Things have been a bit busy for me lately, and while I’ve been on the water, the blog entries have been waning. No worries Adrifters, I’ve got a back log of content and posts should begin to flow again. I’ll make up for lost time by stretching this post out a mile long. It takes two to tango. A little dose of warmwater, and a shot of coldwater should make things right again. If you’re giddy to cut to the trout chase, don’t hesitate to skip all the dock fishing nonsense and scroll towards the bottom of this post.
As things like “back to school” and football training camps begin to heat up, we’ve slowly begun winding down our summer festivities. There was only one more “official” summer trip on the books, and it involved a sequel visit to Lake Belle Taine near Park Rapids in northern Minnesota. Our hosts, who in the interest of anonymity and personal amusement, I’ll refer to as Paul and Andrea, were nice enough to have us back to their humble abode after our previous Memorial Day trip. Paul mentioned that he was a big fan of the smoked delicacies offered up by Morey’s Market in Motley, so we began the weekend by loading up with a nice slab of smoked Atlantic Salmon. Sure I should have done the dirty work myself, the catching, the cleaning, the smoking etc., but I was more geared towards the catching, the eating, the drinking. So smoked salmon and steak would be our surf and turf, and it didn’t disappoint.
What was quick to disappoint was the menace to society that is the wasp. My backyard seems to be a haven for wasps, but for the most part they behave themselves, with zero stings to date. The cabin variety however were on their worst behavior. To be honest with you I’m not sure if these were bees or wasps, but within minutes of my arrival I would succumb to their unfriendly greeting, and one of the youngsters was also stung shortly there after. So the wasp war would rage on throughout the weekend with rounds eradication sessions mixed in with periods of cold beverages (and a little fishing if time would allow it).
Now let’s get to why we’re really all here, it’s the water and all that swims. In my previous post about Lake Belle Taine I offered up a somewhat lackluster review of the lake, despite it’s propensity to dole out monster-sized crappies with reckless abandon. On my last visit I expected the bass fishing to be somewhat solid given that our timing was picture perfect for shallow spawners. But fishing, like plans often run awry and fish weren’t there in any predictable pattern, outside of a few mystery fish taking some healthy swings at my Brown Drake imitations.
Fast forward to Friday morning. After licking my wounds from my right leg wasp encounter, I was quick to take up dock fishing duties with the kids. I had somewhat reluctantly agreed to not bring my boat on this trip since a pontoon boat would be a our disposal for fishing excursions. Beloved by the uninitiated, the family-friendly Pontoon boat certainly has it’s place for relaxation, swimming, party barge and fishing armada duties, but certainly wouldn’t be the first choice of any serious fisherman worth their salt. The debate has carried on for years in our household as we’ve lugged my fishing boat to a plethora of destinations. My wife regularly reminds me that we need to trade in the ever nimble fishing boat for a clumsy sheet of plywood with metal tube steaks strapped to the undercarriage. No thanks. In all fairness to our kind hosts, their Pontoon is a equipped with a foot-controlled trolling motor and depthfinder, so despite our lack of stealthiness we were able to navigate the open seas with some level of creature comfort.
The older I get, the more I’ve been able to compartmentalize my fishing brain. Prior to arriving at Belle Taine I decided to take it easy from a fishing standpoint. The younger version of me would feel compelled to run and gun all weekend long in search of fish. Parental duties have helped keep that guy in check, and I was content to help manage dock fishing duties. There’s something great about the simplicity of dock fishing. It’s so foreign to me in my evolved state of always deciphering the code, that the “sit and wait” approach was a welcomed curveball. Now that my kids are old enough to cast and fish by themselves, minus some baiting and fish removal assistance, I’m seeing the basic excitement of the sport through their eyes.
Paul had recounted a tall tale of a fish they had nicknamed “Bigger” on other visits this summer. He claimed that they have seen a big bass swimming around their dock but could never get it to bite. In my standard over confident fishing attitude, I said, “no problem, we’ll catch her on our visit in August.” Is there any more a-hole move than to brag about one’s prowess? Whenever I hear someone say, “I’m really good at _____” it just makes me cringe. I suppose it’s just the Iowa-nice in me that will say it this way. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit flippin’ and pitchin’ docks for bass, so I have a healthy confidence in my ability to subdue a dock lingering legend.
