We’re in the middle of October, and we’ve had a blast of cool air. This has made for some awesome late salmon fishing. We’ve had some cold nights and good rains. With the combination of rain and north wind we’ve actually had some very late pushes of king and coho salmon. It has lead into some spectacular steelhead fishing. We’re starting to see a few good numbers in the lower portion of each river system. We’ve been doing well fishing beads and spawn, but we’ve also had good success with clients fishing fly gear. It’s a good time for everybody to get out and take advantage of some awesome brown trout and fall steelhead opportunities, and enjoy the awesome fall color in the tremendous fishery we have in northern Michigan.
March has snuck right up on us here at Sport Fish Michigan; we are very excited to be putting away the ice fishing gear! This past winter offered some excellent fishing, as well as stellar ice conditions, allowing us to offer a wide variety of species to our ice customers. We had success targeting lake trout, burbot, whitefish, perch, walleye, and northern pike. With the ice conditions quickly diminishing, we have already had the opportunity to hit the open waters of the Grand Traverse Bays. Here is a quick look at what we have been targeting and what we will be perusing over the course of the next few weeks.
As most of you know, the perch fishing on Lake Michigan has greatly improved in the past two years; this past fall yielded high numbers of perch with a good average size. With the bays not receiving much if any safe ice this winter, the fish have had the chance to feed and flourish with limited pressure.
Access to the bays is just starting to improve, shoreline ice is melting, and most of the drift ice has found its way to one shoreline or broken up into miscellaneous pieces. These conditions have made getting out in a boat possible in locations like southern West Bay and southern East Grand Traverse Bay. We are successfully finding large schools of perch with good size in 70-90 ft of water. Most of the active schools are appearing to be 1-2 ft off the bottom in rock and weed-covered areas. Steep drop-offs and inside turns of drop-offs have proven to hold the larger schools. We have had good luck using traditional perch rigs with perch minnows and as well as jigging small jigging Rapalas and 3/4 ounce Jonah Jigs.
We have also had good luck finding pre-spawn burbot in 85-110 ft of water just off of 40-50 ft spawning flats. It has been difficult to mark these fish because they are hugging bottom so tightly. Because of this, we have used a fan-casting technique 360 degrees around the boat with 1 oz jigging spoons to locate active fish. Once we have located the school, we then can set up on them vertically. Anglers will also find active lake trout and cisco while fishing this same depth of water. Any 1 oz blade bait or jigging spoon will help in effectively targeting all three of these species. As the water continues to warm anglers will find that the lake trout and cisco will gradually work their way into shallower water in search of warmer temperatures and baitfish.
We have also had some excellent steelhead fishing this past week, the warmer days have generated some good runoff and rainfall which has helped bring some fresh fish to our local tributaries. With good numbers of steelhead running this past fall, we have been seeing a large number of holdover fish that are becoming more active on a day to day basis. The most effective form of fishing has consisted of float fishing beads and spawn with conventional gear. Light leaders and smaller presentations have been working best. We have a lot of great fishing ahead of us this spring, and we are looking forward to good numbers of steelhead running our tributaries.
This fishing is only just starting to get good; the next two months will only get better for these three species. This is a great time of the year to get out on the Bays and take advantage of some awesome fishing for fish that not only fight hard but taste excellent.
As late fall gives way to early winter, there are a lot of things that we are excited for here at Sport Fish Michigan. After an incredible salmon and steelhead season for us guiding on the northern Michigan area rivers, we are still plying the waters for a variety of species and gearing up for another busy season on the ice, guiding customers from all over the country.
For river anglers, late fall/early winter can be a tremendous time to be on the water steelheading. The crowds are low, and the fish often bite several different presentations extremely well. For traditional gear anglers, spawn bags can really ignite a bite during the chilly, dark days as the scent from salmon eggs can get fish into a feeding mode. Beads presented under a float or indicator can also pay huge dividends: smaller presentations can often be the ticket if fish are fussy. Brown trout in river systems will often prefer these smaller bead presentations when fished along holding waters and seams in the river currents. As the waters cool, fish are less apt to move far to take baits, and thoroughly working a run or hole can be crucial to finding where the fish are holding. Fly anglers fishing streamer or egg patterns can do very well this time of year as fish are still looking for a pre-winter meal.
A funny phenomenon occurs on the rivers at this time of year to which many steelheaders can attest: some days, a sunny afternoon can lead to some incredible action as just a degree or two of temperature rise can get a bite going, in contrast, sometimes a snow squall with near-blizzard conditions can yield the better bite.
