Anticipating Ice Out

We look forward to the early season more than any other time of year.

We look forward to the early season more than any other time of year.

At the midpoint of this winter, I was starting to doubt if we’d ever be able to take the boat out again. Cold snap, after cold snap was taking its toll on my hopes of seeing that blue Lake Superior water ever again. Add on the fact that we were ice fishing in places that don’t normally have enough safe ice to fish really started to put things in perspective. Just in the nick of time, things started to warm up in a hurry and put us right back on a “normal” spring pace. I’d even say that we’re ahead of last year in terms of the melt, which is great news.

Those of you who have experienced a classic early spring day of smallmouth fishing with me know that I enjoy this time of year more than any other season on the big lake. All the elements of the fishery, combined with low fishing pressure and the shot at some of the biggest fish of the year make it an extremely special time on the water. The sounds of the first sandhill cranes of the year squawking across the water and the occasional bear climbing an ash tree to munch on emerging buds make for everlasting memories. Add a few hog smallies on top of that, and I don’t think it gets much better. I look forward to seeing all my early season clients again, and I’m truly excited to see what this year brings.

Summer Haze

Check out Robert Thompsons latest film “Summer Haze,” featuring the best of the midwest warmwater fishing scene including us at Freshcoast Angling. Robert came up and filmed a few days with myself, my wife Laura and great friend Dave Gellatly on Chequamegon Bay. The footage turned out great and if you’re looking to shake those winter blues, this is the way to do ti!

Ice Capades

The temperature finally hit about 40 degrees here today, and it was a gentle reminder that spring is slowly on its way here, but it’s definitely taking its time getting here. Similar to last year, there’s a lot of ice out on the big lake and it’s not going anywhere fast. The ice fishing conditions have been as good as they get out in the Apostle Islands. We’ve been making a nearly 18 mile run offshore on snowmobiles to get out to some fantastic lake trout fishing in 160-220 feet of water. “Bobbing” for Lake Trout is a pretty darn classical fishery around here, and one with a lot of history. It’s really the only ice fishing I get truly excited about. We fish with “bobbing hoops” loaded with 300 feet of coated wire line and drop heavy jigs right down to the bottom tipped with soft plastics and fresh caught smelt. The grab from a big laker is not subtle and I’ve darn near had my hoop nearly ripped from my hands a few times. I think it would be similar to fishing for steelhead with no rod and just holding your line in your hand. Once the trout hits, you set the hook hard and start hand lining the line back in, which takes some time when your fishing down over 200 feet. It’s pretty fun, and the chance at a 30 pound fish is very real. It’s also fun to be that far offshore in the Apostles in the dead of winter. It’s pretty rare that the ice is that good that for offshore, so it’s been good to take advantage of what this winter has offered. We’ve been landing well over 20 trout a day too, so the action has been steady. I doubt the conditions will last too much longer, but I guess that’s a good thing for those of us really excited to get back in the boat again.

Permit Week on Island X

We’ve just returned from our annual trip to what I’m now calling Island X. There’s not too many secrets left in the fishing world nowadays, but this place is still safely guarded by those in the know. The islands sole guide is very protective of his home, as he should be, and has an extremely full schedule making it very difficult for inquisitive anglers to experience the place. Luckily we have access to prime winter weeks via Anglers All in Ashland and this year I was able to spend the week with a couple great friends/clients (Robert and Cobert) from North Carolina.

I knew the week was off to a good start when the very first group of fish I casted at was a trio of tailing permit at the flat a short walk from the house we stay at. We usually walk down to this flat on the first evening of the trip, just to get a taste of the salt and work out the winter kinks in our casting. This flat is usually productive on a low tide, and it was still falling when we made our way down it. This was the first time I’ve seen Permit there, and I was able to put a good stalk on the fish, but they weren’t interested in what I was showing them. Luckily this would only be the beginning of “Permit Week” on Island X.

