Small Stream Dreams and the Waters of Lake Superior

Tom spent the summers of his youth climbing over stones on the beaches of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, a place that might be nearly a physical opposite of Chicago, where he lives today. You can drive fifteen miles in the middle of the day and not pass a car coming toward you. There are miles of pristine bays along the shoreline, some as small as 10 feet wide nestled into cliffs that whole years without a human footprint being pressed into their gravel. For his birthday he loaded up the Kayak and jumped in the car on a Thursday evening and turned north. He spent two full days from sunup to sundown skipping swiftly over fallen trees in the woods like a deer, rushing toward trout streams feeding into lake superior with fishing rod in hand.

Birthday Breakfast, a small Copper Country brook trout

Birthday Breakfast, a small Copper Country brook trout

Several small brook trout were landed from small overgrown pools and large holes carved into the bedrock by waterfalls, time hiking between pools was spent eating wild berries and watching Kingfishers dart from branch to branch above.

A small but aggressive fish that was swiftly released back to the cold pool it was taken from

A small but aggressive fish that was swiftly released back to the cold pool it was taken from

In years fighting brown trout on Lake Michigan that could eat a school of brook trout this size for a single meal, I'd forgotten that inland trout are never about size, every single fish is precious and beautiful. The smallest trout have beautiful patterns as the ones above, and the big ones are just as amazing. The hiking over boulders and log jams is equally rewarding, a wonderful break from the hours spent paddling into the infinity of a Lake Michigan horizon.

Logging roads spider through the wilderness, and provide remote launches for kayaks,

Logging roads spider through the wilderness, and provide remote launches for kayaks,

Time not spent chasing trout and foraging wild berries and mushrooms was used kayaking on Lake Superior. No fish were caught, but little effort was expended in any meaningful way while fishing mid-afternoon around underwater boulder-fields and cliffs. The geology of the area makes for fantastic scenery beneath the kayak, visibility can be 20-30 feet at times and there are house sized boulders littering the bottom against shields of layered sandstone that resemble massive strips of bacon. Truly a beautiful place to escape the stoplights and shoulders of other city dwellers.

A small bay perfect to stop and eat lunch at and watch the sky reflect and distort on the lake.

A small bay perfect to stop and eat lunch at and watch the sky reflect and distort on the lake.

With the dog days of summer coming to an end we have a deluge of big mean fishing heading our way even as I type this post. Time to tune up the tackle box and catch up on sleep; endless days of plying the lake for staging fall-run salmon are ahead.

Better Late Than Never - a 25 lb King Salmon in a Kayak!

This post is long overdue, but with the fall salmon run right around the corner, this is a little something to get everyone ready!

On Saturday, June 13th, Mark and Kalvin took their kayaks out on Lake Michigan in some foggy conditions to do some fishing for king salmon.  It had been a few weeks since they hooked up with a nice king.  Mark was the first to hook up, as his flasher fly took a hard hit in 55 feet of water at about 4:45 am.  The fish never went on any real big runs, but definitely was pulling hard.  At one point, it was pulling Mark close to 2.0 mph, and was consistently pulling him around at 1.0-1.5 mph.  Fifteen minutes later, Mark netted the largest king salmon he's ever caught - a 39.5", 25 lb king that would be the new Kayak Wars record*.

(*Tom should have this record, he caught a 40"+ fish last year that was DQ'd because the submitted picture wasn't in his kayak).  

Mark's Big King

Mark's Big King

 

After that, it got pretty slow for Mark, who didn't even care... he was just thinking about whether or not he was going to mount this beautiful fish!  Kalvin, in the meantime, had got into a good school of smaller fish, that were hitting spoons.  In about a 90 minute span, he landed 5 fish - 3 kings, 1 laker, and a rainbow, all up to about 7 lbs.  A great day, no doubt.  

Kalvin's catch from Saturday, June 13th.  

Kalvin's catch from Saturday, June 13th.  

Mark got word Kalvin was heading back in with his limit, and Mark decided it was a good time to head in.  He was anxious to see just how big his fish was.  Right as he turned around, the same flasher fly took a hit in 92 feet of water.  He battled this one for five minutes before landing a nice 12 lb king.  Exhausted from paddling while dragging around 25 lbs of salmon on a stringer, he threw both kings in the front hatch on his Tarpon 140.  He let Kalvin know he was a little south and still out in 90 feet of water.  It'd be a good 35-40 minutes before he got back to shore.  Once he got into 50 feet, he reached to crank up his spoon rod, his flasher fly rod took it's third hit of the day.  Again, he battled the king for 5 minutes before landing a nice 13 lb king salmon!  What a day!  Be sure to check out video of Mark's day below.

