Tag Archives: fishing

Is It Spring Yet? Well, Fishing Season Has Started, Anyway!

Spring fishing at Hannah Park

Spring fishing at Hannah Park

By MIKE NORTON

Man, the ice isn’t even off the Bay yet, and people are out fishing! Walking south on Union Street last week, I saw several guys fly-fishing in Hannah Park, casting their lines patiently into the swirling Boardman River, right here in downtown TC.

And not without good cause. On the same walk I wandered past the newly-restored west branch of Kid’s Creek that Munson Medical Center rerouted last fall (if you haven’t visited this beautiful little park by the hospital, you really should) and saw two monster trout wrestling their way upstream.

For years, veteran fly-fishing enthusiasts have kept the storied streams, lakes and deep waters of the Traverse Bay area to themselves, letting the rest of the world forget that northern Michigan – haunt of the young Ernest Hemingway and birthplace of the fabled Adams Fly — was once famed as an angler’s mecca.

TCCVB0068 - CopyBut a few years ago the spotlight returned to Traverse City. First, Field & Stream listed Traverse City as the third best fishing town in the U.S. and Fly Rod & Reel listed it as one of its “12 Top Fly-Fishing Retirement Towns.” Together with such spots as Key West, Durango and Park City, FR&R editor Jim Reilly chose Traverse City as one of a dozen “finest places for living out the dream.”

“Northwest Michigan may not have the “best” of a single type of fishing,” Reilly wrote, “but from steelhead to salmon, and smallmouth to pike they have a bit of everything, and Traverse City is located right in the heart of it. An angler would have to be pretty jaded to get bored up here with the Manistee, the Pere Marquette and the legendary Au Sable rivers all situated nearby (and don’t forget the nearly endless possibilities of Lake Michigan).”

Reilly’s source: local outfitter and guide Chuck Hawkins, who came to northern Michigan from Los Angeles 16 years ago after looking at better-known places like Jackson, Wyoming.

“The fishing, is incredible,” he says. “‘I don’t know how to describe it. We have, arguably, the best fly-fishing in the United States.’ ”DSC_5647 - Copy

It’s no slouch in the world of bass fishing, either. Down in the Deep South, it’s no secret that they pride themselves on their bass fishery, but Don Wirth of Bassmaster heads up from Nashville every summer to do a little fishing in Traverse City for his popular “Day on the Lake” column.

Don has fished all of America’s premier bass venues, and calls Traverse City the best place in the U.S. right now to catch a trophy smallmouth bass.

“Compared to most trophy fishing destinations, the waters near Traverse City receive relatively light bass fishing pressure, and the sheer number of big fish that populate the area’s lakes staggers the imagination,” he says. “Unlike other Great Lakes smallmouth venues that may be unfishable on windy days, Traverse City has an enormous number of nearby waters to choose from, so you can always find a great place close by to wet your line regardless of weather conditions.”

Grand Traverse Bay and the inland lakes near Traverse City are the favorite smallmouth waters of Kevin VanDam, who’s regarded as the best competitive bass fisherman on the planet. Legendary bass angler Hank Parker, host of the popular TV show Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine on the Versus network, filmed two shows here – one on the Bay, the other at a nearby inland lake.

“The fishing was beyond my wildest expectations,” Parker said. “Not only did we boat dozens of big smallmouth bass — I personally caught the biggest smallmouth of my fishing career, a whopper that topped seven pounds. I could actually see the fish hit my lure in the crystal-clear water, an experience I’ll never forget!”

Charterfishing9 - CopyLocal bass guide Capt. Chris Noffsinger, who has garnered a national reputation in the fishing media for putting his clients on big bass, said the bass fishing in Traverse City is “awesome” from the last Sunday in April, when Michigan’s catch and release season opens, through late fall.

“It’s also exciting to explore the area’s countless small inland lakes in a kayak or canoe,” he added. “Most of the bass in these pristine waters have never seen a lure.”

For really big fish, of course, anglers head to Traverse City for lake trout, brown trout, steelhead and salmon in Grand Traverse Bay.

The secret here is that although the Bay’s rich waters are deep — 600 feet in some spots — they’re close to shore and protected by land on three sides. That means boats can get to the fishing grounds within minutes, and are usually immune from the heavy seas that can make fishing the open waters of Lake Michigan an uncomfortable experience when the wind is up.

Michigan fishing licenses are available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com. And since Traverse City boasts over 80 motels and resorts, it’s easy to find comfortable and affordable lodging with ample parking room for your trailered boat. There are plenty of boat launches close to town, so you can get in and out of the water without too much fuss.

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Hiking at The Timbers Recreation Area, 250 Acres of Awesome!

