Thursday, September 8, 2011

On the lake with the family

Katie got a great shot of the clouds
 Coming fresh off a morning fishing trip fishless, I was determined to catch some fish.

After getting back to the parents' house, grabbing some subway, packing up the minivan, and driving a half hour east, we were at Lake Nepessing near Lapeer, Michigan - the probable location of our fishing redemption! This was our third annual family fishing outing; we rented a pontoon boat, took it out on the lake, and snacked and talked and drank and fished. Not exactly in that order.

I had been studying depth maps of the lake, and even uploaded a .kmz (google earth) file to my home server, so I could load waypoints on my iphone. (In the "maps" app, if you enter a URL in the search bar, you can load any .kmz or .kml file that's out there on the internet- or your own server. You won't get image overlays, but you will be able to see all of your markers.) There was a hump/sunken island right in the middle of the lake; on the east side, the depth went from 5' to 25' in about 10', and seemed like an ideal place to fish. I'd read reports of nice pike and bass being caught there.

We had several things working against us as we tried to position the boat in the sweet spot. First of all, pontoon boats are not easy to maneuver. Second, the lake was choppy, being stirred up by a relentless wind. Our big boat didn't stand a chance against the onslaught, and our tiny anchor just dragged along the muddy bottom.

After a few tries trying to get into position, we just decided to fish. We put the boat west of the hump, hoping that the wind would push us back over the hump, and we might have a chance of some fish. We dropped anchor, and although it didn't seem to stop our movement, it did slow us down a bit. It was about 3pm, so hopefully the fishing would get better as we approached sunset.

Walter is a pretty good ship's captain, for a dog
It was a great time, it's always nice to get outside and do some family stuff. I helped Katie (the sister) set up a dropshot rig with a nightcrawler, then decided to add a bobber. She just got her first fishing license, and this was her first time putting worms on the hook by herself. After quite a bit of convincing, she even cut crawlers in half so she wasn't using whole worms. Good work Katie.

We fished, we ate deviled eggs, tortilla chips, blueberries, subs; and I proceeded to empty a variety of IPA bottles. Good stuff, IPA's. The grocery store didn't have any Bell's Two-hearted IPA (you know, the label with a trout on it) so I got Huma-hopalicious, which I first enjoyed at our rehearsal dinner almost a year ago. (Whoa, almost a year ago!!) Fishing, and beer, two things I love. Oh yeah, and there was family too. :-)

We drifted around the lake, without much control over our location. The wind was relentless. Every so often, we'd get a tap or two, but nothing strong and no hookups. After an hour or two, I was frustrated. I remembered reading a post referring to Lake Nepessing as "Lake Not-a-thing." I thought about how skunk-tastic Busse Lake usually is, but my persistence has often paid off with big fish.

Eventually we repositioned ourself to be just upwind (I think that's the term) of the weedlines. The wind slowly pushed us back into open water, but finally we were able to land some fish!

First fish of the afternoon! That's Katie in the background
Small, and not especially feisty, but hey- at least we beat the skunk. Caught a few more little guys, but at this point honestly I didn't mind. As much as I claim to love fishing, I actually love catching, and if I don't have a choice I'd rather catch dinks than not catch monsters. Claire landed a veritable monster (it was tiny.. at least it was pretty) but unfortunately Katie and my dad weren't having too much luck.

Another itty-bitty guy
We saw some other boats fishing on the west side of the lake at the weedlines, so we decided to move over there. As we were approaching, we saw a guy on the boat posing for a picture, holding a fish. It looked big. As we got closer, we realized it was really big.

"What did you catch?" I shouted. The guy turned towards me, and we saw the full length glory of what he was holding. It was very big. "27 inch pike" he shouted back.

I won't lie, even though writing a second-hand account like this always provides the opportunity to get away with it. I was devastated. Up until this point, I was happy catching dinky little fish, it was fun, and we were having a good time. I figured that was the best we could do for now, and since nobody else seemed to be catching fish I didn't feel too bad.

But 27 inches of michigan pike, now that's something to be jealous of.

It was on. I grabbed a different rod and rigged a white spinnerbait, something I've heard pike are very fond of. I began to cast feverishly; oh man I wanted to hook into something longer than 3". We were in a perfect position, right at the weedlines, so I cast parallel to the weeds just along the edge. When that didn't produce, I tried casting perpendicular, from shallow to deep water. Nothing.

I switched to a medium diving crank. Did the same thing, and nothing. No follows, taps; nothing.

I looked back at the boat with the master pike-catcher on board. I squinted, trying to see what he had tied to the end of the line. I saw something spinning, reflecting the setting sun. It seemed smaller than a safety-pin style spinner, maybe it was a crankbait? For whatever reason I didn't shout out again to ask him what he was using. I didn't want to seem desperate, even though I was.

I felt a little bad at this point, as I was determined to catch a monster, and had stopped eating and drinking and talking with my family, and gone into fish-finding mode. I scanned the surface, trying to find anything that would belie the location of fish. I squinted through my polarized sunglasses, trying to see any tiny flash under the water that could be a fish, any fish. Nothing.

Eventually, we continued drifting around the lake, trying different spots. I threw everything I could think of- cranks, spinners, wacky-rigged senkos, tubes, minnow-tipped jigs- and nothing. I knew I could have probably landed some more baby fish with some nightcrawlers, but that was of no interest to me at that point.

The sun set behind the trees, creating a beautiful painting of a sky, a really great backdrop to our fishing. I wasn't going to catch a monster today. It would have been nice to catch a nice fish, and it was frustrating to see someone else catch such a specimen, but it was still a great day on the water. When you get down to it, you can't really beat fishing on a boat, on a beautiful day, with family, tons of snacks, and many many delicious beers.

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