- Don Wirth
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"Man, check out the size of that smalljaw!" Harry gasped in disbelief. The latest issue of Bassmaster had an article about the giant smallmouth bass that lurked in the massive, mysterious waters of Lake Michigan, and the hawg in the picture had to weigh at least 8 pounds. "I'd sure like to tangle with a mule like that some day!"
"According to the article, they catch 'em that size routinely in the U.P. that's Michigan's Upper Peninsula," I allowed. "Some days they'll whack as many as 40 or 50 over 4 pounds! Can you imagine?"
Before long, what started out as idle banter between two redneck bassin' nuts had turned into a full-fledged game plan. "What say we call up that bass guide they interviewed in the magazine?" Harry suggested. "Maybe we could set up a fishin' trip with him! We both got a week's vacation comin' up, and I'd rather spend it fightin' big smalljaws than I would fixin' leaky faucets 'n' cuttin' grass!"
Harry dialed the number from the article and a distant voice answered: "Captain Dinky's U.P. Guide Service, Dinky speaking!"
"Howdy Cap'n Dinky, this is Harry from Swamp Gas Corners that's about 10,000 miles directly south of you! Me 'n' my bassin' buddy Charlie seen that article about them ginormous Lake Michigan smalljaws, and we's wantin' to come up and fish with ya!"
"Vell, you called at da right time, 'cuz dem smallmouth is moving up out of deep vater right now and heading for dere spawning grounds, you betcha!" the guide allowed in a foreign-sounding dialect. "You boys ever sight-fish for big smallies, eh? By golly, it's more fun than dancing the humppa!"
That was all it took. We made plans to hook up with Cap'n Dinky for a once-in-a-lifetime Lake Michigan smalljaw expedition!
"What else did he say about them giant basses?" I wondered as we sped north in the Lunker Express that very afternoon.
"I couldn't tell I kinda had trouble understandin' him since he don't talk normal like you 'n' me!" Harry replied. "Evidently he's what they call a Yooper that's somebody from the U.P. Unlike us, they got a purty thick accent!"
We drove for over 20 hours, passin' through six states until we arrived at the rustic Little Finland Resort, which Cap'n Dinky had recommended. "Velcome, strangers!" the manager said. "I'll call Dinky and let him know dat you arrived!"
Minutes later we was gettin' settled in our cabin when there was a loud knock at the door. Harry opened it to see a mountain of a man with a wide grin on his bearded face. "Holy smokers, you must be Harry; and dat's Charlie, eh?" he enthused, shakin' our hands with his bone-crushin' grip. "Captain Dinky, dat's me!"
"Pardon me for askin', but how'd a big fella like you ever get the name Dinky?" I wondered. The guide was 6-4 and at least 250 pounds.
"Vell, my real name's Armo, but my older brother Verkko named me 'Dinky' ven I vas yust a boy, by golly!"
"We don't hear names like Armo 'n' Verkko too much down in Dixie," I chuckled. "Where we come from, it's mostly Jim Bob 'n' Bubba!"
"Time for supper, eh?" Cap'n Dinky said. "Hop in my truck and we go Tip Top Tap! My treat!"
The Tip Top Tap was a classic Yooper hot spot festooned with stuffed deer heads, bearskin rugs 'n' smelt dippin' nets. A waitress brought us brewskis in icy mugs. "No steak or pork chops for you two!" Dinky insisted, grabbin' our menus. "You gotta try planked whitefish! Fresh from da big lake and baked on a cedar plank! Tastes almost as good as my grandma's kalakukko, you betcha!"
"The only kind of fish I normally eat is fried, but when in the U.P., do as the Yoopers do!" Harry figured.
The waitress took our orders and brought another round of brewskis. "So tell us the truth, is we gonna hit the smallmouth bite right for once in our lives?" I inquired.
"Ya sure, I go lake dis morning and see 4- to 7-pounders everyvhere!" Cap'n Dinky replied.
I noticed several old photos of shipwrecks on the tavern wall and asked, "Y'all get some bad storms up here?"
"Ya know dat ditty Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? Vell, dat dere ship vent down in Lake Superior, just nort' of here! Lake Michigan, she yust as bad I seen her go from smoothie-calm to 15-footers in minutes!"
"Hmpf!" Harry snorted. "Me 'n' Charlie ain't scairt of no storms! Back home, we'll fish plum through a twister to catch a great ol' big 'un!"
