Sunday, July 08, 2012

Dee's Day of Fishing

(Pic 1) The day began, as fishing days often do (so I'm told) at the ungodly early hour of 8:00 am. Well 8:00 really isn't all *that* early, but we still managed to be about 10 minutes late arriving at the dock. But Captain Norm is a patient, happy man, we slid into the water with no further delays, and we were off! The sky was clear, the wind was still, and the Lake was like glass. It was already over 60 degrees when we started out, and the weather only got better.

(Pic 2) Our destination: where then mountains met the sea--or at least the Lake. Flathead Lake. Just about dead center in the second photo to the left, nestled at middle of Skidoo Bay, is our family place on Finley Point. Don't worry that you can't pick it out for the trees--we can't either. You have to come right up on it before you can see that there is something besides trees behind the dock, and the cabin is always hidden way out of sight at the top of the hill.

(Pic 3) We slowed to a trawl, and Captain Norm got our hooks all baited with a variety of flashy, scientific and smelly lures. On the scientific side, one of the little dangly bits of the lure emitted an electronic pulse that mimics a wounded fish. For the smelly side, there are a variety of sprays to use on the lures before putting them in to attract the fish. A fish's sense of smell, we were told by Captain Norm, is its strongest sense. And the stuff you put out to attract them varies from WD-40 (really? apparently so!) to anise oil.

(Pic 4) The other science used in fishing that was completely new to me (though not surprisingly new as my last fishing was 40 years and a rowboat away) was the fish finder. Captain Norm has three different varieties and they all tell if there are fish near and how big they are (it registers their air bladders and sizes them from them). Jessie and Captain Norm intently checked the depth gauges and the fish finders to make sure we had the lines all set up to the right depths, and we were ready!

(Pic 5) We were ready, it seems, to wait. Fishing involves a lot of waiting. But what better do you have to do when you're out on the Lake, in the sun, with coffee (even for me, it was too early for beer) and good friends? There were four rods set out at depths from 60 to 120 feet trolling along behind us as we sedately motored (1.7 mph) along the point.

(Pic 6) Dee was bursting with excitement (don't be fooled by her apparent calm pose) as she is a true fisher-san. I hadn't been fishing since I was Jessie's age, out in Grampa's rowboat with my uncle Ed casting for perch and sunfish--not too far from where we were currently trolling. It was the first time for Dave and Jessie.

Our quarry? The large and wily lake trout--otherwise known as mackinaw. These are not native trout in the lake. They were introduced in 1905 and are now considered a serious problem. They are voracious eaters and will attack and try to gobble down fish up to 50% of their size. They are a problem because the main  catch of fisherman when I was growing up was the kokanee salmon--a land-locked variety of sockeye salmon that lives and spawns without ever going to the ocean. I remember our neighbors to the east going out in their boat (well, I don't actually remember them going out because they went before it was light and I was SLEEPING) and returning with coolers full of salmon. Now the kokanee are gone from Flathead, eaten to extinction by the lake trout.

Lake trout are fortunately good eating so we were happy to be able to help out the whitefish, perch and bull trout species by thinning the number of their predators a bit. There are supposedly several hundred thousand lake trout in the Lake so we were eagerly anticipating filling our own cooler with our limit of 100 fish apiece. How would we eat that much? We'd smoke 'em, vacuum seal 'em and freeze 'em! Probably just as well for us that we didn't catch anywhere near anyone's limit for the day!

(Pic 7) Dave was the first of the group to spot the tell-tale dip and jerk of a rod tip signaling the bite of a fish. Dee got the honor of trying to bring it in as it was her birthday.

(Pic 8 & 9) She grabbed the rod, expertly set the hook, and started reeling the fish in. It was a fight as it was clearly not a small fish. But Dee slowly and surely brought it to the surface. When she got it close enough to the boat, Captain Norm netted it and brought it into the boat.

(Pic 10) What a beauty! A 29" lake trout--enough to feed all of us for dinner. Dee had trouble keeping her arm straight out for the photo the fish was so heavy! Sadly, though we saw a few more big fish on the fishfinder, we didn't get any more bites so Captain Norm decided to take us around to the other side of the point where he had heard there were some good-size fish being caught.

(Pic 11) As the point of the day was fishing, not sight-seeing, he didn't waste anytime getting us there, but opened the throttle up full. Look Ma, no hands! Jessie (and Dave) were quite nervous about my lack of anchorage so J grabbed my legs to hold me in the boat. Like I was going anywhere!

When we arrived at the other side of the point, in a tiny bay on the western tip, we found other boats already anchored and fishing. Captain Norm exchanged a few words with them--what kind of fish were they catching (lake trout or whitefish), etc. He determined that for the next round of fishing we would anchor over a school (there were some BIG schools down about 70 feet) and do some jigging. To jig, you cast your line out, let it sink to the bottom, reel it in about 6" to 1'--till it's just off the bottom where the fish are--and then you jig it up and down as you slowly reel it in.

(Pic 12) As at our first spot, we got a bite almost right away, but even with Dee's expert aid, the hook did not get set. However a few minutes later we got another one and this one was J's to bring in. She did a really good job reeling it in, and Captain Norm was there to net it in for her.

(Pic 13) Getting her to pose holding the fish was difficult as she would not open her eyes in case she saw the open gill slits (they're dark red/pink inside, very frilled, and completely freaked her out on Dee's fish). Her fish, though smaller than Dee's, was still quite respectable at about 20-22".

(Pic 14) Her fishing done, J went to lay on the front of the boat and catch some snoozy sun. The rest of us kept fishing, but alas, the fish managed to nibble off most of our bait without getting snagged on the hooks, and our fish count remained at two for the rest of the day. Did it matter to our enjoyment? Not a bit. In fact, in hindsight, it was probably better for Dave that we didn't catch more fish as he would have been charged with smoking them all and he is on his way back to Austin tomorrow!

(Pics 15-18) When it was finally time to make our way back to dock, our "pilot" called out the window to us, and we pulled in our lines. Captain Norm filleted our catch for us and neatly bagged it up--a novelty for me as the family rule is you catch it you clean it (maybe why I haven't been fishing in 40 years). Then it was full speed ahead back to the dock with only a beautiful wake and equally beautiful memories behind.

Last night while some of the trout brined prior to being smoked, we had a taste of Dee's big catch grilled and Um, um was it good. We'll go out with Captain Norm again, and next time, 'ware the fish who cross our path!


Bill said...

At a guess, had you gotten out to the lake before dawn, your catch size might have been larger. However, good for you!

Brenda Griffith said...

According to our fishing guide, lake trout are voracious all-day predatory feeders--as opposed to the fish who feed only at dawn and dusk--so the timing of our start should not have played a role...