I think I am pretty good at my job. I expect fishing guides to be good at theirs. I have fished with many fishing guides over the years- on the Au Sable, White Lake, Minnetonka, Ontario, Erie, Lake George, the St. Lawrence, the Jersey Shore, South Africa, Lac La Croix, Lake of the Woods, the Ottawa River Chain, Colorado Springs, Mozambique, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Alaska and countless fresh and salt water areas in Florida. The guides have generally been pretty good and put me on fish with respectable gear and decent boat skills. Yesterday, however, I fished with a Master.
Marcel Veenstra of Marcel's Guide Service is one guide that takes his profession to a whole new level of excellence. Marcel, a guide for over 20 years, is a BFL All American qualifier, Bassmaster Open Championship qualifier, Everstart Championship qualifier, Everstart 2002 Angler of the Year, FLW Tour Championship qualifier and, dare I say, a Fishing Master. In his 20 years of experience, Marcel has learned that, despite his passion for fishing, guiding is a tough job. Good weather or terrible, blazing sun, howling wind, bitter cold, driving rain, lock-jawed fish, snarled reels, snagged lures and a plethora of other opportunities for failure all present endless challenges to a guide.
Marcel brings a lot of skill to the job. First, he possesses what may be the most important characteristic for a successful guide- an infectious confidence that his clients will catch fish. He all but guarantees it. Second, he shows up extremely well prepared with a plan for the day. He knows from first hand scouting where the fish are, what they are doing and why, and most importantly, what they are and are not eating. He combines this specie knowledge with his experience of the ambient conditions- weather, water clarity, water temperature, wind direction and speed. All this plays into his preparation so that when he arrives at the launch he knows that he will put his clients on the fish and fish in the boat. Marcel enjoys sharing his experience and knowledge of the various techniques to catch fish and it clearly shows in his enthusiasm for his work.
We took off onto Lake St. Clair from the public ramp near the Clinton spillway around 7:30 AM. It could not have been a more perfect morning with very light winds out of the west and a warming sunshine. We soon came to a pre-spawn staging flat six to seven feet in depth. There were very few boats on the water and none where Marcel had stopped. I had my choice of a lipless crank or a jerk bait. Given a choice, I will always choose a lipless crank, but after 10 minutes, as Marcel released his third Smallmouth Bass, I decided the jerk bait may be the better choice. Marcel, was using a Megabass Vision 95 in the pictured colors.Within five minutes we were doubled up and the fish fest was on.
Over the next few hours, countless boats cruised up to the flat and worked all around us. Some caught a fish or two. Others left the area skunked. None were fishing jerkbaits. This is when I began to realize Marcel’s knowledge was at a totally different level. Not only did he have the bait, he also had the technique. Cast, take up the slack, jerk jerk, pause. Not a short pause either. A longer than you would usually pause pause. Repeat and, boom there they were. It was a marked difference from the steady retrieve with shorter pauses I was using with the lipless crank. It was a technique so unique you could actually feel when you had it right and sense the fish was there and about to strike. Sometimes a tap others a slam.
Marcel used his trolling motor expertly to keep us in a fairly small area. Fish were arriving on this flat staging in smaller groups and dispersing to orient in small groups on the many rocky shell beds. It was a sort of “rest stop” on the highway to the spawning beds. By 10:00 we had 30 fish. Many boats left with anglers just shaking their head in frustration. Our top five fish weighed over 22 lbs. I was impressed, but actually the best was yet to come.
As the morning progressed the winds picked up and shifted, now coming from the north. The pattern was a little more difficult to fish as the wind made casting more difficult but they were still on the jerk bait. A little more time passed and I started to feel a chill. The winds shifted again now coming from the northeast- when “fish bite the least.” The number of boats we could see up and down the area diminished. It was only the rare boat that stopped to fish around us. By 11:30 the winds were blowing 18-20 mph and there were significant white caps, making the light weight jerk pattern impossible to fish. We had well over 35 fish by this time. Marcel knew the fish were still on this spot. He asked me if I had ever fished a Silver Buddy. I said no. He produced a blade bait and tied it on his line. He said if they are here this will work. He had a fish within the first three casts and another hit that jumped off on its way to the boat shortly after the first fish. I tried on a Silver Buddy.
Every angler has a "go to" confidence bait. For Marcel, that lure is a Silver Buddy. As he tied it on he said, “I am going to watch you to make sure you fish it correctly.” First and foremost he wanted me to have fun catching fish. The wind meant we needed weight. The dirtier water meant we would need some flash and vibration. The Buddy would provide both. You need to feel this lure to know you are fishing it correctly; you also need to make sure to use the duo-lock snaps provided. This is probably why my blade baits have been relegated to one of my seldom used tackle boxes. No more. As you throw the lure, let it free fall to the bottom. Jerk the rod from 9:00 to 11:00- about 12 inches. You need to feel the vibration or it is probably fouled with a piece of weed or zebra mussel. As the lure falls again, take up the slack, watching for the second it hits bottom and pump again. The fish typically will hit on the fall so the jerking will also set the hook. It may also pull the hook out. It took a few casts to get the hang of it but soon it was fish on. My first on a blade bait. I was surprised by the silver color and told Marcel I believed that gold was for sunny days and silver for cloudy. He agreed and I was soon fishing gold. I had 3-4 more on the gold.
The conditions continued to deteriorate. We were drifting now as it was too difficult to keep the boat positioned with the Minn Kota. The drifts passed quickly with the howling wind. Each reposition we got increasingly wet. The ride back to the ramp was spine jolting to put it mildly but I did not mine. I had caught a lot of quality fish- the largest weighing 4 lbs. 6 oz. - probably my personal best. I had learned a lot and fished some new techniques on a body of water with which I become more and more impressed. We had caught a lot of fish when very few others were and we stayed on them long after most others had quit. On the drive home I recapped the day in my mind. I concluded that what I had experienced was similar to what Luke must have felt training with Yoda on Dagobah. As the Jedi Master would have said about Marcel, “Fishing he knows.” I know, I felt the force. Thanks Marcel!