Caught a new personal best, 39.5" and 25 lb king, along with two other 12-13 lb kings.

He contemplated staying out and fishing to catch a limit of king salmon.  He had clearly figured out a pattern:  the kings were hammering his flasher fly!  This was by far the best success he ever had with a flasher fly... and this pattern proved to be fruitful for the majority of the summer, catching 2-5 kings almost every trip out through the Salmon-a-Rama tournament in July.  Ultimately, he was ready to go in.  He was physically and emotionally exhausted and wanted to see how Kalvin did.  

Mark's 3  kings he caught in his kayak

Mark's 3  kings he caught in his kayak

This was just one day of an amazing summer of kayak fishing for kings on Lake Michigan.  Team Trout Mafia had limited out their July quota of 40 salmon for Kayak Wars by July 18th!  Now, these big kings are getting ready to make their annual run into the harbors and up the rivers... and Trout Mafia will be out there for yet another battle with the king salmon.

39.5"... new Kayak Wars Record!

39.5"... new Kayak Wars Record!

Salmon-A-Rama Kayak Division - a 2015 photo recap

Team Trout Mafia had 3 anglers in the top 10 this year, taking 2nd, 4th, and 8th. A full recap to come soon, but until then, here are some photographs from on the water to tide you over.

A shaky panorama of a dramatic sunrise over Lake Michigan

A shaky panorama of a dramatic sunrise over Lake Michigan

Red skies before sunrise as seen from the kayak of Tom, Mike and Kalvin can be seen fishing in deeper water under his starboard rod.

Red skies before sunrise as seen from the kayak of Tom, Mike and Kalvin can be seen fishing in deeper water under his starboard rod.

Mark fighting a strong King Salmon just before sunset during Salmon-A-Rama.

Mark fighting a strong King Salmon just before sunset during Salmon-A-Rama.

Tom releasing one of the small King Salmon caught during the tournament.

Tom releasing one of the small King Salmon caught during the tournament.

A fierce storm swept across Wisconsin and forced Team Trout Mafia to cut and run to shore as they watched in on radar from their kayaks. After arriving on shore and taking cover the storm squall pushed through and toppled trees and whipped the lake into a frothy sea of whitecaps.

A fierce storm swept across Wisconsin and forced Team Trout Mafia to cut and run to shore as they watched in on radar from their kayaks. After arriving on shore and taking cover the storm squall pushed through and toppled trees and whipped the lake into a frothy sea of whitecaps.

Mike and Kalvin with three of the larger King Salmon they caught during the tournament.

Mike and Kalvin with three of the larger King Salmon they caught during the tournament.


Salmon-A-Rama mid-week update - TMT in 1st and 2nd

Currently Team Trout Mafia is holding 1st and 2nd place in the Kayak Division of Salmon-A-Rama 2015. We doubt these 15 lb class fish will hold until the end of the tournament this weekend, but we're on the fish and are hopeful we can upgrade to fish in the 18-20 lb class before the weekend.

Mark got out this morning and weighed in an upgrade that put him just behind Kal with a fish just 4 hundredths of a pound lighter.

We'll keep you updated as the tournament continues.

Mark's 15 lb king caught this morning.

Mark's 15 lb king caught this morning.


4th of July in Northern Minnesota

Tom Harris headed north for the holiday from Chicago to Northern Minnesota with kayak on the roof and a car full of fishing rods. With sights set on monthly team-limits of northerns and some trophy walleye fishing, he arrived at the cabin between two lakes and spent the better part of a week carrying his kayak through the woods to remote lakes, and exploring new water. These are some of his experiences:

Navigating a bog with channels made and kept open by beavers for use in winter to swim between lakes.

Navigating a bog with channels made and kept open by beavers for use in winter to swim between lakes.

Tom spent much of his time chasing Northern Pike and Walleye on a number of lakes which he carried his kayak into. Small lakes that don't feel much pressure due to lack of easy public access can make for big numbers. Some 40+ fish outings were had casting for Northern Pike.

Releasing a Northern Pike on a sunny afternoon. Over 100 Northern Pike were caught from this kayak during the 4th of July week.

