November 14, 2003
A Fine, Fun Fishin' Day with 

Warren & Capt. Tom

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The Rendezvous & Commencement

Our grand excursion into the unknown on November 14, 2003 began at my house at 7:15am.   My  partners, Warren Knapp and Capt. Tom Rasmussen showed up at the agreed time.  This was a rare opportunity for me to enjoy some of the finest company Manistee County could offer, meaning Tom and Warren!

There's a whole lot more to fishing then just catching fish.  The quality of the fishing event must be shared among compatriots of a like mind.  Both of afore mentioned gentlemen are "dyed in the wool" big lake trollers with well equipped Salmon rigs and love to fish.  Plus, I have ultimate confidence in their angling expertise, having fished Lake Michigan several times with both of them.   So, Tom and Warren aboard was a reel-special deal for me.  I knew going in, it was gonna be an enjoyable day. 

We started out at from the launch around 8:30am with a very cantankerous 140 hp jet-drive Johnson that hadn't been run since last April.  I had a devil of a time until the motor warmed up and started purring like a fat, contented house cat.  Hey, we were in business and only minutes from our first "hole" of the morning.  Now, this was my first trip of fall 2003 on the Big Manistee River for Steelhead.  I didn't have a clue where the fish were, or what they'd be willing to chew on.  Thus, I went with my best guess and popped into a likely spot about a quarter mile from the High Bridge Public Access Ramp.

Our First Fish!

Tom and Warren eased their lines into the drink with four T-4 Flatfish in various, but good colors.  We slid downstream about 40 feet and the number 4 (or bank rod), right next to Tom took a soft bite.  Drats, we missed that rascal,..... like I said, it was a soft hit.  Re-setting lines we continued down the "run" for about another 20 feet and Warren's number 1 rod took a fierce whack.  Maybe, a better description would be, that the Steelhead was trying to rip the rod out of the rod holder.   But, I don't want to lay it on too thick this early in the story.  

Now, this Steelhead was a bright-silvery chrome hen, fresh in from Lake Michigan.  She had a vile, contemptuous attitude akin of a pissed-off pit-bull!  This large hen shot upstream and did her best to cut the line on our anchor rope.  However, Warren's skillful duty with the rod coaxed the Steelie into the clear.  After a hectic 10 minutes, Capt. Tom slid the net underneath a beautiful, radiantly-bright 9 pound hen.  Hey, we were in business and under any circumstances ...we were not gonna get skunked today!

Another One Bites the Dust

After a couple of non-productive spots, we just started setting lines.  Before all the rods were in the water, the number 3 rod took a bone jarring smack.  This fish hit so hard, line was peeling off the reel, before Tom could get it out of the rod holder.  Number two of the day was hooked-up ...good deal!  After an ongoing struggle, a couple of jumps & some short, but determined line ripping runs was almost in netting distance.  Then that wicked varmint took off again for the other side of the river.  

Hey, no problem!  Tom's masterful rodsmanship soon took it's toll and I was netting a decent male of about 7 pounds.  Tom is no slouch at fishing, having ran charters out of Manistee for the past 20 some years.  He definitely knows his stuff!  There's no way I can't say enough about Tom's firm grasp of angling knowledge that spans several decades.  Please let me add, Tom's a sheer joy to be around and a first class act at anything he does.  Warren tain't so bad either!

The Big Miss, or "Farm Job"

We fooled around in a couple of holes to no avail, then I came to a narrow section in the river.  I parked the boat in behind a massive log jam and instructed my team to get the lures back in the water.  By this time heavy river traffic had broken loose pockets of leaves and debris had goofed up the number 2 rod.  So, as I was helping Warren do a re-set when I seen a dandy metal-head doing cartwheels on the surface.  Warren was picking up leaves off the floor of the boat and had not seen the strike.  

I yelled, "get that rod," and Warren was fast into his second fish of the morning.  Well, to make a long story short, we lost that critter.  But alas, I had a reason to tease Warren about his lack of attention and that was worth more to me, then if he'd have landed this missed fish.  River Steelhead never seem to hit when your ready the moral of this all-too-true story.

