Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Third Installation of a Notable Triad

Occasionally, though, [the right] fish swims among the spawners. You need patience to find one and a certain stealth to approach within casting range, and at such times it is never clearer that sight-fishing to large fish, whether tarpon or bonefish, steelhead or [carp], is really a species of hunting.

-adapted from Ted Leeson

The fact of the matter is that we are dirty doggers aka lucky bastards but lucky only in one respect: we are truly fortunate regarding the time allotted to us by God, family and fortune. We are aware of this and we regularly praise and thank all said entities. We are not lucky with respect to the final outcomes of these fishing adventures once we’ve gotten the go ahead to launch. In fact, a close analysis would conclude that we are unlucky: regularly shitty conditions where ever we land on the globe. Seizing reels, decrepit wading boots, leaky waders, stinky buffs, flimsy fly selection, worn out skin on feet. That kind of thing. Through that though, navigation to a desirable outcome can be achieved by way of (1) simply walking around the planet earth (here, pertaining to fishing this translates to John Montana’s saying of keep your boots in the water), (2) persistence, (3) focus and drive, (4) fascination/interest, (5) love. And most important of these is love (did someone else say that?).

All that said, Lake Michigan being what it is, can foil you in short order. See last year’s report. If the fish aren’t in the shallow water, and you have no boat, standard logical concatenation confirms that you have no fish. Zoom the conversation regarding persistence out one level though, to encompass a strategy instead of a single outing… and you arrive at the scene: two swashbucklers driving east toward Lake Michigan for the second time in one year, with a hope and eye for carp.

What makes this special, like many facets of your life, is the sum of the parts: the setting, the fish size, the fish behavior, the method of approach, the gear used, the mode of exploration and the company kept. You could walk down to the lake and throw a dough ball in and catch a 30 lb carp tomorrow. But that doesn’t do it. You could go cast the most graceful fly rod in the world to rising brook trout but that doesn’t always do it (although that isn’t too bad of a deal). I could walk outside right now and fish to a carp in a pond. Big deal. It’s the convergence.

The setting is best communicated by maps and photos. Beyond what they convey, I will add only that it is highly desirable to stalk around flats and bays of such a remarkable body of water (steel gray horizon with no end in sight). The walking was generally very easy. Some minor challenges were posed by slippery slab rock and large boulders.

The method is multi-faceted: (1) desktop and interview recon to determine where fish will likely be; (2) scouting to confirm; (3) sorting through fish to find viable candidates for hook up (many fish were negative and simply would not eat); (4) singling out those fish and stalking to appropriate distance; (5) presenting fly in acceptable manner; (6) detecting the take; (7) handling initial jolting hook up and run; (8) managing occasional long run to backing; (9) bringing fish back, and netting. With many parts there are many opportunities to fail. We failed often. But hell, we caught a lot of fish.

The most notable thing about this trip was the difference we observed in the disposition and behavior of the carp. We all know (generally) what carp in MN do. We know what the Columbia River fish do. These Lake Michigan carp had a bit of sharkiness to them. A little more predatory. They chased flies. They broke out of formation to follow your fly. We used bunny leeches as our staple offering. That should tell you a lot about this bit. This is best communicated by recapping a handful of memorable takes. These are in my mind. John Montana has his memories and I look forward to recounting those too. And one note on this is that we quickly lost track of the great takes. Too many. Usually you have a handful to take home with you and think about but this trip was littered with them. The technical term would be “all kinds of crazy shit” out there. I’ll just say that the basic hook up went like this: find a cruising fish, estimate his speed and path and from 20-30 feet away cast to intersect it; know the sink rate of your fly, and strip at a speed needed to get the fly in front of the fish; fish will turn 90 degrees to follow your fly; watch closely and if you can’t see your fly guess at the take; set hook and cackle uncontrollably. Just roll out the cackling.

(1) We peeked out of a bay, into a hidden flat of sorts. There were carp everywhere. We had just finished fishing to a load of carp that were not in a highly positive mood. These fish though, were milling about. Looking for something. First cast went parallel to shore, and was stripped past a cruising marauder that was swimming parallel to shore… bunny fly was stripped quickly ahead of the fish, maybe 3-4 feet on the inside… and carp spun a 90, swam up toward shore to the point of nearly putting its back out of the water, and consumed the fly.

