Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Trout fishing”

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.

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.

Fishing Alone

Back in the 80s and 90s I worked for a large company run by human beings that allowed me to take my vacation time in half days so I was able to run up to the Pine River on rainy afternoons. The Pine would come alive under a summer rain and that meant I brought trout home for my growing family including two young daughters that didn’t mind eating fish if I cooked them up to resemble Chicken McNuggets.  The days of large companies run by human beings came to a close and my daughters grew up, but the desire to head off on my own once in a while never went away. It’s true I fish with Feral often because mainly we seem to key into each others sense of humor and you can’t place a value on that. Still, when we camp, we are not averse to cutting off a good stretch by ourselves because that is the way to enjoy trout fishing – it tests your skill, you get to fish the best holes how you think will work best, and for some people, like Feral and myself, being alone is never a problem.

Trout fishing is a solo gig if you want to do it right. It is a chance to enjoy solitude and breathtaking scenery. It is a way to slow down and feel a part of something larger than you. I worry that I did not do right by my daughters by taking them on trout streams. They were just so feminine and girlish, like my wife, and I ran off too often to do my own thing. It’s true we went bluegill fishing on lakes and we had our family vacations, but teaching them to love trout fishing didn’t happen – so there is my regret. I should have shared that with them too.

My beautiful daughters

I am struggling to say what it is I mean about the value of trout fishing alone. It’s not the act of fishing so much as realizing when you are out there that you are truly alone in the world, and the world is an amazing place to be.  Once you have that perspective, you can face life’s challenges.

Camping in the Snow

Michigan’s trout season opens on the last Saturday in April and there’s no guarantee of good weather. It’s about a fifty-fifty shot in Michigan. We’ve had balmy weather with morel mushrooms popping, thick snow that brought visibility down to fifteen feet, and every grade of weather between the two. The weather can start out nice and deteriorate quickly, or start bad and end up wonderful. In all of the years of camping on opening day I am proud to say that Feral and I only packed it up once.

We didn’t want to leave. We woke to find snow, built a fire to warm up and went down to the river and fished. Casting was very interesting – watching the lure disappear in snow before it hit the water. As I recall the snow didn’t let up a bit. Then the real show began.

Feral and I were fishing together and had moved just upstream from camp to a wide gradual bend. We were standing on the inside corner when a canoe came by. There was a young boy about age ten in front and middle-age man in the back and they were paddling like mad rounding the outside bend. At the exit of the bend some logs angled outward and sure enough they glanced off the logs and overturned. The water was maybe a degree or two above freezing and they both took a complete swim.

We waded back downstream to help but the man managed to get his canoe up-righted quickly. We told them our camp was right up the hill and that we had a fire – they were welcome to dry out and warm up. The man would have none of that – he said they’d be fine and wanted to keep going.  I have no idea how far they were going, maybe Feral can add a comment on this, but if they were heading to the next canoe landing they had a couple freezing hours ahead of them.

We felt so bad for the boy. He may have been in shock.  It just seemed surreal not to take our offered help and at least warm up at the fire. We would have been happy to drive them to their vehicle and I’m sure we offered. As far as I was concerned the dad got what was coming to him, the boy was a victim of his dad’s ego or stupidity.

I don’t recall if that incident turned us off for the weekend but it may have. Feral and I packed it up and headed home with a vow to meet back there in one week. We really didn’t mind the snow and it’s not the first time we’d tented in it. It’s just that it wasn’t what we expected. We were thinking Spring.

The Monster Brown

This story by Feral Tweed  captures the excitement and drama of spin fishing for trout – a lone angler returns to a favorite stretch in hopes of catching a lunker he saw on his last trip. Feral’s metaphors are wonderful!  – Published by permission, copyright 2011 Feral Tweed.

The Monster Brown

by Feral Tweed

Dawn was still two hours away as I slipped my oId pickup into gear and turned my wipers on. The memory of my previous fishing trip was still fresh on my mind. Was that a brown trout I saw breaking the surface of that deep shining pool or was it a leftover steelhead? Though I knew there were a few remaining steelhead in the stream, I was convinced, then, that it had been a large brown, and this morning I hoped to find out. If only the rain would hold out, I thought, and if only the brown is still there.

I have always been a stream fisherman but I have never caught a brown trout larger than 18 inches. If I was right about the fish I had seen in the pool last weekend, I now had a chance at a brown that must be well over the magic twenty inch mark.

