Back Fishing My Home Waters
Little Bit of Everything, Not Much of Anything
Now that I have recovered from the jet/airport/driving lag following my African excursion (See previous blog), I finally got out fishing the more familiar waters of Door County. It was comforting to be on bodies of water where I did not have to worry about hippos capsizing the boat or having to watch for crocs when I launched my boat; just the occasional water snake.
My initial foray was to the north end of the county on the bayside to see what the smallmouth were doing. If I really need to feel something tugging on the end of my line this time of year, I pull out my slip-bobber rods, pick up some crawlers and fish off some of the deeper water drop-offs below the towering limestone bluffs in northern Door. Now, I know some might be aghast at the thought of using live-bait for smallies, but I never claimed to be a purist. When the waters warm late in the summer and the fish drop into deep water, this is an excellent way to while away a morning and get a little action. I typically use a red circle hook to prevent the bass from swallowing the bait. I watch the bobbers carefully and hit them as soon as the bobber goes down so they are less likely to get deep hooked. If a bass does have the hook down its throat, I cut the line and tie on a new hook. My mortality rate is very low.
This morning I moved around until I saw some promising marks on my sonar in about 25-30FOW. I set the bobbers to suspend the crawlers about 6-10 feet above the bottom to keep the gobies off the bait (Not always successfully). I casted the rig out from the boat and let it drift with the current. I typically put out two slip bobbers and then cast a third rod using a tube jig or crank bait. If I don't get a bite fairly soon, I move. This method normally produces numerous small bass in the ten to twelve inch range with the occasional larger fish. Today was no exception. I ended up with a dozen smaller fish and a couple of fish in the 16-17" range. Not exactly trophy fishing, but it sure was a fun way to spend the morning.
A few days later, Paul and I headed out on the big lake to see how the salmon bite was doing. Paul had had some good outings while I was gone, but he had not been out for a while either. Reports at the marina were that the salmon bite had slowed a bit and the few boats that were going out were heading to deeper water. We headed out to about 300FOW to start. The only other boat we saw out this night was the charter boat First Choice II and they were fishing even deeper. When we set up with surface temperatures near 70°F, we found we had to go down at least 80 feet to find cooler water in the forties. Paul set a couple of downriggers with a fly/dodger and a spoon in the coolest water about 100 feet down. Using various lengths of copper trolling wire he set the other lures off planer boards in depths ranging from sixty to eighty feet. We were fishing! The lake was fairly calm with a light northeast wind. The sky was clear, it was going to be a beautiful night.
Our first two fish of the night were underwhelming, a couple of "shakers" hanging on the downriggers whose presence was barely detected only by a slight vibration in the bow of the downrigger rod. We did have a couple of fish on later in the evening that were considerably bigger, but alas, we got neither to the boat. So we ended up two for four, as they say, but we boated the wrong two. It was a gorgeous night and Paul and I agreed as we motored back to the marina under a darkening sky that it felt good to be back on the big water.
Finally, it was an outing on the bay to hunt for walleyes. We had booked local guide Paul Delany of Late-Eyes Guide Service to give us a lesson on fishing late summer walleyes. It was an opportunity I had long anticipated since, as I have whined about in previous posts, my success for walleyes has been marginal at best. Paul (the other Paul) was joining me on the trip and we met Paul (the guide) at Baileys 57 full of the predictable angler optimism. We drove to the southern part of the county and launched at Chaudoir's Dock County Park. There was a very light wind, so we motored west and started fishing on the "palm" side of the bay shore towards Oconto. We set up in about 30FOW water and deployed an array with night crawler harnesses on planer boards and bottom bouncers. We trolled in a light chop running the baits over the large shallow shoal off the Oconto County shoreline. We got some action right away, boating a nice 19-inch marble eye and losing a couple of smaller fish. The little wind we had started to die and with it, so did the walleye action. We picked up a 17-incher along with a fat yellow perch on the bottom bouncer but although we could see fish on the sonar, they had become pretty lethargic. At one point one of the boards shot back and we engaged in a dogged battle with whatever we had on. "It's always a big walleye, until it isn't!" Paul intoned as he removed the planer broad from the line. Well, it wasn't. Instead it was a fat, stubborn sheepshead that eventually found the net. About an hour later something big buried a planer board. As I was handed the rod, the board was out of sight, pulled under the surface by a powerful fish. The fight did not last long. The board bobbed to the surface with the fish no longer attached. Upon examination, the line had been cleanly bit by something with sharp teeth, most likely one of the numerous muskies found in the lower bay. We were left to only fantasize about what might have been.
The bay had become like glass and after trying several locations we picked up the lines and headed back to the "thumb" of Door County. The remainder of the afternoon was spent staring at gently bobbing planer boards, hypothesizing on why fish just stop biting and sharing some well worn stories of former fishing experiences. It was a pleasant enough day, good fishing, just not much catching. As I always do, I picked up some pointers and techniques tapping into Delany’s vast experience fishing these waters. I am sure this will serve me well on future fishing trips on the bay. The walleyes are still out there. As we parted company with our guide and Paul (the non-guide) and I heading back to Baileys Harbor, we were already setting plans for our next fishing trip.
So what did I learn from these three outings? First, I love to go fishing, but you already knew that. Catching fish is a bonus. Enjoy it when it happens. The fish, for the most part still seem to be in a summer pattern, but as the nights are getting cooler, the transition to the Fall bite will start. Who knows when? The only way to know for sure is to keep getting out on the water. The Pamela Ann is laid up right now. (The boat, my wife is fine.) She is having a little maintenance done at Beacon Marine in Sister Bay. Once she is back and healthy, you can be assured I will be fishing, maybe even catching. If you don't go, you won't get 'em.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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