Muskegon River, August 8 & 9, 2012, Smallmouth Bass on Poppers by NIFT member Harry Blessing
I fished the Muskegon River with guide Kevin Feenstra on Wednesday, August 8, and caught about thirty hard fighting smallmouth bass and a few rock bass. Six of the smallies were "big" and the rest were 12" to 14". Half came on streamer and crayfish fly patterns and half on poppers. Kevin's streamers and poppers worked for half the day and a popper I made also worked the rest of the day.
Kevin had donated a day of guided fishing, which I won, to my DRIFT (DuPage River Fly Tyers) club spring fund raiser. I added a second day of paid guiding to make the long drive worthwhile.
Kevin's jet drive outboard motor died the day before. He tried to get a new 30 HP motor in the morning but the dealer didn't have the lower jet drive part, so Kevin rowed all day. Many who ply the Muskegon use jet drive outboards which don't have a propeller that can be damaged by the many underwater rocks and boulders. We covered
approximately eight miles, drifting through the town of Newaygo late in the day.
I stood in the middle of Kevin's wide boat to cast and sat on a cushion on the back bench when not casting. Casting a nine foot, eight weight fly rod all day was tiring on my old body but occasionally stopping and sitting to drink some water or Diet Pepsi with caffeine, kept me going all day. The excitement of the smallies hitting on the surface also fueled me with enough adrenaline to keep me casting.
I fished with another Feenstra Guide Service guide, Matt Zudweg, on Thursday and again caught about thirty smallies and a few rock bass. Eighteen of the smallies were "big", to 19", and the rest were 12" to 14". All were caught on the "Zudbubbler poppers" that Matt makes. He purchase's soft foam floor panels from Home Depot, etc. They’re made for kid’s rooms, they’re inexpensive, and one 2′ x 2′ panel will make hundreds of popper bodies. You can see how Matt makes his poppers by Googling Zudbubbler.
We fished about eight miles, launching quite a way downstream from Newaygo. It rained off and on most of the day pouring hard for a half hour while we sat at anchor and waited it out. The smallies hit the popper well in the lighter rain as long as I made it pop more water than the splashes of the raindrops.
In the middle of the afternoon we heard a boat roaring down the river toward us. It was Kevin testing out his new motor. We exchanged a few words on how the fishing was going and Kevin went roaring off with a big smile on his face.
Matt's high prow aluminum Drift Boat was similar to Kevin's but a little narrower and easier to row. It really zipped along fast with a 25 HP prop motor. Matt had leaning stanchions in the front and back to stand and lean on when casting. He had seats with back rests to sit on.
At the end of each day I was tired, but pleased with the good fishing, and glad to see the vehicle and trailer waiting for us. They were picked up at the launch ramp and spotted for us at the landing ramp by the guides spotting team.
I drove to Newaygo on Tuesday, stopping for lunch at Arnie's Old Mill Restaurant in Rockford, Michigan, ten miles North of Grand Rapids. Rockford is a mile off the interstate on Ten Mile Road. The town has a lot of gift shops like Geneva or Long Grove, in our neck of the woods. Arnie's is right next to the dam on the Rogue River, a tributary of the Grand River. It's a combination Swedish bakery and restaurant that I've been going to for 30 years for lunch. I ordered one of their large half sandwiches and a bowl of soup with a slice of their wonderful bakery pie for desert.
As usual, after lunch I went back on Ten Mile Road, crossed just over the Interstate, and stopped at Glen Blackwood's Great Lakes Fly Fishing Co. fly shop. Glen always remembers my name, but was busy with two "well healed” women customers. They were purchasing very expensive fly rods for their husbands.
I said hello to Bob Breandle who works at Glen's shop. Bob was one of the instructors at a Spey rod fly casting long weekend I attended in Newaygo last fall. We stayed at the beautiful new Muskegon River Lodge which is built of large log timbers. The class was on the Muskegon River in back of the lodge. Bob and the other instructor Pete Humphreys are certified Master Fly Casting Instructors and both are also Spey casting instructors. The class was very helpful with two instructors for six students.
