2017-07-13 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

For as long as I can remember, and I can remember a really long time, Duke’s was “the” bait shop in Newberry. There were, and are, others, and they are pretty good. But, for some reason, perhaps because it was downtown, on the main street, Duke’s was kind of special. This past winter, we lost M.J., who ran it for years. Now, A.J. has taken up the banner. A few days ago, I popped in, and was happy when he told me that he intends to run the place just the same. He told me, “Coffee is always on, and we always have time to talk fishing.” Music to these ears.

“The muskies are hitting on the Tahquamenon,” he added. This was not a huge surprise to me. I have personally chased a few of those big, toothy critters around on that water, but when I went out after the “big fish,” I always headed downstream from the Landing, and fished the curves and big holes.

Now, it seems they are hitting up above the dam. An angler might want to put in at Natalie State Park.

Years ago, I used to fish the river with my father-in-law. We would always head downstream to a certain spot, stay for a while, then troll back home. Got some pretty nice fish doing this.

Fast forward a bit, and I was fishing the river with an old friend. Doing pretty good. That day, we were after walleyes, not really looking for muskies, and had a few in the boat, nice 20+ inch fish, plus a couple or three medium-size pike.

We were working a corner and another guy comes up to us, and we stop and chat. Like fishermen do, way back in the bush. Then, the guy asks us, “What kind of fish do you people have up here?” I’d already figured he wasn’t a local.

“Why?” I asked, noting that he had this kind of silly look on his face.

He explained, “I was fishing this hole, a ways back. Big corner, really deep. All calm, nice, and quiet. There was a duck swimming along, keeping an eye on me. Not a baby duck, and not a little fish duck. A real duck, a mallard or something. And, all of a sudden, this thing shoots up and there is a huge splash and the duck is gone. It ate the duck! A real duck!”

About this time, the guy was looking like he had just seen the U.P. version of the Loch Ness Monster. He was about one fish away from the guys in the white suits and a ride back home on the blue bus.

So I say back, “Muskie.”

I got a look of confusion from him, and so I explained what a muskie is and how big they get. As I remember, the guy didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to get a line back in the water. He was just kind of taking in the scenery, on his way back to civilization and away from “whatever” that “thing” was.

Let’s talk about how to catch them. They are called “the fish of a thousand casts” for a reason. They are not that easy to catch. With my father-inlaw in the example earlier, we were trolling, using stick baits, about seven or eight inches long, with treble hooks. Black on the top and gold on the bottom worked best. Next best were the perch-looking ones. And I’ve always liked the ones with the little rattles in them. They just seemed to work better for more and bigger fish, more often.

But, of course, with big fish, one good bite and one good battle and the lure ends up on the wall. They tend to get a bit damaged.

With these fish, do not stick your hands anywhere close to the pointy end. They can be a bit nippy, and that nip could be very serious when you are way back in the bush, a long way from the E.R.

Right now, the fish are biting just about everywhere. I have also been hearing about mayflies hatching, and at times, with all that food in the water, the fish are not that hungry. This, however, is probably why the muskies are hitting. They are a bit too big for mayflies. They are after the fish eating the mayflies.

Right now, crawler harnesses still seem to be the thing for walleyes. Casting slowly, trolling slowly, or “drifting.” Also, the gills and perch are still hitting well. The trout are reportedly getting rather active, even with all of the water. Remember to “match the hatch,” and you fly fishers ight think about using a bit of hair and fluff that looks like a mayfly.

Happy fishing to you.

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