Releasing a Northern Pike on a sunny afternoon. Over 100 Northern Pike were caught from this kayak during the 4th of July week.

Tom also targeted Walleye on some of the larger lakes in the area, night can be a very productive time to target Walleye on some of the big, clear, spring-fed lakes in Minnesota. A personal best 30.25" walleye was landed on the 2nd of July, just after sunset. The fish was measured for Kayak Wars, photographed, and quickly released.

The 30.25" Walleye caught just after sunset.

The 30.25" Walleye caught just after sunset.

Team Trout Mafia continues to dominate all divisions of Kayak Wars 2015. With the inland species currently being limited out on by Tom Harris and Daniel Byrne, and the Great Lakes species being consistently caught by Mark Rasmussen and Kalvin Sabel our lead continues to grow. The dog days of summer tend to be our most difficult times to produce big numbers of points, but this year has been the exception. We plan to hold strong as we head into the big points months of September and October, when 40 salmon limits sometimes come in a single weekend for our team.

Team Trout Mafia, handily holds the first place position in the Worldwide Freshwater Division (as well as all other divisions).

Team Trout Mafia, handily holds the first place position in the Worldwide Freshwater Division (as well as all other divisions).

Salmon-A-Rama is currently underway and Kalvin and Mark are currently in prize position, Tom and Mike plan to get out in the coming days to hopefully make the top five full of Team Trout Mafia.

Kalvin Sabel and Mark Rasmussen in 2nd and 3rd place in the early days of the week long Salmon-a-Rama tournament.

Kalvin Sabel and Mark Rasmussen in 2nd and 3rd place in the early days of the week long Salmon-a-Rama tournament.

We will have an update on Lake Michigan Salmon and Trout fishing after the tournament concludes. Until then, tight lines to everyone, stay safe while out on Lake Michigan this week.

Memorial Day Weekend : Team Trout Mafia Heads North

Team Trout Mafia (mostly) took some time away from the Great Lakes this weekend and headed to various camp sites and cabins this weekend, some with their kayaks in tow.

Driving into the setting sun in Middle Wisconsin

Driving into the setting sun in Middle Wisconsin

Tom headed North-West to the waters of Northern Minnesota to chase Northern Pike this weekend. The goal was to limit the team-cap on Northerns in Kayak Wars, which was done in two quick outings on a couple of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.

A sunrise launch on a small Minnesota Lake

A sunrise launch on a small Minnesota Lake

With rising water temperatures and new vegetation growth the Northerns were very active, and prone to take aggressively fished crank baits. Everything from spinners to jigs to x-raps to shad-raps worked, but a jerky retrieve followed by quick pops and long pauses with a rattle-trap was the real breadwinner of the outings, accounting for dozens of fish.

A small northern that fell to a large sized Flicker Shad

A small northern that fell to a large sized Flicker Shad

Our May recap is just around the corner, we are transitioning from shallow water Coho on Lake Michigan to medium depth approaches to Cohos, Kings, Steelhead, and Lake Trout as well as shallow water Jumbo Perch. Inland lake fishing is only picking up, and Team Trout Mafia is holding a 1000 point lead on the second place team in Kayak Wars. It should be a great June.

The view many of us dream about during those dark winter months.

The view many of us dream about during those dark winter months.


A Trout Mafia Win : Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series : Northern Pike

Mark and Kalvin headed out to Delavan Lake in Southern Wisconsin this weekend to take part in the first leg of the four part Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series, which spans from May until September of 2015. The target species for this part of the tournament was Northern Pike, and there were 35 kayak anglers competing for biggest fish, and longest three fish bag.

Our very own Mark Rasmussen took home not only the first prize for longest three fish, but the big fish prize as well. He landed a dandy 33.75" Northern mid-day to seal his victory. The story of Mark's day follows.

Other than Salmon-a-rama 2014, this was my first kayak fishing tournament.  I had no idea what to expect going into it.  I asked the directors at least 20 questions going into it on how the tournament worked, how we measure fish longer than 30" on a Hawg Trough, etc.  This was a different animal, and I wanted to do well.  

