NEWAYGO — We’d been catching brown and rainbow trout in that seven- to 10-inch range — this year’s stockers — steadily when something stopped my lure cold.
The fish came out of the water, head-shaking. It was brown trout, tall — from belly to dorsal — what we in the trade call a “picture fish.” It came up a second time and threw the Rapala right at me.
“That was a 20-inch fish,” said Denny Bouwens, who was hosting this Muskegon River safari below Croton Dam.
Sigh. The big one always gets away. Minutes later, Bouwens’ buddy Justin Welch latched on to a nice one, a 16- to 17-inch brown. Saved the day, eh?
We were chasing trout with one of my favorite techniques — tossing floating/diving minnow baits — on one of my favorite rivers. The Muskegon has lots of trout and enough of those fish survive over the course of the years that there’s always a chance at a good one. For Bouwens, a 44-year-old fishing guide, throwing body baits at trout is a technique with a narrow window period.
“I basically do it in mid-May to mid-June, when the salmon fingerlings are all over the place,” he said. “Overcast days or low-light hours are your best options. You want either trout or salmon imitations — you want to imitate what lives in the river.
“In the summer when the water gets warm and the trout get sluggish, they’re not that active,” he continued. “You want the water temperature to be 50 to 60 degrees. After that they do most of their feeding at night.”
I got a second chance just minutes later when a big brown engulfed the brown-trout colored, No. 7 Rapala I was using. I brought it to the boat and guessed it at 19 inches. Nice. Welch, who was fishing a tiny (two-inch body), deep-diving Storm Thunderstick, was catching twice as many small trout as I was with the bigger bait. But he had his chance at two other good trout, one of which he landed.