by Capt Rod (Piscator)
Recalling my first run to the chandlery (the local hardware store), I remember reading the signs posted on the neighborhood lawns. Adlai Stephenson or Dwight Eisenhower, round two, signs supporting one or the other posted depending on political persuasion. We needed snelled Eagle Claw hooks, preferably with worm-keepers…you know, those little barbs on the back of the shank that were designed to keep the worm on when you tossed the little bugger out where the fish might bite. I was nine years old and I had already learned about this stuff. I had also learned that you needed a sighter along when you were fishing for the biggest, baddest fish in the pond, or stream, or puddle, as the case might be.
A sighter was someone who also held the worm can. A little brother maybe, or lacking one of those, a little sister if you had one and she didn’t talk too much and knew enough to keep her shadow off the water. I was lucky to have had two of each…but not at first. Not when I was nine. One little brother who had to play the role of sighter…and carry the worm can.
A sighter was necessary to keep track of airborne fish. You see, while those worm keepers kept the worm on the hook, they weren’t so effective at keeping those big game brookies hooked up. Those little…er…big sons of a guns would steal your worm in an instant. Second jiggle on the line, and they come one-two, real quick-like, and you would be wormless. And digging worms isn’t…wasn’t all that easy for a six-year-old worm can carrier.
So, the tactic of the day was to snap that rod up on the first jiggle, which if you were both diligent and quick, resulted in an airborne brookie. Like maybe treetop height and headed into the depths of the forest. Even a little brother could find them as they tended to thrash around in the leaves for a while. Never heard of limits back then and we caught a lot of fish.
Fast forward five years and things turned serious…like stepping onto a sportfisherman bobbing at the dock in Westhaven, Connecticut…a boat that belonged to a friend of the uncle of my neighbor’s father. This was a big boat…three paces across the cockpit. Gleaming brightwork everywhere. Nothing piques the senses in the morning like the smell of coffee from the mugs on the rail and the rumble of big diesels when headed out to sea. Gives me chills even today. Long Island Sound and mackerel, bluefish and stripers. Definitely a step up from airborne brookies.
Those days passed oh-so-quickly. A few cod and hake out of Gloucester, some lobster and scallops out of Salem and then it was off to college, Vietnam, and into the adult world of working for a living…working for wages, pursuing the dollar and a career.
If you go back a long way in my family line, a really long way…you end up in Scandinavia when those folks plied the seas in longboats. That heritage evidently runs through to me, because I can’t stay away from boats. First a twelve foot Yellow Jacket, and then a sixteen-foot Checkmate, which was, believe it or not, a much better fisherman than the Yellow Jacket, where you might be reluctant to even stand up. There was a lengthy period of rag-bagging back then. Sailboats for those who aren’t familiar with the term. Sailed all over the Great Lakes…but that’s another story and this is a fish-tale.
Through the mid-seventies and into the mid-eighties controlled depth fishing continued to evolve. At first, it was primarily accomplished through the use of steel wire or lead-core line. I chose lead-core for it’s more forgiving nature and still prefer it, where it has a definite place even today in the world of downriggers.
Speaking of downriggers, those new-fangled and somewhat complicated gadgets were not so quick to find a place on my boats. But the Great Lakes are deep and wide and planer boards and lead-core only get you so many fish. They had electrics by the time I took the plunge and those bad-boys soon made a believer out of me. Land-locked now, I missed the saltwater, but I liked the walleye, the steelhead, the salmon, the whitefish, and the lake trout. Planer boards, downriggers, and lead-core proved back then to be a superior combination that extends your trolling pattern far, deep and wide. Some things don’t change.
Some things do. Northbound on US93 in 1994 and peeking over the hill at Polson for the first time…there was Flathead Lake. The best-kept secret in the world, I reckon. I darn sure wouldn’t have come boat-less to Montana had I known about this oversized puddle. No boat…but that wouldn’t last long. One hundred and twenty-five thousand acres of fishable water and I didn’t much want to spend years doping it out. So I took a couple of charters, a practice learned in other areas over decades past. Didn’t need any GPS to record hot spots as my years of sailing had taught me to subconsciously take fixes on landmarks and here, at least, you could see land all around you. Two charters and I was in the game.
Piscator represents a cautious return to big-boat fishing. Yes, I still lust after a twenty-five-footer with a diesel inboard (or two), but this one will do for now. It also represents a compilation of everything that came before. The latest and greatest sub-surface electronic gear that can pinpoint every suspended bit of prey right down to and including the dime-sized opossum shrimp. Find the bait—find the fish. Got four electronic downriggers? Check. Got dual fifty-yard custom planer rigs? Check. Got a pair of deep-water lead-core rigs? Check. Big fish box, big live (kill) well. Autopilot on main engine and trolling motor…check. Narrow beam sonar, wide beam sonar, downscan sonar, sidescan sonar, broadband sonar…check. Some folks have mentioned that my rig looks more suspicious than a Russian trawler cruising past Newport News Naval Shipyard. Whatever it takes.
I’m prone to an out-of-the-box approach. Most folks on Flathead use green or white squid with six inch flashers of white, green or silver, and sometimes spoons like copper or brass or colors like five-of-diamonds. Sometimes dragging fast at 1.7mph with bits of sausage or slow like .7mph with Worden Flatfish on the bottom. Been there done all that. But then there’s the spoons from the Finger Lakes region on the lead-core ten colors down. Wham! Or the special flies from the Great Lakes one-eighty to two-hundred down. Wham! Wham! Wham! And the Ridgeback Rattlers that Capt. Greg out of Frankfort, MI who said he gained forty-percent in charter productivity. Swimmers from the Atlantic coast to tactics learned over mackerel schools in Long-Island sound. Eclectic—that’s me.
And that’s enough about me. Until next time—tight lines and keep that tip up!