Current Conditions–1/9/24-Finally getting snow! With probably the most mild winter weather we have seen in half a century, the trout fishing continues to be excellent with good numbers of 12-16 inch rainbows and browns throughout the river system eating scuds and midges. Stripping streamers has seen some real truttasaurus browns chasing white and sand/olive Drunks and Double-D’ patterns- but with clear water lots of follows, try dropping down in size. With a very good 2023 summer of cooler water temperatures held into the 60’s as we continue to put pressure on Consumers Energy to give us colder water all summer from our bubbler siphon at Croton and using better temperature monitoring of the spill gates in coordination with Hardy’s colder water, our survival of browns and rainbows into the fall was extremely good.
The good news was obvious when the King and Coho salmon were spawning and there were good numbers of trout caught throughout the river system well below Newaygo that survived the warm summertime temperatures. The Midwest does not have the mountain elevation of the East Coast tailwaters to retain colder water at higher altitudes. Streamer fishing to big browns after the salmon have died has been excellent and continues. Trout now are focused on midges and scuds in the near shore pockets.
Michigan/Muskegon/White/ Steelhead-Current Conditions- A few steelhead are trickling in and I expect to see a big push as we progress into February ( Valentines Day run annually since daylight photoperiod increases) since we had one of the “worst” fall runs I can remember in 30 years guiding. It was a painful and pitifully slow fall! The extreme low water drought conditions we have had all summertime into fall was one big reason. There were only two small bumps of fresh steelhead all fall. But the good news! is that it is slowly changing as we get into winter. The trend the last 5-8 years is we are seeing later and later running fall fish into late winter. We also have a good steady flow ( 1700-1800 cfs) This later running is actually mimicking the steelhead’s natal west coast costal winter steelhead runs more and more- where these fish came from. As we speak more fish are showing at the iceless ( never have we not had any ice whatsoever! ) pier head/beach’s/ off of the river mouth’s. We also had a very cold winter-like November which closed the “window of run opportunity” down quickly with quickly falling water temperatures. December /January has now turned out to be fall weather with warmer and balmy trends. Winter is predicted warmer than usual and little El Nino prediction- So!- we should have a steady trickle of steelhead and a few lake run browns coming in all winter let’s pray.
Also- As of April 1st 2024- We now have a ONE STEELHEAD REGULATION !-Now we just need fish!!!! 🙂 -Bingo! ( I could write a book about this whole f’ing saga- but nobody cares!- we’ve created insatiable monsters’ out there that just want their god’dmn fish!- and want it now!- aka the new age guide/angler-pray for us!)
2023 saw good numbers of steelhead in the spring. Water levels went up quick from warm early snow melt and good majority of fish spawned and left the river before water levels went down to good fishable levels. With a cool spring, fish trickled in all the way through May like normal. Fall as mentioned was dismal to put it bluntly. Though a lot of new and very enthusiastic guides get excited when they “catch “a” steelhead” and say “there are a shit load of fish in the river” (cha-ching!- everyone’s got to eat and pay the bills eh!) – But! candidly we are taking a lot of people for expensive boat rides lately and not focusing on the problems like putting more pressure on Consumers Energy management /better/ creative resource management of the tailwater rivers (Muskegon/ Manistee/ Au Sable) These rivers have a mind boggling potential to produce wild steelhead and trout in epic numbers ( The Muskegon alone is 20 miles of 80% gravel ideal for spawning-one study estimated it can produce 800 K smolts/parr if the river achieved its potential) Candidly in comparing steelhead catches on a 3 decade comparison since I wrote “Steelhead Dreams” in 1999, I have seen amazing years and the ones now that keep getting leaner to none. But things change quickly in the Great Lakes and with large numbers of bait fish in the big lake fish bowl hopefully things will get better soon and the amazing runs of the Y2K may just return !- thus strong hopes for 2024 since prey numbers are up. The good news is that it makes you appreciate every fish you catch and are blessed with like the more grateful west coast steelheaders. The “numbers era” did nothing for our respect of these beautiful fish we are gifted with-enjoy a day on the water and be grateful for the fish you have!
Summer steelhead numbers and returns keep increasing on the Muskegon due to colder water from Croton ( even though they are strays from Indiana Skamania plants) I and clients fish them in the upper river by Croton with Scandi lines and west coast tactics. Fall as mentioned above, was low water driven. St. Joseph Skamania runs have been down and hopefully 2024 will bring a cooler and wetter season with more windows of run opportunity- the new age of trout/salmon/steelhead will all depend on how ugly climate change gets!
River Resident Trout
2023 Trout Summary
2023 was probably the best dry fly/swinging wets /streamer trout years my clients and I have experienced in 20 years! Water temperatures. lack of walleye predation in spring on trout since they emigrated early. and type III regulations are primary factors. Starting in March, the early black stonefly hatches are consistent from year-to-year and we have 4 solid weeks of excellent dry fly activity to browns up to 20 inches taking ova-positing dries in the ice cold waters of March and April.
With low waters and a fairly cool spring the hatches of gray drakes. sulphers and white Cahills ( Cahill Stenonema were showing the best growth potential for super hatches) emerged quick- but better than the very sparse to non-existent gray drakes the year before due to droughts drying up river banks. ( see my piece I wrote entitled “Noah’s Drakes”
On the flip side, droughts have actually been helping keep water temperatures cooler and longer into summer since they allow for more ground water releases into the rivers in a big way. Also the lampricide USFWS keeps putting more frequently seems is not helping with insect hatches-the chemical is known to kill certain aquatic insects.
