Friday, July 24, 2015

Lake Michigan 2015

Involved parties: John Montana, FunHogger.
Dates: 6/24 aforementioned scouting day; 6/25-6/28 main fishing days; 6/29 half-day bonus.
Water: Lake Michigan; see previous post regarding background and data.

Few excerpts for refresh:

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

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.

Sixth approach on the Great Lakes carp; five if you discount the prenatal ill-formed trip that was doomed from the start.  What we have is this: (2) grand slam expeditions that brought hundreds of carp and a lot of big fish, (1) solid half-trip that was cut short by abrupt change in weather, (1) series of days throughout which we were surrounded by fish, caught 150+ SMB but didn't fish the carp right and caught only thirteen total, and (1) most recent outing in which we were generally but not entirely foiled by what I've been thumbing over in my mind for the past few weeks: the immense inertia of Lake Michigan.  Can't think of a better way to put it.  Some would cite water temps but they are resultant; they are driven by the volume and the heat units and the winds and the ice cover and the snowpack and the rain; all of which seems to combinatorially swing in great arcs; inertia-driven conditions.  Markedly unlike these trout streams; unlike the great Columbia River.  Much more difficult to gauge and as such a bugger with respect to timing a fishing trip.  Go out to the water, the fish will be there, you just have to get them: that does not hold true here; it's not a rule; especially not for anglers afoot.  Come around here, wanting this, wanting that; you may be snubbed.  Drive a long way you might get beat down.

We've come to this general agreement when discussing Columbia vs Lake Michigan: if you want the greatest guarantee of finding a lot of targets in predictable locations doing regular things, you make haste to the river.  If you're up for a dice roll that may turn up box cars or snake eyes or anything in between; hit the lake.  If it's just right, you may be wading through giant predatory carp in knee deep water, most of which are a lot easier to catch than the Columbia fish.  I like both fisheries; feel intimately attached to both.  I accept Lake Michigan's unpredictability and I consider our time spent there to be a great growing campaign; not measured by any one year alone.

Two days ago someone asked me about this trip and I tempered my report noting that it wasn't too great, etc. etc. we only brought thirty carp to hand, of which five were 20-24 lbs.  He stopped and looked at me and said wow, I would do anything for an outing like that...      so I keep that in mind: can't let the mythic chapters become the new standard.

Tell some of the story via the following captions:

Walking into the first bay couple things happened.  First off Funhogger went off yelling about a giant pike or muskie hanging still on the lakebed.  He tried a series of flies; JM said put on the biggest fly you have; this fly was eaten on the first presentation.  Few notables: (1) the fly was six inches down throat, but the tippet held; (2) this was FH's first pike; (3) he dropped it in the water before any good photo taken.  I snapped this one as momento for him; about all we could do.  It weighed 11 lbs.  The fly fell out on first touch, given barbless hook; pike wasn't stressed too bad at all.  Second thing that happened was on walking the veg edge, the first two carp I saw hammered the LOD on great takes.  Both took me into veg and broke me off.  This felt like a good omen at the time; we would learn though that we wouldn't get many such takes going forward. 
The locals said the water was "up 30 inches."  Looking at the ACOE data, it appears that it's up ~30 inches cumulative over past two years.  And it had been below average leading up to that increase.  Whatever the case, there is a lot of water.  These veg mats were not fishable last year.  This year, because the main bodies of the bays were so cold, these areas held a lot of carp given the dark matter heat sinks and the reduced flushing.  To get the skunk off, we all three walked this water and got some carp to hand. 
This was one of the typical encounters.  Quite a few stationary fish.  Could get some to eat.  Main technique I used was extrapolating the paths of cruising fish and intercepting them while crouched hiding; fly already in water waiting.  

This got old though.  Hook a fish; it'd run under 34 feet of veg and pop out somwhere; run over and net; spend ten minutes untangling everything.  Not why we go to Lake Michigan.

We spent time wading the main bays; hoping.  Never materialized though.  Water was too cold. 
One irony was that in general we had pretty good light the entire time.  Even into some of the later hours of day.  Just no fish out in the bay propers where it's fun to stalk and cast.

Check this little flat every year and we have never seen one carp there.  Beautiful water.  Will continue to check it.

The other dimension is walking rocky points, looking for fish that are cruising/circulating.  Possible that they are out swimming in the top-most water that is the main photic zone on sunny days.  Hard to say though.  This is my favorite deal.  Fish we find out here are gamers, plain and simple.  If you do it right, they will eat.  Most of the time.

This is it...   what I love.  Dead clear water.  Easy wading flats.  Unending mystery.  Chances at giant fish.  All visual.  This photo says it for me.

JM was on point here and he stuck a big one up by that flooded tree line.  Edge of a big rocky flat now pushing up into the trees due to high water.

Also appreciate the home base and simplicity of our collective existence over these days.  Few clothing items, waders, boots, rods, reels.  One focus.

