Blanking Carp on Beaver Island

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An un-interested and well educated carp on the flats of Beaver Island.

Our first day on Beaver Island I walked out to the beach and spotted the carp. Main Island, wadable. Tight to a rock. Knee deep water. A pod of them. Probably 8-10 in all. All of them over ten pounds, the biggest of them pushing 30.

Last year I didn’t see one carp on the flats of Big Sand Bay. You don’t see fish down there too often. We didn’t know that when we booked that place. But this year we stayed closer to town near a point where Dave Hossler caught a nice one last year. So I thought the fish might be there, but now I had a bead on them.

I tormented them for hours. They tolerated me but for the most part ignored my offerings. A good couple follows, a turn, a few refusals, one good solid take, one head shake and the fish was off. Nothing. After that, they moved into deep water. I toyed with them the next day too, and the following day, but to no avail.

Later, Kevin told told me that those fish had been played with so much that they simply won’t eat a fly anymore. They’re just too well educated in the way of the fly. Alas.

I had two days booked with Steve the first member of the SmithFly Stream Team.

It was the day after JP‘s Carp Trip, and the weather was much better than when Cameron’s Trip was there. However, the Mayfly carp funk was still in effect. Even the uneducated fish weren’t eating like they normally would because they were so stuffed with mayflys. Again, alas.

The wind was blowing a bit the morning we went out. It was choppy with 2 footers projected for the main lake area. We headed a spot called Indian Bay where there’s a dock that leads to a trail into an ancient Indian Burial ground.

We found a decent number of fish, and the mouth flaring meant that they were eating.

After about 6 casts I layed one out to a large carp headed straight towards the boat. One long strip, and pause, the fish chased. I bumped it  a few times, and let it settle. He charged it, flared his lips, and ATE the fly in eight inches of gin clear water, 10 feet from the bow of the boat. When the fish came tight, my leader was almost in the tip top. He rolled up on the surface and his big wide flank of gold shined in the morning sun. Steve let out an affirmative but understated, “NICE DUDE!”. I thought that fish would be in the net in a second. But as soon as the fish laid eyes on the boat, he turned tail and screamed away from us in a panic. He pulled the drag out smoking fast right to the backing, and then, NOTHING.

The line was dead. Fish off.

That was a good sign. Maybe the mayfly carp funk was over? Maybe the day would be better.

But it really wasn’t.

We fished the rest of the day, and found quite a few more fish on the various flats around garden and hog island. We found lots of lookers and one other hook up with accompanied LDR, but that was it. Maybe it was me? I dunno.

To save the day, and avoid being totally skunked, Steve took us to a known smallmouth hang out and we landed and dandy smallie. But it’s NOT why we go to Beaver Island. I love smallies but Beaver is about giant CARP — on the flats.

In Beaver’s defense, my skills just aren’t where they need to be, yet. You have to be able to know EXACTLY where the fly is, many times in choppy, wind-driven, water by watching where the end of your fly line is. You have to be able to move the fly the right way — one big strip, and then little bumps. You have to be able to put the fly in front of the fish in the right way, at the right depth, at the right time. And I’m just not there yet, it also helps to be a MONSTER caster, which I’m not. So really, it was probably , for the most, what I like to call operator error — me.

The fishing really compares to what I’ve read about Permit fishing, and no I’ve never landed a Permit, or even seen one in the wild.

It’s difficult and that’s what keeps us going back. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Kevin suggested maybe I should take up Steelheading in Washington State, it might be easier  🙂

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I’ll be posting a series of posts about other aspects our trip to “the rock” as the locals call it, here in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled.

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A Beaver Island, Iron Ore Bay, two screen monitor Desktop Background available here.

Here is a two screen 1920×1080 Baver Island — Iron Ore Bay Desktop Background, for your viewing pleasure.

Warning: use with caution, images may cause, air double hauling at your desk, stigmata windburn, sudden onset Carp fishing psychosis and Goby Love (don’t ask me what Goby Love is; i heard about it in a Zappa song one time). HAPPY CARP! I’m ready.

