Fishing for trout on the Manistee River near Tippy Dam from the angler’s point of view.
Part 2: The Future
Looking ahead to the 2015 season, we are encouraged by the opportunities that lie ahead for all of our guide services. We have a lot of goals, many things that are inspiring us to push further ahead, and things we want to improve upon.
Traverse City Bass Guide Service will be guiding again this year on Grand Traverse Bays as well as many of the potent inland lakes around the Traverse City area in northern Michigan. Bassmaster Magazine ranked the Bays #9 in their rankings of the top 100 Best Bass Fisheries in the World. That’s pretty exciting, especially when 4 out of the 5 lakes mentioned in the rankings were all in northern Michigan! Partnering with a couple of bass guides within the Sport Fish Michigan network of the Michigan’s top Captains and Guides, we can offer trips on each body of water mentioned in the Bassmaster Magazine rankings. Who knows where these lakes will be ranked in 2015 but the future looks incredible, and we are excited for spring to be here so that we can get back out, chasing after smallmouth and largemouth bass. With changes to the Michigan fishing regulations on the horizon, we may even see a change which will allow us to be able to target bass year-round in a catch & release manner. Under the proposed Michigan DNR changes, the open season would remain the same, but we would now be able to target bass all year long when practicing catch and immediate release.
Wolfe Outfitters will be entering its second full season as the only permitted outfitter allowed to fish inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. What makes this truly exciting is that we are poised to be able to target the outstanding steelhead and brown trout fishery at the mouth of the Platte River in the spring. Steelhead and brown trout can be caught with a variety of techniques including casting, fly fishing, and trolling. Casting minnow baits, like jerkbaits, is a great way to enjoy these feisty fish, and with the gin clear water that Platte Bay has, being able to watch these fish fight and chase offerings is nothing short of awesome. For fly anglers, stripping streamers is every streamer angler’s dream come true, as both browns and steelhead respond well to this technique. Trolling andsa jigging can also pay off handsomely out on Platte Bay.
The salmon fishery on Platte Bay is something to behold, and we are hopeful for a great run in 2015. Coho were first stocked in the Platte River by the DNR back in the mid 1960’s, and created the world-class coho fishery that we enjoy today. The bulk of our techniques employ casting and jigging techniques for these awesome fish. We had a lot of customers out on Platte Bay in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this past fall, and every single person was blown away by not only the incredible fishery on the Bay, but also the scenery. After all, Sleeping Bear Dunes wasn’t named the most Beautiful Places in America by a Good Morning America poll for nothing!
Jigging trips went extremely well last year, and we are looking forward to building on that momentum. With the incredible lake trout fishery that the northern Michigan area has to offer, jigging is a truly addictive way to target these fish. With the light bass tackle that we use, anglers get to feel every bump and bite from these aggressive biters, and the fight is heaps more than many anglers have experienced in the past with other techniques.
River trips will continue to be a major focus of Wolfe Outfitters and its Guides in 2015, and we are excited about the prospects of not only lots of salmon and steelhead trips, but also about the outstanding smallmouth bass fishery on the Manistee River as well as its trout fishery. The portion of the Manistee River just below Tippy Dam is absolutely spectacular for trout fishing, and this year’s fish will be pushing a very healthy 20 inches by the end of the summer, with many fish well over that mark.
We have both Michigan State and Federal permits, including the highly coveted permits for the Manistee National Forest. This gives us access to fish the entirety of the Manistee River, utilizing the Federal launches that many other guide services aren’t able to take advantage of with their customers. While the salmon and steelhead runs were below average, and definitely below what we have become accustomed to, we are excited about the spring steelhead run. With low numbers of steelhead running all of the northern Michigan rivers in the fall, this sets up well for a stellar run in the spring. We are looking forward to targeting these chrome beauties when they enter the area’s rivers.
Sport Fish Michigan has grown each year, and we are hopeful that 2015 will be no exception! We are thrilled to have each and every Captain and Guide that we have, and each brings something special to our customers’ trips. From fly fishing to bass fishing, trolling the big lake to river trips, and even ice fishing, we are working hard to offer everything an angler might want around the state. We are once again sponsoring the Hook n’ Look television show on the Outdoor Channel in 2015, and are excited about the national exposure from this popular show.
In addition to the Hook n’ Look show, we hope to be able to produce our own videos on a variety of fisheries utilizing our Sport Fish Michigan Captains and Guides. We plan on filming walleye fishing in the spring on the Detroit River. The Detroit River is truly spectacular for walleye fishing in the spring, when these tasty fish run into the river to spawn. We also plan on filming bass fishing with several of our Captains on Lake St. Clair, taking advantage of this world-class bass fishery.
Further north, lies the Muskegon River, the Manistee River, Betsie River, and Platte River. All boast stellar steelhead runs, and it is our goal to film some steelhead clips on these rivers fishing with our Guides both with conventional tackle as well as on fly.
