Back In The Saddle Again
Water and Fish, I Missed Ye!

Harbor Angler Report, August 20th Photo

“Spent most of my life fishing.  The rest I just wasted.”  I have this sign on the wall in my house and although I have explained to her many times that this is intoned with tongue firmly in cheek, my wife Pam takes exception to it. I understand that. I love to fish and do it as often as I can. However, sometimes mother nature and life conspire to keep me off the water. When the winds blow or other responsibilities intrude, fishing has to wait until another time. Then there are events that are more important than fishing. (My fingers trembled as I typed those words.) Yes, I admit that there are occasions that come along that override my desire to go fishing. High on that very short list is the opportunity to spend time with my two granddaughters. The “Girls” spent four glorious days with Pam and I in Baileys Harbor while their parents took the time to catch their breath before the start of school this Fall. As any parent knows well, though you love your children more than your life, sometimes you just need some time away. We were happy to provide them the opportunity.

Now this did not completely preclude any fishing. In addition to time at the beach, kayaking on the lake and visiting lighthouses, we did take a trip to the “Goby Capital of Door County”, Gills Rock. Dropping small worm-tipped jigs off the old ferry landing produced one slimy little creature after another. Each fish caught was greeted with a squeal of delight and a request for Cha Chi (They call me Cha Chi. Don’t ask.)  to take it off the hook. The wiggling gobys were then snatched up by little hands and delivered to the waiting seagulls who hungerly devoured each fish whole. I am not sure who got the most enjoyment out of this spectacle, the girls, grandma and grandpa, or the gaggle of surrounding tourists who were smiling and laughing along with the rest of us. Alas, even the humble round goby can provide plenty of fishing fun.

When it was time for everyone to go back home, the two little girls and their parents drove away with a weary pair of grandparents waving in the driveway. It was now time to get back on the water. I intended to take advantage of an evening of light winds to target salmonids on the big lake. I had not been out there for almost a week and had no clue what conditions I would find. As anyone who spends time on Lake Michigan knows, water temperature, currents and turbidity, all factors that influence fish behavior, can change in minutes much less days. Each time out you need to take stock of the situation and react accordingly. Too many anglers make the mistake of fishing “yesterday’s bite”.  Each fishing encounter is unique. Yes, experience helps and often conditions and situations repeat themselves, but an angler has to assess these anew each time out. Be open to the fact that the bait or presentation that slayed them on the last trip, may be useless this time. It has taken me many years and innumerable empty trips to learn this lesson.  

As I motored out of the harbor, past the bell buoy and onto the open lake I was greeted with a light south wind, some gentle swells and a surface temperature of 78°F. Pretty warm for Lake Michigan, even in early August. The Great Lakes are experiencing record high water temperatures this summer with surface temperatures 6°F to 11°F degrees above long term average. However, the fish I am seeking will not be near the surface. Chinook Salmon prefer water 50°F or less and steelhead a little warmer around 55°F.  I made my way out to about 150FOW and attached a Fish Hawk TD temperature probe to the downrigger ball. When lowered into the water and retrieved, this device will report the temperature at five-foot increments. It is a great tool to get a quick temperature profile of the water column. Upon studying the read out, I found out that the water was still pretty warm in the top forty feet, but surprisingly dropped to below 50°F about sixty feet down. Armed with this knowledge I set my downriggers at 55 feet and 65 feet and a planer board with 150 feet of copper wire. I figured the copper wire would get me down about 45-50 feet. I only had a couple of hours before dark, so I headed out to deeper water hoping for some action. The sun was slowly making its way toward the western horizon, when the planer board lurched backwards. Removing the rod from the holder, I slowly retrieved enough line to remove the planer board. I could feel the presence of life on the other end, but with a half a football field of heavy copper line between me and the fish, it was hard to tell how big it might be. I started the tedious task of recovering the copper. Once I got to the monofilament leader, I could finally get a good feel for the fish.  The fish, for possibly the first time, sensed its predicament and began some frantic leaps and lunges.  A few minutes later I slipped the net under a nice twenty-inch steelie. This made it to the live wall and eventually will produce some delicious eating. The rest of the evening did not produce any more fishing action, but I was honored with a most spectacular sunset as the sun dipped below the cloud scattered sky providing a crimson and orange backdrop to the Door County peninsula.  As I headed back to my home harbor, I was reminded once again of the joys of being on the water. When I got home and pulled the rig into my drive-thru garage, I did not bother to unhook the boat trailer. I was planning on getting right back out there the next morning.

Initially, the conditions on the lake seemed pretty much what they were the night before except the sun was on the opposite horizon. Mostly sunny skies, light winds and a low swell. The surface temperature had cooled overnight to 72°F. Still fairly warm. I expected the temperature profile to be unchanged from last night since I would be fishing in the same area I fished just eight hours ago.  The lake surprised me again. Dropping the probe down to 60 feet expecting to find cool water, it was still in the sixties. I had to go down to 80 feet to find water at 50°F. Making the necessary adjustments to the downrigger depths, I attached a dark spoon to one line and purple fly behind a white Spin Doctor to the other. I still set out the planer board with an orange spoon behind 150 feet of copper wire, hoping I would be just above any feeding rainbows. This turned out to be a successful set up. Within thirty minutes I had smallish “eater” rainbow in the live well caught on the planer board. I raised the downrigger lines a bit thinking I did not want to be under any feeding fish and was rewarded by nice steelhead and a “shaker” salmon both of which succumbed to the fly/dodger combo. I had nice hit on the orange spoon as the board went shooting backwards. The fish was off before I could grab the rod. I had one other hit, but no more fish. I was about to pull up and head in after a pleasant enough morning on the water, when I heard the scream of a reel as a fish ripped the spoon from the downrigger and was stripping line at a furious pace. This was no eater rainbow. It turned out to be a nice Chinook, 34.5-inches and 21 pounds, which eventually came to the net after several classic “King runs”. My arms were aching as I lifted the fish into the bottom of the boat. It was great capper on a wonderful outing.

So, I am back at it after a relatively short hiatus. I was able to confirm that the fish are still out there and feeding. In fact, the fish I cleaned had stomachs packed with alewife. Most of the anglers I have talked to are getting fish. Very few empty trips this year. I hope to check out the smallmouth this week and perhaps the walleyes and perch bite later on. So many fish, so little time. I don’t intend to “waste” too much of my life.


So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Bruce

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