Michigan’s beautiful rivers yield fantastic opportunities for anglers throughout the fall and winter. Steelhead are our favorite to target during these seasons. They are active fighters – their fast runs and jumps create excitement and fun for river anglers.
Capt. Ben Wolfe fishing \ jigging for Michigan walleye in late February.
Capt. Ben Wolfe catches a walleye on a new IFish tip-up while ice fishing in Michigan.
Capt. Chad Dilts helps Brittany, a first time angler, bring in a beautiful pike on a tip up.
2016 Year in Review and Looking Forward to 2017
We here at Sport Fish Michigan would like to thank all the wonderful customers who graced us with their patronage this past year. We were very fortunate to have had a wonderful year catering to lots of customers across the state fishing for a large variety of species.
We had another fantastic season fishing for walleyes down on the Detroit River, and once the weather began to cooperate, experienced some tremendous fishing-boating limits for our customers almost every trip. We will be down guiding on this world-class walleye fishery again in April and early May. Our two-Captain system paid dividends again this past spring, allowing for a much smoother experience for our customers. Not only did it help to facilitate anglers’ lines in the water longer, it also meant that we could net fish for our customers-something that other guides often cannot do when the conditions are tricky. We would much rather net our customers fish for them than to have our customers net their own fish. Another benefit of having two Captains is that we were able to pattern the fish that much more quickly-two heads are often better than one!
Our steelhead trips went well this past spring, and again in the fall, with some nicer than expected numbers. It seems that the extreme weather that had hurt our steelhead runs the last 2 seasons did not affect this year’s run, and our customers enjoyed some spectacular days on the rivers. The Big Manistee, Muskegon, White, and the Betsie Rivers are where our guides spent the bulk of our Sport Fish Michigan trips. With the much higher numbers of fish that we saw this year, we are excited for 2017, and hope that we will see another great year on the western Michigan rivers. Captains Chad Dilts, Jeff Mallory, Ben Wolfe, Kyle Buck and Guide Scott Kubit are all experienced river guides, and we were thrilled to host not only many new customers, but lots of repeat customers as well! Whether fly fishing or conventional tackle fishing from our drift boats or a custom jet sleds, customers enjoyed great days on the water. Many of our customers got to experience fishing out of Capt. Jeff Mallory’s new Stealthcraft All Terrain boat, and we are excited to also announce that Capt. Jeff is also a Stealthcraft Boats Ambassador.
Smallmouth bass trips are a huge mainstay of Sport Fish Michigan’s offerings, and we had a record number of customers plying our world-class Michigan waters. This year saw the inclusion of Capt. Chad Dilts to the full-time roster of bass guides, and Capt. Ron Dohm Jr., as well. These Captains allowed Capt. Ben Wolfe and Traverse City Bass Guide Service to offer even more trips than ever before, and customers were thrilled with the having these Captains to fish with. Ranging from Lake St. Clair to the southeast of Michigan, to Burt and Mullet Lakes to the north, and stretching west to East and West Grand Traverse Bays and the area’s inland lakes, the bass fishing was superb almost all year long. Not only did we have excellent numbers of fish caught, but we also saw a tremendous average size. The fishery here in Michigan for big smallmouths is healthy, and with continued catch and release tactics, we are hopeful to see another banner year in 2017. We are seeing more pressure on our Michigan bass, and it is imperative for the long-term health of the fishery to adhere to safe catch and release practices. These are very slow growing fish, unlike bass in southern waters, and for those seeking a trophy to mount, we ask anglers to please consider a graphite replica. Not only are graphite replicas just as good looking as the real thing, in many instances they are also more practical. The additional huge benefit is the ability to release those trophy smallmouths to swim and thrill another angler another day.
Our lake trout season was nothing short of stunning, and we couldn’t have been more excited to see not only the high numbers of lake trout coming aboard, but also the quality. Capt. Adam Collett and Capt. Ron Dohm Jr. worked together as a team aboard the Mega-Bite to clobber not only big numbers of lake trout, but also salmon. The Mega-Bite is what we consider to be the premier charter boat plying the waters of Grand Traverse Bays. Capt. Adam specializes in trolling, and he and Ron put countless customers on some truly awesome fishing. For those that vertical jigged with Sport Fish Michigan, Capt. Chad Dilts and Capt. Ben Wolfe had some equally spectacular fishing. This hands-on technique is a great way to experience these feisty fish for those anglers who prefer to have a rod and reel in-hand. Lots of fish over 10 pounds were boated during these jigging trips, and these Captains knew right where to find the fish. With excellent numbers of lake trout in Grand Traverse Bays and out of the port of Frankfort and Platte Bay, the outlook is looking like we will have another spectacular year in 2017.
