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Fishing Dawn to Dusk
Chinook Salmon - A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On!

The Harbor Angler's Report, June 21 Photo

One day last week I had the opportunity to view both the sunrise and sunset from a boat fishing several miles from Baileys Harbor out on Lake Michigan. I caught the first glimpse of sunlight peaking over the northeast horizon as I was setting lines for a morning of trolling on the languid lake. Later that evening I saw that same sunlight play hide and seek with a cloud bank to the west as the last glimmer of the day faded behind the Cana Island lighthouse while we waited for the salmon bite. I would like to say I spent the entire day on the lake, but no. There was break (and a nap) in between, but I cannot think of a better way to start and end a day.

The morning started with good friend Jim and I motoring out of the marina as the sky was lightening.  We could see plenty of boats on the horizon far out on the lake with lines already in the water. We would be the latecomers. I started setting lines as soon as we got to about 120 feet of water, a depth that had produced fish earlier in the week. The day started inauspiciously. As I was peeling out line off my reel loaded with 100 feet of copper wire I reached the end of the metal line where it was attached to the monofilament backing.  I had coupled the two lines with an Albright knot, a knot specifically used to attach lines of vastly different diameters. One needs to monitor these knots as they often get frayed as they pass through the rod guides. It occurred to me that I had not retied this knot for a while. Too late! As I turned to pick up the planer board I felt the weight come off the rod and knew the lure, leader and the one hundred feet of copper wire were making their way to the bottom of the lake no longer attached to anything. Damn. Note to self: Check your knots more often! Recovering from this set back, I quickly got six lines set including two downriggers, two planer boards and two Dipsey Divers.  I was using the Dipseys to get the lures into the cooler water that salmon prefer. My temperature probe had shown surface water temperatures in the high 60s and the water did not cool to the forties until about sixty feet down. No sooner had I settled into my seat with a cup of coffee to enjoy the sunrise when one of the downrigger rods bounced skyward and started to pound. Fish on!! I grabbed the rod and felt what seemed to be a powerful fish, probably a King salmon. I retrieved several yards of line and was about to turn the fish fighting duties over to Jim, when the fish was off. Just gone. Lost fish, lost tackle; not a great beginning. I can say the morning at least did not get worse. An hour later I recovered one "shaker" salmon that was hanging on one of the downriggers for who knows how long. The foot-long fish was too small to trigger the release on the downrigger. We have been getting a lot of little fish this season. Half of our Chinook salmon have been of the shaker variety. A good sign for the future for sure. Another observation we have made is that almost all of the salmon we have caught have their adipose fin intact. When salmon are planted by the DNR, they remove this little fleshy fin so that means the salmon we are catching are the result of natural reproduction in the Great Lakes. Where are the stocked fish? Inquiring anglers want to know.

Jim and I were nearing to the end of our patience. The sun was quickly warming up the day and perhaps it was time to head in. Just then the port-side planer board, which we had been lazily bobbing in the water for the last several hours, took a frantic leapt backward. Fish On!! I grabbed the rod, passed it to Jim and the battle was enjoined. As Jim slowly recovered line and moved the fish closer to the boat, I could see a silver, torpedo shape darting and lunging just under the surface. Nice fish. Jim lifted it to the surface and I slipped the net under a beautiful nine-pound plus Rainbow trout. This was not the first time this season that steelhead have saved an outing. In fact, rainbows have out numbered salmon two or three to one on many of our trips. Most have been in the two-foot range, nice "eater" size. This fish one was considerably larger. It stretched out to an impressive 31 inches. We hefted the fish into the cooler and soon we were hauling lines in and heading to the marina. A nice capper to the beautiful morning on the lake.

By the afternoon, conditions on the lake had changed considerably. A moderate south wind had blown up producing a chop on the surface and a few rollers in the 1-2 foot range. Not enough to keep us off the lake, but it was going to be a bumpy ride. Paul and I motored into the building waves planning to troll with the wind. By five o'clock we had lines set and were heading northward towards Cana Island lighthouse nine miles distant. It did not take long for the action to start. The first fish was a nice rainbow caught with an orange spoon attached to 100 feet of copper wire. Another fish soon followed, a similar sized fish, about eight or nine pounds. We then noticed the telltale shaking in one of the trolling rods. Paul retrieved and removed another small salmon that had hit a purple spoon sixty feet down.  We boated another smaller steelhead, again caught on an orange spoon. Three fish in the box and we were just coming up on that magic lowlight period when the bait activity picks up triggering the predators, specifically King salmon.  As the sun slowly crept behind the white metal-clad tower at Cana Island, we expectantly watched the bowed, bobbing downrigger rods. We did not have to wait long. In a flash one of the rods unfurled and the line screamed off the reel. Fish on!!! Below darkening skies with the verdant Door County shoreline as background we brought a sleek Chinook salmon boat side. Paul maneuvered the net under the fish and we both breathed a sigh of relieved satisfaction. Not so fast! The fish made violent leap, flew out of the net and fortuitously flopped over the transom into the splash tray in the back of the boat. I frantically reached for the fish attempting to avoid the hooks partially imbedded in the fish's jaw. I clamped onto the fish just behind the head and tossed it onto the floor of the boat. A fat two-year old, with fully formed adipose fin, found its way into the live well to join our brace of steelies.

Back at the marina, it was obvious that we were not the only ones who had a good night. The salmon bite has definitely improved. There were plenty of nice salmon being cleaned. The charter captains have been reporting some big fish being caught as well. Just in time for the annual K/D Salmon Tournament that started at 12:01AM on Saturday, July 21st. The weather for the opening weekend does not look promising with five-foot waves forecast and a small craft advisory issued. Hopefully all of the anglers will use good judgment when venturing out on the lake and not let their enthusiasm compromise their boating safety. The forecast for early in the week looks to improve. Good luck to all competitors.

Tight Lines, Bruce

Questions or comments to bharborangler@gmail.com