Aug 10, 2017

IF YOU WANT THE “KING OF THE KINGS” COME TO ALGOMA

By Capt. Lee Haasch 

It was pretty dark and the Milky Way was lit up like a Christmas tree as Trevor untied the dock lines and I inched the bow out into the river channel. Several smaller boats had been cruising past already from up river and I could see a string of stern lights ahead of me. This was not unusual for such a nice July morning in Algoma. It was going to be a beautiful morning on the pond, a light breeze was giving the lake a slight chop and as we headed out, I could see the clouds starting to slide in from the west to join the clouds on the eastern horizon. Should make for a dynamic sunrise once again!

As I sipped my coffee, Trevor joined me on the bridge for a brief strategy session before we would find our “spot” among the crowd. We’d had a generous amount of baitfish hanging in the near shore area and the day before we faired pretty well just outside of the other boats and on the outer edge of the bait. Today looked similar as we angled to the south out of the harbor. I like to find a track “less traveled” so to speak and stay away from the crowd. 

Finding our open track, I slowed to trolling speed and joined Trevor back shelf to set lines. Trev had a couple in by the time I got there and it didn’t take very long to hear Trevor bark, “SLIDE DIVER, MY SIDE, HERE YOU GO, AND WHO’S UP? WHOA, IT’S A NICE ONE” I kept setting my side, but Trevor had it going, “EASY, IT’S A BIG KING, LET HIM TAKE THE DRAG A BIT, HERE, HERE, FISH, FISH, FISH, ANOTHER ONE, WHO’S NEXT?” “MOVE OVER TO THIS SIDE.” The morning was just getting started, but the excitement was in high gear. Just the way I like it. I moved a few rods out of the way and grabbed the Frabill and handed it to Trevor, just in time for him to slide the net under the first king salmon of the morning, a stunning 18 pound well-fed silver king. 

We weren’t done yet. Trevor was waiting for the second one to make it’s way to the transom, when suddenly, my corner Traxtech downrigger, set at 45 feet, popped and the 7 foot Ugly Stick GX2, bent right towards the water and the Alphamar reel started screaming out line. I love downrigger bites! “HERE’S ONE, WHO’S NEXT, ANOTHER BRUTE, CAREFUL ON THIS ONE!” I shouted. Pandemonium in the morning is the best! The sun hadn’t yet peaked above the horizon, but the orange, yellow and pink colors streaked up through the wispy clouds. No two mornings are alike and they are all beautiful to a salmon fisherman. I love mornings when everybody’s busy and I just love hearing those drags scream! 

2017 has been great from the start. With the extremely mild winter and several good rain storms in place of snow, the fishing has gotten a proverbial jump start to the season. Brown trout were targeted since late February and the Algoma area saw one of the most productive starts to the trolling season in recent years. Lake Michigan seemed to warm up weeks earlier than normal and with swollen tributaries holding more steelhead for a longer than normal stream season, one could only wonder when the kings would show up. And show up they did. Following a pretty good smelt run, likes of which we haven’t seen in over a decade, the steelhead exited the rivers and went on a feeding spree. Following the smelt and alewife to the near shore waters came the king salmon, intent on putting the feedbag on the silver delights along the shallow rocky shoreline. 

Algoma has long been known as the “Trout and Salmon Capital of the Midwest” and for good reason. The shoreline in our area seems to hold the baitfish with its unique transition from sandy, stone bottom to rocky structure, we are in the middle of three large planting sites for kings and well, Algoma happens to be home to one of Wisconsin’s largest charter fleets and these captains really know how to fish. Algoma for 21 straight seasons has topped the charts in Wisconsin’s king salmon catch and for the past 15 seasons led in steelhead numbers. I guess that kind of makes us the “King of the Kings!” We are also likely helped by strong prevailing wind patterns and currents to keep baitfish close to the bottom structure in this area. Also, having significant planting sites within the area help make this a top producing fishing hot spot. 

The king salmon is pretty much an eating machine. Given enough food supply to dine on, they can grow to true trophy proportions. The area between Sturgeon Bay and Algoma, a mere 15 mile stretch, has produced the past two state record kings salmon, both topping the 40# mark and currently stands at 44 pounds 15 ounces. The Algoma area has held many big fish records over the years, a 30+ pound brown trout, pink salmon and it currently holds the pinook salmon and steelhead (a whopping 27+ pound monster). To make this many big fish, an area has to have and hold a good food supply. To keep the food supply (alewife) in good numbers, structure helps but also the small organisms that they feed on need to be present. 

The past couple seasons of increased moisture in the region has also seen our rivers swell and raise Lake Michigan to levels above normal. Not only welcome to communities to decrease the need to dredge harbors and marinas, but it has created outstanding fishing opportunities for shore and stream anglers with very good runs of salmon and trout in our tributaries. Another great sign for a strong fishery is that some of the best steelhead fishing in the tributaries occurred this spring. In the past, that success has translated into very good trolling opportunities later on. The swollen rivers also translate into carrying nutrients back out to the lake and have produced near-shore algae blooms that have created a food source for the very bottom of the food chain. That occurrence helps in feeding and holding the alewife for the kings to munch on. Combine that with the continued natural reproduction of the king salmon and it kind of creates a perfect storm for the fisherman! 

So far this year we have seen the first king salmon of the year caught in mid-April and it weighed in a little over 21 pounds! Given the opportunity to feed all summer that fish could easily approached 30 pounds by fall; now that’s a trophy in anyone’s book! 

We are always waiting for that next big fish to crack into the record books. Maybe, just maybe… you could be the next angler to become the “King of the Kings!”