Autumn splendor on Fern Lake at The Timbers Recreation Area.

Autumn splendor on Fern Lake at The Timbers Recreation Area.

By MIKE NORTON

Well, it’s certainly been a dramatic autumn in Traverse City this year. The trees have been late coming into their fall color, and the weather has been full of sturm und drang – one minute there’s rain, hail, sleet and snow in abundance and the next minute it’s dazzling sunshine — great masses of clouds chasing across the sky and fat beams of light stabbing down across the landscape.

Since a dramatic season requires a dramatic setting, I found one in a place I’ve never explored before: the proposed “Timbers Recreation Area” on North Long Lake Road, just 10 minutes west of town. It’s a 250 acre preserve, complete with trails, historic buildings and 9,000 feet of waterfront on three lakes, and it’s open to the public.

That is, it’s open to the public now. But for years it was in private hands – first as the backwoods retreat of meat magnate J. Ogden Armour and his family, and later as a Girl Scout camp that ran from the 1960s until 2009. Now it’s in a sort of limbo while the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy raises the $700,000 it needs to qualify for a $2.5 million state grant from the state. When the Conservancy reaches its goal, the property will be turned over to Long Lake Township – but that has to happen before next June, so they’ve decided to let folks come in to see what their contributions would be used for.

Long Lake Township has always been one of Traverse City’s loveliest neighbors. A century ago, this is where local residents built their own summer homes to escape the noise, grime and odors of town. (Contrary to the nostalgic popular legend, Traverse City is a much cleaner, prettier and healthier place now than it was in the “good old days” when the city waterfront was a grimy industrial harbor.) To this day, the township has done a great job of creating and maintaining a wide variety of parks and natural areas.

To get to The Timbers, you drive out on North Long Lake Road, just past the Long Lake Elementary School and tiny Coffield Lake, where you’ll find a gravel road that heads south through the forest. A few hundred yards along this road, there’s a well-constructed fieldstone entryway – one of several examples of masonry scattered around the woods like so many ruins of an ancient civilization.

From the old Armour estate: gates in the forest for roads that no longer exist.

From the old Armour estate: gates in the forest for roads that no longer exist.

They’re remnants of the estate that the Armours built here during the 1920s, which eventually included a main lodge, dormitory, cottages, two barns, an ice house, boathouse, and numerous outbuildings as well as 68 acres of landscaped gardens, pathways and farmlands. Some of that architectural and horticultural history has been lost – I did see the half-submerged boathouse while hiking around Fern Lake – but some of the buildings (including the lodge, which is now a private home) survived when the estate was broken up and sold off after 1945.

The Girl Scouts got the largest chunk of it, of course, and they left their own reminders — a few modest administrative and common buildings, as well as dozens of wooden platforms scattered through the forests that once supported big canvas tents. But the really impressive thing about The Timbers is how much land is just there. Almost  2,000 feet of frontage on Long Lake, an entire 20-acre lake (Fern Lake) inside its boundaries with 4,500 feet of shoreline, and 2,400 feet of shore on yet another, Page Lake. There are two-tracks and trails winding their way through woods, meadows and fields.

A quiet trail along the Long Lake shore.

A quiet trail along the Long Lake shore.

Naturally, I had to get out and explore the whole thing. And it took a long while, starting with the paths that generations of Girl Scouts must have used during their daily trips to the waterfront, the mess hall, the nursing office and their various campsites… and moving out under a canopy of golden maples and beeches… through dark, ferny hemlock woods, uplands filled with burgundy-colored blackberry bushes, and fields of waist-high grasses. The forest was filled with birds.

The barn at the entrance to The Timbers.

The barn at the entrance to The Timbers.

Back at the entrance, there’s a barn and silo of handsome glazed brick where former campers and staff had just finished a sale of furnishings and gear to raise money for the proposed Recreation Area. They had a good time, I was told — but there’s a lot of fundraising left to be done.

When it all finally comes together – and I’m sure it will — The Timbers Recreation Area will provide both residents and visitors with a wonderful place to enjoy the Long Lake waterfront in a natural setting by hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And the coolest part of it all is that it’s so close to town.

If you want to learn more about The Timbers (Who knows? You might even want to send them a contribution.) you can contact the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy at  (231)922-1245 or email matt@gtrlc.org.

Who knew? TC turns out to be great bass-fishing country!

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Chris Noffsinger shows off a little “living proof” of  Traverse City’s world-class smallmouth fishery.

