Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boyne Outfitters- Demo Days and Skitoberfest

So the big news for me lately has been that I started working Saturdays in the new fly shop in our area- Boyne Outfitters. They're a full service shop and guide service operating out of Boyne Mountain ski resort. While Fontinalis Rising will continue to be my own independent website and voice, if something particularly interesting is going on I'll share it here.

And so. . . On Saturday October 6 we'll be having Demo Days in conjunction with Boyne's annual Skitoberfest. Reps for Simm's and Far Bank will be here as well as our staff. You'll be able to cast rods and test lines on our ponds as well as enjoy local food, beer, wine and spirits as well as live music. I'll be working the fly shop, so stop  in and say hi.  Admission is free, and the fall color should be near peak by then. The color is about 30% right now, but it gets brighter every day.

So come on out, drop by, cast a rod, enjoy some music and refreshments, and go for a drive in the country to take in the color. Not necessarily in that order. Make sure you stop in the shop and say hi to me.

the color thus far

For more information Click the following links

Boyne Outfitters


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Isle Royale- The Aftermath

So, I went to Isle Royale, have been home for three weeks, and the crickets chirp louder than ever here at FR. You're thinking "What gives?".

Well, I've been buried in work, visitors, and feeling a little burned out. A little not a lot. It's more like needing to digest such a trip. Isle Royale is not your ordinary destination, no. It was almost disturbing to visit a part of my state so far removed from daily experience, kind of like discovering Molokai had been plunked down in a reservoir in Nebraska- it was mind boggling.

It was particularly jarring to find my own personal Shangri-La so close to home. IRNP combines so many of my loves- wilderness, kayaking, history, long coves, numerous islands to explore, wolves, brook trout, a reasonably good restaurant, arduous travel, hiking, geography, people watching, and discovery.

at home, in my element. Brett Watson photo

We got to Isle Royale at about noon Saturday, went through the required orientation and made our way to our cabin. We were immediately blown away. We had this picture perfect view of Tobin Harbor below our cabin. We quickly dropped our gear as the sound of a float plane approached. Two of our team members were due on the plane, and we wanted to see them drop in.

We made it to the dock as they taxied in and helped them unload. As we stood there exchanging high-fives and talking we happened to look into the water and spot brook trout- very large brook trout- swimming below us. I counted seven fish in the 20 inch range chasing minnows underneath our feet and snapped a couple of pictures. We hurried up to our cabin and strung our rods.

we came so far....

I got down to the dock in time to find that Bob Miller had already landed a 20 incher on a clouser minnow he had tied. I took a couple of shots then started fishing. Bob caught another smaller fish which I also photographed. We all stood there on the float plane dock casting. On my tenth cast give or take, a fish came out from under the dock and nailed my Madonna streamer. This one was also in the 20-inch range and very thick and heavy.

for this

The fish soon cleared out, and we had not yet settled into our cabin. We still had luggage on the ferry dock to retrieve. So we made our way back to the cabin, put our rods away and made our way to retrieve our kayaks from the ferry dock. As soon as we got there we spotted them- six coasters swimming on the sheltered side of the dock. We could hardly believe our eyes- this was going to be too easy. We carried the boats over to Tobin Harbor, got our personal effects a little more settled, then carried our rods back down to the dock. I paddled out to the nearest island, beached the boat and started casting. We fished the rest of the afternoon with no results. Later that evening Brett Watson caught an 18 inch fish. It would be the last of our trip.

From here out the fishing got very tough. On Sunday and Monday we beat Tobin Harbor to a froth. On Sunday the barometer was all over the place. We paddled first to the western islands in the harbor, stopping to cast at every point, rock and reef. While fishing alone a Coaster swam up to my feet to look at my fly while I was busy scanning more distant waters. When I gave my fly a twitch it took off, the last Coaster we would see on the trip.

Tobin Harbor mit coffee

What happened? We can speculate all we want about the barometer, about the influx of bait fish including smelt which were being busted on the surface, or about the ill-effects of early success. To be honest, the Great Lakes are like that- you can have bounty one minute, and empty water the next. It's a big place surrounded by big deep water. As it was we were graced by a few lovely fish, our assurance that Coasters still exist. The season for Coasters ended Monday (Coasters are catch and release only) and so on Tuesday, our last day of fishing, we moved our kayaks over to Rock Harbor where it's possible to catch coho salmon, lake trout and steelhead from shore.

Brett Watson working the shoreline
We didn't catch any of those either. Chris Reister had a big laker chase his fly to the dock several times. Brett Watson and I paddled our kayaks around Rock casting our hearts out, but I soon tired of this. Isle Royale is a big place, and I felt I had not seen enough, that I would be cheated if I didn't at least explore a little, and so I paddled out into the clearing fog all the way to the Rock Harbor light, nearly 8 miles away. For me it was the most magical experience of the trip, better still than catching a Coaster. I felt as if I was able to catch a small glimpse of this park. I spent the day alone exploring the coast, paddling between the islands, photographing the lighthouse even as I was uncertain of the time, of the great swells rolling in off of mighty Lake Superior, or the distance back to the harbor. I have written a story about this trip; look for it in any day now.

