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Michigan Outdoor News, Beaver Island’s fishing bonanza: Sight-fishing for carp by George Rowe

Michigan Outdoor News, Beaver Island’s fishing bonanza: Sight-fishing for carp by George Rowe

A few years ago, ardent anglers from all over these United States and some foreign places traveled to Beaver Island for the fishing — some of the best smallmouth bass fishing on the planet.

Cormorants are generally blamed for the demise of that fishing.  But cormorant control measures have been practiced on the island in recent years and the bass fishery may be on the rebound.  Now, the lowly carp is a new star of the islands.  Steve West, the enthusiastic Chamber of Commerce guru for the island, calls carp the "Golden Bones of Beaver Island," comparing the carp, of course , to the bonefish of Florida and the Bahamas.  And, it isn’t a bad comparison.  But comparing the fishing to angling for permit off Florida or the Bahamas might be an even better comparison.

Bonefish rarely get to be much heavier than 10 pounds, but the permit grow to enormous sizes and the average fish might be close to the weight of a Beaver Island carp.  The fight in both fish is similar.

This is why one might see in St. James Harbor a strange skiff with a poling platform at the stern and a long push-pole lashed to the deck.  This craft is used to move slowly along the shallow flats, as those aboard search for fish.

This fishing is really part hunting.  First you find the fish, then you work to get in position for a cast.  The fish is apt to ignore your offering, so you go in search of another fish.  Fortunately, there are lots of carp, so you’ll get another opportunity. shortly.

 When I heard about this fishing, I was eager to try it.  As one with a great deal of experience with bonefish and permit in Florida and the Bahamas, it would be very interesting for me to sample some new flats fishing.

I ran some weekend charters while living in Florida, fishing the upper Keys, and visited many locations in the Bahamas for bonefish.  This is some of the finest fishing in the world.  The skiff, set up to operate well in shallow water, is poled across the shallow flats, in gin-clear water no more than 15 or 20 inches deep.  The fish often are spotted "tailing," showing their tails and dorsal fins as they root around in the soft bottom for cabs, shrimp, and other tasty morsels.  You also can spot them just swimming along slowly, cruising.  The fact that they’re often in small schools helps in seeing them.  Sometimes, you first see mud where the fish have been feeding and stirring up the bottom.

Fishing for the Beaver Island carp is exactly the same, except that the fish are easier to see.  Carp are darker and larger, averaging perhaps 15 to 20 pounds.

It’s a good idea to wear polarized sunglasses, especially if the day is cloudy or if there’s much of a chop on the water.  When we were out there, the sun was bright for much of the day and Lake Michigan was as placid as a mill pond, so it was pretty easy to spot the fish.

 Carp congregate in the shallows as soon as the water warms enough for spawning.  The best time is apparently from mid-June through August.

The best fishing technique is to cast a fly that imitates a crayfish or some other small crustacean.  When a fish is spotted, the boat handler maneuvers the skiff close enough so that the angler can reach the fish and drop the fly well in front of it.

When the fish approaches the fly, the angler begins a hopping retrieve, right in front of the fishes nose in hopes the carp will turn and pursue the fly, taking it in his mouth.  More often than not, however, the fish will ignore the offering and continue to cruise.

Sometimes the fish will show some interest by turning after the fly and then turning away again.  Like bonefish, carp are easily spooked, and they’re not likely to take any lure.  As a matter of fact, they often scoot right out of sight.

They don’t seem too sensitive to the waving of the rod or even the little splash when the fly hits the water.  They’re sensitive to sound, however, so if the boat handler makes too much noise with the pole or if a wader makes much noise with his feet, they quickly will swim away.

Gearing up

The tackle we used was sturdy fly-fishing gear — an 8-weight rod with a matching weight-forward or torpedo floating line.  The leader was about 5 feet of 10-pound-test mono.  The flies were large, mostly multi-colored but dark, and most were weighted slightly.

Expect to make good casts to many fish before hooking up.  Our guide said carp are poor predators and not very effective in chasing down prey.  Apparently their vision is not great.  When you do hook up, set the hook and hang on.  These fish will make long initial runs and yet another long run after you battle them back to the boat.  They are large, of course, very strong, and they have terrific stamina.

The reels the guide uses are large with a good drag and there is ample backing behind the fly line.  You’ll see it on virtually every fish.  The fight is frantic.  A carp will run, run and run then get sideways and resist all the way back to the boat.  They are great fun to catch.

Some of the reward is the setting — way back in some remote bay by Hog Island, all be yourself, in a pristine wilderness, surrounded by crystal clear water.

The cormorants are still very much evident, despite serious efforts to limit their impact on the area.  They have created absolutely barren rocky ruins on some of the smaller islands where they have roosted, killed all the trees and other foliage with their droppings.  The new import — the goby — may have a good impact on the fishing.  The cormorants eat them and thus might eat fewer bass fry.  The goby is also bass food.

The smallmouth bass fishery has apparently recovered somewhat.  There is again an open season for them, starting July 1, and you can sight-fish for them just as we did for carp.

We spotted many smallmouths, including a few fish that had been tagged by CMU researchers aboard a vessel operating in the area.

If you want to try this fishing, contact Kevin Morlock who operates the Indigo Guide Service out of Walhalla.  Comfortable accommodations are available on Beaver Island.

Want to try sight-fishing for big, powerful fish in a beautiful setting?  Try those Beaver Island "golden bones."