Fellow Native Waters Outfitters guide Nathan Satterelli and I took a trip to Beaver Island, Michigan (in the middle of Lake Michigan) during the month of June to chase very large carp, smallmouth bass, and northern pike in crystal clear water. This is a very special place with a huge number of large fish. You might think the first problem is solved…the fish can see the fly…the rest is easy. The second is solved…go where the big fish are and play the lottery. It is not quite that easy. Anytime you want to pursue trophy fish or an area where you are unfamiliar, you must expect challenges. Let’s explore why I say everyone needs a guide sometimes.
This trip to Beaver Island presented many challenges. Having an experienced guide like Nate helped me in many ways. My experience helped Nate too. To understand how, you first have to understand the setting…we are targeting trophy fish in clear water. Fish can be spooky. We encounter weather that changes the conditions daily. The lake level fluctuated 3-4 feet from the prior year, resulting in normal habitat on dry land. On top of that, fish don’t get big from being stupid. These fish have a pretty specific diet. We are in a remote area without power, spotty cell service, and hazardous lake conditions. We have a big lake where wind affects your ability to use the boat safely.
Now that you have a taste for the conditions, I’ll explain how having a guide helped out!
- Getting there – Well, that required a boat with a shallow draft and a competent captain. Boulders and gravel bars rise up out of nowhere, shallow enough to smash most boats or destroy motors and props. A great driver and gps with hazards and routes from previous trips marked helps tremendously. Nate had all of these qualities and experience. We got there in one piece in really challenging conditions. On a DIY trip, I would have turned around and never left port.
- Great gear – Spray is crashing over the bow of the boat on every other wave on the first and second days. Wind is howling. We have great gear allowing us to stay dry and persevere. Without that gear, I would have been headed in early.
- Backup gear – When two guides show up, it is like you have two (or three) of everything and you’re prepared for war. Rod breaks? Pick up the other rod. Giant pike show up in the last hour? Grab that 10 weight, pike flies, and the wire leaders. A few fly changes and a nice pike ends up in the boat. The other guide (me) gets a chance….I get several follows…then it happens…get an eat from the largest pike of the trip. Fatigue and excitement take over and an early hook set pulls the fly from his mouth. On my own, I wouldn’t have been set up for the pike. I know the bass flies didn’t even move the pike.
- Adapting – What do you do when carp are nowhere to be found? You spend your time trying to find them and then pursue. We did that. Found a few, but when they didn’t play due to weather, we transitioned to smallmouth full time and then the surprise multiple large pike.
- Persevering - What do you do when on day 3 the wind is too high to safely navigate in the boats? You hike and wade fish. The first spot provided a few nice fish, but we needed more protection heading to a spot we checked out the previous day. It payed off! Really big fish were located that day. This required a 2 mile hike and bushwacking through the forest…on an uninhabited island. It would be super easy to stay at camp and drink beer. The second example is when the trolling motor battery dies after day 4 in the final hours. Jump out and guide the boat by hand….multiple more big fish brought to the net.
- Boat position – A good guide puts the angler in the best position to make the cast, based on the conditions and angler’s ability. Nate can cast a fly 90-100 feet. I can’t. I can hit 60 or 70 feet. Nate recognizes this and makes adjustments for me to hit the shots. Multiple big fish are caught. Likewise, I don’t crowd fish in clear water when I know he can make a cast and I am controlling the boat. Several more big fish are brought to the boat.
- Encouragement– We all need encouragement at times. We get complacent. We get tired. We get fatigued. I just explained the conditions, the grind. When frustration takes over due to strong wind and fly line is catching every little item in the skiff, but this is preventing a cast to the largest fish you’ve seen thus far….the guide (in this case guide buddy) says….”hey I know, I’ve been dealing with this all day too, collect yourself and make the cast. You’ve got this.” You know the rest of the story….fish caught.
- Coaching - When excitement takes over while I am casting to the largest fish I’ve ever seen and my cast goes to total crap….I mean total…like I just learned to cast yesterday….I hear Nate say “just slow down, stop the rod, load it, and then send it”. How many times have I instructed clients, friends, and family to do this? I don’t know. It should be automatic. It is not always automatic.
- Enjoyment – When you share experiences with someone else who enjoys pursuing fish and watching you catch a fish as much as they enjoy catching fish themselves, it is a true joy. I know I helped someone else. This is what a good guide does. Nate helped me and I helped him.
There are other factors that made this trip possible such as family and money…it takes time and money to get there. I may have a “The one that got away” story, but that wouldn’t have been possible without Nate. Neither would the multiple personal best smallmouth which were trophies in anyone’s book! Or, the entire experience for that matter. All of these factors helped Nate and I put more big fish in the boat than if either of us were fishing on our own. No matter how proficient you are (or believe you are), the right guide can help you put it all together. I’m sure glad I had Nate in the boat with me, and he is just as glad he had me in the boat with him.