Big Salmon, Small Bass
And Not Many of them
Finally, the salmon bite seems to be picking up. After a slow start and mid summer slump there appears to be signs of more active Chinook salmon off Baileys Harbor. Sure, the big fish in the K/D tournament came from here and there were plenty of fish registered out of Baileys Harbor, but there were thousands of anglers fishing during that week. Many were "skunked" as well. It's just that not too many guys come bouncing off the landing boasting about how they just spent six freaking hours on the water and have nothing to show for it except a sunburn and glazed eyes from starting at dormant rods. Even some of the pros were struggling. I overheard one father explaining to his son after coming off a less than successful charter outing (they got squat), "Well, son, that's fishing." The young boy looked confused. Lately the charters have been showing up with more smiling faces on their patrons. Most boats I have seen or heard about are coming in with a half-dozen or more healthy Kings. Still a large number of smaller fish out there as well which is a good sign for future years. Reports from Sturgeon Bay and Algoma have also been positive.
My most recent trips out on the lake have had better results as well. About a week ago Paul and I went two for four including a husky 35", 21-pound Chinook. It had been a while since I have felt the power of a big King throb through the line. I was again reminded why these fish are so much fun to battle and realized immense satisfaction of finally seeing Paul slip the net under its sleek body. It took both of us to hoist the laden net over the gunnels and onto the floor of the boat.
Later in the week I went out by myself for an early morning run. I was at the marina about 4:30AM and the charter boats including, The First Choice and Silver Strike, were already powered up and loading clients. Several smaller boats were launching as well. It would be a surprise to many people how much activity there is in Baileys Harbor marina before the sun rises on a summer morning, particularly if the bite is good. I had lines set about a half an hour before sunrise. As the sun peaked out from behind some clouds hanging over the flat calm lake, one of the downriggers "popped" and the rod started to pulsate. "Fish On!" Following an exciting set of powerful runs, I landed the fish with the net in one hand and the rod in the other. A 30" King found its way into the cooler. It had succumbed to a green Howie fly on a white dodger about 65-feet down. Once I got my lines reset, I decided to switch lures on my rod that had 100-feet of copper wire. When I picked up the rod I could sense that something was on it. Perhaps a "shaker" or maybe a gob of floating weeds had fouled on the line. As I retrieved the line I could feel the vibrations of a fish and when it got closer to the boat I could see that indeed a fish hanging on the lure, but it was no shaker. It turned out to be a 25-inch rainbow. Not a bad fish. I was curious as to why I had not detected any movement in the planer board when the fish hit. Often with 100-feet of copper wire line bowed in the water behind the boat, smaller fish will barely move the line and are just dragged along. But a two-foot long steelhead should be able to make an impact on the planer board. On closer examination, I got an idea why this fish was not quite up to the task of battling the wire, the lure and the board. It must have had a rough life. It looked pretty beat up with part of its tail fin missing and most startling, it only had one eye. Its left eye socket was completely grown over. I'm surprised it had the depth perception to hit the lure at all. As I slid this fish into the cooler next to the larger salmon I felt I was putting a dignified end to this fish's struggle to survive among the predators in Lake Michigan. The rest of the morning provided additional action, but no more fish in the box. I had a swing and miss on a downrigger rod and a break off (I hate when that happens) on a Dipsey Diver. Both hits were on fly/dodger combos. Our best action has been in 110 to 180FOW on flies or purple spoons. Water temperatures fluctuated a lot this past week. On Monday we had surface temperatures in the seventies but by midweek this had dropped to the mid-sixties and I even had one reading of 53F° in the middle of Baileys Harbor. Obviously a temperature probe is useful to find the layer of cooler water. Often you could spot fish activity on the sonar that indicated the thermocline layer. This varied from over 100-feet to as shallow as 50-feet. Let's hope the action continues to improve. I did observe that all of the fish we caught this week had their adipose fin intact indicating naturally produced fish. Again I ask, where are the stocked fish?
The smallmouth action for me has been my usual mid-summer struggle. I tried the area near Peninsula State Park as well as locations off the northern bluffs. I made one foray out on Rowleys Bay with good friend Ed. All these outings resulted in a wonderful day on the water with good scenery and fresh air, but few decent smallies. I have tried twister tails, crank baits and tube jigs in depths ranging from 5 to 25 feet. The result has been a few feisty, but smallish fish. I might have to turn to live bait. I have had good success with slip-bobbers and crawlers or leeches in the past when the bite was tough. I have heard some really good reports on walleyes on the bayside out of Chaudoirs Dock and Bayshore County Park. Maybe I am just targeting the wrong species. Perhaps next time.
However, that will have to wait a while. I won't be fishing the waters of Door County for about three weeks. Of course, that will mean there will be no Harbor Angler Reports during that period. (WOW, I can actually feel that collective sigh of relief from the local anglers!). My next planned fishing will be on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. I will be targeting Tigerfish (Hydrocynus forskalii). I first heard about this legendary game fish when I was on a fishing trip on the Victoria Nile River in northern Uganda. Yea, I'll fish anywhere. I was sitting around a campfire one night shooting the breeze with some of the local guides. I am not sure why they had a fire going, it being like a billion degrees and humid that night. I think it was to keep the warthogs and hippos at bay. Anyway, a guide from South Africa described the trill of battling slashing, leaping tigerfish. He said it was the best game fish he had ever caught and he had fished all over Africa. Well, the seed was planted. I really thought my only chance to experience a big tigerfish being caught was on an episode of "River Monsters". However, with this trip to southern Africa (including Namibia and Zambia in addition to Zimbabwe) I saw a window of opportunity. So with a little research I found a local guide and will get a chance to land a tigerfish. Wish me luck. It should be an interesting fishing trip, although fishing is pretty much fishing no matter where in the world you do it. I am sure this outing on the Zambezi will be just like fishing on Kangaroo Lake. Well, except for the crocodiles, hippos and tsetse flies. Both bodies of water have copious numbers of mosquitos though. If I have any success I will be sure to provide the details in a future post.
Tight Lines, Bruce
Questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org