On this page are 3 of my favorite personal fishing adventures. I hope you enjoy them.
Even after so many years, the debate still rages in our family over whose fault it was. Since I'm telling the story, you'll have to accept my version.
It all started when my wife, her parents, and I decided to go on a family fishing outing. I was appointed guide. I decided to take us to the banks of the Muskegon River to shore fish for bass and pike.
We had been on the river bank for about 45 minutes, with only a couple of dinky pike to show for it. The women, disgusted, began making disparaging comments about the quality of the guide service. I bore these remarks with my usual stoicism and dignity, but every man has his breaking point. After one particularly pointed barb, I snarled "Maybe if the guide had more competent clients the fishing would be better". That did it. The argument quickly escalated into a gender dispute when Dad took my side, culminating in The Bet: The men and women would split up into separate teams and fish the waters of their choice. Whichever team had the least weight of fish by 4:00 PM would buy the other team supper.
The gauntlet down, our manhood challenged, Dad and I quickly headed back to his house and picked up the canoe. Our destination was Bear Creek Backwater, a swampy, pike infested impoundment on a small local creek. Knowing that the small pike in Bear Creek were suckers for silver spinners, we were confident that we would soon have a limit of 20 inchers, quickly and easily sealing our victory.
When we arrived at Bear Creek, a party of 3 other guys were setting up to go out in a small jonboat. Being old hands at Bear Creek, Dad and I loaded the canoe and slipped into the impoundment ahead of the other guys. We had paddled only as far as the first bend when the canoe slid over an unseen submerged stump and became hopelessly stuck. We tried gentle rocking and paddling, to no avail.
For what happened next, I'm obliged to point the fickle finger of fault squarely at Dad. He grew impatient, gave a lurch, and the next thing I knew I was looking at the underside of lily pads with my tackle lazily floating around me. We broke surface to the roar of laughter from the guys still on shore, who found our predicament so entertaining that they did not offer to help us out of it. After verifying that each of us was OK, we righted the canoe, collected as much gear as we could find, and swam the canoe back to shore.
The guys back on shore were just launching when we got back in, which was made all the more difficult by their fits of hysterical laughter. Dad and I took a quick inventory and discovered that we had been lucky enough to recover almost all of our stuff. It was a very warm day and there was still The Bet - we drained the canoe, reloaded it, and headed out again.
The guys in the jonboat had staked out the second upstream bend of the creek channel, so we cut across a weed flat to the next bend. On my second cast with a #3 silver spinner on 6 lb. mono, I felt a heavy strike. I said "Dad, I've got a big one!" Dad, who had never seen anything substantial come out of Bear Creek, was skeptical: "You've got weeds". Then we both saw the fish as it rolled near the surface - a monster pike! Dad was instantly transformed into a flurry of activity and fatherly advice. I gently played the fish for 5 minutes, keeping it out of the weeds, and Dad netted it when I brought it to the canoe.
After a few minutes of admiring the fish, Dad picked up a paddle and started pushing us back across the weed flat. I said "What are you doing"? He said "We win. We're going home". When we got as near the guys in the jonboat as our path would take us, I held up the pike on a stringer and yelled "Hey". I don't know if I've ever in my life heard a more satisfying sound than 3 jawbones striking an aluminum gunwale simultaneously. One of the guys yelled "How'd you get that"? Dad hollered back " Ya gotta get the stink off ya" and we paddled on.
The pike was 35 inches and weighed 9.5 pounds. The ladies, as I recall, fed us steak and shrimp.
The Deadstream Swamp is one of the largest wilderness areas in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and is every bit as forbidding as it's name. Encompassing the upper Muskegon River, the Deadstream River, and the Reedsburg Backwaters, most of it is accessible only by water. It's a place of eerie beauty and solitude, just minutes from the heavily fished waters of Houghton Lake. For the nature lover, the diversity of wildlife in the Deadstream is astounding. For the angler, it is challenging and productive. Just when you think that all it contains is weeds, vicious deerflies, and mosquitos, you have one of those magic evenings where the water seems to come alive with feeding fish. The entire surface will be dimpled with rises, punctuated by explosions as large bass and pike make short work of their smaller neighbors, and you're left in awe of how many fish it really contains.
It was in hopes of one of these magic moments that I convinced my wife, Wendy, to accompany me to the Deadstream on a warm, Indian Summer afternoon. We launched our 12 foot Meyers in the upper Reedsburg and motored upstream to fish the "cattail canyons" of the upper Muskegon River, hoping that the late warm spell had flipped the on switch on the big bass and pike.
But it was not to be. We fished hard for 4 hours, using everything at our disposal, without so much as a single hit. The day coming to an end, the fishing lousy, we returned to the upper Reedsburg to try the last few bends in the river channel before giving it up.