One of the most fun things we at Sport Fish Michigan began doing this year was to specifically target cisco (lake herring or tulibee). These fish are a relative of the whitefish, and are an outstanding gamefish on rod and reel, are aggressive biters, and are truly awesome to eat. Spring and fall are the prime times to target these fish and that’s exactly when Sport Fish Michigan targeted them. In fact, with such high numbers in Grand Traverse Bays, these may be the perfect fish to target for anglers looking for a fish that pulls hard and doesn’t know when to quit, as well as anglers who just want to boat high numbers of fish. Capt. Ben Wolfe calls them “velociraptors with fins” because they are so aggressive.
Sport Fish Michigan’s salmon season was exceptional both on the big waters and on the rivers. Grand Traverse Bays, Platte Bays, and Betsie Bays all produced outstanding fishing for king salmon and coho salmon. The area rivers also had equally fantastic fishing, and we are super excited for what next year’s run already. Trolling on the Grand Traverse Bays was great, with high numbers of fish present. Mega-Bite, with Capt. Adam Collett at the helm, was the hot boat on the Bays. Vertical jigging had its share of phenomenal fishing as well on Grand Traverse Bay, Platte Bay, and on Betsie Bay. Both species of Chinook salmon and Coho salmon ran larger than last year, and with much higher numbers-our customers were thrilled with full coolers on many days. Capt. Chad Dilts and Capt. Ben Wolfe were lucky enough to put its customers on fantastic numbers of salmon using this highly effective jigging technique. While some old-school anglers consider this to be a snagging technique, these two Sport Fish Michigan Captains will not only attest to its effectiveness at getting bites, but they take affront to it. They would love nothing more than to show everybody just how potent this technique can be at getting king and coho salmon to bite. Next year’s run is promising to be just as good, although it is an unknown how things will be beyond then.
River trips for salmon went extremely well in large part to Capt. Jeff Mallory doing his thing as a premier river guide. He is well versed in not only fly-fishing techniques, but also in conventional tackle. Capt. Jeff is an accomplished fly tyer, and many of his own patterns are on display when he guides. Captains Chad Dilts and Kyle Buck also did a lot of river trips this past fall for salmon, and we are thrilled with the results.
Ice fishing has become a large part of the Sport Fish Michigan business, and there is no slowdown in growth in sight. With customers coming from as far away as Florida, California, Puerto Rico, and even Brazil, we have quickly grown into the largest guided ice fishing operation in Michigan. We are very proud to not just be able to take customers out onto the ice, but to set them up with some of the best equipment in the ice fishing market. Each customer fished from within a heated Otter Outdoors thermal shanty outfitted with Marcum electronics. All the tackle and bait was also provided, meaning that customers had everything necessary for a fun day on the ice. With transportation provided for them as well, we prided ourselves on a top-notch service. For 2017, we are proud and excited to announce that we have partnered with Humminbird, and will be offering our ice customers use of the brand new Humminbird Ice Helix 7 sonar units. These are truly awesome electronics, and we are excited to showcase this to our customers on the ice. These are the best units on the market, and we at Sport Fish Michigan are proud to offer use of these units to our customers. Last winter was warmer than the previous two, and we had to travel quite a lot to stay on the good ice. Fishing for a variety of species, we guided trips for walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, bluegill, crappie, lake trout, and even burbot!
2016 also saw a great partnership with two television shows. Hook n’ Look was sponsored by Sport Fish Michigan again, and in this past year’s television show we fished with Kim Stricker out on Platte Bay for coho salmon. We had a great day on the water fishing for cohos with Kim, as he had the opportunity to experience the thrill of sight fishing for these amazing fish in the crystal-clear waters of Platte Bay. Sport Fish Michigan is once again sponsoring Kim’s show, and in the show that will be airing this coming winter on the Outdoor Channel, Capt. Ben Wolfe fishes alongside of Kim for smallmouth bass.
