This article "The Carp of Beaver Island" by Brandon Butler appeared in Midwest Fly Fishing in the October 2008 issue. Midwest Fly Fishing is a great regional publication, you can check out their web site at… Midwest Fly Fishing (www.mwfly.com).
The Carp of Beaver Island
Brandon Butler with a carp hooked on the flats near Beaver Island. photo/ Kevin Morlock
Walking up the ramp of the Emerald Isle for the trip from Charlevoix, Mich., to Lake Michgian’s Beaver Island, anticipation gave way to acceptance. Month after month had been crossed off my calendar as I awaited the arrival of the 4th of July expedition.
In the back of my mind, I had questioned the rational if driving more than 500 miles to fly fish for carp — after all, they’re the same fish that swim a stone’s throw from my home in Indiana. But I had been told by a trusted guide that the experience would be one I would never forget. So as the ship’s engines began to rumble, I settled back to see what would happen.
After the two-hour, 32-mile ferry ride to the tiny town of St. James on the island, it was clear that the experience I would never forget would be an adventure, as well. The island is about 13 miles long and 6 miles wide, about 54 square miles in area. A weathered, old lighthouse greets travelers to the island, and the harbor moors only a handful of boats. In the marina parking lot, friends and family awaited the Isle’s arrival. My guide-to-be, Kevin Morlock, was among them.
Kevin is a well-known salmon and steelhead guide on the rivers of western Michigan. When we met a few years back, the crossing of kindred souls was obvious. In the years since, we have fished together numerous times.
After a quick tour of Main Street in St. James, we headed to the campground where Kevin stayed for the summer. It was located on a high bluff, overlooking the waters of Lake Michigan. The horizon was dotted with the uninhabited islands of Trout, Whiskey, Garden and Hog. From this vantage point, Kevin, while taking his morning coffee, could scout carp feeding on the sand flats below. For the sake of simplicity, I had left my tent at home and rigged a hammock between two trees where the wind would rock me and the waves would serenade at the end of a hard day’s night.
I’m not a morning person, so when Kevin told me carp fishing improves as the day progresses, I was pleased. We shuffled around our camp the first morning and discussed strategy while waiting for the sun to warm the water.
Kevin fishes from a flats boat, 17 feet long with a 40-horse motor. It had a platform in back from which he could pole us toward carp without a sound.
Like most of us who have Champaign dreams and beer budgets, I have longed for but have never been able to afford saltwater adventures. The idea of a steelheading maestro, perched atop a platform, pushing me around in search of tailing carp in the northern most reaches of America, was inspiring.
We launched the boat off the eastern shore of the island and headed for the southern tip. The water temperatures we took on the main lake were in the low 60s; too cold for aggressive carp. Kevin expected the water would be warmer in the south bays, inviting pods of carp to gather in the shallow water.
I never thought this trip would change my perception of a species I knew so little about, but as we watched carp after carp cruising the outer lip of the flats, i found them irresistible. Back home in Indiana, people shoot carp with bow and arrow and trow their carcasses away. Seeing these finicky, beautiful beasts cruising crystal-clear water in search of food is something else.
We moored the boat in a few feet of water and began to approach the shallows where the fish were feeding. The water temperature here was 70 degrees, perfect for feeding fish.
Kevin was on a mission this summer to catch as many carp as he could because he is tagging caught fish to track their movements in Lake Michigan. A biologist at heart, he enjoys the science of the experience as much as the catching. I left him to his own pod and set out down the beach in search of more fish. They weren’t hard to locate, and a group of feeding fish appeared before me as a dark streak across the clear water.
I slipped up behind a large bolder 50 feet or so from a pod of a half-dozen carp. Kevin had warned me to get the fly close to the feeding fish, into an area as wide as a basketball hoop. Their eyesight, he said, is poor and they rarely chase flies aggressively.
Seeing so many carp around me, I figured these fish would be easy to catch, but they are not. I worked this little pod for nearly and hour, before finally, a fish took. The moment is still fresh in my mind. I was growing anxiously annoyed, when I targeted a carp on the outskirts of the pod. The cast was a few feet beyond the fish, perfect for allowing my goby imitation time to sink the necessary two feet. As I strip-stripped the minnow along the bottom, allowing for a pause just in front of the fish’s face, I watched with amazement as its bugle-mouth opened and inhaled my fly. Somehow I kept my excitement in check and executed a solid hook set. The fight was on.
As the thirty-inch fish ran for deep water, I slightly tightened my drag. We struggled back and forth for 15 minutes before I finally brought the magnificent fish to hand. In awe, I caressed the sided of the fish and released it with a new-found respect for such a maligned species.
Fatigued suddenly and pensive, I crawled onto a nearby boulder and listened to the sounds of waves breaking on the shoreline of Beaver Island and the wind from the great lake around me.
Brandon Butler is a syndicated outdoor writer from Bloomington, Ind. Contact him through his website www.driftwoodoutdoors.org.