The smallmouth pre-spawn is here and will only get better in the coming weeks as the temperatures continue to improve.Continue reading
Of all the fish I like to fish for, my favorite is the northern pike on the Grand River. Pike are known by many names such as “The Wolf Of The Water”, “Hammer Handles”, “Snot Rockets”, “The Tax Man” and the list goes on.
I understand that for some anglers, they despise having one hit their lure and for good reason. If they don’t destroy your lures, they will sure mess it up, probably to the point where you can’t use it again. Plus, they can be a bloody mess. With that said, when I run guide trips, of all the warm water species we fish for, the one clients want to catch most, is the northern pike.
Northern pike have a single dorsal fin with light colored spots on a darker body. The upper half of the gill cover and entire cheek have scales, and five to six submandibular pores (underside of lower jaw). The northern pike is a member of the Pike family (Esocidae), with its cousins the muskellunge and grass pickerel.
Northern Pike Habitat
Northern Pike are commonly associated and prefer the weedy shallows of both the Great Lakes and inland waters. In rivers, they are often found around log jams, fallen timber, slackwater and weed lines next to drop-offs.
Depending on the time year they are be found in the deeper slack sections of the river or the shallows. Two of the largest pike, that clients have landed on the Grand, where in less than 3 feet of water, with one of those pike exploding out of the river like a tarpon.
They prefer water temps from 40 degrees up to 72 degrees. Anything above 72 degrees, the fish start to get stressed and we tend to avoid specifically targeting them.
The ideal temp for big northern pike is when the water temp is under 65 degrees. This typically coincides with the spring and fall months on the Grand and its tributaries.
Life Cycle of the Northern Pike:
Pike in the Great Lakes region spawn in the shallows in April or May, right after the ice leaves. As a result of their eating habits, young pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Females become sexually mature at age three or four with males at two to three years. Beyond sexual maturity, pike continue to gain weight, although more slowly. Northern pike have an average life span of six to eight years, with some living as long as 15 years of age.
In order to protect Northern Pike, while they are their most vulnerable, the Michigan DNR does not allowed them to be taken from March 15 – the last Saturday in April in Michigan’s lower peninsula’s inland rivers and waters. There is an exaction to that rule and that is the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River and Detroit River.
Diet of the Northern Pike:
About 90 percent of the pike diet is small fish. However, they are more than willing to supplement their diet with any living creature their huge jaws can surround. Those include, frogs, crayfish, waterfowl, rodents and other small mammals. Their preferred forage fish are yellow perch, sunfishes, minnows and suckers.
Fishing for Northern Pike:
Pike can be taken on live bait (primarily large minnows) and all manner of artificial lures. They can be caught either by trolling or casting. Large diving or topwater plugs, spoons, spinner baits, flies and the red and white Dardevle all produce.
Some of our favorites are Mepps #5, double willow bladed spinner baits in white, X-Raps and large flies in baitfish patterns and colors.
Pike are not leader shy and because of their sharp teeth, therefore, we recommend the use of wire leaders or 40 lbs mono or greater leaders.
If you handle a pike remember that they have teeth in their gill plates and they can easily leave a mark on you.
Northern pike can be some of the most exciting fish to catch. While the fight is not like that of a steelhead or a salmon, they provide a lot of excitement. The boat can go from silence to violence in a nanosecond. So if you want to get on “the wolf of the water”, then give us call to book your tip.
Capt. Tom Werkman
With the recent re-opening of guide service in Michigan we would like to take a second and share some of the updates we have made in response to Covid-19.
One of the biggest rules that the DNR has stated is we must comply with social distancing and the 6ft rule. Our boats are 15 and 16 feet long, therefore, we can are only able to run one person guide trips as of now.
One person guide trips are a great way to get lots of one-on-one with the guide and it allows us to completely focus on working with you, the client.
Because we are limited to one person and almost all of our trips are two person, we have lowered our full-day trip to $225. That’s a deal and with it you get 8 hours of fishing. We will can continue to provide all the gear and equipment. However, you will need to bring your own lunch, snacks and drinks. Per the return to work order, we are not allowed to cook lunch.
We can provide person protective equipment (such as masks and gloves) but we encourage you to bring your own and wear it. In addition, we will be cleaning and disinfecting all our gear and boat surfaces at the end of each trip.
This may seem like a lot but it’s a start for us getting back to work and getting our you back on the water.
Fishing as been some what consistent. Smallmouth fishing has been picking up with the beautiful weather we have been having. As long as we don’t have excessive amounts of rain fishing will continue to improve.
Give us call and book your time on the water with us.
