Sunday, May 31, 2009

Map A Lake & Catch Some Fish


R.J. Doyle of Mecosta was running his boat as we checked out Portage Lake a couple of years ago. This lake, with its easy access to Lake Michigan, is rich in game fish species and appears to have a strong forage base.

“What do you think,” he asked, as we left the ramp and headed toward the channel leading out to the big water. We followed a long flat out almost to a point, and the bottom dropped off into deeper water.

“Think there might be some fish along this dropoff?”

I agreed there should be but wanted to see what the rest of the lake looked like. I’d fished Portage Lake often many years ago during the early days of the salmon program, and for whatever reason, had not returned. I want to check it out because it once had a great autumn salmon fishery, and we wanted to refresh our memory in the event we returned in September.

The channel had 11-12 feet of water near Portage Lake but the water got shallower the closer we came to Lake Michigan. A guy in a big boat came churning into the channel, coming directly at us, and we moved to avoid him, and was almost herded into the rip-rap along the pier. The idiot finally spotted us, moved over to the other side of the channel where he belonged.

“There doesn’t seem to be any cover in the channel,” I said. “Let’s go back into the lake again and move south along the shoreline. We need to check that out, and we can troll some lures while we check out the bottom contour and water depth.”

We both wanted to try the lake, and had neither of us had any great expectations, but hoped to come back in the fall and catch a few salmon. We left the channel, entered Portage Lake again, and headed south. R.J. had on a Vampire-colored Rapapa, and I had on a small Shad Rap, and that allowed us to cover two different depths while moving at a slow troll.

The boat was just 200 yards from the channel when his rod started bucking, and it pulled the in-line planer board directly behind the boat.  There was a healthy splash behind the planer board as I reeled in my line, and gradually he worked the board close enough to the boat for me to release the line.

“I think it’s a pike,” he said, with no proof except one of those gut feelings that anglers often get. We’d been working the edge of a weed bed, when the strike occurred. Two minutes later the fish rolled to the surface and he was right.

“I’ve caught lots of pike and they have a particular style of fighting the rod, and this just felt like a decent pike,” he said. “Slip a net under him for me.”

The net was already in motion, and we quickly landed a gorgeous 8-pound pike with the beige kidney-bean shaped spots against a green background. It was our first fish of the day but it wouldn’t be our last.

We soon discovered a strip of deeper water down the middle of the lake with weeds on both side, and soon I brought an under-size northern pike to the boat and released him. We sparred with dozens of rock bass, with a fish or two about eight inches long although most of them were much smaller. All were quickly released.

We started to troll the edge of another weed bed not far from the boat launch ramp, and R.J. had let out his lure on a long line, attached the line to the in-line planer board and was running it out to the side, when he had another strike.

We both heard the line peel off the reel, and he was on the rod like a house cat on a stray mouse. A deep bend in his rod, and more line ripped off the reel.

We both looked up at the same time, and watched a silvery fish bounce into the air, smash back into the lake, and rip off on another short run.

“Brown trout or steelhead?” he asked. The fish was 50 yards away, and as I thought about it, the fish went into the air again. This time it was a bit closer to the boat, and although it was a chrome-colored fish, we both said “brown trout” at the same time.

He fought the fish well, and soon I unhooked the planer board from the line, and the fish was still a good distance away. He headed off on another run, wallowed on the surface, and with painstaking care, Doyle eased the chunky fish to the net where I scooped it up.

“He’s about eight pounds,” Doyle said. “Look at how silver and pretty he is. He may have planned to summer here in the lake, turn a golden brown, before spawning next fall.”

The sky clouded up several times, and each time the potential rain fell inland from us. And then the sun would come out. And we worked a shoreline drop off hard without a single strike. It seemed all of the fish were weed-related on this day.

We hooked another fish we thought was a brown, but it was on and off, just that quick. Another pike was landed, another dozen or so rock bass were boated and released, and one yellow perch was caught.

The lesson from this enjoy few hours on the water is to spend some time mapping out a lake before fishing. Look for sharp drop offs, sand bars, shallow flats, weed-lined channels, and other structure that should hold fish. And the biggest trick of all is to work the structure in a logical fashion. In this case we had to fish near the weeds but not in them.

It had been over 30 years for me since the last time I’d fished Portage Lake, and I guess we did a pretty good job of figuring out where to find fish. If only all lakes were this easy to figure out

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/31 at 04:00 PM
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