2014 Year in Review and a Look Ahead to 2015

Part 1: The Past

As 2014 draws to a close and we look forward to the New Year, I would like to share a few thoughts about this year, as well as express my extreme gratitude to our valued customers and friends for a truly wonderful year. All of our guide services were blessed with another very busy year guiding some really wonderful customers. We loved fishing with our old customers, and we relished the opportunity to fish with new customers as well.

Sport Fish Michigan’s Captains and Guides enjoyed fishing with their customers, as always. Traverse City Bass Guide Service had another incredibly busy year. Bassmaster Magazine ranked Grand Traverse Bays in the top 10 for best bass fisheries in the world. This brought additional attention to something many of us already knew—just how special this fishery really is.

Wolfe Outfitters and Manistee River Salmon Guide Service were both as busy as ever. With multiple Guides working, we enjoyed lots of guide trips fishing for everything from salmon and steelhead to brown trout, lake trout, smallmouth bass, and even panfish. Wolfe Outfitters became the only permitted guide service allowed to fish inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This opened up the door to giving customers access to world-class fishing for coho salmon near the Platte River—the birthplace of the entire Great Lakes multi-billion dollar salmon fishery.

We received quite a bit of great press as well, which is always appreciated. Traverse! Northern Michigan’s Magazine was nice enough to include our ice fishing in its newsletters, as well as sending out a writer and photographer to do an upcoming feature story on wintertime river fishing. Conde Nast Traveler released a terrific mention and photo of our guided ice fishing services in their story about the top things to do around the country in ski towns other than skiing! What a huge honor to be mentioned in this long-standing and very popular travel magazine. The Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau covered our ice fishing in both a newsletter and web story. Mountain Life Magazine, published by Crystal Mountain, also did a story about us in a feature article. We are working with a couple of writers out of Chicahgo for upcoming stories. The Angler Magazine did a feature article on us, showcasing the outstanding vertical jigging opportunities for lake trout on the Grand Traverse Bays.

9 & 10 News interviewed me for a story about bass fishing the Grand Traverse area, and Sport Fish Michigan sponsored the very popular national television show, Hook n’ Look. Hook n’ Look airs on the Outdoor Channel, and has the kind of loyal following any fishing show would want. In addition to the many small video clips we filmed ourselves, we also filmed a couple of different shows with a new fishing show that will air in January called iFishigan. This new show will air on the World Fishing Network.

The fishing was outstanding in many ways, and odd in others. With the extremely cold winter we experienced, the spring thaw was delayed by almost a month. Downstate, the walleye fishing was outstanding on the Detroit River. Surprisingly, the cold waters didn’t cool the bite at all. Lots of walleyes, many of them impressive in size, were caught by Sport Fish Michigan’s Captains and Guides. The walleye fishery on the Detroit River is stunning, and anglers vertical jigging with our Guides had great catches most days. Bass fishing on Lake St. Clair was incredible, as usual. The winter, although brutal, didn’t seem to faze the fishing much, and the bite turned hot almost right out of the gate at the start of the season. Not surprisingly, Lake St. Clair’s incredible fishery kept its reputation intact, despite falling a bit in the Bassmaster Magazine top 100 best bass fisheries in the world.

In northern Michigan, the cold took its toll a bit more, and it took longer to warm up. River levels were very high from the huge amount of snow that fell, and the spring steelhead run lasted much longer than normal. We were even fishing steelhead in late May on the Manistee and the Platte rivers! The walleye fishing on the rivers like the Manistee and Muskegon rivers was also very good. The opener to the season played right into the hands of anglers due to the cold water making for a later run. Normally, the run is over on the rivers before the season opener, but this year we were able to get on the walleyes in great fashion.

Wolfe Outfitters guide trips not only were able to target trout and steelhead, they were able to keep many of the walleyes that were caught after the season opener. Throughout the season, the trout fishing was incredible and, even now, it continues to be stellar. The salmon and steelhead runs are something that many are talking about. Not only has the DNR decreased the amount of king salmon stocked into Lake Michigan, the conditions were such that we did not have a good fall run. Guide trips went well despite this, and customers still were able to have a great experience, even if the fishing was slower than customary.

Bass fishing was stellar, as usual, but we weren’t able to enjoy the early spring bite as much as normal. Traverse City Bass had many thrilled customers despite some chilly water temps early in the season. With an unseasonably cool summer, many of the patterns ran late in the season, including the spawn. We even had spawning smallmouth in August! I’m not sure what that will mean for the success rate of the bass fry, but hopefully it won’t be too bad. We were able to showcase the incredible smallmouth fishery that we have to many new customers this year, and we enjoyed fishing with our repeats as well. It is such a treat to fish with customers every season—not only are they excellent customers, they also become friends.

