Man keeps decades’ worth of notes on Long Lake catches
Decked out in fish-themed decor, right down to the upholstery of the living room couch, Dennis Johnson displayed the pocket-sized notebooks in which he has tracked every legal-sized fish he’s caught on the lake since he and his family first visited when he was a teenager.
The meticulous notes, pencilled with care, paint a picture of the changes on and in the lake over nearly half a century.
Like his parents before him, Dennis and Kathy Johnson honeymooned in 1975 at the Presque Isle Resort, on the shore of Long Lake. Since then, Dennis Johnson has been jotting down the day’s catch, recording the size and sometimes weight of each fish big enough to bother with.
Back in the day, he used to catch 40 rock bass at a go, he said.
These days, he’s lucky to catch one a summer.
That fish was one one of the casualties of zebra mussels, the invasive creature that made its way into Lake Huron and, from there, through Long Lake Creek and Devil’s Lake, east of U.S.-23, and from there into Long Lake.
He first saw zebra mussels in 2000, Johnson knows from his notes. At first sparse, they’re now plentiful in the lake, the voracious creatures creating some of the same problems they’ve caused in other Northeast Michigan waters.
Eating massive quantities of microscopic plankton, the mussels steal the food needed by small fish, which, in turn, feed the bigger fish fishermen love.
No plankton means some big species can’t survive in Long Lake, Johnson said. It also allows sunlight to dive deeper into the water, changing fish habitats.
Goby, too, have made their way into Long Lake, although in smaller quantities and causing less damage. Another invasive species, the goby fish showed up in 2011, at least according to Johnson’s notebooks.
He’s seen invasive rusty crayfish in the water, too, the hyper-aggressive warriors attacking minnows even as they were both being pulled out of the lake in a net.
The small, invasive creatures, claiming as theirs the large rocks that are the usual habitat of rock bass, have mostly driven the fish away, Johnson said.
He’s heard many people say the lake has become bad for fishing recently.
His little notebooks beg to differ.
He’s reported four Master Angler fish to the state from his Long Lake fishing trips, including a perch last year and a bluegill earlier this summer. Fish have to be a minimum length for their species to receive the honor of a Master Angler fish.
He’s also registered a 23-inch white sucker that was the second-longest in the state that year. His grown son, when he was 10, caught a rock bass that earned him a certificate, a patch, and his picture in the newspaper.
The big fish are still out there, and plentiful enough to draw a large crowd to the annual bass tournament that launches from the park across from the Johnsons’ cottage every summer.
Long Lake has been recognized as the second-best lake in all of Michigan for catching bass and is one of the top five fishing lakes in the nation, the couple has been told.
Detroit-area residents most of the year, the couple has been spending most of each summer on the lake since 2012, when they bought their cottage. Before that, they’d come for two weeks at the beginning of each August, when water temperature is mostly reliable and weather is most conducive to good fishing.
Johnson’s notes — he ran out of paper in 2013 and had to start a new notebook — now include temperature, wind speed, and sky conditions for each fish caught, data he started collecting last year, hoping to spot more patterns in years to come.
Other factors continue to change the lake. Cormorants, a diving bird with an appetite for walleye fingerlings, gained a new level of protection from the state in recent years and can’t be killed.
He’ll see seven or eight of the birds in a tree, scouting for young fish, Johnson said, noting that the predator has contributed to a decline in the fish.
The lake is restocked with walleye by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working in conjunction with the Long Lake Improvement Association, which encourages its members to write their congressmen to ask laws about cormorants be changed.
The association created fish shelters by sinking evergreen trees throughout the lake, giving perch a place to lay their eggs. Residents can give their Christmas trees a second use by sliding them onto the ice in winter, to drift to the lake’s bottom to become a fish nursery with the spring thaw.
The association’s efforts seem to be working, Johnson said, as sometimes he will catch “a horrendous amount of perch” — sometimes several at a time, and enough, his wife Kathy said, to make you wonder if you’ve got a whale at the end of your fishing pole.
Don’t expect to see salmon in Long Lake, the couple said.
On a restricted diet of a small fish that’s been forced out by zebra mussels, the much-sought-after species — introduced to Lake Huron in the late 1960s and a draw for thousands of salmon-lovers at local tournaments — doesn’t come around these parts much anymore, Johnson said.
Still, Johnson said, on Long Lake, you can drop anchor in a patch of reeds on a slightly windy day and catch six species all in one spot.
There aren’t many lakes that can offer up such fishy riches, he said.
These days, he doesn’t much like to kill things. After making a mental note to add his latest catch to his notebook, he usually throws his catch back in the lake.
“To get bigger,” Kathy Johnson said. “That’s the whole point.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.