Open waters still have some excellent fishing opportunities during this pre-ice period, and anglers willing to brave the cold can be rewarded with some outstanding catches. Yellow perch both on Grand Traverse Bays and area inland lakes are heavily feeding, and having a variety of baits can be the difference in getting bites from the jumbos or just catching the smaller biters. Perch can switch from one offering to another more easily than we would like, but having everything from minnows to wigglers, small pieces of shrimp, and even small jigging spoons can be crucial in figuring out what the jumbos are willing to bite.
Walleye fishing this time of year can be dynamite as well. While many anglers troll, looking for active fish, don’t be afraid to cast reaction baits like a Rapala Jigging Rap or Flat Rap. Near dusk, or on dark days, a rattling rattle-trap style bait like the Rapala Rippin’ Rap can be deadly, calling fish in from a distance. Fished in a yo-yo retrieve, fish will actively chase down and crush these baits when seemingly nothing else will work. And, of course, a big minnow under a slip bobber can also do its share of damage as fish are on the prowl looking for an easy meal.
Pulling out the ice fishing equipment at this time of year for a pre-ice inspection is often much more comfortable than looking over shanties and running augers when the temperatures are bone-chilling and the snow is flying. Charging electronics batteries to ensure that they will hold a charge is another good thing to check when taking stock of ice equipment. Before our boats are winterized and put away for the season, one thing that we at Sport Fish Michigan like to do is to transfer GPS waypoints that we have from our Humminbird electronics to our Humminbird ice electronics. Waypoints that we find during the warmer months can often produce well for us through the ice, and transferring these now is just one of the things that we try to do as we prepare for our guide season.
Late fall and early winter fishing can be exceptionally rewarding and fun. Get out, have fun on the water. Most of all, stay safe!
The fall color is gradually coming to an end, and most of our inland lakes and Grand Traverse Bays have reached the mid- to low- 50-degree mark. This time of the year anglers can find several fun species to pursue in the Traverse City Area. Late fall can bring a lot of wind and rain, but if you can time the weather and wind with some warmer weather, you can truly have a great day on the water.
The perch fishing on Grand Traverse Bays has been excellent the past three weeks, and we are looking at some really good fishing in November. From the south end of West Bay to the tip of Northport, most of the active schools of fish can be found in 30-50 ft of water. On East Bay, the southern end extending up the east coast, as well as portions of Deep Water Point, have also held big schools of perch. Bottom content has been very key, the perch have been in areas with small rock, gravel and chara weed coverage. Both larger perch minnows and wigglers have been a good bait for larger fish and steady action. The perch population is coming back in the GTB area, and we are thrilled to see so many different year classes of fish. Despite this amazing boom in the perch population, with lots of fish in the 12-15 inch jumbo range, selective harvest is still the best practice to help ensure excellent perch fishing for years to come. Good jumbo perch fishing can be a delicate balance, and responsible practices should always take precedence.
Smallmouth bass fishing in the Traverse City Area has also been good as of late. We are still finding some of the larger fish in deeper water flats and drop-offs. Drop shots, tubes, and swim bait rigs have been producing most of our fish. We have also enjoyed casting an Alabama rig in some of the shallower flats around isolated structure and steep breaks. This is a great time of the year for bass anglers to get out on the water for some big fish. Most all of the fish we catch this time of the year at stuffed to the gills with baitfish, presenting a great opportunity to land a trophy fish. Fall bass fishing is some of the best of the year, and anglers can enjoy much less crowded waters than in the spring surrounding the pre-spawn and spawn.
The cisco and whitefish fishery on the Grand Traverse Bays has also been very good, and as long as the wind and cold weather allows us, we will continue to target these aggressive fish into late November. Vertical jigging silver, gold, and white colored jigging spoons in a 3/4-1 1/2 oz size is an effective presentation. Most of the fish will be found suspended in depths ranging from 80 to 150 ft of water. It is always best to find areas of the bay that have the least amount of current and wind when targeting these fish vertically. Don’t be afraid to move around and cover large areas of water in varying depths when in search for the larger schools. Lake trout season is now closed until January 1st on the Bays, so any incidental catches of these awesome fish should be quickly returned.
We have finally seen an end to the best salmon run our area has had in the past ten years. What a great fall for salmon! The fish were enormous, and the numbers seemed endless. This has helped put an over-abundance of food in the area tributaries, setting us up for an excellent late fall/winter steelhead fishery. We are really looking forward to getting our clients out this winter for some exciting steelhead action; things are setting up nicely!
