Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Spot

***Note:  I have made it a point on this blog to not name names or call out places.  I think this post requires a little different approach.  You won't have to look far to figure it all out.  I feel the least I can do, given the day I had,  is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for you to experience the place on your own someday...and, when you do, I can say with complete confidence, that you need not look for a guide.  I already found him for you.***

The guy's name is Luke and his photography is pretty sweet.  He has a style that appeals to him...and I agree.  Not the least important element of his images are the settings where he pulls the trigger, capturing on digital files some of the places that I haunt and some that I just want to. 

It didn't take long in the small Midwestern fly fishing circles for our paths to cross.

Last winter at a fly shop gathering I found myself leaning on a fly bin listening with intrigue as he told me about what he was doing and seeing on the south shore.

He's a Southie.
Me a Northie.  

He's got sand and sandstone.   I had basalt, granite and water washed cobble.  I had lake trout, coho, kings and brook trout.  He's got those too, plus browns as well as  pike, carp, smallmouth , walleye, and other warm water fishes.  I had cold water meeting cliffs and unforgiving shorelines dropping off to hundreds of feet of depth.  He's go that as well, but with bays, shallows, flats... along with greater fluctuations in water temp and seiche "tides" that create a whole new can of variables.  Interesting stuff.
He left me with an invitation to call him when I got up his way.

I'm not one to forget these kinds of things so when my family and I decided to vacation on the south shore, I shot him a message and we put a plan together.

At 8:00 this morning (right on time) he pulled up to the dock after pulling a cool hat trick (remind me to tell you over a beer sometime) that I was sure was meant to impress my wife but that he swears was just plain dumb luck.

He had just finished a multi-mile run from his launch dock and ran the last two miles exposed to the full wave action of Lake Superior in his Ranger that looked for all the world like a flats skiff but handled the chop like a bay boat.  Brilliant choice.

I thanked my wife for the shuttle and off we went, headed for the shelter of the big bay he guides and pays attention to all summer long.  The water was in the high 60's and low 70's, something a Northie might see for two days on a hot summer up there.  We rounded a point and immediately the deep blue gave way to aquamarine gave way to 4' of clear lake over sand.  A Lake Superior flat.  Without going into too much detail, let me say that trying to figure out where the small mouth bass are on this bay is worth the price of a guide.  I consider myself to be an interested and energetic fly fisherman, but chances are good that without Luke's help I would have been floundering over the wrong water for more time than married man with kids on vacation is allowed to fish.

We fished anchored up.  I fished as Luke poled.  We waded too.  Given the backdrop, if our targets  had been bonefish or permit it wouldn't have surprised me except that I was pretty sure I hadn't booked a flight to get here.

Mostly sight fishing.  Or, in my mind, Nirvana.

I'll admit right now that I represented myself as an adequate angler rather poorly.  I farmed a pile of fish and I'm still not sure why they came unpinned.  But, between the stunning setting, the graciousness of my host and the enlightening conversation, the fact that I wasn't converting seemed a small price to pay.  On one occasion as we waded, I hooked and promptly lost 3 fish that I'll call 17 inchers though I may be wrong either way about their size.  The fish in this bay are strong fighters and can pack it on to the tune of 22-23".  And that my gentle readers, is a giant small mouth.  Luke told me that the big fish here can be as much as 20 years old and mentioned that he may be catching from his skiff, the same fish that he hooked as kid from the dock.  Chew on that for a minute.

Somewhere out in the blue water a salmonid of size breached and sent spray flying. It was probably less than 200 yards from where I was double hauling for a small mouth and yet it felt like I was in the Bahamas.  This was seemingly all the things I want from a place...all at once.

With a great eye for not only spotting fish but also the sweetness of a resource like this bay, the patience to watch and learn and the conviction to keep the places he loves healthy, I tip my hat to you sir.

For allowing me along to spend the day as a guest on your skiff I say, "Thank You".

You can view some of Luke's photography and his essays at his blog:

Spend a day like mine by reaching Luke via Anglers All in Ashland WI:

Saturday, August 9, 2014


The family and I packed up and jumped in my truck for a week up north on an island along Lake Superior's south shore.  My boat in tow, was jammed with bikes, coolers, lawn chairs and every other conceivable vacationing artifact.  Luckily the tires stayed inflated and the ferry only dinged me an extra $50 for the ride across.  The young lady selling the ferry tickets looked through the passenger window at me and said, 2 adults, 2 kids 1 vehicle and the boat and trailer?"  I said, "Yes and the dog".  "Oh, the dog is free, but I just need a sec to measure your little boat".  Which my wife thought was hilarious.   I wanted to go into a witty joke about guys with big trucks and big boats and then reflect on the symbolism of my small truck and small boat...but I couldn't compress my thoughts into a quick comeback and I let it slide despite continued giggles.

Suffice it to say the week came and went.  We scored a backdoor deal to use a private dock and beach that kept the kids and the dog confined and happy.  The kids swam and so did the dog.  My wife hit the lawn chair, read her book and the bikes were used.    I stole away for an hour in a rented canoe and paddled through a rainstorm firing flies at the tannin stained backwaters of a lagoon.  Pike and Bass in evidence.  I spent a day fishing with LK  (more on this in the next post) and another on my skiff with McSteel, shamelessly trying to apply what I had learned from LK the day before.

McSteel and I also took advantage of the yard space to line up various switch rods and lines to let fly.  There may be no finer way to tend a grill than exchanging tongs, for rods, for beers...and repeat.

The rented cabin left a lot to be desired even with the free snake and toad in the basement, but we lived and let live.

At the end of it all, sun darkened weary vacationers loaded up the small truck and tiny boat and headed south where my decompression Sunday took a turn when it was discovered that a contractor's nail had found its way through a waterline in my house. 

Vacation over.

rigging is cool

Sand Hill Cranes

rating: 1 star

at the food trough...a brilliant dragon waits.
Dog of Thunder

mid flight

Great Lakes sand

Private Playground (Thanks Frank!)



McSteel beaching it.

loading the rod...

On the platform
wet wading

long ball hitter

mowing the lawn

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Push Polin'

It got toward the end of a long week of home improvement and I decided that I needed to finally climb up and pole this boat around.  I shot a note to MK and he obliged.  (And by obliged I mean he agreed to fish while I pushed his ass around.)

We hit the local river and had very low expectations as the water this time of year makes for a pretty soupy mess.  I was surprised to see relatively good visibility, probably 18" though a decidedly green tint.

I politely asked him to try and stay centered and not make any sudden movements as i climbed up onto the platform, pole in hand for the first push.

We eased on down the river.

The small baitfish and tiny gills were gorging on hatching damselflies.  The biggest hatch I have ever seen of this particular critter.  I was hoping, as was MK, that it might trigger a major feeding event and that 5 pound largemouth bass would fall all over MK's fly. 

But that didn't happen.

The fishing actually sucked...but the poling was sublime.  After about 30 minutes I climbed down, grabbed my camera and carried it back up.  If I wasn't going to fall off I might as well take some pics.

We spotted some glumping carp back deep in an algae carpet and it seemed like not only our best target of the evening but also a decent test of the poling capabilities.  I pushed.  The boat went.
I will admit that the current was almost nonexistent and the wind was dead, but this trip solidified what I though I already knew about opens some new doors and is a helluva lot of fun.