A great post from The Fiberglass Manifesto that includes "otherworldly" and "stupefied", August 2011.
A posts from Alex Cerveniak's blog, July 2011.
Michigan Carp & Smallmouth Bass article from Eastern Fly Fishing, Beaver Island, MI – Northern Island Angling Paradise by Brandon Butler. This article was published in January/February 2010.
Beaver Island, MI
Northern Island Angling Paradise
by Brandon Butler
Standing knee-deep in a pool of clear, aqua-tinted water, I look to my left, then to my right. Nowhere , as far as I could see, was there any sign of mankind — not a road, a building, another angler, not even a boat. True Wilderness.
Located 32 miles offshore from Charlevoix, Michigan, Beaver Island is the largest of the archipelago bearing its name. Garden, Hog, Whiskey, High, Gull, Squaw and Trout islands loom on the horizon, but only Beaver is civilized. To this day, the rest remain mostly devoid of people. Perhaps Piggy and his clan from Lord of the Flies could have carved a life out of the rest of the archipelago's wilderness, but so far, no one has.
The village of Saint James, located on the northeast corner of the island, is the heartbeat of Beaver. Now, if you've ever been to Mackinac or the Bass Islands, take what you know of Great Lakes tourist traps and throw it out the window. There isn't a single fudge shop to be found in this quaint community. Main Street has the essentials: a grocery store, a hardware store, a handful of restaurants and taverns , and one gas pump. Bicycles outnumber cars, and pedestrians stroll down the middle of the road with no worries. Defining the locals as easygoing is and understatement.
As I settle into my seat on the Emerald Isle for the two-hour boat ride to Beaver, anticipation gave way to acceptance. Month after month had been crossed off my calendar as I awaited the arrival of this July 4 expedition. Still, I did wonder about the relative sanity of driving more than 500 miles to fly fish for carp.
But I had been guaranteed by a fisherman I trust that this experience would be unforgettable: Kevin Morlock, a well-known salmon and steelhead guide on the rivers of western Michigan, is not your average fishing guide. He seeks adventure and pushes limits. His work ethic and Knowledge of fish and fisheries drove him to seek a unique fly-fishing experience in Michigan — his chance to be a pioneer. But when he told me he was designing a flats-fishing boat to target carp and smallmouth around the Beaver Archipelago, my initial thought was, he's finally spent one to many days in the sun. As I listened to him outline his plan for revolutionizing Great Lakes fly fishing, though, I know doubting him would be a mistake.
So as the ships engines began to rumble I took heart, yearning for the unknown.
Like most of us who harbor champagne dreams on a beer budget, I have longed for the Caribbean since first reading about flats fishing. Yet, I've never come close to saving enough money to go. Diapers and milk have taken precedence. The idea of steelheading maestro, perched atop a platform, pushing me around in search of tailing carp, was something of a substitute, an obtuse realization of a dream.
Carp fishing improves later in the day, once the sun's warmth has heated shallow bays. If your not a morning person, carp fishing is perfect. Wake up when you want, enjoy a late breakfast, sip coffee, and scan the headlines before heading out to fish.
On the first afternoon of my trip, Morlock and I left Saint James on a southerly route under the comfort of a bluebird sky. Hugging the eastern shore of the island, bouncing over 1- to 2-foot waves, Morlock know the south winds would be pushing waves of warmer water into the bays along the sparsely populated southern tip of the island. The water temperature in the main lake was in the low 60s — a bit too cold for aggressive carp. In the sand-bottom bays, though, where water depths range from 5 feet to mere inches, temperatures would be as least 10 degrees higher.
In the shallow bays, even from a 100 yards away, the big fish stand out as bottom hugging, ghostlike shadows. Pods look like islands of darkness against light-colored sand bottoms. Morlock hunts for carp by slowly motoring along drop-offs and scanning the recesses of the bays. Once he finds a pod of fish, he kills the motor , perches atop his platform, and begins silently poling toward the feeders.
Individuals and small groups of carp break off from the masses and go on runs in and out of deeper water. Go after these fish first. Casting to these cruisers from the bow of the boat is one method of targeting them, but I prefer anchoring the boat and setting out on foot. Sight-fishing for carp is a lot like hunting. Sneaking up on these fish isn't easy, though. Carp are extremely sensitive to sound and vibration. Slow, monotonous movement toward fish is essential to success.
Fly Placement is also crucial. Carp have poor eyesight, and they rarely chase prey, so the fly must be within the strike zone, which means within about a foot or 18 inches of the fish's head. However, you don't necessarily have to cast to the area right in front of the fish. Target where the fish will be, not where it is. Once the fish approaches to within a foot or so of the fly, your offering is in the strike zone. In other words, decipher a carp's route, then drop the lfy a few yards or so out in front of that individual fish. Don't drop the fly on top of a carp or the fish will spook. When the fish gets close — within a foot or so — pop, pop, pop the fly along the bottom to get the carp's attention. When the fish turns on the fly, get ready. Maintain a slow, steady retrieve, until the fish sucks in the fly. When your fly disappears, set the hook, and hold on. You just hooked a tank.