With the tournament being at Delavan Lake, I had to do a little research into it.  I had never fished Delavan Lake, so I spent a couple weeks checking out fishing reports, checking lake maps, and using the Fishidy website to find areas that might be worthwhile to fish.  I made the decision to make the 3+ mile trek to get to the southern portion of the lake to fish a river outlet and the bays, which would hopefully have some good weeds.  Luckily, I have a few lakes nearby that are similar to Delavan, so I drew off those experiences.  I figured the water temperature would be 55 degrees and was hoping pike would either be in the weeds, or along the break near the weeds.  My game plan would be to troll to the south, using firetiger and perch colored size 14 husky jerks shallow and similar colored shad-type baits along the edge.  Once I found some good-looking weeds or productive areas, I'd cast spinners, spoons, and jerk baits to try entice a strike.  I actually figured it'd be pretty easy to catch pike on this lake.  Boy, was I wrong.  

I got to the launch area around 5:45am, about 45 minutes before the shotgun start.  I happened to pull up right behind fellow Trout Mafia member Kalvin and we unloaded our gear.  I got more nervous as each minute passed, and was overwhelmed by the amount of anglers and some of the setups.  There was only a handful of us that would be using a paddle kayak, the rest had Hobies or Natives that were pedal-driven.  

When the whistle blew at 6:30, I sprinted to the south and tried to find the edge to setup my gear to start trolling.  Some other anglers got position on me so I was trolling unproductive water for a while until one hooked up with a small smallmouth bass.  I got into position and made my way.  The water was crystal clear and I was looking for good weed beds as I worked 8-12 feet of water.  I found some weeds at about 7:30 as one of my lures snagged some cabbage weeds in about 7 feet of water.  As I stopped to yank that lure out of the weeds, my other rod with a firetiger husky jerk started pulling, and I set the hook!  I reeled in a small northern pike, about 23".  It was a relief to get the skunk out of the box.  I started casting that area, hoping to hook into another, but didn't have any luck.  I moved on. 

I kept trolling down towards the outlet, near another launch.  Once I got down there at about 8:30, the weeds popped up and it got shallow pretty quickly.  I started to reel one of my lines to keep it out of the weeds.  As I did that, I hooked some weeds and yanked it out.  SMACK.  I was hooked up again, this time with a smaller 22" pike.  I watched a fellow yakker, Don, catch 2 smaller pike in the same area, so I started casting.  Again, no more luck, so I moved onto the bays.  

I worked the weed edges and over the tops of the weeds with spinners, spoons, jerkbaits, and a jig and grub, but couldn't get anything to connect.  I saw Kalvin and he had caught a 24" earlier, but hadn't caught anything else.  Talking to some of the boaters, they said the pike were active early, but it had shut down.  This wasn't a good sign, and I began thinking about working the west shore back to the launch.  

At about this time, the wind was picking up out of the south, so I started drifting back in about 15 feet of water, trolling a couple shad raps and casting a lipless crank towards the shore.  Nothing was working.  I was beginning to panic a bit, realizing I had only caught two small snakes.  I knew it was slow, but figured at the very least I'd need a 3rd fish to get in the money.  I decided to throw on some tail dancers to work deep water.  This is something I generally do in summer to target fish on the deep weed edge down about 20-30 feet of water.  I've had a lot of success doing this, catching pike up to 38" the previous summer on one of my home lakes of Big Cedar.  Maybe the sunlight and boater pressure had moved some of the quality fish deeper?

There were definitely some big marks on my fish finder from 20-30 feet of water down towards the bottom, but I had no idea what they were.  With the wind picking up, floating weeds were everywhere and I had to keep a close eye on my rod tips to make sure my lures weren't fouled up.  Just before noon, my rod doubled over.  My first glance was at my fish finder to make sure I hadn't snagged bottom.  My second glance was back at the rod as I saw it start pumping.  I set the hook and the battle was on.  The fish stayed down for a while and I just was praying it wasn't a muskie (this is a pike tournament, after all).  Once I got a glimpse of the fish, I realized it was a very nice pike.  After seeing only two small pike all day, this girl looked monstrous.  As I was fighting it, I thought about how much money this fish could be worth!  She made a few runs, but 5 minutes later, and a pretty mediocre job with my small net, she was by my side.  I got the lure out and paddled to shore to get a good picture of her on my Hawg Trough.  She was just under 34", my second largest pike I've ever caught.  

I was ecstatic.  I knew this probably put me in the money.  It was about 12:15 now, I was a couple miles from the launch, and I knew I needed to be back by 2:00.  I decided to go back and work the same stretch again.  In the meantime, I crossed paths with a fellow yakker who said he had three pike as well up to 29".  Now I got a little more nervous.  I wanted to upgrade one of my pike.  I went back and trolled the area again, hoping to hook up.  I had two more hits, but they didn't stick.  I decided to keep working northward to the launch, so I could be back in time.  These were going to be the three fish I was going to enter.  

