Three Swinging Strikes
Humble Pie Served with a Touch of Color
After painting a rather rosy picture of the fall fishing prospects in and around Door County last time in this space, I thought I would provide a reality check. Or I should say the fish provided a reality check for me. Fishing can be very humbling at times and the last week has been one of those times. Now I could provide a litany of standard excuses for my failures and it is true that the winds and chilly temperatures kept me off the water more than I would have liked. Fish will bite in any weather, but they tend to like the same weather. In other words, fish will adapt their patterns to whatever conditions prevail. After all, they eventually have to eat. However, those patterns are a lot easier for an angler to figure out if the weather remains steady for a while which has been far from the case the last several weeks. That said, I still believe that if you put enough time on the water, eventually the fish will find you. You know, the “The Blind Pig Theory”. Well, this blind pig was not been able to stumble across anything the last three outings. Sometimes the fish just don’t bite.
I spent one morning last week dragging lures from Baileys Harbor north past the Bjorklunden property. The wind was from the west, so the shoreline bluffs provided some welcome protection. It was still a chilly ride. This area has produced pike and browns this time of year and even the occasional salmon coming in shallow. The water was pretty murky following a stout southern blow that produced 15-footers out on the lake. Water temperatures were in the low 50s. I set out an array of Rapalas, Flicker Shads, Thundersticks and even a spoon. I trolled as shallow as 8-10 feet and as deep as 30-40. Three hours of drinking coffee and staring at the hypnotic bobbing motion of the rod tips produced nary a fish. Strike one. The wonderful background of fall colors and a splash of sunshine made for a pleasant enough morning. Also, except for one other fishing boat on the horizon, I had the lake to myself.
The next day, I joined fishing buddy Terry to try for muskies in Lower Green Bay. We met at the Green Bay Metro Boat launch where the Fox River enters Green Bay just below the Frigo Bridge. Terry had boated a 38”er his last time out and several area muskie guides had posted pictures online of some real slobs, so we headed out on the water full of optimism. Muskellunge are always a challenging fish to target, particularly large ones. By the very nature of ecosystems, apex predators are few and far between. Esox masquinongy are native to Great Lakes waters but it has not been until the last decade or so that they have become numerous enough to attract large numbers of muskie hunters to Green Bay. Pollution and the loss of habitat and spawning areas had decimated the muskie populations in lower Green Bay to the point of extinction. In 1989 the Wisconsin DNR along with a dedicated group of local muskie club members initiated a muskie stocking program, the result of which has produced a world class muskie fishery in Green Bay. Here is a paper from 2012 describing the effort. I started fishing muskies in the Fox River and Green Bay back in 2003 but had not done so for several years until this outing. I was looking forward to renewing my relationship with this fishery. It was an overcast, cold day, but the wind was moderate. There were several other boats trolling in the area including some sparkly guide boats. We spent most of our time working the area in University Bay near what is referred to as “kidney island” due to its shape. This is actually an artificial island created from dredge spoils and dubbed Renard Island on the official charts. This part of the bay is shallow and stained with a rather soft bottom. We trolled a variety of baits including large Shad Raps, Bucher Shallow Raiders, and whatever else Terry could pull out of his box. Floating weeds and debris are always a problem trolling in this area, but particularly after all of the windstorms we have experienced lately. Turned out the only “action” we had all day was removing sticks and weeds from the lures and planer boards. No fish. Strike two. It still was good time on the water with a long-time fishing buddy.
Not to be deterred, a day later found me hauling the boat trailer behind my F-150 heading across the peninsula to Egg Harbor. Fishing the bayside in the fall can be very productive. I have caught some of the largest smallmouth of the season in the fall as the fish feed heavily in preparation for the long winter of dormancy. Trolling can produce a lot of action and last year I had a great day using a drop shot rig in 15-20 FOW. In addition, brown trout move into the shallower areas of the bay as the water cools. Paul and I boated a twenty-one-pound brown in Egg Harbor just last November. Northern pike are also on the prowl ready to rip into your offered lure. I figured this was sure bet to get me out of my mini fishing slump. I even grudgingly coughed up the $12.00 the Town of Egg Harbor charges to put a boat in the water. (Baileys Harbor’s launch fee is half that. Even Sister Bay is cheaper.) I was desperate.
I started out trolling shallow, targeting pike and bass. Again, I had the water to myself. Perhaps the other anglers knew something I didn’t because, much to my bitter disappointment, two hours of effort produced nothing. Not even a hit. I was marking some fish off the drops off, so I decided to switch tactics and try the drop shot technique that work so well last year in this same location. Working depths ranging from ten to forty feet for nearly an hour produced exactly what the previous two did. Nothing. Finally, I figured “Go big or go home!” I moved to the center of the bay into some deeper water where Paul and I have had action on browns in the past. I ran lures from fifteen to thirty feet down in about 50FOW. Despite seeing plenty of masses of bait fish and more than a few large “arcs” on my sonar, nothing touched my lures. Strike three. But at least I went down swinging and I will be sure to be back at the plate as soon as I can. (Please excuse the baseball metaphors. World Series time, you know.)
Now it may seem odd for a person to extoll his failures in a piece purportedly on area fishing. The reality is that not catching fish is as much a part of the sport of fishing as bagging a big one. If you cannot handle failure or get discouraged easily, you won’t stick with fishing for long. All anglers have empty fishing trips. Contrary to the popular myth, anglers don’t always lie. Sure, some may embellish or shade the truth, but few totally fabricate. I for one will always tell you the truth about my fishing, although I may not expose every detail. However, one way to be sure that an angler is a dirty rotten liar is if he claims that “I always catch fish!” Nobody always catches fish. Period. Some catch more than others. I once had the opportunity to listen to legendary fisherman Joe Bucher speak at a fishing seminar. Joe gained my undying respect when he started his presentation by boldly admitting that he often goes fishing and gets skunked. I knew here was a guy I could trust to tell me the truth. I catch my share of fish because I fish a lot. I also have my share of failures. Lately it seems more than my share, but it will eventually even out.
Until then, I will continue to enjoy the water, fresh air and the wonderful vistas of Door County for as long into the season as I can. I do hope to catch some fish as well.
Stay safe and sane.
Questions or comments to email@example.com