(2) On that same flat, John M and I fished apart for a while. Each catching fish here and there. I saw a group of 5-6 fish swimming in deep water at the flat edge. I put a cast in front of them and stripped past… nothing. I started to let them go, but then figured hell with that and ran to shore and sprinted ahead of them to position for another presentation. Running after fish is good. I put another cast out there, counted the fly down and stripped it past… I watched those big gray ghost shapes and there: one broke away. One fish broke a 90 and started toward the fly. All grayness and guessing then… watching the shape and figuring where that fly was… picking up the rod and finding the weight. That fish took me to my backing. Scaled at 17 lbs. Jogging after fish.

(3) Often times the fish would swim toward you. Seeing them before they see you is obviously important. So we adopted this “drop to ninja” technique which is basically get the hell down(!). So early on, a fish swam toward me… I dropped to one knee, crouched and whispered and held my rod out to the side… whispered again and dropped the fly and bounced it past the fish… six feet from me… ate it. Yep he ate it. And this became fairly common.

(4) And the most absurd take of the trip #1: I saw some ghost shapes out in deeper water. I cast a fly into them and let it sink. I began a retrieve and the fish ate the fly. This is 99% foreign to carp on the fly fishing. It’s cool but in a way it doesn’t seem right. That fish was scaled at 18 lbs.

(5) And the most absurd take of the trip #2: night was falling quickly on day three. JM had started casting to SMB. We had been pounding on tailing carp, culminating in the catch and release of a 23 lb sow (scaled). So I was cruising. I may have even been smiling through my standard stoicism. I started blind casting around for SMB. I saw in the rushes a big ruckus of carp sex. For the hell of it I cast my LOD up into that shamble and started slowly stripping it back (slow to avoid ripping and snagging). Fish on. It’s nearly dark. Must be snagged. But feels right. Fish to hand. That SOB ate the fly like candy. Blind fishing for carp. WTF.

(6) The 23 lb fish was cool but not a remarkable take. Three carp had heads together, milling around looking. I dropped the LOD in the midst of the three, and I was actually watching another fish closely… then I flipped my vision and saw a pig in a position that looked like “eat” so I came tight and found her on. I was a bit late so we had to extract the LOD with forceps. I was careful playing that fish. Tippet knots held tight. Trust.

Better stop typing now. There is a lot to remember and a lot to say. I’ll close by thanking our families for making time for us to journey a bit and engrain in our minds these adventures that we’ll surely remember forever. And thanks to John Montana for his continued guidance regarding carp fishing. Many things about this guy are much appreciated.

And The Triad: carp on the fly from Columbia River, Mississippi River, Great Lakes. What's next?

Pasted stats from Carp on the Fly:

75-80 total carp to hand

45-50 smallmouth bass to hand.

Largest fish, a 23 lb beast caught by Wendy Berrell. I got one at 21 lbs as well.

Roughly 10 smallmouth in the 17-18 inch range...we weighed one of those fish at dead on 4 lbs.

Lost flies...countless.

[following pics are from my camera only; have to look for JM's later on]

The Setting

The Carp

The Flies

Yes. As the book suggests: carp are some game-ass fish. But I like that they are largely ignored. It keeps the steel-gray flats lonely.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Preamble: Lake Michigan

Good write up re Formation of the Great Lakes.

Facts and Figures

Lake Michigan is the third largest Great Lake by surface area and the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world.

Because Lake Michigan is joined to Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac, they are considered one lake hydrologically.

Many rivers and streams flow into Lake Michigan, and the major tributaries are the Fox-Wolf, the Grand and the Kalamazoo.

There is a diversion from the lake into the Mississippi River basin through the Illinois Waterway at the Chicago River.

Lake Michigan's cul-de-sac formation means that water entering the lake circulates slowly and remains for a long time (retention) before it leaves the basin through the Straits of Mackinac.

Small lunar tidal effects have been documented for Lake Michigan1.

