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This series of previously unpublished articles are designed with one purpose in mind: To help you the reader catch more and bigger fish. You've been spared all the fluff leaving just the detailed how-to, when-to and where-to information. The information provided is simply the hottest methods that the author, a successful Great Lakes charter captain and tournament pro, uses to catch fish day in and day out. If you want to see these tactics demonstrated in person then it is highly recommended that you book a trip with Trophy Specialists Fishing Charters. Enjoy!
Web-site by Michael R.Veine, copyright 1997-2002.
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Spring Lake Erie Walleye
By: Capt. Michael Veine
Fishing for walleyes on Lake Erie during the spring can either be extremely challenging or as simple as a walk in the park depending solely upon the conditions. Last year dished out some of the worst fishing conditions on Erie that I've ever seen. Still, I boated 12 walleyes that broke the 10 lbs. barrier with two of them weighing over 12 lbs. Even during the worst conditions, it's still possible to boat a decent catch of walleyes providing some refined techniques are employed. When ever I fish on Lake Erie, I always locate fish first on my electronics before setting lines. I use a grid pattern with my GlobalMap GPS receiver set on its plotter function and I cruise at no more than 30 mph while searching for fish. By breaking the fishing tactics down into either muddy or clear water strategies, your success will skyrocket.
When the water is dirty, I start my search in shallow water near shore or over reefs. Using my electronics, I make reconnaissance passes perpendicular to shore working my way deeper with each pass. Once fish are located, I always try trolling presentation first.
Keeping the presentation slow is the key to catching Erie's walleyes with mud in their eyes. I keep my speed at or under one mph by using a four stroke kicker motor, a bow mounted electric motor and if necessary I even use sea anchors to slow her down. Storm Jr. Thundersticks and Original Floating Rapalas in darker black/silver and black/gold finishes are typically my first choice. I troll using in-line boards exclusively and let them run way out to the sides if possible. Rubber core sinkers in various sizes are always attached to shorten the setback, take baits deeper and to stop lure fowling debris from sliding down to the baits. My setbacks range from 20' to over 100' at times. This variety of setbacks tests the different columns of the water for active biters. I usually set my lines about 1/4 mile up-wind from the fish and troll with the wind through the school. If walleyes are contacted, I switch more baits over to the hot setup, but I usually leave at least one rig running that differs to test the water.
If body baits fail to produce, then I try crawler harnesses pulled behind bottom bouncers. Walleyes sometimes relate closely to the bottom when visibility is low making bottom bouncer presentations a logical choice. Live bait appeals to the olfactory senses of the fish and it's hard to beat a spinner/crawler rig when dragging lead. Since the mud necessitates an ultra slow presentation, I use bottom bouncers that are just heavy enough to keep things on bottom while maintaining a 45-degree line angle. I also send my spinner/crawler rigs out on in-line boards to increase their effectiveness.
I've found that smaller blades about he size of a nickel work best in dingy water and chartreuse blades with a splash of florescent orange have produced well for me on Erie. I tie my own muddy water spinners by first cutting off a 5' length of Berkley Fluorocarbon 12lbs-test line. Fluorocarbon line is extremely tough and invisible underwater making it the best leader material I've ever used. Two #6 bait holder hooks are snelled onto the business end about six inches apart. Above the hooks I add two chartreuse beads, then a chartreuse/orange rig float followed by a pair of orange beads. A quick-change clevis is used to attach the spinner blade. An overhand knot is tied on the end and the rig is attached to the clip on the bottom bouncer. I thread the crawler's mouth and head onto the front hook and then push it forward to the barbs on the back of the bait holder hook to grip it in place. The rear hook is threaded on in the same manor just behind the collar. This specialized rig has produced hundreds of Lake Erie Walleyes for my fishing partners and I.
If trolling with bottom bouncers fails to produce, then it's time to slow things down even more. I switch to a jig or in-line spinner like a Mepps Agilla tipped with a piece of crawler or minnow. I cast these offerings and bounce them near the bottom with a lift and pause retrieve.
With clear water, I search for fish that are suspended which usually means that they are actively feeding. When the water is clear and calm, walleyes typically stay deeper. With good water clarity during the spring walleyes are usually found in water between 10' and 20' deep. It often takes more searching during clear water conditions and the fish also tend to roam more.
