• Two days to play - by Slabsrus

    As evening approached on Wednesday, June 11th, I began to really get anxious for six o:clock pm to arrive so that I could close up the store and head north to my buddy Luke’s house to begin my two days off. I don’t often take two days in a row off so it was something that I had been looking forward to for quite some time, and the fact that both my days off were set aside for fishing made it that much better. I had the keys in my hand and the second the clock struck six, the lights were off, the doors were locked and I was on my way to Grayling.

    Luke and I have been running woods and waters of Northern Michigan together for the better part of the past 35 years since we met in junior high school in the late 70s. Over the years we have created more great hunting and fishing memories than a couple old Pollocks like us should be allowed. Though our adventures are not always successful, I look forward to time on the water with him because the end result is always a good time. After a great dinner and a couple adult beverages at one of the local watering holes, I could see Wednesday evening was just the start of good things to come.

    Thursday morning came a bit quicker than Luke and I had actually hoped for. A night full of swapping fish tales and general BS kept us awake until 2:00am, so our 7:00 am wake up time was a bit rough. But after shaking a few cob webs from our heads, and having a great breakfast of hash browns and French toast, we headed for the lake, thankful that we had loaded our kayaks and fishing gear the evening before.

    As we drove to the lake, Luke told me about the nice batch of bluegills that he and his son had caught just one week prior, and how the shallow water areas were dotted with bluegill beds. Personally, I am not much of one for sight fishing, as I enjoy the search for fish as much as catching them, but I was truly excited to be chasing bedding fish in clear water for a change. It would be very different than the foot of visibility that is usually the case in the lakes near where I live.

    Once we were in our kayaks we began working our way along the shore from the public access, looking for big bluegills. We were both rigged with ultralight outfits and using micro jigs and a variety of soft plastic baits to tip the jigs. As we rounded the first bend, heading for the main lake area, Luke pointed out a beautiful bald eagle sitting on a downed tree just above the water. As I cleared the point of the bend, the eagle took to the air. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I take seeing a bald eagle in an area that I am going to fish as a sign of good thing to come.

    A short paddle later we were on the beds, but the fish weren’t. In fact there were very few fish to be seen. Sure there were plenty of small bluegills hiding in the reeds. And there were lots of 12 – 14 inch bass trying to eat them bluegills, but the big gills that we were after had apparently all but disappeared. The bass and little panfish were more than willing to bite our baits, and they were fun to catch, but we wanted the big bull bluegills that had been occupying those beds less than a week ago, and I was bound and determined to find them.

    That particular lake is just outside my home town, where I spent the majority of my life fishing, but it is a lake that I rarely fished. I wasn’t sure about the lay of the land below the surface of the lake, but from a lifetime of chasing panfish, I was positive that the bigger gills would be somewhere not far from the beds, probably near deeper water. And most likely they would be on outer edges of deeper water weed beds, so my search began.

    The wind was calm, and the lake was like a sheet of glass as I slowly paddled along looking for weeds. With water visibility in the 10 foot range I was confident that I could find vegetation or drop offs that would hold fish. I scanned from side to side and below my kayak, just looking for something fishy. Luke had managed to put a couple decent bluegills on the stringer in the meantime, but I knew we could do better. Then there they were, protruding about an inch out of the water, weeds, 50 – 75 feet from shore. I could see them out there and just had to investigate.

    Before I got too close to the weeds I began to cast toward them. My first couple casts were mainly to check the water depth near those weeds, so I began counting as soon as my lure hit the water on each cast. With the slow sink of my 1/64 ounce jig, and years of experience using them, I knew that my 10 count meant the water was definitely deeper. In fact I was sure that the first two casts were landing in water that was at least six to 8 feet deep, which was exactly what I was looking for. My third exploratory cast produced a different result.

    I was only on the count of five when my line became tight. I wasn’t sure if it was a fish or if my little jig had settled on a weed, but I remembered once again what my grandfather had taught me nearly 40 years ago, “When in doubt, set the hook”, so I gave my wrist a quick snap action and knew immediately it was not a weed as my line darted to the side. I raised my rod high to keep the fish up and worked it to the side of my kayak. My first good fish of the day, and it was a dandy 10 inch male bluegill. I could barely reach my hand around him as I lifted the slab panfish into my kayak. He was a great fish, and was the key to landing good fish the rest of the day.

    With that fish landed I threw another cast in the same area and was rewarded with my second 10 incher. Once I had the second fish in the boat I eased my way toward where I had caught both of them and noticed that they were in fact in deep water weeds. Not only were they in deep weeds, they were more specifically along the edge of those deep weeds that were nearest to even deeper water. I had just put the key in the hole and unlocked the door to a great day of fishing.