Internal waves (upwellings) can produce a 15 degree C. water temperature decrease along the coast in only a few hours, requiring drastic alterations in fishing strategy1.

The northern part of the Lake Michigan watershed is covered with forests, sparsely populated, and economically dependent on natural resources and tourism, while the southern portion is heavily populated with intensive industrial development and rich agricultural areas along the shore.

The world's largest freshwater dunes line the lakeshore.

Millions of people annually visit the dunes/beaches at state and national parks and lakeshores.

References: Lake Michigan brochure, 1990, Michigan Sea Grant
1 [Ayers, John C. "Great Lakes Waters, Their Circulation and Physical and Chemical Characteristics," in Great Lakes Basin: A symposium presented at the Chicago Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 29-30 December, 1959. ed. Howard J. Fincus. 1962. Washington, D.C. American Association for the Advancement of Science.]

LENGTH: 307 miles / 494 km.

BREADTH: 118 miles / 190 km.

AVERAGE DEPTH: 279 ft. / 85 m

MAXIMUM DEPTH: 925 ft. / 282 m.

VOLUME: 1,180 cubic miles / 4,920 cubic km.

WATER SURFACE AREA: 22,300 sq. miles / 57,800 sq. km.

TOTAL DRAINAGE BASIN AREA: 45,600 sq. miles / 118,000 sq. km.
Illinois: 100 sq mi; 300 sq km
Indiana: 2200 sq mi; 5800 sq km
Michigan: 28,300 sq mi; 73,300 sq km
Wisconsin: 14,200 sq mi; 36700 sq km
SHORELINE LENGTH (including islands): 1,638 miles / 2,633 km.

ELEVATION: 577 ft. / 176 m.

OUTLET: Straits of Mackinac to Lake Huron


NAME: Champlain called it the Grand Lac. It was later named "Lake of the Stinking Water" or "Lake of the Puants," after the people who occupied its shores. In 1679, the lake became known as Lac des Illinois because it gave access to the country of the Indians, so named. Three years before, Allouez called it Lac St. Joseph, by which name it was often designated by early writers. Others called it Lac Dauphin. Through the further explorations of Jolliet and Marquette, the "Lake of the Stinking Water" received its final name of Michigan.

Another story recounts that Nicolet, the first European to set foot in Wisconsin in 1634, landed on the shores of Green Bay and was greeted by Winnebago Indians, whom the French called "Puans." Lake Michigan was labeled as "Lake of Puans" on an early and incomplete 1670 map of the region that showed only the northern shores of the lake. However, only Green Bay is labeled as "Baye de Puans" (Bay of the Winnebago Indians) on maps from 1688 and 1708. On the 1688 map, Lake Michigan is called Lac des Illinois.

An Indian name for Lake Michigan was "Michi gami."

References: Great Lakes Atlas, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shut Down Fishing Part II: with kids
Context set in previous post: same stretch of river. Same amazement. Shared with sons. No more text because I wore that out already and these pics speak for themselves.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shut Down Fishing

