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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Falling for the flash during the hatch

July 9, 2010
By Jim Junttila

"Let's take advantage of the lull in the walleye bite and seize the opportunity to go out on Lake Superior for my kinda fish," WW&W fishing correspondent Dolly Vardenen lobbied.

"Who can resist such a spontaneous carpe diem?" I asked.

"Not carp," she replied, "lake trout and coho."

With Gratiot, Lac la Belle, Torch, Portage and other inland lakes getting major mayfly hatches, local anglers are staying off the water in droves; conventional wisdom says the fish are overfed and the bite is off so no sense going fishing.

Keep telling yourself that. I'm not the least bit lonesome having the water all to myself. WW&W Correspondents Paris Hiltunen and Dolly Vardenen see to that, especially with this bikini weather on Bete Gris, K-Bay and Big Traverse.

It was sunny and 85 degrees as we lolly-gagged around Lac la Belle while our guide, Captain Larry Smith of Fish On II Keweenaw Charters (289-4481) and Jim Lapp set planer boards with crawler harnesses and surface lines. Up ahead, thick fog rolled in off Lake Superior, engulfing the irons and the Mendota Channel lighthouse.

We pulled up lines and idled out onto Bete Gris on instruments. The fog was so thick, the girls perched on the bow like hood ornaments disappeared into it, then re-appeared, then disappeared again before emerging when the sun melted the fog off.

A heavy hatch had the fish on a feeding frenzy and they were hitting with a mouthful of mayflies, spitting them up to make room for our Finn Spoons. The lake was chock fulla food, Bete Gris was a banquet of bugs and the bite was hot. The lake trout were falling for anything that flashed, from Finn Spoons to Spin 'n Glows behind miniflashers. Like Paris, Dolly and crows, they like shiny things.

We jigged 'em, downrigged 'em, dipsy-divered 'em, planer boarded 'em and long-lined 'em, catching two nice fish in the fog before it lifted to reveal blue sky and sunshine for the home stretch. Fishing through sunset and into the night shift on Bete Gris, the twilight lingers til 10:30 p.m. Since the fourth, we've had the most dramatic, fiery sunsets of the summer and I've shot 'em all.

Within minutes, three big lakers were swishing around in the live well in the same water they came from, tail-splashing me as I dipped out a cup to mix a celebratory Lake Superior Scotch, a dollop of Johnny Walker Red and water with a hint of native lake trout DNA.

We caught a couple limits of lake trout on lime/chartreuse Silver Streaks, Syclops, Bay de Noc Laker Takers and Finn Spoons, tantalizingly slow-trolled at 1.5 to 2 mph about 50 feet backa the downrigger ball in 35 to 45 feet of water. We also got lucky with dipsy-divers set at 3-1/2, about 60 feet out and 20 feet down off a 50-foot bottom.

Captain Larry fishes for coho like he fishes for walleye, trolling beaded spinner crawler harnesses 25 feet backa planer boards. Acrobatic coho went wild for the jewelry, pounding our crawlers and jumping repeatedly before we could bring them to net. He ties his own harnesses with brass, copper, silver, holographic and painted blade and bead combinations.

Playful but larcenous freshwater harbor seals frolicked around us, feeding on the same fish we were trying to catch. I flashed back to Puget Sound off Seattle where the seals wait patiently until you catch a salmon, then steal it off the hook and eat it live while you're reeling it up, leaving only a carcass, the head and tail with a skeleton in between like in the Tom & Jerry cartoons. Marine mammals have no manners and fewer ethics.

"What do a walrus and Tupperware have in common?" Paris Hiltunen asked. "They both like a nice seal."

On a still, windless night, you can fish in the dark; listen to the fish greedily slurping hapless mayflies trapped in the surface film and cast to the sound.

"Have you ever been out on the lake when it's perfectly smooth and seen bubbles popping up to the surface?" Dolly Vardenen asked. "That's stuffed, way-overfed fish laying on the bottom, burping and farting after pigging out on a mayfly hatch."

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@



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