Carp Of Beaver Island…
Settling into my seat on the Emerald Isle, anticipation gave way to acceptance. Month after month had been crossed off my calendar as I awaited the arrival of this 4th of July expedition. In the back of my mind, I slightly questioned driving over 500 miles to fly fish for carp; the same rough fish that swim a stone’s throw from home. But I had been guaranteed by a fisherman I trust too well, that this experience would be one I would never forget. So as the ship’s engines began to rumble I took heart, yearning for the unknown.
As the two-hour, thirty-two mile ferry ride closed in on the tiny town of St. James, I realized all I knew about Great Lake Islands would not summarize this place. Beaver Island’s weathered old lighthouse greets travelers much like a great-grandparent too feeble to rise from his rocking chair, but happy to see you nonetheless. The harbor moors only a handful of boats and the pier at the marina looks as if Roosevelt commissioned the Civilian Conservation Corps to modernize the Island.
Kevin Morlock is a well known salmon and steelhead guide on the rivers of western Michigan. Kevin and I have fished together numerous times, and I have come to respect his wealth of knowledge, but when he told me he was designing a flats fishing boat to target carp around the islands of Michigan’s archipelago, I thought maybe he’d finally spent one two many days in the sun.
Keeping within the boundaries of simplicity I had elected to leave my tent at home in favor of a hammock. Hung between two trees where the wind would rock me to a serenade of waves. My weary fisherman’s body rested well at the end of a hard day’s night.
Carp fishing improves as the day grows warmer. There’s no reason to get up early, leaving plenty of time to lounge about sipping morning coffee. Making for a great start to a relaxing day.
With the sun high in the bluebird sky, Kevin and I launched his boat; a brand new, 17 ft. deep-v, with a 40 horse. The real kicker though, is the rear mounted platform and the twenty foot push pole. Like most of us who harbor champagne dreams on a beer budget, I have longed for the Caribbean since reading my first flats article, but have never come close to saving enough money to go. Diapers and milk, you know. So the idea of a steelheading maestro, perched atop a platform, pushing me around in search of tailing carp in the northern most reaches of America, was somewhat of an obscure realization of a dream come true.
We took off from the eastern shore of the island and headed for the southern tip. We wanted to go where the waves would push into small bays. The water temperature reading on the main lake was in the low sixties; a bit too cold for aggressive carp. Kevin knew the water would be warmer in the south bays, causing pods of carp to gather in the shallow water. I never anticipated this trip would change my perception of a species I knew so little about, but as we spotted carp after carp cruising the outer edge of the flats, I began to accept my new found respect for these fish. Many people back home shoot carp with bow and arrow and simply throw them to the wayside as if they are worth nothing more than a moment’s excitement. How the carp ever came to be such a disrespected game fish is beyond me, but I now believe the first time any consummate conservationist sees one of these finicky feeding, beautiful beasts cruising crystal clear water in search of forage, their perception will be forever changed.
We moored the boat in a few feet of water and began a stealthy approach to the shallows. The water temperature in the bay we were stalking was 75 degrees; perfect for feeding fish. Stalking fish with a fly rod, in essence allows me to combine two of my greatest passions; fishing and hunting. I slipped up behind a large boulder, positioning myself 50 feet or so from a small pod of a half-dozen carp. Fly placement is crucial when fishing carp. Their eyesight is poor and they’re not aggressive chasers. It’s essential to present your fly within an area the size of a basketball hoop in front of the fish you’re targeting.
Assumptions are always dangerous when lacking proper research. Based on sheer numbers alone, I figured these fish would be easy to catch, but they are not. I worked this little pod for nearly an hour, before finally, a fish took. The moment is still fresh in my mind. I was growing anxiously annoyed, when I targeted a carp on the outskirts of the pod. The cast was a few feet beyond the fish, perfect for allowing my goby imitation time to sink the necessary two feet. As I strip-strip-stripped the minnow along the bottom, allowing for a pause just in front of the fish’s face, I watched with amazement as its bugle-mouth opened and inhaled my fly. Somehow I kept my excitement in check and executed a solid hook set. The fight was on.
As the thirty-inch fish ran for deep water, I slightly tightened my drag. We struggled back and forth for a good fifteen minutes before I finally brought the fish to hand. As I cradled the fish, I realized never before in nature had I physically experienced a lesson of ignorance so profound, so obviously wrong. Carp are amazing. I released the fish back into the aqua waters as carefully as I would have a 25 in. Au Sable “Holy Waters” brown trout.
A nearby boulder begged me to take a break. I saddled onto the rock, realizing that in no direction could I see the hand of man. The only sounds I could hear were the waves breaking on the shore behind, and the wind whipping across the endless water. In search of carp on a fly, I found a paradise on Beaver Island.
For more information regarding travel to Beaver Island, contact the Beaver island Chamber of Commerce at (231) 448-2505 or view their website
Kevin Morlock is owner and operator of Indigo Guide Service located in Walhalla, Michigan. Kevin is a Michigan native who has spent countless days guiding on the state’s beautiful rivers and lakes in search of species including: salmon, steelhead, trout, carp, smallmouth and pike. Contact Kevin by calling 231-898-4320 or by visiting his website www.indigoguideservice.com.
Brandon Butler is a syndicated outdoor writer from Bloomington, Indiana. He may be contacted through his website www.driftwoodoutdoors.org.