– Tom and Max Werkman
Fishing dirty water can be a challenge. Use these techniques and you’ll find success. I’m not going to lie. So far, this spring on the Grand we have seen below normal temps with above normal precipitation. The Grand River watershed is the second largest in the state of Michigan and when it rains that means higher flows and dirty water. Don’t fear it but rather embrace it for the challenge. Just because the river is high and dirty doesn’t mean the fish stop eating. The smallmouth bass and northern pike that call the Grand home are use to living in these river conditions.
High and dirty water means targeting the feeder creeks and fishing tight to the bank and structure. We have been using size 10 X-Rap’s in white, orange and perch color. When retrieving, jerk them slowly while keeping slack in your line. Once the you have jerked the X-Rap 2, 3, or 4 times reel the slack and repeat. This way the smallmouth bass and northern pike can hear the rattle, have time to hone in on it and right before they strike, see it.
Once you pick up a smallmouth on the search bait, switch to dredging with a 1/2 oz bullet weight and 3/O hook with a creature bait. We have been having success on black. The bigger the creature and the slower the bounce along the bottom the easier it is for them to see it. With a 1/2 oz bullet weight bouncing off the bottom that will create enough noise for the fish to hear it coming in these high and dirty water conditions. Remember to cast up river at a 45 degree angle and then let it bounce off the bottom down until the line is parallel with the current. Reel it in and repeat. Be patient and pick the area apart using a grid as a template.
Don’t let high and dirty water keep you off the river. Embrace your fear of it and you’ll be rewarded.
Captain Tom Werkman
X Raps are the name of the game in the Spring Lake bayous right now. This time of yearmthese lures have the best chance to elicit a strike from a largemouth bass or northern pike. Here is our fishing report for May 2019.
With the high water in the Grand River right now, we have switched to fishing the shelter of the Spring Lake Bayous. The gauge in Ada peaked at 14.5 feet on May 5 and has been slowly coming done. As of today, May 8, it’s at 12.9 feet. The river should be in decent shape this coming weekend, assuming no more rain. Remember, the Grand River is the second largest drainage system in Michigan next to the Saginaw Valley and it takes time for all that water to move through the system.
Water temps in the Spring Lake bayous have been ranging from 53 degrees to 57 degrees depending in the time of day. Water clarity is nicely stained and the weeds have yet to hit the surface. The water temp is near ideal for the northern pike. They are coming off the spawn and some look pretty beat up, so if you land one handle them with care.
We have primarily been using X Raps in size 10 on a medium heave rod with fast action tips with 20 lbs mono to create the best movement for lures. When retrieving, remember to jerk the bait as much as you can in an irradict way. The key is to keep some slack in your line as you jerk and reel. The more irradict the retrieve, the better the lure will elicit a strike. Use colors that are more natural with added orange in them such a Perch or Tennessee Olive Shad. This time of year the northerns will be in the weeds, between 3 to 10 feet deep. If you find weeds in this range, work the line.
The bass are in their pre-spawn mode and are in the 6 to 10 feet range. Normally this time of year you can count on starting to see some bass on beds. However, with the colder than normal temps this has pushed the spawn back. Once we start to get water temps consistently in the mid 60’s, bass will start showing up in the shallower areas.
The majority of the action we have been being with largemouth bass has come, again, on X Raps in size 10. When fishing for the Green Trout, use the same techniques as you would for northern pike. Use colors that are more natural with added orange in them such a Perch, or Tennessee Olive Shad as well.
Targeting bass with finesse fishing should improve as water temps rise, but right now it’s not producing the results we are looking for.
The northern pike action has been good and the bass action will only get better as the water temps rise. If you want catch these bayou bruisers then give us a call. They easily cork over an 8 wt or medium heavy rod and give the angler a nice fight.
The good news is spring is here on the Grand River and so are the smallmouth. The bad news is, so is a proposal to the dredge the Grand River. which has nothing to do with the Grand River Restoration project. I’ll get to the dredging in a minute. The Grand right now is high, dirty and moving fast. The crowds at the dam in Grand Rapids are gone and we have the river back to ourselves. It’s finally nice to enjoy the quiet solitude of this river. There are still some steelhead in the system but for the most part they are far and few in-between. We have been seeing steelhead roll back over the dam, moving as fast as they can out to the big lake.
We have been transitioning over to smallmouth and northern pike and it feels good to be back in the warmwater game. Water temps are running between 48 and 50 degrees depending on the day and the fish are hungry. The river is high and dirty. However, with that said there is about a foot and half of clarity, not to bad for the Grand.