Angling Buzz television show was a new show produced by Lindner Media. The Lindners are icons in the industry, and it was a pleasure being on each of the 13 episodes, giving the state-wide fishing reports every week. While the weather forced us to abandon our hosting and filming with Al Lindner several times in 2016, but we are scheduled for filming two shows next year, in 2017. Sport Fish Michigan is set to sponsor this new and upcoming show again for the new year, and will once again be bringing weekly fishing reports covering the entire state of Michigan. Regular web-published video fishing reports are also going to be featured on the Angling Buzz web site. Anglers looking for an idea of what is biting can tune in or look up the Angling Buzz web site to learn more about what is happening state-wide in Michigan during these timely updates.
With so many species to target in the state of Michigan, there never seems to be enough time to be able to target them all. From smallmouth bass to salmon; yellow perch to walleye; lake trout to cisco; whitefish to panfish; steelhead to brown trout, not to mention our awesome musky and trout fishing. So many fish to chase, and so little time to do it-even for us! This is what Sport Fish Michigan is all about-staying on top of the various species of fish throughout the state to give customers the best experience we can. By taking the guesswork out of hiring a Captain or Guide, we aim to provide our customers with the best in the business using the best equipment possible. If our growing business is any indication, we think we are on the right track, and with so many customers coming back as repeat customers, we are confident that we are doing things right. From all of us at Sport Fish Michigan, we extend a very humble and heart-felt thank you. Thank you for a wonderful 2016 season. We look forward to hopefully having the opportunity to fish with all of you in the future.
Capt. Ben Wolfe makes an incredible catch while ice fishing in northern Michigan – a largemouth bass!
Capt. Chad Dilts of Sport Fish Michigan shares ice safety tips, demonstrating multiple methods to check for safe ice.
Experience Michigan ice fishing from the comfort of our fully-equipped, heated ice shanties.
In part 1 of the article, we discussed some of the things that will help with trailer longevity, and a few things to check when putting a boat and trailer in for winter storage. In part 2, we will discuss some of the things that will help keep the boat itself in good working order come spring.
Motor maintenance is a crucial aspect of boat ownership, and is one that is done by most boat owners. It’s our motors that we rely on to get us to our favorite fishing hole, and it’s our motors that often command the most attention when they break down. There are a couple of things that we should do when putting our boats up for the winter.
The impeller is what pulls water into the motor to cool it. Needless to say, it’s a hugely important part of the motor. The impeller itself is fairly cheap, and that’s a good thing. This one part is also one of the things to keep an eye on to ensure motor longevity. When our motors don’t “pee” the way that they should (spitting water out of the back of the motor), it is often either a partially plugged intake, or it’s an impeller going bad. Regularly replacing our motor impellers will keep the motor cooling itself properly and running long into the future. Impeller replacement is something that routine motor maintenance should take care of, but it’s advisable to double check that is has been replaced every other year or so.
Spark plugs are an easy thing to replace, and can help keep a motor running at its peak. For motors that log a lot of hours like those being used by Sport Fish Michigan’s Captains and Guides, spark plugs should be replaced annually. For recreational anglers, perhaps every other year or so is acceptable. Poor motor performance can often be linked to a fouled plug.
Water filters help keep water out of the motor, and with the ethanol in today’s gasoline, replacing this filter is an essential part of preventative maintenance. Replacing a water filter every year will go a long ways towards keeping water out of the combustion chambers. In fact, on all of my boats, I took the extra step of adding a second water filter. Should there be phase separation in my fuel tanks, a second water filter will help, and hopefully stave off very costly repairs.
Storing a dry boat is much better than storing a wet boat. This will help to prevent mold during the long winter layover, making for a quicker and easier spring dust-off. One thing that I like to do is to leave compartments open to let air circulate freely. A closed compartment, especially with lots of things in it, will trap moisture and can become moldy.
Charging boat batteries at the end of the season is a great way to keep batteries lively come springtime. A fully charged battery is better able to withstand cold winter temperatures if boats are stored in a cold facility or outside. If possible, topping off the charge mid-winter is another good idea.
The ethanol in fuel these days can spell big trouble for boat owners. Long-term winter storage of gasoline in a boat’s fuel tank can be problematic without a fuel additive like Stabil. Phase separation is when water separates from the gasoline itself, and ethanol has a high water content in it. In the late winter and early spring, alternately warming and cooling temperatures makes phase separation a real possibility. In addition to a fuel additive like Stabil, a full fuel tank will also help. This obviously leaves less room for air, which will vary in humidity, and thus, in moisture. This moisture can lead to condensation inside the tank, which is no good.