Carp feed heavily on gobies, and also eat a lot of crawfish. Flies immitating these two prey, such as Morlock's own creations — Morlock's Carp Breakfast and Morlock's Craw Bunny — are top producers.
On my first stalk, I slipped behind a large boulder, posistioning myself 50 feet or so from a pod of six carp. Based on sheer numbers alone, I figured these fish would be easy to catch, but they weren't. I worked this little pod for nearly an hour before, finally, a fish took. The moment is still fresh in my mind. I was growing anxiously annoyed when I targeted a carp cruising the outskirts of the pod. The cast was a few feet beyond the fish, perfect for allowing my goby imitation time to sink the necessary 2 feet to the bottom. As I popped the minnow along the bottom, allowing for a pause just in front of the fish's face, I watched with amazement as its mouth opened and inhaled my fly.
As the 30-incher ran for deep water, I tightened the drag on my reel a bit. Water continued to spray from the reel as the fish kept taking line. We struggled for 15 minutes before I finally brought the carp to hand. As I cradeled the fish, I realized that never before in nature had I so poerfully experienced the righting of a wrong. Carp are amazing. I released the fish back into the aqua water as carefully as I would have a 25-inch Au Sable "Holy Waters" brown.
I hadn't anticipated that a single trip could change my perception of an entire species. Going into my Beaver Island excursion, I knew little about carp. Many people shoot carp with a bow and arrow, then simply throw them to the wayside as if they are worth nothing more than a moment's excitement. Could you imagine if someone did that to a steelhead or a largemouth bass on its spawning bed? How carp ever came to be such a disrespected fish is beyond me.
Although carp fishing begins to turn on in early to mid-June, bass junkies are better served planning a Beaver Island trip sometime after July 1.
The smallmouth bass fishery around the Beaver Archipelago was once considered to be top-notch. Years of heavy fishing pressure and the population explosion of cormorants — waterbirds that can consume a pound or more of fish per day — have been blamed for a serious decline. In an effort to reestablish the bass around Beaver, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) instituted a restricted-time-frame season running from July 1 to December 31. The DNR's efforts seem to be working, because my personal experience with smallmouth here is that they are both plentiful and large.
The water clarity of Lake Michigan around the archipelago is amazing. You can see fish 40 feet below the surface. In the bays where the smallmouth flock to feed alongside carp, you can sight-fish for them. Imagine standing in the bow of a boat, looking into 10 feet of water littered withe dark shadows. You cast your fly to the largest, let it sink for a few seconds, and then begin stripping line. Almost immediately the shadow savages your offering. You have to muster the mental resolve to somehow wait for the strike before setting the hook. When you do, another 4-pound-plus smallmouth is on the line, bouncing like an acrobat across the surface.
Smallmouth, like the carp, feed heavily on gobies and crawfish. Flies that imitate either of these work when the smallmouth are on the bite. The difference in fishing for smallmouth, as opposed to carp, is the speed of the retrieve. When targeting "bugle mouths" (carp), slower is better. Smallmouth are much more aggressive. Retrieve the fly fast.
Bays and inlets are prime places to find feeding smallmouth, but don't neglect to fish deep water, especially over rocky humps and along points. A long point that looks like a tail protrudes into the lake from the southwest shore of Hog Island, and it holds bass like mud holds hogs. Take the 5-mile boat ride over to Hog from Beaver, moor your boat, and hike the shoreline, casting for smallmouth. The fishing can be fast and furious.
The archipelago offers lots of potential for trophy-class smallies. One day in the summer of 2008, Morlock and I boated five smallies that were more than 5 pounds each. I caught one fish that measured 23.5 inches long with a girth of 17 inches – more than 8 pounds of bass. The Michigan-state-record smallmouth, caught in 1906, weighed 9.25 pounds. The next state record is likely swimming offshore around the Beaver Archipelago.
While all the amenities of home are available on Beaver Island, staying here can make you feel as if you're a million miles away from the world. You can stay in a beautiful room at Laurain Lodge, (231) 448-2099, www.laurainlodge.com, or pitch a tent right on the lakeshore at one of the island's two campgrounds. You can pick up food for your grill at McDonough's Market, www.mcdonoughsmarket.com, or you can dine on lacal whitefish in the comfort of a local Irish pub, the Shamrock, (231) 448-2278.
The people who call Beaver Island home are a special breed of easygoers. They welcome you to visit their home, but won't tolerate your ideas of changing it. Unless you want to take a quick trip home, don't mention your "brilliant" epiphany about moving to the island and putting up some condos or opening a fancy new restaurant. Things are the way they are because that's how the locals want it.
