Summer Patterns

Man holding a walleye caught on the Grand River

After an unusual start to the spring, as a result of wild temperature swings and little in precipitation, the smallmouth are becoming more predicable and we are finding them in their usual summer places.  Here’s the latest from the frontlines on the Grand River and its tributaries.

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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

 

Putting On The Pounds….

The Grand River continues to be in fantastic shape for this time of year. Many of its sections are low and gin clear. The gage in Ada has been hovering at 7 feet and the water temps are in the mid to uppers 50’s. As the temps have dropped, so have our tactics as the fish are adding the pounds this time of year.

This time of year the smallmouth are transitioning from their summer water are on the move to their winter water. Along the way, they’re searching for the baitfish to gain weight. You’ll need to cover a lot of water to find them and once you do, you’ll usually find others. When you do, switch to jigs and tubes.

If you’re going to fly fish, use floating line as the river is really shallow and the fish are on the flats looking for bait. We’ve been finding success on articulated flies in natural colors and white. Again, fish the shallow flats, cover a lot of water and don’t over look bucket water, colored bottom and structure.

The pike bite continues to be strong strong on both conventional tackle and flies. As the water temps have dropped, their attitude has become even more nasty and it can go from silence to violence in a nano-second. Expect the unexpected. You can use the same search baits with the pike as you do the smallmouth. In my opinion, if you know how to fly fish, do that as I feel you get a better reaction strike from the pike with a streamer.

Some steelhead are starting to show up in the lower sections of the Grand but it is still early. We need more rain to get the stain and flow rates up to get these fish into the river from the big lake.

We still have some dates open for the end of October and the first part of November for steelhead, pike and smallmouth bass. Give us a shout and enjoy a great day of fishing on the Grand in all the color of fall.

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

Low & Clear.

The Grand River is low. The gage in Ada, for a brief period, dipped below 6.75 feet. Even with the recent rains the river didn’t pop all that much and is coming back down quickly. Clarity went from gin clear to slightly stained. With no rain in the near term forecast, it should remain that way for awhile. The river temps remain in the upper 70’s.

The near term forecast calls for below normal temps. Hopefully, that will drop the river temps below 70 degrees. Once that happens, the pike activity should begin to improve as we saw for a brief period a couple of weeks ago when a strong cold front moved through.

Fishing has been good. As the river has dropped the smallmouth start to hold more in the bucket water, near structure and just along the seams. If you find all three of these in one location fish it. Patience and persistence is being rewarded and will bring fish to net.

Salmon are not showing up yet in the middle section. It’s too early and the water is too warm. Steelhead season is just around the corner. The best time to fish for these on the Grand will be starting at the end of October right on through December. For those of you that fish with Max, he will be back from Alaska by November 1 so give us call and get a date booked with him.

I have to say, the last three months have been incredible for us as a business. Thank you! Thank you to all of our clients that have booked and rebooked with us. Yes, I enjoy getting people on fish and seeing the smiles and laughter that comes with a great day on the river. However, more importantly for me, I enjoy the relationships that are being built! Until next month…..

Captain Tom Werkman

Fantastic Fishing!

The Grand River continues to be in great shape and is fishing well. It’s low and water clarity is the best we’ve seen in quite sometime for this river. When we do get rain, the grasses are acting as filer to help keep the clarity in check.

With the recent cold front, water temps are in the low 70’s. The smallmouth continue to be in their summer patter and tight to structure. Lately it seems that the afternoon bite is the strongest, although we are getting fish through out the day.

If you’ve ever wanted to fish an urban river and feel like you’re 1,000 miles from nowhere, now’s the time. So come and Experience Grand Rapids and all the fishing opportunities the Grand River has to offer. Give us call today.

Captain Tom Werkman

Grand River Fishing Report

This has been a crazy winter with the mild temps. Ice has been non-existent to mostly unsafe and the Grand is finally in good shape. Here is our Grand River fishing report as of February 18, 2020.

Steelhead Fishing:

With temps around freezing we’ve been able to get out on the river and chase some steelhead. Along with the dark fall hold-overs, fresh chrome fish have been showing up in the systems. This means that our spring run of steelhead is just starting and fishing will continue to get better.

