Tag Archives: Simms

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.

9 Comments

Filed under On the water, The road

BALANCE

Cam Smythe was many years and many miles from his small-town childhood in the woods and water of Upstate NY. The quick smile, quiet confidence and thoughtful, inquisitive nature he had as a kid translated into a personality that put everyone around him at ease as an adult. Cam’s earliest memories were of fishing with his dad for early-summer bass from a canoe, calling geese from ground blinds tucked in late-season corn-stubble and toting a backpack full of Bowhunter, Field & Stream, Trout and Fly Rod & Reel to school for grade-school show-and-tell. They had stayed as sharp in his head as the first girl he kissed and the smell of the lilacs in her parent’s backyard. He had a mind that valued those details. They all mattered, even the fleeting ones.

His dad, a freelance writer and life-long outdoorsman, had always stressed the importance of good stewardship when it came to the land they hunted and the water they fished. Nature knows how to take care of itself, son. It has a way of finding its own balance. But when humans push the resource too hard – when they don’t respect the value of what they have – then nature needs good people to stand up for it.

Eventually, Cam’s fly fishing interests expanded to pretty much any species that swam in any of the lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that were within biking-distance of his parent’s house. With this new territory also came the realization of just how poorly people treated the water he was fishing. Trash. Worn, muddy trails and trampled brush. Fuel rainbows on the water’s surface. With each passing season, Cam internalized the value of his dad’s words more and more.

**

Four or five generations back, Cam had a great-grandmother who was full-blood Blackfoot Indian. His dad had told him how she lived up near Winnipeg after marrying a French Canadian, but that the Blackfoot Confederacy spanned from Alberta all the way south to the Yellowstone River. It was this land that the Blackfoot, Shoshone and other Native tribes ceded to the U.S. government with the understanding that they would retain hunting rights, which were eventually stripped away as well. In a way, this was Cam’s first introduction to the meaning of invasive species.

His dad’s gaze once fell on the Tetons, the Park’s southern sentinels, while on a trip west, driving north from Idaho Falls to fly fish the Henry’s Fork. He could feel Yellowstone’s pull in his soul, but never made it into the Park, even after being that close. Never got to see the immense expanses of open valleys and timbered slopes. Herds of elk, pronghorn and bison in their purposeful roaming. Never got to hold a native westslope cutthroat, perfect bronze-orange and flexing in his hand after falling for a hopper pattern. And with rainbows and lake trout steadily decimating cutthroat populations in the Yellowstone watershed since their introduction, it was likely that his father’s missed opportunity would be the fate of all anglers in due time. This weighed heavily on Cam.

Yellowstone was a place of myth and giant-ness to him. Even after 12 years of calling Ashton, Idaho home as a backcountry fishing and hunting guide, the Park was still almost unfathomable. It represented the original perfection of his country, its open spaces and wildlife, and the value of conserving those resources. It was where his quiet heroes, Native Americans and men like Jim Bridger, lived their simple, rugged and deliberate lives. Where the world existed in its gracious and unforgiving balance, and humankind fit where it was able. And where Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Outdoor Blogger Network and others – his quiet heroes of today – work to raise awareness and restore some of that balance.

Cam had moved west for many reasons. From a very young age, he knew he’d head for big sky and big country to live his life according to his passion for hunting and fishing. Cam also knew that it was his responsibility to be one of the people that stand up for the environment and the wildlife, as his dad had said. He understood better than most the effect of invasive species and how they push native species into smaller and smaller areas until the natives and their resources simply disappear. While the genetics of his Native American roots had thinned through the generations, their spirit and the west were still very much in his blood. He was there to make a difference.

There was one other important reason at play though. Standing on the shore of Yellowstone Lake with his dad, looking out over the expanse of glass reflecting first light, he knew that it was going to be a perfect day for cutthroat on the fly. The first time since Cam had moved west that they were actually getting to fish for them in Yellowstone together. Cam watched his dad adjust his well-worn Simms ball-cap and smile over his last sip of coffee. Actually, it was already a perfect day.

This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimmsYellowstone Park Foundation and Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.

12 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water