Egg Harbor Invitational
Probing the Fog for Salmonoids
The 16th Annual Egg Harbor Invitational Bass Tournament is in the books. No matter what your feelings may be about fishing tournaments in general, you gotta love this little homegrown competition. It was organized by a group of local guys who just wanted an opportunity to spend some time on the water, enjoy the company of like-minded anglers and have a little fun. It has accomplished that for sixteen years and running. I was invited by friend Gary about five years ago and considered it an honor to be asked to join the "group". The rules for the tournament are pretty simple. It is a "CPR" tournament, Catch-Photo(if desired)-Release). Each smallmouth bass is measured and quickly returned to the water. All fish count, as there is a prize for the smallest fish and the first fish caught. Prizes are also awarded for the largest fish (The Big Daddy), the most fish, the greatest total inches of fish and whatever other awards tournament director Ron deems appropriate. All measurements are on the "honor system". After all, would a fisherman lie? Well, maybe on occasion, but not with his fishing buddy looking over his shoulder he sure wouldn't! Since the prizes range from small amounts of cash to a bottle of wine or case of beer, there is not a lot to motivate anglers to compromise what little integrity they may possess.
Ed and I joined fifteen other anglers on Monday under clear skies and light northeast winds. The water temperatures on the bayside were in the high 50's. The warmest temperatures we found in seven hours of fishing was 58°F. Looking at my records from last year, on the day of the tournament water temperatures were 64-69°F. There was much discussion among the anglers as to where in the spawning process the smallmouth bass were. My observations indicate that they are everywhere. I had done some pre-fishing before the tournament including the day before with my nephew Mike who boated a couple of nice fish. Due to the cooler water temps there were pre-spawn fish just hanging out in the shallows looking for warm water. I also saw fish preparing nests and I observed males and females on the nests and males guarding nests with eggs. We even caught at least one pre-spawn female. In any particular area you could find fish at any of these stages. IMHO.
We did reasonably well during the day of fishing. Despite me losing three of the first five fish I hooked, we boated and measured seventeen bass including a couple 18"ers. Ed also boated a 29" northern and hooked into a monster walleye. This fish was in the 30" range and was tough to handle on a light bass rod. Ed did a good job maneuvering the huge fish to the boat, but at the last instant before slipping into the net, the jig came loose from the fish's jaw. If Ed would have had a better "net man", perhaps I could be showing you a picture of Ed hefting the largest walleye in his long fishing career. Alas, it was not to be. My partner magnanimously forgave me. Our most effective lures were small goby-like tube jigs but we did catch some fish on minnow baits, X-Raps and FlatRaps. Blue and silver worked for us. Again, a slow presentation was in order.
Overall there were 84 bass caught and recorded during the 16th Annual Egg Harbor Invitational. The Big Daddy (actually there were three of them) was 19.5". The afternoon ended with a gala banquet at Mojo Rosa's replete with beer and smart talk. Thanks to Ron and all of the participating anglers for making for a wonderful day on the water.
Speaking of time on the water, Paul and I continued our search for active trout and salmon out on the lake. We set out on Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by what appeared to be a fairly light surface fog. Undaunted we motored out of the marina and into the murk convinced that this fog layer would burn off or at least allow enough visibility for us to avoid other boats or the commercial fishing nets. Fishing in water from 120 to 65 feet deep, we dragged a variety of lures (fly-dodgers, spoons, J-Plugs) at a range of depths from the surface to sixty feet down. The surface water temperatures were 52-56°F. We did not have a temperature probe along, but the sub-surface water I suspect is still pretty cold.NOAA's mid-lake buoy, located about 30 miles west of Baileys Harbor, was still reporting a surface temperature of 40.0°F as of Thursday morning. We marked some massive schools of baitfish on the sonar, some forty feet in diameter. Most of the schools were in 75-90FOW. We also marked a few larger "hooks" indicating predator fish, but in over three hours of fishing we had had no hits and nothing in the box.
As we moved toward evening the fog did not abate and by the sunset, which we could not actually see, a milky curtain shrouded us. When it was time to motor up and head back to our homeport we estimated the visibility to be no more then two hundred feet. Thanks goodness for GPS! With Paul intently monitoring the electronic map screen and me perched out over the windshield peering into the featureless gloom, we slowly headed home. Whenever I am in this situation, and I hope it is not too often, I am in awe of the incredible skill of later day mariners who navigated these waters aided only by a compass, poor maps (if any) and dead reckoning. Often people comment about the large number of wrecked ships we have lying on the bottom of the waters surrounding Door County. What amazes me is that they did not all wreck! I have GPS, accurate nautical charts, and sonar and I still hit a rock now and then.
The trip back to Baileys Harbor was a bit tense. At one point a light appeared to starboard and as I strained my eyes into the impenetrable fog the ghostly outline of a fishing boat materialized out of the gloom. It may have been the Hickey's Southwester, it had the look of a classic Great Lakes fishing tug, but I could not know for sure. It passed silently off to our stern. Following the electronic breadcrumbs glowing on the dashboard-mounted GPS, Paul deliberately guided the boat into the waters of the harbor. I started to catch fuzzy flashes of light to port. Is that Anclam Park? Is that The Beachfront Motel? It was with great relief when we finally spotted the familiar flashing green beacon indicating the location of the marina break wall. We were almost on top of the buoys marking the channel before we caught sight of them and angled between the red and green. Home safe.
Tying off the lines at the dock, Paul and I agreed that maybe it was not the best decision to be on the water in those conditions. However, we also discussed getting back out on the lake sometime soon. The only thing I know for sure about fishing is that if you don't go, you won't catch 'em.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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