When Erie runs clear, it's time to break out the crankbaits and troll. I use a combination of Deep Jr. Thundersticks, Hot'N'Tots, but mostly Shad Raps for clear water walleyes. Early in the morning and then again late in the evening (low light), darker patterns like black/silver and shad patterns work best. During bright, clear conditions, chartreuse/silver and fire/tiger are my top choices. I troll these crankbaits at about two-mph and run them exclusively on in-line boards. I still use rubber core sinkers; even when using deep diving crankbaits. For those bonny mouthed walleyes, I always try to keep my setbacks as short as possible. Quit simply, the shorter the setback, the less line stretch; this results in a better bite to catch ratio.
Lake Erie's spring walleyes tend to run rather large, therefore, 10 lbs. test line should be minimal. I run 10 lb. Pro Line on both my Lake Erie trolling and casting rigs. I like a 7-1/2' to 8' glass trolling rods matched with Daiwa line counter reels for precise control of setbacks. My Shimano spinning rods are all 6' medium action graphite models with reels featuring silky smooth drag systems. Church Tackle Mr. Walleye or TX-24 in-line planer board are my top choice because they handle a heavy chop better than any other boards I've tested.
Where and When
My charter season begins at Erie on April first; before that the water and weather are usually to cold for consistent success. Since Erie's walleyes typically spawn around April 15, the bite tends to be somewhat slower during early April, but the fish run way bigger. Early April is when we catch the lions share of our 10+ pounders. After the spawn is when the walleyes put on the feed bag and high numbers of walleyes are a typical catch. It usually pays to find the clearest water possible and fishing along muddy water lines is often quite productive. I usually search for walleyes first in Breast Bay, from Estral Beach to Stony Point, in the shipping channel off Monroe, from Boles Harbor to the Woodtick Peninsula and around Turtle Island. I've also found good fishing in the open waters straight out from Stony Point and to the south. One of the key secrets to my success on Lake Erie is to stay away from the crowds and find my own fish. For detailed trip planning information, visit Trophy Specialists Fishing Charter's Lake Erie Walleye Trip Planner.
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Spring Lake Michigan Brown Trout
By: Capt. Michael Veine
Arguably, the best Michigan brown trout action takes place in central Lake Michigan from the ports of Ludington, Manistee, Onekama, Arcadia and Frankfort. Certainly these waters produce the biggest browns in Michigan every year. If you don't believe me, then take a look at the Michigan Master Angler listings and you'll see that most of the big browns are taken from the Gold Coast
Tom Rozich, a fisheries biologist with the Michigan DNR attributes the success of Michigan's brown trout fishing to the improved strains of fish stocks and the sheer numbers being planted. Rozich said, "Michigan plants two different types of brown trout in the Great Lakes: The Seeforellen is a European strain that lives longer and grows extremely large. The Wild Rose strain which originated from Wisconsin is also stocked and they are known for their quick growth rate." Rozich added, "The Seeforellen make up the majority of whoppers landed during recent years."
Over the past couple of years, I have fished for browns from dozens of both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron ports and my largest fish seem to always come from waters between Ludington and Frankfort. Last year several huge browns taken from these waters surpassed the 30-pound barrier and Burt Reed's massive 34.45 pounder from Manistee set a new Michigan state record during 1998. I truly believe that a new-world record brown trout will be caught in the near future along the Gold Coast of northern Lake Michigan.
If you still doubt me, then consider this: On my charter boat last year my customers caught four browns that surpassed 20 pounds, the largest being 28 pounds. We lost one monster brown last year that I'm certain would have beaten the Michigan state record; it may have even been the biggest brown in the world. On another outing, my partner and I were trolling just south of Frankfort when we witnessed a giant brown swimming in the shallows. It was so immense that it actually looked silly chasing the tiny baitfish. We tried to steer one of our in-line boards over the hulking fish, but is zigged when it should have zagged and we never caught up with it again. From all appearances, that brown would have been another record smashing specimen. Both of those trophies are still swimming in Lake Michigan and they're probably even bigger by now.
Beach and Pier Tactics
There are piers and breakwalls sticking out at every port along the Gold Coast. When these fishing structures are combined with the untold miles of beaches in the area, shore-bound brown trout anglers have nearly limitless opportunities. Even though I own a charter boat, I still enjoy fishing from shore or on piers, especially when it's rough out. It's how I cut my teeth on brown trout during the early 70s and it's still lots of fun.
