The weather was on a wild ride the entire year of 2018 in Michigan and all over North America and the world. Mild winter, floods in February, cold spring that turned into a heat wave of extreme heat in May. Blistering 90F heat and drought all summer and into October, and then in a day we go from 85F in October to arctic snow and the coldest fall on record. Needless to say the fishing had its challenges. But despite it all, we still had amazing fishing in Michigan's world -class Great Lakes , rivers, streams and glacial lakes. After traveling through 10 states and all over the country on my new Nexus book tour, despite all the wealth and prosperity I see on the east coast from Boston down to North Carolina on the east coast, and all my east coast friends ask me why I am in Michigan- a state that is still seriously economically challenged? (I'm originally a New Yorker), ... I always say it is because we have the finest #ground-zero brown trout, brook and rainbow trout, winter and summer steelhead, Pacific and Atlantic salmon utopia in the world, and all in one state!- simple as that! The only other state that this scenario can draw a comparison to is the magnificent New York state.One great HIGHLIGHT of 2018, was that the heat and drought forced/ nudged me to to venture beyond my big river/tail water drift/ power jet boat guiding world, which is 95% of all Michigan guiding, to explore all the thousands of miles of tiny wild trout streams/spring creeks we have all over the state that we extremely take for granted. I have half-a dozen little spring creeks around the lodge that nobody fishes! They are mostly in Huron/Manistee National Forest property and are loaded with wild browns and brook trout you would love! They run ice-cold all summer long and it was the only place we could keep cool during the day's extreme heat, by wading into them and feeling the ice cold spring-fed 48-56 f water temps. With the tail water and even most rivers running very warm and almost dry ( even Blue Ribbon ones like the Pere Marquette/ Au Sable), I decided to pursue these beautiful wild hidden gems with my clients, and everyone absolutely fell in love with small stream wild trout fishing. Armed with our 2/3 weights , we tossed beetles, ants and hoppers and watched gorgeous and sassy wilds attack our surface offerings with an extreme aggressiveness- it was awesome beyond belief! We filled the Patagonia back packs and Yeti's with sandwiches, salads, beverages and had a wonderful time chasing wilds, foraging for mushrooms and wild edibles, and we became children again like the fishing we used to do when we were younger. This year I'm so looking forward to more of this type of small stream wild trout guiding- here are some images of its beauty! Here is an image tour of my summer chasing wilds on all the little spring creeks close to the lodge- with great clients and whole families enjoying our Michigan wooded wilds:
( wild browns and brookies with amazing spots and colors)
( this wild had 80+ red spots on one side- original #groundzerobachforellen German brown genetics from 1884 planting in that stream)
(Having the whole family expierience the small wilds is beyond cool-the joys of small stream trout!)
Trout re-cap 2018/2019
Despite the heat, floods and droughts of 18', due to all the springs and dam bubbler operation all summer on the Muskegon, our browns and rainbows held - over well and fed on caddis and midges, along with the crayfish even in the worst heat. The Gray drake hatch was intense and very short due to going from cold to summer heat in the end of May. It was rare to see temps approach 90F during those hatch periods, which they did, thus the fish put on weight fast and then sought out thermal niches and feeding lies. Even blue ribbon free-flowing spring creeks like the Pere Marquette and Au Sable had fishing moratoriums/ heat water temp warnings.
( a May Muskegon Brown caught chomping on sunken gray drake spinners in a typical morning spinner fall- the 6 week long gray drake hatch has both morning and evening spinner falls that can be super intense turning the water to sawdust with spinners- a true epic mayfly ritual that only Michigan rivers produce consistently)
The real "BIG" news for the Muskegon in 18/19 is the trophy brown trout fishery that is developing, thanks to our new biologist Mark Tonello and Jay Westley of the Michigan DNR. Due to the heavy salmon/steelhead run competition during spawning, and tail water fluctuations from all niche perspectives, trout must be stocked on the Muskegon, since natural reproduction comes from wilds in the tributaries and in certain sections of the river. Our retired biologist only stocked 40,000 browns in a 18 mile section of the massive Muskegon, that has one of the richest food supplies of any river on the planet- in fact the Muskegon is almost "too fertile" in some ways. Since the vast depths and scope of the river can harbor a much larger trophy brown trout population, Tonello and staff bumped -up the brown trout stocking from what was the customary 40K that barely made an impact, to doubling it for 2018 and years to come to 80,000 !!!- that will see an amazing population of browns this year and the years to come. In addition, another 20,000 surplus fingerling browns were released in December 2018, thus bringing the total Muskegon brown stockings for 2018 to 100,000- AMAZING!
On top of that, with new 15 inch TYPE III regulations to go into effect from Croton dam down to Lake Michigan ( 35 mile stretch), the Muskegon is poised to become a world class trophy brown trout fishery of amazing proportions, given normal temperatures and flows ( note: The Muskegon has more sping-fed seeps/influx than any tail water in the state due to its high gradients and moraine sub- strata.
( the Muskegon has always produced big browns, but with the new regulations, we will be seeing many more of them!- here Geno Kelly with an April stunner!)
( Chris Bamford and Brad Turner with awesome Muskegon browns in 2018- one in January Brad got with "Trutta Buddha" Tommy Lynch, the other with me in December)
Note that the Muskegon is stocked with "wild" strains of Michigan "groundzero" original German stocking genetics evolved in Michigan, and one of stunning Loch Leven origin genetics from Wisconsin spring creek country- Gilchrist and Sturgeon strains, and Wild Rose strains.