When targeting smallmouth your allies, in these conditions, are going to be lures that create vibration and noise. Success for us has been the 3/8 oz. double bladed willow leaf spinnerbait in both black and white. Use leaders with 15 lb fluorocarbon tied to 30 lbs hi-viz Power Pro braid. In these conditions, the best places to fish are going to be the feeder creeks and right up against the bank. Fortune favors the bold and you’ll need to cast as far up those feed creeks as you can. Don’t be afraid to lose a some hardware along the way.
Grand River Dredging Update:
For those you that don’t know, there is a developer, Dan Hibma, that would like to dredge the Grand River from Fulton Street in Grand Rapids to the Bass River Outlet in Eastmanville. That’s 23 miles. He feels that there are powerboaters that would like to take their boats from Lake Michigan all the way up to Grand Rapids. In addition, he wants to put a marina right by Johnson Park in Grandville. I wonder how they would get to the marina after last years flooding event when the Grand peaked at 42,000 cfs.
In the 12th hour, during the republican lame duck session last year, then Senator Arlen Meekhof slipped into legislation over $3.0 million for dredging. He thought that no-one would see it. There has been no public meetings on it, no citizen involvement and no input. Seems all shady to me. Oh and did I mention that the developer owns 200 acres of land on the Grand River. Oh, he has also offered up his property as a site to put the dredge spoils, so he can develop it.
Thankfully, there is a group called Friends of the Lower Grand River that has organized to stop this. Through their efforts, and the turnout of Ottawa County citizens, it appears that the Ottawa County Commissioner’s will vote to oppose the dredge. In addition, a number of local municipalities have also passed resolutions opposing it. However, like all things that are environmentally destructive, projects like this are like zombies, they never die. The only way this gets stopped is through the legislature. Mr. Meekhof, when he added the appropriation rider did it in a way that if the money is not used in a given year it rolls over into the next and so. Again, shady.
I don’t have to say, if the dredging goes through one of Michigan’s best steelhead runs will be destroyed. If the Grand River is dredged, 50 feet wide by 7 feet deep for 23 miles, all the riffles, runs, holes and pocket water gets ripped out. When you channelize a river it destroys habitat, biodiversity and water quality. If you feel compelled please follow the Friends group on Facebook. There you can get all the latest news and updates on this proposal.
Captain Tom Werkman
On a recent guide trip I thought about, “what makes a hero shot”. Which lead me to, “what makes an anti-hero shot”. Which further lead me to, is possible you can have an “anti-hero shot” and yet still have the “hero shot?” The answer is a resounding yes.
However, let me explain it better. In order for me to write an ode to the “anti-hero shot”, I have to first define what the “hero shot” is. A hero shot, for those that don’t know, is a picture of someone holding big fish. That fish, for example, could be a steelhead, salmon, northern pike, bass, etc. The hero shot usually gets posted on the different social media channels for various reasons, not the least of which is to get “likes.” That’s all fine and I need to come clean. I am guilty of posting the hero shot and have done it on many occasions.
This past week I did a guide trip on the Kalamazoo River for steelhead. I went there because I wanted to avoid the crowds, which we succeeded in doing. We fished the lower section, where I had been successful many times in the past.
The guide trip was, quite frankly, tough. We used all the tricks, from spawn and beads to back plugging and trolling. We worked hard for seven hours, covering all the usual runs, holes, pockets, seams, timber, etc. No bobber went down, no poles bent and no fish to net.
Finally, after about the seventh hour and near the end of the trip, the bobber went down in a riffle section of the river. Fish on! A dime bright steelhead was on the line, fresh from Lake Michigan. As a result, it jumped, tailed on the water and did a little run. A fight ensued, the fish was netted, unhooked and held up for the “hero shot.”
Certainly you can tell, from the picture, the steelhead was lucky to tip 3 pounds on the scale. Call it what you want, a skippy, dink, jack, whatever, and laugh, but we worked hard for that fish.
After that, the trip ended and we ran down river to boat launch and chatted some more about the day. The clients thanked me for the trip, got in their truck and head back home. We didn’t find any large steelhead that day, as a guide, I was frustrated. I couldn’t give them the hero shot they might have been looking for and it wasn’t for lack of trying. They worked hard and so did I.
The Real Hero:
To sum all this up, I came to the realization the hero of the day, or any day for that matter while on the river, is the client not the size of the fish. That is to say, when the client works hard all day, they don’t give in to frustration, they don’t complain and they keep going during the toughest of conditions, they are the real heroes. To me that defines the “small fish” anti-hero shot with a hero in it.
Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot:
My little skippy, the anti-hero people think you are
As an angler I have longed for you
My heart has ached through the trials and tribulations
of the day
fighting snags, wind, snow and rain
You come fresh from the big lake all dime bright
ready for that mighty big fight
my bobber goes down and I set the hook
You jump with scorn as I reel you in
net in hand and land you
You many not be the beast I was hoping for
but you’re a steelhead none the least
I hold you in my hands for the picture
before letting you go
don’t be embarrassed of your size
for what people didn’t see was I persevered
and for me that was the real prize
Captain Tom Werkman
With the recent warm temperatures in West Michigan spring is on everyone’s mind. With that, steelhead fishing is back. After a long winter of deep snow and polar vortexes the cabin fever can be broke by hitting the rivers. Here’s our fishing report.
After the recent flooding event in West Michigan, over the past few days we’ve been able to get out on area river to do some fishing.
Depending on the day, fishing has been good, but a lot of these fish are still dark, hold overs from winter. We have seen a few chrome ones mixed in, which is a sign that our spring push of fish is just about to arrive.
As the water slowly starts to drop and water temps start to rise into the lower 40’s, the fishing will be getting better and better.
Lately, we have been targeting both spring spots such as buckets and pockets behind good gravel. In addition, we are also targeting the deeper runs and winter holes. We have been finding fish in both areas but most are they are still in deeper runs.
With the first fish of our spring run showing up a lot of these fish have spawning on their minds. That means on thing, eggs. Try using 8mm and 10mm beads as well as egg flies. Colors such as glow roe, peachy king, and peach roe have been bringing fish to the boat.
In the higher flows like we are currently seeing, we like running a bit larger floats. 11-15 gram floats with a shot pattered to match the float accordingly. This will slow your drift down a bit more to give the steelhead a chance to see your presentation.
If you haven’t check out our short film on “Gifts of the Grand” here it is. We partnered with Experience Grand Rapids and Aaron Peterson Studio to showcase the environmental comeback and fishing opportunities that exist on the Grand. The film was shown at the Mountain Film Festival in Saugatuck this past weekend.
Remember to use caution while wading in fast water and while on gravel. Leave spawning fish alone to do their thing so they can make more wild steelhead for all of us.
Captain Max Werkman
For me the best part of fishing is when you hook a fish and lose it. Probably all of you reading this think, “that’s a stupid thing to say.” I have been fishing for the better part of 40 years and here’s why, for me, I believe that to be true.
It’s All Very Public
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy catching fish as much the next person. There is nothing like bringing a fish to the net, holding it for the quick hero shot, releasing it, then posting the pictures to social media. If it’s big enough, you’ll get all kinds of likes and comments and feel like a rockstar. Over time, you’ll show the pictures on your social media pages to friends. They’ll all be like “Wow, that’s big fish”. It’s all very public and people respond instantly to pictures.
Until It’s Not Public
Last spring I was fishing on a mid-Michigan river during the steelhead run. It had been a tough day with one fish brought to net and a few pictures taken.
We drifted downstream to about one river mile from the takeout when we came across a log jam pushed up against a high bank where we stopped. The person I was fishing with asked “have you fished this before.” My reply was “No, but it just looks fishy.” “No it doesn’t” he said and proceeded to walk a little further back up river to fish.
I took my rod, walked down to just above the log jam and cast my bobber into the seam that would run it next to the log jam. I waited. The bobber started it’s drift right next to the first log, went past it to the second log, and was about to enter the take out zone when it went down……
I lifted the rod and set the hook knowing that the steelhead would run, with all it was, right into the logs. For about five hot seconds it was on…..and then off. I quickly re-rigged. Cast and sent the bobber down the same seam, with the outcome being the same as the first drift. This repeated itself about seven drifts with various lengths of times the fish was on. I sent a few more dirts down the seam and nothing, so we got back in the drift boat and head to the takeout.
As we drove home, the adrenaline left my system and now I felt just plain defeated. Those fish I had hooked where a hot mess, dime bright and of decent size. I had no pictures to post and no hero shots. I would get no likes or comments. One my way back home I decided the call that hole the “Shit Hole” for how I felt.
It’s All About The Story
To this day I couldn’t tell you about that fish we landed that day. It’s just another picture on my Facebook and Instagram page. Over time that picture just gets lost in an endless river of hero shots.
For me, I tend to not have as much of a connect to pictures as I do to stories. Pictures make me see but stories make me feel and it’s this feeling that connects me to a place and time. Stories help me to remember. It seems the stories I remember the most are about the ones that got away.
I won’t forget that day at my named “Shit Hole.” I can still tell that story over and over again just like it happened. Ever time we go by it on the river the story gets told to clients, fishing buddies and even to myself when I’m alone. Yes, I lost a lot of steelhead that day but I also gain the ability to tell a story that I’ll remember for a very long time. Isn’t that what fishing is suppose to the about. Not the pictures but the stories we can tell.
Captain Tom Werkman