They’re here, believe it or not. Brown trout can be found hiding in undercut banks, in deep holes, and in treed shadows. They’re also joined by what many consider the fighting-est, most acrobatic freshwater species: the smallmouth bass. Normally you’ll find them only in northern Michigan’s storied trout rivers. You’re in for a surprise, however.
I’m talking some select and often-ignored creeks and rivers you might enjoy walking beside, spending a summer or fall day exploring, or where you can also let the kids loose at a playground.
Those rivers you may have been ignoring are, indeed, ones that fly anglers can fish in southeast Michigan. Here are a couple suggestions.
Paint Creek and Clinton River
A glance at the Michigan DNR’s fishing rules will quickly tell you that Paint Creek, near Rochester, is special. The five miles from Gunn Road to Tienken Road, rules say, is artificial lures only, with a two trout daily maximum, and a minimum size of 14 inches.
But as guide Keith “Kip” Lowrie will tell you, most anglers you’ll see here don’t follow that stipulation. No, they don’t break the law. They practice catch-and-release, taking home the brown trout they capture here with a camera only.
Lowrie has guided anglers for about 15 years, and learned his trade at a fly shop that used to be in Rochester. He now concentrates on the Paint, and in spring and fall, the nearby Clinton River.
“The Paint has gotten good because the state has stocked it,” Lowrie says, adding that he now sees a lot of natural reproduction. North of Rochester, the river is accessible, but anglers will have to pick and choose their angle of attack, due to natural obstructions and deep spots.
If you hire Lowrie, you’ll fish about a quarter mile of the creek for a half-day of fun. You’ll catch a mix of rainbow and brown trout, along with some bluegill and rock bass.
His biggest? “It was probably around 18 inches. I’ve tangled with a couple that were 20-plus, but couldn’t land ’em (on a thin line). We get a lot of 10 to 12 to 14-inchers, with a 16 being a nice fish.
“Seventy percent of the people I take out are beginners, and 90 to 95 percent of the time we catch a few. The first trip of the season this year (usually early May), we caught seven or eight. Sometimes it takes a little more effort to get the fishing mechanics down,” Lowrie explains. That’s usually addressed by a short casting lesson at the Rochester municipal park’s pond.
His fishing trips usually begin around 8 a.m. and last until 11 a.m., and Lowrie provides snacks and water.
“On the Clinton River (Paint Creek flows into the Clinton River), you’re looking for steelhead (a lake-run rainbow trout) from late February or early March to the first week of May. Once in a while you’ll also catch a brown trout. There’s more near Yates Cider Mill; most of the fishing takes place on that stretch. It’s known for its steelhead fishing in the spring and fall. The DNR normally stocks the Clinton with around 30,000 juvenile steelhead annually, and it also puts brown trout into the Paint.”
The Paint warms up toward late June, and Lowrie stops fishing when the water temperatures approach 70 so the fish won’t get harmed. At higher temperatures, even catch-release is lethal, so he leaves Paint Creek alone until it fishes well again in September, until the season closes Sept. 30.
Huron River, Area Lakes
In Dexter, near Ann Arbor, The Painted Trout’s manager/guide Neall Dollhopf arranges guided fly-fishing bass and panfish outings on local lakes and the Huron River.
Dollhopf has been taking anglers on trips for about four years, and says the peak season is early to mid-June. If you’ve never fished for smallmouth bass with a fly and watched as a “greenback” explodes the surface when it attacks a lure, you’re in for a treat.
“We primarily target smallmouth; that’s about 95 percent of what we do. We run programs for carp and for big bluegills, but most of what we do is for smallmouth bass on the Huron,” Dollhopf says.
Most trips will run between the local chain of lakes to Ann Arbor’s Barton Pond. That chain, he says, is comprised of waters on the Huron River upstream of Pinckney.
“You have Portage Lake and a whole number of them that make their way northeast-ish once you get out of Pinckney. The Huron-Clinton Metroparks such as Hudson Mills, Dexter-Huron, and Delhi are where we find most of our access,” Dollhopf adds.
“Most of the fish are in the 9- to 12-inch range, but the ones we’re going after are in the 17- to 20-inch range. We don’t see them too often for 20, but they’re definitely in there,” he says.
Dollhopf meets customers at the takeout point. He does a shuttle run up to the put-in spot, where they get into the 14-foot metal-frame inflatable fishing raft and go over important details before they start casting.
“All you need is to bring yourself, a positive attitude, and anything you need to be comfortable on the water for five or six hours. We cover all gear,” he says. Dollhopf can take up to two anglers, and if they’re having fun, he’ll stay. “I don’t mind hanging out and catching as many (as we can) until people get tired.”
Other times and places you might meet Dollhopf are evenings on lakes in the Waterloo and Pinckney recreation areas, including one of his favorites, Joslin Lake.
If you’re still after trout, there are browns in Dexter’s Mill Creek, but access is an issue, Dollhopf says.
Johnson Creek is reputed to be the only spring-fed creek cold enough to support brown — and even brook trout — in Wayne County, says Northville Mayor Brian Turnbull. Hatchery Park was the site of the nation’s first federal fish hatchery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can see the creek from the park, and perhaps even cast a line — it’s another river waiting for you to explore.