Thursday, October 11, 2007

In so many piscatorial ways, I’ve had a charmed life, being privileged to fish some, if not most, of the world’s best locations. But perversely, some of the most enticing and exciting fishing I’ve ever experienced has been close to home. For two summers, Trout and Grouse, where I house my company, has run a summer smallmouth trip to the Menominee River that forms the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. It may be one of the best smallie factories in the country yet few anglers know of it. Those first two years I didn’t get to make that trip and I found myself thinking about it constantly last summer, ironically, as I was fishing in a remote Canadian location for big pike. Most sane anglers dream about being in trophy waters like this yet here I was throwing big streamers for wall hanger pike and cast after cast only reminded me that I was missing out on the smallmouth action five hours, not thousands of miles from home.

This was all compounded, of course, by Dick Dragiewicz, who did fish the Menominee during the summer of 2006 and became so enamored with the fishery he scheduled three different guided trips for 2007. That’s my kind of obsession.

Thankfully, this past August I was able to schedule three days of fishing on the Menominee, leading one of two groups Trout and Grouse sponsors. The hot, humid, dog days of August may seen a dubious choice of dates, but the warmer temps turn on the smallmouth as vigorously as they turn trout into slugs, ratcheting up their metabolism and hopefully, an active topwater bite.

Harry Blessing accompanied me, obsessed as I am with the smallies, his other bass trips already documented in these pages, as were Dick’s. We floated three different sections of the river, fishing new water every day. While Dick’s guide uses a jet boat our fishing was done from McKenzie style drift boats, which allowed us to float longer sections of the river every day and navigate the historically low water the river was experiencing this year.

While our first day of fishing was disappointingly slow the next two days were action packed, both with good numbers of fish as well as a high concentration of larger, l6” and larger bass. I recall Harry noting, careful observer that he is, that he had landed 8 or 9 fish over l7” by the end of day 2. I fished in another boat that 2nd and 3rd day and every day landed bass that topped l8, and in some cases l9”. Menominee bass are well fed, stocky creatures, with thick shoulders and plenty of muscle, not really typical of many river smallmouth I have seen before, which tend to be slim and long, but without much body bulk. You might get a 22-23” bass in some of these watersheds but it will weigh far less than an l8” Menominee bass most of the time.

The topwater bite didn’t get going most days until the afternoon but we caught plenty of bass never the less. Our guides, who work for Tight Lines Outfitters outside of Green Bay, are on the water from May through September and really know the biology of this river. They have modified a number of large saltwater streamer patterns as well as developed several of their own, all of which seem to mimic the forage base of the river.

(we’ll tie several examples this coming season) These are not small streamers, but bulky, flashy imitations that run 4-5” in length. Stripped rapidly, they produce arm wrenching strikes, even from the occasional 10-12 inch overachiever bass. Although the river is tea colored and spotting bass is not always easy, it was clear that the bottom is rich in crayfish, though we never knotted an imitation on during our floats. No question, they would work, but the big streamers were more fun to fish and produced so well, why screw with success.

When the bass did feed on top, they were as aggressive as they were subsurface. Casting a small, thumbnail size popper into a glassy flat was very exciting, the bass creasing the smooth surface as they honed in on the fly. It was hard not to strike too quickly. Slurping a popper next to shoreline structure-rocky points or downed trees, could also draw instant surface eruptions. Several times we saw schools of bass chasing bait along the shore and a quick cast always drew an explosive strike.

On the final day I fished the last few hours alone. The day was hot and the fishing had been excellent, yet these last 2 hours were even more exceptional. A deer grazed along the shoreline, unconcerned as we drifted past, the late afternoon sun turning everything golden. In the center of the river the tip of a downed log just broke the current and a rise, just like a trout, dimpled the surface next to it. I quickly cast my black popper to the ring and it was instantly sucked in, the bass leaping several times, bending my 8 weight deeply. It measured a tad over l8”, fat and feisty. It had to be the day’s last fish and we rowed to the landing, tired, sweaty but thinking it would be hard to imagine anything much better. The fantasy had paralleled the reality, the Menominee delivered.

Submitted by Paul M

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