There was no reason for me to be envious. After all, we had an eight-point buck in the bed of the pickup, carried in the same little square-stern canoe from which I’d shot it on a float hunt.
But still, the spawning-colored brown trout hanging from the buck pole at the (now-defunct) bait shop at Higgins Lake stunned me.
I’d thought trout season over when many streams and trout lakes closed September 30–over, at least, until ice sealed lakes that remained open year-around (including, of course, Higgins Lake) and we could start pestering trout with jigging rods and tip-ups.
And yet here was proof that some good fall fishing was going begging.
Before long I’d talked my Roscommon County buddies into taking me fishing on their home waters. And sure enough, trolling with body baits and minnow-baited attractor rigs paid off in rainbows, browns and even some lakers and splake.
The heady success came in those few fishing-forlorn weeks of late November and early December — between the start of the firearm deer season and the start of the ice fishing season.
The more I thought about it recently, the clearer the lesson.
Fans of toothy fish have long praised fishing at the corner of November and December. A lifelong musky fan friend, who focused on 60-inch-plus fish, never failed to head for Skegemog Lake in northwest lower Michigan during deer season. And wherever pike swim, your odds of catching a musky-cousin trophy are probably never better than right now.
Big predators want big meals, and plenty of them, as they head into the sparser months of winter.
The best Saginaw Bay shoreline perch fishing I ever experienced came in late November. Guns boomed in the distance, while Thanksgiving-fattened I fished in my blaze orange jumpsuit. Instead of eight-point bucks, we sought–and found–eight-inch perch, hungry yellow-bellies eager to gobble the emerald shiners we’d impaled in snelled hooks.
Each season seems a bit different–the Bay’s western shoreline red-hot for perch one year at Linwood, its eastern-stretch cuts at Quanicassee or pier at Caseville a better bet the next. At the mouth of the Saginaw River or just offshore near the spoils island, smart walleye anglers sometimes switch over to perch and smile all the while.
One of the best days of Michigan steelheading I ever experienced came on a deer-season opening day, when I abandoned our deer camp at Mio at mid-morning to speed to Oscoda and join a two-drift-boat party for some plug fishing.
Our oarsmen deftly let the boats slip downstream a little slower than the current, while diving plugs bored deep to anger steelhead; the fish responding with attacks so savage it was difficult to remove the deeply bowed rods from their holders.
Leave the shallow riffles alone, for now; work the deep holes where lake-run rainbows can hide without working too hard at it. They’ll use that saved-up energy to test your tackle, technique and lures when they strike, which they will.
And you’ll be glad you neglected your deer woods, and your ice fishing preparations, to take advantage of late fall’s overlooked fishing.
Images by Steve Griffin