Harbingers of Fall (and Winter)
Pike in Baileys Harbor
We all have our indicators of the coming of the Fall season and the looming long winter. Some are universal; the vivid Autumn colors the forests assume, the first bite in the air as we step outside in the morning, the pervasive pumpkin spice flavored offerings in everything from our coffee and donuts to ice cream and Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioneds. Other indicators are a little more unique to Door County and northern Wisconsin. Local homeowners building up their wood supplies, the summer residents hustling about preparing for the annual migration south to Florida or Arizona, the county trucks newly festooned with snowplows and sand spreaders. Or the fact you can now find a parking spot in downtown Baileys Harbor or at The 57.
I have my own markers that let me know that I had better start counting the days left for Fall fishing. Top among them is the exodus of boats from the Baileys Harbor Marina. The once occupied boat slips are now yawning empty as boat owners pull boats and prepare them for winter storage. On a recent drive past the marina this week I spotted only the Silver Strike floating forlornly beside the transient pier waiting for its hull to be lifted from the water at the end of a successful fishing season. The rod holders on the charter boat now void of rods, the outriggers and downriggers stowed, hatches buttoned up. Sad.
The process of preparing the marina for the off-season has started. The piers on the south side have already been removed and are stacked helter-skelter along the stone breakwater. The annual dredging will begin soon as evidenced by the trailer parked next to the boat ramps loaded with dredging equipment. Soon enormous black fabric bags will be filling up the marina parking lot as dredge spoils are pumped up from the marina basin and the excess water squeezed out.
The launch ramp docks are still in place however (as of Friday morning). I have not had much chance to make use of them with all of the winds we have had in the last weeks. Gale warnings and small craft advisories have kept me off the water and in the woods. The Pamela Ann, although a stable craft, cannot abide 5-footers. However, one day last week as I was driving past Lakeview Park at the south end of Baileys Harbor I observed the lake surface was uncommonly smooth. Although we were experiencing a brisk breeze, it was from the northwest and the bluffs in town protected most of the harbor waters. Since it had been almost a week since her hull had met water, I decided to take the Pamela Ann out for a fling. Hurrying up Bluff Road to my house, I quickly prepared my equipment (too quickly, it turned out), hitched up the trailer to the pickup and headed to the marina. One of the great advantages to Fall fishing is that there is not a lot of competition from other anglers. I was the only one at the ramp so the boat was in the water and tied up to the dock in short order. No problem finding a parking spot in town for my rig. Within a matter of minutes I was powered up and making my way between the harbor entrance buoys. (They won't be out there much longer.)
The fishing in the Autumn months can be rewarding, but spotty. There are still a few Fall run Zombies around as well as brown trout and smallmouth. I tend to catch my biggest bass of the year during the Fall. They are fat and aggressive, particularly on the bayside. However, on the lakeside bays the target species is typically northern pike. I quickly motored out to the calm waters in the center of the bay and put the slight breeze to my back. I decided to employ some lures that would entice a big pike but would also be bit by a passing brown trout. I set out an array of floating Rapalas of various colors (orange, fire-tiger and purple) one on a planer board and the others on straight lines off the transom. I was a couple of hundred yards off the Beachfront Motel, in the midst of setting my third line when the planer board shot backwards and the inner rod started to throb. Fish on!! I was not quite ready for this. Rod in hand, I had to step over a mess of tackle boxes and spare rods to get to the now bent over rod. Jamming the partially deployed rod in a rod holder, I grabbed the active rod and began to bring the board to boat side. Once I got the board detached from the line, I could feel it was a nice fish. The steady power and lack of surface action indicated a solid pike. Sure enough, the unmistakable dark green sides and bright yellow-white markings of the Esox lucius could be plainly seen in the clear bay waters. Often I hand land pike, but this one needed the net, the net I had not yet prepared and was still lying in the bow of the boat. Crow hopping to the bow with the battling fish causing the rod to randomly jerk violently, I grasped the net handle with my free hand and attempted to nose the fish into the bag. I wish I had a bigger net. After a few failed attempts, I eventually flopped the fish into the floor of the boat. Another mistake. As pike are apt to do, it began to twist and spin further making a mess of the tackle I had incompetently left in the bottom of the boat. I grabbed my jaw spreaders and forceps and started the near surgical process of extracting the lure from the fish. To make matters even more challenging, the pike had totally inhaled the 13-centimeter Rapala. The bright orange length of balsa wood was deep inside its gaping mouth. Doing my best not to injure the fish as I was planning a clean release, I tediously extracted the three dangling treble hooks one by one until they fish was free of the lure. Hastily taking a selfie of me and the pike, I slipped the fish back into the water and it swam away seemingly no worse off for the experience. There was some blood. Mostly mine.
Once the fish was released, I took some time to clean up the mess and now properly stow my equipment. I motored back to my original starting point and again set my lines with anticipation of another big pike. However, as I was preoccupied with dealing with the fish, I had not noticed that the wind had shifted to the north, removing my protection by the bluff. Not only that, but the wind had freshened and now held a significant cold bite it had lacked before. Before I knew it, white caps appeared on the bay buffeting the Pamela Ann. Then the snow started. Well, not actually snow, but little snow pellets, technically referred to as graupel. Whatever you want to call it, it was cold, wet and miserable. I attempted a couple more passes past Anclam Park before I admitted defeat and surrendered to the elements. Limping back to the landing, I loaded the boat on the trailer and made my way back home just in time of catch the Brewer game.
It was a short outing, but it was still fishing and at least I put one fish in the boat. The weather appears to be "active" for the next several days. I am hoping for a nice long "Indian Summer" period that will allow me to get out on the water again and make a more serious attempt at catching fish. Right now, however, sitting on my couch, watching the ball game with a nice Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned sounds pretty good.
Tight Lines, Bruce
Questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org