When you leave Beaver Island, I'd be extremly surprised if you don't have "snad in your shoes." To find out what that means, you'll have to ask a local.
Brandon Butler is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
Kevin Morlock spends fall, winter, and spring chasing steelhead and salmon down state, in Michigan, but summer on Beaver Island is what he looks forward to most.
Greak Lakes carp article from In-Fisherman, Prime Time Carp by Kevin Morlock. This article was published in the March 2009 issue of In-Fisherman magazine.
Prime Time Carp
by Kevin Morlock
Time & Place: Late morning, early June on Lake Michigan
Air Temp: 79 degrees
Main -Lake Surface Water: 64 degrees
Flat Surface Water: High 60's, rising to around 80 degrees
Weather: Clear skies with a slight onshore breeze
Scanning the gin-clear water from the elevated platform on the stern of my skiff, I see a large shadow cruising near the drop-off from 2 into 12 feet. Carp love shallow flats adjacent to deeper water, when prevailing winds blow in warm surface water that collects against the shore and spreads out from there. The shadow in on a rambling track to move past the boat. With a little luck — and a well placed fly — I might bi into my first fish of the day.
Carp cruise with seeming deliberation that turns suddenly random at times, as they move from one pocket or depression on the flat to the next. Sometimes fish pause and mill before moving on. It's during these brief windows that an angler has a chance to hook up with one of the hardest-fighting , longest-running, still most under-appreciated gamefish in North America.
Carp get more active as the day progresses — sunshine on their shoulders makes them happy. So, while most other fish are hugging bottom, waiting for overcast, heavy wind, or evening shadows, carp are out while the sun crests and you're applying a layer of Australian Gold.
I anchor the skiff on a shallow hump just away form the traveling activity, not unlike a deer hunter positioning just away from an obvious main trail. The key is the deeper pocket along the trail on the flat. That's going to stop the fish and give me a chance.
As the shadow moves closer, I see it's a group of three fish — the smallest about 10 pounds, the largest maybe 20. The two smaller fish are golden while the largest is darker, a richer shade of brown. Just before the carp reach the pocket, I cast a burnt-orange craw bunny to the far side — the water's too flat to risk casting nearer the fish.
As the fish reach the pocket, I hop the craw bunny a few feet and let it settle. My grip tightens as the smallest fish turns toward the fly. Take it easy. The white mouth opens and the fly disappears. Wait. At the hint of pressure, I sink the hook and press the butt of the 8-weight into my gut. The water in the depression explodes. The fish and its comrades rocket off the flat — rod bent to the cork handle, drag singing a sweet tune, 100 feet of line sizzling off into the deep, dark-blue waters.
Ten minutes and a sore forearm later, I pull the hook from my first carp of the day. In the next hours, I'll land 5 more fish from this pocket. This is some of the most exciting fishing in freshwater.
When To Go
Throughout the Great Lakes region, carp frequent shallow water from April through September. Spring is unpredictable, with fish moving in and out of the shallows as water temperature changes with each weather pattern. The unpredictability of spring keeps carp tight-lipped at times. Cooling water in fall also means undependable fish in the shallows. So, prine time in June through mid-August, when carp on the flats are as predictable as Monday morning mail.
Good Things Happen at 70
Water temperature is the key element in site-fishing for Great Lakes carp. When water temperature reaches 70 degrees or above, carp move onto shallow flats.
Monitor the temperature in the shallows where the carp want to hold, not the main-lake temperature. It's common for water temperatures to be in the high 50s or low 60s range on the main lake, while they reach the mid- to high 70s range in the shallows.
Carp move into the shallows because they like the warmth, to feed, and to spawn. In the morning it's common to see fish move up on a flat and then immediately return to deeper water. As the day progresses and the water warms to that magic 70 degree mark, fish cruise more slowly, often pausing for minutes to mill, especially in deeper pockets on a flat.
At times fish also lay up and sun in the warmest pockets of against the shoreline. It's not unusual to find dozens to hundreds of fish lazing around in these areas on a nice afternoon. Cloudy, rainy weather sends the fish deep, until conditions change.
Changing a Location
Bays with warm water at times hold so many fish that beginning carp anglers, upon first seeing the moving black mass, assume they're in for a back-breaking day of angling bliss. They often end the day disappointed. Fish in back bays often are only interested in soaking up warmth. They can also be very spooky.
By comparison, prominent mainlake points offer protection ,and the adjacent protected areas seem to be better feeding places for the carp. I look for points with pockets that offer food, warmth, and quick access to deep water. On the Great Lakes, such points may encompass several miles of water.