Atlantic salmon are on the list of species we would like to highlight as well, and Torch Lake just north of Traverse City is host to an impressive population of Atlantics. The super clear water that Torch Lake is known for will make this a treat, as these are a beautiful fish.
We are also tremendously excited to be the largest ice fishing operation in Michigan, and are hoping to build upon the successes of last year. Ice fishing is a very popular aspect of fishing, and early indications are that we will be busier than ever. This year, we are planning an inaugural on-ice seminar clinic that will span 2 days. We will discuss rigging options, how-to demonstrations, and technique options accompanied by hot catered lunches right on the ice. All of the necessary tackle and gear will be provided for the seminar, as well as transportation on and off of the ice.
In all, the future is bright for everything that we have to offer. With continued hard work and dedication by all of our Captains and Guides, we will continue to strive to create lasting memories and outstanding experiences for each and every one of our customers.
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.
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?!!
This coming Saturday is the opening of the deer season for many who hunt, and the woods will be full of people anxiously hoping for a shot at a trophy buck. A couple of recent snowfalls have hunters giddy with anticipation. Indeed, this is a great time to be hunting in the beautiful state of Michigan, as the woods and waterways are full of life. Ducks and geese are plentiful as they head south for the winter. Squirrels are busying themselves for the winter, foxes are calling out to mates, bears are on their last few feeding binges before bedding down to hibernate, and turkeys are abundant, scratching the ground for a morsel. And then, of course, there are the deer. Lots of them.
Despite much of the attention for the outdoor enthusiast now being focused on hunting, this is still a wonderful time to be on the water. Lake or river, there are some terrific options, and competition for a fishing spot is almost non-existent.
Steelhead are in the rivers now, and where it’s still an open season, such as the lower Manistee River below Tippy Dam, the trout bite is fantastic this time of year. Rainbows and browns gorge themselves in preparation for the winter, and anglers can have lots of fun targeting these beautiful and scrappy fish. Lake run brown trout enter the rivers to spawn, as do lake trout in certain systems. Cured or fresh salmon spawn tied into spawn bags will get bites from all of the species just mentioned, and when the bite is on, it’s easy to run out of spawn bags. Light jigs tipped with wax worms can also be a great option when fished under a float.
Those anglers preferring to fish the numerous inland lakes here in northern Michigan have great options as well. Perch are biting this time of year, as are most of the predatory species like bass, pike, and walleye. Walleye fishing is getting better and better as the days shorten, providing great opportunities for anglers fishing at early light and the last light of the day. The same goes for pike. Bass tend to feed a bit better after the sun goes up a bit. Blade baits, like the Heddon Sonar, can score extremely well this time of year, and it’s not uncommon to catch walleyes, perch, and pike on these baits as well. Whitefish begin to come shallow on waters like Grand Traverse Bays, and even though the lake trout season is closed on the Bays, it’s very possible to hook one of these fun fish while fishing for whitefish. Just throw them back to stay legal! Whitefish bites are usually very light, but well worth it for this outstanding tablefare.
The fall feed is on, and the bite can be downright hot, despite some of the colder temperatures associated with the opening of deer season in Michigan.
A Wolfe Outfitters fishing customer catches a giant salmon while casting crankbaits on the Big Manistee River in northern Michigan.
Recognition – at last! And every bit of it deserved!
Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster.com, the publications of B.A.S.S. just published the 2014 listings of the 100 hottest fisheries on the planet, and it feels like redemption for those of us that fish Grand Traverse Bays. Coming in at number 9 on the list of best fisheries, Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay even topped last year’s champ: Lake St. Clair. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Last year’s list lumped the entirety of Lake Michigan together, glazing over the very distinct bass fisheries that different areas of the lake have to offer. This year, two of the top ten spots went to Lake Michigan bass fisheries. This distinction provides Lake Michigan with the recognition it deserves. Five of the six Michigan lakes named are in northern Michigan, with Lake St. Clair as the only exception. With 5 of the top 100 best bass fisheries on the planet here in northern Michigan, it’s hard to not feel proud as punch to be a bass guide based in Traverse City!
This is exciting news to everybody who loves northern Michigan, and has been highlighted on several radio news broadcasts, as well as on the 9 & 10 Television News. On their May 1st Hook and Hunting segment, 9 & 10 News asked me for my thoughts on what this means to the Traverse City area, and what makes fishing on Grand Traverse Bay so special.
Naturally, the answers running through my mind were many, but with a limited segment, time only allowed for the boiling down to the “best of.” Here are some of my thoughts on the Bays ranking number 9, and what it means to northern Michigan:
- With water clarity approaching 40 feet much of the year, and an average water clarity around 30 feet in the summer, the Bays resemble waters of the Caribbean. Watching fish swim is often easy to do, and sight casting to cruising fish is something that we can commonly do throughout the year.