Trifecta Trilogy

I started to suck as a river guide "big time" and was putting Tom and Warren to sleep, due to a major lack of any fish activity.  We had entered into an area that had hoards of Steelhead fishermen on the big river.  Boats were everywhere and even finding a place to fish was a major problem.  It wasn't looking good, and I very well knew it!  Then this statement came to mind: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."  So, I powered back upriver to a first-rate run that showed show success numerous times in the past.  

By this time is was a little past 1:00pm and we didn't plan making it a long day on the creek.  We'd slid the boat about 2/3rds through this hole, when the bank rod took a solid yank from a brawny Iron-Noggin.  We soon found out this fish had some big shoulders and wasn't gonna be a easy deal to land.  This was a thick-bodied burly male with a bright crimson stripe and was stone gorgeous to behold when it cleared the water.  All be it may, I didn't like the fact was jumping right by a snag.

Warren was in for a vicious brawl, a "touch and go" battle royal ensued.  The fish headed for the gnarly tanglements on bank.  With luck on our side, it burst back to mid-stream, bored deep and just hung there for a goodly amount of time.  Even with Warren's high skill level, there was no way we were gonna haul this angry fish back upstream!  I hurriedly lifted the anchor and put our boat into a semi-controlled drift, having Capt. Tom R. man the net.  

My oars steadied our boat and we'd almost had this brute within netting range.  Tom put his foot up on the rear transom and stretched the net way-out towards our advisory.  With one fell swoop, Tom had our 3rd fish (14 pounder) of the trip in the net!  I now felt relief and vindicated for sucking as a guide for about a 90 minute delay during mid-day.  Yep, the thrill of victory, yeah ...buddy, this is what fishing is about, not the agony of defeat!

The Best Part

After the photo session of Warren's vividly colored, hook-jawed male of around 14 pounds we all toasted a warm cup of coffee.  A good conversation developed and we swapped stories from the big lake Salmon season of 2003.  We shared a fine discussion about our best days on the lake, because our memory is automatically programmed to delete the slow, or tough fishing days.  You always tend to remember the sweet, and forget the bitter when it comes to fishing.  Our chat lasted for at least 20 minutes and we concluded our trip around 1:30pm.

Spending time with friends and sharing experiences like what Warren, Tom and I did today is what life is about.  Making and taking time to enjoy yourself is a must, no matter who you are.  In today's fast paced society, things like this get lost in the shuffle.  Especially, if you're not careful enough to smell the roses on your way through this journey of life.  Please pay heed to these last few words, and I'm sure you'll be happy you did!

Reel Facts About Our Day

We had better action away from the crowds as normal, because to much pressure shuts the fish down just like on the big pond.  Two of our strikes came before we could get all four rods in the water, so what fish were there, I'd call....aggressive.  Areas that held fish showed a wide dispersal and no one section was better then another.  There are some Steelhead in the river, but not tons.  This fact was evidenced (in most cases) we could only pry one bite per hole.

Warren Knapp is a retired Fire Chief from Grand Rapids for the last 21 years and spends about 5 days a week trolling Lake Michigan from April well into September.  Warren skippers the "Dotti K" and is better known then the lighthouse in Manistee's harbor.  The "Dotti K" is a 18 foot Starcraft that harasses the waters off Manistee on a daily basis.

Also, I use Warren as my official adopted father figure, because he's 79 years young and one of the finest gentlemen I've ever had the opportunity to meet.  I guess what what bonds Warren is our combined passion of pursuing  Michigan's Trout and Salmon.  So, we're a natural for each other!

Capt. Tom Rasmussen is a Manistee charter operator who skippers a 29 foot Black Fin yacht most days during season.  Tom is one of the best fishermen that heralds from the Port of Manistee and runs a very clean program.   He always shows his guests a good time and a full cooler of fish.  I'd rate Tom's boat the "Sue Lee" as an asset to the entire charter industry on the Great Lakes.  One heck of a nice guy is the best summation I can give, to keep from fumbling on my words.

I almost forgot to say what a superb day we had.  This was the best day we've had in a week with temps in the mid, to high 40's and plenty of warming sunshine.  I think the overall blue skies help my attitude immensely, or I wouldn't have pounded out this article as soon as I got home from the river.