First big fish was FH with a 23 lber out along a series of little rocky points.

24 lber that ate my favorite fly for this setting: simple clouser half and half.  Black and purple.  Big meat.  It was  solo fish coming toward me; cast to the side and watched it move to the fly; ate it mid-column.

The pug nosed 20 lber (maybe 22 lber?) from the flooded shore edge.  What a backdrop.

One of our favorite flats.  Not too many good shots this year, but JM and I each stuck one nice fish on big meaty flies.  The carp pictured here followed JM's fly for 20 feet, pausing and surging forward in succession leading up to the eat.

As noted we ended the log with thirty carp to hand.  I can't remember the day by day totals, but because there were so few caught, I do remember this was my sequence: 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 2.  For a total of thirteen carp (but I logged that extra scouting day).    Not a big number.  But that includes  22 and 24 lb fish.  I know JM got seven in one day.  We all caught some fish; got some great takes.  Overall we got five 20-24 lb carp to hand.  Regarding SMB the numbers were down too, but still caught a pretty good number.  Other than the pike, no odd fish.  JM and FH each saw some gar.  Put some casts on a giant catfish.  I had a pike bite me off.  Nobody caught a drum.  On the last day we conceded and in consult with some great local guys we headed away from our main water to try some new angles; interesting spectacle really; too late to cover that right now; will check in later; good night. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lake Michigan: Day Zero

Never had a day on Lake Michigan by myself prior to June 24, 2015.  Here is how it came about.  When we were kids we spent every summer from third grade through ninth grade 47 northwest of San Antonio TX.  We used to dam up Cherry Creek such that most summers we never did take showers or baths only swims.  One year our great uncle brought a sheet of poly down there to the creek and he let the current push it up against the rocks thereby greatly improving the function of the dam.  We would dive down into the bed looking for triangles of chert; the knapped weaponry.  Always wary of snakes.  Never walking too far into the meadow for the sand burrs.  We rode in a truck bed standing with our elbows on the roof of the cab looking through scopes; at night we listened to stories and legends.  Days we worked mostly: there was unending mowing, rock picking, fence painting and tree pruning.  I think in fifth or sixth grade I was put to the wheel of the truck and we three boys would go out on jobs alone here and there. I figure I've romanticized it some but the overall message is that we valued those days and accordingly we try to set up some time for our boys to take leave of home and log some time with their grandparents.  So it was in late June: no kids around.  We enjoyed some time at home focusing spouse to spouse; this was a trip in itself; and then when the day came to pick up John Montana and Funhogger I figured people around here tired of me so I might as well drive over 5 AM instead of 5 PM.  Do some exploring.

All I did here was look at air photos.  Lake Michigan.  Quite a few carp.  Where would they come up close that one might approach them with a fly.  My top prospect was blocked by (1) an expanse of impenetrable cattails, and (2) what I took to be a drug deal in a remote parking lot when I asked a guy if he knew "how to get back to that delta" and he looked at me hollow-eyed and middle-aged and pot-bellied and said "I don't have any idea what you mean" and I wondered what in the hell he could be doing way back here if he wasn't looking for birds or fish; when I walked back to the lot I had a big slug of limestone palmed just in case but it wasn't needed.  This was a whiff, not because no carp (I'm sure they are there now and were there then); but because no access.

The second prospect is pictured below.  The access was gained by the ancient method of walking around until finding something.  In this case it was a dead end road with a drag channel for a canoe.  Waders on, walk out.  Will one sink; unclear.  But walk out and see.  No, one will not sink.  In fact it's quite hospitable.  And there were carp in all directions.  First I went left into the windward; this was too turbid; I don't know anyone who could have caught those carp; I was pushing wakes.  Fish everywhere; dozens spooked without actually seeing a single scale.  Maddening.  So walk into the wind and use geometry to find a lee.  

Still difficult but manageable, as pictured here.  Some carp were grouped up apparently spawning or preparing.  Others were feeding; others just holding.

This was my view; extreme care was necessary.  Slow moving; even heron-standing.  Water-pushing was the surest way to alert all carp to presence.

Typical fight scene.  Plowing through vegetation.  It was not dramatic; no runs.  Althought the first fish broke me off running into cattails.  Two biggest fish I hooked broke me off, using the locale to advantage.  

Ended up hooking five and landing three carp in a few hours.  I left in the name of recon: I understood this place and what it offered; needed to look further up the shore.  

I believe the three fish landed were 8, 13 and 9 lbs.  This is how one weighs a carp: put in net, hook scale onto net; read output; subtract tare.  

This fly hooked all the fish on this day.  It's a good one.

Subsequent exploration found carp, but not the right situations.  As has been noted, it's the situations that are sought.  Anyone can find carp.  So I blew out of there and picked up my guys.  We were notably excited; we had high expectations.

What joins men together is not the sharing of bread but the sharing of a quarry (adapted from Judge Holden, CM), and we were thus focused.