Isle Royale paddler

Conclusions? Well, we weren't there long enough to get a good measure of the plight of Coasters. If our early success was an indication Coasters are doing quite well. Their subsequent disappearing act speaks not just to their enigma, but to that of Superior as well, a mysterious fish in a mysterious lake. When you float out over that blue-green water, the rocks far below you receding into darkness, it is hard not to have a shiver run down your spine. Never mind the universe, or even this planet, we are small and inconsequential on this Great Lake. Let's hope we are inconsequential to the fish as well.

my view, before the fog closed back in

Our last day, Wednesday, was all about making the ferry on time for its 9 A.M. departure. It rolled out under heavy skies. We made the stop at the park headquarters at Mott Island before making the narrow passage past the Rock Harbor light, my destination of the previous day. The distant roar of surf and the rising pitch of the ferry announced squall weather on the open lake. I interviewed a park employee as we left the island under dark clouds, a stiff breeze and spitting rain. Before we reached the inland passage back to Houghton four hours later, the waves were big enough to make walking difficult, and several broke above the second level of the boat, sloshing water down the decks and sending all but the bravest passengers inside.

I'll go back. I'll go back, but I won't stay at the lodge. I'll bring my kayak, paddle from point to point, stay at the campgrounds, do day hikes to points of interest, or just to work out the kinks in my legs from being cramped in a kayak. I'll go for at least ten days. Isle Royale is a beautiful and memorable place I have barely touched or seen. Sure I'll fish it again, but it will only be part of the adventure. I'll look for moose, stay at off-shore campgrounds, paddle the Palisades, and take the water taxi to the west end of the island. I'm going to paddle from Windigo to Siskiwit Bay.

I'm going to give Isle Royale a good paddling. That's all I can say.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- Isle Royale edition

Aaaauuuuuuchhhthphphhhh. Yawawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.  It’s Monday in Isle Royale. This has been a great trip so far. let's have some coffee.

Just getting here was an adventure. It’s a seven hour drive from my house, and I stopped a lot to take pictures and stretch my legs (and back). Once I got to Copper Harbor where the ferry and our hotel was I found  a general store, a couple of curio shops and restaurants and no cell phone signal,. Every motel room was full,  because it turns out that Copper Harbor is one of the top ten mountain biking destinations in the US, and there was a race this weekend. I bummed around town, checked into the dilapidated motel, got some dinner at The Mariner, and went back to my room and tied flies. The guys got in late, and we talked and laughed way too late into the night, or should I say morning?

Our ferry left at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and we sailed on the calm blue of Lake Superior, the low mountains of the Keewenaw Peninsula receding into the Lake, and then the outline of Isle Royale itself lifting from the northern horizon.  In the course of the voyage we were never out of sight of land which was a surprise in this 56 mile crossing. It took about three hours.

When we arrived, we went through orientation then checked in and found our cabin. It is situated on a ridge overlooking Tobin Harbor, which is the focus of the Coaster brook trout population. Chris Reister and Brett Watson had opted to fly via float plane, and we heard its droning while we were checking out the cabin. We hurried down to welcome them to the island. No, we didn’t have spruce leis.

While we were standing on the dock talking, someone looked into the water, and right there beneath us seven Coaster brook trout swam in circles. They were chasing bait fish clustered around the dock. We had some necessary business to care for but hurried back down to the docks with our rods. Bob Miller was the first to score, and on his second cast. A few minutes later he had another. Then I hooked up on a good buck. The fish were all 18-20”, and beautifully colored.  Brett would catch one later in the evening. We launched our kayaks and poked around, saw a few more fish, then went back to the docks after dinner and played a game called “Learn to Spey cast” in which Chris Reister managed to break his spey rod and put an early end to our bet as to who would break a rod first. Brett came in second on Sunday. 

one of four good fish
While it was nice to see fish right off the bat and even catch a couple we quickly tired of the dock fish, not to mention that the Tobin Harbor dock is a favorite after work swimming hole for the park and lodge workers. The fishing has turned out to be tougher than our early results would have indicated, with sightings being sparse. I had one fish follow my fly on Sunday, but there’s very little surface activity to help you pinpoint fish, and the harbor has been invaded by bait fish dimpling the surface everywhere you look.

We have two full days of fishing left and so we’re still hoping to crack the code here and get some good fish. I should say that one highlight of this trip has been the food, provided by Erin Chittum and Peter Nunez of Petite Cottage basically at cost, or at least I don’t think I could have gotten food for the trip for the price I paid to eat like a king. Sirloin stew, lasagna, enchiladas. They sent a loaf of zucchini bread for each of us, as well as trail mix, cookies, homemade jerky, guacamole, vegetables and bread sticks. No one will be losing weight on this trip for better or worse.

Brett Watson casting

Well, there’s too much to tell, so I’ll leave it there. I doubt I’ll get another blog post done before I get home so have a great week. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for fresh pictures etc., and I’ll get some posts up soon here and elsewhere.

Have a great week. I’ll be here on Isle Royale.

Tobin Harbor sunrise