The Fireworks Are Over
Back Out On the Water
I have mentioned in this space before that I try to avoid fishing on summer weekends. Best leave the waters to the weekend warriors and those who still work for a living and have limited time to go fishing. Now, I do occasionally make exceptions to fish with a buddy who is in that situation or when the fish are really biting. When I do, the experience usually reinforces why I tend to eschew weekends; crowded landings, too much fishing pressure and increased angler conflict. Well, the 4th of July in Door County, particularly Baileys Harbor, is like a weekend on steroids. If you have not experienced a July 4th in Baileys Harbor and have only visited on "normal" summer days you will be blown away! Crowds line several deep along Highway 57 from The Ridges Sanctuary building to Lakeview Park on the south edge of town. The highway is closed for much of the day as is County Highway F running through town. It is nearly impossible to get to the marina much less launch a boat during the parade and following festivities. If you launch, you better launch early and not plan on getting your boat out anytime soon. Now don't get me wrong, the 4th of July in Baileys Harbor is a wonderful event with the parade, the food booths, live band, fireworks and general raucousness. I wouldn’t miss it! It just is not conducive for fishing. I spend that time with friends and family and just wishing I were fishing.
The holiday activities along with some heavy weather with 6-footers and small craft warnings limited my ability to get out on the lake. This resulted in a several day gap when I did not chase salmonoids. The few times I did get out, it seemed like Lake Michigan was a completely different body of water each time. Surface and subsurface temperatures changed dramatically with each storm, wind shift and weather system. It was like starting over every time out. I have to admit that unlocking the riddles of the lake's moods has been one of the greatest challenges I have encountered in my fishing life. It is a three dimensional puzzle with constant variations in wind-blown surface currents, shifting sub-surface currents moving in cold water or warm water and changing depths that will hold bait fish and predators. I have grown in respect for those local anglers particularly the charter boat crews that can solve the mysteries of the lake more often than not. That said, even those out on the lake on a daily basis are baffled at times and come back to port with few or even no fish in the box. Anyone who says they "always get fish" is either lying or delusional.
There are a few generalities that can guide your quest. The conventional wisdom is that a consistent north wind will bring in warmer water. This seems counter-intuitive as cold north wind advection typically brings cooler air temperatures. But the lake is filled with a different fluid. As the wind-driven surface water is pushed to the south, the warmer sub-surface water residing in the southern end of the lake "sloshes" northward producing a warmer water body. Similarly, west winds tend to bring cooler sub-surface temperatures as the deeper and colder mid-lake water flows toward the Door County shoreline. However, these are large-scale movements and the devil is in the details. Lake bottom contours, shoreline structure and "voodoo" will produce some funky currents and pockets of cold or warm water both at the surface and in the vertical water column. This is what makes a surface temperature gauge and temperature probe such valuable tools to Great Lakes anglers.
Generally, our temperature readings this summer have been usually cold. I only have to go down thirty or forty feet to get water in the low 40's°F. I went out earlier this week and got a surface temperature reading of 40°F! By contrast, last year on July 8th I had surface temperatures of 70°F and I had go to 70 feet down to get water in the 40's°F. Two years ago the temperature at 60 feet was a balmy 54°F. I am sure anglers who have fished Lake Michigan consistently for many years have experienced these conditions before, but it is well beyond my knowledge base.
I would have to call the salmon and trout bite right now "spotty". Boats have been bringing in fish and occasionally some have nice catches of Chinook and rainbows. More typically a boat will have two or three and getting "skunked" has not been uncommon. You see guys at the marina fish cleaning station each evening, but you also see plenty of boats being hauled out and driving away having no fish to clean. Our catches have been spotty, to say the least. Paul and I had a couple of empty trips followed by a more recent outing where we boated one eater steelhead and a "shaker" salmon. I went out for an early morning run this week with neighbor Scott and we boated a beauty 12.5-pound, 32-inch King. That's a nice fish, but that was it. No other hits. Our best results have been when we can find surface temperatures in the high 50's°F or low 60's°F with a gradient down to 40 feet. Water depths have varied from 80 to 200FOW. I have seen some boats out in the 300FOW range. The fish seem to be scattered all over.
Needless to say, we will keep at it with hopes that the salmon bite will become more consistent. If you don't go, you won't get 'em. That I know.
I did take a break from the lakeside hunt to chase smallies on the bayside. I had not been over there for a while and I was not sure where the fish would be at this time of the summer. Hunting buddy Jim and I spent a morning casting the shorelines and drop offs near Sister Bay. We each picked up a couple of little fish (I mean really little) on rock structures casting crank baits. We eventually found some nicer fish on a rocky ledge in about 5-8 FOW. They were feeding on gobies, so we switched to some goby look-alike jigs and picked up a few 15-16"ers. Jim managed to boat a couple of feisty gobies. Way to go Jim! We did not exactly kill the bass, but it was nice morning of fishing with sunny skies, beautiful scenery and good company. A much appreciated needed respite from staring at planer boards and downriggers for hours.
I'll be back staring at those boards soon enough. The 36th Annual K/D Salmon Tournament runs July 21-29 so I want to get out on the lake before the marina landing again becomes choked with anglers in pursuit of that prize winning fish. They will be lined up waiting to launch well before midnight on the 20th. I'll take my shot as well, but maybe I'll wait for the landing to clear out a bit.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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