Cap’n Nate searching for big pike in the Lake Erie Bayou

Below, find a report/rant from Captain Nate, who’s become disillusioned with the antics in the Great Lakes “Steelhead Alley”, watching guides teach clients how to line fish on spawning gravel. The East’s mild winter left little chance for ice fishing, but it did point out a new fishery — the swamplands surrounding Lake Erie. And Captain Nate dove in head first…

April Fool’s Day from “Steelhead Alley”. One of the greatest jokes I’ve heard in a while…

I’m not trying to start a fight over fish I couldn’t care less about. I’ve heard the Mid-West vs. Pacific Northwest fish argument rumble through quite a few fly shops. Not to poke the bear too much, but how can we compare a wild ocean run steelhead to a hatchery fish that was in essence brought here to help control invasives? The answer is we can’t and shouldn’t. Period.

I’m posing a question to the fisherpeople of the Great Lakes. What should be our sacred species? Where does our conservation fight begin? In my opinion you need to put on the Creedence and get your ass to the swamp.

Our wetlands! Bogs! Snake pits (there are so many F-ing water snakes that I don’t sleep on the floor of my boat). These are some the most wonderful areas of the Great Lakes. They are also, the most threatened.

Swampland

The marshlands are to the Great Lakes what the headwaters are to the mighty rivers of the Pac Northwest. Without them there isn’t any spawning and eventually no indigenous fish populations. This spring we have been spending a lot of time back in the swamps of the western basin of Lake Erie. We have found fish and trudged through muck and reeds 15 feet high.

Records from the Department of Natural Resources show that there once was a population of Northern Pike that thrived in this Great Lake. There still are, but very few and only in a handful of areas support the spawning grounds for such a magnificent fish. So what happened?

The development of the harbors and subsequent channelization of the Great Lakes has managed to separate the main lake from many of her wetlands. Thus our toothy friends (amongst others) have nowhere to spawn or be warm and happy at ice out.

Back in the swamp, shad float on the surface. Shad die in the winter and become food for pike. Northern Pike are scavengers in the early spring and key in on oily bait like shad. These areas are totally set up for big Northern Pike, but are choked off at the most vulnerable area. There are a couple variables when chasing truly huge northerns. Food, access to deep water (the larger the system the larger the potential for giant fish), and spawning grounds.

So who cares? No one apparently… the fly fishing community here would rather rally around non-native, lake-run trout that they “sight-fish” to on spawning gravel.

We haven’t seen another angler let alone fly fisherman where we go and I don’t think that will change. Sound familiar?

So it is sad to see the survey nets go up in the back of my bays. I hear the ODNR is looking for my slimy friends. I hear there are some really old fish out there… The bass guys tell me about the monster that got away with their five pound bucket mouthed prize and how they haven’t seen a small pike in a long time. I know what that means… but I don’t care.

I walk the marshes, cast my leeches, and catch all sorts of wild fish despite our best efforts to kill them. This year we have caught fat Largemouths, Smallmouths, Freshwater Drum (AKA Lake Erie Redfish), and even a few ambitious Panfish that attacked our bunny leeches.

Sheephead

I don’t socialize much on the weekends because I’m in the bogs. I’m introduced to people who hear I like to fish and chat me up about their favorite chuck and duck techniques for steelhead on gravel. I keep my mouth shut so they don’t see me puke.

-Love. Capt. Nate

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9 Responses to Cap’n Nate searching for big pike in the Lake Erie Bayou

  1. Rob R says:

    Now that’s a fucking blog post, people!!

  2. Chris Nanoski says:

    Great blog entry. My problem is I would not keep my mouth shut. I get in more trouble that way.

  3. Matt Dunn says:

    You’re hardly in the mecca of midwestern steelhead fishing. Sorry you live in Ohio. You ought to come up here to the Pere Marquette next fall and we’ll swing some flies for wild fish. They aren’t native, but they’re as wild as steelhead get in the midwest.

    And I would say smallmouth are the native fish that get me most excited in the great lakes. Very big smallmouth. And pike. And muskie. And lake trout. Still trying to catch my first lake trout in the surf. Came close two weeks ago.

    Also, those 15′ high reeds you were trudging through look to be invasive phragmites. Just saying.

  4. Capt. Nate says:

    Sorry it was a little harsh, but I think you understand why I’m loosing it. The PM is a wonderful river and I think catching Lake Trout from the surf is awesome. Those are phragmites, also know as the common reed.. and are invasive… I’ll be fishing St. Clair for Musky and Pike this spring and summer (until it gets too warm and we don’t want to stress them) and would be happy to have you join if you have an interest nstansbe@gmail.com

  5. Grumpy Wolf Bait says:

    Keep fighting the good fight! I’ve always admired your passion for the “edge” of fly fishing. Inspired by the post you refereced I made a trip to the rocks…. It was ok :)

    Matt, I’m sorry but the term “wild” and should be reserved for only the truest of forms for native species. “Reprod Hatchery Potamodromous Rainbows” seems to fit the bill for Great Lake “Steelhead”. Even if say they were native, the question would be, “Is there a difference between Anadromous Steelhead and Potamodromous Rainbows?”…I say yes, lots.

    What makes me puke, GL guys using switch rods to cast double egg’s under indicators a whole 12ft….barf.

