Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beaver Island Carp School Experience

Being home for a few weeks since returning from Beaver Island has given me some time to digest the trip piece by piece as well as edit through several gigabytes of images too.  Unlike last year, where I was only on the island for less than ten hours, this year I was able to spend the better part of five days on the island which is quite a bit of time to start figuring the place out and even get into a schedule of sorts of up early, breakfast at the bakery, off to find fish, back in the late afternoon, and then an evening relaxing in town or at the house. Needless to say that life on Beaver Island is pretty damn cool.

Beaver Island is situated in Lake Michigan thirty miles off the coast of Charloviox, Michigan and can only be reached by boat or by airplane.  The island is thirteen miles long and three to six miles wide and surrounded with beaches and bays. Dotted around Beaver Island are several uninhabited barrier islands which equate to more beaches and shallow rocky flats.

A short history lesson on Beaver Island has been one of transitions with Native Americans inhabiting the island until the French fish and fur traders arrived.  Later a Mormon settlement was formed, complete with a church leader that pronounced himself king.  He was later fatally shot by disgruntled former members which then caused a quick exodus of the Mormon population off the island.  Irish fishermen arrived soon after due to the lsland’s rich waters and took over the farms and properties that had been developed by the recently departed Mormon community.  An Irish population has continued on Beaver Island over the decades though the year round population dwindled to 150 or so several decades ago but in recent years over 600 residents call the island home.

Beaver Island has everything that you really need with a grocery store, bakery/deli, a few places to eat and of course few places to drink as well. The island has a lot of personality and it would be easy to spend a summer here taking it all in.   Outside of town is a mix of forest and fields with farms dotted over the island. There are also four lakes on the interior of the island which are supposed to fish quite good for a mix of warmwater species.

I didn’t realize it when I first posted about Carp School that the Beaver Island hosted trips were actually organized in part by Evan Muskopf of Feather-Craft along with Kevin Morlock of Indigo Guide Service.  Evan has known the fellows at Indigo Guide Service for quite a few years and together they wanted to see if these hosted trips would be something that would interest anglers or not.  Neither of this year’s hosted trips filled with five anglers each but were a good learning experience for next year in determining what worked and how the finances of organizing such a trip will work out.

The hosted trips were set up as three nights/four days on Beaver Island with two days of guided fishing for each angler with either Kevin Morlock and Steve Martinez and then a day to figure out the beach carp scene by walking in or relax around town.  We stayed at The Fisherman’s House and there was more than enough room for the group and were in perfect proximity to the grocery store for provisions and the bakery/deli for coffee and breakfast and to pick up lunch for later.

Being that we were short a couple anglers on the trip that I attended, it allowed us to fish with Kevin and Steve each day that we were there.  We spent two days in the boats and one day on foot since there were high winds and waves which kept us on the island and walking into a couple different beaches and bays. I stayed an extra day to fish with Steve and Evan but our trip out was cut short by a fast approaching storm.

It might sound kind of simple but carp and smallmouth are the main game on Beaver Island.  The smallmouth have always been there and over the last one hundred years the carp have moved in and taken up residence gobbling up crayfish in the rocks and lunching on the goby which is an invasive species whose population has exploded over the years and it’s a considerable part of the biomass of Lake Michigan.  The carp will also eat nymphs but overall they are locked in on the biggest meal they can fit in their mouth.

The carp around Beaver Island have increased in size over the past several years and an average fish is over twenty pounds with fish over thirty pounds possible as well.  There are carp that push the forty to fifty pound mark as well and honestly, there might not be a ceiling to how large these fish can get on their steady diet of gobies and crayfish.

It would be real easy to see a short stack of photos in a slideshow and get the idea that the carp on Beaver Island are pushovers and you’d likely be very wrong for thinking that.  Clear water along with the carp’s natural ability to detect vibration through their lateral lines makes this quite a game requiring exact casting skills.  Everything you read about stalking saltwater gamefish like redfish and bonefish applies here as well.  Long casts and the ability to drop a fly in front of a cruising or tailing fish, all while adjusting to wind and the boat moving up and down in the chop, do require a bit of skill.  Regrettably I blew more chances at fish than I should have with the fly line falling across the carp’s body, dropping a fly on their heads, or not even in the right area at all.  It can be downright frustrating at times and you'll quickly see any flaws in your casting game.

These fish are always on the move looking for warm water in the shallows and finding them each day around any one of the many barrier islands can vary depending on the direction of the wind and and water temperatures.  The difference of a couple degrees on a shallow flat can mean finding fish or not.  Once you find a few carp in warm water it generally means that more will soon be arriving and there were a couple times where we witnessed hundreds of fish moving on and off the warm flats in small groups.  This doesn't mean they wanted to eat but it was still neat to see.

What makes the Beaver Island carp fishery unique is that sight fishing is really the only way it’s done and you’ll lay down casts in water six inches to over six feet in depth.  The sun is your best tool for locating fish and it literally lights up the rock and sand flats. When searching for fish from the vantage of the poling or casting platforms, fish can be seen from hundreds of feet away as large black submarines in small groups or cruising singles.  The wind can be dealt with but a cloudy day makes things really tough. If you can’t see the fish then your day is smoked as this fishery really isn’t productive by just blind casting.

Of all the different situations we found ourselves in over the trip the two most memorable were stalking on foot and tailing carp. Steven and I walked up on a small group of carp swimming together at the edge of a sea gull and tern covered island and had two break free from the pack to suck in flies for a double. Twice we came upon “mudders” in the same deep bowl who were tails up in six or eight feet of water steadily feeding. These deep water eaters required dropping a heavy weighted fly past and parallel to them, letting it sink all the way to the bottom, and then slowly moving it into their feeding lane only to have it vacuumed up. This was certainly sight fishing at its very best.

