2017-06-29 / Outdoors

We asked anglers for their best day on Lake Leelanau

‘I don’t think it’s a piece of wood’
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

People fish for reasons that go far beyond their catch, which helps explain their stories when asked about their favorite day fishing on Lake Leelanau.

“I could tell you about how many fish I’ve caught, but everybody has one of those stories,” said Pete Taylor, who resides on north Lake Leelanau just beyond the opening for the Narrows.

Taylor’s story goes back about 20 years to when he had two boats — one for Lake Leelanau, and one for fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan.

On this day he launched his larger boat on Lake Leelanau with the intent of fishing for lake trout. He brought along a long-lost friend — Taylor can’t recall his name today — who had rarely fished.

“We fished for quite a while and didn’t catch anything. Then he hooked into a huge lake trout. I was estimating that it weighed between 15 and 20 pounds. We got a look at it before we lost it,” Taylor said.


FISH BIOLOGIST Heather Hettinger, shown here at Kids Fishing Day, says her best day on Lake Leelanau revolved around catching a trophy bass with her father. FISH BIOLOGIST Heather Hettinger, shown here at Kids Fishing Day, says her best day on Lake Leelanau revolved around catching a trophy bass with her father. Taylor had lost big fish before. What he remembers most was the excitement generated in his friend.

“He was having a great time, and got it to the boat. His enthusiasm was what made it such a great day. He was just overwhelmed with excitement that he had that fish on. For me, watching that whole experience was one of the best days I’ve had,” Taylor recalled.

Sharing a day on the lake with family played into several answers.

“We were out one day last August on a pontoon around Cemetery Point, which is now called Celebration Point,” said Nickolas Fleezanis, president of the Lake Leelanau Lake Association. “We dropped in a line and caught a two-pound walleye. They are hard to find in the north lake, but that day we found one.”


THE BEST day fishing on Lake Leelanau for Bill Carlson occurred in October with his wife, Jennifer, when perch “doubles” were the norm. THE BEST day fishing on Lake Leelanau for Bill Carlson occurred in October with his wife, Jennifer, when perch “doubles” were the norm. Fleezanis was dragging a tube bait along the bottom to imitate a crayfish. But it wasn’t really the pan-sized walleye fillets that brought a smile to Fleezanis’ face.

“I was fishing with my two sons, Paris and Jonathon. It was probably more the time spent with my kids than anything else,” he said.

Heather Hettinger made her father a tad jealous with her catch while fishing at the far south end of Lake Leelanau.

“The biggest bass I ever caught in my life was caught in Lake Leelanau down by Perins Landing. It weight 6 pounds, 11 ounces,” said Hettinger, a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.


TONY WEST will never forget a busy morning catching walleye on tip-ups with his sons. TONY WEST will never forget a busy morning catching walleye on tip-ups with his sons. “It was the first year I started working here, so it had to be 2005. I was fishing with my dad in the bay back there and he thought I got caught on a piece of wood. He was taking me over there to get it off, and I said, ‘I don’t think it’s a piece of wood,’” Hettinger said.

They were fishing around 8:30 a.m. using a tube jig.

“He was a little peeved because he hadn’t caught one that big. But he was joking, and he was pretty proud of his daughter. He had spent some time fishing Lake Leelanau, and that was probably the biggest bass he had seen come out of there,” she said.

Tony West recalled a big morning ice fishing south Lake Leelanau with his sons Easton, 7, and Evrly, 5.

“We got out there earlier than light, and at first light we had a flag. We chased flags for just under two hours. We caught 12 fish, and five were keepers. My kids were ecstatic.”

The Wests were joined by Tony’s buddy Adam Collate. They were fishing in 15 feet of water using blues and grays.

Bill Carlson of Leland is best known for running fish tugs with commercial nets on Lake Michigan as the retired owner of Carlson Fisheries. “I’m just learning how to fish with hook and line,” he said, jokingly.

But he had a special day in October 2016 fishing for perch with his wife, Jennifer, near the Lake Leelanau Narrows.

“It was amazing. We had been taking our grandkids and they would catch all the perch they could handle. They weren’t with us on this day. We were fishing double hook perch rigs and we caught doubles almost every time. I’ve never seen it like that,” Carlson said.

Hugh Farber smiles widely when relating that he built his home on south Lake Leelanau “from 1974 to 2011.” Consequently, before his retirement Farber’s weekends in the county were spent swinging a hammer.

But one morning he snuck away before sunup just as the Hexagenia limbata mayfly hatch was getting underway.

Farber said, “It was my first mayfly hatch on Lake Leelanau. I fished surface baits for bass because that’s what I enjoy. I was going to fish along the lily pads on the other side of the lake, and on my way there I saw them. Being an opportunist, I stopped and fished.”

He had spotted a school of smallmouth bass devouring Hex nymphs as they rose to the surface and “hatched” into mayflies.

“I’d see one moving in the water or a bubble where they were feeding, and I’d cast to that. They were cruising, eating emerging mayflies. You could see them doing that, like a trout,” Farber said.

In less than an hour he had caught and released 17 smallmouths ranging up to 3.5 pounds.

That special morning occurred more than 25 years ago, yet he remembers it like yesterday.

“It was like fishing for brown trout in the Au Sable River.”

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