My headlights were getting dimmer and dimmer with each passing mud hole but I was alone on the road and could see well enough. My old metal tackle box was competing in a noisy contest with my broken exhaust pipe as I throttled my truck over the flooded two-track. I was heading to a spot on top of a large hill that overlooked a four hour stretch on the south branch of the Pine River in Alcona County. It’s still plenty dark I thought to myself as I jumped around like a circus performer trying to get into my chest waders- without putting either of my feet down on the rain soaked ground. Searching through the jumbled mass of hooks and lures that used to be my neat and orderly tackle box, I finally came up with my hand painted brook trout look-alike Rapala and couple of Mepps #2 bronze spinners. I stashed these in my breast pouch, picked up my rod and landing net, and headed down the dim leaf-covered path that led across the oak ridge and down through the cedar swamp to the stream.

The sound of the rain and my beating heart was all that I could hear as I made my way through the tangled mess of blown down cedars. I had to double back several times before I finally found an opening through the mess and made my way to the swift running stream. Halting there to catch my breath, I turned to listen to the mournful cry of a great horned owl somewhere out in the darkness. Hunting for her must be tough in this rain I thought, with all the mice and ground animals snug in a nest somewhere. She probably spent most of her night gliding silently from tree to tree searching for feathered prey roosting among the branches. She’d be giving up soon, I thought. I smiled. For me the hunt was just beginning. I lit my pipe and rigged up my rod.

This lure should do it, I thought as I tied a three inch Rapala securely to my new six pound test line. I don’t normally use lures this large on a brook trout stream but the spring rains should have brought the larger trout up from the main branch down below, and I was after larger trout on this trip. One trout above all, was the monster brown I had seen the week before.

Slipping down into the cold black water I could see that I was about one hundred yards below the deep pool that held the monster brown on my last visit. I tossed an under hand cast up and across the stream to the opposite bank. I watched with anticipation as my lure twitched seductively on the surface of the rain dappled water, then down into the current as it came past me. Taking up my line I tossed another cast upstream that fell just three feet from the bank. As I took up the slack in my line, my lure was smashed instantly by a nice brook trout that leaped several times into the air before I could get him under control and pull him downstream and away from the hole. The twelve inch brookie was a nice surprise. I slipped him carefully back into the water and moved slowly upstream towards the hole where I hoped to find the monster brown. I tried several more casts with no luck.

Stopping below the pool I worked out my strategy. Just in front of me were two half submerged cedars lying directly across the stream. Above the cedars lay the pool with the stream turning sharply off to the right. Over to the left where the cedars struck the bank the water was close to five feet deep and the current dug down fast and deep under the tangled mass of debris left there by the spring thaw. In order to get my lure down under the jam, where I expected the monster to be, I would have to make the long cast upstream and across. Then I would have to let my lure ride the surface down along the far bank and start working it back just as it hit the jam. Hopefully it would dig down under the cover and entice the large trout out of his seemingly impenetrable hiding place.

Luck was with me as I made the cast. My lure touched down easily just inches from the opposite bank, well upstream of the pool. I watched it silently as it slid downstream occasionally bumping into weeds that were hanging off the bank. A perfect cast is always rewarded, I thought to myself as I took up the slack line. Then I swung my rod out and down and watched as my lure dove beneath the surface of the water just inches in front of the log jam. I was rewarded instantly by the steady throbbing of the well tuned rapala as it shifted its course and dug down for the upstream run.

Was the monster down there watching? Was he hungry after a full night of constant rain? Where is he, I wondered, as my lure came out from under the log jam. I didn’t have to wonder long. There he was sliding through the cold water like a u-boat homing in on my rapala. A shudder went through my body the instant before he struck. Then, he was on!

I set the hooks hard driven by more shear panic than good judgment.  I couldn’t believe the size of the monster. He didn’t run with my lure – he just rolled sideways in the current and shook his mighty head back and fourth like a large dog shaking an unlucky cat. My heart was racing as I regained my senses and plunged the rod tip over the cedars and into the stream in a frenzied attempt to keep from breaking my line. Don’t go downstream, I hollered. Don’t go downstream.  The brown replied swiftly by making a mad dash back across to the security of the log jam. No, no, not there either, I hollered. I could imaging all kinds of things under there he could hang himself up on. I swung my rod tip upstream to hold him and managed to get one foot over the cedars before he made a spectacular leap and hit the water on a dead run straight upstream. Shoot. I was astraddle the two cedars with neither foot on the bottom and fighting for balance and I watched in desperation as the line peeled steadily off my reel sending a spray of mist with it. Somewhere upstream I heard the monster break the surface. Freeing myself from the cedars, I plunged into the pool, all thoughts of personal safety and plain human comfort behind me. With no more than two quarts of freezing trout stream down the front of my waders I made it through the pool.

