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Notes from the Dockside: Improvise, adapt and overcome

By Mike Yurk

I had planned this fishing trip for about three months. It was a grand fishing adventure to Chequamegon Bay off Lake Superior taking place over a long weekend.

My buddy, Doug and I fished Chequamegon Bay in mid-May. We left home early on a Friday morning, drove to Ashland and launching the boat, we sped across the water to sandy, wind-swept point of scrub brush and battered trees.

We had only been fishing for about five minutes when I felt a bump. I pulled back to set the hook and could feel a massive weight on the end of my line. The fish took off and the drag on my reel began to whine as it gave out line. It was a dogged, stubborn fight but a couple of minutes later I had the fish, a wide bodied smallmouth bass next to the boat. Every time Doug tried to net the fish it pulled away again pulling line off the reel.

Finally I led the fish into the net. The fish was an 18-inch smallmouth bass and our first fish of the day. It was a great way to start a fishing trip.

Twenty minutes later, Doug said. “Here is a fish.” He extended his spinning rod, waited a moment and then set the hook. His spinning rod was bent double as the fish raced off. The fish rocketed out of the water, throwing itself into the air. It was another spectacular fight by the time Doug got the fish next to the boat and I netted it.

“What a pig,” Doug said as he held the fish while I was taking a photo.

Things could not be going any better. The fish were hitting and we were catching big fish. Our expectations and dreams are being fulfilled. Life was good.

A few minutes later Doug’s boat drifted into shallow water and the bottom of his trolling motor hit the sandy bottom. He reached over to pull up the trolling motor. As he pulled up, the plastic top of the motor shattered. It broke in several places and Doug lost all ability to steer the motor. This was not looking good.

It was still early afternoon. We discussed our options. None of which looked real good. We decided we needed to go back into Ashland to see if we could find a marine dealer who might be able to fix the trolling motor. We raced back to the landing and headed into Ashland. We found the only dealer in town and the mechanic looked at it. We were hoping for some encouraging news but he shook his head. There is nothing we can do he said. The motor is shot.

This wasn’t the news Doug and I wanted to hear. Once again we discussed our options. It appeared that our only alternative was to either abort the fishing trip or go back out, drift with the wind and use the outboard motor to move back and forth to adjust our drift.

We really didn’t consider cancelling the trip. We spent too much time, effort, and money to get here. We weren’t going to give up now. So we went back out on the water.

The wind had picked up a little and we looked at that as both a blessing and a liability. It was going to move us around but perhaps not always in the right direction or as slow as we wanted to go. We motored up wind and started casting. We caught a fish. It was another fat, hard fighting smallmouth bass. This was going to work.

After a few minutes the wind blew us into shallow water. We cranked up the outboard and motored back into deeper water. The wind continued to blow us down the bank and we kept fishing. However, the wind can be fickle and it was. It switched directions. Now it blew us out into deeper water. We started up the outboard motor again and motored back into shallow water, hoping the wind would work us along the shore and eventually into deeper water. It did but a few minutes later the wind switched again.

For the rest of that day and the next, Doug and I were at the mercy of the wind. It took us where it wanted to go and not necessarily where we wanted to go. We used the big motor to make adjustments and sometimes we had to make a lot of adjustments and sometimes just a few adjustments to keep us in the water where we were finding fish.

On the second day when the wind became stronger we used the anchor to keep us in place. We dropped anchor, fished for a while and then picked up the anchor, moved a bit further with the motor and dropped the anchor again.

We still caught fish and that was the only important thing. Would we have caught more fish if the trolling motor worked so we could control our movement with better positioning of the boat? Probably so.

We improvised and adapted a different approach to continue to fish and overcame our problems while still catching fish. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. It wasn’t exactly what we had expected but it worked out just fine anyway. It still was, all in all, a very fine fishing trip.

Editor's Note: The Notes From The Dockside is an exclusive feature appearing in the Hudson Star-Observer on the first and third issues of each month.