Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Sturgeon River”

New Water

Over the winter I found an online search tool that works similar to google maps but has property lines and owner data. I was able to zero in on the Pigeon River state game area and was surprised to see a section of land I did know the state owned – with the Sturgeon River running through it. I met Natch up at Pickerel Lake for a one-nighter with a goal of fishing that very remote stretch. We had to bust through a cedar swamp and climb over bow-downs to get to the river. I wore my permethrin tick sprayed shirt and hat and was glad for it. Natch picked up a tick and managed to pull it out. We found others trying to make a home of his fishing vest. But this is supposed to be a fishing report.

We saw and caught fish but it required some short pin-point casting. You couldn’t wade for more that ten steps before getting out to go around trees. The fish were hungry but we had to drop the lure right in front of them and hope they would catch it within the short space of winding back. The water was clear increasing the chance the fish would spot us and hide. Here’s one Natch caught. Very obviously a brown trout with the spots if you are not sure of your trout species.

Camping at Pickerel Lake was interesting. Natch arrived a half hour ahead of me and noticed the campsite we normally grab was taken so he drove out to the Pigeon River campground to kill some time. When I arrived not fifteen minutes later our campsite was open and the folks left a pile of store bought, dried, split wood. Some of it still bundled with plastic wrap. All we needed to do was fetch some kindling for the evening fire. I took it as a good omen.

This was left over for whomever camped there next. Hope they also took it as a good omen.

2014 Fall Trout Camp

Natch fishing the stretch below Tin Bridge

Natch fishing the stretch below Tin Bridge

In a strange turn of events Feral did not make it to trout camp this fall but that didn’t stop us other die-hards from converging on Pickerel Lake campground up in Pigeon River country. Natch, Mike, Denny and I worked in a few days of fishing. Mike and Denny stayed at a private campground with amenities, which was surprising, since he and Denny have a long history of camping at Pickerel. But they stopped over on Friday night for some campfire and music. Denny had his Martin and played some James Taylor and John Prine and I might have surprised them when I played “Norma Jean” by Elton John (a song about Marilyn Monroe) and a pop song called “Wake me Up” by Avici.

Natch arrived after dark and that was my chance to have him audition as bongo player for Rock Bottom and the Out of Tuners. Unfortunately Rock Bottom (Feral) was not present so he may have to audition all over again. The main thing is Natch kept reasonable good time with the two beer drinking guitar players and he drinks my brand – so he will be getting a very strong recommendation.

Mike warms up the bongos while Denny fingerpicks his D-35

Mike warms up the bongos while Denny finger picks his D-35

The fishing, ah the fishing. Fall Trout Camp is our chance to fish rivers that give up huge brown trout (in the 25 inch class). Giant browns move upstream in the fall but it usually requires blustery cold weather and rain. This year we had perfect camping weather. So camping was great….though everyone kept commenting it’s just not the same without Feral and turning to me for answers. I really didn’t have any answers but suggested next year we camp in Feral’s back yard if that’s what it takes to get him to trout camp. (Trout Camp… It’s not entirely about the trout.)

Natch on the Sturgeon

Natch on the Sturgeon

I fished a couple of stretches of river with Natch and let me tell you – when the going gets tough, Natch gets going. What you don’t see in this photo is the log strewn bottom and gale force river trying to drag him backwards. I often get out and go around this spot on the Sturgeon because the wading is treacherous. The other thing I wanted to say about Natch is he can really zing a lure into tight cover and that’s a requirement for small stream trout fishing. He uses a side arm cast rather than the “Lucas” underhand flip cast so it was interesting seeing him drop lures under low overhead branches and other tight spots.
Natch on Sturgeon 3
Notice the water line on Natch’s fishing vest.

Tin Bridge
I have been wanting to post a photo of the new Tin Bridge ever since the old tin bridge destroyed the frame, exhaust, and brake line on my old Nissan Pathfinder. (see post The Incident at Tin Bridge). The new bridge belongs on a superhighway! Strangely, where the blacktop ends the rutted two-track requires a 4 wheel drive monster truck for passage.

For those wondering about the Pigeon River and the Song of the Morning Dam a sign posted at the bridge indicates they are drawing the dam down to prevent any more accidental spills (the last one decimated the trout population for miles with silt) so measures are being taken. I fished a section called Cornwall Flats and the bad news is it had new levels of silt and the fishing was tough. I caught a ten inch brook trout and a smaller brown but I suspect it will still be a long time before the stream recovers. Areas that did not have silt last year have silt buildup this year. Maybe drawing down the dam isn’t the answer?

Cornwall Flats section, Pigeon River

Cornwall Flats section, Pigeon River

Notice the silt on the bank. The bottom of the stream was black from silt throughout much of this stretch of river. The water was clear so the black steam bottom made it seem like I was walking in a pool of India ink. A bit strange…

So no giant brown trout to report this trip – you’ll have to search the archives if you want to see photos of the real monsters that come out of the Sturgeon and Pigeon in the fall. Maybe next year it won’t be summer weather in late September. That would help.

“The Loggy Stretch”

The owner of the party store/gas station in Vanderbilt asked Feral where he had been fishing on the Sturgeon and his answer was “The loggy stretch.” That was a fine example of thinking on your feet since the entire Sturgeon River in that county is log strewn. Another answer that may have worked was “the public water east of here.” The reason I am even thinking about this is I was watching a segment of Michigan Outdoors that featured some bird hunters and the host asked one of the three hunters where on earth they were. I don’t know if they blindfolded the host and camera crew on the way to their bird paradise but the hunter was clearly caught off guard. He mumbled something about not wanting to share that information. I could relate.

