FIFTH: You don’t have to be on constant alert for the sharp spines of sea urchins, so numerous in the ocean. Nor do you need to scan the area for shark, jellyfish, scorpionfish, fire coral or the myriad of other poisonous organisms, the mere touch of which can ruin your vacation. The chances that something in an inland lake is ever going to mess with you or cause you harm in any way are almost non-existent. Therefore, it becomes a completely relaxing experience.
SIXTH: The only equipment necessary is a snorkel and mask--about $50, or you can rent both from your local dive shop for about $5. No fins are necessary or desirable.
SEVENTH: You have no waves or surf to toss you around or bash you against rocks, something I experienced this last year even in sheltered bays in Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas in Baja, Mexico. The snorkeling was great, but the lack of control was very unsettling. Of course you can have waves in Michigan lakes, but that is on windy days, and it is easy to make the decision to stay in when the wind is high.
In spite of all these advantages, people continue to be amazed that this sport can be enjoyed right here in our own state. So just what is it down there that would make anyone want to make the effort?
If there were no fish at all, the result would be worthwhile. As most of you know, in the ocean the fish have a backdrop of coral; in the inland lakes, the backdrop is vegetation of tremendous color and variety from the vivid reds of many types of lilies to the yellows and delicate greens of coontail, watermilfoil, grasses and pondweed, to name only a few of the hundreds of submerged plants in our lakes. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the serenity that overcomes you as you lie face down, totally relaxed, just aimlessly drifting. Nothing lowers the blood pressure faster.
Ah, but there are fish, and plenty of them. Just lie still and let the fish come to you. Chasing is futile, but they are so curious--after all, they’ve never seen anything like YOU before. But the beauty of it is that they are not afraid of you--they do not perceive you as a threat since you have become a part of their environment. Fish can learn, and they have learned to see shadows from a boat as a real threat. But YOU float among them and by lying still, they will come to investigate, circle you, stare and make real eye contact.
The famed underwater scientist Silvia Earle has conducted scientific studies that indicate that fish are like cats and dogs and birds; they have individual personalities, even within the same species. I have hundreds of times found this to be true, as some fish will show curiosity, others will hit the lens of my camera repeatedly as they see their reflection there and think they are batting away a rival; others will display amazing friendliness. They love people and want to float along with you; some have tried to be my guides around a lake--five largemouth bass at a particular lake line up when I enter the water and proceed to show me around, frequently looking back to make sure I am still there. When the tour is over, and I prepare to leave the lake, they again line up and look so eager to take me out again that I can’t resist succumbing to one more tour. Make no mistake about it there is real interaction here and scientific evidence to back it up.
What kinds of fish are you likely to encounter? The most common is the ubiquitous bluegill, found in every lake in Michigan. The next most frequently seen is the largemouth bass, followed by the rock bass, yellow perch, crappies, bowfin, many varieties of sunfish, northern pike, muskie, suckers, bullhead, walleye, carp, warmouth, garpike, pickerel and herring. One big surprise was the great variety of turtles--the Blandings turtle, the snapping, map, musk, painted and spiny softshell to name the most common ones.
Of all the fish you’ll encounter, the popular bluegill is the one you’ll see the most often and in the greatest numbers. This almost round fish in the shape of a pumpkinseed, with a distinctive black flap and a vertical chain design, has a variety of names--brim, sun perch, bream and blue sunfish. Bluegills are so prolific that their populations can grow beyond the lake’s capacity, and as a result their growth is stunted. They are a schooling fish, so where you find one, you will find others nearby. They are aggressive, and we can just be thankful they are not the size of pike, as this is the only fish that likes to say hello by taking a little nip. Because of their size, you seldom feel anything, and of course if you wear a skin, as I do, they are not tempted.