Enough can not be said about living within 5 hours proximity to true world class steelheading opportunities. From the Disney Land opportunities of NY, PA and OH to the pristine pure waters of Michigan and Ontario there is always an opportunity to to pursue our passion.
It is no secret that as of late my favorite destination has been the West side of MI. With the south shore tribs of Erie blown out it made the decision very obvious.
Gene, Steve, and myself made the trek across the state early Thursday morning. The destination was Wellston and the Manistee for some big water action. We had decent success the week prior and figured it would only be better. A deep damp cold had set across the region and the morning was reminiscent of those late December outings. The parking lot was rather full for a Thursday morning which led us to believe there may have been another push of fish come up the river. Early in the morning I had my long overdue incident and came down hard on my tail bone on a large boulder. Kinda reminded me that a focus on river safety really is important when your on the road. Luckily for me I came down even and escaped with minor soreness. After the first hour we realized the going was gonna be tough. The river was stingy and not willing to give up a fish for us. A few hours into the morning Steve managed to find a nice long Manistee up towards the Coffer an put himself on the board. Steve and Gene also both managed a couple of 18" Browns. I managed a few resident Rainbows and smaller browns but no Steelies. It was not looking very promising for the two day trip so we decided to regroup and hit the highway. After a brief discussion of our options in the car the boys decided that we could finish off Thursday on the PM and hit the White on Friday. I could tell Gene and Steve both wanted to visit the White and for good reason. That little river is a gem.
On the way out of Wellston we hit the mini mart for some refreshments and continued to head south on M37 towards Baldwin. The road back to the Sulak access point was questionable to say the least but the old green machiene got us back there without incident. The PM is a pretty river. One could go as far to describe it as stunning but for some reason she avoids offering up a steelie for us. Gene summed it up best when he said it doesn't matter if we catch fish there it is always still worth the visit. The drive back from Sulak to Baldwin takes you through some very scenic MI country side. A mixture of National Forest Lands and Agricultural charm. It wasn't long from the side road turn off when we spotted a field full of deer. A quick count revealed at least 40 and the adjoining field had another 30 anyways. The state is literally overrun with deer and it is nice to see such healthy populations. They were all very healthy looking and survived the winter fine.
Arriving back in Baldwin we decided to stay the night there and make the 1 hr drive to Hesperia in the morning. There is no shortage of accommodations in Baldwin. The town caters to the fisherman with numerous fly shops and a prolific fishing theme in the local business' signage and advertising. We chose to stay at the Outdoor Inn. Having 3 in our party we were very happy to find a room with 3 beds. For $75 a night the accommodations were very supurb. The beds were extremely comfortable and the bathroom very clean and modern. The room was so comfortable I hit the snooze no less than 10 times and G disabled the alarm after that. Being pretty much exhausted from Thursday we slept 10 hrs and awoke late. Nobody seemed to mind as the rest was well needed. 8am Friday morning put us once again on the road through the MI country side. Tom Tom wanted to take us through the sticks and I was all for it. I love the back road scenery and we saw some pretty interesting sights and wildlife. We arrived in at our access point on the White to realize Genes breathables and wading boots were frozen solid in the trunk. We had to fire up the car and thaw them out. Gene told us to carry on and he would meet us down there. The river was running a litte high with a nice slight tinge to her. There was nobody in sight and we fished some pretty promising runs and holes that I was familiar with from my first trip there last April. With no luck in the first hour I informed Steve about this nice deep bend up river. We made the hike and river crossing to arrive at a vacant pool. A few drifts in and I located a nice White river chrome hen in the slack inside pocket of the bend. A few pics and she was on her way. We decided to double back and hit a larger bend pool I was aware of down river. On our way we met up with Gene and he informed us he had fished that pool and managed a nice fish in the tail out. We all made the trek down river to try our hand again and explore some new water further down. Steve hooked up fishing some nasty lumber and landed a very nice White river buck. This fish was a bonus. All three of us managed fish. I was very happy that Steve and Gene landed fish on this river as I knew they would be hooked for certain. Further down stream we made a river crossing to investigate another large bend. The run looked very promising and Gene fished the tail out and I had the top end. Steve ventured down river to the next opportunity. We fished this run hard for 10 mins or so when my float disappeared. I set up on a very hot fish. This fish was all over this pool and on fire. I managed to keep it in the run but when the fish started pulsing up river I new it was something special. In the past when I have experienced this the fish proved to be large. When I did get the first flash of chrome my suspicions were confirmed. It was a large long chrome Hen. My heart was pounding as I have longed for one of these fabled MI giants. I see the pics of them on all the guides websites I frequent buy have yet to tangle with one myself. The White is a smaller river that is heavily wooded with prolific overgrowth so you can imagine the challenge with a 15' Frontier and trying to beach a giant with essentially no beach. Thank God Gene was there to assist and once again handled the fish perfectly when put in front of him. This fish was magnificent to say the least. Quite possibly the largest steelhead I have caught to date and definitely one of my most memorable.
We took many pics and handled her with care as she was ready to do her business.
After admiring her beauty and the pics captured she bolted back into the blackness of the White with nothing more than a bruised ego. Fish like that are few and far between and once again I shared one of my best steelheading memories with my good friend G. This fish made my trip. It went from spectacular to stellar in a heartbeat. The White River is a magnificent place and I cannot wait to explore her in more depth in the coming weeks.
Our departure time was quickly upon us and we needed to hit the road as Gene had a 6pm deadline and we had a 4.5-5hr drive ahead of us. On the way home we reminisced about the trip and the experience. On the edge of Grand Rapids we drove into a Spring snowfall which turned out to be a storm. The roads went from great to horrific with over 20 accidents witnessed in a 60 km stretch. At one point in time it took us over two hours to travel 5 kms. The 5 hr drive home turned into 8hrs. The Radio Station reported numerous accidents across the region and no end in sight until 11pm that evening. We managed to work our way out of the mess and arrive home safely. If I had to do it all again I'd do it in a minute. Great company, great scenery, great rivers, and great fish. Western MI continues to captivate and call.