a #13 dredger? Try the biggest spinner in your tote. Ideally – fat blades with lots of flash. I like a gold color in muddy water, silver if the stream is more stained than muddy.  There is a good chance you will lose the lure but you need to weigh that against catching a big trout, which is very possible. The big fish are not timid if they think they are invisible. Here is a second good tip. Work the banks since the water is shallower at the edge. This bumps your chance of a trout seeing the lure. That said; cast everywhere because a stream bottom will have some shallow spots even mid-stream. Also, don’t be surprised if a trout takes your lure right at the rod tip. That’s when it gets fun.

Pine River, Lake County

Six Mile Bridge over the Pine River

Michigan has several Pine Rivers. The Pine River in northern Lake County holds some nice brown trout, rainbows, and the occasional brook trout. It gets fished heavily on the opener but through the summer you most likely will get the stream to yourself other than some canoeists on sunny days. Feral and I went up there this weekend mainly because it rained Friday and we hoped for a stained or muddy stream – something to help get the trout in a mood to chase lures. We parked at Six Mile Bridge and went upstream from there. The river winds though some private property but in Michigan that’s not usually a problem – just stay in the stream. (Rules vary by river.)

Fishing was tough. It looked like rain while we put on our waders so we took our rain jackets, but after the first bend the sun came out and we knew we would have to do some coaxing to get a fish. The water was low and clear. Feral and I changed lead every couple bends and tossed a variety of lures without seeing a fish. When that happens I start making dicey casts into thick overhanging brush and trees over deep water where it would be impossible to retrieve the lure should it hang up. Lost one lure but I managed to retrieve an expensive Rapala by breaking the lure off and then fighting my way though a tangle of vines on a sheer bank.  Not my best day of casting.

Feral wearing camouflage to up the odds

Clouds rolled in and clouds rolled out. When they rolled out the stream lit up like jewelry and even the polaroids didn’t help. We entertained ourselves talking about previous times up that stretch and where we had taken good fish so there were a lot of short conversations that petered out.

Pine River, summer of 2012

We did end up with two trout, a rainbow and a brown, but we tossed them back. Both fish were caught at the end of the stretch so maybe fishing would have picked up a bit. We stopped at an access point on a two-track that runs south off Six Mile Road and we had a long walk back to the truck.

When we reached six mile we saw a large dog on the road that was ambling away from us and Feral talked about how he was once harassed by a huge wild dog that closed in on him every time he turned his back to walk away. He threw the dog a fish and the dog took it and then left him alone. As he was telling me this some dogs started howling and running toward us from a house close to the road. Fortunately they were all bark and we diffused the situation by talking to them. The owner ran out and called the dogs. I think he was surprised to see two guys in waders walking down the road. Not a lot of fishermen hitting the rivers this summer. Might be the driest season on record.


When Feral and I first started camping on Michigan’s trout season opener, a long time ago, we camped on a bluff overlooking the Pine River in Lake County. We had a friend from childhood join us for the first couple years, he passed away, but I think about him now and then. Al loved to hunt and fish. He was a bit of a rogue – never holding on to employment long, made do day-to-day, was generous with whatever he possessed even though it was never much, and was fun to be around.

Back then we were very ambitious about opening day and would go down to the river at the strike of midnight to fish. This usually involved some beer, crawlers, and warm clothing including waders. Just down the hill from camp there was a nice bend of deep water that allowed us to toss the crawlers and set up fork sticks, or just fish by feel as the crawlers washed across the sandy bottom. We were not expert wormers but we usually caught a few trout. The bank there had lush grass and we would set a lantern up far enough back from the river to avoid spooking the fish. We could see our shadows against the tall bank opposite us. It was usually cold enough to see our breath, but maybe because of the beer, maybe because of the anticipation of trout, we could forget the cold and concentrate on the goodness of the gathering and joke about anything.

Al made do with his fishing equipment. Where Feral and I would try to use just enough hook and sinker to present a crawler to wary trout, Al would launch a concoction of spinners rigged to a home made crawler harness loaded down with metal objects like keys instead of lead. He would usually have a fishing pole best described as used – most likely acquired though some barter the day before the trip.

I recall one time in particular where we had a pretty slow night up until Al hooked up on a big fish. If I remember right, his fishing pole was a two piece and on setting the hook it became two pieces with the end of the rod sliding down the monofilament into the stream. Catching trout at night is never pretty, but Al trying to land this fish with half a pole set a new standard. He said the fish was a big and we believed him since only a large fish was likely to move the conglomeration of hardware attached to the end of his line. We all imagined a giant hook-jawed brown trout. We knew the Pine was capable of giving up such monsters and we were ready to witness it.

Al was standing on the bank and I don’t recall if he had waders but the next thing we saw was him jumping in the stream and going after the fish. He was able to control the fish with half a pole so the construct of hooks were doing their job. He fought the fish like a man possessed and in no time he managed to pull it near the bank. He reached down and lifted up, to our surprise, a five pound sucker.

I am sure Feral had some encouraging, heartfelt words of consolation for Al but those have been long forgotten. The event was the highlight of the trip – but is just one of many stories where Al provided something extra to make a gathering special.  RIP Al. You were a true fisherman.

For those who remember Al and his love of the outdoors, here is a painting I did in 2004 of Al and Feral, painted from a photo taken during archery deer season, most likely in the late 70’s. Al was an avid bow hunter as well as fishermen.  Those were such fun times!

Allen Zoppa & Feral Tweed

Allen Zoppa & Feral Tweed

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