Lake MichiganMichi gami
Length: 307 miles
Max width: 118 miles
Surface area: 22,300 square miles
Mean depth: 279 feet
Max depth: 923 feet
Volume: roughly a 10.5 mile cubic
Third largest great lake; sixth largest freshwater lake on planet earth
A lot of the world is indifferent to humans but something of that scale – a waterbody that enormous – is terribly so: the earthly pinnacle of indifference to pisant people. A place that’s seen ten different Paleozoic seas doesn’t have consideration for ephemeral collections of organic matter. We walk around on hundred-foot-thick limestone and we have no idea how to pay proper homage. I’m not sure but it might be an insult to even start thinking about how to not be insulting.
We go there and look around, fish and call it good. Hopefully that is right in some sense.
A few main points:
(1) Be careful what we set as standards. Recall year one: the blanking spanking donut hole for three guys. Zero carp. But we figured out why we got murdered. Year two: supreme interaction with carp; so many large fish to hand it makes me queasy to think about it right now. And then the setting up of the expectation: we hit the timing right in year two, and now we have it figured out… [that’s vanity]. So we had in our head visions of wild-boar sized carp accelerating ten feet to eat giant streamers. That shit did happen; no disputing that. Burned into my brain. We had in our head that year three would be that too: standard setting. But way in the back behind the excitement we had nagging grayness: it can’t really be that good all the time. No way. But yes we figured it out so it should be. A person wants to get excited. Looking forward to a trip is part of the trip. But I believe we were 60/40 or 70/30 hope/expectation ratio. And there isn’t really a way to study the situation beyond spotty data and moderately cryptic reports and information. Just have to head over there. So we did. And we caught eleven (11) carp in 3.5 days of fishing.
(2) Why the carp beat us: (1) water level: it was down. So good water last year (two places in particular) was reduced to unsecured holding areas, i.e. I don’t think the fish felt safe on those flats so they simply weren’t there. We had to regauge some things. (2) Timing was off just a bit. And that is a tricky thing to manage with a plane ticket for one guy and a nine our drive for another guy and six hour drive for another guy and families in play. Most of the carp we found were neutral to negative. Big groups of cycling/circling carp were present. But getting them to eat… you know how it goes. It was possible: we knicked a couple of them for sure. But ratio of work to fish to hand was too high. (3) Cloud cover. It was an issue.
(3) What saved the trip: (1) the carp we did get to hand were good and solid and nearly all of them provided sweet theater. We saw approx eleven fish that were ready to eat and we caught approx all of them. Carp totals for each day in order: 6, 2, 3, 0. Yes, a blanking on the last day (which was really only a half-hearted, half-day). Speaking for myself, I know I caught exactly this many carp, because the number is very low: 2, 1, 1, 0. John Montana scaled two 17 lb fish. The fish I got to hand were 12.5, 13.5 and 14.5 lbs (one fish went unscaled). Brother Joe caught what was probably one of the biggest fish he’s ever got to hand (can’t remember the exact weight though; could latch onto the internet trend here and just call it 25 lbs). (2) Smallmouth bass, being wildly unreserved and plentiful. Honest estimate is that we caught 100+ SMB. I say this because after one day we huddled and tallied our three –man estimates at 30, 30, 20. So 80 in one day was no problem. Plenty of fish on other days, although admittedly this began to touch on boredom, amplified by the fact that we were fishing to a second choice fish and the true quarry was beating us. I would have given them all back to catch eight carp instead of four carp. In closing on that topic: many, many fish were 17-18” and very few were dinks. Everyone got 1-3 fish that we measured at 19+ inches. JM got one that tilted toward but IMO did not quite touch 20 inches. According to Joe, these were the biggest SMB he’s taken. 90% of this was sight fishing too. See SMB, cast to it and wonder about how the take will come. Watch it layout, play the fish to hand. Release and repeat. All in seemingly-tropical flat scenarios. So maybe it never did get boring but it was a clear second choice. (3) Some novelty fish: we hooked a couple gar and I landed one in less than dramatic fashion. Interesting is the word I’d use to describe it. No skill involved. The fish swam toward me and I put a fly in front of it and it ate it. Fortunately the hook fell out right after it was netted and not before. Really cool fish. Exceedingly and deceptively strong. Badass might describe it well. Couple drum to hand, including one that 100% is the biggest I’ve ever caught. Not sure how big; just saying 35 lbs as internet estimate. See picture. (4) Good weather, easy walking, pleasant accommodations, good food, New Glarus, good company. In no particular order. We had it pretty good. The sun didn’t cooperate much beyond 40% of the time, but overall the conditions were kind to us in the way of wind, air temps, etc. The three people involved were in good spirits most all the time, I'd say. Which is remarkable therapy for me and probably them too. Remember that a life long goal is to learn to relax and that does not mean relax like kick your feet up and read; rather it means ease your mind and stop worrying about shit. Some people are dialed that way, some people aren't and of those latter, some apply effort to get better and they also try to think about to what degree they should change. Anyway, we got beat by the carp really, and we all maintained good spirits.