The past two weeks of October has brought nearly 5 inches of rain to our area, this has greatly increased the flows of the Manistee and Betsie rivers and put the steelhead on the move. With both rivers running fairly high and around 49 degrees in temperature. We are seeing a large number of active fish in the shallower faster water of the river. Not to say we are not finding active fish in deeper slower winter water, too, but we are just having better luck at the tail-outs of spawning beds and faster pocket water. Fishing this water has also presented a fair number of nice brown trout on some of our past trips. It is always a delight to have the opportunity to get into the browns in this feeding scenario.
With the higher darker river conditions, 10mm and 12mm trout beads in brighter colors have been working well. Glow Orange, Clown, Oregon Cheese have been good under floats and indicators. For those looking to use spawn bags, a 6-8 salmon egg bag has been producing the most results.
We wish all anglers a safe and successful fall; we look forward to seeing you on the water.
The fishing in Northern Michigan is on fire right now! Our area is producing some excellent numbers of fish, both in the rivers systems and on open water. We are so grateful to have such awesome fishing and wonderful clients. Here is a sneak peak at what we have been up to:
Inland lakes and Grand Traverse Bay have been producing good catches of perch. Most fish in GTB have been found in 50-70ft. of water. We have seen schools even as deep as 90+ ft., as well. Larger schools are consisting of 7-9-inch fish, but when you can find the smaller concentrations, you can locate the larger fish. Good electronics, such as a Humminbird Helix unit, are crucial in finding these schools. We are so excited to see the perch populations returning to GTB and surrounding ports. Inland lake perch fishing has been good adjacent to drop-offs and weed covered flats in 25-55ft., depending on the bottom make-up. Perch minnows and wigglers have been working well. Finding a softer bottom has been key.
GTB has been producing limits of lake trout and cisco. Locating fish has not been difficult at all, finding hungry, active fish has, and can be, a bit of challenge. Fish in deeper water have been more aggressive than the shallower schools. 100-135ft. seems to have large concentrations, but the more active fish have been found feeding in 145-160ft. The trout are gathering in the bottom 10 feet, and the cisco seem to be behaving as they always do in 35-degree water. Cisco can be found feeding aimlessly, with no patterned depth in the water column. A simple mark and drop technique has been working well when jigging and casting for these fish in deeper water. Cisco in the spring often feed half-way up in the water column, and seeing marks “zooming” across our Humminbird Helix screens is the tell-tale regarding the depth in which these scrappy fish are feeding.
Trolling the shallow water on the shores of Lake Michigan out of ports like Frankfort, Manistee, Arcadia, and Onekama for brown trout has been great. Using lighter fluorocarbon and longer leads on inline planer boards has worked well. We have found that using more natural colors in clearer water, and brighter colors in dirtier water, has been producing more biters. Most temperatures have been from 36-38 degrees, if you can find any pockets of water with 40-41 degree temps, you should find browns.
Fishing on the rivers, we have seen one of the best runs of steelhead our area tributaries have had in quite a few years. We have consistently been hitting fresh fish for the past three months. Just when we think that the run has peaked, and the fish are slowing down, we get another inch of rain and more fish come into the Lake Michigan tributary systems!
This past week’s warmer temperatures, however, have increased temps to the low 40’s, and this is really initiating the spawning process. A lot of active, hungry fish have been coming in the faster tail-out water of spawning gravel. Depending on the river, 3-5ft of water has been good. Finding the slower seams in the bottom, inside and outside of faster water covering the spawning gravel has been best. Steelhead seem to have now left the slower, sandier, wintering holes, working their way to higher, faster sections of water.
Trout beads, stoneflies, and hare’s ear flies have been great with both fly rod and conventional gear. Indicator fishing and float fishing with beads and spawn has been most productive. We have found that even with the dirtier water, 8mm beads have produced the most fish. Colors like Sun Orange have definitely been the MVP of the spring, with the Clown egg in a close second.
While anglers with a valid fishing license are certainly allowed to keep their limit of steelhead, we at Sport Fish Michigan like to practice catch and release whenever we can. Many of these fish can successfully spawn, and are not reliant on stocking programs. For this reason, releasing spawning fish is crucial in helping to maintain our steelhead fisheries for years to come.
Good luck out there, we hope to see you on the water!
Spring is here! With all the ice gradually melting, open water fishing on most inland lakes is in full swing and Grand Traverse Bay is open for some great fishing opportunities, as well. Listed below is brief description of what techniques and tips Sport Fish Michigan has to offer anglers when hitting the water over the course of the next month.