I hadn’t even unpacked my fly rods, we just cracked a beer and hightailed it down to the dock. Within a short time I got my first look at “Bigger.” He executed a Maverick flyby that would make Tom Cruise proud. The other interesting bit was that he had a wingman in tow. For some reason I had expected Bigger to be a Largemouth, but it turns out that she and her wingman were Smallies in the 18″-20″ range which is respectable by any standard. I quickly flung out a spinnerbait and tube jig in the midst of the melee of kid bluegill catching only to be rebuffed by the legend. Sulking in the disappointment of my first round defeat I opted for the sit and wait approach. Launching a slip bobber and crawler out beyond the weedline would soon pay dividends. Belle Taine tends to have trout stream clarity and within ten minutes I watched the pair beeline towards my offering. I yelled to Paul, “here they come” and sure enough my “strike indicator” was slowly drown into the depths of the lake, followed by a quick hookset from yours truly. The beast was brought to hand accompanied by her wingman in signature Smallie behavior. A staunch round of hoots, hollers and high fives erupted from the planks. It turns out that the legend was a mere mortal. Where else can you get play by play bait and bobber fishing on a largely fly fishing centric site. Can I get an Amen?
Not only was the the legend a mere mortal, it really was more of a composite. As it turns out the cabin dock is situated in a prime location at the mouth of a major bay. When we floated around in the pontoon I was struck with the number of Smallmouth of worthy proportions. The small bay was chocked full of cruising 16″-20″ Smallies and a good number of smaller Largemouth. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Belle Taine was better than advertised. The traditional measuring stick in Minnesota lakes is the almighty Walleye. Sure it doesn’t pump out Walleyes in any measurably fashion, but I’ll take a healthy Smallmouth fishery any day and twice on Sunday over our state fish.
I chose this access point because the stream appeared to have a good variety water. I predicted that this narrower section with little streamside cover should be easy to walk, despite the tall August weeds. The stream appeared to be low, but the cut banks in this section held a deceptively deep funnel that was somewhat reminiscent of Dell Creek and the Sand County streams. My best description of this portion of the Straight is that it looks like a Northwoods version of the Upper Kinni, with one obvious distinction. I didn’t see or spook a single trout for quite some time. Clearly this was the low numbers, bigger fish recipe akin to Muskie fishing. I was beginning to question the presence of trout when I finally connected with respectable fish in an unremarkable lie. This wasn’t the monster that I was looking for, but certainly nothing to complain about. I was on the board.
Mary Jane strikes again. Late summer fishing on the Straight is a weedy affair. Though the vegetation appeared different than other Minnesota streams. Most casts came back covered in a weed that can only be described as “green hair.” I don’t know the name of this particular nuisance, but it sure made for challenging fishing.
I only had two hours to fish before I had to head back to the cabin to prepare for departure. It was a terribly small sample size and I was chomping at the bit to drive deeper into the bush to see what was around the next bend. What appeared to be Trico activity had begun to attract a few smaller risers, but I ignored it and proceeded with my jumbo-sized offering. While the bites were few and far between I am convinced that the Straight is worthy of it’s big fish reputation. My uneducated guess is that the size structure is similar to the nineties version of the Rush River (before it became a brook trout stream ). Solid mid to upper teens browns available with the occasional big a possibility if you know where to look. Most first time trip reports I came across while researching seemed to be skunks or near skunks, so I was pleased with my results. Not the homerun I was looking for but a solid base hit for sure, and I can only imagine that it fishes better in early summer.
As I returned from my early morning raid, I began to pack up the gear in preparation for our return to reality. I found myself admiring the accommodations that Paul and Andrea refer to as “the Nomad.” Their property has two cabins on it and this mystery machine. It appears as if it’s been stationary for quite sometime and I can only surmise there’s a dead body inside? When I inquired on our last visit, Paul produced some flimsy story about a broken door and that no one’s been in there for quite some time. Scooby-Doo where are you? We’ve got a mystery on our hands.
I like to amuse myself by offering up words and reflections on the footer of each post. Today’s reflection is as true today as it was when I was dock fishing as a kid. Both the Straight River and Lake Belle Taine surprised me on this trip. Fishing is a non-stop process of questioning what I think I know and a test of my confidence in things. In this instance it’s clearly a case of Misjudging a Book by It’s Cover.