Where were we? Ah, yes. The Thunder God held sway yesterday. But at least the passing of so many massive cumulonimbus directly overhead allowed us (guide Edwin Lariviere and I) to find one torrid pre-storm bite after another. Just before a storm hits, barometric pressure rises precipitously. Then the bottom falls out as it passes over. Some say plankton rise with the pressure, followed by feasting, distracted baitfish, followed in turn by predators throwing caution to the wind. I doubt that explains why the phenomenon occurs in rivers, as it did for Edwin and I on the Schwandt yesterday.
Just before the fish above ripped into a purple bunny-strip fly hanging dead in the water, Edwin hit an even bigger pike. I was watching it thrash boatside when the fly rod doubled over and line began burning through my fingers. Edwin lost his, but at least we boated one nice one on that spot about 5 minutes before the wind rose and the rain came pelting down. Again.
But don't let the fly gear fool you. This remains the inexplicable, ongoing, Year of The Blade. Edwin's fish came on a Mepps #5 Aglia bucktail and he just kept churning out nice catches when storms approached, so I finally put the fly rod away. You know what they say: When in Rome, throw spinners.
Burning a #6 Blue Fox Vibrax sans bucktail worked equally well at times, but the water temperature was 66°F on top — approaching that mid-summer point where pike begin to slow down and respond to more deliberate and subtle presentations.
Pike fishermen from the States might be thinking, "Slow down? At 66°F?" Remember, this is Misaw Lake, near the far northern fringe of the pike's natural range. The water generally doesn't get much warmer than 70°F.
Changes in direction were key. I like a long rod for fishing spinners, so I start with a St. Croix Tidemaster TIS 76MF3 — a beauty of a 3-piece travel rod you'll read more about in next year's Gear Guide. I start by pointing that 7-foot, 6-inch blank to one side, retrieving the bait for 10 feet or so then sweeping the rod to the other side. After another 10 feet or so I stop the lure altogether for a split second with the rod tip down and pointing at it.
Even though the fish have been demanding a relatively slow retrieve, changes in direction and speed trigger strikes. Using Mepps and Blue Fox bucktails allowed us to keep the lure moving relatively slow in shallow water. Most of the true gators were in 8 feet of water or less, usually associated with soft bottom, cabbage, reeds, and river grass. We popped our daily ration of a half dozen or so bruisers in the 40-inch range, and quite a few in the high 30s. The Schwandt River has been nicer to me in past years, but I think the constantly changing conditions kept both us and the fish off balance most of the day. The wind — when it blew at all — came at us from every point on the compass. At times we would set the boat up for a long drift and the wind would shift 180 degrees, forcing us to pick up and relocate to the other end of the drift.
Lightning was cracking into forests nearby just as we doubled up at the approach of yet another storm. Shocked by both events, with the boat rocking from both of us setting hooks, I stepped back onto the tip of my spinning rod (I was using my new Wright McGill, Captain Blaine Wiggins signature Inshore Slam casting stick at the time — another three piece marvel you can read more about in next year's Gear Guide) and snapped it off precisely below the tip. I was forlorn for an hour or so. Kept looking at it, wishing I could use it to throw spinners out of sight and present them exactly how I wanted to. So, during a windless, breathless calm between storms, I sat down and burned the graphite out of the tip with Edwin's lighter (holding the tip with my needle-nose pliers), carefully shaved the wrap and finish off the blank with Edwin's fillet knife and wedged the tip back on. It's been just fine ever since — putting two more kraken in the net yesterday and the first two 40 inchers in the boat this morning.
Things that make you say, "whew."
Tomorrow: Lake trout are on the menu where guide and old friend Archie Lariviere snares a big cinnamon bear at the shore-lunch spot. Honest.