Spring Smallmouth and Grand River Dredging Update

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.

Grand River Small
Grand River Smallie

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.

Pre-Spawn Smallmouth
Pre-Spawn Smallmouth

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

Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot

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.”

Man holding a skippy steelhead from the Kalamazoo River
Skippy steelhead

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

The Best Part of Fishing Isn’t the Pictures But the Stories

Fighting A Steelhead

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