"Does Michigan have any trash fish?"
I was fully expecting this question or at least not surprised by it. Brandon Robinson (Mr. One Bug Is Fake) has made his mark as an egalitarian angler- no fish is too obscure or lowly for him to pursue. He's cut his teeth these last few years fishing the warm waters of Texas. He's moving to Michigan this week, to a new career, a new life. He lived here in his younger years, but apparently this was before he found fishing. His next statement took me by surprise.
"All you ever hear of Michigan is trout, steelhead and salmon. I want to know- is there any trash fish?"
It's true, we do have a lot of trout water- 14,000 miles of trout stream give or take, and hundreds of trout lakes, besides the Great Lakes themselves. You hear so much about the trout because we take the other fish for granted. But Michigan has far more warm water species than cold. And while Brandon is moving to the Metro Detroit area, there are hundreds of miles of stream and hundreds if not a couple of thousand small to medium sized lakes within a short drive of where he will be, almost all of them warm water. I'm starting to realize that Brandon has no idea what he's getting into, so I'm going to share a little information for him here- call it a housewarming gift.
Michigan has the second longest US coastline, Alaska being the longest. While Minnesota boasts of 10,000 lakes, Michigan has over 11,000 plus the Great Lakes. You are never more than 6 miles from water in the state. Michigan is home to 155 species of fish. A few of those are "trash" fish. 15 or so species of sucker to start with. Lots of catfish. Freshwater drum- I caught one this summer on Grand Traverse bay while fishing smallmouth that had to be ten pounds. It popped my line before I could get my picture with it. Bowfin (dogfish), burbot (eel pout), garfish (2 species). I'm sure there's plenty I'm leaving out.
Carp are so ubiquitous that no one pays them much attention. Here they bowhunt for them, and there are so many in Saginaw Bay (a short drive Mr. Robinson) that there is a bowhunting tournament held there each year. Garbage trucks haul the fish to farms where they are tilled in as cheap fertilizer by grateful farmers. Carp are found in every body of water in the Detroit area, and he'll have no competition for them.
Here's a few bodies of water and areas that Brandon should be exploring near his new home.
Lake St. Clair. Right on your doorstep bud. It's called "the sixth Great Lake" for a reason- it's so big you can't see across it. Lake St. Clair is a fish factory, and is well known for its walleye, perch, smallmouth bass and muskie. It is the muskie capital of the world, and one of the few places where chartering for muskie is feasible. Multiple fish days are the norm with double digit days common for charter boats, and fish are typically 36-58 inches long. Muskies are a pike's gangster big brothers. St. Clair is also loaded with drum, carp, gar, bowfin and other Great Lakes trash. I've caught drum there almost every time I've fished it, almost to the point of annoyance. When your Diablo arrives take it to the North end of the lake and explore the marshes and shallow flats for your favorites, or if you're shorebound, hit the 9-mile jetty, the Coastguard station or the mouth of the Clinton river. This is all just a jump from where you'll be, water you can fish after work.
Huron River. The Huron wraps around the west and south of Metro Detroit. It is known for its smallmouth, is loaded with carp, and you will catch the occasional pike for good measure. The lower stretches even get runs of salmon and steelhead. It is puncuated by several dams and the reservoirs, many of which are part of the Metro Parks system, hold bass, crappie, panfish, pike and loads of carp. The Huron is a big system, and I'm sure you'll be able to find some quiet water.
Clinton River. I used to fish the mouth of the Clinton for the monster pike that come in there to spawn during the first warm days of April. Fish in the 10-20 pound range are common. The Clinton system winds its way through the north and west parts of the metro area. It is home to all your beloved trash fish, but parts of it are trout stream that gets steelhead runs.
St Clair and Detroit Rivers. St Clair river feeds Lake St. Clair, Detroit river drains it. Pretty much the same fishing as Lake St. Clair, but good places to shore fish, especially for drum. The lower Detroit is loaded with bass, and both rivers host walleye and bass tournaments. These are big powerful rivers with lots of freighter traffic, so be careful if you take the Diablo.
Some of the species Brandon will encounter will be new to him. Not too many people go after walleye on the fly, but because it's so shallow I'm sure it's doable on Lake St. Clair. Ciscoes (lake herring) fight hard and feed heavily on the massive hex mayfly hatches that occur here, but not many people go after them. Detroit river gets huge runs of white bass each spring, and I've never heard of anyone fly fishing for those. Bowfin are common on Lake St. Clair, but again, who fishes for them? If you do, don't put your hands near their mouths. Supposedly they fight like trains.
I'm kind of excited for Brandon, but I know how intimidating it can be trying to get to know a new area. My message to him is that Michigan will be whatever he makes of it- it can be the trout and salmon state, he can knock himself out on bass and panfish on the hundreds of lakes in the area, or he can chase trash fish and carp. There is so much fishing to do here that it is mind-boggling. I'm not even getting to Up North where I live. If I had concerns for Brandon they would be culture shock- Detroit has its own, quite different from Texas, and the winters- that first one will be tough, and he may have to put the fly rod away for a couple of months unless he's willing to go after steelhead. Don't worry about Detroit- it's not as bad as people make it sound, there's lots of good restaurants and the local music scene is fantastic (hey, it's the home of Eminem, Kid Rock and the White Stripes. Any town that can make Kid Rock a star has something going on.).
Brandon- make sure you stop in at Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti on the Huron River. It's only about thirty minutes from you. They guide for warmwater fish and carp and they'll be able to point you in the right direction. Buy Katie Ferner a beer at one of the breweries around the corner and she'll spill her guts, I'm sure of it. They also have a good fly selection for the water there. If you're pulling your hair out and need help, call me. I'll come down, show you some spots, help you get to know the road system or the state fishing regulations.
And when you do finally get settled in, hop in your jeep, point it North and lets go fishing. Even if it is for trash fish.