Another excellent piece on the Early Black stoneflies for your reading:
The water temperatures were excellent even into July and August since I along with Michael Shauger/et al “Joe Lunchbox” and Patrick DNR have put a tremendous amount of vigilance /accountability and pressure on Consumers Power to give us the most cold water they could possibly give us to help with steelhead fry/parr recruitment and the resident trout population in summer. This year the water temperatures were in the 60F’s in the mornings and fishable with Tricos/caddis etc.- (NEVER SEEN THIS IN 30 YEARS OF GUIDNG ON THIS RIVER!-usually stuck in 70’s all summertime!) It allowed you to fish early mornings and watch water temperatures with the USGS graph and thermometer and quit when they heat-up. On the Muskegon the tremendous caddis populations keep the fish feeding all summertime even when the water temperatures are 74F- they feed heavily on these and grow very fat all summer. But if you hook them you risk killing them no natter how quick the fight and release. In 2023 Consumers ran the cool water/oxygenation bubbler everyday/night all the way into October ( 4 days of upper 80F’s in early October saw water temperatures rise again )because of the pressure we put on them- ( they are only under license to do it until September 1)So— lots of great progress going into 2024
Fall Caddis hatches were excellent like the old days and the fish stuffed their fat bellies all summer and fall. With the 15 inch regulations on browns this all looks very promising for the future years- next season 2024 is going to be an outstanding trout year! (another excellent description of our fall caddis hatches in this piece I wrote) :
King and Coho Salmon–2023
After a ridiculously slow start due to extremely low water and heat the fish finally came in big numbers!-this is reflective of higher bait fish/ alewife numbers in big lakes. But the fluctuations now with exotic invaders are more severe and more common which seems like every other year.
Lake Run Browns
Current-Conditions- A few lake run browns continue to come in. They tend to continue into January since they are winter spawners in the Muskegon and White. Resident browns have finished up their spawning in the small spring creeks. Upper White/Bigalow/Penoyer is closed to fishing from September 30th to the last Saturday of April to protect brown and brook trout spawns.
Michigan Atlantic Salmon
It was an amazing 2023!!- best I have seen in 30 years! for our incredible Atlantic salmon fishery we have here Michigan. It is a unique fishery that I have been blessed with and have been fishing for 0ver 30 years since the iconic Carl Richards of Selective Trout fame introduced me to our Michigan Great Lakes Atlantics. The program was pioneered by Rodger Greil of Lake Superior State University when they obtained eggs from the Penobscot and Grand Lake Stream strains of indigenous Maine Atlantics . It exists from Sault St Marie and the St Mary’s River, to Lake Huron tributaries like the Au Sable and port harbors of Lexington-to the very deep and extremely cold and Caribbean-like clear northern inland glacial lakes. The fall of 2023 saw one of the best returns of Atlantic salmon in several year classes we’ve seen developing in the decades as a strong forage base in the big lakes continues to grow larger year classes- it will only get better as hopefully natural reproduction increases .
We are so gifted here in Michigan to have the finest Atlantic salmon program in the USA and Great Lakes outside of Maine – difference is our landlocked Atlantics get very big due to their larger forage base when compared to the landlocked Atlantics of Maine- with my client and I still holding the world IGFA landlocked Atlantic record at 27 pounds-held now for 13 years and counting!
Small Spring Creeks Nearby in the National Forest
I spend a great deal of time on 4 local ice-cold spring creek style streams around me in the Huron Manistee National Forest .This year saw some great wild brown and wild brook trout fishing to great hatches and terrestrials from spring until summer. One of the most memorable of my personal catches was a 22 inch wild brown on a size #20 ant/6 x tippet on an old Scott G series 2 weight nevertheless, on the last day of the the season- September 30th/2023.
Why the numbers of wild fish are so great on some of these waters is due to having these wild reproduction productive streams closed from September 30th until the last Saturday of April- that is 7 months of closure that protects the fish during spawning and winter hardship. Unfortunately year-round states are seeing their wild trout populations continue to deteriorate from year-round open seasons to generate license sales and please anglers- all thing wild need a rest!
(Big Brown Eye- Candy )– everyone love it! One tiny stream in the national forest was electro shocked last summertime in August ( it has water temperatures in the 50’s all summertime ) The amount of 20-25 inch big browns in this tiny stream was absolutely staggering!!!- each wooded bunker/undercut had one or two big 20 + browns underneath it- here are the images of the fisheries biologist’s with their findings-remarkable! ( images courtesy of Markus Tonello-Michigan DNR)
There it is!-Look forward to seeing you in 2024! I fish and love the total Trout/Salmon /Steelhead experience in all venues- so much to explore in Pure Michigan!
Dont forget to follow my free writings/blogs/tutorials at my Ebb and Flow Blogs/Articles on my Hallowed Waters Page ( new website for that page coming in a few weeks!) And additionally we are a few steps closer to my new book “Modern Trout Bum Chronicles”– more to come!
Here is latest blog piece:
Also-dont miss an episode on my Hallowed Waters Podcasts on Apple and Spotify and apps where you get your podcasts . One follower wrote: “Nothing like them in their in-depth detail, scope, candidness and ability to explore every facet of the historical perspective / journey on the subject out there like these podcasts-truly books on tape!” The latest 6 part series ” Below the Meniscus” The Evolution of Wet Flies and Nymphs is a killer!
Cheers! To Blessings and Happiness in 2024