May 10, 2015

Go Deep For Early Spring Action

By Capt. Lee Haasch

Now that we haven’t heard much talk the past two springs about global warming, we need to turn back the clock to a time when we had more winters and springs like the past couple years in order to replay some old strategies that will fill our coolers in the month of May.  Since none of us can accurately predict the weather, as far as what kind of spring we will have or how warm it will get in May or June, we are left to guess when the lake will perform its spring ritual of turning over (warm water rising to the surface and cold water settling to the bottom).  One thing I can tell you is that this year it will need to get quite warm in order to warm up the sheer mass of cold water that was left as a result of back-to-back cold winters.  So what does that mean for May fishing?

Since the lake will take awhile to “turn over,” my money is on fishing the depths for early action.  Two very effective methods are downriggers and “pump handles” as we used to call the wire line set-ups with 1 lb. balls for weights.  These two methods will likely produce the most action with very frigid surface temps.  I’ve long replaced my “pump handle” rods with the new Ugly Stik GX2 medium light 7’6” rods outfitted with Abu Garcia, Alphamar 20LC, line counter reels spooled up with 65 lb. Stren Sonic Braid, 25 lb. Trilene fluorocarbon leaders and 1 lb. weights to tickle the bottom with a dodger and fly combo.  The wire line was always an effective method to target lake trout on or near the bottom, but the wire line had its drawbacks; namely the abrasive nature of the wire on the reels and the rods.  Also, wire needed to be handled with care to prevent giving it slack and letting it backlash or even twist and kink causing weak spots in the wire.  I much prefer the spectra lines like Stren, Sonic Braid, or the new Trilene Professional Braid.  With its no-stretch and fine diameter, these lines cut the water and reach depths previously only possible with wire line.  They are very smooth, easy on the rods and reels, and telegraph the lightest bites.  Teamed with the Ugly Stik GX2, with new, Ugly Tuff Guides, one piece stainless steel eyes, this is a great set-up for reaching the depths effectively. 

Bouncing bottom may be a lost art, but for those of us that cut our teeth on the lake trout fishing of the 70’s and 80’s, this is a great way to target deep fish in the spring.   Since the water is cold, fishermen will not only find the lake trout, but also king salmon inhabiting the bottom zone.  Because of the cooler temps, the kings will be a bit less aggressive on the bite and need a bit more coaxing.  This is when I go into my archives and pull out some metal Lure Jensen dodgers and some flies or squids to trail them.  Dodgers are meant to be run at slower speeds, which is what it takes to entice the lethargic fish.  Trolling at 1.0 to 1.5 knots is usually the ticket for this.

The second method to reach those bottom hugging fish are the downriggers.  My Traxstech downriggers make quick work of the bottom hugging chore.  With the ability to handle heavy weights, these speedy riggers will drop and retrieve weights as heavy as 24 lbs. with ease and at speeds of over 200 feet per minute.  In this case, 12 lb. weights are sufficient.  One of the features that I really love about my Traxstech riggers is the computerized auto stop that brings that fast retrieve to a slow stop at the pre-set surface level and again slow stops it on the trip back to the desired depth. Another feature that really makes these deadly, for this type of fishing is the jig feature.  I can program my riggers to raise the bait a predetermined height at predetermined intervals, then lower it again in a jigging like fashion.  Many times this periodic raising and lowering of the bait will entice following fish to strike the lure. 

I prefer using the Ugly Stik GX2, 7’0” light action rods with the new Alphamar 20LC reels, spooled with Berkley Trilene 25 lb. mono, with fluorocarbon leaders.  These sensitive, yet strong, rods will tackle the biggest kings with ease and, though only 7 ft. in length, allow an angler to steer the fish to the net effortlessly.  For deep fishing, I like to tease the trout and salmon with a couple of interesting yet effective set-ups.  I will usually set the center rigger with a dodger/fly or flasher/fly combo to help attract fish into the spread.  With corner riggers, I like to tie up a double bait rig on the pole, rather than using sliders.  This will keep both baits about 6 to 7 ft. apart and both near the bottom.  Again, fluorocarbon leaders help hide my line, and a pair of spoons will occupy these rigs.  I often pair up matching spoons on each rigger.  Possibly orange peel Coho Joe’s or a couple of chartreuse Yeck spoons often tempt a strike from lake trout or a bonus king.  Lake trout like the yellows and oranges, so spoons with those colors paired with white seem to work best.  Same for the flies, we used to use the hair flies, white with streaks of yellow and orange to get bites.  Today, some of the sparkly Howie flies with pearl, yellow and orange color streaks prove to be deadly combinations on the deep targets.

As the weather warms and we start seeing some of those warm May rains, you will want to keep an eye on the surface temperature maps, looking for thermoclines forming on the surface out deeper.  As these happen, these thermoclines will start gathering bugs and surface scum forming lines.  These are often where currents will bring warm water to the surface to meet with cooler water.  These thermocline rises will be moving.  As they do, they will gather bugs and surface scum which will be readily visible and will also gather schools of bait move them along with the line.  Once these form, this is where you want to start concentrating your fishing efforts.

Running surface spoons behind small planer boards, at this time of year, is very effective for steelhead.  I also get to trade in the “pump handle” rigs for Slide Divers.  One of my favorite methods of fishing, the Slide Diver rigs give me the best of all worlds. My baits will run out wide from the boat and I can stack several Slide Divers off each side. When a fish hits, the diver releases and there is little to no resistance or extra weight on the line with the fish. I can also lengthen my leads from the diver to the bait to get my higher baits further from the boat.  Slide Diver rigs are my “go to” set-up.  On sunny calm days it is very common to see the steelhead swirling on the surface feeding near the scum lines.  Targeting the thermoclines and scum lines with flashers and flies and spoons run on slide divers and mid-range downriggers will produce steelhead and even occasional king salmon!  Spring is one of my favorite times of the year; mainly because, after a long winter, I can’t wait to get my boats in the water and get after these beasts of the deep!

For information about fishing the Algoma area, you can visit my website and fishing blog at:  Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about our area. 

Captain Lee Haasch is a charter captain out of Algoma, WI.  Captain Lee has over 40 years of Great Lakes angling experience and has been instructing anglers for over 25 years with education seminars and timely freelance articles in outdoor publications.