Over the past 7.5 years, I have been visiting my girlfriend’s family’s cottage on the Lake Huron side of the Bruce Peninsula. Ever since taking up fly-fishing in 2011, I have become transfixed with catching fish out of this gin-clear, gorgeous body of water. I quickly learned that this would not be an easy feat. After having a discussion with my girlfriend’s father, who has owned the property for 30+ years, I came to learn a few things.
1. Fishing used to be popular in the area that the cottage is located.
2. The fishing began to decline.
3. It had been many years since he had seen anybody try fishing this area anymore.
4. While swimming/snorkeling, one will rarely see a fish in this area (this, I can personally attest to).
5. The water-level in Lake Huron has dropped dramatically over the years (hitting an all-time low in January of 2013), partially due to the dredging of the St. Clair River (more info on the decline of the water level can be found here: http://www.wundergro...w-water-levels
All of the area seen in the foreground used to be underwater. Now it acts as a rocky beach.
And so, I looked the challenge in the face, and decided to try and conquer the odds.
For the first 2.5 years, the odds won. By a landslide.
I spent countless hours tossing flies in various locations in the area, to absolutely no avail. The only fish I had ever even seen in the area, were two cruising carp early in the summer of 2013. I walked away every time, my ego beaten and bruised, but swearing that I would not give up. All optimism aside, I began to lose hope – I truly started to believe that Obi Wan Kenobi & co. were not coming to my aid.
And then, a strange thing happened in 2014. Arriving to the cottage for the first time after a very intense winter, we noted how much higher the water level was this year. It still pales in comparison to the water levels of the past, but it was a step in the right direction. I walked out onto the dock a few days later, and almost fell in the water in excitement when I saw a smallmouth bass cruising along the drop-off. I quickly grabbed my gear in a desperate attempt to catch the one fish I would see here this year. The fish spooked, and again, my tail was between my legs.
Cue the next visit to the cottage, and we arrive to a serenely calm lake, and water that was like glass. It was at this time that I started to notice the numerous small smallmouth that were now inhabiting the area. It was like a switch was flipped this year, and the fish decided that the little bay was now a suitable home. I grabbed my fly-rod, and immediately began to site-fish the little smallies. I began to learn that these were not like the bass at home – bold, brave, and will eat anything that moves. These fish were spooky – top-water was a no-go, as any surface activity sent the fish running. I needed to present small, realistic nymphs in this gin-clear water, and have a very delicate approach – it was like I was chasing small-stream browns!
After experiencing a bit of a learning curve with their behaviour, I managed to convince a few of the smaller fish to take my fly. As soon as I had the fish out of the water, I also learned that these were some of the lightest colored smallmouth I have ever seen, and some of them had absolutely stunning markings!
I began to realize that these calm conditions would hold my greatest chance to catch these fish. It allowed me to see where they were, and although there were now fish in the area, they were present in such small numbers that the probability of me blindly casting in unfavorable conditions and hooking into a fish really aren’t that great (I still try to beat the odds though!). This concerned me a little, as usually, Lake Huron can be quite choppy, especially when a storm front rolls through.
When I’m up at the cottage, there is only so much time I am able to devote to fishing, as there is a strong emphasis on family time here as well. So, waiting for the calmer conditions gives me the opportunity to try and learn other skills.
As an aside, after trying SUP’ing for the first time, I can’t wait until I have the balance 100% down so I can try tossing a fly from it!
We partake in the odd fireworks show as well (which I’m slowly learning how to take photos of).
Last weekend, before my girlfriend and I had to pack up, we decided to go for a quick canoe to an island about 20 minutes away. When we approached the shallow flat between the point and the island, I watched as we spooked a school (4-5 fish) of good sized smallmouth. I made a mental note to get my ass back here on my next trip, as these fish were 4-5 times larger than the smaller fish closer to the cottage.
So, all of that finally brings us to this past weekend. While relaxing in the small bay where the cottage is situated, I decided to take a kayak out with my fly-rod and try some fishing by a small weed-bed before lunch was ready. I took a few drifts by the weeds with no interest shown in my fly. So, on my last drift before lunch, I switched to a brown woolly bugger, and lazily floated by the weed-bed. As my fly began to travel through the weeds, my rod-tip slowly began to bend, and thinking I was on bottom, I gave the tip a quick jerk, only to begin feeling head-shakes on the other end of my line! A fish, and a good sized one it felt like! I began to fight the smallie, which gave a few more headshakes, gave a quick tail-splash at the surface, and out came my fly. I reeled in my line in disbelief, only to see that the darn thing had straightened the hook on my fly! As encouraged as I was to feel the pull of such a nice fish in the once abandoned bay, I was so upset to have lost what would have been the largest fish I would have caught here. I spent some more time that day searching in the bay for some more larger fish, but the action was as calm as the water’s surface. I was defeated, again.
Before bed on Saturday night, I decided that I would wake up the next morning, hop in a kayak with my gear, and paddle out to the island to see if those smallies wanted to play.
So, upon sleeping in due to some alcohol induced grogginess, I forced myself to get out of bed, and start the quick journey to the island. The conditions were perfect for kayaking, and for sight-fishing – the water looked like glass, and you could easily see to the bottom in water 20+ ft in depth. I arrived to the shallow flat, got rigged up, and began casting as I drifted through the passage. It wasn’t long until I had a follow, but the fish were not entirely convinced by the brown bead-head bugger I had on (figured I’d start with what worked on the fish from the previous day). So, I switched to a white zonker, stealthily paddled around until I located what appeared to be the same school of 4-5 fish (just judging based on the number of fish, and their size). I tossed the fly in front of the school, gave it a few twitches, and WHAM, one of the smaller fish hammered the fly! Excitement tore through my body as I got my GoPro setup for a picture while fighting the fish, and watching it’s dazzling display of top-water dance.
It was no Ontario record, but darn did it make me smile to finally catch a fish larger than my hand here! So, I released my new friend, and paddled into the shallows to give whatever fish the fight spooked some time to settle down. Twenty minutes later, I decided to try and see if the school of fish were still in a playful mood. I located them again, but they were no longer interested in the white zonker. So, a quick change to a red bead-head bugger, and I was off to spot the school again. Sure enough, within 10 minutes, I found them, and presented the fly. Strip, strip, strip, and one of the larger fish began to follow. My adrenaline began to pump, as I watched the smallie approach the bugger, stop beside it, and looked to contemplate whether or not it was edible, during which time I gave it the slightest little twitch. Well, that’s all it needed to see, as it immediately chomped down on the fly, and I set the hook.
The air immediately was filled with laughter, as I could not contain the fun I was having! This smallmouth was obviously larger than the last, as it put up a darn good fight, going on many runs, and behaving like the bulldog it is.
What did it weigh? No clue. It wasn’t huge, but it was pretty chunky, and it supplied the ending to a very enjoyable, gratifying morning/afternoon. I started the paddle back to the cottage for lunch all smiles, knowing that nothing could ruin my day.
darn, perseverance, you feel good!
I can’t wait to chase these beauties again soon!