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I just returned home from my annual fishing trip, and what an awesome trip it was. My dad started this trip years before I was born with a good group of guys that he worked with at Manufacturers Bank, back in the day. He brought me up for my first year when I was eight. Over the last 30 years, I have only missed 4 years on this trip. This is such an awesome tradition that I truly plan to never break.
Now, I can’t give too many gory details as we have a very strict rule between us. What happens north of Bay City stays north of Bay City. Now, I can’t mutter about some of the knavery and waggishness that we have seemed to find ourselves in, but I do want to at least share some of my fish stories with you. I’m pretty confident that you could guess some of the shenanigans that may occur with a large group of guys over the course of 4 days. I will just leave this, here, to your imagination.
This year, we had a great group of 10 guys. We have been staying at the same resort of cabins, Whitetail Family Resort, for the most part, for the past 20 years or so. My very first year of the trip, we were fishing Big Manistique Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But since then, we have found Houghton Lake, Michigan’s largest inland lake, to be absolutely perfect for us to continue our long-standing tradition.
We have made this trip to be before Memorial Day every year, so I’m sure you can just imagine some of the weather we have encountered over the years…and if you are a Michigander, I’m sure you know how undeterminable the weather can be around these parts. We’ve had everything from sweltering hot days to below freezing days. We’ve dealt with snow, hail, flooding, extraordinarily high winds, overwhelming amounts of bugs, and more. However, nothing has completely stopped us from enjoying this annual celebration.
This year, we were lucky enough to get the type of weather we had. For the most part, the temperature was in the 60s. Even though the forecast called for storms a couple of the days, the storms seemed to split and stayed north and south of us just before it was supposed to hit. This is important on such a large lake, especially since we only have exposure to small aluminum fishing boats with itty bitty motors, and possibly a pontoon (if we’re lucky). And let me tell you, we have had a few close calls with pontoons on the lake when storms or heavy winds kicked up. We have honestly lost a tackle box or two over the years. We came close once, but haven’t yet sunk a boat.
When we arrived on Wednesday, we were all pretty geeked to get out on the water, so we piled 8 guys on the pontoon with a cooler and our gear, and headed to one of our saved GPS waypoints to try and get a few fish in the boat for day one. The sun was beaming and the amount of wind gave us a nice walleye chop. Besides a few bite-offs, we didn’t get any fish in the boat this time out, but we were elated to be away from our typical day-to-days without any responsibilities to worry about or a care in the world. We weren’t really disappointed as we knew that it was still early in the trip and we still had plenty of time to wrangle ’em in.
After a few hours, we headed back to the cabins to put the cohs (coals) on the grill and get a few games of shuffleboard and cornhole in before the remaining two guys showed up to complete our crew.
For the remainder of the trip, we all split up our times out on the water in whichever boats were available and even had some opportunities for getting our rod tips wet in the canal just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the cabins. There will be more to come about the fish we caught in the canal.
We still had access to the pontoon on Thursday, so we ended up getting a crew of 7 of us to head out on the lake. A couple of fish were brought into the boat, but nothing to really crow about as bass season wasn’t quite upon us and the Northern Pike and Walleye that were hitting our lines weren’t quite grown up yet. As for myself, I had some opportunities to feed the fish, and even had a nice sized bass up to the boat but ended up spitting out the hook before we could net him.
I remember being able to wake up early enough on Friday with my dad before any of the other guys were awake. My dad and I got our gear together, filled the cooler, and hit the lake for an early morning run and a chance to catch up on some good conversation. My dad caught the first pencil pike, not quite big enough to bring in and filet. I caught a great shot of him with the fish on my camera, he let him free, and we kept on fishing. Not long after, I remember feeling a hit on my line and setting the hook nicely. Now, usually, a fish will tend to run away once they hook on, but this time was different. I felt the fish began running toward the boat and up to the surface. I had to reel in fast to try and keep the line taut and the fish on. About 10 feet away from the boat, he surfaced and spit out the hook before I had the chance to reel him all the way in. I turned to look at my dad barely dodging the spat lure and laughed, telling him that I need to at least get a fish in the boat so I could get photo evidence that I actually caught something.
Not long after, I was finally able to get one in the boat. It was another little pike, but the fight was exhilarating. Can’t call me an “O’fer” this year. It was getting close to lunchtime, and we had the only available boat as the resort owners needed to take the motor for the other boat in for repairs. Plus, the pontoon was rented out by other guests. So, we figured that we should head on in and give some of the other guys an opportunity to get out on the lake. As I was scarfing down lunch in the main cabin with the windows open, I heard a commotion over by the canal. Then, I noticed Steven running toward the cabin, crowing, “O got a huge walleye!” I had to see it for my own eyes as O has been known to tell quite the fish stories with no actual evidence to back himself up.
Lo and behold, as I made my way around to the canal, Steven is holding up this monster, fat walleye with his jaw wide open. “Look what O caught! Can you bleeping believe it! He got a 23-inch walleye on a dead leech!” In Michigan, walleye need to be 15 inches to keep, and usually, we need to stretch them just a bit from this lake to bring them in and count them as keeper money-fish. Yep, we have a prize and trophy for the biggest walleye and the biggest pike each year on our trip. O’s 23-inch walleye was easily the biggest walleye anyone has caught out of this lake in the history of our trip, so this was definitely one for the books. Steven was right. Donny had grabbed his rod and headed over to the 3-foot deep canal with his jig lure and dried out, dead leach from the day before, dropped it in the canal and started to walk around dragging his lure when he somehow landed this monster. I guess we’ve all been doing it wrong…and I learned to fish from the wrong guy. Just kidding, Dad.
This definitely sparked some interest in the other guys to try their hand dipping their lines in at the canal. By the time I walked over there myself, Ron had landed a huge dogfish that he was trying to pass on as a bigger walleye than O’s from the day before. Nice try, Ron. I ended up finding a nice school of Bluegill that were hitting on whatever I tossed in, within seconds, just pulling in one after another. I had 6 nice sized bluegill in about a half hour and hooked on 2 good sized bass.
All in all, throughout our beguiling four days at Houghton Lake, we had enough fish for a fish fry on Friday night and some fish to take home. We also brought home quite a few amusing memories that I dare not divulge to save the tradition of “what happens north of Bay City stays north of Bay City.” Until next year, fellas. I’m already counting down the days.