The land is old and the bugs are old. I’m a worthless human who won’t live too long. I’ll probably die right as I’m gaining 1% understanding of things. Every time I look back on a previous chapter I realize how foolish I was as the main character and that makes it clear that I am in fact being foolish right now. There is no remedy for this and it may be characterized by some as the ultimate tragedy of mankind. There is no remedy for this and all I can do at this point is try to immerse myself in things that are older and better than me. And get my kids on that same track. There is no computer program that can recreate limestone and there is no one who can make a stonefly. If you offered me a goat prairie on one hand and a dx50001.2ab computer on the other I’d take the goat prairie and then I might jackhammer the computer. Many, many things are frustrating. Legislatures. Budgets. Technology as king. Profit as measure. Profit as measure for God’s sake. That’s where we sit. And the irony of typing of this subject at a keyboard is another thing. “I don’t like machines, but I am constrained to use them; thus, the age perfects its clinch (W. Berry).” So all you can do, when shut down looms and uncertainty permeates your household, is reassure your family; know that a good worker will always find work (see Booker T. Washington), and go pay some reverence to something greater than you and in exchange walk away with some perspective: etchings in silicone and pixels on computers do not topple the real things in the world. They don’t speak to quality. Beauty is important. Feeling and memories of beauty are important. Watching your kids do something beautiful is important. Your kids’ financial future is not important. Not if things go right and mankind can still put boots on streams and walk in walnut groves. Jesus, why do we have to get all blocked up in this stuff when all we really need is good food, good walking and some geometry from heaven to marvel at? Wish I could dump it. Suppose I could. We’ll see.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that around 3 PM one day the urge to take a walk was too much so I did just that. I didn’t fish a trout pond or look after carp in the middle of town. It got to me a bit to drive a little further, but I pushed on and went to a place that I like. I hooked a cow there once. There is a grassed flood plain that holds a hardwood grove, of which some trees are black walnut (my son, for Fathers’ day, gave me a drawing of Famaly Tree Waly – in reference to the tree that defines our backyard; we grew up smelling juglones in Texas (and who can say that?); so in general we like that tree specie). My goal was to get caught redhanded in a rainstorm. Forecast said it would work out. The bugs were everywhere: complex hatch scenario. I saw march browns, light hendricksons, other light colored mayflies, BWO, caddis and crane files. All in the air. Hours or maybe a day or so before they had been in the water. With gills. Tight in interstitial spaces. Now in the air, on some mission that goes way back. Old story indeed. Anyway, I fished various dry flies. Mostly Adams. Some larger flies. Clearly I stood no chance of working out precisely what was going on but at this point I’m fine with that. The generic fly is somewhat symbolic of our level of understanding and what we deserve. I don’t need to figure it all out. Let the flies rise around me and let me lay out that 4 wt line in dramatic fashion time and again. That never gets old and it’s one thing about trout fishing that eleveates it above some other fishing pursuits: no big flies, no dapping, to jolting measure, etc. Just grace and arcs and careful setting of flies on water. I can say that I’m not entirely graceful but it sure feels graceful. And like I said it never gets old. I just like casting those flies. Thirty feet is optimal. Sometimes further. So the fish came and went. Some were released. Others, like the one on the rocks in the pic below, are dead now. I am indeed a murderer and there is no getting around that. I’ve been thinking on that one for years now. Decades even. Back when were little kids we used to stand in newly-thawed lake tributaries and net suckers. Freezing. Dark. Fish thumping into the net in succession. Then we’d take clubs and sticks and smash their skulls. We did this with abandon. Then, later on (another chapter) I wanted to let all the fish go. I’d get on my family members to let fish go; especially LMB. And for a long time I let all the trout go. Now I realize that it’s not about the individual fish. It’s an embodiment of the land and the stream: a beautifully scaled, sleek and powerful assemblage of dirt, water and air. There is no question that I love them. But they are a little piece of something that I really want to get into: flee the madness and insert oneself to the extent possible into something better. Recall that natives often eat things that they want to be a part of them… And that guy in the alien movie wanted to eat the aliens so he could fire their guns… etc. I want to eat those fish. I kill the fish to bind myself somehow. Needs even further evolution and thought, but that’s where it sits now.

The rain did come and I let it pour down on me. I got down to the surface of the river and watched the pounding. The fish stopped rising and then they started again.

The parting thought was a committment to bring my sons here. Did that just a few days after...

In the picture below: two beautiful fish (taped at 12.5" and 13.0" at home) took a cream colored compradun set just left of the riffle in that hydro-cushion. They rose perfectly to the fly and one even put itself on the reel.

"Haig-Brown discovered that the meaning of fishing lies more in its context than its practice: a day alone on a remote steelhead river; floating with your child; fishing a lake with your family… seeking a fish whose race is threatened by your own or whose ancestral breeding grounds have been lost to town crooks. Fishing is sometimes about a disinclination to go fishing at all. An important part of life – maybe the most important part – is the quest by each of us to discover something we believe to be more worthy and permanent than we are individually. Haig-Brown persuades us that the truth which angling can lead to about our place in nature is one such greater thing." - Tom McGuane

“But knowledge grows with age, and gratitude grows with knowledge.” Wendell Berry – from Andy Catlett