(4) Couple seconds here to recount the four (4) carp that I landed. Worth noting that there were almost zero snags, very few lost fish and very few if any “missed” fish that would have eaten. Some but not many. When positive fish were in play, we were deadly focused. Knew in many cases that we were going to catch a given fish. Nice.
a. Fish #1: after getting murdered at the first stop and watching JM and Joe both get carp to hand before me, we broke through some rushes into a sandy bay. Carp everywhere. Mostly neutral it seemed. But by some Godsend the first fish I put a fly on (was crusing in front of me right to left) slowed, did a 180 turn, advanced a bit and ate a brown strip of squirrel hair. The skunk mantle blew up into a million shards as the energy pulse worked its way down the rod and then back up through my arms. I suppose it hit my heart and I whooped a bit. 12.5 lbs.
b. Fish #2: absolute money memory burned in deep. We were walking spread three formation pretty far from one another, out on a rocky reef. Some wave action. Felt big out there; felt good and felt like adventure. Plenty of places to go over your waders. Up and to the left out in deeper water I saw a big black carp and I locked down in a crouch. This fish must be caught. It is alone, crusing, swinging horse head from side to side. You don’t let this fish get by you, punkass. Not many chances. I took a good angle and approached; aided by the wind and waves’ camoflauge. One or two casts to get the fly in front and past… then start stripping. Start staring and holding breath is what I mean. And there, the turn came. Deliberate turn toward a dark streamer and she simply swam the fly down and ate it stone dead. Simultaneous strip set and lifting of the rod and we’re good. JM got one 20 seconds later and thus we had our only double of the trip out there on that reef. Not a bad deal. 13.5 lbs.
c. Fish #3: probably favorite fish, although it was likely the smallest (unscaled). 100% cloud cover and raining. JM and Joe content to fish SMB. I was bothered though. Mentally I mean. Physically I was good: the gear did what it was supposed to do. I was walking and warm in a cocoon of Patagonia and Simms. Rain wasn’t touching me. Hands tucked up under my coat and I was dry. Walking secure like that toward a good flat. I’d had enough SMB. Walked quite a ways, out of sight of my mates. Punched through and looked. Very gray. Tough visibility. And one of those moments of wondering: is that a damn carp right there? Yes. Closer inspection and waiting, because I had them unawares. Four carp, marauding in shallow water, occasionally stopping and tailing. Tails breaking the water. I about puked right there as I got set up. So careful. I got a fly on one of the fish and you should have seen it: 100% truthful when I say that fish started running toward the fly so fast that as I retrieved it the fish came out of the water but kept on running. 50% of the fish out of the water and I guessed it was on the fly. Set the hook and got resistance… but water so shallow: I hooked a damn rock. Blew two of the four fish. But only two of the four fish. Another go then: same deal: an eager carp simply ran the fly down and when it ate it, it was damn near on shore. Not many takes I’ve seen like that. One ~8 years ago on Cannon maybe. There was rejoicing and the fish was landed in the rain.
d. Fish #4: the grinding, worked-for carp. We all three sat on the edge of the neutral carp and tried to pry a few off the edges. We got some. In this case, I had to adjust thinking and use faith: these fish were not deliberate but they were eating now and then. A 14.5 lb carp swam over my fly and I said screw it, she slowed just a bit so I’m hammering. Damn it if the fly was not an inch into her mouth. I suppose if we’d adjusted earlier to this behavior we’d have caught just a few more. Not many though. Most were spooking at us and if not at us, at our fly lines (in the air or on the water). One take home message: getting DOWN in a crouch is a must in those scenarios. Think of the geometry of it.
That’s about it. Other guys can report as they see fit. I grade it out as a good trip. Law of averages, etc. Study is required but even study won’t get you 80 carp every time. Which is fine.
Thanks JM and Joe for good companionship and good fishing. Learn a lot hanging around you guys.
The things of the earth are fascinating, amazing, bizarre, wonderful – and insufficient. We need more. We’ve always been driven to explore not only the physical world but our responses to it. Bracketed by mysteries, adrift, alone, despairing of our ignorance, we turn to the physical because there, at least, we can know a thing or two for certain.
- Jerry Dennis, The Living Great Lakes, page 263
I wanted to hold what I saw, felt, heard, tasted, and scented, and to possess it always – not like a tourist snapping photos, but literally, taking possession of its physical fact and keeping it with me always…
- Jerry Dennis, The Living Great Lakes, page 10
The place... catch a vibe re what we saw for landscape, how we approached, flats we walked. You might note clouds in most pics. This is representative.
The smallmouth bass... a highly legitimate and moderately interesting consolation species. Sounds crazy to say it because SMB are typically targeted in front of carp. But I'll be clear on it: they were entertaining and good gap-filling... but 100% not even close: they don't stand up. They are easier to catch and once they are hooked there is basically no way they can beat you; you can do what you want with them. I'll fish the hell out of them, especially in BWCA... but when targeting carp on a big trip they leave a bit of a sourness in the air.
This was captured symbolically on a number of occasions: we'd be fishing to carp, and they'd all ignore us... then a SMB would bolt from the pack of fish or bolt from out of our vision and eat the fly. Kind of cool but also a commentary.
Misc and other fish...
Biggest drum I've ever seen in person... more I think of it and look at it, the more I love that fish. Broke off a 90 and ran down a streamer; still like that one a lot.