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 Spring Steelhead Run Update

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.

Grand River

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.

High Water Tactics For Michigan Steelhead

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

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


Grand River Fishing Report

September has been an active month for us at Werkman Outfitters.  This is our fishing report for September 24, 2018 for the Grand Rapids to Lowell section.

The annual migration of the salmon has started on the Grand River and the steelhead will be close behind.  In addition, with the cooler air, lower water temps and shorter days, the smallmouth bass and northern pike bite has increased as they start to fatten up for the long winter.

Grand River Coho

The Salmon & Steelhead Front:

One my way to a guide trip this past week, I drove over the I-196 bridge in Grand Rapids and saw what looked like 100 fisherman at the Sixth Street Dam.  Clearly, they were after Chinook and Coho.

I am not sure on whether or not they’re having success but I can tell you that we are seeing small numbers of salmon showing up in the Ada to Lowell section.  If you up there, try fishing wiggle warts, thundersticks, spinners and skein in the deeper holes and feeder creeks, especially the cold water feeder creeks.  Early mornings and late evenings are the best times.  I got to say it is tough up there right now, just with the low numbers we are seeing.  The near-term weather shows rain and temperature drops, perfect for sending more up.  The water temp was still pretty warm with mid-day temps in the low 70’s.

Smallmouth & Northern Pike:

If you want to get in on some of the best jaw fishing of the year, the fourth quarter is your best bet.  These guys are fattening up for winter and are in their fall feeding frenzy mode. The water has dropped and cleared up nicely from the all the rain we had a couple of weeks ago. As a result, we have done some sight fishing along breakpoints and weed lines.  Try fishing everything from streamers, to Mepps and crankbaits.  If streamer fishing, go with 220 sink tip to keep from dredging bottom.  Right now, it’s not unusual for us to land smallmouth in the 16 to 18 inch range with a few near 20.  There is a reason why God made few of these over 21.  They pack a punch.

After a couple months on sabbatical, the pike are showing backup as the water temps cool.  We have been finding them in their normal hunting grounds around the slack water, particularly around rock structure.  Again, streamers, Mepps, deeper diving Rapalas and double bladed willow leaf spinner baits are your best bet.

We still have some October and November dates open so give us call or like us on Facebook and Instagram to get the latest updates.  Fall is here,  so no matter what you do, get outside and on a river.

– Captain Tom

Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River Fishing Report from Grand Rapids to Lowell, Michigan:

This summer has been great for smallmouth bass and northern pike on the Grand River and the action only continues to be hot.  With the lack rain, the river remains low and clear, perfect for bronze-bomber action.  It seems the hotter the weather and the bluer the skies the better bite is on this river.

Man-Bear-Pig Fly

The name of the game has been “throw the kitchen sink” to keep the action moving.  Just when you think you have the right lure or fly you’ll need to change it out.  It seems the smallmouth pick up on your game right away.  Try using bigger flies and double-bladed spinner baits.  Remember, if that isn’t working or you have caught a few, switch up your streamer game or move to dredging a wacky worm off the bottom.

With the warmer temps the northern pike have gone deep but there are still some lingering around structure.  If you happen to hook into one of these river gators, remember to not play the fish, land and release it as quick as possible.  These warmer temps are not good for the fish as they prefer cooler water.

Grand River Northern Pike

On the salmon front, they are slowly trickling in but not in any great numbers.  Lake Michigan did turn over, couple that with the rain means a few kings have entered area systems.  As the nights get cooler and we get more rain look for more to slowly come in.  If you do go, go low, find the deeper holes and throw cranks up against the bank or drift skein through the hole to find success.

The summer action still remains strong and the smallmouth and pike action will continue to remain strong well into the fall as they start to go into their fall feeding mode for the winter.

The salmon action will also start to pick up and they will be big this year.  Many charter boat captains have been catching 30 lbs. kings out in Lake Michigan and it’s a good bet some of those will show up in the rivers we fish this year.

There is nothing like fishing the Grand River during the day, then heading out into downtown Grand Rapids to grab dinner and beer after the trip.  Fall is the best time year to get out and fish.  We have availability so call, email or text us about your trip and let’s get on the river.

Captain Tom

 

Grand River Fishing Report between Grand Haven and Lowell

Fishing report for July 2018:  With the lack of rain over the past month the Grand River is in great shape.  From Grand Haven to Lowell it has been some of the best fishing we’ve seen so far this year.

The river is low and clear and as a result the smallmouth have been stacked in the deeper holes and right up next to structure.  Early morning is perfect for sight casting as they tend to hunt between the weed lines and subtle breaks in water depth. Temperatures have been running in the mid to upper seventies to near eighty degrees, perfect for those smallies.  No worries on the stressing these guys, they prefer warmer water compared to the trout.

We’ve been fishing conventional tackle lately as that has been producing the best action.  Make sure you’re covering a lot of water as you’re casting to these bronze bombers to get the greatest success possible.  Try using spinners and swimbaits.

 

If your going to fly fish use streamer patterns.  Try the “Off the Shneid Fly” or anything with white in it.  With the river being this low, make sure to use floating line either with or without a intermediate polyleader.  Anything more and you’ll making sacrifices to the river gods.

As the water has warmed and become low the northern pike action has slowed.  We are still getting some but just not in the numbers we saw in the late spring and early summer.  If you want to target these guys, look to the deeper holes, rock gardens and slackwater.  Same thing, use spinners and larger swimbaits to provoke a strike.  Remember, that pike are ambush predators so you’ll need to cover a lot of water to find them.