 Now THIS is more like it! Sunshine, warms breezes and people getting out to enjoy the water. Especially fishermen, who’ve been wading out into the bay for the last few weeks, but now don’t look nearly so uncomfortable…

I’ve been thinking about fishing a lot lately – especially bass fishing. Because Traverse City has (or used to have) a little secret of its own. While anglers have long known this as  a great spot for steelhead, coho and walleye, as well as some of the best fly-fishing in the Midwest — avid bass fishermen are starting to discover that Traverse City is also home to some huge smallmouth.

With the clear, blue waters of Lake Michigan and scores of crystalline inland lakes just a short cast from our quaint shops, gourmet restaurants and sugar-sand beaches, Traverse City is rapidly gaining fame among serious bass anglers and their families as the ideal venue for the fishing trip of a lifetime.

Grand Traverse Bay and the inland lakes near Traverse City are the favorite smallmouth bass waters of  Kevin VanDam, who just won the 2011 Bass Masters Classic and is regarded as the best competitive bass fisherman on the planet. Legendary bass angler Hank Parker, host of the popular TV show Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine on the Versus network, just finished airing two shows here – one on the Bay, the other at a nearby inland lake.

“The fishing was beyond my wildest expectations,” Parker said. “Not only did we boat dozens of big smallmouth bass — I personally caught the biggest smallmouth of my fishing career, a whopper that topped seven pounds. I could actually see the fish hit my lure in the crystal-clear water, an experience I’ll never forget!”

Like Parker, veteran Bassmaster Magazine writer and photographer Don Wirth has fished all of America’s premier bass venues, and calls Traverse City “the best place in the U.S. right now to catch a trophy smallmouth bass.” Wirth comes to Traverse City each year to do one of his popular “Day on the Lake” articles with a pro angler.

“Compared to most trophy fishing destinations, the waters near Traverse City receive relatively light bass fishing pressure, and the sheer number of big fish that populate the area’s lakes staggers the imagination,” Wirth said. “Unlike other Great Lakes smallmouth venues that may be unfishable on windy days, Traverse City has an enormous number of nearby waters to choose from, so you can always find a great place close by to wet your line regardless of weather conditions.”

Local bass guide Capt. Chris Noffsinger, who has garnered a national reputation in the fishing media for putting his clients on big bass, said the bass fishing in Traverse City is “awesome” from the last Sunday in April, when Michigan’s catch and release season opens, through late fall. For Grand Traverse Bay, he recommends a full-sized, tournament-style bass or walleye boat equipped with a GPS, though the nearby inland lakes can be fished safely and comfortably from a midsized boat.

“It’s also exciting to explore the area’s countless small inland lakes in a kayak or canoe,” he added. “Most of the bass in these pristine waters have never seen a lure.”

Prespawn smallmouth action can be fast and furious right after the catch and release opener, Noffsinger said. “The water temperature is generally in the 40s then, with the big females staging on offshore dropoffs and breaklines, waiting for the water to warm a few degrees before moving onto adjacent shallow flats,” he said. “They’ll bust Gulp minnows on drop shot rigs, suspending jerkbaits and twister tail grubs.”

The smallmouth spawn occurs in stages, he said, and the amazing clarity of the water means unbelievable sight fishing.

“You’ll see big smallmouth bedding in our bays and inland lakes from May through July,” he said. “Wear Polarized sunglasses while slowly cruising the edges of sand flats under trolling motor power, and you’ll often spot scores of monster smallmouth on their nests. Bedding fish will gobble up a tube bait or small jig without hesitation. If the wind kicks up a chop on the surface, preventing you from seeing bedding fish clearly, cast a spinnerbait across spawning flats and slow-roll it back to the boat – chances are a big bronzeback will crush it.”

Summer bass patterns in the Traverse City area vary from lake to lake. “On clear smallmouth lakes, dragging a drop shot rig around deep rockpiles and humps can pay off big,” said Noffsinger. “Summer is also prime time to catch a fat largemouth bass on weedy inland lakes. Crawling a weedless frog across the tops of lily pads or ripping a Rat-L-Trap along a deep weedline can result in a savage reaction strike from a potbellied lunker.”

Fall brings some of the fastest bass action of the year to the Traverse City region, Noffsinger has found. “Those big smallmouth will be packing in the groceries in anticipation of the cold winter ahead. Dragging a tube bait along a steep dropoff will usually get your string stretched by a hard-pulling smallie.”

Michigan fishing licenses are available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com. And since Traverse City boasts over 80 motels and resorts, it’s easy to find comfortable and affordable lodging with ample parking room for your trailered boat. There are plenty of boat launches close to town, so you can get in and out of the water quickly.

For more tips, check out Chris Noffsinger’s web site at www.northernadventuresfishing.com.  For information about Traverse City’s many attractions, and for help with lodging and dining choices, log onto www.traversecity.com or call (800) TRAVERSE.