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


Steelhead Fishing Report for the Grand River 12/18

This is the Grand River fishing report as of December 2018.  Colder than normal temperatures were the story for the first half of December.  As a result this has put the steelhead into their winter mode on the Grand River.  The steelhead numbers are somewhat down from previous years but the fish seem bigger.  

The water temperature has been cold, mid 30’s and somewhat stained.  Slow things down to get the best response to your presentation.  Remember, look for the slow water and the deeper runs and holes.  You’ll need to float your drift numerous times through, as the fish are sluggish right now.  

Set Up:

Currently, the only method we’ve been using right now is float.  Our main line has been 12 lbs mono dropping to an 8 lbs leader and in some instances 6 lbs.  The reel has been a Daiwa 4000 series with a 10’ 6” Okuma SST rod.  

Try using beads in various orange colors along with chartreuse and mix it up between the 12 mills and the 10 mills.  Remember, if your using 12 mills you should use a #4 hook.  Use a Raven 11 gram bobber.  If the steelhead feel any resistance when they grab, they’ll let it go.  

However, if the runs are short try the chuck and duck method.  This will get your rig down quicker to where the fish are than a float rig normally would. 

If you’re going to use flies, use larger egg patters with some color along with larger stoneflies.   

Weather Shift:

A warmer than normal weather pattern is setting up for the rest of the month, along with some rain this week.  As a results, the water temp will warm up a bit and this should send some fresh fish up.  With that said, keep using the same techniques.  

Don’t be afraid of the cold, this is a great time of year to fish.  Low pressure and if you put in your time you’ll be rewarded with big fish.  

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

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.

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.