More migratory Sturgeon River strains have been stocked recently, thus giving us more lake-run browns like this post-spawn lake-run my client caught in February 2018
Also, the Muskegon gets 40,000 California Eagle Lake rainbows each year that can get very big and healthy, like this beauty. The massive hatches, scuds and crayfish/sculpins, plus sucker minnows, salmonid eggs and parr, give the trout massive food sources year-round
2018 saw a very scattered and spread out spring run due to extreme early flooding in February and cold temps in the spring. The fall run was very short lived when decent numbers came in to feed on Chinook salmon eggs in October. BUT!...the run quickly died out when brutal arctic weather took over almost overnight, with river temperatures plummeting 10-15 degrees rapidly.
( Despite a very dismal and slow fall run, my clients managed some #steelheaddreams of their own with me!- we were very blessed to get a few stunners!)
2019 STEELHEAD FORECAST
Here is the really GOOD NEWS!...Since perhaps only 10-15 % of our steelhead run came in last fall, EVERYONE!:DNR biologists, fishy steelhead guides and outfitters...all passionate steelheaders were wondering why the fall run of 2018 was "The worst"fall run in 20 years, BUT!, I have a good theory- bare with me.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FALL STEELHEAD RUN OF 2018- EPIC FAIL! (Case solved)
It was total pandemonium no matter where in the western Great Lakes you were fishing. "Where are the steelhead?"...."worst run I've ever seen"....."something is seriously wrong in Lake Michigan"....on and on those were the comments even trained biologists were pulling their hair out for answers.
Well....here is my theory , and I passed it by a biologist and it sounded like it could be right- we will soon know!
So we had one of the largest sized Chinook salmon runs of 2018 I've ever witnessed. That is in sheer gargantuan size of the fish, not necessarily in numbers- but they were still good. More 25-34 pound Chinook salmon were landed on 2018 than in a long time. They were massive beasts!!!- I quickly gave up using a 30 lb BOGA grip due to the sheer size of the monster kings- you were hard pressed to find one under 20 lbs!
( Bill Dobrath with a massive beast King right outside the lodge pool)
So lets picture these details. All the big Kings came in to spawn in Sept/October. The big kings are the Apex predator in Lake Michigan guarding the alewive bait fish schools in the big lake. They push steelhead/coho out like bastard children and tightly guard their prey.
So when the steelhead were ready to start a massive onslaught of the rivers, the "window -of-run" opportunity shut down fast due to extremely falling river temperatures , coupled with no waters from a summer drought from hell. River temp plummeted along with shoreline temps, forcing the steelhead to avoid a river migration. NOW!...they are left in the big lake with all those massive schools of bait fish that were once guarded heavily by the kings, now completely exposed and left open for steelhead to "chow down" on, with no other apex predator to bother them....makes sense. The next year class of kings were not as big as the spawning class, thus steelhead started packing on the pounds.
THUS!...if my prediction is right, our spring run of 2019 will be massive in both size of fish and numbers, barring we don't have early floods and crazy weather that will scatter everything- we shall see!- I could be wrong, but given the size I've seen of summer run steelhead in 2018, they were massive in size, and Brian at Indiana DNR also reported multiple 20 pound plus summer Skamania in the weir nets in 2018
Michigan Atlantic Salmon
The same thing that happened to the steelhead run occurred for Torch /Elk Lake system in my opinion. Extremely war waters turning bitter cold very fast. Although the Au Sable and Huron shoreline had better returns, along with the St. Mary's river, numbers should have been greater. ( probably the worst run I've seen there in 20 years, only to see three of the best runs in 2017/2016/2015....SO, cycles occur as always.
(One of the few 2018 Atlantics we managed in our glacial lake systems.)
Torch/Elk are similar to the Maine Rangley Lake/Grand Lake system of rivers/lakes. But Torch is very deep ( 300 feet), and still holds the IGFA world-record my client and I got of 26 pounds.
60,000 Fall fingerling's were stocked at Torch in 2018, with yearling's (right Heather?) to come in 2019. These systems have produced monster Atlantics and will in the future. Michigan is ramping up their Atlantic program with even chrome silver Atlantics being caught in the Detroit River, like the one here!
Remember!, Salmo salar can forgo a year of spawning since their evolutionary life cycle to migrate back-and-forth from Greenland and Faeroe Islands might last longer than a year, and they are multi-year spawners, living to be very old.
I am now taking reservations for Atlantic salmon 2019, and I'm thinking we are going to have a much better year because of many fish not spawning IMHO, and a better evaluation of the stocking program, along with more natural reproduction focus.
Previous year stunning Atlantic's
AND THE STANDING IGFA WORLD RECORD (26LB-Tom Aufiero angler/guide Matthew Supinski)
King and Coho Salmon
What else is there to say than the kings were enormous in 2018- they were so massive you had to cradle them in your arms rather than just hold them up!. Since we swing traditional west coast comets and bosses to our wild kings in the pools, we get their maximum pre- spawn size, and try avoiding dark gravel fish as much as possible. 2018 saw the return of wild Platte River Coho salmon plants for the Muskegon which promises to open up an exciting new era for silvers on the MO !
SUMMER SKAMANIA STEELHEAD
Again, the brutal 90F heat and extreme drought of 2018 mad things miserable for river fishing summer runs, though big lake fisherman destroyed the,! The few that came in were very large in size, but again many forgo coming in until late fall or not at all. 2019 should see very large summer runs that stayed in the lake. I have been guiding summer steelhead for 24 years and there is not a finer fighting big migratory fish under the sun!
( Gene Kelly from Boston with a stunning summer run from the St. Joe in 2018, along with Jeb from Virginia)
Hope to see you in 2019 at the Gray Drake! We are now taking reservations and would love to get you into our world-class trout/steelhead and salmon utopia for a fish of a lifetime!
My new "NEXUS" book has been out and is selling well beyond my greatest hopes- it has a ton of information about Michigan brown trout and Atlantic salmon- check it out !
you can see more at :
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