We still have a lot of summer left so if you want to fish one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the state then give us a call or send us a message.

– Captain Tom

 

 

 

The Green Trout

I often get asked why do I run guide trips for bass.  I’m mean come on….bass, really?  Typically my response is, “You mean the Green Trout”  They look at me with a bit of confusion, like when a steelhead is lost at the boat.

Let me start by saying that I enjoy fishing for all species of fish.  Each species has its own set of unique challenges and enjoyments.  It’s really hard to compare one species of fish to another.  The best analogy I can used to express that statement is, as a father I am, I love all my children equally, not one over the other.

Many of our clients want to fish for the migratory species such as salmon and steelhead. These are excellent fish to target, they can put one hell of a bend in your rod, you can hear and feel the drag scream and they can challenge and frustrate even the most seasoned angler. They are the Floyd Mayweather’s of the Great Lakes and her tributaries.  Lighting fast, they pack a punch, and they can be difficult to control.

With that said, here is why I run guide trips for bass:

While the salmon and the steelhead may be the Floyd Mayweather’s of the Great Lakes, bass are the Mike Tyson’s.  They are the heavyweight gangsters of the bayous, inland lakes and rivers.  Trust me when I say there is nothing like reeling in a 5 pound bucketmouth out of the Grand River or one of its bayous. To watch them go airborne and pull like a semi truck has its angling rewards.

Unlike their cold water cousins, their range is pretty much most lakes and rivers of North America and they can tolerate water temperatures up into the 80’s before they move into deeper sections.  This make them ideal to target without having to worry too much about their stress levels when water temps are in the 70’s like a trout.

Whether on a fly rod or with light spin gear and tackle, they are just as challenging as trout and can test even the most seasoned angler through all the stages of bass season, the pre-spawn, spawn and post spawn.

Like trout, they have some cool ink.  Depending on their environment their colors can range from light green to dark green and even some black with yellow and orange mixed in their fins.

Lastly, there is that gangster look.  Their signature underbite where the lower jaw extends beyond their upper jaw, that says don’t mess with me.

I’m sure there are many more opinions why people pursue bass.  In the end, however, it comes down to them being the most targeted species in the nation.  There are professional bass tournaments through FLW and Bassmaster, not to mention local tournaments all with cash money to win.

Bass are the working man’s brown trout.  They are both simple and complex.  Easy and difficult to target.  They are the green trout and are so popular in our culture that real trout should be green with envy.

Why Fish the Grand River

The Grand River can arguably be called the best steelhead, smallmouth bass and northern pike rivers in the state.  There is also plenty of opportunity to catch other species of fish.  Those species include salmon, largemouth bass, walleye and the occasional muskie.

It’s Michigan’s longest river at 252 miles.  There are several major tributaries that include, the Thornapple, Maple and Flat Rivers.  In addition, there are several minor tributaries that feed into the system as well.  Those include, Sycamore Creek, Looking Glass, Rogue, Plaster Creek and the Red Cedar River.  The river starts in Hillsdale County, flows to Grand Rapids and to its outlet at Grand Haven on Lake Michigan.

Above all, many sections of the river offer solitude from crowds, boats and other fisherman.

THE HISTORY OF THE RIVER

The history of the Grand River is one of Ruin and Recovery.  Unfortunately, there is still this stigma that the Grand that is a polluted wasteland.   Quite the contrary, much focus and money has been dedicated to cleaning up Michigan’s largest and most iconic river.

Its watershed is massive and covers 5,572 square miles with nineteen counties draining into it.  Overall, 13% of Lake Michigan’s total watershed falls within it.  Because of that, a lot of federal, state and private dollars have gone into cleaning it up and restoring fish habitat.

All of this coordinated focus continues today.   As a result, the Grand River’s water quality has improve over the years.  The most recent Grand River Assessment from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources dated June 2017 proves this.  

TODAY ON THE RIVER

Today, there is a world class fishery that exits on the river.  That is to say, it’s one of the best steelhead, smallmouth bass and northern pike fisheries in the state.  It now holds over 95 native fish species with a total 108 fish species inhabiting the watershed.

Many anglers have received their Master Angler Awards from fish caught in the Grand.  Those include, carp and flathead catfish, rainbow trout (steelhead), brown trout, lake trout and chinook salmon.

THE FUTURE OF THE RIVER

Coordinated focus has helped bring the Grand to where it is today.  A lot of money is being poured into its continued restoration, particularly with dam removal.  Currently, there are over 232 dams on the Grand River and is tributaries.  The removal of dams has started with Sixth Street Dam in downtown, Grand Rapids.  Efforts are underway to raise $45 million to make this happen.  As a result, migratory routes will open up for salmon, steelhead, trout, sturgeon, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye and a variety of other species to quality spawning habitat.  Hopefully, over time, other dams can be removed which will open up even more migratory routes to more spawning habitat and improve the fishery even further.

So if you want to take advantage of all the Grand has to offer, give Werkman Outfitters a call or send us a message.

Michigan Out-of-Doors Magazine

Thank you Michigan Out-of -Doors Magazine for publishing my article on Spring Trout and Steelhead fishing.  My name is Max Werkman and as a guide and outfitter, I feel that west Michigan has some of the best rivers around to pursue my client’s addiction to chasing these fish.  The tug, is definitely the drug.  I am proud to call The White River, The Muskegon River and The Grand River my home waters.

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