Tag Archives: Fishpond

DISPATCH FROM BEAVER ISLAND

From the Monday I received Kevin Morlock’s email inviting me to fly fish for carp on Beaver Island, to the Wednesday when the wheels of the Britten Norman Islander barked on the island’s rolling, old blacktop runway, I had barely 9 days to prepare. I was supposed to be meeting four fellow anglers – Cameron Mortenson, Alex Landeen, Dan Frasier (Media editor at USACarppro), and John Arnold (scumliner Media/owner of Headhunters Fly Shop) – and our three guides – Kevin Morlock and Steve Martinez (Indigo Guide Service) and Austin Adduci (Grab Your Fly Charters). All great fishermen and great dudes to lose track of days on and off the water with. I arrived a couple days after the rest of the crew with one full duffel, more than enough fly gear, no carp experience or clue what to expect, and (since the guys were out chasing carp) no ride into town. Sitting on the concrete stoop outside the one-room, whitewashed terminal/shack at Welke Airport in the close-ringing mosquito buzz and heat of the island afternoon, I could not have been happier.

Britten Norman Islander

It’s a special place that greets you in a way that’s more familial than hospitable, and makes you feel at home, even though you’re nowhere near home. From the “Hey! You made it! Here, give me your bags” when I arrived at the Island Airways terminal in Charlevoix after a 9-hour drive, one minute before take-off, and the “Hey! You made it! Close the door so you don’t let the mosquitos in!” when I landed and walked into the rustic island terminal; to the impromptu and gracious 3-mile ride into town from the airport and fully narrated history and tour of the sleepy bayside town of St. James by Chuck and Sheila, a couple who thought nothing of helping this weary, ride-less traveler get to the Fisherman’s House; to the smiles and waves that came from every car, truck, bicycle, pedestrian, storefront, coffee shop, and residence I passed on the street the entire trip; to the graduation party invite we received from an island family who wanted to include us in celebrating their daughter’s milestone; to the amazing dinner prepared for us at the Stoney Acre Grill and great table- and bar-side conversation with Liam and Marylyn, the chef and his wife, who are also the owners; I had found America in one postage-stamp-sized village, on a slightly larger than postage-stamp-sized island, just a 15 minute flight out into a far larger than postage-stamp-sized Lake Michigan.

The view of St. James on the flight in. Photo credit: Alex Landeen

Of course, just as there is no one way to describe all of America, the town and the island are fittingly tough to pin-down as well. In town, cottage-homes, shops, docks, picket fences, fishing nets, weather vanes, lighthouses, dunes, fog, old boats and older marine artifacts reminded me of whitewash-and-cedar coastal New England. A pickup ride into the interior showed me a rambling maze of dirt roads, close-arched hardwoods and pines, dappled sun and heavy shade, hidden streams, sudden-appearing lakes, deer, turkey, cabins, and small, homestead farm plots that hinted at the Adirondacks or (oddly enough) Virginia or the Carolinas. Running the boats out of the bay, an archipelago of pristine, brush-tangled islands with names like Fox, High, Hog, Garden, Whiskey, Hat and Squaw, miles of almost-azure water, skinny, white-sand flats, lakes within giant, windward-side bays, tidal movement, cruising, tailing or laid-up fish, terns and gulls, a horizon and sky that are one-in-the-same, weather out of nowhere and an ever-present wind out of somewhere had the Keys on my mind. The island is one glorious juxtaposition. Like I said, America.

And then, of course, there’s the fishing. Not only is Beaver Island a beautiful getaway, it’s a world-class carp fishery where it’s not uncommon to have dozens of opportunities to spot-and-stalk or pole after 30+ pound fish on those Keys-like flats or deeper bays with a fly rod. Not to mention the inadvertent 5 – 7 pound smallmouth that often steal your fly just before your intended target noses down on it. Oh, and there’s pike, too. Diversity is a wonderful thing.

An it’s a diversity (both from a fish and situational/topographical standpoint) that Kevin, Steve and Austin are uncannily in-tune with. Not only do they know their fishery like the back of their weathered hands, they are also respected members of the community that they call home for 3+ months each year. In the two days before I arrived, the guys touched a decent number of fish (Alex, Cameron and John each covered those days very well on their blogs and Vimeo pages). In the days after, between the weather, visibility, wildly fluctuating water temps and spooky, finicky fish, there wasn’t a damn thing we could do but soldier on, and I managed to account for the only two carp hoisted.

