Monday, August 27, 2012

Salmon of the "Michi gami"

 "Soon after I embraced the sport of angling I became convinced that I should never be able to enjoy it if I had to rely on the cooperation of the fish."  Sparse Grey Hackle


Although I’ve spent a fair amount of time wetting a line in Lake Michi gami (Michigan) and a few of it’s tributaries in pursuit of King Salmon, I finally had a chance recently to get out in the open waters and really fish them.  Not that shore fishing isn’t real, as noted in earlier posts, I love the fall run, but something about being out, way out in the big water makes it feel more like big game fishing.  Good friend Kris Davis and I had been playing messaging tag all spring and summer it seemed in order to get me out on his beautiful boat in Kewaunee.  I cringed every time he’d contact me and tell me of the banner catches they’d had and for some reason or another I couldn’t take advantage of his invitations.

Finally the stars aligned and I could make it over while he spent a couple days on the water vacationing with his young kids (who are following in dads footsteps as skilled fishers it seems).  A quick trip To White Lake on the way over for an excellent mountain bike ride, then onto Kewaunee very early to make the 4 mile cruise out into the lake.  I know nothing of this deep water fishing, so Kris kindly started working on setting poles out at varying depths with all sorts of glowy lures and flashers. Me?  I just stayed out of the way and followed his directions of how to get line out without creating a tangled mess.  It’s a pretty amazing thing to see the rods out and somehow it all works to keep everything from criss-crossing and hopefully attractive to hungry fish.  The amount of gear this fishing requires is pretty staggering, but like all fishermen, it’s sometimes about just the name of the lure or superstitions of color, pattern or just the teeth marks of old battered baits.  Kris had no shortage of any of those.

Boats joining us out in the water looked like little red, green and white fireflies marching in the dark up and down a ridge of 150 foot water, averaging 45 to 55 degrees.  Apparently, everyone felt some fish may be lurking at those depths, while some could be shallow, while yet others in medium waters looking for food.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to me (yet) but Kris had all the bases covered.  Action was slow and soon the sunrise over the lake, (which I never tire of seeing) gave way to full daylight and a complete change-over of gear to new flashy lures.  Lines are pulled in, baits quickly changed (some “sure killers”) and set back out-a seemless system it seemed.  A bobbing planer board soon signaled “FISH ON!” which I learned causes all kinds of commotion in the boat and is about as exciting as it can be.  Hours watching the arching poles do nothing is quickly forgotten as Kris hands me the rod.  He had warned me about this pole, and I love his quote: “Ten yds per color x 6 colors = 60 yds plus 100' of leader 180' + 15 lbs of angry chinook salmon = sore arms every time!”  True words….I wondered if that fish would ever make it to the boat or if my arms would hold up.  He coached me on how to bring the fish up the “alley” formed by all the other lines and hopefully keep this determined fish from tangling gear.  It worked and soon the silver fish was home in the cooler.

It seems that when there is a lull in the action, (and this day the fish seemed to be on vacation), lures and presentations are at some point changed in that search for the perfect bait or set up.  Roasted garlic tuna placed into a bait to provide stink-um, was worth a try.  Yep it worked, and soon another very large fish was on-providing some huge runs of line, worrying me that the reel just might run out!  Sadly, after a long battle and about to be netted, the bruiser flipped his head at the start of another run and the bait landed empty beside the boat.  Dang!

We had noticed that the number of boats patrolling the waters had dwindled and most of the commercial charters long gone.  We kept at it for a while longer with the kids on board providing “entertainment.”  At some point we started bringing in lines and stowing gear and began the trek back to the harbor in the distance.  We had taken another fish during the day, so salmon filets would return home with me, one of my favorite fish to cook.  Kris was perhaps disappointed with the action this day, but I was just happy to be out on the water, and as he commented, fishing takes ones mind off work and all the other worries that seem to be left onshore when lowering the lures into the depths.  I found that to be very true and can’t wait for the next chance to feel the burn in the arms hear the call of “Fish on!”

