Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River Smallmouth Bass

Temperatures have been all over the map, which is not making the fish happy and we need rain. We’ve also been spending some time exploring new water for trout.  Here’s the latest from the front lines.

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Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River northern pike

Spring has definitely arrived in West Michigan and it almost feels like summer.  With said, the steelhead fishing is quickly subsiding on the Grand and the other rivers we fish. 

We find ourselves quickly transitioning to smallmouth and northern pike.  For me, this is the best time of year to fish, no crowds, warmer temps and a lot of actively feeding fish.  

Water temps are in the upper 50’s to low 60’s on the Grand.  This means that whatever steelhead are left the system, they’ll quickly spawn and beeline it back out to Lake Michigan. Both Max and I would like to thank all those that booked with us for the spring run.  Here are just a few highlights.

With the current water temps, we are starting the see both the smallmouth and pike activity picking up.  Many of the fish we have brought to net have been found on the shallower flats, where they are actively feeding.  Try using inline spinners in #4 and #5 blades in the colors of resident baitfish.  It’s a little too early for creature baits, although you can’t rule out a bite or two.  

From here on out, the warm water bite will only continue to get better.  The pre-spawn smallmouth bite will soon be in full force so give us a call to get on our spring, summer and early fall calendar.  

Captain Tom Werkman

Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River Steelhead

Spring has finally started to arrive here in West Michigan and so have the steelhead. Fishing on the Grand River has started to pick up over the last few trips. Fresher fish from Lake Michigan have started to show up in and around Grand Rapids, as well as nice mix of darker hold over fish. 

Water temps are in the mid 40s, which is perfect for beads and spawn. 10mm and 12mm beads have been the ticket in bright oranges and peach colors. Try colors such as Super UV Orange, UV Fireball, and Super UV Peach. Spawn bags around the size of nickels to quarters in pink, chartreuse, and white have also been working as well. 

With waters temps being more on the warm side, try fishing faster speed water around 4-6 feet deep. Some fish will also start to be in pockets behind gravel beds. These will most likely be your darker winter run fish. Warmer water temps mean the fish have need for oxygen and will be in faster water than in their slower winter holes. 

Typically, I like to run 8-11 gram bobbers with according sized split shot to weigh the bobber correctly. Remember that this is the time of year when fish are spawning and to be very concise with harvesting fish, especially females. 

Soon it will be time to start thinking smallmouth bass and northern pike.  With that said, check out our line of handcrafted tackle and lures for musky and northern pike.  

If you’re interested, click on the button below to make sure you’re ready for the spring and summer months. 

We still have some steelhead dates open so drop us a line if you want to get outside and enjoy a Michigan spring in Grand Rapids with us and come and see what the Grand River is all about.  

Pike Fishing The Grand River

Grand River Northern Pike

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.

Identification:

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 the lures we make, 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

aka The Old Man

 

Grand River Fishing Report

We have now reached what most consider the coldest time of year, air temps have been in the 20s-30s and water temps have been in the low to mid 30s.

With these cold temperatures, this means the steelhead will be very lethargic and in their winter water. Target deeper water anywhere from 5-10 feet. One helpful tip is to adjust your float every few drift to get close to the fish. They don’t want to move very far for food in colder water.

These fish could be eating a variety of presentations this time of year so mix up your drift by changing out beads frequently. Use 8mm and 10mm bead in peachy, orange, and yellow colors and smaller spawn bags with 4-8 eggs in white, chartreuse, and pink colored bags. Jigs tipped with 2-3 wax worms in pink colors as well will work. Don’t be afraid to mix and match with a bead on top and a spawn bag on the bottom.

Winter is a time of year to enjoy the solitude and how pretty the river can look. High numbers of steelhead aren’t common with cold water temps but it’s hard to beat having the river to yourself most days.

We are starting to full up our prime time dates for the spring steelhead run in March and April, so give us a call to get on the calendar.

Captain Max Werkman “The Kid”

The Other Fall Fish

Let me start off by saying we do salmon trips. Landing one of these bruisers can be the thrill of a life time. They can be big, powerful and full of chaos and attitude

But with the change of the season also comes a change in the river. The summer filled solitude, quietness and lazy floats can, at times, bring crowded rivers and bumper boats.

With that said, there are still pockets of solitude for the angler who is looking to get away from it all. This time of year the northern pike start to get more aggressive. As the water cools, the pike bite comes alive as they start to put on weight for the coming winter.

