If you timed it right, last year was a great one for catching salmon and trout on our Great Lakes. Don't miss the boat in 2007! (May 2007)
The chinook fishing was spectacular off Ludington during the late summer last year.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
What kind of salmon season did you have on our Great Lakes in 2006? Much of it depended on where and when you fished.
If you fished northern Lake Michigan in the spring, your report was probably less than glowing. If you didn't hit the lake until mid-July, you would probably claim that it was some of the best fishing ever.
Many anglers stayed away from Lake Huron because of all the gloom and doom the press and others had been spreading. But in reality, Lake Huron produced some decent fishing for those who stuck by their guns and fished the lake last year. Many people also discovered there are more species in Lake Huron than just chinook salmon and lake trout.
What's the salmonid prognosis for 2007? That's the million-dollar question, but I would put my money on these ports.
"You know the media and everyone has promoted the idea that the fishing is horrible on Lake Huron," Capt. Ed Retherford said. "Granted, it's not like it was 10 years ago, but it's not as bad everyone has made it out to be either."
Anglers caught king salmon at Rogers City last year -- not as big or as many as during the glory days, but respectable numbers of chinooks. And there was more variety in the catch. Lake trout are abundant. More steelhead and Atlantic salmon were caught than in previous years. Plus, brown trout are still available. Apparently, anglers just became spoiled from the fishing a decade ago when it was no big deal to take a limit of kings.
Trolling east or west of the Rogers City harbor can be good in May and June for a hodgepodge of lake trout, salmon and brown trout. Take a right and look for the U.S. Steel Lighthouse, Adams Point and the Presque Isle Lighthouse. Head west and landmarks include Seagull Point, Nagles Creek, P.H. Hoeft State Park, Forty Mile Point and Hammond Bay. Troll body baits and small spoons behind in-line boards in 6 to 20 feet of water along the shoreline. Play the wind, because onshore winds can stack up warming water and salmon along key shoreline structure.
Lake trout are a given at Rogers City. If you can't catch anything else, you can always catch lakers -- if you avoid the tribal nets. Traditional dodgers pulling P-Nuts or Wobble Glows, or flashers and flies, take the lakers.
Kings show up in numbers at Rogers City about July 1. Structure off Adams Point holds schools of chinooks during the summer months. Spoons like Silver Streaks take plenty of fish when they are actively on the feed. As fall approaches, the salmon crowd into the shallows between Adams and Quarry points. J-Plugs and flasher/flies are the ticket then.
Rogers City is an ideal port for the weekend angler with a trailerable boat who wants to avoid the crowds. To book a charter out of Rogers City with Capt. Ed Retherford aboard the Trout Scout V, contact him at (989) 356-9361 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I know places like Ludington and Manistee have great fishing in the summer," Capt. Charlie Broadhurst said, "but I would have to say that St. Joe has some of the best fishing on the Great Lakes on a year-round basis."
Broadhurst bases his claim partly on the great spring fishing that St. Joseph offers. "We start fishing for browns and cohos in late March or early April," he said.
He said fishing in 6 to 8 feet of water from the St. Joe pierheads all the way to the Cook Nuclear Plant can be dynamite in the spring, and limits are normal. And you're not going to find better eating than brown trout and spring cohos. The spring salmonids jump all over body baits like Thin Finns, Storm ThunderSticks, Rapalas and spoons such as the Dreamweaver's Super Thin SS and Fuzzy Bear Educator. Try off the junk cars, chalets, Ad Building, Jean Clock Park and "the bluffs."
Mother's Day finds kings on the holiday menu at St. Joe.
"Spoons work best for the kings, along with the flashers and flies," claimed Broadhurst.
Expect plenty of feisty spring kings in the 5- to 15-pound class to take up residence right in the color line outside the pierheads out to 40 or 50 feet. In fact, Broadhurst said, a good tactic is to start shallow and then just point toward deeper water. A mixed bag of salmon, steelhead and lake trout is the usual result.
Broadhurst admitted that there is often a two- or three-week period in June when the fishing at St. Joseph can get tough, but it usually isn't long before the Skamania steelhead show up and jump-start the fishery. Broadhurst said the river temperature is the key to the steelhead fishing. If the river is cool, the rainbows immediately shoot upstream, but if the river is warm, the steelhead pile up outside the pierheads to provide spectacular sport. By July and August, schools of kings and lake trout can be found in good numbers in 70 to 150 feet straight out of the harbor.