We practiced four basic Spey fly casts. I used my new 12’ 6” Spey rod. The casts are useful for casting where streamside vegetation prevents a standard fly rod’s long back cast. The long Spey fly rods can cast heavy sinking fly lines. The fly lines can cast big salmon and steelhead flys a long distance.
There is a separate building next to the Muskegon River Lodge called the "Man Cave". You can sit and tell fishing lies, drink an adult beverage and smoke one of the fine cigars they sell.
Glen has a second connecting shop next door to his fly shop that is full of mostly used fishing and hunting books. Glen buys them from the estate sales of guys who've gone on to the happy hunting ground. All I bought was Kevin Feenstra's new DVD “Big Appetite, Small Mouth” which Glen had recommended.
I first met Glen Blackwood over 20 years ago when he was the auctioneer at the Federation of Fly Fisher's Conclave fund raiser auction in Grand Rapids. I had spent some time with Glen after the auction to ask whether he knew of any schools where you could learn how to do auction chanting. As Fund Raising Chairman of the Northern Illinois Fly Tyers club, I wanted to learn auction chanting for our annual fund raising auction.
Glen didn't know of any schools and said he taught himself after attending many livestock auctions in the rural area where he grew up. He said he practiced his chanting style while driving as a salesman many years earlier. As he passed the telephone poles along the road, their regular intervals helped him keep his auction chanting cadence.
Further research at my local library led me to several books that referenced two schools that taught auction chanting. This was before the days of CD's and DVD's and they didn't offer records or tapes to teach the chanting. You had to pay their tuition and attend their classes. So I never learned but I still was successful for twenty years as NIFTY fund raising chairman.
I stayed at Cronk's Oakridge Motel in Newaygo, where I've stayed many times over the years while steelhead fishing the Muskegon. Breakfast and lunch were at Cronk's Oakridge Restaurant next door. The motel is clean and very reasonably priced. The restaurant is also reasonably priced and serves large portions of hearty food including a big buffet and salad bar every day starting at lunch time.
The guides picked me up about noon each day and we fished until 8:30 in the evening, with time out for a hot dinner cooked on a propane grill in the boat. The drive back home Friday was about four hours in the rain and I made it back before the rush hour.
One evening I was relaxing with a good cigar on the bench outside of my motel room.
A young girl in a short skirt was talking on a cell phone behind the car parked in front of the adjacent room. She went in and subsequently another girl and about six guys came out of the door over a 15 minute period. Bob, the motel owner stopped to chat and I said there must be a party going on next door, explaining about all the guys going in and out.
Bob looked over and said, they’re coming out of the next doorway to the second floor.
I was almost glad to find out Cronk’s Oakridge wasn’t a disreputable motel.
Newaygo holds a special place in my memory. NIFTY (Northern Illinois Fly Tyers), twice had their annual club summer trip to the Muskegon River instead of the usual Au Sable River. Michigan stocks thousands of rainbow trout annually in the Muskegon. Dan Lever, now retired in Phoenix from his law practice, was my regular club fishing partner for eighteen years in those days. We had two memorable fifty fish days on the Muskegon with guide John Krause. Mostly we caught Rainbows with Dan catching a couple of very nice Brown trout. I was lucky enough to catch a six pound Brown trout, my largest Brown trout on a fly. Our guide, John Krause, submitted the photo to a Michigan outdoor magazine and it made the front cover.
John Krause emailed me about a month ago. He was looking at the NIFTY Blog and saw a story I wrote giving him credit for teaching me to tie the Chicago Leach wet fly. It was the fly he gave me to catch that big six pound brown. John just wanted to say hello and said he had been retired from guiding for about eight years.
I taught the fly later at the NIFY and DRIFT fly tying clubs and recently wrote an article about it for the ISA (Illinois Smallmouth Alliance) club newsletter. The former President of the ISA told me the trout size worked good for bluegills and the steelhead size worked good for smallmouth bass. Every once in a while I get an email from some club member thanking me for the good luck they had fishing with the Chicago Leach.
The Muskegon smallie fishing was good but unfortunately the couple of guys I asked to go along were unable to go. It's always good to share a fishing trip with a friend because you're reminded of the good time every time you see your friend.