Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lake Michigan 2017

Eight June episodes on Lake Michigan now.  Short story is that we didn't know what we had when we started; summary in figure 1 above (water level dashboard).  In 2011 and 2013 we lit the place on fire: fish everywhere in the bays; thick spawning groups; fish cruising rocky points adjacent to the bays.  The water in those years was approximately half a meter lower than the long-term average; roughly 1.6 feet down from average elevation of the water surface.  Now we're at 0.3 meters above the long-term number; so ~.8 meters or 2.6 feet higher than our glory years startup period.  In short this means that bays that were full of carp and bass in 2013 can't reach nearly the same water temps with respect to any given measure of solar radiation; specific heat is the study term I think.  We talked on this trip how it is entirely possible that we may never see those bays choked with fish again; maybe not in our lifetimes.  I talked with one landowner who noted that "the water has come back...  it was gone for a while and now it's back."  He termed the current state the "normal" state; his anecdotal agrees with the data.

Means further that Lake Michigan is reclaiming some of its rightful lakebed from the opportunistic terrestrial vegetation takeover effort.  We saw it last year, and noted this June that plants were dying and some had disappeared entirely.  A lot of dead woody shrubbery persists in some places but suppose wave action and violent storms will eventually dislodge now that the roots have rolled over.

The duty becomes adaptation and the study is after more water.  Which places on old air photos will now be inundated with water.  What water (that we recall easily walking in the past) will now be too deep to cross.  What water will heat up the fastest and stay warm.  What is sheltered from the wind.  We've added water to the list and some of it is quite good; the new good stuff.  This also speaks to why we don't give up locations when asked: doing the recon, getting there and being right about a place is a significant chunk of the fulfillment; wouldn't want to steal that from anyone.

We ended up fishing a lot of jungle water - that in the cul de sacs, with good residence time and thus the warmest temperatures.  The fish were there; some were spawning but many were just staging to do so.  Many were sleeping in the warm bath.  We woke them up.  The summary grade as I see it is a B+ or A- because we caught many fish, and we caught a lot of big fish, but the ideal Lake Michigan visuals - giant carp breaking off 90 degree turns and closing for ten feet to eat a bunny leech - were infrequently encountered.  We got some of those but not enough to put it in the top three lake trips.  2011, 2013 and 2015 still stand as the top three in chronological order; not quality order.  It'd be hard to rank a trip lower than fourth when guys were regularly not fishing to 18 lb carp that surely would have eaten; when guys were passing on dozens of fish trying to pry out the biggest females in the jungle packs.  So put it at fourth of eight episodes in the overall campaign.  

That said I love every one of these trips.  It's not what I'm getting away from; in fact my family is gone for a while and I can't stand being at home by myself; lonely.  Quiet.  I don't need breaks from them; I don't need breaks from home.  I would never leave here and sit on a chair and read while sun tanning for five days.  The trips are adventures or as close as we can get to them in this day.  That could draw a chuckle but really it's pretty serious: how would an average middle aged guy right now get closer to adventure than hunting and fishing trips.  We need a little substance with which to build some portfolio of memories.  Looking at the world isn't enough; have thought so for some time.  Put your hand on it and the memories will be a lot more vivid.  Capture something by difficult means or maybe shoot something to take home and eat; vivid.  Good things.  That's why we walk miles each day basically eschewing food and drink and staring at water searching for carp.  Key for me is going unencumbered: no boat to haul around, no giant packs.  Rod and a sling; light clothing and wading gear.  Free to go.  No schedule.  Wake up and have at it is what we do.  Pretty fun.

As stated we got only a few dramatic turns and run-downs.  There were some other takes that were noted and appreciated.  JM can chime in with his own suite; I will highlight these:

(1) Our favorite new water was screwed by wind; pounding waves.  Turbid mess.  We had been looking forward to fishing it for around 365 days.  Never did come together; we checked it twice.  Walking through the turbid water, we did find some fish up tight to shore, tailing in little pockets.  Nearly impossible to see; just flashes of black fin edges for fleeting seconds.  I addressed one of these fish after detecting it and immediately losing sight of it by setting a black (best color for turbid water) leech on one side of where I figured it to be.  Slowly dragged it across toward me, again figuring where head was facing.  Damn it if the carp didn't find that leech and eat it.  Kind of cool to take one from a tough spot.  I still can't figure if I felt the eat or if I just slowly picked up and came tight.  Probably the latter.