- Burt Lake, Mullet Lake, Thunder Bay, Lake Charlevoix, and Grand Traverse Bays are the 5 lakes located in northern Michigan. Lake St. Clair is the only lake in southern Michigan on the list. All of these fisheries boast phenomenal smallmouth bass fishing, and St. Clair also has a fantastic largemouth fishery.
- Both water clarity and world-class fishing are what national television fishing shows are looking for, and northern Michigan delivers! With well-known television shows like Hook N’ Look, Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show, The Bass Pros, One More Cast with Shaw Grigsby, Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine all regulars, the area has certainly drawn its share of big-time anglers. Babe Winkleman has also filmed his long-time show here, as well.
- The additional attention brought to the area will help the local economy, through increased bookings for guides such as my own Traverse City Bass Guide Service and Sport Fish Michigan. It will also help other area businesses like hotels, gas stations, fishing license revenues, restaurants, etc.
- The area is very family friendly, and there are lots to do to entertain the troops when the fishing day is done. Then again, with such good fishing, I’m not sure how somebody could get enough!
- Wineries, microbreweries, beaches, hiking trails, canoe and kayak rentals, sightseeing, and many other activities are sure to keep families and individuals busy. Choosing what to do is the easy part. Having to choose what not to do is probably the difficult part.
- Even though Bassmaster ranked Grand Traverse Bay as the number 9 bass fishery on the planet, northern Michigan boasts other spectacular fisheries as well. The entire Great Lakes salmon fishery began just to the south of Traverse City, near the town of Frankfort on the Platte River. The Platte still has a world-class coho salmon fishery, and the king salmon fishing around Frankfort is stellar. Steelhead fishing on the area rivers is a favored past-time of countless anglers. Rainbow and brown trout are also highly sought-after species. In fact, the recent world record brown trout was caught on the Manistee River, just to the south of Traverse City. Lake trout, whitefish, walleye, perch, smelt, and even muskies fill out the impressive list of great angling opportunities in the area, regardless of the preferred method for fishing- be it casting, fly fishing, jigging or trolling.
- With so many wonderful options in the area, Michigan is a fisherman’s paradise, not just during the warm summer months, but year-round!
Wolfe Outfitters customer Mark, with his father, Gary, battling a king salmon on the Big Manistee River. This fish was caught while casting crank baits, which is a productive and addictive technique for early salmon in Michigan rivers.
Some days, we cast and hook up on seemingly every cast. Other days, it’s like we’re casting in a dessert, expecting to hook into a camel. Fishing. Why do we do it—well, I think we have to be optimists to get ourselves out the door. Sure, fishing in a dessert is part of the game, but we, as anglers all hope for those days of “stupid fishing”, when no matter what we do, or how we do it, we get bites. Those are the fun days, no doubt about it! And they’re also the days that our arms get tired from catching, and not just fishing. That being said, however, these are also the days to not only enjoy to the fullest, but to learn.
It’s during a hot bite that I experiment with off-the-wall ideas to see whatever else works. Not only does this eliminate dud ideas, but can help hone techniques and bait presentations, giving us confidence in these techniques when we encounter the dreaded tough bite days.
Such was the case the past several days. Most of July and August, we here in northern Michigan, experienced very little rain, leading to extremely clear, low water conditions. The past 2 weeks has had a lot of rain. In fact, the past week has had well over 6 inches of rain, leading to very high, muddy flood-stage water levels on all of the area’s rivers. The Big Manistee River was no exception.
Higher water levels on the rivers in the fall lead to fish such as salmon and steelhead to enter the rivers to spawn. Low clear water, by contrast, makes fish wary, and makes the spawning runs meager and not as predictable. High muddy water makes fish a little more predictable, but not necessarily any easier to catch.
The past few guide trips on the Manistee River has been like trying to fish in hot chocolate. Muddy, lots of leaves and debris floating down river, and fish on the move up to Tippy Dam. Under normal conditions, the steelhead that come into the river in October stage in various holes and runs as they meander their way up to the dam, where they spawn. High, muddy water forces fish out of their typical routine, keeping them on the move. As anglers, high muddy water must force us out of our typical routines as well, making us fish water that we might not typically, looking for the shallower runs that fish use as they move up river.
The bite was extremely tough during the highest water. Most tactics didn’t get a lot of bites, but we did manage a few. By putting the right presentations in front of inactive fish, we were able to get a few to react positively. Whether it was out of hunger, curiosity or aggression—at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter—we got some bites. But paying attention to cues that the conditions give us can help trigger some of these bites.
Rich and David with early morning late-season king salmon. We have no idea if the early bird got the worm, but these anglers got the fish!
Simms Fishing Products rep and good friend, Tony Ferrie greeting a nice Manistee River smallmouth caught on fly with Wolfe Outfitters. Although we couldn’t raise any giants, we had a great day, sharing a boat, laughs, stories and some frosty-type beverages later.