    Luke and I moved back and forth along the edge of that weed bed for the following few hours methodically casting toward any protrusion or odd patch of the weed beds. The bites weren’t fast and furious, but they were good bites, and by 3:00 pm we had a dozen and a half good bluegills, sunfish and one keeper bass on the stringer and were on our way back to Luke’s house.

    Once we were back at his house Luke and I put the fillet knives to those fish and prepared them for dinner. Luke coated the fillets with his favorite dry batter and fried them, along with some sautéed asparagus and Alfredo style noodles. It was the perfect way to end a great day of fishing, but I still had a full day of fishing to look forward to the next day.

    The next day was another day that I had been looking forward to for some time, as it was a day of fishing with a couple who had never been in kayaks before. Michelle and Kevin had the winning bid for a kayak fishing trip that I donated to a Make A Wish Foundation fundraiser so they were coming to my house at 7:30 am to float one of the local rivers for their first time ever in kayaks, on Friday the 13th.

    I am generally not a superstitious guy, but when they asked about going on that date I was a bit skeptical. I mean heck, why push my luck. Then as the day drew near, and my day fishing with Luke concluded, I saw the weather man calling for a major cold front to set in overnight, with the wind switching from the south to the northwest.

    OK, Friday the 13th I could deal with, but was it going to be worth the effort with such a terrible cold front coming?
    I considered calling Michelle and Kevin to see if they wanted to reschedule but it was too late. They were going to be at my house the next morning, and I already had a second kayak and all the gear ready to go.

    The first thing Friday morning I took one of the kayaks to the place where we would start our trip and locked it to a post. Then I returned home and loaded the other kayak to take to the lake and drop off. It was 7:00 am and Michelle and Kevin were to arrive shortly so I was hustling to get the kayaks spotted so that when they showed up, all we would have to do would be to spot Michelle’s vehicle about 10 miles downstream at our ending point.

    I loaded that second kayak and jumped in the car. I turned the key and,,,, you guessed it,,,,nothing!

    That’s right! Nothing!

    Oh it cranked over but was not going to start.

    My wife just shook her head, almost like she knew that something was going to go wrong.
    I paced the floor trying to figure out what to do.

    I called my oldest son but he was already leaving for work. My middle son was already 40 miles away at work, and everyone else was busy. It was now almost 7:20am and I had no clue what I was going to do so in a last ditch effort, and hoping for the best, I went out to the car and turned the key one last time and it started. So off to spot the second kayak I went and then back home just in time to catch Michelle and Kevin arriving.

    The weather man was right in his prediction of a cold front, and if fact it was even colder than that had first expected and was not supposed to make it into the 60s, whereas just the day before, Luke and I had been fishing in temperatures in the 80s. Oh great, a 20 plus degree temperature drop on Friday the 13th, my car had already given me problems, and these folks had never kayaked before, let alone fished from a kayak. I had to wonder what sort of disaster was waiting downriver.

    After a bit of instruction on kayak use and safety I helped Kevin get in the kayak he would be using and then had Michelle sit in the front seat of my tandem kayak. Neither of them had fished for smallmouth bass before, so I also gave them a bit of instruction on the method and bait we would be using throughout the day. Then it was off we went.

    At the first deeper water hole, just a couple hundred yards from where we launched, we stopped so that I could do a brief introduction for the video camera and then let my guests start fishing. It wasn’t long before Kevin had hooked and landed his first smallmouth bass. Though it wasn’t a large bass Kevin was happy with the fact that he already had a fish and we were only 15 minutes into our 6 hour float.

    I kept them on that first hole for about 15 minutes but was quick to realize that either the big ones weren’t there, or the cold front was going to keep them from biting. Either way it was time to move on and head for what I hoped would be more productive holes downstream.

    About 30 minutes into our float Michelle was hooked into a fish and it was a good one. She did a great job fighting the fish and remembered exactly what I had told her about swinging the fish toward me in the back so that I could get it out of the water for her. As she battled that first fish I saw a flash of brown near the surface that looked to be at least 16 inches long and thought she had a real nice smallmouth, but when Michelle raised her rod to bring the fish toward the surface and swing it back to me I saw that was she had was in fact a big sucker and not a smallmouth.

    Was that going to be the story of the day, little bass and trash fish?

    The answer to that question came soon enough as Kevin landed a good smallmouth that was almost a keeper, and before she knew it Michelle was hooked into a very nice smallmouth.

