What’s Under the Ice We Sail On….
Heading back to RI tomorrow after a little more than two weeks in Michigan sailing a total of nine days on Black Lake, Lake Charlevoix, and Elk Lake. In addition to great sailing, elements of the natural world also came into focus for us to enjoy and experience.
Elk Lake was the clearest ice I had ever sailed on.. The ice measured 3.5 to 4.0 inches thick. The water depth here is about 10 feet, but even at 30′ you could see the bottom. We also saw lots of crayfish and Bob Gray saw a 20" lake pike.
With so little resistance, we were able to sail all day in just 5mph of wind.
Elk Lake is now covered in about 6" of snow as is Black Lake where the DN Nationals took place, but the snow didn’t stop the annual Black Lake Sturgeon fishing tournament from taking place. It’s the only sturgeon tournament in the state and each year between 500 and 600 fishermen register for the opportunity to catch a sturgeon. Sturgeon have been referred to as living fossils. The species dates back to 136 million years. Lake sturgeon can reach 7′ long 250lbs and live up to 150 years and they are classified as a threatened species in Michigan. The population is slowly on the rise due to careful management of the population.
This year a maximum of six sturgeon could be speared. Then the season/tournament officially ends. Last year the tournament took 20 minutes. When we heard that and that spears were used, we wanted to learn more about it. On Saturday morning we walked out onto Black Lake and talked to a few fisherman. A group of six friends drove five hours to saw a hole in the ice and stand in a fish tent/hut just for the chance to spear a sturgeon. This was their third year doing it and this year they’d brought a special decoy to try and lure one close. We also talked to a young teenager whose grandfather has done the tournament for 40 years and has yet to catch a sturgeon. The bell rung at 8:00 AM and all fisherman were notified of any catches via text messaging. By 8:45 AM three sturgeon were caught. We really wanted to see a sturgeon up close and because any caught sturgeon had to be brought to the DNR office for measurement, we headed to the office.
The spear or trident pictured below. If a sturgeon is seen, the fisherman aims and throws it into the hole using the rope to retrieve it and, hopefully, a sturgeon.
Due to COVID, the DNR office was not letting anyone into the gated parking lot other than those six that caught a sturgeon. We waited for a bit and soon a truck pulled in. I said, "Hi, do you have a sturgeon?" The driver said, "Yeah, we got one!" I said, "We are from Rhode Island, can we look?" Brian had not done the tournament in about ten years, but decided at the last minute to participate. He caught the 6th and last fish of the 2021 season.
We leave Onaway, MI and Black Lake tomorrow morning to return to Rhode Island. Given the uniqueness and importance of lake sturgeon, it’s clear why this sculpture welcomes all visitors to the area.
Lesson learned…ice boating and the traveling involved is also a great way to enjoy the natural world.