Thirty-three years ago this week I was living in the Canadian bush and was the camp manager at Chimo Lodge and Outposts, a fly fishing camp. It was my second season and I had made a deal with Dick and Molly Emerson, owners of The Poynette Press, to write a weekly column about my six months in the bush. When I got home in November, this column which was then called North of the Border was very popular and this week I’m writing for 65 newspapers and I love my job.
One of the reasons the cold weather in mid-May is a good thing is that the coho salmon that migrate north each spring continue to swim in shallow water. The water I’m talking about is Lake Michigan and this week’s outdoor adventure would be at Kenosha Harbor and I would be paddling the trolling of my canoe.
I’ve been on this type of experience about once a year for the past twenty years, some years I’ve been paddling in the height of summer and pushing myself through the night as there’s usually less wind and boat traffic. Coho action runs from late April to maybe June 1st. I stopped at the Kenosha Marina and when I got back after dark I slept in the backseat of the Chevy Hotel.
During that late afternoon until about an hour after dark, I did not see another craft on Lake Michigan, and it was quite cold. I use a Helix 7 for electronics, a 2×6 C attached to my gunwales with three Scotty rod holders and I also have a Coleman propane lantern that is screwed to the 2×6.
Two of the rod holders would be loaded with trolling rods fitted with dodger/fly combos that had a left and right planer board to keep them away from my canoe. My other rig is a spinning rod with a 12 pound test line, and I was using a deep dive bait on it.
So here’s the reality of paddling a canoe and fishing this style it’s hard to paddle fast enough for your lures to catch a fish and it’s extremely hard to land a fish once you hook up which in my case is rare.
So I reach 40 feet of water which is maybe 1.5 miles from shore all is well with my world and one of my rods with a blinking fly starts to bend and I can see a coho jumping like a rabbit 35 feet behind the board. At this point, nothing, not even death, matters. The first thing I have to do is stop going into the wind or my other two lines are guaranteed to get really ugly with each other and the rod with the coho on it. The next part of the game is to remove the planer board from my line without losing my career. It all worked, but the coho that had no desire to become nets swam past my canoe and my line got caught in a rivet. I did a catch or die move and removed the line and the fish in the net. You have to do it in a canoe, to fully understand the mental reward when everything falls into place.
I promised myself a beer if I caught a fish, but I was in no mood to burn out the daylight with anything in my hand but a paddle, a rod, or a fish. So, I mistakenly paddle down to 30 feet, burn an hour, and start heading east for deeper water. Literally the first time the Helix 7 showed 40 feet my bait hit and it was fish. The game is much easier in a canoe with a spinning rod and no glider board, I didn’t care about the other lines and just like that I had coho number two crashing into the belly of my rig and this time I pulled out a beer and really enjoyed the moment.
I have found that the way I paddle trolling, i.e. crouching on my knees, has a mental and physical maximum of five hours. At around 3.5 I start to lose the most feeling, at 4 I couldn’t swim if I had to. At 5 am it literally takes me a long time to get out of the canoe when I reach the shore and pray no one is watching.
After another wonderful night in the back seat of the Chevy hotel, I spent 5.5 hours on Lake Michigan and had a chance. It was one of those jumping coho’s and it was on a winking fly. One of his jumps was a home run for the fish and that was a good thing for the coho because when I catch a salmon in a canoe the chances of it being released are about as slim as gasoline that comes in at $2 a gallon while Joe Biden is president.
This should bring me some wonderful emails. Live big while you can! Sunset.