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.
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.
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