  6. Greg Senyo says:

    Nate, Come on man! Your just not looking in the right places? You want Pike- PI Bay. You will get your fill there… You want walleye, big white bass, Musky, smallies? Maumee River and Lake St. Clair. Great Ohio Steelhead fishing? Grand River- right now the swinging hot… Once you get off the little tribs and baby swamps you will find what your looking, and maybe before you put your foot in your mouth… Some of us like it here!

  7. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Matt and Greg, I agree with both of you. Good points. Look forward to fishing together some time when I move back east this summer.

    The larger message Nate is trying to convey gets a little buried in his hatred of steelhead fishing in general (he hated doing it here too)…

    Nate was watching development in the swamps — construction in State Parks that was disconnecting wetlands from the main lake.

    It was indicative of an attitude in our area where native species aren’t afforded the same kind of attention and protection from the angling community as a non-native game fish. How could the state justify doing that? And why did nobody care?

    Nate’s message to Great Lakes anglers is that they need to get behind native species advocacy and protection. It’s something that’s been ingrained in us out here in Oregon, and a perspective we want to bring back east.
    -Matt

  8. Greg Senyo says:

    I agree that perspective needs to be more a focus here in the east. I also appluad the fact Nate is sticking up for these beliefs. What I do not understand nor will tolerate is angler vs angler bashing between West and GL.

    I think both fisheries are still evolving and facing new challenges. All anglers need to work together. I have yet to fish the West Coast (that will change this fall). I donate services, money, and time to many West Coast Societies that ask our business for help protecting their steelhead fisheries… Remember these are fisheries I may never see, but still respect the anglers fishing there.

    By throwing comments that guides over here teach clients to rack gravel, talking with Ohio anglers makes you want to puke? There are quite a few very good anglers and dedicated sportman in Ohio, that are working hard to make a difference! This kind of writing only causes conflict not education or entertainment. You know the saying, We all are punished by the actions of a few.

    I’m a huge fan and supporter of this blog! The content is always great and education. I share links to this site with all my “Steelhead Alley” friends and clients. I have lived in Ohio and PA my whole life. I guide here and like many, the Great lakes are special to us. It would be much more beneficial for anglers East to West to unify not separate.

    So, the good message that was trying to be shared here was over shadowed by very direct stereotyping and negitivity. It’s scares me to think, that in the near future all our fisheries whether wild or man made will become even more threatened! Fishing in general creates alot of job opportunities both on and off the river, and creates seasonal economic boosts. I believe if one fishery falls, so will the other!

  9. Capt Ken says:

    Great article and great responses! I am excited to see a stir of responses on this article. Everyone reads Captain Nate’s words a little bit differently than the next person. This is to be expected and fantastic that people are willing to respond and open comments to discussion. Personally, my take away on this article was that while we all pay taxes and licenses and fees and hopefully our wives dont ever find out what us fishermen really spend on the sport, or art, or lifestyle of fishing, it is important to leave nature as it is. My passion for the outdoors is to see natural places that are unmolested or should I say unimproved and unchanged by man.

    The thing that devastates us most as outdoorsmen, or at least for me, at this stage in my life is how we, the people, our government officials, Department of Environment Conservation, our businessmen, our politicians and appointed leaders, government and celebrity alike, all end up destroying habitat and miniscule ecosystems simply by trying to “make it viewable” by the common person. Sometimes developing a shoreline so that local citizens, their children, and a handful of tourists can come see “nature” without having to get their feet wet or clothes dirty ends up wreaking havoc on an environment. Ultimately, simply opening up an ecosystem casually to the public for viewing pleasure or sport end up forcing some animals to vacate or abandon their habitats. Some animals will leave and not return others will not be able to reach their previous habitat.

    In my ever-learning mind, if even minor changes & development of a natural area happens to destroy an ecosystem simply because of the absence of certain key species which the local food chain/ecosystem depends on it to stay in balance, it should not be developed or exposed to the public in a way which allows an increased and constant flow of human traffic.

    For example, I prefer not to fish in places where I am less than 15 minutes walk from my vehicle and prefer to have a much longer hike into the area where I am fishing. If the road is 10 feet from an aquatic environment it tells me that a major source of pollution is simply too close to a fragile ecosystem…

    Now… pretend I brush my teeth with the water faucet “off” and drive an “eco-friendly” vehicle,, recycle my garbage and supposedly that offsets the amount of human impact I cause. Then feeling good about myself, I go to fish this roadside honey-hole quite often and rather conveniently, only minutes from my parking spot thanks to some organization. What cannot be denied is that statistically I am still supporting the problem (human caused pollution: noise, air, water, chemical, trash ect). I am contributing simply because my visits will be “counted” and then given a dollar ($) value, and then the organizations, government or private alike, will continue to develop the area, so much so that the human impact actually increases exponentially, along with pollution in all forms.

    So now, how much did my eco-friendly vehicle actually offset the human impact? I imagine it would be a negative number, and certainly hope that I am wrong… What this shows us is that economizing nature on even a simple level in order to promote or protect it, has its consequences and sadly the expense is passed onto nature… The aquatic species of the Gulf of Mexico didn’t get any of BP’s relief funding like the local people who were also impacted… I wonder how the countless aquatic species will afford the impact that was human-caused??? It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

    I think Nate’s biggest point is that it hurts when we notice something wrong when somebody does something “In the name of…” and unfortunately, most of the time we only notice the problem after the damage has begun. Thinking on these things, we should all consider carefully just “how” we enjoy nature and more importantly why.

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