By taking a few simple steps at the end of the season, our long-anticipated spring fishing trips can be as enjoyable as we hoped they would be. Sure, the fish may or not be biting, but at least we can get out fishing without being sidelined with repairs. Proper boat, motor, and trailer maintenance before winter storage can go a long ways towards an enjoyable experience later. I believe that preventative maintenance is far better than repairs when things break. It’s often cheaper, too!
It’s mid-November, and the snow is flying heavily here in northern Michigan. Many are in the woods chasing deer, following the firearms season opener just a few days ago. Coupled with the cold windy weather, this means that it’s time for most anglers to mothball their boat and store it for the winter.
Here at Wolfe Outfitters, and those of us with Sport Fish Michigan that guide the Lake Michigan tributary rivers for steelhead, we will keep our boats in service all winter long, provided we have running water! Last winter, even rivers like the Big Manistee, Muskegon, and the Grand River froze enough that we were forced to reschedule many trips due to unfishable, icy conditions.
For those that will put their boats away for the winter season, there are a few things that are advisable to do to help ensure a smooth and painless experience when pulling the boat out for the first time next spring.
Our trailers are often an overlooked part of our boat package, but yet they play a crucial role. After all, we rely on our trailers to carry our precious boats to and from the lake or river, dunking it in the water each time. This tough kind of wear and tear can be brutal on trailers, and things like wiring, lights, brakes, wheel bearings, etc. can all suffer without routine maintenance. Now is a great time to service your trailer.
I check over the trailer wiring, looking for kinks or breaks in the lines. I also look over the lights to ensure that they are working properly. Trailer lights are not only a safety concern if they don’t work properly, they are also a legal requirement in most states. Another simple thing to check that often causes trouble is the wiring harness coupler that plugs into the vehicle power to connect the lights and brakes. This simple coupler can absolutely wreak havoc when the pins are slightly bent or have corrosion on them.
Proper tire pressure is essential, not only for gas mileage when towing the trailer, but also for helping to prevent blowouts and unnecessary wear and tear to the treads.
The wheel bearings are another too-often overlooked part of a trailer. Many blowouts on the road are actually a result of bearings that are worn out. Properly lubricating wheel bearings will help keep you on the road trouble-free, but good preventative maintenance also includes replacing the bearings. When to replace trailer bearings is really a matter of how much use they get. Guides that tow boats on a daily basis, like many of our Sport Fish Michigan and Wolfe Outfitters Guides, will have to replace wheel bearings much more frequently than those that tow their boats only a few times a season. New-style bearings like oil-bath hubs or the new gel-style make bearing maintenance almost a no-brainer. Compared to the older and much more common grease-style bearings, these newer technologies keep maintenance to a minimum. For trailers that have the more common grease-style bearings, a simple grease gun will do the trick. Regularly adding a bit of grease will go a long way towards longevity. One telltale to look for when determining if bearings should be replaced is the presence of water. If water gets pushed out of the bearings when grease is added with a grease gun, it could be a sign that the trailer bearings should be replaced soon, if not immediately. Water in the bearings means that the watertight seal has been broken. When the seal breaks, water gets inside the bearings, where it will not only break down the bearing grease, it can also rust the bearings themselves, or freeze in winter temperatures. A little bit of water under the dust cap isn’t a huge deal and can be drained out. But water in the bearings is a big deal, and taking care of this issue now can mean no roadside hassles later.
Another thing that is crucial for those that have brakes on their trailers is to check them for wear and tear. Unless squealing or squeaking brakes have already been detected, checking the life of your trailer brakes is best done by a professional. Throughout the season, trailers with brakes should be checked to make sure their brake fluid level is topped off. Unless there is a leak, this is usually a once a season task.
One more thing to check on a trailer is the tread on the wheels themselves. Make sure that there is enough tread on the trailers to safely transport your boat to and from the water. It’s advisable to carry a spare tire for your trailer and the appropriate tools to change a tire, should there be a flat while out on the road. I always carry a full wheel and tire so that I can make the change and keep going without having to worry about replacing a spare that may not be a match for the trailer tires.
Keeping our trailers going is a big part of a fun day on the water. With some simple maintenance and preventative measures, we can help to ensure that we make it to and from the water without issue. Catching fish is hard enough as it is, without having to deal with a trailer breakdown on the road.