My first. Certainly not my last. Photo credit: Alex Landeen

This being my first time after carp with a fly rod, here’s what I learned: they’re a pain in the ass to catch.

There are days where they grub like pigs in a full trough and your backing sees the light of day all day long, so I’m told. But then there are days, many days, days like we had at the tail-end of this trip, when those rubber lips are zipped and you can’t buy a sniff or follow, let alone an eat.

The difference between the two outcomes can be as simple as rising water temps, a falling barometer, some chop and some cloud-cover. Of course, favorable conditions don’t mean a thing if you can’t put the fly 5′ past and 5′ in front of the fish 20, 30, 50 feet away, as often as not into a 20 – 30 knot wind. Drop even the quietest blip of a cast inside that window and see what happens. I’d tell you, but it would ruin the surprise.

On the hunt. Sometimes with no wind. Photo credit: Alex Landeen

We waded, poled and rowed the windward side of points and bays, which sounded counterintuitive until I learned that the waves churn in the warmer water, and churn up the crayfish, gobies and other bottom-dwelling buffet items, which carp dig.

Poling or rowing around the bays we’d see unmistakable pods of them from 60-80 yards away, some cruising in pairs, some laid up by the half dozen. Standing on the shore, we’d watch big submarine-shadows appear in the troughs of the waves, or catch their silhouettes in relief against the light bottom as they patrolled the shore in string after string after string after string after frustrating string of non-interested bogeys. Hundreds of non-interested bogeys.

On our last day out, blue-bird skies and air temps heading into the mid-to-high 70’s arrived. Cameron and I were out with Austin and we spent the morning running from likely spot to likely spot trying to simply find fish. It wasn’t till after lunch that they finally started to materialize. Anchoring the boat and wading to shore, we snuck up to a small cut-back bay that held at least 80 fish tied in a giant black and golden-brown knot between the deeper mouth and the shallower backwater. After a couple hours, at least a dozen fly changes, and several futile moves to other spots along the point beyond, I managed to fool one that immediately headed for Traverse City. By way of Chicago. Thankfully he changed his mind and returned, grudgingly, for his photo-op.

Back from Chi-town

Beaver Island was a stellar fishing trip, but just as stellar a place to simply get away to. And it really is a special place that combines the two as seamlessly as the island does. As our time wound down Sunday morning and we were all packing and cleaning the place up, I don’t think any of us were really ready to give up the ghost. But I can tell you this: while I may have left grudgingly, I knew that I would return, happily. And if I’m lucky, with the same crew we had this go-around.

The boys. And the Fisherman's House.

 

Thanks go out to the generous sponsors of this trip:

William Joseph, Simms, Montana Fly Co., 12wt, Fishpond, Smith Optics, Patagonia, Howler Bros., Scientific Anglers, Bozeman Reel Co., Angela Lefevre & Island Airways, Liam & Marylyn at the Stoney Acre Grill, Steve West & the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce, the Dalwhinnie Bakery & Deli, Bill McDonough who hosted us at the Fisherman’s House, Cameron Mortenson at TFM who co-hosted the trip with Kevin, Steve and Austin who put us on the fish that we did and did not catch.

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Filed under On the water, The road

SKIFF FULL-ON RUNNING

Skiff full-on running out of Islamorada open water pounding wave to wave in the backcountry fleeting bottom playing tag rising and falling beneath our haul and current rip sprawling flat to white sand pothole to grass edge to channel to suddenly skinny water again and again four days in a row dockside coffee and painfully gorgeous sunrises bow to still blazing overcast-and-blue to slate gray and blackening skies clouds rising up and over dragging walls of rain blasting the water’s surface swallowing each key erasing each from the horizon south north west east sounding like the wind in the hardwood leaves of my northeast youth rod tips buzzing electrically current finding its obvious channel we don’t abide till evening sore backs or empty gas tanks force us grudgingly to the take out