The sizzling dinner platters arrived. "Mmmm, that fish does smell dee-lish!" Harry salivated. "But it sure is tough! Excuse my fingers, but I cain't cut it with a knife 'n' fork!" He took the baked fish in hand, chomped down hard and kee-rackkkkk!!! busted four molars!
"I vouldn't eat dat cedar plank if I vas you!" Cap'n Dinky chortled. "Dem splinters, dey mighty tough to digest!"
We hit the sack early and the cap'n picked us up at 4:30 a.m., his high-sided walleye boat in tow. "You fellers ready to catch dem big smallies, eh?"
"Ya sure!" we replied, tryin' our best to sound like the locals. We arrived at the boat launch just as the sun peeked over the horizon, and within minutes we was racin' across massive Lake Michigan. "Dang, I thought Belly Button Bayou was big!" Harry gasped in disbelief. Fortunately the huge lake was dead calm as Cap'n Dinky sped toward a shallow inlet known as Bronzeback Bay. As he slowed to idle speed, he announced, "Yup, dey here alright! Yust look at all dem big smallies!"
When we stood up and gazed into the crystal-clear water, our eyes beheld an amazing sight: lunker smalljaws hundreds of 'em was cruisin' the white sand beach, lookin' for a spot to nest! Cap'n Dinky shut off his outboard, lowered his trollin' motor and tossed us some smoke glitter tube baits. "Y-y-you're gonna hafta r-r-rig it for me!" Harry stammered. "I's sh-sh-shakin' too bad to t-t-tie a d-d-decent knot!"
I chunked my tube out and watched it spiral to the bottom. I gave it one hop and a giant smalljaw raced out of nowhere and grabbed it! "Yee-ha!" I hollered as the behemoth bronzeback took off for deep water, strippin' line off my spinnin' reel! The big brown fish jumped a half-dozen times before I was able to work it close enough for Cap'n Dinky to net it. "What a hawg!" I exclaimed. "Biggest smalljaw I ever caught!"
Not to be outdone, Harry chunked his tube at a fat female he'd spied on her nest. He shook the lure with a flick of his wrist and the big girl inhaled it! "Gotcha!" he grunted as he set the hook. The bronze sow took off like a rocket, snappin' Harry's line with a loud pop! "Aww, horsefeathers!" he grumbled.
"Don't vorry, dere plenty more vhere dat one come from!" Cap'n Dinky laughed.
What followed was a total whackfest! We spent all morning catchin' and releasin' scores of 4- to 7-pounders! Then around noon, we spied the mother of all smalljaws sittin' on her nest in front of an old sunken boat dock. At first we thought it was a log, but as we moved closer, it swam off its nest, circled around and cruised back again. "Dat dere's a 10-pounder!" Cap'n Dinky whispered. "Go ahead, boys! See if you can catch her!"
I pitched my tube bait past the nest, crawled it onto the bed and shook it. But the monster smallie ignored it, so I reeled in and let Harry have his shot. He hopped, crawled and shook his tube on the nest so it looked like an over-caffeinated crawdad. But the giant bronzeback wasn't tempted in the least!
Just then Cap'n Dinky's marine radio crackled to life: "Attention all boaters within a 10-mile radius of Bronzeback Bay! This is a Coast Guard alert! A rogue thunderstorm with heavy rain, large hail and high winds is rapidly approaching from the west! If you are in the target area, head back to port immediately!"
"Let's go!" the Cap'n grunted, crankin' his outboard. But Harry insisted on one last cast! The skies grew dark, the lake started whitecappin' and lightning crackled in the distance as Harry cast his tube bait at the enormous smalljaw. He shook it and shook it, until finally the beast opened its mouth and sucked it in! Harry reared back and hammered the fish, and the battle was on!
Lake Michigan was churnin' to a froth as the storm crept closer. "You got exactly 30 seconds to reel in dat bass, den ve're leaving!" Cap'n Dinky warned. But the rampagin' smalljaw stripped his line to the knot before 10 of them seconds was up! She jumped 6 feet in the air a hundred yards from the boat, spit out his tube and was gone!
We pounded through huge swells but managed to reach the launch ramp just in the nick of time. As we sat in the safety of Cap'n Dinky's truck, watching the fury of the storm whip across the humongous lake, he sighed, "Vell, looks like dat's all the fishin' ve gonna do today, by golly!"
"It's been one heckuva trip, though," Harry mused, "and losin' that 10-pounder only makes me wanna come back up here someday! Now, what say we get us some brewskis and a bite to eat? Only this time, can we please go someplace where the main course ain't served on a wooden plank?"
11hMichael C. Wright