Sport Fish Michigan’s endeavors this past year included offering vertical jigging trips to customers using Wolfe Outfitters Guides and Sport Fish Michigan Captains. The jigging this year was absolutely incredible, and we were very fortunate to have the beautiful lake trout to play with this year. On light bass tackle, they put up an incredible fight, and this was something that all of our anglers thoroughly enjoyed. Especially when they can feel the bite, and get to set the hook as well as fight the fish the entire way in.

On a personal note, I was nominated along with many other outstanding charter Captains, for the Best Charter Boat Captain in the annual Traverse Magazine Red Hot Best public poll. Traverse Magazine conducts this popular poll each year for the “Best Of” in Northern Michigan, and I was honored to be among the top 3 vote-getters in this inaugural category. Given the number of other nominees and some of the longevity of many of these fantastic Captains, it was very humbling to be voted among the top 3. In fact, to make things even sweeter, I was the only Captain in this category who actually offered fishing charters. The other two operate sunset cruises, capable of servicing many customers each time out. A huge THANK YOU to each and every person that voted to help put me on top!

Our new boat that was trucked out from Washington State this past winter, and outfitted specifically to highlight the jigging technique. Our customers loved it, and it proved to be invaluable. It was a joy to be able to offer trips out of this boat, and its worth proved itself on the big waters of Lake Michigan, Grand Traverse Bays, as well as the L. Michigan waters of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It also functioned extremely well as a river boat, and its design proved priceless. The Evinrude E-Tec on the back of this 20-foot beauty is outfitted with a jet drive, and is able to handle both the bigger bodies of water as well as allowing our new boat to run on plane in water as shallow as 4 inches! Outfitted with a kicker motor, an electric anchor winch, Minn Kota i-Pilot link on the Terrova electric motor, and Humminbird Onix electronics, this is the ultimate fishing machine. Many of our Wolfe Outfitters and Sport Fish Michigan customers got to enjoy this new boat, and I think they would agree that it truly is an awesome boat to from which to fish.


Winter Fishing Fun at Tippy Dam on the Manistee River

Wintertime fishing on northern Michigan rivers usually means steelhead to most diehard anglers. Fishing pressure is low, the rivers have a beautiful serenity about them, and it’s just an awesome time to be out on the water chasing steelhead that are spending their winter in the rivers.

Not to be overlooked, however, is the amazing trout fishery that we have on the Manistee. Sure, they probably won’t break any records for size, but what they lack in that category, they more than make up for in scrappiness, willingness to bite, and beauty. Not to mention that they’re just plain fun to catch on light tackle.

The Michigan DNR stocks tens of thousands of brown trout at Tippy Dam on the Manistee River each spring, and these fish grow to be anywhere from 10-15 inches by wintertime. And this doesn’t take into account the trout that have been stocked in previous years. Fish over 20 inches aren’t uncommon. Steelhead smolt and resident rainbow trout are also in these waters. For a fun day of fishing, this is an amazing fishery, and when other species aren’t biting, the trout bite can be downright hot! Experienced anglers and novice anglers alike can benefit from a fishery like this, and we at Wolfe Outfitters feel blessed to have this fishery in our backyard!

On a recent chilly December day (ok, it was downright cold—10 degrees to begin the morning), one of my fellow Wolfe Outfitters guides and I headed down to the Manistee River to get in on the trout fishing. After all, what do guides do on a day off? We go fishing! Taking a two-pronged approach, I had a jig and waxworm setup (also a key steelhead option for winter and spring) while my fellow guide, Jeff, had his fly rod with a couple of prototype flies to try.

Launching the boat at Tippy Dam, we headed out to some likely looking holding water. Jeff brought his 4-weight rod, which is perfect for the brown trout that hold in this water. I had a medium light 10-½ foot baitcasting rod with which I love to float fish for trout and steelhead. It took us a little while to dial in exactly where the trout were, but we found them. Tucked bankside to a seam in the river just below a gravel bar, we found the perfect spot to cast—both with my jig and waxworm setup, and Jeff’s prototype flies. Multiple doubles became the norm in the scant 2-½ hours that we fished. Needless to say, the waxworm program worked extremely well, and Jeff was thrilled to find a prototype that needs to be included in the regular rotation! “I guess I’ll be spending some time tying up a lot more of these!” he said as he grinned.

