Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “rainbow trout”

Pine River Rainbow

I set the alarm for 5:30 but rose at 4:50. The weather prediction for Tustin Michigan, up near the Pine River, was 60% rain. It’s about a two hour drive north for me. I had small spatter on the windshield around Big Rapids but nothing after that. I wasn’t discouraged but knew from experience that if it starts raining on a trout stream my chance of success doubles at a minimum. And the size of the keepers goes up. I pulled into the old canoe landing site off Raymond Road and was happy to see no other cars. I didn’t have to second guess if another fisherman went up or down stream and whether I was fishing behind someone. Never a good thing. I put on my waders and took the high banks upstream a few hundred yards and scaled the steep bank down to the stream. The river looked good considering no rain. It was carrying a little mud and the river depth was higher than expected considering the minor drought we’re in. I put on a floating minnow and slowly waded upstream working each piece of cover. I had new 10lb XL fishing line which helps casting and adds insurance for landing big browns.

The fishing was slow. I saw a few browns dart out from cover but they just weren’t interested in chasing the lure far and they didn’t bother taking a second look. About an hour into the trip I approached a wing dam of fallen logs that stretched almost the width of the stream forcing water through a deep trough near the left bank. I fished the opening and moved up just below the wing dam to cast up in front of it and had a strike. I made the same cast and hooked a rainbow about sixteen inches. Nice fish. My enthusiasm cranked back up after that but it was the same thing – work cover with good casting and see only an occasional flash. So after another half hour I decided to call it and wade back downstream to my get-in spot. I debated fishing to the bridge, a ways further, but the walk back to the car on a hot blacktop sounded bad. Here’s were it gets interesting. I waded back downstream around the last bend and there was another fishermen. Where did he come from?

We talked for a bit and I was surprised to hear he had driven up from Saginaw. So he made a two hour drive also. He was parked at the canoe landing and must have followed me upstream unaware I was ahead of him. I felt bad. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He said the fishing was slow and I can only imagine considering I may have spooked many of the fish that might have chased his lure. A spinner, by the way, with a rooster tail. A good choice for summer trout. He took it in stride. Anyway, a nice guy hoping for rain like myself but just glad to get out no matter what. He said he was going to fish up to the bridge and I hope he did well. There’s some nice holes and cover up that way. I told him about this blog and asked to take his picture. Didn’t get his name but maybe he’ll comment on the post.

I wished I would have taken a photo of the rainbow! They’re pretty scarce on the Pine so it would have made sense. It’s filleted and in the fridge so that’s that.

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.

Same Lure / Less Trout

I remember a few years back fishing with Feral on the Pine and watching him catch trout after trout. I tried a variety of lures including what he was tossing but caught zip. If you were to follow either of us up a trout stream there would be very little to tell us apart. We use the same underhand flip cast to get lures next to the banks and under low hanging brush. We likely follow the same path up the stream – crossing the stream in the same places, making generally the same casts. We move about the same speed – meaning we take a similar amount of time on a bend or piece of cover before deciding to move on. We both wade quietly. We toss the same lures including a variety of minnow baits from various manufacturers as well as spinners and what not. So when one of us catches a lot of fish and the other is relegated to watch – there must be something going on.

Our roles were reversed at our fall trout camp this year. ( see 2012 Trout Camp Closer for more photos) Feral and I decided to fish a remote spot on the Pigeon we call bear country because of the difficult walk in through tangled blow downs, bogs, beaver slashings, and eye level branches designed to remove your hat or smack the guy  following. Thick stuff where you can imagine a bear rising up to say hello with a loud grunt after you step on his toe. I fished this spot alone occasionally but its nice having some company during the walk in since the conversation is two-sided and there is always the chance of running into another fisherman who may not be talking to himself.

When we reached the stream Feral let me take the lead on a wide slow bend with a grassy undercut bank.  I made two casts and watched a V- wake come back with the lure. He took it hard and I was on to a twenty incher which put up a good battle. Feral was kind enough to de-hook and release the brown trout and that set the stage for the morning.  He moved into the lead and right off a similar size fish followed his lure back but didn’t strike. He didn’t rest the fish at all, which surprised me, but continued casting and moving upstream. We each caught some smaller fish and pretty soon we came to a familiar bend which I almost didn’t recognize.