Inland lake fishing for perch has been very good, and this is an awesome time of year to take advantage of big fish and large schools. Most fish can be found feeding in 38-50 feet of water adjacent to steeper drop-offs and weed-covered flats. If you are lucky enough to find perch minnows at your local bait shop, this will help yield the best action when targeting perch. The fish tend to move this time of year as they are actively spawning and transitioning from deeper to shallower water. Make sure to use a Minn Kota Motors I-Pilot or back trolling technique, as using an anchor can spook the school, forcing them to move.
Grand Traverse Bay has been fishing very well this March and will only continue to heat up for several species. Lake trout and cisco fishing is incredible this time of year. Utilizing good, effective electronics, and successfully anchoring on top of large schools will bring the most success. This time of the year, jigging spoons and blade baits are key, fish are constantly moving, in search for alewife, gobies, and other baitfish in the warming water. 50-100 feet of water is a great place to start, this is usually a key area to find both species, however don’t be afraid to check shallower as the water warms, as most of the baitfish and insect life will be gathering around the warmer rocks and weed cover. And if all else fails, deep waters of 150 feet or even more will almost always hold fish. These deeper fish may not be the actively feeding fish that cruise the shallower waters, but can often be tempted with a good jig.
Traverse City, Frankfort, Leland, and Manistee offer some excellent shallow water trolling opportunities on Lake Michigan for brown trout, steelhead, and even the occasional lake trout. Anglers will have great success trolling body baits on in-line planer boards in 8-15 feet of water. Locating stained water areas and gradual temperature breaks will help pinpoint where feeding fish are located. Browns tend to congregate in the water that has the least amount of visibility and the warmest temperature. Don’t be afraid to fish very close to the shoreline, the inside trough can be very productive this time of year!
Good luck and see you on the water!
With there still ice fishing to be done on many inland lakes, the annual spring steelhead run into the area’s Lake Michigan tributary rivers, as well as the open water bite for species like cisco, lake trout, burbot, brown trout and lots more, the opportunities abound for anglers here in Northern Michigan.
The river fishing for steelhead pushing into the area’s rivers should be excellent if this fall’s run is any indication. While many fish held over the winter in the rivers, there should be a few nice pushes of fresh fish to target. Jigs tipped with wax worms fished under a float should tempt these frigid water chrome battlers if a spawn bag doesn’t do the trick. For fly anglers, egg patterns, leech patterns or small minnow patterns will all work.
For anglers looking to get that last ice bite, the perch and the walleyes are feeding more these days with their upcoming annual spawn. Both of these species will spawn in the early spring, shortly after ice-out, and much of their pre-spawn bite window takes place under the ice. Jigging Rapalas or jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head can be deadly for cruising walleye both early or late in the day. For perch anglers, minnows can often attract hungry jumbos, but sometimes downsizing to a small tungsten jig tipped with a spike or a wax worm will seal the deal. But anglers should keep in mind that as ice thaws, extra caution should be taken when venturing out. No matter how good the late ice bite can be, no fish is worth having an accident over.
Ciscos, burbot, lake trout and whitefish all bite well during the cold water periods of March. Trolling is an excellent way to cover water, and vertical jigging is a fantastic way to stay over top of a school of fish. Trolling spoons, plugs or even vibrating blade baits can be the ticket to getting the Ciscos, lake trout and whitefish to bite. For jigging options, spoons and blade baits are the way to go. Look for schools or marks adjacent to steep breaks or depth contours like inside turns or points or humps.
We here at Sport Fish Michigan are looking forward to getting back onto the water after a busy ice guiding season. While there are still ice trips to be run yet, we are anxious to get after the early ice-out fishing that can often times be dynamite. Get out and have a great time fishing, whether it’s on the last of our ice or in a boat. Take lots of care, however, since the waters are still ice cold. No matter which body of water you fish, know what technique is most enjoyable to you, have fun, stay safe, and catch some fish!
Captain Ben Wolfe with Sport Fish Michigan gives his report for the Michigan area waters for the end of July, 2016.
As we enter into May, a lot of the major tributaries in the area will have already seen the bulk of the spring steelhead run. For those anglers wanting to target steelhead in the month of May several of the following tactics can be very effective. To find the aggressive fish, target the deeper tail-outs of spawning areas where the adults have dropped back to feed. Trout beads, fry patterns, and even smaller body baits can be great when going after these warmer water drop back steelhead. Remember, these fish have been through a lot, they have made it all the way trough the gauntlet to spawn, and now they are hungry and ready to make their journey back to the lake. This also presents some great opportunities to have some excellent brown trout fishing. The browns will be at the tail-outs awaiting a free meal as well!