Our very first morning of “official” fishing was picture perfect. Zero wind and high skies. I’ve only seen the water slicked out a handful of times here, and it was a treat. As we idled onto the first flat of the day, we could already see multiple permit pushing and tails slicing through the early morning glass. I had a large school of small Permit work through within range and hooked up on my first cast. It wasn’t much of a Permit but it was a Permit on the fly, and my first. As the morning progressed, more and more fish worked through the flat on the incoming tide. I hooked up briefly on a much bigger fish, but failed to come tight and delivered my fly to around 15 more fish that acted like typical Permit. The action was steady until after lunch when the tide slacked out, but it was a great start to the trip. Not only did I land my first Permit, but Robert was able to land two great fish on the first day. 3 Permit in a day isn’t too shabby.

After a few days of fishing I had lost count of how many Permit I’d seen or casted at. Bonefish had surely taken the backseat on this trip, but many were still caught in pursuit of those big forked tails. And anyone who knows bonefish know that the ones you catch on Permit tides are damn big fish. One of the highlights that sticks out the most was a particularly hot afternoon with a high tide and a light breeze slightly ruffling the water. The Permit had pushed up into small lagoons through narrow channels in the mangroves. A sight that will be forever burned in my memory will be two fish in the 25 pound range working across water that was maybe a foot deep, leaving over half of the Permit out of the water. They were up patrolling a sandbar that was only covered by water on a high tide. We worked in quietly and I was able to deliver a good shot, but the fished blew out as soon as the fly landed. It’s rare to see them up that shallow, so they were ultra spooky. It was also interesting how they would swim with their flank parallel to the bottom to get out of the skinny water. The late afternoon lighting lit them up so beautifully, truly accenting the pearlescent sheens and the jet black fins. Cobert was up next and was able to get some other great shots at some more tailers in the same lagoon, and had one tip down and eat his fly, but he failed to come tight. The last fished I casted to that afternoon was a particularly large fish working his way out a narrow channel just wide enough to push the boat through without scraping up against the mangroves. It’s always tough to deliver a fly to a fish moving directly away from you, and I wasn’t really able to get a good shot until he exited the small channel and turned every so slightly to his left on the way out. He looked briefly at the fly and went on his way.

I was able to land a fish in the 20 pound class on the day before my 35th birthday. It was a hot, muggy day and the mosquitos were out in full force. I’ve never had any sort of issues with insects on this island, but this day made up for all the years they were absent. With zero breeze and high humidity, it was actually quite miserable at times. I was forced to wear heavy pants, shoes, and my raincoat to escape the blitz. Add to the fact that for half of the day I didn’t see a single fish of any sort made it a mental grind for sure. Around 1pm the tide started to fill in and things changed. We worked our way back up-tide from the ocean side flats where we had been catching tailing bonefish at midday to an area known as Permit Boulevarde. We could see the first fish tailing before we shut the motor down. A few more groups were pushing around the flat and I instantly had a shot a big fish that followed and tipped down on my fly 3 or four times until it was right next to the boat and finally spooked. It’s a cliche, but there really is nothing like the feeling of casting to a Permit and watching it examine your fly. It’s not just the heart racing adrenaline filling your veins, but a sense of self consciousness. Permit will expose your every weakness and make sure you know you’re not everything you think you are as an angler. Luckily I was able to shake off the jitters right away as another fish worked the edge of the flat but showed no interest in my fly. After three or four more refusals, I switch my fly, hoping for one last shot. Things seemed to settle down and we didn’t see a fish for around 30 minutes, and with the day coming to a close, I was praying for one more fish to work down the bank. We made one more push up the bank the fish had been filtering down, and luckily one more fish made its way toward us. It was a head on shot, right at 12 o’clock about 60 feet. The first cast was a little too far in front of it. The fish turned and made its way toward 11 o’clock. I stripped in my slack, picked up and made one shot a little closer this time and the fish pounced all over the fly and I came tight instantly. Baffled, I looked back at my guide, and then let out an excited shout that scared most of the mosquitos away. What ensued was a long nervous battle. My guide kept ensuring me “He soon be tired.” I played the fish as best I could, and when he was boatside my guide grabbed the tail and lifted the fish in. That was that. One of my most memorable days of fishing I’ve ever had. Permit have a lot of hype surrounding them, but I feel comfortable in saying that they may be the only fish that truly lives up to it all.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m leaving out a lot of details, but you’ll just have to ask me about the rest of it sometime!