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Making turns and swinging flies for steelhead — a recollection of a holiday well spent.

Pinnacle: the most successful point; the culmination — highest level, peak, height, high point, top, capstone, apex, zenith, apogee — all phrases that I would use to describe how I felt after I FINALLY brought my first steelhead to hand swinging a fly on a two handed rod.

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A beautifully Colored Buck

When I took my first swing it was an intuitive roll cast, just a casual flip towards a stump leaning over the water, a beautiful, slick, foam-line, seam trailing behind the place where the stump dove into the cold current. I swept the rod back up to my left shoulder and gave it another stiff flip again just in front of the stump. TUG! My line was swimming, fish-on, boom, second cast of the day, a COLORED up 4lb Buck. Granted, it’s NOT a Babine 40 pound freight train, I get that, but it IS success, none the less.

It was a crisp 20 degrees with out an ounce of breeze in the air. Northern Michigan was coated with a 17″ blanket of fresh snow, the first big dump of the year. I’d spent the last four days making turns on Crystal Mountain and teaching my seven year old how to make those turns just like his old man. We had an excellent christmas dinner, lamb roast at the Thislte Pub and Grille. We did a little snow shoeing as a family. But, the highlight of my trip at that point, was the color on this small buck that took my second flip of a two hander. A good start, but not the fight or the take I was expecting.

I was fishing with Steve Martinez of PereMarqutteGuide.com and indigoguideservice.com. I fished with Steve on Beaver Island this summer, a story covered by Jason Tucker on Midcurrent. Steve is one of the fishiest guys I know. I know some fishy people. I mean this in the best way possible, he puts you on the fish in the fishiest way possible.

Having never fished a two handed rod before I was little worried about my ability to present the fly in such a way that produces fish, but right there in the first 90 seconds, I had hooked up and landed my first steelie. I’d been chasing steelhead now for two years in Steelhead Alley and always come back empty. Two years sounds like a long time, but I hadn’t really put in THAT much time. The Alley is just far enough away to make it difficult for a day trip, which we do, but close enough that I’d been there plenty of times. I should have hooked up on one of those you’d think.

My most recent run up there can be found here — a good time, but was fishless for me. Dues paid I suppose.

Relieved by initial success on the Pere Marquette and grateful to just get the skunk off, I was worried that the rest of the day would be empty, and it was, for the most part.

We swung the fly through tons of likely looking water. We rowed through great looking holes but Steve assured me that fish didn’t hold there, and I believed him. I made cast after cast, twitch after twitch. Wiggle, wiggle wiggle, flip. flip, mend, drift, swing, wiggle, wiggle wiggle, hold, hold,hold, twitch.  Repeat.

We had an awesome lunch of grilled t-bones and risotto — seriously, in the drift boat grilling t-bones, that’s pretty awesome.

Then, while I was immersed in a moment of complete banality, running my mouth in the front of the boat about some bullshit and finishing a swing through a good looking dark seam, an eight pound hen came out of the depths like a rocket sled and totally CRUSHED my fly.

Absolute destruction. She wanted it badly.

The fight was great. She had plenty of good runs in her and couple good breaches of the surface but no huge jumps or any sight of my backing. It was quick, heart pounding and as good as anything I’ve ever had on the rod.

She was perfect.

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A perfect Pere Marquette Steelhead Hen

We fished out a few more likely runs and I landed a few more incidental resident brown teee-routs, but no more steel.

But really, who needs another one on a day like that. She was my first, and will live in my memory forever.

The lore built into swinging flies for steelhead is is thick and replete with what, until that point, I thought was slight hyperbole. But now I know first hand, the lore of a swung fly take, is NOT bullshit. It’s worth every minute even if it takes two years and $1000 dollars of gas — Fuckin-A — IT’s WORTH IT.