We carefully waded along the shallow outside of the bend. The inside had the faster water, a deep trough, and buried log cover and frankly it didn’t look so great mainly because the sun was up and the stream was clear. There was a little cut-in at the inside bank and I watched Feral work it with no result. I was close behind him and made almost the same cast thirty seconds later and was rewarded with a second twenty inch brown. Feral watched me make the cast, saw the lure, and saw the trout take it. If that were the first time it happened on this trip he would have shrugged it off as luck, but I had done the same thing the previous day on the Sturgeon – caught a twenty incher following behind him.

I offered to take the lead so he could catch some fish, which was funny at the time. Lesser men would complain but to Feral’s credit he asked: What are you doing different? And that must be it – I was doing something a little different because I was casting the same lure over the same water. I couldn’t explain it at the time but maybe it was the retrieve. By twitching the pole as I wound the lure back I imparted a more injured look to the minnow lure. I learned this trick bass fishing a top-water plug called a Pop-R which is the only way to fish that bait.  There’s a rhythm to it. I think Feral saw what I was doing and I don’t know if he emulated it, but at the top of the bend he caught a rainbow trout about twelve inches.

It was a beautiful fish but I know exactly how he felt because I sometimes think about that trip up the Pine where he was catching the eighteen to twenty inchers and I was lucky to catch a small keeper. Fortunately for Feral, he’ll always be able to remember this trip up the Pigeon since his fishing buddy has a blog.

2012 Trout Camp Closer

I hope to write a couple posts about this years closer,  but here are some highlights:

  1. Great trout fishing – 4 browns 20 inches, many others
  2. Brooks and rainbows
  3. Great camping weather
  4. Plenty of beer
  5. Met some nice people – Ray and Desiree, her older brother, and his crazy girlfriend
  6. Ray cooked best venison I ever had
  7. Feral sang the Mexican song with Luther on acoustic guitar, even Natch joined in
  8. Mike and Denny camped on the Pigeon but came over for the campfire
  9. Stories and banter that encouraged another beer
  10. Another beer
  11. Feral re-invents the blow gun
  12. Natch fished the whole valley in one stretch
  13. Feral and I saw a bull elk that filled a two track – half a ton?
  14. Saw a bobcat, countless deer and turkey
  15. Waders leaked but I didn’t get cold
  16. Caught two big browns following Feral – offered to take the lead!
  17. Best trout camp ever.

Feral landing a good brown

Odd angle for a photo

Natch working the bend at the top of the valley

Checking length against Feral’s marked pole

The one hour trek through bear country

Why we make a one hour trek through bear country

A Wasted (fish) Life

Natch with one for the skillet

I hate to release a trout I think won’t survive. In Michigan there are minimum size limits for various trout species and it seems like the aggressive undersize trout are the ones most likely to perish from unhooking and handling. Unfortunately, if you are caught with an undersize trout you could face a fine – maybe even lose your license. So there is the dilemma – let the trout go when you know he may die or take it home to eat and risk a fine.  This may be a case where a little common sense may improve the law – allow a single undersize fish in the creel. Trust the angler to make a judgment call about the condition of the fish.

Larger fish are usually pretty tough. I have caught trout with a patch over one eye and their left pectoral fin tied behind their back, so survival rate is pretty good after they hit about fifteen inches. It is the duty of these experienced fish to teach the young ones about the various lures and how to recognize a treble hook, but I suspect the tough economy has had a trickle down effect so and more and more little trout have to fend for themselves without the sage advice of their elders.  The scary hook jawed trout wearing eye patches may offer advice at the stream corner but if little trout are like little people, their mommas told them not to talk to strangers.

From what I have seen there are no shortage of little trout – at least on the streams I fish. That may have a lot to do with the good management of the resource, or, more likely, on the ability of nature to replenish itself in spite of man.