The temperature along most of the northern Lake Michigan coast has already been holding around 40 degrees for a few weeks. This has set up some excellent brown trout fishing in Platte Bay, Pt. Betsie, and Frankfort. We are seeing good numbers of browns returning to the area every year. These fish are very healthy, running an average of 3-5 pounds.
In May, most anglers have the best success trolling the shallow water troughs along the beach trying to maintain 6-12 ft. of water. Running natural patterned body baits on 10-pound fluorocarbon off of in-line planer boards works very well. Most anglers have success with running 75-85ft leads from the board to the bait. As the water temperatures along the shoreline gradually approach 50 degrees, this tactic will also produce good catches of shallow water lake trout. The lake trout action will heat up as the winds blow warmer water and bait fish in from the south, so be ready!
Grand Traverse Bay’s are still maintaining some very cold-water temperatures. But this will not stop anglers from getting out and taking advantage of some excellent jigging and trolling opportunities. The cisco can be found on the shallower sides of the breaks, feeding mostly halfway down the water column. It is very common to find these aggressive fish suspended the majority of the time. Gold Swedish Pimples and 1-ounce jigging spoons are typically the bait of choice.
The lake trout can be found making their way toward the shallower flats of the bays as the water temps approach the mid 40-degree mark. Anglers will have great success both jigging and trolling for these aggressive fish. Most anglers trolling will have a program made up of short lead core lines, slide-divers, and down riggers. Smaller spoons such as Mini-Streaks, Stinger, and Warrior Flutter Spoons will commonly be used. Jigging techniques will mostly consist of 1-2 ounce jigging spoons with white, red, green, and brown being the most effective colors. Jonah Jigs, Swedish Pimples, and Elk Rapids S-Jigs are very effective, although we are partial to the action of the Jonah Jigs when big fish are looking for a large meal.
Waters are still cold in May, and caution should always be taken when heading out onto any body of water. Have fun, stay safe and tight lines!
December is upon us, and our hard-water ice fishing season is still seemingly a far way off for many bodies of water. With a much milder El Nino winter, it seems that there is still be much more open-water fishing to be had here in northern Michigan. Rivers will stay open, unlike the past two winters, and big bodies of water like Grand Traverse Bays will almost assuredly remain open as well.
Grand Traverse Bays in early winter can be an awesome place to wet a line when the weather cooperates. Lake trout season is still closed out on the Bays, but there is still some great yellow perch action to be had, and whitefish will be moving shallow as well. For perch anglers, Deep Water Point on East Bay is always a go-to spot. Wigglers or minnows are the top choices out here on the Bays, but sometimes a jigging spoon can really help to attract fish that are spread out. Personally, I like a jigging spoon with a dropper chain tipped with a couple of wigglers or a small piece of minnow to call in fussy fish. Very often it’s a small jigging cadence that gets fish to move in closer, and then a dead-stick approach to tempt bites. Many perch anglers opt to use their ice fishing electronics for this style of fishing because it is immediate feedback on how a fish is reacting to our offerings. And don’t be surprised when a big Grand Traverse Bay whitefish or lake trout gobbles up your perch rig. Whitefish love a vertically jigged Swedish pimple or a small Jonah Jig. Wigglers work well at times, also, but whitefish can be so tricky in hooking when using wigglers, that sometimes it’s better to look for other techniques.
Steelhead on the rivers are still a great option in December, before the dead of winter truly sets in. Last year, winter hit us in November and didn’t let up. This year, water should be flowing well throughout the winter if we do indeed have the El Nino year that is predicted. Spawn bags can work wonders on Lake Michigan tributary steelhead, but don’t forget about small jigs tipped with wax worms. The old Jig and wax routine can be truly deadly on winter steelhead when fished under a float. And if there are trout in the system? They love a good wax worm too!
Inland lakes probably won’t see too much ice in December, with the exception of the smaller lakes in the middle of the state. Lakes closer to Lake Michigan will be protected by the big lake, tempering air temperatures. This means that anglers can still get out in a boat on many bodies of water. Yellow perch are the target of choice for many anglers, and the techniques that work on the Bays work well here too. The flash of a minnow can really trigger aggressive feeding responses from big perch this time of year, and with fishing pressure low, these fish are often very willing to bite.