For lures, fishing reports and charter information, contact The Fishin' Hole at (269) 989-FISH (3474), or online at BroafLows.com. For information on lodging and accommodations, contact the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council at (269) 925-6301, or on their Web site at SWMichigan.com.
You don't hear a lot about the port of South Haven. Located between St. Joseph and Saugatuck, South Haven doesn't get the fanfare that more popular Lake Michigan ports do. According to Capt. Dave Strong, you're missing some great fishing if you don't visit this port.
"We have some good fishing right through the season," Strong said. "Our spring fishing has been phenomenal the last couple of years. Our slowest fishing is probably during July."
Strong said the fishing usually kicks off as soon as you can get on the water in April. The fishing depends on the weather, but plenty of chinooks and cohos are available.
South Haven benefits from its proximity to the St. Joe, Black and Kalamazoo rivers. Prevailing winds stack warm river water along the shoreline in the spring, and salmonids and baitfish gravitate toward it. Most trollers head south in the spring from South Haven and key in on the shallows off landmarks like the Doctor's Row Cottages, Van Buren State Park and
the Palisades Nuclear Plant. Trolling along the beach in 10 to 40 feet of water in the spring produces mixed-bag catches of cohos, kings, steelhead and occasional brown trout.
Wind and water temperature determine where the late spring and summer fishing takes place at South Haven. The lack of structure precludes any huge concentration of fish, but salmon headed north dilly-dally long enough to provide good fishing if the right water temperature and baitfish are present.
To try South Haven's brand of big-lake fishing, call (269) 342-5317, or at www.strongperformancecharters.com. For bait shops, lodging and other info, contact the South Haven Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-764-2836, or go online to ByTheBigBlueLake.com.
"The spring fishing at Grand Haven is usually really, really good," claimed Capt. Mark Veurink. Last season was no exception.
The kings show up at the Grand Haven pierheads in early May. When reports of kings at South Haven and Holland come in, that means the chinooks will be at Grand Haven shortly.
The big draw here in the spring is the Grand River, which pumps out plenty of warm water that attracts baitfish and hungry kings. There is little structure to attract fish at Grand Haven. In fact, some of the best structure at Grand Haven is the nets -- and you had better learn the layout of the nets if you expect to catch fish there, and keep most of your gear.
"Working the color line can be a good tactic in the spring," Veurink said. Veurink uses his 35-foot Viking named Reel Action to skirt the color line where the dirty Grand River water spills into the colder Lake Michigan water. Kings in the 5- to 15-pound range pack into the dirty water in search of alewives. The fishing can remain hot at the pierheads well into June. Good catches can be made out to 100 feet in the spring. Both flasher/fly combinations and spoons take spring kings at Grand Haven. Hot combinations last year included a white/blue holographic Spin Doctor mated to a Blue Bubble Action Fly, a Fuzzy Bear Magnum Carmel Dolphin and a white/green Spin Doctor with a trailing Pickled Sunshine Action Fly.
"Fishing was pretty flat in July last year," Veurink noted. Normally, anglers at Grand Haven head west to the 260- to 300-foot depths for a mixed bag of salmonids, but last year, that didn't happen. "The way the temperature was, the fish were out 12 or 13 miles then," Veurink said. With gas at close to $4 per gallon at most marinas, you had better be sure the fish are there before you make the costly run out there.
Anglers at Grand Haven may be able to stay close to home and catch lake trout this summer. "There were so many little lake trout, it was hard to believe," Veurink said. A hotspot for lakers out of Grand Haven is four or five miles south of the harbor where you find a sand/clay bottom.
August and September usually provide some hot fishing for mature chinooks right outside the pierheads at Grand Haven.
"Last year was short and sweet," Veurink said. "The hot fishing lasted about three days. Usually, the fishing is phenomenal for about three weeks right through mid-September." Veurink said pre-spawn kings jump all over flasher/flies and plugs then. "Last year, there were more cohos than normal," Veurink said, noting that most were 6 to 8 pounds, with a few pushing 12 pounds.
To contact Capt. Veurink, call (616) 638-3331, e-mail at actionfly@Email.com.
Phil Retherford cut his charter-fishing teeth fishing out of Alpena on Lake Huron with his dad. But having fished out of Muskegon on Lake Michigan for six years now, Retherford said there isn't much difference between there and Lake Huron.