I was using a small floating Rapala, which I casted to the edge of the river channel and immediately snagged what seemed like the millionth weed of the day. My patience gone, I muttered an expletive as I violently ripped the lure off the weed and began a burning retrieve, which was rewarded when a small pike nailed the Rapala. Sensing that I might be on to something, I repeated the high speed retrieve on my next cast, and another small pike smacked the lure. I caught four more 18 inch pike in this fashion on that single river bend; they were small, but they were the biggest fish we had seen all day.
After several casts without a hit, we moved down to the next bend. I repeated my technique but, curiously, got no response. Finally, after about a dozen casts, I felt the familiar rap of another small pike. The little fish made a quick sideways run and seemed to bury itself in a mass of weeds. Feeling nothing but heavy weight, I steadily cranked the reel. Wendy, seeing the bend in my rod, said "Do you need the net"? I said "Nah, he's just hung up in a bunch of weeds". It wasn't until I almost completed my retrieve that I saw the true situation. The pike that had hit the Rapala was about 15 inches long but it was squarely in the grip of a far larger one. The big pike saw me at about the same time and sent a geyser of water over the bow of the boat as it turned to fight. I yelped "Get the net!" and Wendy scrambled to do it as the fish showered us with spray battling to tear the little pike away from me. Unfortunately, it was too late; the monster let go and slid into the depths.
Dejected, I held up the little pike that was still hooked on the Rapala, it's innards spilling from the slashes received from the big fish. If only I had said "yes" when Wendy asked if I needed the net. It was then that my dear wife uttered the fateful words "Why don't you throw him back out there? What have you got to lose?" I looked at her for a moment and thought "Yeah, what the heck." I flipped the small pike, still hooked on the Rapala, back into the hole and watched in amazement as the big pike zipped out and nailed it as soon as it hit the water. The battle was joined again, but this time we were ready; as soon as I got the fish near the boat, Wendy neatly netted it.
The pike was 34 1/2 inches long and weighed 8.5 pounds. I never actually had a hook in it! When I cleaned it, I discovered the remains of a 16 inch pike inside it.
One of the things that makes fishing so darn much fun is that you never really know what's going to happen on any given day. The first 2 stories are good examples of what I mean, and this story is not about to change the pace.
May 15, 1995, found me in my small 12 foot aluminum boat fishing one of my favorite areas of Houghton Lake, which is a large sand bar that extends several miles out into the lake and breaks from 7.5 feet on the bar to as much as 13 feet around it. I was drifting for spawning crappies on the edges of the bar (an excellent fishery, almost unknown, which has since been ruined by the milfoil explosion here), using 6 lb. test and a 1/16 oz. white road runner jig tipped with a small shiner.
I had already caught several fat crappies and it was looking like a productive day. I felt another slight tap, exactly like a crappie inhaling the jig. I set the hook and immediately had to grab tight with both hands as the fish took off on a drag screaming run. At first, visions of hanging "Big Wally" in the family room danced through my head, but after a few minutes of fight reality set in - not even Big Wally is that big. I had not been able to stop or turn the fish, and when I looked down at my reel I saw that the situation was desperate - almost spooled!
Having no other choice, I turned on my trolling motor and chased the fish to gain some line. When I figured I had put enough line back on the spool, I stopped the motor and re-joined the fray. The fish began to slowly tow me, stern first, across the lake. I was powerless to do anything about this. Every time I applied pressure to the giant it would take off on another scorching run, forcing me to chase it with the troller to save my line. By this time I knew I had a carp or catfish on - no other fish in these parts could possibly be that big. The cycles of tow and chase went on for over 20 minutes. I was tired and beginning to seriously doubt that I would ever see the monster that had inhaled my little crappie jig.
Then, things began to go my way. The furious runs became shorter and I no longer had to use the trolling motor to keep line on my spool. I was still being towed, but the fish was tiring even as I was and, little by little, I was gaining line on it for the first time since it had struck. 30 minutes into the battle I had the fish to within 50 feet of the boat. It rolled near the surface and I saw it for the first time - a massive carp. It made one final, valiant attempt at freedom, but I held on, and a few minutes later, slid it into the net.
I lay back, exhausted, marvelling at the behemoth now taking up most of the bottom of my small boat. It was only then that I looked around and took bearings. During the 35 minute fight the carp had dragged me far out onto the lake, over a mile from the spot where I had originally hooked it. I dredged a couple buckets of water from the lake, poured them in the bottom of the boat to keep the fish wet, and headed for shore. After pictures and weighing, I successfully released her back into Houghton Lake.
The carp weighed in at 29 lbs., 7 oz., good enough for fifth place in the carp category (2nd place, hook and line) in the 1995 Michigan Master Angler Program. She remains the largest fish I have ever caught and the longest, most tiring battle I have ever fought. To those who would say "Aw, it's only a carp", I would ask: Have you ever been on a sleighride?
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