Here we are four names from four corners that have become grateful handshakes beers laughs and stories here we are comrades in hard-fought long-ass patrols staring in shit light at likely expanses for tails shadows pushes nervous water fish that make you forget to breathe here we have discovered that time is nothing and timing is everything here we wade into the psychedelic sunset and gulf-side glass philosophy of fly proportions hypothesize about the geometry of presentations and 30 knot right-shoulder double-hauls theorize about instinct and the insanity that should ensue and consider the futility of our efforts reliving every short-strike follow spook snub blown shot or un-buttoned fish grateful for the few brilliant cold bodies we brought to hand here we may be humbled and mortal but here our souls have discovered immortality

Immortality. Photo by Eric Estrada

Running

Thanks need to go out to those Comrades mentioned above: Davin Ebanks (flatswalker.com), Bjorn Stromsness (bonefishonthebrain.com), Adrienne Comeau (femaleangle.blogspot.ca) and Eric Estrada (iamwaseone.com). Thanks also to Mark Richens of Thomas & Thomas Fly Rods for generously putting us up (and putting up with us) for the weekend and the fine folks at Skinny Water Culture and Fishpond for the gear.

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Filed under On the water, The road

DEAR ALASKA

(fp note: since this piece was published as my submission to the TU Blogger Tour competition, I was selected by a panel of magazine editors, writers and other industry folks as one of the two writers that will fly to the Tongass this July and experience it firsthand.)

Dear Alaska—

I’m writing to you because I’m at a crossroads…and quite honestly, it’s about damn time we met.

You intrigue me, Alaska. You have for a long time. As a kid you were stories of sled dogs and Native people, hunting and fishing and smoked meat, caribou and salmon and grizzlies, rivers and mountains and daylight at night. You were adventure and frontier mythology. Life and existence and culture as pure and honest and close to the bone as the tendons and muscles under my own skin. I loved you for that—all of it—and held hope that there would come a time when I was able to place my feet on your soil and add my own weight to the heartbeat of your landscape and story.

Today as I write this, I read about the struggle you bear, as I’ve read for years now, and my hope to see you is even more intense. There is no way to feign awareness. Your story echoes from dirt road to marble hall. The burden of special interest and ruthless speculation carried on the backs of your precious and pristine resources, and my hope to join you is even more intense. You rise immense and proud and rugged and brawling, while the shortsighted reach into your heart and take and take and take shovelfuls in their never-full gluttony, and my hope to protect you is even more intense. Your people stand together. Your cultures stand together. Your mountains and rivers and forests and wildlife fight on, only knowing existence and survival in a smaller and smaller universe. And my hope to stand and fight with you is even more intense.

I read about the Tongass and her 17 million acres of spruce and hemlock and cedar and thousands of miles of pristine rivers and streams and breathtaking runs of salmon and trout. Your gem. A gracious open hand, sustaining her people and the world that extends from her feet. I’ve huddled and discussed over beers with others who have witnessed her beauty first-hand—like Beat poets wrestling with the philosophy of words and immortality—the immense value of her resources and her conservation. The importance of the Tongass 77 and The Last Salmon Forest and Southeast Alaska raising their voice in one unified and vital cultural song. I’m thankful that history has given us the wisdom to protect what we have in her instead of waking to suddenly find that we need to claw and fight to restore a fraction of what we’ve lost.

Alaska, I am at a point in my life where fighting for what’s important is not simply a good idea, it’s a necessity. Surveying the landscape of the next 40 years of my life, I have finally made that decision. My kids are old enough now that they have their own dreams and understanding of who you are. They talk about your landscape and your wildlife. They talk about going there to fly fish and explore with me, and my heart soars. They’re learning—and value you—because you are in our everyday conversations about the importance of respect and passion and care for the natural world we’re blessed to occupy. I think about the idealistic perspective I held at their age. At the end of the day, I know that my actions will speak louder and influence them more than any amount of talking I do. That is the point I guess, isn’t it. Our actions do matter.

It’s time we met, Alaska. I hope to see you soon.

Respectfully—
Matt Smythe

 

This is my submission to the Trout Unlimited 2013 Blogger Tour, sponsored by FishpondTenkara USA and RIO, and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water