    She set the hook into the big bronze back and it immediately took to the air. What a pig, at least 17 inches of smallmouth fury, and it was headed straight for the kayak. Michelle kept tension on the fish but didn’t see the large stick that was between the bass and the kayak. As soon as that fish hit the submerged stick the line was cut and the big bass disappeared. I reassured Michelle that things of that nature are going to happen and that I was taking it as a good thing just knowing that the larger fish were going to be willing to bite. Personally, I never would have believed how much of a good thing it was if I hadn’t been there myself.

    It was much farther downstream before Michelle was into another good smallmouth, and this time she was able to get it to the boat. It was her first smallmouth bass ever and it was a decent fish at 13 ½ inches, just ½ inch shy of being a keeper. She was happy with that and considered it a pretty big fish, but I had bigger fish in mind and was bound and determined to put them on a few fish that they could take home some fillets from. Having never fished for smallmouth they had never eaten either and were curious to give them a try, so I was dead set on finding the good ones.

    As we slowly drifted along with the current I had Michelle casting into every deeper hole and behind each rock or current break in the river. Meanwhile Kevin was content to just hang back and catch fish behind us. He had already landed several sublegal bass but seemed to be having a great time doing it. Michelle on the other hand was starting to get into a rhythm and had another good fish on, and when that fish made a leap I saw right away that it was a keeper. Michelle played that bass as if she had been doing it for years and was able to get it to the kayak and swing it right into my hand. There it was, the first keeper of the day at just over 14 inches and we were still just over an hour into our trip.

    As the day progressed, both Kevin and Michelle caught fish steadily, even though the temperature did not get above 55 degrees. Michelle caught a couple more keepers for the stringer and was giving Kevin a little bit of a hard time about the fact the she was out fishing him, but Kevin didn’t seem to mind and took it all in stride. Even though Kevin had not landed a keeper he had a couple opportunities to do so but just wasn’t able to get them to the kayak to be landed. I helped out a bit and put two decent bass on the stringer just to make sure they had enough for a good fish dinner, but Michelle wasn’t done.

    In one of the last holes of the day, and mere seconds after her saying that she wanted a big one to end the day, Michelle set the hook into a good fish. It was a smallmouth, for sure, but it wasn’t the typical bass of the day, it was bigger and when it made the first leap in an attempt to free itself from her line, that smallmouth brought a bit of a holler out of Michelle.

    “I got a big one” she yelled upstream to Kevin who was still taking his time floating along behind us.

    She had a big one indeed and it was doing everything it could to escape. That fish jumped three different times in between making mad dashes downstream and into deeper water but it was no match for Michelle. She played it like a pro and got it to the side of the kayak for me to land.

    At around 18 plus inches, and thick, that smallmouth was well into the three pound range and made and excellent finish to two amazing days on the water.

    Comments 16 Comments
    1. jackie53's Avatar
      jackie53 -
      Double WOW!! Great story and pic's!! Just like I was with you fishing!!Even set the hook on count #5!!Thanks!! Love those Smallies!!
    1. DCottrell's Avatar
      DCottrell -
      Two days of FISHING.... Awesome
    1. specktacklure's Avatar
      specktacklure -
      Nice pictures
    1. Billbob's Avatar
      Billbob -
      great read
    1. kickingback's Avatar
      kickingback -
    1. RogerA's Avatar
      RogerA -
      Now that's a good read, enjoyed it.
    1. Eaglehorse's Avatar
      Eaglehorse -
      Great story! I'm glad Kevin & Michelle had a great time!
    1. NYHellbender's Avatar
      NYHellbender -
      Thanks for sharing with us - Great pictures and story, even a shot of dinner. Yum

      I almost bought one of those Old Town Vapors - Good looking Yak
    1. mtyburski's Avatar
      mtyburski -
      Wonderful read and photos, ideal fishing weather for some big smallies, thanks!
    1. broz's Avatar
      broz -
      What a nice first yak fishing trip, and on the 13 th
    1. papasage's Avatar
      papasage -
      yep i love to catch them smallness . they just not in my area .
    1. Crappiegirl1's Avatar
      Crappiegirl1 -
      Great story!
    1. kycreek's Avatar
      kycreek -
      Good story & pics. Love catching those smallies.
    1. RetiredRR's Avatar
      RetiredRR -
      Very good read and pics.
    1. SeaRay's Avatar
      SeaRay -
      Well written and entertaining. Thanks for sharing.
    1. ifish's Avatar
      ifish -
      Good story and great pics! Thanks for sharing !!