Right now, the water temp in the Grand River is in the low 60’s and we are seeing these “advocates of the devil” appear more and more in their traditional waters. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to specifically target these guys you’ll need to hunt for them, cover lots of water. Like salmon, you’ll have good days and not so good days.

Why pike you ask? While the salmon can easily get you into your backing, the pike won’t. But the visualness of a pike take is something you won’t forget. As you strip the streamer you’ll be able to see the pike come out of nowhere and smack, with all the aggression of a salmon, your fly.

It seems our best action comes on stripping streamers. We have been using Schultzy’s Sculpin patterns and have found good success with them. For some reason the way they flow through the water as they’re stripping has an enticing affect on the pike that they cannot resist. Casting is key during this time as you’ll need to get tight to structure. Use a good pair of sunglasses, I like Costa’s, so you can see the underwater logs, root balls, and rocks as a lot of times the pike will hide under and close to those. Mix up your strip, from quick and long too slow and short, even during the same retrieve.

Fall is really on of the best times of the year to get on the river. There’s so much opportunity for the angler to catch multiple species of fish. From salmon and steelhead to northern pike and smallmouth bass. We still have availability this fall, so give us a call and book your trip.

  • Captain Tom Werkman

Grand River Fishing Report

Condition Of The Grand River

The Grand River, in downtown Grand Rapids, is starting to see the beginning of the fall steelhead run and is in great shape. Right now the river is flowing at 5,000 cfs with a water temp in the upper 40’s to low 50’s depending on the day. With the recent rain and cold coming, this will only drive more steelhead into the system.

Steelhead Update:

The steelhead that are coming in are dime bright and fresh from Lake Michigan. The majority of the fish are moving up the river and on into the tributaries. They are not holding as of yet. With that said, we are fishing the choke points and tradition zones to get on them versus the deeper winter holes.

These early steelhead pack a punch and as we’ve said before, they can move at speeds of up to 26 feet per second. As a result of this, we are using 12 lbs mono main line to 12 lbs leader. Anything less and you’ll lose them. Anything more and they’ll shy away as a result of seeing the leader. We been using 10 mm and 8 mm beads with number #4 wide gap hooks. Try using Mottledbeads in Glow Roe and Peach Roe. The water is somewhat stained so If you’re going to run two beads, add a Chartreuse to get their attention.

If you want to hook into these silver bullets under the skyscrapers of downtown Grand Rapids the rest of October, November and into the first part of December are a great time to fish. So give us call today.

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

Hamlin Lake Ice Fishing Report

Hamlin Lake is in the middle of a creel survey, with the last one being done in 2009. The DNR has been talking to anglers everyday through the month of February. It’s always interesting to talk with a biologist as you can get a lot of information. He said most anglers are struggling but that we were doing quite well.

With that said, Hamlin Lake for the past week has been tough. If your looking for gills, crappie or perch you’re going to have to move around to find them. Walleye has been slow but the pike and largemouth bass bite has been decent as we have brought a number to ice.

Upper Hamlin Lake

We’ve been fishing on upper Hamlin in 9 to 13 feet of water. Most of the pike have been taken on the jig and they seem to come in waves, with stretches of no action, to all of a sudden you’ll get a hit while jigging and a tip-up will go off as well. That’s when the fun begins.

Jigging

We’ve had the best action jigging Rippin Raps, with no added bait, by Rapala in Hot Steel and Glow Hot Perch. Most of the action was on the up-take of the jig. What I like about these lures is the rattle noise they create while jigging. The nose is an attractant and if there are pike or walleye in the area they will come to check it out.

When ice fishing, electonics are helpful. We have been using the Vexilar FL-8SE and as we mark the fish we tend to slow the aggressiveness of the jigging down to more of a twitch. They seem to prefer that. Once the fish comes up to the the jig we slowly went back to a more aggressive up-take, be ready as the pike are aggressive.

Deadstick

We did take a few pike on the dead stick with a shiner attached to a Swedish Pimple. If you’re going to attempt this method us a 24 inch medium action rod, 8 lbs test, loosen the drag so it can almost fee spool. If you don’t and the fish hits it you will lose your rod. Once the drag starts clicking, open the spool so the fish can take more line, then tighten the drag, close the spool and set the hook. There is nothing like having a pike take drag out on these small ice rods. Let the battle begin.

Ice is still solid at about 12 inches. Our gas auger had some problems and broke down so we went to our backup hand-auger. The ice is mostly black and the handheld cut through the ice just fine with little effort.

Ice fishing can be one of winter’s best activities. You can do it in large groups, it’s family friendly and in a heated shanty you have all the comfort needed for a day on the ice.

  • 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