This smile brought to you by Pure Michigan and the Muskegon River!
Anyone who knows me or follows this blog has a pretty good idea that I have developed an affinity for the pure and pristine waters of Michigan. In particular the West Side Lake Michigan Tributaries. Life just seems to slow down and have that "Great Outdoors" Northern Ontario feel to it and that appeals to me big time. That combined with a plethora of world class steelheading opportunities has my head spinning and thinking about her rivers all the time. Just ask Norland. I'm sure there are times he tells his wife "If that #@$% asks me to go to MI again I'm gonna punch him in the throat!" And you know what...I probably deserve it but In my defence I must say that MI is a special place and until you have experienced her glory first hand one would really never understand. One river I have been wanting to fish for some time has been the Muskegon. The Muskegon is a very large flow that like other big MI water is best fished from a boat. There is wadable water but it is minimal thus explaining why we had yet to cut our teeth on her. I had been following a few guides sites for the past 3 years and would often marvel at the quantity and quality of fish this river would produce but could never quite get my head around the cost of such an endeavour to justify giving it a go. I guess in my head I always figured that money could finance three or four day trips for Chromers versus the one so I never went any further with the idea. Well, until now. With a brutally abrupt end to our Ontario Winter season I have been longing to find an opportunity for another fish. While Internet fishing on my usual links over my Christmas holidays I discovered one of the MI Guides sites that I frequent was running a winter special so I shot him an email asking a few questions. In the winter months a few guides run winter 1/2 day specials where they will take you out for 5 hrs or so for a couple hundred bucks.
After my queries were met with favourable response I asked Norland if he would consider a day on the Muskegon with a Guide. I was quite surprised at how receptive he was to the idea. He didn't initially tell me to go F*ck myself so I knew we were gonna make this happen. On the heels of a major thaw the MO was receding from epic levels. I knew if we could time the water right we would be in for some outstanding winter steelheading. We booked the trip with Jeff's Guide Service out of Newaygo. Jeff Stuhan is a full time Guide and was born and raised in the Newaygo area. From the info I had gathered following his site he was a very personable and successful guide and ran a top notch gear out of a Tracy River boat. Local knowledge and equipment like this are second to none and can make or break the experience. After settling on a time and date the inevitable day came. Norland agreed to pick me up early so we could make the trek across the state and meet Jeff at an agreed location. Gene had been lucky enough to get a new Garmin GPS for Christmas and wanted to run it on this trip. I should have known we were in for grief when we turned onto the 475 at Flint instead of carrying on 69 to 96 but who am I to argue with modern electronics. Well as it turns out the unit was taking us to Newaygo but just decided it would be better to take secondary roads versus the Interstate. It really would have been no big deal but the snow began falling and at times we were down to 60km/hr. Oh well not the end of the world as we only arrived a few minutes past our original meeting time. After an impromptu meet and great in the Grocery Store parking lot we threw the gear in the boat and made our way to the launch. Expecting to arrive at a freshly plowed access road and boat launch I was surprised when we began to make our way down a steep hill laden with snow and ruts. Asking Jeff if we would have any problem getting out he smiled and said we shouldn't but have tire chains if we get into problems. I had to laugh and was envious at his disregard for the snow and his total faith in his 4x4 and equipment. As it turned out we launched the boat with little to no effort at all and were Jet Boating down the Mighty Muskegon in hot pursuit of chromers in no time. After arriving at the first location Jeff asked us what our boat position preference was going to be for the day our preferred casting distance. After that was established it was fun and games from there on in. The lower Muskegon is relatively wide and sand laden flow with spots of timber throughout. In medium to high flow conditions the preferred run depths are in the 7-9 ft range. In chasing winter fish we were targetting slack water seams and edges at these depths. After a few drifts we dialed in our depth and shotting patterns and quickly got one in the boat. The first three fish were all little 1.5lb jacks but were a much welcomed site. The first 3 locations proved to produce fish but were one or two fish runs. Jeff brought us to the 4th location where the flow seemed to be a tad slower and relaxed. He informed us of a bunch of wood structure part way down. The perfect scenario for winter fish. In the next 45 min we managed to pull 7 or so fish from this location and had a tonne of fun. I have to say it is very refreshing fishing with a guide that is as equally as passionate about catching these fish as Gene and I are and has such a pleasant demeanor and personality. We laughed our asses off out there and just had a ball. We continued to work our way down river stopping at favoured location picking up fish. The day was getting away on us and I really wanted to revisit the slow run where we "riped em up" earlier as I knew for certain it would give up another fish or two. Jeff agreed and we jetted back up river and he positioned the boat. The very first drift through my float drops and I set up on a fish. I think Jeff was more excited about it than I was and I gotta tell ya I was pretty pumped. This fish managed to break me off due to my laziness and neglecting to retie a frayed leader. While I was retieing Gene drifts through the run and bam...fish. By now Jeff is laughing and in disbelief. Gene blows this fish and puts another bag on. Once again makes it part way down the drift and bam...sets up on a fish and it's gone...I am still in the process of retying and encourage Norland to get a friggin bag on the hook and get through there again. Third time through and bang...Fish but he manages to blow it again! Useless!!!!!!!!!! By now I think Jeff Stuhan is in disbelief and wondering how many friggin fish are suspended in that run. I finish tying up my rig and put a fresh bag on my hook and make the cast. My float gets 1/2 way down the run and "FISH"...The boat erupts with cheers and laughter and Gene asks if we want to try for a double. I quickly state "Hell ya" and he shoots one through the drift. Nothing...Again he shoot through and nothing. By now I have played this fish to the boat and have it in the net. We get a few pics and put her back in the river. I start to get my gear in order and "FISH" Norland exclaims. Oh yes baby... It was game on and the anchor was pulled and we were in pursuit! This fish was a beautiful chrome hen football and exactly what Norland needed to wrap up the day. We repositioned the boat and gave a few more drifts before snagging up on some wood and deciding we were pretty much spent. I'm sure we could have stayed there and picked off a few more fish but why? We had one hell of an outing and experience and a few hours on the road before us. Arriving back at the launch I was skeptical whether or not we were going to pull the boat out of river as the ramp was fairly snow covered. Jeff locked her down in 4x4 and walked her out like nobody's business. LOL!!!Funny stuff and once gain I had a smile on my face and was envious and grateful of his sense of adventure and total trust in his equipment. On our way back to town we got talking about the guiding business and clientele and somehow got on the subject of Roe. I told him of our lack of Chinooks in Lake Huron now and our refusal to kill wild steelies for roe on our little river. He quickly asks if we would like some water hardened chinook roe as he has surplus amounts at his house. When we got back to town he hooked us each up with enough chinny roe to do us a season or two. Wow! What a gift. Seriously...That came at a much needed time and was a gesture I'll never forget. If I can suggest a couple things to anyone out there thinking of doing a guided trip I would suggest 1. Seriously consider Michigan and 2. Ensure you look up Jeff Stuhan at Jeff's Guide Service www.mykissmaniaoutfitters.com or www.muskegonriverguide.com Jeff is one hell of a nice guy and one hell of a good guide and I cannot say enough about our experience on that river with him. Also his Boat and equipment are top notch! I laughed my ass off out there and will never forget this day! We are currently considering a spring trip this year and an annual winter trip is on the books.