My favorite still fishing rig is identical whether I fish from shore or on a pier. Using a medium action spinning-rod, I thread a 1 to 3-oz. egg sinker onto my 10-lb. test, clear monofilament line. The size of the weight is dictated by the wave conditions. Below the sinker a small barrel swivel acts as a stopper while preventing line twist. A leader of the same line about 4' long is attached to the swivel and a gold, #6, short shank, egg hook is used with spawn sacks. Two #4 bait holder hooks are snelled in tandem for a quick-strike rig when dead shiners, alewives or smelt are used. My rod holders consist of a 1' length of PVC pipe duct-taped to a 3' length of re-rod. When I pier fish, I always have a long handled net handy.
Casting in the surf or off piers is also productive for browns. My favorite baits are Cast Master and Little Cleo spoons in plain silver or silver/chartreuse finishes. These baits cast well even in windy weather and are proven brown trout catchers.
While casters and still fishermen catch their share of brown trout, trolling accounts for the vast majority of browns caught across Michigan. Many experienced anglers troll inside and around the harbors during the spring. The canals and drowned river mouth lakes are also trolled at Ludington, Manistee, Onekama, Arcadia and Frankfort. The warmer river waters entering the colder Great Lakes draws both baitfish and browns alike. Piers, rip-rap and dredged areas create the kind of structure that attracts and holds good numbers of trout. Long-lining trolled offerings directly behind the boat is the most popular technique in these sometimes congested harbor areas. Body baits like Bomber Long-A's, Original Floating Rapalas and Storm Thundersticks are top choices but spoons are also used with good success. Color combinations like black/silver, chartreuse/silver, orange and blue/silver have been hot producers in recent years. When long-lining, let out about 200' of line and incorporate plenty of turns into the trolling pattern.
Last year I perfected an inline planer board tactic for trolling in the tight quarters of harbors. I ran body baits behind four Mr. Walleye boards. Harbor fishing etiquette dictates a counter clockwise trolling pattern to I designed my spread with that in mind. I installed 1/4-oz. rubber-core sinkers one rod length ahead of the baits primarily to prevent debris from fowling my plugs. The port (left) offerings were setback 100' and 75' behind the boards while the starboard offerings were set back 50'. With these setbacks, the near constant turns put all the baits about 6' down and right in the strike zone. I kept the boards close to the boat only allowing them to run out 30' to the outside and 15' to the inside boards.
More and more brown trout trollers are utilizing down-riggers and Dipsi-Divers to present cowbells with a trailing spoon or body bait around river mouths. This tactic is especially deadly late in the spring and during the early summer when the water temp keeps the browns closer to the bottom.
Trolling along shoreline drop-offs and sandbars is another top producing technique. In-line planer boards are also deadly along beaches. These mini-skis function by taking trolled offerings out away from the fish spooking presence of the boat. By spreading baits out, a more efficient trolling spread can be deployed. They also add action to the lures as they bounce in the waves. Spooky browns that inhabit clear, near shore waters are ideal candidates for running baits behind boards.
Body baits are the choice of most shoreline brown trout trollers. Again, Thundersticks and Bombers are top producers but Storm Hot'n'Tots and Wigglewarts in dark colors that imitate scalpin also account for many browns. Productive setbacks from board to bait typically run 100' or more and weight in the form of rubber core sinkers or keel sinkers can be added to keep baits within a few feet of bottom for slightly deeper water. I like to run my outside boards out at least 100' from the side of the boat and sometimes much more if conditions permit.
A quality graph with a surface temperature gauge and a trolling speed sensor like those offered by Lawrence and Eagle are instrumental in shoreline brown trout fishing. Locating pockets of warm water and maintaining fish catching depths are made easy with quality electronics. It may also be necessary to locate fish in deeper water. The shoreline always gets my first trolling pass during decent weather. If no action occurs, then rubber core sinkers are attached in front of the baits to take them deeper and I move out several hundred feet farther from shore and repeat the process until fish are caught. As fishing patterns go deeper, down riggers and Dipsy Divers are also used to take baits into the strike zone. I've had some luck using Snap Weights with in-line planer boards in water up to thirty-feet deep.
Lake Michigan's spring browns averaged 10 pounds during 1999 and they are spirited fighters. Still, the clear water and spooky nature of the fish combined with the rather small baits used dictate lighter line for optimal success. I use 10 lbs. test monofilament Pro Line for al my Lake Michigan brown trout rigs (accept dipsy and downrigger sets). I like a 7-1/2' to 8' glass trolling rod matched with a Daiwa line counter reel for precise control of setbacks. My Shimano spinning rods are all 6' medium action graphite models with reels featuring silky smooth drag systems. Church Tackle Mr. Walleye or TX-24 in-line planer board are my top choice because they handle a heavy chop better than any other boards that I've tested and they won't slip down the line.
