By Shawn Perich
Whether you are a farmer or a fisherman, the last two months can be summed up with three words: What a summer! Here on the North Shore, the daily weather was cold and wet. Earlier this month I talked with a few avid anglers who hadn’t been out fishing, because on the few days it wasn’t raining they felt compelled to mow the lawn. My own time on the water has fared only slightly better. And the last time it dried out enough so I could mow the lawn, it looked like a hayfield. I guess that explains the old saw about making hay when the sun shines.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to sneak out on a few evenings to fish for walleyes, which were biting well. Last week, I spent an evening on Devil Track Lake just north of Grand Marais with my friend Charlie Uhrhammer, who summers in Hovland. We were there for two reasons—convenience and consistent, if small, walleyes.
Due to both reasons, you are never alone when you spend a summer evening fishing on Devil Track. It’s a big lake—several miles long and narrow—and lined on the eastern half with homes and cabins. Most folks like to fish on the rocky bars and humps around the islands, which is where we like to fish, too. There’s plenty of elbow room, so you can anchor out of earshot of neighboring boats.
It was the first time we’d gone fishing together this summer (go figure), so we had lots to talk about. Actually, I did more listening than talking, as Charlie told me about the new boat he bought to use at his winter home on the Columbia River, as well as on Lake Superior. For those of you with some familiarity with big water boats, his new toy is a 21-foot welded aluminum boat powered with a 200-horse outboard. On this evening, he left the big boat at home and we were fishing from his good ol’ Alumacraft.
Another conversation topic was wire-lining for lake trout, which Chuck just learned from a local guy. Using 20-ounce weights to reach the bottom at 200 feet, they caught limits of Superior lakers with a flasher and hoochie combination with cut herring. Considering the water in Lake Superior is a balmy 40 degrees—too cold for most trolling—wire-lining is about the best way to catch trout out there until the surface waters warm up, which may or may not happen this summer.
At any rate, wire-lining at 200 feet was a far cry from jigging leeches for walleyes at 18 feet, which is what we were doing on Devil Track. The walleyes were down there. We started catching them right away. Knowing we were unlikely to land any whoppers, or even what you’d call an “eater” someplace like Winnie or Upper Red, we started tossing them into the cooler. Devil Track walleyes might be small, but they taste oh so sweet.
The walleyes were biting so well that within an hour Charlie was counting our catch to see how many more we needed to make a limit. We had three to go. Now we became more selective, tossing back the “little ones” so we could keep others that were perhaps an inch longer in length. Pretty soon, we had our final three keepers. Some fishing time remained before darkness drew a curtain on our evening excursion. Big, yellow-green mayflies started to hatch, floating on the water like tiny sailboats before taking flight to mate.
Not all of them became airborne. A few disappeared with a slurp from an unseen fish. I was prepared for such an occurrence with a fly rod and dry flies. Charlie graciously agreed to let me fly cast while he ran the electric motor. We moved into shallower water near an island, where most of the rises were happening. I thought the fish were likely smallmouth bass, but kept my fingers crossed that perhaps they were lake whitefish. Over the years, I’d heard stories about fly-fishing for whitefish on Devil Track, but hadn’t experienced it. When the mayflies are hatching, I typically chase trout on other waters.
Whatever they were, the fish were hard to pattern. The rises were sporadic—one here, one there—so I couldn’t cast to a hungry fish. Instead, I cast in the general vicinity of a rise and hoped a cruising fish would find my fly. The pressure was on, because I didn’t know how long Charlie would tolerate the growing hordes of mosquitoes and my lack of action before deciding he wanted to pack it in.
“Boy, the mosquitoes are really something,” Charlie said the first time he put on some bug dope. A few minutes later, he put on some more. The mosquitoes were bothering me, too. I brushed them away and stayed focused on the fishing. I just had to catch one of these mystery fish.
Finally, my fly disappeared in the boil of a rise. Lifting the rod, I set the hook into a sizeable fish. It didn’t jump or bore around the bottom as smallmouth bass so often do. Instead it fought like a trout with hard tugs and quick runs. Minutes passed. Whenever I got the fish close to the boat, it stayed deep, so we didn’t know what it was. Charlie got ready with the landing net. On the next pass, a high tail fin broke the water. Soon Charlie scooped a chunky whitefish into the net.
While it wasn’t my first whitefish on a fly, I was as tickled as if I’d landed a trophy trout. It measured 21 inches on the filet board and weighed over 3 pounds on a hand scale. I removed the row of Y bones from the filet. Vikki baked the boneless filets. On the table the flesh had the consistency of lake trout and the mild flavor of halibut. The whitefish was so good to eat that I just might have to go out and catch another one.