I don’t know of too many places where an angler can go have fun on a river enjoying a fishery like the Manistee River just below Tippy Dam. Spring, summer, fall, and winter, the brown trout fishing is dynamite. It’s a great place for anglers to learn a new technique, or to just have fun like Jeff and I did. The trout won’t win prizes for size, but they certainly should for putting a smile on people’s faces. They are truly beautiful specimens that have a tenacity and scrap to them that makes them a hoot to fish for. Fly fishing or conventional gear fishing techniques both work, and with a numbers fishery like this, who can complain?!!


Ice Fishing Safety


Ice has covered many of the northern Michigan inland lakes, and the itch to get out onto the ice for some ice fishing is growing stronger each day. The thrill of fishing through the ice is undeniable, and as we get ready for the upcoming winter ice fishing season, now is a good time to go over a few safety precautions. Early ice can mean some of the season’s best angling opportunities, but it also brings with it a lot of risks. In fact, just 2 days ago, the US Coast Guard had to rescue somebody from the middle of a Traverse City area inland lake.

There are a tremendous amount of factors that can determine not only the thickness of the ice, but more importantly, the strength of the ice. Ice is not all created equally, and this can lead to variations in strength. It is known that the strongest ice is hard, clear ice that has been formed with uninterrupted cold, and calm days and nights. The clearer the ice, minus any snow or bubbles, the stronger the ice is, and thus the higher its capability to hold weight. If the ice is milky or chalky in color, the strength of ice must be considered to be much weaker than if it is clear “black” ice. This is because air bubbles and snow make for very porous ice, which is not solid in nature. While we have had quite a few cold nights so far here in northern Michigan, we have had a lot of wind. This has slowed ice production, and also created weaker ice.

While there is never an acceptable level of ice that can truly be considered safe, there are some factors that can help or hinder ice formation, and definitely some things to consider. It is the breakthrough strength of ice that concerns us most as ice fishermen, so before heading out onto the lake, some of the guidelines and things to keep in mind that we use here at Sport Fish Michigan are the following:

  • Do not venture out onto the ice on anything less than 2 inches of clear, hard ice. Very often, with 2 inches or less of ice covering a body of water, there will be soft spots where the ice didn’t freeze uniformly.
  • Be aware of things that can lead to soft or thin ice: underwater springs, underwater currents, or even snow will slow the formation of ice. The bigger a body of water, often times, the more current is present. Similarly, moving bodies of water like rivers and streams may be more likely to have unstable ice.
  • We want at least 4 inches of hard, clear ice before walking out onto the ice to go ice fishing. 4 inches is the accepted minimum for many authorities, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This accepted minimum not only has greater strength, it also helps to account for possible weak spots where the ice may not be uniform in thickness.
  • Ice thickness in one area of a lake may not be the ice thickness in another area of a lake. For instance, ice in the middle of a lake may have formed later than ice nearer to shore, and in most cases will be thinner.
  • Wind has a great affect in ice thickness. In early ice formation, wind will blow frozen skim ice from one side of a lake to another, creating a slightly thicker ice where the wind pushed the ice together.
  • Snow is a great insulator, and makes for poor ice formation. Newly formed ice that is mixed with snow can be extremely unreliable. Many authorities and studies have deemed that snow ice is roughly 50% of the strength of clear ice.
  • A stationary weight on the ice needs greater strength of ice than the same weight if it is moving. This simply means that while a layer of ice may support a person moving across the ice, it very well may not support that same person if they were stationary in one place.
  • Weight distributed over a wider area is better than weight distributed in a smaller area.
  • Never venture out onto the ice without informing others of your plans. Always take caution, and have a plan ready should there be a breakthrough.

The Minnesota DNR uses the following table for a very rough guideline for new, clear ice.
(http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/thickness.html)

We can’t wait to begin this season’s guided ice fishing trips here at Sport Fish Michigan, but with the above in mind, we will be content to be patient. Sport Fish Michigan’s ice fishing guides are all fishing fanatics, but despite the itch to get out onto the ice, we will wait a while longer until we venture out. I would much rather wait for safer, thicker ice to satisfy my ice fishing passion than to head out onto iffy ice, risking much more than just getting my boots wet. Fishing’s supposed to be a fun experience, not a harrowing experience. Stay safe, have fun, and we’ll see you out on the ice!