Ted Peck: One last cool trip up north
A weather forecast of 90 degrees is no more welcome than predictions for minus-20.
June is here. Hot weather is part of the package. This reality is easier to accept after one last foray to the cool, blue north.
My wife, Candy, said she couldn't abide leaving our border collie Whipsaw Jack at the kennel, thinking this would keep me home. A quick Internet search for pet-friendly lodging near Cable turned up “The Trail” cabin at the edge of Drummond—the perfect central location for probing waters of the Pike Lake chain, Lake Owen and Chequamegon Bay.
She was ready to go in two hours. Whipsaw had to spend 119 minutes waiting for her to get in the truck.
Smallmouth bass on all these fisheries are just completing the spawning ritual and are cruising in shallow water. The Pike Lake Chain and Owen are crystal-clear waters. Much of Chequamegon Bay is too. But right now the fish are up in places like Sand Cut, northeast of Ashland, where visibility is only about two feet.
Convection off chilly Lake Superior calls for long pants and at least a sweatshirt as proper fishing attire. That is a welcome wardrobe selection when you consider Rock County is simmering somewhere north of 90 degrees.
Aggressive and broad-shouldered smallmouth bass are sweet icing on this outdoor cake. Loon music and the smell of wood smoke wafting through the balsams on the Pike Chain and Lake Owen bring on a full-body smile.
Sight-fishing smallies is one of freshwater angling's biggest thrills. These fish are homebodies, vigorously protecting their little niche in the ecosystem. A slow cruise with the trolling motor over glassy calm water reveals their haunts. A tempting plastic offering in a drop-shot presentation or slow-falling jighead is tough for these fish to resist.
The biggest thrill is seeing a fat three-pounder nose down with fins fanning, look at you with a bright red eye then flare gills to slurp in the hook.
Nature's serenity explodes in an instant. The bass goes airborne then rockets toward cover in an attempt to pull the throbbing wand from your grasp.
Fishing the big water of Chequamegon Bay is an entirely different vector of sensory overload. Few know this water better than Capt. Josh Teigen. I've fished with Josh at least once annually since he was 17.
Teigen is now 23. With passing years, our trips have morphed into a friendly competition between experience and youthful stamina.
Teigen decided to throw a wacky-rigged senko. I opted for the new Rat-L-Trap Echo 1.75 squarebill. The young guide said Chequamegon Bay's burly bass have been crushing the senko since coming off the spawn just a day or two before.
Spawning activity is tough on fish, often impacting feeding urges. With the squarebill, I was hoping to trigger a reflexive response from possibly lethargic fish.
Both presentations worked. It was a nice break for me in a contest between lightning and gutter-wino reflexes, as you can cover more water quicker with a crankbait than a worm.
None of these fish were the six-pound monsters Chequamegon Bay has a reputation for producing. These bronzebacks had cookie-cutter uniformity, within a half-inch of 18 inches—essentially three-pounders.
We lost count of how many fish attacked our baits.
At least I did.
Then Josh asked, “Have you got any more of those new Rat-L-Traps?”
There was a sudden epiphany that young Josh Teigen was seeing the same smirky grin I used to see on my dad's face. This brought forth a laugh from the soul that continued clear back to the cabin at Drummond.
Whipsaw Jack announced my arrival. Candy stepped outside to welcome me home, arms wrapped tight against her sweater to keep warm.
Summer can bring the heat now. The whisper that relief is just a few hours north will make the season at hand much easier to endure.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at [email protected].