I got to the beach with about 20 minutes to spare and gave Nick my phone to register the fish.  Word must have gotten around about my big fish, people were asking me about it.  I asked Nick if there was any fish registered yet bigger than mine.  He just replied, "Eh, it's up there."  Now I was nervous.  I'm not a very social person, so I just loaded up my gear and talked to Kalvin when he got back.  He said he only knew of two other guys who had three fish.  I talked to Don, and he had a combined total of 74" with three fish.  I knew I had that beat.  When it came time for the prizes, we found out that with 35 entrants, paydays would be granted to the top 6 finishers.  Kalvin managed a 6th place finish and took home some money.  After they announced 4th place, I was awarded $50 for catching the biggest fish.  Don was announced as 3rd place.  I got nervous again, wondering who might've beat me.  When I heard that I wasn't 2nd place, Kalving slapped me on the back and I went a little numb.  I realize I had won!  Colin handed me the check for $585 to go with my $50 big fish check.  WOW!  It still hasn't set in that I won.  This is another $635 that goes into "Mark's Hobie Fund."  It was pretty tough fishing out there.  Some very good anglers didn't catch a fish.  Only nine actually caught a pike. 

This was just the first tournament in a series of 4.  Next up will be bass down on the Illinois River in Ottawa in June.  Another body of water I have't fished yet.  I've never been accused of being a good bass fisherman, but I'll see what I can do next month!  I'll be out there casting my spinning gear hoping to win some more money to put away into the Hobie Fund.  

April 2015: Monthly Recap

Here we are on the last day of April, and what a month of fishing it was for Team Trout Mafia.

Releasing one of the nearly 100 salmon our team landed this month

Releasing one of the nearly 100 salmon our team landed this month

We followed the Coho salmon as they worked their way from the furthest point south on Lake Michigan up into Illinois and toward Wisconsin this month as the water steadily warmed from the mid thirties into the mid forties. We generally found the fish high in the water column, and in the warmer pockets of water we found.

As the coho salmon move north and school up, the brown trout have began to spread out. Winter spots that produced massive numbers of fish for us have gone quiet. We have found browns this month near the bottom in waters from Wisconsin to Indiana.

One of many healthy brown trout from this month.

One of many healthy brown trout from this month.

With warming water temperatures on Lake Michigan come great opportunities for Kayak anglers to catch trophy smallmouth bass that flirt with state record status in Illinois and Indiana. We found smallmouth near structure all month long and were able to pick them off in many locations and during many different conditions. Tom landed his personal best smallmouth this month while coho fishing, measuring 1/8" longer than the state record, and weighing in well over 5 pounds. Mike caught a beautiful pre-spawn female just days later that was the highlight of his trip. These fish are pictured below.

Tom's personal best smallmouth.

Tom's personal best smallmouth.

Mike's 20" class female.

Mike's 20" class female.

We are currently competing in Kayak Wars, a year long kayak tournament in which we took 1st place in the United States freshwater division in 2014. We are currently in the lead world-wide in the freshwater division thanks to big catches of salmon and walleye this month. A link to the Team Trout Mafia page can be found here, go there to check out our catch totals and photographs of every fish we have logged this year.

In the first days of the month Kalvin and Mark were able to make another trip to the Green Bay area in search of spawning walleye. In one night they were able to just about fill the monthly cap on walleye for our team at 50 fish. They landed many trophy fish including this best of the night for Kalvin at 28.5"

Kalvin's trophy 28.5" walleye.

Kalvin's trophy 28.5" walleye.

Lastly, while searching for browns and coho salmon in Wisconsin, Mark and Kalvin stumbled into a pod of king salmon. The first kings of the year will make any fisherman on the Great Lakes justifiably jealous, here is a look at Mark with one of his nice kings.

Mark with a spring king, right around the 30" mark.

Mark with a spring king, right around the 30" mark.

We head into May looking forward to more spring king salmon to be found, coho salmon moving up into Wisconsin waters, Smallmouth bass all along the lakefront, and inland lake seasons opening in the upper mid-west, allowing us to branch out to target Northern Pike, more walleye, bass, and other inland species.