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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Six fish in six inches to six feet of water

July 30, 2010
By Jim Junttila

Float tubes, full moons and heat waves go together, and I floated my way through our most recent one last weekend. I enjoy the solitude of boatless backwater fishing, wading shoreline shallows and sandbars, and finding fish in some of the darndest places and skinniest water you've ever seen. It's a bit like looking for snook in Florida, without the sand sharks and stingrays.

So far this week I've caught six fish, all in six inches to six feet of water. The experience spawned my bold, new 666 theory; While superstitious types think of 666 as the sign of the beast and have an aversion to it, I find it attractive and alluring as any good fishing theory oughta be. I even caught one on a red and white daredevil for good measure, and even better karma I suppose.

"There's no better way to get right in the water with the fish than a float tube," said WW&W shallow-water fishing correspondent Sandy Bottom. "You're sitting in the water from your lap down, maneuvering wherever you wanna go with swim fins, or Finn-fins, Jim calls 'em, a Finn with fins. A picture's worth a thousand words, go to tubes and see what we're talking about."

Sandy knows some of the best wade-fishing places in the Keweenaw. "Portage, Torch, Twin Lakes, Lake Med, Lake Fanny Hooe and Rice Lake are all good wading and float-tubing lakes, but you can't blame me for being partial to Sandy Bottom," she said preferentially. "There's a swimming beach, picnic tables, a boat landing, tall trees, rest rooms, the works; and Dolly Partanen's is just a half mile away in downtown Dollar Bay."

I like casting around the pilings right beneath the Portage Lift bridge off the Hancock Waterfront Ramada Inn parking lot and along the shoreline rip-rap near the Copper Island Beach Club. Same goes for the rip-rap along the Michigan Tech shoreline, Chassell Bay, the moutha Cole's Crick and the Pilgrim River along the Houghton side of the Keweenaw Waterway, or the moutha Swedetown Crick, Boston Crick, Lily Crick and Lily Pond on the Hancock side.

"The trick is shallow thinking, or thinking shallow," Sandy quipped, "It's my favorite kind." She knows the joys of a sultry, sunny summer evening, wading ankle to waist-deep in her home waters, fishing through dark-thirty, casting to rocky shoreline shallows and drop-offs, weedbeds, pods of lily pads and bright yellow water lilies, letting your bait sink down among the stems.

"Wear hip boots or waders if you must, but I just wear my bikini and beater tennies," she suggested. "I like being in water up to my waist, especially finning around in my float tube."

Don't be afraid of fishing the salad (weedbeds and submergent vegetation). There's no such thing as a truly weedless hook, but some catch fewer weeds than others. The more fearless you are of snags and indelicate presentations, the luckier you get. I fish topwater these days, twitching and splish-splashing a floating Rapala, Mirrolure, or Zara Spook across the weed tops.

You know how they say 100 percent of the fish are caught when your line is in the water? This is the sole exception to that: Pitch your lure on top of a lily pad so it's not in the water and wiggle it back and forth ever so slightly. Now visualize that long, slender, serpentine stem undulating under the water when a big smallmouth or northern out for an evening dinner cruise comes along. He doesn't wonder why that one stem is moving and the others aren't for a second. His instinct and appetite tell him it's a bird, frog, grasshopper or even a butterfly on toppa that pad on the surface and he's not that fussy what.

"That's when the water explodes and if you're lucky you catch a nice fish with his mouth fulla water lily salad and your lure stuck in his cheek," Sandy smiled knowingly.

Other tricks of the trade: Look for shallow points with reeds jutting out into deeper water and fish the edge of the clear and colored water. Little back bays, bayous, coves and inlets with their weedbeds, pilings and other submergent structure attract baitfish and the big fish who love them. Try the shallow end of my 666 theory with your favorite topwater lures, or dangle a live or Gulp minnow or crawler beneath a slip bobber and hang on tight.

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



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