These large points gather warm water with various wind directions. If the wind's from the west it blows warm surface water onto west-facing shores. Fish quickly move there. And if the wind switches, the fish move again. Small islands can also be good. They always have an onshore wind on at least one portion of the island.
Don't Fish for Spawners
Spawning carp are tough to catch, but you usually don’t have to fish for them. In the northern Great Lakes, various pods of fish are spawning from late May into July. When you see carp traveling in a tight group with lots of splashing, that’s spawning behavior. Eventually, the female lays eggs and males fertilize them. I don’t mind fishing in an area that has spawners, because non-spawning fish usually are nearby and can be aggressive feeders.
Think Before You Cast
Once you locate fish, you need an attack plan. Determine the general travel direction of some of the fish. Note travel routes and any spots where fish tend to pause. Then find an ambush spot within casting distance of these spots or along the travel route.
In picking an ambush spot, keep in mind a favorable wind for casting and also the sun angle—so as not to cast your shadow toward the fish. Lastly, plan the best route to your ambush spot. Carp are sensitive to movement and sound. I use a large U-shaped route to avoid disturbing fish.
Hunting, Not Herding
Once you’ve moved quietly into position, remember that it doesn’t work to push (to follow) fish. From a distance, anglers with flyrods often look like they’re herding fish with bullwhips. You’re hunting, not herding. Move stealthily into positions that give the fish a chance to get close to you.
Getting Their Attention
The thinking goes that as carp evolved into opportunistic omnivores in dirty water, great vision wasn’t that important. Apparently carp only see really well up close, although they’re certainly sensitive to and wary of movements within the larger scope of their surroundings.
Carp need to scrutinize their immediate surroundings in order to feed effectively. When presenting your offering, I think of a hula-hoop-sized area in front of cruising fish, and a dinnerplate for head-down tailing fish. That’s where the offering has to be, although that doesn’t mean you attempt to cast and land the offering right there. Again, we’re hunting. Anticipate where the fish is going to be as it moves. Get the fly there just before the fish arrives.
Once fish are close to a presentation, movement is important to attract their attention. As a fish approaches, move your fly or jig quickly in a pop, pop, pop sequence. Let it settle, and then repeat. They eat a fly as it pauses. Jigs often get taken as the jig reaches the apex of a hop. At times they take jigs once they settle to the bottom.
Big, Bold and Aggressive
Start fishing with the big stuff. If they like it, you’re off to a great day and haven’t wasted time with smaller flies, jigs, or techniques that are harder for carp to notice. Go smaller and slow your retrieves only when carp are reacting negatively to larger, bolder presentations.
As well as being exciting, sight-fishing allows quick assessments of what fish are doing, how they’re reacting, and what you might do to compensate. When I make a good presentation to an undisturbed fish, it’s going to react positively, negatively, or indifferently.
If the reaction seems to be negative, I switch to something smaller, in a different color with less or no flash. If I get turns and follows—positive reactions—but no takes, I make minor adjustments in color, size, and fly type. I also expect to have to experiment with retrieve style.
When to Find New Fish
It’s tough to leave an area that has lots of fish, but I have a rule I call “carp-ball.” I pitch my fly or jig to three different fish. If I don’t get a positive reaction from one of the three, I switch to something else. If I try this with three different offerings and still haven’t had a positive reaction, I get in the boat and start scouting for another group of fish.
It’s common to find groups of fish that just aren’t eating. There’s no point wasting half a day on those fish when there may be active fish around the next point.
That’s the essence of sight-fishing for carp. I also guide for steelhead and salmon, yet carp are every bit the challenging sportfish that those two established phenoms are. The option to see big fish before you catch them just makes the sport all the more exciting and challenging. The best days also are nice days to be on the water—times when most other fish wouldn’t be active.
I fall in line with In-Fisherman staff members who are interested in everything that swims, especially those fish that are overlooked as a matter of nonsense by large groups of anglers, who just don’t recognize beastly beauty when it swims before them.
Kevin Morlock is a writer and fishing guide from Michigan (indigoguideservice.com) who has often appeared with our staff on In-Fisherman Television.
Guided mousing trip on the Pere Marquette River, June 17, 2010 with Indigo guide Steve Martinez.
"Thanks for the GREAT trip guys! Steve, you really went out of your way to get us onto fish even though the previous rain had shut down the hatch. Our goal for this trip was to get hooked up with at least one nice brown… mission accomplished!
We went back upstream in the flies only section two days later at dusk and were throwing some hex and drake patterns we had picked up at BBT. We both caught 15 inch browns. I missed a couple on the mouse after dark, but it was so beautiful that night with the stars and lightning bugs, the big moon and the hoot owls… fishing became almost secondary (well, not really, but you know).
Steve, is there any chance of getting a copy of Ted’s photo with his fish? I figured you probably did that sort of thing. His wife will need siome reassurance that we weren’t just hanging out in bars the whole time!