Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kingfisher, not catcher

This salmon season has been a humbling experience for many reasons. First and foremost the numbers of fish just aren't there. There were very high expectations following last years run which was considered the best in probably over 30 years for most rivers in west Michigan. Then there was the early spring where the ice was off the big lake in record time causing the Kings to get on the feed bag early. Alewives were still in abundance and the boat fisherman were making a killing on big kings early. Then, something drastic happened. The state was experiencing record heat waves and with little to no rain we were in a drought. Michigan has been one of the best states only behind Washington as far as rain fall. What were the effects this would have on the fishery? Lake Michigan is a HUGE body of water and the Salmon and big trout just need to go deep to find the cool water they thrive in. Boats were still doing well as long as they went farther out. The longer they stayed deep means the longer before they turn up river...

The rain never came and water levels were low everywhere all summer long. The rivers became crystal clear, even the ones that were normally cloudy with sediment you could see the bottom several feet down. Some tributaries were so shallow at the mouths fish had trouble getting into them. High expectations turned into disappointment. There still are fish if you work at it a little harder.

The cool clear waters of the Pere Marquette River

My season started with some vacation days and I was filled with hope and promise at getting on the fish early, except the fish for the most part were not there. Granted some came early as they always do, but nowhere near what I expected. My favorite hole that has always held a good pod of early fish was almost empty. A few dark shadows lurked in the depths below, but they were wary from the clear low waters.

Salmon fishing usually entails heavier line stiffer rods and big gaudy flies. I had to put away my egg sucking leeches in return for a #6 nuke egg which I reserve for a trailer for trout or the occasional steelhead. I dropped my leader down to 8lb Maxima not daring to go any lower knowing all to well big kings will snap off weak lines.

One of the few early season Kings I caught.

I started to catch a few Kings but my trips consisted of catching a fish or two to even getting skunked! This would not do at all. My hook-ups were way down, but what caused me concern was my hook-up to landing ratio was what I would call horrible. Typically 50% is a good number to shoot for. I was not even close.

Something happened on one earlier trip that I had never really experienced before. I was harassed by another fisherman for a fishing spot. It was still dark when I showed up at my favorite hole and I shone my flashlight over the river to see nobody was fishing there. I set my net down and my backpack and proceeded to get into the water when I heard someone yelling from the far bank. They were yelling at me spouting profanities like a sailor! Calling me all sorts of names while threatening to cause me physical harm as well as to break off any fish I hooked by snagging my line. This was ridiculous because I have shared the hole with at least ten others in past trips. I made a cast and he went into a frenzy which amazed me to find out he had his 4 year daughter present! I was lucky she was there as I had been told numerous times by now... My Irish temper was getting the best of me as I could feel my face and ears were red hot. I exited the river gathered my gear and decided to walk away until someone shouted something to the effect that it's good I walked away now while I could still walk. Then I re-entered the river and crossed.

When I reached the opposite bank I set my gear down and took off my vest. Luckily I have a large build probably from being part Polish so when I turned to introduce myself to my early morning friend I could see he was obviously concerned.

I held out my hand and said "Good Morning, My name is Mike. I came here to have an enjoyable day fishing and it seems like you are trying to ruin that. I offer you a bit of advice, before you start running your mouth you should know who you addressing when you threaten people in the darkness. I could have been a DNR or a police officer on my day off or even worse someone crazy who would have no problems hurting you and your daughter, which I am none of."

He did return the handshake and start to tell me how he knows DNR and fishing guides and all of the property owners and has free reign to fish where and when he pleases. He actually did apologize and offered to "let" me fish there. I declined wished him good luck with the fish that day. Fishing was slow and the fish were stubborn and in the end my day didn't get much better. I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the encounter with douchebag fisherman to start off my day. To make matters worse I broke my new fly rod on a fish I should have caught. Oh well, at least it is under warranty. I ended up going home early...
My now broken weapon of choice against Kings.

The right path is usually never the easy path
The fishing was still hit or miss on most of the tributaries as the run should have been at its peak. and I was yet again at my favorite river at my favorite spot with a good fishing buddy. The fish just were not there again. The fishing experience isn't really just about catching fish. Being out in nature with wildlife in abundance. The squirrels playing and gathering nuts for the long winter, the chirping birds, the soaring hawk, sometimes deer cross the river. This day was one of those days.

Being Indian is in your heart, It is a way of walking with the Earth instead of upon it...
Before I continue I must explain that by heritage in an American Mutt. I mentioned I was Polish and Irish, but I also have Cherokee blood flowing in my veins. I have read how others with mixed native heritage have felt "in tune" with their Indian heritage. I am one who feels that way as well. I have a deep sense of pride and feel an affinity with nature. I respect the earth and all living creatures to the point where I would fight for them. I have read many book and articles about Native Americans and their different cultures.

A nice native rainbow trout eatting eggs.

The number four is a lucky number among many tribes and on this day that number would manifest itself several times. It was September 14th, my birthday. I just turned 44. I just landed the fourth fish of the day. Two and two Kings. The rainbows were smaller one being 11 inches the other 16 inches, Both Kings were smaller females that were in great shape, but fought well. The day was slow but, very enjoyable. I had good companionship, great weather. I had witnessed nature in abundance. The wind was cool on my face and the water felt cool as well. Upon returning to my spot and started fishing I heard an odd birdcall and was looking for what made the noise as I saw what I thought was a Kingfisher fly across the river in full view. I then asked my fishing partner who is also part Indian (Blackfoot) if he saw the bird. His reply caught me off guard as it was intended as a compliment.

One of the Kings I caught that day.
 He said "No, but I'm looking at a Kingfisher now" as he looked towards me. I laughed because it was significant in so many ways. I was a King fisher and the king Salmon is my fish of choice. I beleive I am skilled in the fishing arts as well and catch many fish as is the birds namesake. In a way I had always wanted to be named like my ancestors and often wondered what my name would be if I was given one. I beleive it to be Kingfisher. The day seemed to be near perfect :)

With 100% certainty I heard and saw this bird, the Belted kingfisher
The fish have started to come albeit slowly, but there are more. Mother nature cannot be denied. The genetic make up of the Salmon insists they must spawn. I have released every fish this fall hoping that this seemingly poor run won't affect future runs.

The rain has started, but too little too late. Fresh Kings have been seen in some rivers and my luck has increased. I have taken mostly head shots of my fish since seeing the Kingfisher...

The Warrior

The Ghost

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