Where and When
If record catches of bigger browns than ever tickle your fancy, then planning a trip to the gold coast is certainly worth considering. The fishing gets rolling at ice-out usually during March, but the fishing is much more consistent during late April and Early May. All of the ports mentioned have excellent public boat launches. I like to base my spring brown trout trips out of Manistee largely because it is centered in the middle of the best brown trout waters and I can trailer my boat north or south from Manistee if needed to stay on the fish. Manistee also really caters to fishermen with one of the best public fish cleaning stations in Michigan and businesses that actually want anglers to come and visit. For additional trip planning information, click on the following city names ----> Ludington, Manistee, Onekama, Arcadia or Frankfort. For still more trip planning details, visit Trophy Specialists Fishing Charter's Spring Lake Michigan Brown Trout Trip Planner.
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Summer Lake Michigan Steelhead
By: Capt. Michael Veine
During June and early July the deep, clear waters of Lake Michigan's central basin host an offshore steelhead fishery that's second to none. When offshore thermal bars set up, it's quite common to boat limit catches of adult sized, acrobatic steelies. Salmon and lakers are also caught on most trips as a bonus. During decent conditions, this fishery serves up the kind of fishing trip that dreams are made of.
Last year my June steelhead charters averaged over 16 fish per trip, up significantly from previous years. Light fishing pressure on the offshore thermal bars was a major contributor to our higher catch rate. With all the salmon swimming around in Lake Michigan these days, many anglers are simply not targeting steelhead much anymore. Higher fuel costs also kept many anglers closer to shore chasing salmon. Fortunately my extraordinarily, fuel-efficient Mercury Optimax enabled me to reach the offshore thermal bars with minimal gas consumption. Once I reached the fishing grounds, my Mercury 4-stroke trolling motor was deployed. The little 9.9 purrs like a kitten all day on just a couple gallons of gas. With little competition, we were treated to bountiful salmonid catches and I could let my Ratheon autopilot run without constant course corrections to dodge other boats. It was lots of fun.
Why Do Steelhead Congregate Offshore?
Paul Seelbach is a noted expert on Lake Michigan's steelhead having spent the better part of 20 year career as a biologist for the Michigan DNR studying steelies. He explained the off-shore steelhead phenomenon this way: "Steelhead relate to the near shore waters of Lake Michigan during the cold water periods. During the summer though, the vast majority of Lake Michigan's steelhead are drawn to the deep waters of the central basin." He then added, "Steelhead that were tagged in the St. Joseph river have been routinely collected from the waters offshore from Ludington, MI north to Frankfort, MI. The fish are drawn to the deep waters because thermal bars and other environmental factors create a perfect feeding scenario for the trout. Studies have shown that steelhead have a rather slow attack speed when pursuing baitfish, especially when compared to salmon. This makes them less than efficient predators of quick baitfish like alewives and smelt."
I was rather surprised when Seelbach told me that steelhead were rather slow and I questioned him further about how the steelheads' slow attack speed concentrates them along off-shore thermal bars. "Tank studies have proven that salmon are very quick and efficient predators. They typically spend the summer months chasing schools of baitfish closer to shore where they can ambush and chase prey along structure. Steelhead are to damn slow to consistently catch quick prey, especially in the relatively warm, near shore waters of the Great Lakes. Instead, steelhead migrate to the deep waters of the central basin and feed on the accumulation of bugs, and slower baitfish like sticklebacks and other goodies that are drawn to the thermal bars."
I asked Paul Seelbach what caused the thermal bars commonly known as scum lines? "In Michigan waters, thermal bars are formed by the combined forces of water currents and air currents. The central basin is the deepest section of Lake Michigan and holds a virtual reservoir of cold water. The near shore waters are much warmer. Water currents typically run south to north while the wind is typically blowing from the west. These two forces push the cold water against the warm water creating the sharp thermal bars." Seelbach added, "The accumulation of bugs offshore is caused by shoreline formations and their resulting thermals. The east central, Lake Michigan shoreline primarily consists of steep, sandy cliffs. These cliffs create high rising thermal air currents. Bugs are sucked up into these thermals and carried out into the lake where they are deposited over cold water."
Where the warm and cold water meet, differing wave action often results. This phenomenon causes all the floating debris including plankton, baitfish, bugs and dead fish to collect right on the temperature break. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that this equates to chow-down-city for Lake Michigan's steelhead.
