Sep 10, 2016

LAKE MICHIGAN, THE GEM OF THE GREAT LAKES!

By: Capt. Lee Haasch

The sun was a few minutes from cresting the horizon and the vibrant colors of goldenrod, canary yellow and pumpkin orange painted the sky with streaks reaching to the heavens. Here is what gets me up for a fishing trip hours earlier than usual.….. ”FISH, FISH, FISH, CORNER RIGGER, FISH ON!” from Trevor, my son and deck hand. “KEEP YOUR ROD TIP UP – ANOTHER ONE, GRAB THE DEEP DIVER ROD!” Trevor will shout more instructions as the rods scream out drag and the fishermen are suddenly busy. Just another reason to jump out of bed at 3 am and start making coffee for the day ahead. And this was only the beginning as the morning bite jumped into high gear and the sun poked over the horizon.

Is this a typical day on Lake Michigan? More often than not, it is. We have been blessed with some pretty great fishing out of the little port of Algoma; host to one of the largest charter fleets in Wisconsin and also home to 22 straight years of being the top area for king salmon production and for 14 straight seasons host to the top area for steelhead catch. This is no accident. 

The fishing fleet in Algoma shares a common theme; cooperate with each other and everyone’s customers catch fish. Algoma also has some very seasoned anglers that spend their off-season promoting and educating anglers on the finer points of salmon fishing. This all leads to drawing lots of anglers to an area that has become a perennial favorite for most long-distance anglers.

In addition to having a strong angler following, this area also is home to some pretty decent fishing because of the proximity of deep water, structure that holds bait and a projected shoreline that takes advantage of wind-driven currents that gather baitfish in the area. I always say, “If you have the bait, the salmon will follow!”

But what makes Lake Michigan a success story is another topic in itself.

Back in the 1950’s a small invasive species, the alewife, entered the lake. Being rich in nutrients, this small fish quickly populated beyond control. An exploding population littered our beaches with small dead fish in the mid-60’s. So, the DNR planted salmon, a natural predator of the alewife in the ocean, with the hopes of controlling the small invasive. Low and behold, a great sport fishery was created! Over the years, this nutrient rich lake has begun to clean up and the alewife has seen a lessening food supply.   And, the salmon have done their job feeding on them. Does this spell doom for the salmon fishery? I’m not sold on that.

Over the years, we have witnessed stocking cuts and nay-sayers have cried doom and gloom, but the results have shown a continued strong fishery that has not only survived but done very well. This year, we are experiencing a very good season, with nice healthy fish and decent numbers to show for it.

Do we need to cut some more? I have spent countless hours attending meetings with fish biologists, fish mangers, fish and wildlife personnel and sport and commercial fishermen. Every year, we have studied the forage base and, in order to keep Lake Michigan a dynamic and great fishery, these scientists have tried to stay one step ahead of the forage base curve. 

Is the good fishing we experienced this and other years an accident? I don’t think so. I credit this great fishery to the people that are managing it. This is not an easy task with the discovery of natural reproduction of the salmon, which was once not thought to be possible. This occurrence has given the whole formula an added twist with this new “wild” card. Wild salmon are not very easy to measure and while that has added a new difficulty factor, the results have been evident with many un-clipped “naturals” showing up in anglers coolers over the past several years. The interesting point about natural salmon is, regardless of where they are hatched, they will roam the entire lake following baitfish schools and only return to their home spawning stream at maturity (3-4 years old). Everyone gets to enjoy these fish at any time. 

Since the only thing man can control in the lake is how many fish we add to the system via stocking, managing that number is all the more important to not tipping the predator/prey ratio over the edge. Up until now, we have seen a consistently strong fishery, proving that the science behind the stocking of salmonids has been carefully and reasonably thought out. And, that thought and reasoning has been pretty spot-on.

Am I concerned with possible future stocking cuts? I’m always concerned about our fishery, but after seeing the evidence, my recommendation is to back the experts and stick with the science. Up until now, we have seen a very good track record of managing this tremendous resource, a giant undertaking, but also, until now, a very successful venture.

Why do I believe that Lake Michigan is truly the gem of the great lakes? For one, the fishing over the past 40 years has been second to none, and along with that, the sheer number of big fish and the size of record fish shows that the waters have been properly managed. The storied history of the fishing on Lake Michigan has been a success beyond belief; largely due to the efforts and dedication of the fishery biologists that manage the resource. It is my opinion that we stick with the science and keep managing this fishery as we have been and ensure that we have a strong fishery for our future generations to enjoy!

For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing in the Algoma area, check out my report page at www.FishAlgoma.com. You can even sign up for periodic newsletters and fishing reports. From Capt. Lee and the crew aboard the GRAND ILLUSION 2 – we are looking forward to seeing all of you on the water. Good Luck and Good Fishing!

Lee Haasch is an Algoma charter captain with 40+ years of Great Lakes fishing experience. He’s been writing and giving seminars for 25+ years. Contact: fishalgoma.com or 888-966-3474.