December is the tail end of the whitefish run. It’s a time when winds constantly shift and the cold air bites.
The end of the whitefish run is somewhat of a gamble. As the temperature drops, you could go home with a bucket of fish or just frozen appendages.
My brother and I had successful outings at sunset in November, but we never fished into December. Our time was limited by work and other obligations, and we couldn’t resist trying to catch a few more. So, we decided to try something new, something we hadn’t tried before: trying to catch whitefish late at night.
We reached the Muskegon Channel and headed out to the pier at about 10 p.m. A digital sign on the drive over said the temperature was already down to 20 degrees, but my excitement remained hot.
My excitement cooled as we passed fellow fishermen who were calling it a night. They had frozen, dejected faces and empty buckets. No worries, I told myself, we’ll be here when the bite heats back up.
At dusk, the crowd is shoulder to shoulder on the pier, and one after another, they haul in whitefish. At 10 p.m., the crowd was less than a handful, maybe four or five on the pier, and a few were in the process of packing up and heading for warmth.
We picked a spot close to the access path to the pier, selected jig spoons, and dropped them into the water. We jigged and waited for that heavy feeling to bend our rods.
After about half an hour, the only thing that had bent our poles was our lures getting snagged on rocks. No worries, I thought, again. More fishermen were coming out, taking up position to our right. The bite had to warm back up soon.
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About five minutes after the fellow about ten feet away from me showed up, his rod bent, and he hauled in a nice whitefish, netted by one of his friends. I watched him fight the fish and listened to him and his friend talk while getting the net ready. They were speaking Japanese. It’s common for Japanese fishermen to show up on the pier during the whitefish run. Then I realized that everyone to our right was speaking Japanese.
That was different, but whatever, the bite was turning on. A short while later, another of the Japanese contingent farther down the pier netted a fish. Then another.
Then my neighbor, again, not 10 feet from me, pulled in another whitefish. I got his attention and asked what he was using. He just smiled and pointed at the fish and put his jig back in the water.
I couldn’t breach the language barrier, so I did something that I don’t usually do. I copied him. I switched from baitfish colors to a silver jig. I casted out like him, moved my rod like him. Moved up and down the pier like him. Then I switched to a gold-colored jig.
I washed lures as another member of the Japanese contingent netted another fish.
We kept trying, but after a while, my brother asked, “What time is it?”
It was after midnight. Hours had gone by without a bite.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied.
So, we packed up our gear and made our frozen, dejected walk back to our vehicles. Along the way, I mentioned that it was time to get our ice fishing gear ready. My brother agreed, but after a pause he said that he might try for walleye at the Muskegon Lake end of the channel.
And I’ve seen that steelhead and perch have been caught recently. Maybe we will be back out on the pier….