Now, I’ve heard that the smallmouth can turn off around Beaver Island but I’ve yet to see it.  Last year we had a solid day fly fishing for them and on this year’s trip, though the season hadn’t started yet, it was hard not to catch a smallmouth sometimes.  They intermix with the carp and there are times when one (or more) would come out of nowhere to snatch a fly that was intended for a cruising carp.  We caught smallmouth up to five pounds and saw several that were pushing the eight pound mark that fled the flat as we would arrive. It’s kind of unreal when you have to look twice to make sure that a smallmouth isn’t a carp.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few smallmouth approaching ten pounds near and around Beaver Island.

I spent a lot of time putting together a Beaver Island Carp Box before the trip and looking back I could have left at least half of the flies at home.   I had a lot of very good looking flies but some patterns just weren’t large enough or did not have the weight needed to get down fast.  Preferably a fly should drop at least a foot a second and get to the bottom without any issues.

Flies in shades of oranges, greens, pink, browns, and even purple got looks and patterns over three inches in length aren’t too big.  Heavy eyes and rubber strands all add to the effectiveness of the patterns used on Beaver Island and typically resemble their favorite foods of crayfish and gobies.  These fish are looking for a mouthful and typical small carp patterns won’t even hit these fishes underwater radar.

A trip wouldn’t really be a trip if I wasn’t fishing glass but I won’t sit here and tell you that it was the most effective tools for casting large flies in the wind from the casting platform or on foot but in the end I had a great time pushing the fiberglass fly rod envelope on the carp and smallmouth.  When a large fish took it made any disadvantage disappear as the rod was doubled over and bucking under the weight of a heavy carp.  I left the island with small round bruises dotted across my stomach from the fighting butt jammed in my gut.

I fished four very different fiberglass fly rods on the trip with the Lilly Pond 8’6” 8/9 weight being my main stick.  This fly rod is a little quicker than most glass and allowed for easier casting in the wind. It’s also a hell of a big fish fighter.  I also carried along the Graywolf Rods built Steffen 8’3” 6/7 weight (which was to light for carp but would be perfect for smallmouth) and then two borrowed (Thanks Adam Tsaloff) fly rods of a Graywolf Rods Yellow Glass 8’ eight weight and a somewhat rare 8’8” eight weight Mario Wojnicki fiberglass fly rod that after a twenty plus pound fish I figured I’d best put away since the last thing I wanted to do on the trip was blow up a fly rod worth an entire paycheck.  Seeing it bent over double was quite an experience but once was enough.  Both the Lilly Pond and Graywolf Rods were a lot of fun on large carp and even smallmouth bent them over in a half circle.  Fishing big glass on these fish had a couple of noticeable advantages of protecting tippet and being able to leverage and turn fish as needed as well.   

Fly reels on the trip ranged from the Hatch 5 Plus Finatic, Cabela’s WLx 9.10, and the Solitude 5.   The Cabela’s WLx and Solitude fly reels both performed flawlessly in slowing down and controlling these large carp.  You’re going to see your backing so you best have a solid fly reel and check and recheck your connection knots as they are going to be stress tested for sure.

I used a mix of Scientific Anglers fly lines on the trip with the Mastery Coldwater Redfish and Mastery Textured Saltwater lines getting the most use but also found the Mastery Textured Magnum fly line to be great for turning over large patterns as well. I can’t say enough good about the S.A. line up of fly lines that I am using right now.  I never used to be a fly line geek but I am now.

Lastly, five foot stands of TroutHunter Flourocarbon Tippet were all that I used for a leader with 1X being my go to for the trip.  I broke one fish off on the entire trip and it was when I grabbed tippet material that was closest at hand instead of digging through my gear bag for the TroutHunter flouro.  I won’t make that mistake again.

For some it might be hard to justify or make sense of a carp and smallmouth fishery being something worth traveling for but Beaver Island is certainly the exception to this idea.  This is a true destination angling experience in every sense from the fishery to the island community.  Kevin Morlock and Steve Martinez have spent years cracking the code to figure this place out and when all the pieces come together it can be downright epic.  Even when it’s not, you’re sure to work on your skills and the scenery is tough to beat as well. Beaver Island is a very special part of Michigan and the fellows at Indigo Guide Service are doing their part to respect and protect the fishery while promoting their guide service at the same time.

As a side note I am seriously considering organizing a T.F.M. hosted trip next summer.  So far I have dates set with Indigo Guide Service, The Fisherman’s House reserved, and we’re just crunching numbers to make sure the price for the trip adds up to cover the expenses.

If you are interested in attending the T.F.M. hosted trip for 2013 then please check out the Carp Trips website and fill out the contact page.   I'll have room for five anglers for the trip and it will again be four days/three nights with two days guided angling and one day on your own.

You can also send me an email directly and I’ll notify you as plans are coming together or answer any questions you might have.


Brent Wilson said...

Looks epic. Those are some hogs.

Fontinalis Rising said...

Great shots Cameron! Thanks for highlighting such a great destination.

Fontinalis Rising said...

Stellar post Cameron. Very well done. I'm considering your hosted trip next year. I could use a few days on the island.

Feather Chucker said...

Uuuuh, This place looks almost perfect. I'd love to go on that trip. Maybe if a miracle happens I'll be able too.

Cameron Mortenson said...

Kevin...start saving your pennies. It will be a really excellent trip.