June 9, 2011

Beaver Island - Land of the Carp Flats

The ride in on the ferry from Charlevoix is surreal. Midnight blue water surrounds you in every direction as far as the eye can see. As you near the main island of the Archipelago, Beaver Island, those dark shades of blue transform into hues of turquoise and aquamarine, like something out of the South Pacific. Even in eighty feet of water, you can see clear through the gin clear water to the bottom. As you pull in to the main harbor on Beaver Island, Saint James Harbor, you realize that you have arrived someplace magical.

Saint James Harbor
The fine folks at the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce and the Beaver Island Lodge were so kind as to put us up for the weekend. I cannot say enough about the warmth and hospitality these folks shared with us upon our arrival. I've traveled a fair amount across the globe and have to say that these guys are some of the friendliest and most gracious hosts I've ever met. You gotta love the charm of the Upper Midwest.

Beaver Island Lodge
Room with a view
First glance at the archipelago and you'd think you in the Carribean. Crystal clear water encompasses the vast number of rocky shoals and reefs, lined with fine sugar sand. The only giveaways are the vegetation on shore of the larger islands, cedars, pines and spruces, and the missing taste of salt on your lips. While the majority of northern Lake Michigan is still left unspoiled, I can't hardly suspect that the ultra clear water isn't partly due to the presence of zebra mussels, unintentionally introduced to the Great Lakes from the ballast water of ocean going vessels. Untold miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan are lined with the washed up shells of dead zebra mussels. Even in paradise, the impact of man can still be observed.

northern paradise
bird shoal
holographic flight
gin clear
zebras
The real heroes of Beaver Island are Captains Kevin Morlock and Steve Martinez of Indigo Guide Service. These guys put up with half a dozen scurvy Prima donnas from fly fishing's seedy underbelly, the media. Not only did they deal with us assembling to roll call way past reveille, and fumbling casts as some of us were still under the influence of the prior evening's activities, they managed to put us on fish under adverse conditions of a late spring. These guys must be part time saints. I'm not saying that we were all obnoxious by any means, but the pressure is on for any guide leading some of fly fishing's elite, filled with the high expectations of catching some of those Beaver Island behemoths, the common carp.

bass assassin
Deeter the fishing magician
I came prepared for Beaver Island, sporting a seven weight Ross Rx with a Ross F1 reel, and a Ross Essence FW in a nine weight matched with a Ross Momentum LT for heavy duty work. The seven weight was spooled up with Scientific Anglers Coldwater Redfish Line, which casted wonderfully in the cool Michigan Tropics. The nine weight was spooled with SA's Textured GPX, a perfect fit for tough duty in stiff winds. While I was hoping to test the mettle of both setups to their breaking points, both combos fished flawlessly and had nary a hiccup in the line of duty. While I didn't get to see an F1 blow up or an Rx crack under pressure, I did get to see how easily the combo subdued a thirty pound carp, especially after getting into the backing twice on that fish. Even with over four hundred feet of line and backing out of the guides, My gear never wavered, and I was able to get the fish back to the boat to land.

rigging up
this little piggie had roast beef...
scaled out
release
I'll be back. Even though I didn't get into the quantity of fish that I thought I would, cool water temps resulting from a later spring helped subdue large numbers of fish from coming up into the shallows to feed. Perhaps a visit later in June or early July would be more favorable for high numbers of fish. Regardless, the quality of the fishery is outstanding, and the average size of carp caught had to be pushing twenty pounds. Throw away everything you know about fishing for carp, and head to Beaver Island. Beaver Island will redefine what you think about fly fishing for carp, skewing your baseline and possibly spoiling you for life. Welcome to without a doubt, some of the finest flats fishing in North America.

I'll be back allright, and next time Steve, I'll be bringing the kimchi.