I fished a steam about fifteen years back that crossed a major highway straddled by farm country. It was small, maybe ten to twelve feet wide with some mix of bottom including gravel and some very sandy stretches.  When I stepped on the sand, bubbles of gas came up that stunk like nothing I can describe. I suspect it had something to do with chemical run off from farm land. I kept fishing and caught a few small trout but sure didn’t keep any. After about an hour I came to a sharp bend and at the head of the bend the water was channeled through a tight spot.  I tossed my lure in the backwater of the tight spot and saw the largest brown trout I’d ever seen on a small stream. He made a wake going for my lure then ducked into the deep hole in the bend. I went back once or twice hoping to see that fish again. I suspect that massive trout had a couple good stories and with the help of chemicals may have spoken proper English but I never got the chance to interview him.

Back to small trout badly hooked, and some clarification: Depending on the stream, I’d like the option to cook up the ones I think won’t make it. If they speak English and ask to be put back I’ll honor their wishes.

Jake Lucas Trout Diary

Jake Lucas, my grandfather and fishing mentor to family and friends, kept a written diary of his daily trout catches on Michigan streams from 1954 to 1976. The diary includes place, weather conditions, baits or lures, largest fish, total fish and other notes. The diary may represent the only existing record of the trout population of brook trout, browns and rainbows (not to mention steelhead) in many of Michigan’s noted trout streams though this time period. While the diary is in spreadsheet format, he was inspired to add this account after a couple great days of fishing.

1965 – May 6

Fished Little Manistee above public fishing site at Indian Club Bridge. Hooked a large RB (rainbow) in a deep run by some stumps on a curve. He jumped and then he tore downstream for 40 or 50 yards. I turned loose the reel and he unwound line from the reel faster than anything I have ever hooked. He turned into the slow side of the stream and moved up into a drift and got loose.

Had a strike by another RB in front of the drift. Hooked another one about 20 feet in front of the same drift. Played it until I thought I could get it into my net. Had it close in front of me and started the net up it’s tail – then he turned head first into the net and a hook caught the net and the fish pulled loose.

I was ready for a straight jacket. Boy: I was mad and disgusted.

Hooked another one in a run of water by some raft type cover. He was smaller than the other two and I finally got him into the net downstream about 75 or 100 yards. It was a 27 inch male. I took it back to the car and met Doc (Dr. Pratt) at about 11: AM. He had an 18 + a 12 inch Brown. In the afternoon went back to the same area (points 3 to 5) caught another 27 inch female, + one 20 inch male and had another good one and my line broke inside the reel because of a grooved pickup pin.

Friday AM, May 7

Hooked a big one and he broke my line so quick I didn’t have a chance. I think the grooves in my rod tip cut it. Hooked a big one by the tail and lost it. I just could not wear it down. He got off after going downstream from me. Hooked a really big one but he went downstream and just dogged it in the middle of the stream. Felt like I was hooked to a snag because I could pull hard and he would just stay there. Finally he bore downstream rolled on the surface and the hook came out.

The following is a handwritten note in Jake’s diary from Doc Pratt (first a client for Jake’s guide business, later to become a close fishing buddy)

I never saw anything to beat this – what it takes Jake has and aplenty. Accuracy and handling and the lure in the water tell a tale and my experience was worth every cent – a real pleasure.


The Mepps Black Fury Spinner

I always carry a #3 Black Fury spinner with me when trout fishing. I don’t use the lure often even though I have a lot of faith in it. I’ve caught a lot of trout on this and smaller versions over the years. It was all I used on the Baldwin River when I first started spin fishing – it was that dependable.

Now I use it when I need something magical, something that makes no sense, something the trout won’t recognize but want to attack. The stream conditions and topography have to be right. I mainly use it for deep pools and runs. If the water is stained and the stream flooded, that is a bonus. The lure sinks out of sight, down where big trout hold in deep water, and can be reeled in slow because of the large blade. There is no second guessing when a trout hits it. They smash it. The single treble hook does its job – the trout stay on until landed.

Sinking out of site means you can lose the lure on hidden logs and branches. If you do get hung up, wade upstream of the snag as far as possible to leverage it off.

I also carry plain gold and silver spinners in various sizes which must look like the scales of small fish glittering in the stream. On bright days and clear streams, the glitter can entice trout out of cover even though the fish may be smallish.

Mepps also makes a version with a bucktail but I prefer no tail for trout.  For Pike fishing, I think a bucktails adds to the attraction. For trout I think the bucktail looks unnatural, though it is impossible to understand what they consider natural considering they attack Black Fury lures. I have no idea what this lure represents to them.

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