Crafty Fishing

Crafty Fishing

Expand your fishing horizons by tricking out an 18-foot V-hull for near-shore salmon and trout fishing.

On a map, even a simple road map, there's so much blue that it's intimidating.

Author Noel Vick hooks up just 100 yards from shore in Lake Michigan.
Photo by Noel Vick.

In real life, that blue crashes against rocks, bangs against your hull and even swallows merchant vessels.

Without doubt, this is no place for your 18-foot aluminum walleye boat with the secondhand, but sweetly tuned, 90-horse. But some talented anglers, like Pat Kalmerton, have tamed the Great Lakes.

Kalmerton operates Wolf Pack Adventures on the western shores of Lake Michigan. He hunts a rich sampling of Great Lakes species, including king salmon, coho salmon, rainbows, browns and lake trout. Considered largely pelagic, offshore types, it's natural to think you need to motor miles to find these fish. Not true, rebukes Kalmerton.

"I fish a lot within a half mile of shore," said the veteran guide. "Every species of salmonid swims close to shore during some period of the year. And usually when they're shallow they're feeding."

BOAT
This nearness begets flexibility, too. Meaning, you have the option of booking a vessel from Kalmerton's fleet or flying solo in your own rig. Understand the limitations, though, as not every boat that floats qualifies.

"Don't show up with a 12-foot flat-bottom boat," cautions Kalmerton. "But about any deep-V, boat, like a Lund or Sylvan, gets the job done."

So let's operate under the assumption that you're captaining a seaworthy V-hull with enough horsepower to get you to the dock if a storm breaks. That rules out "kicker" class 7.5- to 25-hp spitfires, but also means you don't need twin 300s.

From here, getting outfitted is as easy as running down a checklist. Nothing on Kalmerton's roster breaks the bank or requires extensive rigging, either. In fact, some of the items you might already own.

Trolling is as elemental to fishing the Great Lakes as fly-casting is to wading streams. To this end, the core package Kalmerton is about to describe is predicated on trolling techniques.

RODS
Back to the checklist where Kalmerton proselytizes about rod and reel selection. Know, too, that for this exercise I asked him to not only identify the "right" gear, but also name affordable options.

For Kalmerton, calling out a qualified rod was second nature.

"The Shakespeare Ugly Stik, no questions asked." So I asked anyway. Kalmerton humored me with an answer. "They're durable; have a soft tip but plenty of backbone, and are pretty inexpensive."

Regardless of make and model, you'll want something 7 feet or longer.

REELS
Kalmerton pairs the rod with an equally specific reel. He rolls with a Daiwa Sealine line-counter reel. Daiwa is a preference. Having line-counting capabilities is a necessity. To duplicate your successes, you need to know how much line is behind the boat.

On the troll, Kalmerton constantly tinkers with line-length. Lure depth is influenced by the length of the leash you give it. If you crack a fish with 200 feet out, get that lure back to the 200-foot mark. Moreover, make sure at least one other line gets the same treatment, including a lure match.

Brian "Bro" Brosdahl caught this hulking king salmon while trolling in the fall just outside a harbor.
Photo by David A. Rose.

ROD HOLDERS
When it comes to a holder, "it needs to handle a 20-pound fish turning at 40 miles per hour," said Kalmerton. The words "secure" and "sturdy" come to mind. Attwood is a reliable name, as are RAM and Scotty. If you're clamping onto a gunwale, make sure the connection is ironclad. But the better option is to invest and mount removable rod holders. It's a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade and diversify your boat anyway, Great Lakes or not.

LINE
As expected, the young but salty captain is choosy about fishing line, too.

Kalmerton fishes 15-pound PowerPro because there's not room for stretch. Salmonids are muscular and their mouths made of steel. Both characteristics call for a stout line.

Line diameter is another consideration. PowerPro, like other superlines, is thinner in diameter than monofilaments or fluorocarbons of equal strength. The thinner the line the more efficiently it slices through water. As a result, it sends a lure deeper faster. In contrast, nylon lines tend to float, and create an arc in the line, which puts slack between you and the lure. Kalmerton demands uber-sensitivity. "I want to see the line shake from the action of the stickbait," he said. "That way, I know it's running true and clean."

If the quaking quits, he knows the lure's been fouled by a weed or debris.

LEADER
When it comes to superlines, however, there can be too much of a good thing. Their unforgiving, rigid nature can jerk a lure out of a fish's mouth in a flash. Even the playful tip of a slower-action rod may not sufficiently soften the blow. Use a 10-foot-long fluorocarbon shock leader so the rig has the right amount of give. Join the leader to the main line with a barrel swivel.

For brown trout and walleyes, use a lighter leader. Kalmerton ties on 8-pound test. For salmon or lake trout, up it to 17 pounds.

STAY SAFE
Near-shore waters offer excellent walleye, salmon and trout fishing. Still, it is open water. Pat Kalmerton, a U.S. Coast Guard certified captain, offers some gravely important safety tips.

CONSTANT CONTACT. "Sure, you're fishing close to shore, but it's still big water," he said. Bad things can happen, and fast. So for starters, make sure somebody on shore knows when you're leaving and what time you expect to come in.

CARRY A CELL PHONE and keep it sealed in something so it can't get wet. You need a weather-band or marine radio -- storms ca

n brew quickly. And make sure you know the Coast Guard channel, and hailing channel, the ones fisherman use. Local tackle shops can get you that information.

CRUCIAL GEAR. Carry flares in case of a serious emergency. Always keep a fire extinguisher onboard.

"And the last one's the easiest, but the least practiced," said Kalmerton. "WEAR YOUR STINKING LIFEJACKET!"

PLANER BOARDS
There are numerous techniques and associated riggings for fanning out lines. To convert the average walleye-boat into a Great Lakes candidate, we'll focus on the simplest, most economical means.

Planer boards are fishing's version of sliced bread -- inventive and unduplicated. Kalmerton positions outside boards 150 feet from the craft. To get a solid visual image, Kalmerton describes the undertaking.

"You can fish two lines per person on all of the Great Lakes. In some cases, like on Lake Michigan, you can use three. If it's me and one other guy, in the boat we'll run six lines, three per side," he said.

And if you follow Kalmerton's recipe, even a novice can avoid weaving lines into a scarf.

He sets the outside lines on planer boards at 150 feet. The middle lines go out to about 90 feet. The inside lines 30 to 40 feet from the boat. All told, that yields a spacious 300 feet of coverage from tip to tip.

Besides widening the trolling path, planer boards also let you dictate the length of line give to each lure.

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