Searching for Rainbows
This is the time of the year when a lot of anglers go wandering for hours out on Lake Michigan in search of rainbows, often in vain. The conventional wisdom is that the steelhead have moved out of the streams where they spent the late winter and early spring spawning and are now out in the open lake looking to feed and fatten up. They typically feed over deep water (200' or more) on bugs and baitfish near the surface. That is if the water temperature is right. And the food is there. And the fish gods are smiling. The problem is that it is a big lake and trying to find fish in the middle of nowhere with no landmarks or structure to direct your search is a challenge. Only previous experience and word of mouth guide the relentless search. A temperature gauge and sonar are invaluable as well. Paul and I have started our searching this season and so far it has been a lesson in futility. We consider the afternoon and morning forays on the lake part of paying our dues that will eventually bear fruit when the rainbows start hitting. It's usually a pleasant boat ride and time on the water is never wasted. Last year we made four or five empty trips until we finally boated some nice steelhead. So far this season, all our scouting trips have produced are suntans and information. We have trolled from 60FOW to over 300. The surface temperatures have been from the high forties to as high as 52°F. Down at a depth of fifty feet the water temperatures are about 49-50°F. It may take a while for the water to warm much higher then that. As of Thursday morning the mid-lake buoy, located halfway between Michigan’s North Manitou Island and Washington Island, was reporting a surface temperature of a chilly 38.7°F. It's no wonder that the east wind has such a bite to it these days. I have seen large masses of baitfish on my sonar as well as marking some fish. They'll start hitting eventually and I hope to be the first one to discover that.
Smallmouth bass on the bayside have been a lot easier to find, although sometimes it's a challenge to get them in the boat. It is still catch & release only for bass in Door County until June 16th. I have had better luck later in the afternoons, particularly if the sun is shining and warming up the shallows. Once you find active fish, the action can be pretty steady. On cloudy days, you have to exhibit a lot more patience and move the baits even slower. There still seems to be some egg-bearing females in water as skinny as 2-3 feet. The males are showing up as well. Good fishing buddy Ed and I spent the day targeting smallies earlier this week. The morning in the Sturgeon Bay and Sawyer Harbor did not produce much action. However, after lunch the fish were a little more active and willing to hit. We boated about sixteen fish including a few over three pounds. We had action on slow moving X-Raps, Flat Raps and Husky Jerks. Once we located fish, small goby-like tube jigs worked best. Again, most hits came when the jig was sitting still on the bottom.
The dredging at the Baileys Harbor Marina is completed and there is a nice 4-5 foot channel between the buoys. It is a sure sign of summer when the local charter boats, Silver Strike and The First Choice, are again berthed in their slips. The Water Taxi operated by Shoreline Cruises is also ready to go. I have seen this distinctive craft a few times taking the tour off Cana Island Lighthouse while I have been driving the tractor across the causeway connecting the island with the mainland.
When you are the marina, be sure to say hi to Harbor Master Mark. If Mark is taking the day off, you may find his able assistant Ray standing watch. Both these guys are good sources of local information and advice.
I may take the weekend off from fishing and leave it to the weekend warriors, but I'll be back on the water Monday for the 16th Annual Egg Harbor Invitational Bass Tournament. That is always a good day fishing. Let's hopes it's a good day catching as well.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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