For offshore steelheading, I use a specialized trolling technique that targets the surface water. Both spoons and minnow imitating body baits are used depending on the water temperatures. Body baits work best when the water temperature is rather cold -- under 45-degrees. I use orange colored jointed Storm Thundersticks and Jointed Rapalas. Body baits will usually out produce spoons at the slower trolling speeds that cold water dictates. When plying colder water for steelhead, I usually troll at about 1.5 mph.
When targeting waters above the 45-degree mark spoons trolled at 2 to 3 mph will allow anglers to cover more water and ultimately catch more fish. My favorite steelhead lure is the Diamond Flutter spoon. My best pattern is an all orange top and chrome bottom. I also use orange/glow tape on a Chrome Diamond Flutter spoon with great success. The chrome Wolverine Silver Streak with a diagonal strip of orange/glow tape is another favorite. A 3/8-oz. rubber core sinker is attached one-rod length in front of the spoon and the rig is set back 75' behind the boards. Since the trout typically feed near the surface, in-line boards allow anglers to pull baits past those top water fish without spooking them from the disturbance of the boat.
Noted charter captain and tournament pro Capt. Dave Engle uses in-line boards for most of his surface presentations. He adds this observation, "Steelhead are actually attracted to orange in-line planer boards. My catch rate escalates when I use orange boards when compared to the larger, catamaran style planer boards of yesteryear. We also use shallow set downriggers and Luhr Jensen Dipsy Divers for off-shore steelhead, but when the fish are on the surface the in-line boards will typically out produce all other presentations hands down."
I use Mr. Walleye in-line planer boards for steelhead trolling. These boards hold on the line without releasing. When a steelhead hits, the board will drop back behind the boat. The angler then reels in line until the board can be removed and then fights the fish the rest of the way without the drag of the board. In my experience the hook to catch rate is about 20% higher when using Mr. Walleye boards when compared to planer boards that release and allow slack in the line. I typically set three boards per side, never more.
I always set two downriggers when fishing for steelhead offshore. The balls are lowered to 30' on one side and 50' on the other. I run Silver Streak Green Dolphins on both primary lines to target salmon and lakers. Free sliders are also used to fill in the gaps. I use Stinger Scorpion spoons on my sliders. These diminutive spoons in orange color result in dozens of steelhead hookups every year for me.
If I have plenty of partners on board, my ideal setup consists of six planer board lines, two riggers and two Luhr Jensen Dipsy Divers. For steelhead I favor the smaller size #0 Dipsys without the ring. Orange seems to attract more strikes and I rotate the ring to the #3 setting to allow them to run out to the side letting out about 100' of line. I use spoons on the Dipsys and have had my best luck without a snubber.
Finding the Steelhead
Offshore, scum-line fishing oftentimes requires long runs of sometimes 25 or more miles just to reach the fish. For safety's sake, this opportunity is limited to experienced boaters with large, seaworthy vessels. This is one fishery where hiring the services of a licensed charter captain makes perfect sense. The best steelheading occurs from the ports of Ludington, Manistee, Onekama, Arcadia and Frankfort. Manistee is centered in the middle of prime steelhead waters and during June and early July this port leads the state as the top steelhead destination.
Most savvy skippers rely on surface temperature maps available on the Internet. Thermal breaks can be identified by sharp variations in the surface temperatures on the map. Be aware that these temperature maps are highly prone to error though. Cloud cover and other factors can skew the readout significantly. These maps should only be used as a reference and not relied upon. Click on this link to view a surface temperature map of the waters described.
Where and When
If bountiful catches of chromers tickle your fancy, then planning a fishing trip Lake Michigan's central basin is certainly worth considering. The fishing gets rolling during early June and often lasts into July with the peak period being the last two weeks of June. All of the ports mentioned have excellent public boat launches. I like to base my June steelhead charters out of Manistee largely because it is centered in the middle of the best action. Manistee also really caters to fishermen with one of the best public fish cleaning stations in Michigan. Manistee's businesses actually want anglers to come and visit; a noted exception to many ports in Michigan. For additional trip planning information, click on the following city names ----> Ludington, Manistee, Onekama, Arcadia or Frankfort. For still more trip planning details, visit Trophy Specialists Fishing Charter's June Steelhead Trip Planner.
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Summer Saginaw Bay Walleye
By: Capt. Michael Veine
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Summer Lake Michigan Kings
By: Capt. Michael Veine
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Catch the Fishing Fever In Michigan!
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