(2) Not a new one but I always need reminders on this type of take: the "half-sight-fishing" deal.  Cast to a group of cruising carp and just bass fish the streamer through the group.  I tend to not do this enough because so focused on trying to put the fly in front of a specific fish.  But in this case I did it, and came tight.  A streamer stripped through a group of carp; one of the doggers snapped it up.  Good reminder regarding meat eaters.

(3) We saw a number of carp cruising in groups of 2-4.  Not actively spawning just cruising.  Not the hunting cruise though.  More the idling/traversing cruise.  They could be had but they were not really positive.  And if they caught sight of angler, they were negative.  In one instance I got a good jump on a group of three, and instead of standing and banging out false casts I jolted myself with some discipline and crouched down low, basically butt in the water and line behind me ready to flip.  When they got close enough, I dropped a big streamer on the group; sank it and then twitched it on the bottom.  The last fish in the group swam by the fly, then did a 180, came back and set mouth down on the fly.  Another reminder for me: low profile very good.

(4) Carp mood is a big part of the deal as is commonly known.  After putting flies on negative fish for a while, I stepped into a shallow bay and saw one fish, head down, looking.  Searching.  I said aloud to JM there is the fish.  This one is caught.  It wasn't difficult from there.  Not because of any particularly good presentation.  It was the right fish recognized as such.

(5) We caught three 24 lbers and the first of them afforded another good reminder: don't give up if the fish isn't spooked, even if it comes within a foot of your own corpus.  We were fishing the jungle picking out big females.  I got a decent jump on one in a scrub patch and put a fly on her as she swam toward me; no go.  But I was a statue and she didn't spook. Swam closer; right to my feet and then past me.  To my 180 degree mark on the compass.  I twisted waist and kept feet set, dapped over her shoulder at a rod length and she at the fly as it fell.  Pretty cool.

Other than that just some captions.

Jungle fishing.  Heavier tippet required.

JM on a point reclaimed.

Flies we like to use are basic dark streamers of varying size.

Lake Michigan.

Deep in the jungle.  Warm water.  Calf wrangling.  Not ideal but one cannot ignore concentrations of large fish.

Wave-driven turbidity and dying scrub conifers.

For a couple days carried a backup rod.  Broken rod tally on this trip was (1).  Been quite a few over the years.  This ain't trout fishing.

We didn't take many pics of fish that were <20 about.="" hat="" have="" his="" i="" lbs.="" liked="" must="" nbsp="" one="" s="" smaller="" something="" take.="" td="" the="" think="" to="" was="">

Lot of fish cruising this water; really tough targets.  Difficult spot because so beautiful and the fish just came group after group.  We could see our streamers perfectly and put them on a hundred fish.  Wouldn't eat.  How it goes sometimes.

More terrestrial veg getting murdered by the new world order.

Simplest fly you can tie.  It caught a lot of fish.  I brought about fifteen of them; lost a lot.


Scouting day before JM arrived; this was one of the first fish of the trip scaled at 16 lbs.  Feeling good getting on the board.

Terrible picture but it was 22 lbs so had to set up a camera timer.  Biggest fish of scouting day.  Had hooked one that was bigger and lost her in a cattail thicket.  Got upset about that and cut my leader down.  That worked was a portent.

Never really spent much time looking into bass but they were around.  We caught maybe a dozen in the 14-16 inch range.  Most up really shallow.

20 lbs.

24 lbs.

Bass with a worn out C&R mouth.

23 lbs.

Captures our collective spirit I think: double in a downpour.  It didn't occurr to either of us to stop fishing.  We each hooked multiple fish when the water surface was broken by rainfall. 

20 or 22 lber; can't remember exactly which is a good sign.

I think a 19 lber.


20+ toad bastard fish with a pig gut.



Long mean dog right there.

I don't have all the pics at hand.  JM has posted some too.

Total of 16 fish that were 20-24 lbs.  JM got nine of them; two days he had three 20+ lbers.  I only logged seven but achieved a couple streaks: five consecutive days of at least one 20+ lb carp; can't remember doing that before.  And on June 12 there was a 19 lber between the 24 and 21 lbers; pretty good run of four consecutive fish.

We still think a lot about nets.  Have not found the perfect model.  The Frabill short handle in foreground has a great strong hoop but tears easily (we've torn maybe four bags, and this one pictured went to hell on the third or fourth day; it was brand new going into the trip).  Zip ties are good for field repairs; ball the tear up and make a pig-tail.  Works.  I'm toying with idea of putting a rubber basket on the Frabill.  One negative would be increase in overall weight.  Welcome comments about the best carp nets.

Thanks JM for another chapter.  We'll keep going.


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