Saturday, August 4, 2012


It’s been nearly a week since my both-footed jump back into mountain bike racing. “Racing?” Okay, well racing is like when it’s you against the other riders in the race-right? Point to point events are more like that, or maybe the weekend WORS races, but for me, in an endurance race, it was more survival in a way. Oh, nothing so dramatic- I would make it, and I’d live to ride another day, but an endurance event like the “Wausau 24” does have a much different feeling that a “normal race.”
We did have a four man team for the 12 hour fat bike -that sounded like fun, but a lack of other teams within that category forced a shuffle of our assets (riders) into 2 two man fatbike teams. That little change meant twice as many laps (as I planned) and guaranteed very little rest from 10:00am to 10:00pm. “Okay…I can do this”- besides, it means I’m done in the evening and can enjoy some welcome beverages with my team mates, not like the 24 hour folks who’ll be pounding the pedals all night into the following day.

Bike riders are not runners…there is a reason for that, but endurance races typically use a Le Man start-riders running a short distance in stiff bike shoes, usually getting passed by 12 year old twig girls, find their bikes and then are off, turning pedals instead and headed for singletrack. My partner Joe, being younger “volunteered” to start the race for us (whew…dodged a bullet there) and was soon engulfed in a cloud of dust threading his way though the field on lap one. We all had pre-ridden a lap the day before, and the Wausau 24 is a worthy course by mountain (and fatbike) standards. Plenty of singletrack and rock gardens, some double track to spin the legs out and a very tough climb about halfway through.

The butterflies gathering in the gut I remembered from years ago as I stood anxiously waiting in the transition area for Joe to return. We’d guessed around an hour + per lap, so about on cue, the new highly fashionable black “fat hyphen dot com” jersey appeared over the finishing rise and with a swift tag, I was off for my turn. Long distance racing plays funny games with your brain-and early in an event, ones mind is going much faster than the bike usually. “Oh-there’s a guy right ahead…I’m faster and will pull him in here soon.” Sometimes that plays out, sometimes they disappear over the next climb never to be seen again. Since everyone is in this thing for the long haul, there is a much more civil discourse out on the trail than in other events-if someone catches you, most are happy to pull over and let them pass, with a “go get ‘em!” and a “thanks bud!” as they go by and out of sight. For us on big bikes, we might also hear “Alright !-rock on fatties!” (talking about the bike, not us).

I ended up, as Joe mentioned I would, counting down the laps in my head. Yeah, we’d do five or six laps out here, so the game became one of checking off each section of memorable trail-“Only 4 more times thru this boulder field.” Or only 2 more “Ho Chi Min da*m climbs!” Traffic sorts itself out after a few laps and it becomes quieter out there. The 24 hour solos are a sick breed, and would fly by with nary a word…I didn’t find that stuck up at all-they are just seriously focused or in a tiny world of survival, and I swear rarely notice other racers as they carve lap after lap. In the dark hours, it really becomes silent, the six hour racers are gone, so one usually has a lot of alone time.

Binking red LED lights appear in the darkness as other riders thread the trail ahead, and occasionally the ground around my bike would be lit up by an overtaking racer. A very surreal world. The only sound is gear changes and breathing and saying to myself- “only one lap to go.” Survival in these races isn’t always the pedaling part, but also that hour break between laps. You have to eat and have to drink and very quickly energy bars, bananas and Gu packs become a sickening necessity to pound down your gullet to make it though the next lap. A new mind game creeps in at that point-the “real food” one….where all I could think of is a burger or brat and cold beer. For now however, it was just working out during the first half of each lap, all the so-called “energy” sloshing around inside. Yuck.

As it ended up, our other 4 man teammates, Andy and Butch (who are bike animals-one of them on a singlespeed!) were a lap or two up on Joe and I and we had a 45 minute lead on 3rd place, so using our very best race delirious math skills, we’d determined that I’d not have to venture out for another lap nearing the 10:00pm finish time. At 10:01, Joe and a tide of another racers crossed the line to conclude the event. We’d keep our second place and represented the fat bike scene very well. The bikes handled this course superbly, slinging around tight twisty singletrack with ease and only the climbing sections hindering (me) during the laps. For myself, the event wasn’t so much about racing other riders- sure, we wanted to finish on the podium if we could to represent the fat bike category, but it was about fun, about pushing oneself (cliché, I know), but mostly about spending a weekend with friends and riding-riding with great effort and living to tell about it, to laugh about about it and be humbled by it-I may just have to do this all again!