Fishing Reports

Well my last shot at using my crystal ball was thankfully a miss. While last Saturday was a day best spent doing something on shore, as those that tried to fish in shore can attest to, Sunday was actually pretty fun. That event has allowed me to at least have some hope for my two trips tomorrow as the water conditions last weekend were way different than what I expected. In 200 FOW a large area of 50 ish degree water was butted right up to some 45 degree water and the resulting line in the water looked like a boiling river that fortunately had bait and fish hanging near it. We took 8 really nice steelhead from the top 30' of water and lost a handful more during our 4 hour trip. The Alfonz Jr on a 1 color lead core went 6 times while other bright colored baits on 2-5 color cores and a high diver 50' back with a Dreamweaver Smashmouth delivered the rest of the action. I ran baits deeper as I did mark fish as deep as 60' but nothing went for me. Another charter had success on riggers fished around 40' on Hello Darlin Super Slims and Blue Veggie Stingers. His cooler included coho and lake trout as well as steelhead and I'm not certain but I'd guess I was trolling a bit faster, mostly 2.8 - 3.5 mph over ground. In addition to deep water, I heard of a few guys taking 3 to 4 fish each in shallow water with the catches made up of both mature and young coho, small kings and a couple browns. But that was last weekend. Since that time the story has been similar to the previous week with boats struggling to find water over 47 degrees and any concentrations of bait or fish. A neighboring charter ventured all the way out to 290 FOW yesterday, Thursday, and returned with one king about 6 lbs. The reason for my unrealistic optimism for tomorrow is the fact that the wind is blowing from the north today, it was from the southeast last night, it's going to blow pretty good until late tonight from somewhere north of here and finally by tomorrow morning we'll be enjoying tropical breezes from the south...while wearing thermal underwear and our warmest hunting clothes. What could possibly work against us? I'm betting the fish will be as confused as we are and with a little luck we'll run into each other. As it stands now, here's my plan.

Plan A - Look for warm water. As soon as my temp gage indicates I'm in water over 46 degrees I'll set lines unless I see something on the horizon. If it's anything like last weekend you'll see more gulls and turns flying around the best fishing areas than you would see at the land fill off of 96 so keep your eyes peeled for signs of life in the air. Hopefully fog isn't an issue as that makes finding and staying on good slicks a bit more challenging. En route to the promised land I'll fish high, troll fast and use lots of small, orange and red spoons. I'll have a couple rods set a bit deeper and if I see fish in the area on the graph I'll slow down, make a couple quick turns and then return to search and destroy speeds if nothing happens. Yesterday's satellite image showed a pretty good line of warm water about 10 miles off shore so I'll continue west unless either weather or time tells me it's time to turn around. The fact that cloud cover affecting the accuracy of the image and 48 hours of wind may be giving me false hope won't enter my head until I make my turn to the east.

Plan B - The forecast is wrong. Start fishing as close to the beach as I can with the same baits I'd picked for deep water and look for any pockets of warm water along the shoreline. If this is happens I'll probably put out a couple crank baits in perch, red and black dot, fire tiger and shad patterns. Way back when I was a teenager, lake trout, steelhead and white fish came in when the cold water arrived at the shoreline. I've been told bait in shallow water has been scarce though so this may not pan out like it used to which explains why it's plan B.

It's hard to believe but my boat goes into storage in less than a week. It's been a challenging season but working at fishing still beat working at work. There's a lot of things being written about our salmon fishing right now and I hate to miss out on an opportunity to jump on my soap box for a minute so fair warning, tune out now if you're just looking for more info for this weekend's fishing tips. I dig a little digging in my records and pulled out my catch reports from 2011 the other day just to see how things compared on my boat. I ran 2 more trips in 2011 (107 vs 105) than this year so the numbers pretty well show the change. 2011 - 617 kings caught, 2015 - 253 kings caught. With a 75 percent lake wide cut in King plants this isn't too surprising. In 2011 I had 3 trips where there wasn't at least one king in the cooler and in one August stretch of 15 consecutive trips we landed 112 kings. This summer I've ran 21 trips, with fish caught, and never put a king in the cooler, 3 of those trips were in mid-August. The last couple of years I've participated in the Salmon Ambassadors program and because of this I know that 32 percent of the kings I caught this season were planted by the DNR while the rest were "wild". I won't have the data on the planted fish for a while but I look forward to reading the breakdown of the plant locations and ages of the tagged fish. The rest of the information I have is based on the general shape of things as I saw them. A large number of the mature kings we caught we're underweight. I recorded a good number of fish from 33 - 35 inches in length but had less than 10 fish over 17 lbs and only 4 over 20. Of the 20 lb fish, 1 was 35" long and weighed 24.15, another was 39-1/4 inches long and was 25.02 lbs while the other two were generously called 20 pounders at roughly 36 inches each. I know of 2 kings caught that were verified at over 40 inches in length and neither of them hit the 20 lb mark. The last one appeared to lack any spawn or milt in any stage of development, effectively it was an "it" in my book. I saw less than ten 20 lb kings at our active cleaning station all season. In August and early September we caught a number of mature females that barely made 10 lbs. I've seen years with high number of males like this but this trend with hens struck me as odd. Until the last half of August I saw no evidence of any alewives under approximately 5" in length in any fish's stomach.

At first glance it's not a pretty picture in my mind but, just like with tomorrow's trips, I have seen a few things that give me hope. Young alewives are out there. For the first time in a few years it looks like a decent number of these fish have survived that were not part of the 2010/2012 bumper year classes. I've seen tons of bait on my graph recently. This is good but most of the small baitfish in the stomachs of our catch have been bloater chubs. Given the kings dependence on alewives, and the almost total absence of kings in my cooler lately, I honestly don't know what this means for them. A biologist will have to help me with that one. The last two years have been cold in terms of water temperatures, what role has that played in the size of the kings if bait was actually present? Is that why they ran smaller, because of eating skinny, young alewives?

My hope is that alewives are starting to rebound due to the lower number of kings. That means that the plans and efforts of the DNR, and the relative "suffering" of us fisherman, is having the desired effect. More sacrifice may be necessary in the way of seasons or spawning ground closures in rivers that support strong natural reproduction. We do those things for nearly every other game fish in the state but not for kings. The question of why that was the case was proposed to me by a college student (charter customer on that day) working to become a marine biologist. I had no answer. Personally, I want to see a couple of year classes of alewives be successful, at a minimum, before I hear about any increase in plants. One in a row is not a pattern or a trend. Catching fewer AND smaller fish does not indicate to me that there's an overabundance of food in the lake. Slow fishing for a few years may be a bitter pill to swallow but not nearly as bitter as "it's over, turn out the lights". As fisherman we're supposed to have patience, it's my opinion that it's time to use it. If we abandon a plan that might be working in an effort to catch more fish next year and wind up getting it wrong there's really no fixing it. I don't want to have to explain that one to my grandkids someday as they're sitting around looking at my old pictures. In Huron they didn't have the unfortunate benefit of someone else's tragedy to learn from. If we're lucky we just might become a blueprint for success. It may not work but that still sounds better than "Hey, they did the same thing the other guy did and the same thing happened, go figure!".

Take care and have a great winter,


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