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Long time, no see.

Captain Luke Kavajecz with big Permit on fly.

Captain Luke Kavajecz with big Permit on fly.

Jeez. I’m getting to be downright horrible at updated the blog. Does once a year count? Anyways, I thought I’d throw a little news out there for ya, if anyone still checks in on this…..

I just returned from our annual trip to what I’m now calling Island “X.” This year we had great tides for Permit fishing and four were landed in the week. I was fortunate enough to bring two to hand. I’ve had many, many shots at these magnificent fish over the years down there, but have never come tight on one. I would say that of all the fish people talk about, Permit are the only ones that live up to the hype. They can drive you nuts, but they truly are worth the wait.

On the Freshcoast front, I’ve got limited days available for Spring smallmouth fishing. May 16th, June 12,13,15,27 are all that’s left for May/June. Get a hold of me (luke@freshcoastangling) if interested in any dates.

Events: I’ll be heading down to Madison for The Black Earth Angling Drinking With Scissors event on Feb. 20th. Should be a good time. I’ll also be working the Sage Booth at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in March.

Media: Third Year Fly Fisher will be releasing his newest film “Summer Haze:” A Warm Water Fly Fishing Film in early March. Freshcoast Angling will appear in the film, so if you’d like to see us in action, be sure to check it out. I’ll post a link when it becomes available.

Fall Brown Trout Recap

Well, it was another great fall on the Freshcoast, and we enjoyed every minute of it! The big lake once again was the boss, and made it tough on many occasions to get out to the fish, but we managed. We had a lot of wind and cold temps early in October, but thankfully we stayed somewhat comfortable in our 23’ Ranger Bay Boat. I would say the theme for the fall was not big numbers of fish, but rather BIG fish. Those seeforellen browns just keep getting bigger each year, and we are all excited to see what the future of this fishery holds. The big stepping stone for this season was to land a few of these powerful fish on topwater gear. I think we put about 5 or 6 fish in the boat on traditional topwater plugs like the zara spook and a variety of prop style baits. It’s very, very exciting to see one of these big fish explode on the surface, and on some days, it seemed liked the only way to move the fish! Thanks to all who braved Lake Superior in the fall with me, and I hope to see you all again next year!

Roger Lapenter Smallie School Review

The inaugural Roger Lapenter Smallie School went down this past Memorial weekend and it was a wonderful time.  It's hard to summarize the entire event in one blog post, but if there's one thing I learned, it's that the future of fishing and the outdoors is in great hands.  It felt pretty darn cool to be able to show the next generation exactly what Roger had worked on so hard so that kids like them could enjoy this amazing fishery.  

Out of the many essays we received, we chose two kids: one local and one non-local.  Dawson and Jonathon were a prefect fit and the excitement level was at an all time high all weekend.  We started the school with a rundown on the history of the fishery and what makes Chequamegon Bay such a unique place.  We covered basic equipment and did a little casting practice, though the kids were already pretty proficient.  We spent the days on the water catching fish and learning techniques, and also toured the Bay to show the kids areas of concern and the contrasting forms of habitat in both the coldwater and warmwater sides of the Bay.  

Highlights of the weekend including Dawson catching his first smallmouth on the fly, and then his first popper fish as well as a very surprising appearance by a Steelhead, in which he not only hooked, but somehow survived an acrobatic battle in shallow water.  Jonathon caught a 20 incher and made some great shots at cruising fish and converted the sightfishing opportunities well.  He even managed to land a pike that was laid up in really skinny water.  Fun times.  

Hopefully the kids take what they learned and pass it on to their friends and family, and maybe someday will become conservation heroes like Roger Lapenter was.  

Thanks gang for a great time and we're all looking forward to next year!