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Living & learning: Fishing & life lessons on St. Joseph pier

Maybe because it was the day before Palm Sunday, this scene caught my eye on the St. Joseph pier in Michigan.
Credit: Dale Bowman

ST. JOSEPH, Mich.–Steve Schmeling hooked a coho about 9 a.m. Saturday. Jerry Stults came over to be net man.

Jerry Stults nets the first coho of the morning, caught by Steve Schmeling, on the St. Joe pier.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Jerry Stults nets the first coho of the morning, caught by Steve Schmeling, on the St. Joe pier.
Credit: Dale Bowman

There’s always something new in fishing.

As American men (it was all men on the St. Joe pier except for two joggers), we think of ourselves as rugged individualists.

The reality for fishermen, smart ones, is that they build off others.

When I ambled over, Schmeling, from nearby Stevensville, acknowledged that in catching his first coho of the season.

The coho rig–PowerBait, shrimp piece and crawler–that Steve Schmeling used to catch the first of the morning on the St. Joe pier.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
The coho rig–PowerBait, shrimp piece and crawler–that Steve Schmeling used to catch the first of the morning on the St. Joe pier.
Credit: Dale Bowman

He was fishing with a tweak: PowerBait, a small piece of shrimp and a night crawler on a hook, but leaving “the hook gap open,’’ under a small float.

He allowed me to photograph his rig.

“That is what I did,’’ he said.

He learned it from an older pier regular he only knew as “Bob.’’

“A fellow was out here last weekend,’’ Schmeling said. “He was catching them and nobody else was. It worked for him. Obviously, it worked for me.’’

Up until then, it had been slow on the St. Joe pier, though I knew coho had to be around. Three dozen small boats had passed on the St. Joseph River, headed toward Lake Michigan.

Once the catching began, it picked up. When I went in (fishless) late morning, I counted about 10 coho, one big brown trout, one small whitefish and two decent channel catfish caught off the south pier.

For last 27 years, I spent the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament with lifelong friends in a cottage just off Lake Michigan in southwestern Michigan. Most years I do something wildlife related one morning: pier fishing at St. Joe or shore fishing upstream at Berrien Springs; cross-country skiing or looking for a saw-whet owl in a Berrien County cemetery.

For years, I’ve tried to catch my first whitefish from southern Lake Michigan, focused on that weekend.

Maybe I should focus my whitefish quest closer to home. Lakefront guru Gary Bloom sent a picture of a small whitefish a guy caught on the North Side over the weekend.

Timing was not perfect this year for whitefish, probably related to the lake being warm for mid-March.

When I stopped at Tackle Haven in Benton Harbor to buy a license and pick up some terminal tackle and bait (spawn, salmon eggs, crawlers), proprietor Phil Schuman asked, “Are you by the lake?’’

“Not right on it.’’

“Can you walk there?’’

“Yes.’’

“Then go surfcasting.’’

I had never done that, saltwater or fresh. So two evenings, I heaved a 2-ounce pyramid sinker under spawn bags into the pounding surf while I stared toward the setting sun and in the general direction of the Loop.

It was therapeutic, even without catching coho.

The second evening, a shivering kid in a hoodie, stopped by. He had not caught any in a couple hours, but he said he had caught some browns the weekend before and that “a kid on another beach had caught 15 that morning.’’

You live and learn.

I want to try surfcasting again.

CLUNN GETS IT DONE: My guy Rick Clunn, winner of four Bassmaster Classics, won his 15th B.A.S.S. event on Sunday in Florida. At 69, he took honors as oldest to win a B.A.S.S. Event. He took control of the Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels on Saturday with a monster bag of 31 pounds, 7 ounces.

STRAY CAST: Jerry Reinsdorf: Bluefin tuna. Ken Williams: Bull shark. Adam LaRoche: Clownfish. Chris Sale: Largemouth ba