Eggs and spawn have been the most productive. Chartreuse and white colored bags are what works best. Usually running around 4-8 eggs in a spawn bag.  Beads such as peachy king, glow roe, and egg yolk are also working. Try using sizes 8 millimeters all the way to 12 millimeters based on water level. Jigs tipped with wax worms have also been bringing some fish in. 

Ice Fishing:

Safe ice has been hit or miss on area lakes. Last week the ice was safe and we could get out. With this weekends warm up, much of that ice will melt. Please pay attention to weather and call local bait shops to make sure there is safe ice. Many people have ventured out only to fall through.

When we could get on safe ice, the bluegill fishing was good. Small jigs tipped with spikes are the number one bait. Slowly jig a foot or two off the bottom in about 6 to 10 feet of water.

Perch fishing has been on fire. A live minnow will always work. Use double perch rigs just off the bottom as well as jigging something with a rattle in it. Your target water depth will be between 20 to 40.

Spring is just around the corner and so are the steelhead. Give us a call to book your trip. March and April are excellent times to get in on the run.

Grand River Fishing Report

With above freezing temperatures for most of December the area rivers have opened up to fishing. Over the past few weeks steelhead fishing has been decent.  Here is the Grand River Fishing Report as of January 1, 2020.


A few fish have been hooked and landed throughout the day. We’ve been catching a mixed bag of dark hold-over steelhead with fresh chrome.

We continue to use beads but have been mixing it up with spawn for the best action.  Try running nickel to quarter size bags with pink and chartreuse netting. As far as beads go, try the more pale and milked out colors to entice the fish. Mottled peachy king and peach fuzz in 8 and 10 millimeters have been working best.

Water temps have been between 32-34 degrees. We’ve been targeting slightly deeper and slower runs where the fish will lay this time of year. Rain, wind, sleet and snow, it’s all in the future forecast,which will hopefully bring in new fish before it gets too cold to river fish. 

On the flip side, colder temps in the future will help with our ice growth. As of now, very few if any of the area lakes have ice. Because of that, we have moved our ice trips into February.  

While the rivers are open, get out and enjoy some steelhead fishing before the the ice takes over, or start thinking of spending the day on the hard water and give us call to book a trip in February.

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

Fish Grand Haven

The port of Grand Haven is often known for it’s Lake Michigan charter fishing. These charter boats chase after salmon, steelhead and lake trout from spring through early fall and offer the angler the opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime. However, this port also provides the angler with a different kind of opportunity. One that lies up river in the bayous and deltas of the Grand River.

The Bayous & Deltas

The Grand River reaches Lake Michigan at Grand Haven. However, just before that the river forms its bayous and deltas which offer the angler some of the best productive waters for northern pike, walleye, bass and the occasional muskie. Here is where much of the fish production happens. As the nutrients flow down the Grand they end up in the lower sections of the river. These nutrients feed plankton and zooplankton which further feed bait fish, which inturn feed the larger predator fish.

Northern Pike and Bass

Spring is the time of year we fish the bayous and deltas for northern pike, walleye and bass. As the water temps begin to rise from ice-out, these fish start to become more active in search of food. They begin moving more into the shallows, patrolling weed and break lines to find and ambush the forage fish.

During the spring the bass enter spawn mode. This is one of the best times to catch the “green trout” as they will aggressively defend their redd from anything that comes near it. The bite this time of year can be fantastic with many sight fishing opportunities. It’s important to remember that once they are hooked to quickly land and release them so they can go back to defend their redd from other predators looking for a quick meal off their eggs.

Walleye

Because of the stained nature, deep holes and access to Lake Michigan the Grand has a fantastic walleye fishery. Many of these holes can be found between Indian Channel and near the gravel pits up by the Bass River Recreation Area. When targeting marble eyes there will be a lot of incidental catches as the Grand is a very diversified fishery. So just be prepared. Typical techniques include jigging and trolling for them using a variety of lures and rigs.

If you come to Grand Haven consider an alternative to a Lake Michigan fishing charter and try fishing for the Michigan natives that the Grand, its bayous and deltas call home.