Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Copper Harbor fish story: Ride the Keweenaw 2013

Fishing rush...Copper Harbor

This story is "based" on fact.

We shove off.

The boat creaks gently on the glassy water.  Breath frosty and smokey as it drifts off our faces.  Smiles as the warm sun paints our backs.  Cold fingers and minnows sentenced to horrifying adventures deep in Lake Superior.

We fly over the broken bones of the lake bottom.  Clear as gin the water acts as a giant magnifying glass as we hover over jet black drop offs and rocky shelves of granite, copper and Canadian shield.

The water is so cold we can feel it seeping through the hull of the boat and into the soles of our feet.

I take another cast and wonder about the stick we jammed into the drain hole in the boat as a substitute for the plug........

Row, row row your boat
Calm seas, complacent sentinels 

The Splake are running in the Harbor.  That is a special time for fisherman, when the big voracious salmonoids are active and open for business.  A mix between a Brook Trout and a Lake Trout, the fish are perhaps the best tasting fish in the Lake (perhaps a matter of opinion).


Time to go riding.

At some point the fish are turned off, and the sun is high in the sky and the trails are dry.

Fishing gear is shoved into the back of the truck, the minnow bucket placed in a shady spot for the evening.

Leaky waders are substituted for bike shoes and body armor and legs of thrown over machines of choice.

The Line Up
I found a lot of folks questioning heading to Copper Harbor this Memorial Day due to the extremely late spring the northland is having.

I have never questioned going to Copper Harbor.  To me the Harbor is not just a place to go Mountain Bike.  It is a place to explore and to experience and if the riding is not up to perfect, then the fishing is, or the Sea Kayaking, or the kiting, or the hiking or the berry picking etc.

For me lately it has been the fishing.  I have always heard about the Splake run but have generally missed it due to timing.  This year when I was talking to Aaron before my arrival he mentioned that the Splake had been delayed due to the cold water and later spring and I was stoked.  I was finally heading up to the Keweenaw when the Splake were in force.  I packed up every rod I had.

Best Spring Conditions I have ever had in the Harbor this year
There are people that like to fish, and there are folks that LIKE to fish.  Aaron Rogers LIKES to fish and so do I.  Almost every trip I take to CH, Aaron and I, or some other CH locals get together for a fishing mission.  It might be a Brook Trout lake in the interior, a stream or river of the Lake Superior itself.  Really the fishing adventures are limitless up there.

This visit however was purely focused on Splake in the Harbor.  I have to admit, both Aaron and I threw down.  Late nights working and socializing were followed by early mornings in the boat or off the shore searching for Splake.

Aaron and I both put a lot of time into working for Mountain Biking in our region.

Time lost to ourselves and our families and when I come to the Harbor, we make it a point to take back some of that time, to hang out as friends and to just be hanging out.  No doubt plenty of talking about Mountain Biking and Trails, happens, but I am truly thankful for the time we can spend fishing in silence, thinking mainly about the next cast and if there is a fish cruising there.

We threw everything we had at them.  Fly Rods, spinning rods, spoons, Rapala's, minnows, Streamers, Woolly Buggers, you name it.


One day we showed up at a stream flowing into the harbor and all we could see were fish rising and jumping out of the water.  You could see finned backs rising and falling, but they wanted nothing we tossed at them.  The most frustrating of all fishing experiences.  When you can see them, see they are feeding but can't match what it is and walk away empty handed.


But then there is always the riding.  The majority of trails were dry.  Plenty of mud to be found for sure, but certainly not game changing.  Tacky, firm and packed and re-tweaked since last fall, the trails were a dream after being shut out so effectively here in Duluth by rain and cold temps this spring.

Mountain Bike Geezer on the Scene!
Eventually the masses came and Aaron was engulfed in the Ride the Keweenaw Festival.  Time was short and so far we had one Splake and a myriad of Brookies to show for our efforts, but I personally had yet to catch a Splake.

Finally on Saturday after 7 laps on the trails, my body beaten and my head a buzzing, I decided to give my luck another shot.  The big party was that night so I only had a small window of time...  I hopped into the car and headed to the easiest spot to access Splake.  It was the circus spot.  The spot where all the locals were congregated rods in hand.  Aaron and I had avoided this spot, because of the lack of solitude it offered and the high amount of competition it fostered.

For me however the time was short and in my mind all I wanted to do was chill out up to my chest in cold Lake Superior water to ease my aching bones (I cratered twice on Danimal) have a beer and have a line in the water.  Red neck paradise.

It being Memorial Day weekend it was busy.  I waded across from most of the other fisherman and assumed my place in the line up.  Cracked a KBC and tossed out a minnow into the current.  My mind wandered to what Memorial Day meant to me.

That meant thinking about my Grandfather and his military career which was extensive.  He died a Colonel but was promoted to General shortly after.  A General and yet a wicked fisherman, in fact a RABID fisherman.

Grandpa "Bucks" Rapala
Thinking of that I rattled around in my fishing box and came up with a lure that I had inherited when Buck, passed away.  I have marveled over it before.  It is an original Rapala which is cool in itself, but the best part about it, is that it is so gnarled, so beaten and has so many tooth marks on it that you can see its history of success quite literally written all over it.  It even looks as though the eye of the lure was at one point blown out and my grandfather has fixed it.  There is an old yarn line end still affixed to it from some rattle trap trolling situation he most likely used it for.

I smiled at the feel of that old thing and decided to tie it on for Gramps.  To remember him.  Why not, nothing else has worked.   Beer in hand I gently let the lure slide down the current towards the big lake.  Playing out the line lazily, every so often giving it a jerk.  Swilling my beer and feeling the summer sun and just generally rejoicing in the setting of the Harbor.

Get ready for another kind of Copper Harbor ride!!
BAM!  Fish on.  Shit!  Beer in hand.....solid fish, strong fish!

Throw open the drag, any is too much and this baby is heading for Canada!  Cant toss the beer as I am nowhere near shore!!  Finally I shove it in my chest pocket and can feel it running down my waders.  No matter, the game is afoot and the rod is heaving.

Patiently I play the fish but as it comes closer I realize I have no net and the size of the fish is significant enough that launching it up on shore is not an option.  Luckily the peanut gallery has seen the situation and another angler helps me out.

Wow. Adrenaline and happiness all mixed into one.  I decided to call it quits while I was ahead, plus there was a party starting and I was not going to miss that!  BBQ and getting "Brickfaced" with Brickside Brewery Beer, what a night, good music, killer people....

And Fish smell on my hands!  What is NOT to like about that weekend?

Ride the Keweenaw BBQ

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