Enjoy Friends Now!

As a update to this story about 2 years after I wrote this piece, I have since lost my good buddy Mr. Warren Knapp.  He died after a short, but determined battle with lung cancer. Warren lived to past 80 years and spend his last 20 years fishing everyday in season, after retiring from the Grand Rapids Fire Department.

After re-reading this story, I count my association with Warren as a blessing.  He was a friend with only one ulterior motive, being he just wanted to go fishing!  To this day, I still remember his warm grin and his great outlook on life.  Warren is the only person I ever met, that say with a big grin on his face; "man, it was tough out there again today!"  After fishing two days without boating a fish.  Most would be down in mouth, or pissed off, not so with Mr. Warren Knapp.  He made the statement with a proud smile from ear to ear, not letting anything spoil his love and lifetime pursuit of a seven letter word, known to all of us as FISHING!

Be sure to enjoy your friends now and cherish their memories when they pass into the great beyond.  I'll have no more tomorrow's with Warren, but he still lives in my heart everyday!


(1.) The water temperature today was around 42 to 43 degrees, explaining why most of our hits came out the faster current.  The water color was a light tea colored, meaning a fairly good stained water to work with.  The clearer the water, generally the tougher the fishing is.

(2.) We ran a 4 rod spread with 40 feet of line off a Diawa SG47LC.  Many try to go with light tackle and smaller reels I think are ill suited for the  job.  I started off using Ambassador 5000's in the early 80's.  This is a toy of a reel when it comes to dealing with a gone berserk Steelhead.  These small reels might be fine for bass fishing, but bass don't not have the near the size, strength or endurance a Steelhead does.  Plus, the large handle of the SG47LC better suits a hand with a glove on it.  Any Steelheader knows, it's gonna be cold weather fishing most of the time when the Steelhead are in our rivers.

(3.) The line that I use is 15 pound test Ande clear, with a short leader of 20 pound test to the lure.  The 20 pound test leader is there to take the beating from the Steelhead, that like to jump and wind up in the string.  Also, if you get hung-up, the 20 pound goat rope will take the abuse from the Plug-Plucker (lure retrieval tool)  banging on it.  The heavy line is there to horse Steelhead from the log jams, stumps and tanglements the Manistee River is clogged with.

(4.) My rods are 8 foot downrigger sticks with the handles shortened to accommodate "Fish On" rodholders.  These sticks have enough backbone to tame most any Steelhead and display plenty of cushion in the first 5 foot of the rod.  While many might think my tackle is too heavy, I'm not on the river to play games with the fish.  I know for a reel-fact, river Steelhead don't play fair and neither do I! 

(5.) To the aficionados who use lighter tackle: my heavier gear affords a much better chance of releasing a fish unharmed, then having it die at the end of some buggy whip styled rod. 

(6.) The distance from outside to outside rod-tip is around 20 feet, so my 4 rod spread has about 5 foot spacing between each.

(7.) I usually run about a 35 pounds of a log-chain anchor and prefer anchoring with a lighter anchor.  Light means you can slip, or slide down thru the holes (or runs) with greater ease.  

(8.) I like sharp drop-offs next to the bank, or log jams where the current has cut a trough.  This type of structure insures the fish will have to deal with my offerings and not scatter to the side.

(9.) I used T-4 Flatfish in gold, bronze and copper today, because it matched the stained water better.  I believe in the 4 treble hook model with the double gang hooks sharpened until they make you eyes bleed.   I'm not on the river to make friends with the fish by missing bites, and the set of 4 trebles on spreader bars are deadly when a Steelhead latches on.

(10.) We fished for about 5 hours, had 5 strikes, 4 hooked up and boated 3.  We never seen another boat with a "fish on" during the course of our outing.  But, I'm not saying we're the only ones that caught fish.  It's just the fact we didn't see anyone else whack a fish when we were in visual range of other boats and fishermen.

(11.) "Farm job" refers to losing fish.

(12.) "Holes," or "runs" are deeper slots in the river channel that are more likely to hold fish

This article was originally penned on 11/14/03, then updated to reflect the loss of Warren on 10/22/05............Capt. John King

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