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Beaver Island write up on Midcurrent

I was featured in a nice pic by Jason Tucker author of the  Fontinalis Rising blog over on Midcurrent recently. Great read, great piece from a great day on the water! Here’s the pic and the nice hook from the article, great work Jason!

By now most fly anglers have heard about the fantastic flats-style carp fishing found in northern Lake Michigan. If carp are not your cup of tea, read no further, but if you’re a carp enthusiast willing to travel, Michigan may well be your ultimate destination.

Carp fishing is often referred to as brown-lining. But fishing the Lake Michigan flats is nothing like this. It is indeed more akin to fishing saltwater than fresh—the water is shallow, crystal clear, and blindingly blue, and you’re casting to pods of large fish that can number into the hundreds. Many of the fish easily top thirty pounds and it’s not uncommon to see fish well over fifty. As in saltwater fishing you’re surrounded by the sounds of wind and surf and the chatter of diving gulls and terns. Nothing beats the thrill of a pod of large fish approaching, of trying to place your fly in just the right zone, of seeing a fish stop, follow and engulf your fly. In such shallow water the hook-up is often explosive, with drag-searing runs that can take you well into your backing. Numerous bonus smallmouth bass help make this some of the most exciting fishing anywhere.

You should check Jason’s Good Takes interview with the legendary Roderick Hawg-Brown for a good laugh, great stuff.

Beaver Island Trip Report

As I wrote in my little manifesto last year for Gray’s,  fly fishing to me, is in large part a pursuit of perfection. Not really an achievable goal, but none the less, generally what we are after when we are out there.

The perfect conditions, the prefect light, the perfect hatch, the perfect fly, the perfect drift, the cast, the fish, take, eat, run, fight, release.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Beaver Island, Michigan is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of it’s perfect parts. I’m not sure what makes it such a special place butI’ll try to elaborate a little. I fished two days with Steve Martinez of Indigo Guide Service, the only way to go, and well worth it.

The first day of fishing my 7 year old son came along and the next day the venerable Jason Tucker author of the Fontinalis Rising blog joined me. You’ll see Steve, my son and Jason in the pics below.

Cameron Mortensen of TFM did a spectacular job on an overview of Beaver Island so I won’t go into to much of that, I’ll try to cover the more tertiary stuff in a sketchy form.

The island is equal parts Northern Exposure and Bahamian Dreamscape.

The town, calling it that is a stretch, it’s more like a hamlet nestled comfortably into the landscape around a protected harbor. One grocery store, a couple places to eat, a hardware store owned by the island’s veterinarian. A medium sized dock, a couple boat ramps, a ferry landing and a few small boats bobbing in the breeze.

Once out of the town all roads turn to gravel quickly and the cottages become more widely spaced. The dense north woods fills in the gaps between the houses and keeps the sun hidden for the most part. It’s a sandy existence with a dense cover of ferns on the floor. For being so near to the mainland and my house, I was surprised at the level solitude. It’s only 8 hours from my house in the heart of overpopulated southwestern Ohio, but it feels like another planet.

While walking on the beach we usually only saw one other person the ENTIRE day. More deer, turkeys, and pine squirrels than people. Thankfully, the people seem to have respect for other’s desire to be secluded, which makes for an even more secluded feeling, bonus.

And then there’s the Beaver Island car wave. We took our car over on the ferry. Be prepared, everyone waves at you when you pass them in another car. It took me a few dozen times to figure out they weren’t just mistaking me for someone else. Everyone just waves to other drivers, like a Jeep wave for everybody. It’s that kind of place. Not like any other place on earth.

Knee deep crystal clear water extending as far as you can see. Big carp, willing to eat a fly and take you for a ride. Affordable rentals.  Graylight 4:30 am. and 11:00 pm. Solitude. Smallmouth. Pike. Deer. Turkeys. Loons. Ferns. Sand.

What’s not to like, or love even.

My wife and I spent an entire week on Beaver Island with two sets of grandparents and two young boys and we are already trying to figure out how to do two weeks next year.

I’ll post a more scenic pic set later after I edit those.