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

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

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.

Getting Ready for Fall Fishing

Fall is one of the best times of the year to fish the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan for salmon and steelhead. The hot days and warm nights turn to warm days and cool nights.  The green leaves turn to oranges, reds and yellows and the salmon start their annual pilgrimage into the Muskegon, Grand and White rivers as well as and other tributaries.  Smallmouth bass and northern pike become even more aggressive as they fatten up for the long winter.

With the salmon pilgrimage the fall steelhead follow as they find a food source, salmon eggs, in the rivers along with other aquatic insects and smolt.  They stay in the systems until they migrate back out into Lake Michigan in the spring after they spawn.  Trout are on the prowl as well, fattening up for winter on the abundant biomass in the area river systems.

During this time, at least on the Grand River, it’s important to use multiple techniques to maximize your success.  There are various techniques that can be used but here are some that we prefer.

Fly Fishing:

Chuck-n-Duck:

  • Chuck-n-Duck:  The Chuck-n-Duck method can be used for salmon, trout and steelhead.  With salmon, once they enter the upper river systems and start to spawn, they no longer feed.  As a result, they will no longer eat your presentation.  At this point, the goal of this technique is to “line” the fish in the mouth as the flies drift into their path to hook and then land them.  With steelhead and trout this method can be effective in the deeper holes and pools.  If you see fish spawning, please remember to not target the females on their redds and to fish the pocket water.   The pocket water typically will hold trout, and male salmon and steelhead.  If you remove the female off her redd she will be exhausted and stressed from the fight and may no longer have the energy to spawn, thus effecting future populations

Streamers:

  • Streamers:  Streamer fishing involves using either floating or sink-tip lines tied to leaders with descending strength to a fly that looks like a smolt, minnow, or another form of baitfish.  With this method the fly is “stripped” through the water and as it is stripped imitates a moving baitfish.  Typically the predator fish will instinctively react to the movement and strike the streamer in an aggressive bite.

Indicator / Bobber:

  • Indicator / Bobber: This technique involves using floating line tied to leaders with descending strength to tippet.  In order to get your fly/flies down, various size split shot is used.  The bobber is positioned on the leader so it can be adjusted to the changing river depth. If the bobber goes down you have a bite.  The bobber don’t lie.  This form of fishing is much more subtle than streamer fishing and is used when the water temperature is much colder and the fish are lethargic.

Center Pin:

  • Centerpin fishing, also called float fishing, is a fishing technique which uses a centerpin rod, a centerpin reel, and spawn, skein, an artificial fly or bead coming off of a leader of various descending strengths to tippet.   Centerpins are designed to freespool line off the reel and allow for a natural downstream drift of your float presentation without any interruption.  In order get the line down, various size split shot are used to keep the line vertical in the water column for a natural presentation of the fly, bead or bait.

Crankbaits & Plugs:

  • Plugs are a popular type of hard-bodied fishing lure. They are widely known by a number of other names that include crankbait, wobbler, thundersticks, minnow, shallow-diver and deep-diver. The term minnow is usually used for long, slender, lures that imitate baitfish, while the term plug is usually used for shorter, deeper-bodied lures which imitate deeper-bodied fish. Shallow-diver and deep-diver refer to the diving capabilities of the lure, which depends on the size and angle of the lip, and lure buoyancy.  These lures are used when an anchored boat is positioned upstream and the lures are dropped off the back of the boat about 60 to 120 ft depending on the depth of the hole.  The current will take the lure back and once the the line set, will “dive”/ wobble to trigger a strike.
  • Crankbaits are another deadly technique for catching fish.  This technique involves casting toward the bank and positioning your rod downstream and slowly retrieving the lure.  During the first stages of the salmon run in the lower sections of rivers this can elicit and violent strike.

What ever method or technique you use, make sure to get out on the river and enjoy this time.  It only comes once a year and life is way to short to not enjoy it and catch fish. Tight lines all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

July 22, 2017:

The Grand River continues to run stained in the middle sections but it is coming down. Hopefully, if the rain can hold off for awhile, clarity should improve.  Water temps were in the low 80’s this past week but with the rain we had last night and couple of cloudy days the water is now back in the upper 70’s

River traffic is next to nothing.  As a matter of fact, many days we are the only boat on the water and only share it with a few bald eagles, osprey, king fishers, herons and some deer.

With that water being as stain as it is you’ll want to use streamers, articulated ones are working best.  Color combinations include, yellow brown, orange and green.  300 grain sink tip on an 9 ft 8 wt with a 4 foot 10 lb. leader has been working the best to get the fly down to where the fish are.  It’s a bit aggressive, and you may get lodge in some wood or rock, but it’s what’s producing right now.

When stripping, use slow, irregular retrieves so the fish has time to see the streamer as it goes by.  It’ll be difficult with the stained water but look for contours, seams and pockets to find fish.  You may have to make a few casts before one hits.  Remember, be patient, you want to cover as much water as possible and move as much water as possible to get the fish’s attention in these conditions.

FullSizeRender (6)

As the day progresses toward early evening switch to poppers.   Us a 4 ft. leader with floating line on a 6 wt with a fighting butt as your combination.  Yellow and green poppers seem to be working the best.  You’ll want to cast right up to the bank with these, as many of the fishing are tight up against it.

 

The Grand River has many different fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and northern pike.  At Werkman Outfitters, we take full advantage of that by chasing after multiple species using multiple techniques.  So come join us on the river and fish different.

(Edit)

Phil Cusey joins the Werkman Outfitters the team

Werkman Outfitters welcome Phil Cusey to the team.  Phil is a veteran fly fishing guide of 25 years on the Grand, Muskegon and Kalamazoo rivers where he pursues salmon, stealhead, trout, smallmouth bass and northern pike. Phil is the past president of the West Michigan chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Michigan River Guides Association and enjoys introducing first timers to the sport of fly fishing. Phil and his wife live in East Grand Rapids, Michigan.