Again I heard the fish leap. Cranking for all I was worth I made my way up to a straight-away that was covered over the top and two sides by thick brush.  Ducking through a low tunnel, I came up to a pool below a beaver dam. There was my monster brown finning easily on a gravel bar contemplating his next move. I was perhaps twenty feet behind him waiting nervously like a bird dog on a hot point. I could see my lure hanging from his long hooked lower jaw. A large male, I thought to myself, all of twenty five inches. My landing net was fastened to a loop on the back of my waders. I would have to reach around with my left hand for it and let go of my reel in the process. I decided to take up some slack in my line first and get a little closer to the fish.

That was my mistake. The moment I moved out of the opening to the deep stretch behind me the monster came to life. I half jumped out of the way as he turned and came down by me. Unable to keep a tight line on him, I watched in desperation as he went by me into the tunnel of swift moving water. For an instant I lost all contact with the fish. Fearing what I knew was going to happen, I raised my rod tip high over my head hoping I would be able to break his run without losing him.

Then he was there. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. First, my rod tip plunged down from overhead splashing against the water in front of me.  Then, down in the tunnel, I watched as the monster brown, framed by the overhead canopy of lush green vegetation, rose mightily from the surface against the straining line. For an instant the brown was clear of the water shaking back and forth like a John Deere at a tractor pull. Then my lure was sailing through the air and up into the brush. Instantly the monster was under the surface and gone. The stream swallowed him up as if he had never been there.

I stood silently, watching as my dreams and heart were swept away in the turbulent water. Then I noticed the rain falling and heard the birds singing their morning songs in the cedars around me. I turned to face upstream and realized that I still had a three hour stretch in front of me. Who could tell, there might even be another monster brown out there waiting for me.

Quicksand in Michigan Streams

Everything I know about quicksand I learned from Tarzan movies. The main thing to know is: bad guys don’t make it out, but good guys and gals always do. If you’re a bad guy, please stop reading. Quicksand on a trout stream is a little different than sand bogs in Africa, but there’s some similarity. They are both camouflaged so you don’t see it until it’s too late and if you make it out alive you’ll have an interesting story to tell even if no one believes you.

Quicksand on a trout stream is harder to see since it’s underwater. The stream bottom appears normal except there is no visible hole (sand covers it) so you don’t know it’s here until you start sinking. In waders it’s pretty scary since swimming doesn’t feel like an option.

I’ve found quicksand on the Pine River in Lake County and the Sturgeon River in the Pigeon River State Game Area. On the Pine, the particular spot I know of is a few bends downstream from Raymond Road. The first time I ran into it I was alone. I scrambled to get out and it was like running in place up a sand dune. It was easy to see the exact spot afterwards because a cloud of light gray silt poured out like smoke.  An hour later, walking the bank downstream, the silt was still pouring out.

A couple years later I fished the same stretch with Feral Tweed and mentioned it to him right before we got there (it was hard to forget). I was in the lead and sure enough I stepped into it and the same thing happened. Here again, I didn’t see the hole – it looked just like the rest of the sandy stream bottom.  A film of sand over the hole made it invisible.

The Sturgeon River has at least one spot I know of in the section they call the Valley which is upstream of the notorious Ford property. The same thing happens, but without the silt pouring out. How dangerous it is I don’t know. You start sinking and your reactions take over. This spot is near the left bank (fishing upstream) opposite and below a couple giant evergreen trees that lean out over the water from right the bank. If the stream is low it’s easy enough to wade around (since I know the exact spot), but with high water I get out on the bank and get back in above it.

How prevalent and dangerous are these quicksand spots?  If you are careful wading, meaning testing each step which you should be doing anyway, then you will likely get off with a small adrenaline rush and some exercise. Best not count on Tarzan to rescue you. He’s busy.

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.

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