Feral and I have been fishing the closer up by Vanderbilt for the last dozen years and we have done our share of exploring in order to find some of the “less traffic” trout water. It helped that Mike and Denny, our most senior trout camp buddies, had a pretty good lay of the land before us so we were able to cull some information I’m sure they regret giving up. Those two have made a science of finding where to fish that includes a GPS, a Suburu Outback, and way too many bags of mixed nuts and cola. They are the Lewis and Clark of our outfit and I sometimes wonder if the exploring isn’t more fun to them than the actual fishing. Feral and I need to talk those two into an exploration of the Upper Peninsula which I understand is undeveloped.

But here is the point of this untimely post: How can you appear to share a secret location without giving away the garage? For some guys like Feral it comes natural but the rest of us need a process. So here we go.

  1. Keep a straight face.
  2. Refer to a landmark that may have nothing to do with the location
  3.  Nod your head like you have just given up the garage.

Conversely, if you can think on your feet like Feral, pick an environment generality and act like you’ve answered the question.

The Dog Dialers

Matt Hilliard, Dog Dialer

As Feral and I headed back to civilization from trout camp we passed over the Sturgeon and saw a couple fishermen on the north side of the road and both of us thought the same thing – good, looks like road fishermen wearing Cabella outfits. Not much chance they were hauling out large brown trout. (An observation born of years of experience). We pulled into the gas station/party store in Vanderbilt and cashed in a large cache of Labatts bottles and when I stepped outside I was surprised to see Feral conversing with one of the guys. They had just finished up a long stretch and did pretty well on trout and that just goes to show the value of angler profiling.

Feral mentioned fichigan in his conversation and Brett Sanders of Midland wrote to say hello and left an email so I followed up. Brett, along with Matt Hilliard, get together with a crew of devoted spin fishermen like ourselves for the closer, or “ender” as they call it. They go by the name “Dog Dialers” meaning they Dial (hook/catch) Dogs (good sized trout). They obviously know what they’re doing. Brett related their day on the Sturgeon in his email.  I’ll let Brett tell it:

“When Matt and I ran into you guys we had just gotten off of the upper Sturgeon and were heading to the West Branch. We had fished it once before, but it was quite a while ago and the water levels were a bit high. We hiked back into National Forest off of E Sturgeon Valley Rd and fished for about 4 hrs back to the road. Fish were active and decent sized. Matt landed the 17″er and shortly thereafter, I got bumped by one that size or bigger.

Then we went to the West Branch and just put in at a pull out spot just outside of Wolverine. We had similar luck in the West Branch. A decent amount of action and one bump from something 20″+. We had about 6-7 hours of fishing on the day. Totals were 4 7″-9″ each, 3 13″-15″ each, 1 17″er (Matt) and 2 missed that were or were pushing 20″. We’ll definitely be heading back up to the Sturgeon and would like to explore the Pigeon and the Black as well if you guys have any spots you’re willing to give up.”

Spots we are willing to give up? Whoa. (If they wanted to learn about some of our spots they should have pretended they were Cabella’s road fisherman). Too late now.  Here is a picture of Brett with brown trout measuring 23-1/2 (and more proof I should keep quiet about where I fish).

That said, it was great to hear from you guys!  If we run into you camping next fall maybe we can share some stories over a Labatts.

Brett Sanders, Dog Dialer


The Unspoken Contest

Denny is a trout camp regular and even more important a family friend. Strangely he has been best friends with myself and both of my brothers at different points in our lives. He is a character, with character, and to me the fact that he’s stayed connected says something very nice about our family. There is a quiet strength about him that may be hidden to some people by his outgoing personality and wit, but knowing him has made a difference in our lives. Sounds like a Eulogy in progress, but he’s fine, though he did have a scare and some surgery a short while back.

The photo above was taken a few years ago at fall trout camp. Feral and I had an ongoing, unspoken contest with Mike and Denny regarding the largest trout and we were taken back when Denny pulled this one out of his cooler. We don’t necessarily keep the fish, we use the honor system and keep a tape or de-liar on us when we go out, but Denny happened to keep the one shown here, a two-footer. He caught it on the Sturgeon casting from the bank because the river was too high and muddy to wade. It is difficult to present just how difficult a task it is to pull a fish like that out of the Sturgeon – even in the best stream conditions. To do it from the bank is next to impossible. So there you go, Denny is a trout fisherman and certainly has earned a seat at trout camp, not to mention a spot at the family table.

Refrigerator Bend

On one of our favorite streams, the Sturgeon, there is a very wide gravelly bend where the water level drops down to a foot deep that gives us a chance to relax a bit, mainly because the straight stretch leading to it is log filled and treacherous, and just above the bend the water is channeled so thin it can’t be waded because the water is over the waders. There is an old homestead on the outside bank, with only the footing remaining, along with the white shell of an old refrigerator. I am trying to remember if the fridge is still there or if I have become so numb to it that it doesn’t register any more. It could be someone dragged it away and I’ll thank whoever did it, even though we may need a new name for that spot in the river.

Wide flats like that one are pretty unusual in the Sturgeon – it may be forty feet across. The outside has some log structure and I normally pass right by it without making a cast even though the structure likely holds trout. In my mind, it’s a great spot for fly fishermen since it is so open, but not necessarily a good spot to find the larger trout I’m after. If it’s raining I can’t wait to pass by it just to get to the deep channel upstream where I’ve seen trout in the two foot class.

That’s Feral in the picture, taken back in 05. I suspect it wasn’t much of a fishing day with the blue sky. There’s a good chance we had a cold beer with us and that would have been the place we stopped. I can almost feel the cool breeze from the river, maybe even fooling us into thinking the sun was not a problem, only to notice sunburned ears later. I’d like to make that same trip again this year whatever the weather, if only because the Sturgeon offers such a great variety of holes, flats, deep bends and places where you just know a trophy brown will rise up and surprise you.

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