"The colors you use over here are a little different," said the younger Retherford. "They tend to be brighter colors. On Lake Huron, we used a lot of black, purple and raspberry. Over here it's more chartreuse, green and orange." Retherford said flashers, flies and cut bait are a proven combination at Muskegon, just like they were at Alpena.
One thing that is vastly different in Muskegon versus Alpena is the number of salmon in Lake Michigan.
"The spring fishing last year was good, but not as good as in 2005," Retherford said. June was especially slow. "We didn't have the fall fishing like we normally have in Muskegon Lake either. Typically, the kings just pack into the lake, and the fishing is good for several weeks. But last year, they were only there for a few days. We did catch some browns on the beach last spring though."
Like most Lake Michigan ports, Retherford said lake trout were plentiful off Muskegon, "but there was never any big trout. They were mostly undersized," he said.
Anglers fishing out of Muskegon have options. "The offshore fishing was good, but it's not practical because of fuel economy," Retherford said. Better options lie north toward Whitehall and off the mouth of Duck Lake. Retherford said the late-summer king fishing was outstanding in 40 feet of water north of Muskegon. To the south, anglers usually fish "The Gauntlet" between the nets.
While flashers and flies are a mainstay at Muskegon, Retherford said he still relies heavily on Silver Streak spoons. "Last year I'd have to say that Mixed Vegetable, Chilly Goose and a Green/Glow Frog were my best spoons," shared Retherford.
To fish aboard the Catch-A-Bunch, contact Retherford at (616) 498-2628, or online at CatchABunch.com.
"If you didn't fish Ludington until the middle of July through early September, you'd say it was one of the best years ever for chinooks," claimed veteran charter skipper George Freeman. "But if you fished at all during May and June, you'd know how tough the fishing was."
May's exceptional spring chinook action never materialized out of Ludington last year. Plus, strange weather patterns and currents never allowed the offshore breaks to form that concentrate steelhead on the surface over deep water in June.
As usual, chinook fishing was spectacular off Ludington during the late summer. Some people said that it was better than the good ol' days of the late 1970s. Catching a limit of kings was pretty easy. The port was busier than it has been in a very long time, but almost everyone was catching fish during prime time.
"I would usually run to about The Bathhouse and go north from there," Freeman claimed. This structure found just north of Ludington to several miles past Big Point Sable represents some of the best fish-holding structure in all the Great Lakes. "Usually, it was a one-way troll," Freeman quipped. Freeman said they would have a limit of kings before they got to the tribal nets north of Big Point Sable. "There were a lot of fish straight out of the harbor, too, that people didn't really target."
Most anglers were in agreement that the kings were bigger than in previous years, too. Twenty-pound chinooks were common again. There was an abundance of smaller kings, too, which bodes well for this season.
Freeman said with the frantic king action that greeted anglers most mornings, it was a big advantage having extra hands on board. "Having a good first mate, with the way the bite was, was critical," Freeman stated. Freeman said it was normal to have five or six fish on at one time, and the quicker you could get lines back down, the better.
Hot baits for Ludington kings last year included white/glow Spin Doctor flashers mated to a Green Mirage Strong Fly, a dark green Spin Doctor flasher with a Green Mirage Action Fly, and a magnum-sized green/glow Dreamweaver spoon.
Like most Lake Michigan ports last spring, brown trout fishing out of Ludington was so-so, but the fish that were caught were in the 7- to 8-pound class. Most were caught around the pierheads and in the harbor. Many sublegal-sized lake trout were caught off Ludington, too. Look for the now-legal lakers to put a bend in your rod if you visit this port in June and July.
You can contact Freeman at (231) 845-1779, or visit his Web site at CharterFreeStyle.com. For more information, contact the Ludington Area Charter Boat Association at 1-800-927-3470, or go online to LudingtonChaterBoats.com.
* * *
It promises to be a great 2007 season for salmon and trout. Don't miss the boat!
(Editor's Note: Charter captain, guide, author and photographer Mike Gnatkowski has compiled a cookbook of easy but delicious recipes. Wild Game Simple features over 100 straightforward recipes to prepare everything from fish to venison to waterfowl. The recipes are a compilation of the captain's secret blends, customers' offerings and old-time favorites. Signed copies are available for $24.95, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling. Michigan residents need to add 6 percent sales tax. The book can be purchased online at gnatoutdoors.com, or by mail at P.O. Box 727, Ludington, MI 49431.)