Monday, November 24, 2014

November: In Michigan fishing the Pere Marquette River then on to Bennett Spring S.P.

I made a trip to Michigan to fish the Pere Marquette River in the area called the maple leaf. The Coho salmon finished their spawning with most of these salmon dead and decaying in the river. If there is a high water event, the decaying fish will eventually wash out to Lake Michigan. There are usually some late salmon spawning and on redds, and these will be the places the steelhead, brown and smaller trout will be to eat any salmon eggs dislodged or floating down river from spawning fish. 

My brother, Kirk had success in previous years fishing for steelhead trout after the salmon spawn in the month of November. The steelhead will move up late fall and winter over in the river, waiting for the return of spring to spawn. The steelhead can return several times to spawn with the largest males being six or seven years old, weighing over ten lbs. and measuring thirty inches in length.

I have fished these waters off and on since a kid and we have seen the change of the river and named special places on the river to those memories. My grandfather had a cabin on Hwy 10 between Branch and Walhalla. We would go the cabin the summer to spend time with family. My grandmother would take us out on hikes, walking the fire trails and waiting by railroad tracks for a locomotive to pass by. Over the years we discovered this was a great river to swim and fish. The Pere Marquette was the first river in the United States to get brown trout planted in the stream from Europe. It was designated as a wild and scenic river in the seventies and stories written about in by Ernest Schwiebert telling of his childhood fishing the upper waters near Baldwin.

One place named on the river was a place where an old cabin once stood; there was an event that occurred before I was born. There was a plaque marking the spot a fellow hung himself on a limb of a white oak tree. The tree still stands with the cabin near by all but gone. We call the area below this spot the hangman hole. Another spot we remember fondly was the birch tree hole. A birch tree leaned over the river marking a popular spot to catch steelhead trout but the tree washed out and carried downstream several years ago. Then there was Ackerson’s Cabin, I remember the cabin and it burnt to the ground forty years ago. The property was sold to the federal government and is now public property with access to the river.

I had two days to fish with Kirk. It was a trip nearly eight hundred miles to Walhalla from Springfield. It took fifteen hours with several traffic jams in Michigan on I-94 and I-96 due to road construction. Kirk fished all day Monday, he drove to Ludington to look at the water. The lake was dirty from recent storms and unfishable from the surf. He spent the rest of the day fishing the Pere Marquette River and had a very good day catching and leasing steelhead, brown trout and smaller rainbows.

I met Kirk at 10 PM that evening at a cabin/motel we usually stay. We talked weather. The forecasted storm moved to the north with Marquette, MI getting 42 inches of snow. We had at least one day without snow.

November 11, 2014: The next morning we woke before 5 A.M. and walked the trail to the river in the dark before morning light. We were fishing with just enough light to see. Throughout the day, we moved from hole to hole and covered the length of the river from the Birch tree hole near the cabins downstream to Hangman. Needless to say, the fly rod and I failed to catch many trout. I had a few hits with a dangling fly. Kirk caught three steelhead. One of the trout was left bleeding and was saved for the icebox; it was a hen that measured 29.5 inches in length. He caught a number of smaller trout, which were released.
Kirk with a 29.5 inch Steelhead Trout
I saw several ospreys flying overhead and a bald eagle flying treetops later in the day.  The rain started to fall afternoon with the cool air moving in before dark. We fished until 5 PM. We returned to the cabin and ate at Emerson Lake.

November 12, 2014: The next day was to be cooler with snow in the forecast. I decided to switch from the fly rod to natural bait, hoping to get a few hookups.The next morning, we packed out and on the river, fishing by 9 PM. The day was over casted with the temperatures in the high twenties. There was a light flurry of snow most of the day. I managed to find small trout behind down trees in the river and several brown trout. One of the brown trout was nearly fifteen inches. I cross paths with my brother at noon, he lost two steelhead trout in the fight. One of the fish actually jumped out of water and hit a tree trunk in mid-air. We fished until 4:30 PM.

It was good to get back to the Pere Marquette River to fish. I discovered how difficult it was climbing the hills and crawling along the banks. Hopefully, I will get back to fish in March.

A photo of Brant, Rod and me going right to left
November 30, 2014: I arranged to meet Brant Koetting for breakfast at a Springfield Village Inn and then on to Bennett Spring State Park for the day a day of fishing. Brant lives in California, MO (near Jefferson City) and spends his summers guiding at Saltery Lake Lodge. Actually, he was our guide this year when Rod, Bill and I fished there in September. Brant made a trip to Bennett last year, so this was not his first visit at the trout park with us.
It was an unusual warm day with the air temperature near 68°F, there was a southern breeze blowing downstream. With a change in the air by mid-afternoon, the wind switched out of the north dropping the temperature 30 degrees in a few hours. Most of the fishermen around us talked of the weekend events and they probably fished Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They were concern for the freezing precipitation forecast for Monday morning. They talked of leaving the park and not staying for another day.
Brant and I were in the water shortly after 9:30 AM with four other fishermen in zone 1, fishing the water above the dam. By noon time, there was probably a dozen in the same area, most of these fishermen knew each other and there was constant chatter among them. Rod was to drive in before noon, but neither Brant nor I saw him. Brant and I decided to move down stream, there were only a few fishermen below the stone bridge. I reentered the water below the hatchery outlet and fished my way back to the dam, and finally started to see a mayfly hatch with rising trout. I saw a family fishing near the stone bridge, with the teenage daughter wearing pink shorts and boots wet wading above her knees in the spring creek. Who would guess the last day of November, that one could wet wade? I was impressed.
Rod fishing infant of the stone bridge
It was 2 PM; Rod spotted me in the water just below the dam. We talked a bit and then he decided to walk across the stone bridge and fish the opposite bank. Brant was downstream and out of sight.
It was 3 PM, Rod and I decided to finish the day in zone 1 above the dam. It was unoccupied water, with most of the previous fishermen gone for the day. Brant was fishing near the dam and I saw him trip and dip into the water with water filling his waders. I told him, “today you could get away with wet waders but tomorrow you wouldn’t” knowing freezing temperatures would be moving in overnight. Rod and Brant made their way to their vehicles before the 4 PM whistle; I managed to hook a trout five minutes before the siren and called it last cast last fish for the day. The afternoon with a light hatch made up for the slow morning and I was able to release twenty trout. Only one trout was of size, measuring sixteen inches. It was a day of contrast, with the air temperatures, wind direction and wiliness for the trout to bite a fly. My next trip will be to Montauk for a three day weekend.
An unusually warm day before the front drop the temperature thirty degrees

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