Finding my way out of a fishing rut

Finally a fish. Randy Cornell is there to steer this one into the boat.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

This famous quote definitely was relevant to my fishing. I was in a rut — using the same baits, fishing the same places with little to show for my efforts. Then last week I get this email: “Would you be available for some fun fishing tomorrow evening on Lake Cadillac?”

Here was a chance to shed my angling doldrums and spend some time with a good friend. Instead of another night fishing out of my canoe on Lake Mitchell, I’d be on Lake Cadillac trolling six lines behind Randy Cornell’s charter boat. Whereas most charter services operate in the Great Lakes, Cornell, who runs CARMA Sport Fishing Charters, fishes inland lakes.

In recent weeks, Cornell had been guiding parties on Houghton Lake.

He showed me pictures of happy families posing with their catches. One shot featured pike, bass, walleye, bluegill and crappie — all taken on leech rigs.

Hoping to do well with that system on Lake Cadillac, he rigged planer boards and dropped a spread of lines covering a range of depths each with a different color spinner blade, beads, and a fat leech trailing off the hook. The idea, he explained to me was to “Listen to what the fish say.” Whichever lines got hits would be a clear indicator of what depth and color scheme was working. “If I get just one hit, that’s an anomaly, two bites might be a sign, and three hits on the same rig means it’s time to shift to that bait color and depth.”

As I watched Randy at work, I was picking up some ideas I might be able to use on my next fishing forays in Lake Mitchell and watching the sonar I was learning more about the nature of Lake Cadillac.

We began working up the south side of the lake. Moving along at 1.4 mph with the trolling motor, Randy guided the boat along contour lines on his sonar keeping us next to drop offs and at the edge of vegetation. We marked fish on the radar screen but all seemed indifferent to our offerings. With no discernible activity from the piscine population, the talk, as often happens when anglers are together, centered around fishing.

When there’s a ready audience for your fish tales you tell them. Randy recalled his teen years working on a charter boat captained by the legendary Emil Dean as well as fishing in Alaska when he was serving the Coast Guard. I, in turn, had an audience for my favorite fish stories.

A shared interest in fishing forges a bond between individuals who you might not have much in common in other aspects of their life. With all this fish chatter between us, the time passed quickly. Conversation was a pleasant diversion from what wasn’t happening to our trolled baits. When you’re fishing alone and not catching anything, there’s not much you can do but dwell on the fact that you’re not catching fish. Today I couldn’t remember a time when I was enjoying myself this much and not catching fish. It was not a surprising conclusion since for most of my angling hours, I am alone, a man in solitary pursuit of fish.

Perhaps in my quest to get out of a fishing rut that had me unfailingly going to the same places and using the same techniques, I was missing part of the problem. Fishing by myself was a practice that needed some adjustment.

That afternoon spent with Randy Cornell had provided some insights. I realized he shared similar feelings when he told me that while he loved fishing, in his charter business one of the best parts was that he had the chance to fish with others and enjoy their company. He said some of his best friendships came from people he first met while fishing.

About this time a planer board tipped, and within a few minutes of putting that first largemouth bass in the boat we had a second strike. This time a smallmouth — a quick reminder that one of the best aspects of fishing was catching fish.

Yet the day’s highlights weren’t the bass we caught, nor the what I learned about fishing spinner and leech rigs, no, the the best was the good feeling of sharing a fishing experience with another.