Sep 10, 2015

Fall Is Time To Crush Big Kings!

By Capt. Lee Haasch

After experiencing cold winters over the past few years, Lake Michigan’s surface temperatures remained cool for the entire season for the third year in a row.  Now, I’m not talking about the occasional upper 60’s surface temp on the top 10”.  I’m talking about the main upper 10 feet of the water column.  In 2014, it remained even cooler than normal and in 2015 it has also been colder than normal.  For the better part of the season, I recorded temperatures on my Fish Hawk in the low 40’s down 60 feet for almost all of the summer months. 

How does this make for big kings? Well, with the temperatures in the low 50’s for most of the summer, this is the optimal range for the king’s metabolism to peak out and with the generous amount of baitfish we saw in early summer, those kings had great eating.  There was lots of food and the optimum water temps to pack on the weight.  The golden trifecta for the salmon angler!  The evidence showed up at several salmon tournaments with very good sizes of kings being weighed in and taking top prizes this summer.  All signs are pointing to a very healthy fishery.

I happen to sit on a couple of state boards that study issues affecting our fishery and it is always very easy to jump on the negative bandwagon and blame the DNR and other agencies for their management efforts of this fishery.  While none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, like picking the wrong direction, wrong speed or wrong baits, any one of these can lead to less fish being caught.  The DNR is always under the microscope and is often criticized for their efforts and choices in management decisions.  Sometimes the decision to make long-term plans for the betterment of the fishery as a whole, seem to not always be the most popular at the time of the decision, but long-term plans can pay off.

Several years ago we saw huge numbers of fish being caught very easily and most were smaller fish.  Little did most anglers know, that this was a sign of an unhealthy fishery.  While we enjoyed very easy success for our efforts, these fish were hungry because of the lack of baitfish.  Decisions were made to cut back on stocking to protect the forage base along with the growing evidence of natural reproduction; the feeling was that this would make for a healthier fish population.  It certainly looks like the DNR’s predictions were accurate and the salmon population is not only bouncing back, but the kings are getting bigger as well.  The high numbers of “naturals,” salmon without the clipped adipose fin, show us that the natural reproduction of king salmon is indeed real. 

What does this mean for our September fishing?  I’m looking forward to yet another great fall of fishing with some really BIG kings showing up.  If the size of some of the earlier season kings is any indication, we are going to see some very big kings hitting our coolers this fall.  I really look forward to this time of year because it offers a variety of fishing options. 

During mid-September, we will see the staging salmon heading to river mouths to return to the streams where they were planted (or hatched).  This will offer some exciting action on big kings as they congregate in front of the river mouths.  Pier and shore anglers will also be afforded a chance at a true trophy fish of a lifetime.  Trollers will find that J-plugs, Rebel Fast-tracs and large spoons will entice strikes by these brute kings and occasionally some huge brown trout.  Pier anglers casting spoons and river anglers with spoons and crankbaits will also enjoy some exciting action.

Not only will we find these trophy kings staging in front of the harbors, but also last season there were many large kings caught in the deeper water.  One theory was that 90% of the anglers fish within 15 miles of the shoreline.  That leaves the center half of the lake untouched.  Last season, I believe that a majority of the alewife spent most of the summer months in this middle half of the lake.  In fall, pods of those alewife made their way toward shore and with them came waves of kings.  We saw some of our best fishing of the year in September.  Will this year follow suit? 

While we saw excellent catches in June, July and August, the majority of coolers were filled with mixed bag catches.  Generous supplies of steelhead were a welcome commodity this summer.  Mixed bag catches not only provide the angler with some great meals, but we really enjoy the tail-dancing antics of hooking a steelhead on surface baits.

With the resurgence of the lake trout, and some big ones at that, I expect to see those mixed cooler catches to continue well into the fall.  With any luck, we will see stable weather through September and most of October.  That will mean great fishing for everyone!

TIP OF THE MONTH.  Speed and Angles.   I can't emphasize enough that trolling for salmon is all about speed and bait presentation.  When trolling, if I am not getting bites, I am adjusting my speed, faster and slower.  Or if there appears to be any amount of current, I am also changing my directional angles 10-20 degrees either way.  This will also change the way my baits look in the water.  Once I have found the right speed and angle that the fish like, I do my best to hold that until I run out of fish or want to turn around.  Once I turn, I will do the same thing until I get a speed working on the return direction.  So don't stick to one speed and angle and say the fish aren't biting, keep changing until you find what the fish like. With this knowledge you will see a noticeable increase in your catches!


For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing check out my report page at  From Capt. Lee and the crew aboard the GRAND ILLUSION 2 - good luck and good fishing!