Fishing Heating Up As Water Cools Off
Jacks and “Jackfish”

Harbor Angler Report, October 5th, 2021 Photo

The waters of Lake Michigan off Baileys Harbor are typically the warmest during the months of August and September with surface temperatures in the high 60 to low 70’s. This ain’t bathwater, of course, but it does allow for a few hardy souls to take a quick dip in the shallow waters at Anclam Park beach. Through much of this summer (June & July) the water temperatures have been close to their long-term averages. However, for the last couple of months (August & September), the surface temperatures have been two to four degrees Fahrenheit above “normal”. Now this may not seem like a big difference, but when you have to heat up a body of water as large as Lake Michigan (1,300 trillion gallons), that takes a lot of heat energy. The increased surface temperature has forced the thermocline in the lake down to well over a hundred feet in some locations. In shallower waters it is impossible to find water in the preferred range for salmon (45-50°F). The result has been a tough bite out on the lake for salmonids.

In our multiple forays out on the lake, we have boated a few “shakers”, “jacks” and/or “eaters”. To the uninitiated, these terms reference the varying size and value of smaller salmon that anglers may catch. Although the use of these terms is common among salmon aficionados, there is not universal agreement as to their application to a specific fish. A “shaker” is a fish that is so small or docile that it strikes the lure with too little force to cause the line to release from the downrigger or move the planer board. The result is that the downrigger rod or board simply shakes or shimmies a bit and the strike often goes unnoticed by those in the boat. Many shakers are not discovered until the line is retrieved at the end of the outing and a bedraggled even dead young salmon is found impaled on the hook. A “jack” salmon, technically, is a two to three year old fish that matures before its full life cycle, typically four years, and enters the spawning run early. They are much smaller than the fully mature 4-year olds. In common usage, however, the term “jack” often refers to any smaller salmon that is not a shaker. An angler will call a salmon a “good eater” when a fish is not exactly a trophy, but you are not embarrassed to take it to the cleaning station. Fortunately, when we have come in at night with our meager catches, there have been few witnesses. More often than not, we are the only boat on the lake. We have quickly cleaned our fish and slunk home.

Although the water remains unseasonable warm and the daytime air temperatures above normal, the cooler nights and lower sun angle has triggered some fishing action, particularly in the shallow near-shore areas. Reports are that the walleye and perch bite has been quite good. I have even snagged a few of them myself. As for the smallmouth, at least for me, it has been hard to find the larger fish. This should improve as the water temperatures continue to drop.

The northern pike bite on the lakeside bays has been quite good. Paul and I have gotten fairly consistent action for these “jackfish”, casting large Countdown Rapalas over deeper weed beds. Although we have not boated a lot of large fish yet, several have been over thirty inches. We typically release all our pike, especially the big females. However, I will keep the occasional northern. I consider the firm white flesh of northern excellent table fare, comparable to walleye if prepared properly.  I find a fish in the 25-inch range to be a perfect “eater”. Larger fish are difficult to pan fry thoroughly. It is important to filet the fish to remove all the thin, clear bones. I use the “Five Filet” method and with some practice you can produce tasty boneless pieces of fish. These jackfish produce an excellent meal.

One of the added bonuses of fishing off-shore in Lake Michigan and Green Bay is the opportunity to observe a variety of ships and boats plying the waters. Commercial fishing boats, Coast Guard cutters, tug boats, 1000-foot bulk carriers and even the occasional “saltie” are common sites on the lake. Less common are military combat vessels. We had a large littoral combat ship pass by us last week as we were trolling off Baileys Harbor. I assume this was one of the ships manufactured at Fincantieri Marinette Marine out for a trial run. Although the vessel passed several miles away, the wake from the ship produced a four to five-foot swell as it passed us. Fortunately, nobody opened fire.

I have noticed that the commercial fishing companies are starting to set their whitefish nets off North Bay and Moonlight Bay. Typically, the number of nets on the lakeside increases as we move into the Fall. Be sure to be on the alert for the net buoys and give them wide berth when you are trolling off Baileys Harbor.

Finally, I want to send kudos out to good hunting and fishing buddy Jim Calebrasa. Fishing on Green Bay with Captain Chris Bartsch of In The Bag Guide Service, Jim boated a 52.5 inch, 40 pound slob of a Muskie. Jim is a long time Door County and Baileys Harbor resident and an avid muskie hunter. At a young at heart 90 years, Jim truly bagged a fish of a lifetime. Congratulations Jimmy!!!!

Stay safe and sane. 

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Bruce


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