May 10, 2016


By Capt. Lee Haasch

As a charter captain, I get asked a lot of questions, in fact, I ask people to ask me questions.  What is the number 1 question that I get year after year?  It has to be, by a landslide, “When is the best time to come fishing?”  Now that is a question that could get many different and interesting answers;  “Anytime you can,” or “Tell me what the weather is going to be like,” or an oldie but goodie, “When the fish are biting.”  But seriously, “When is the best time to go fishing?”

During the summer months, I literally get to fish every day of the week.  Now, over the course of the season, we have good days and not so good days. I do manage to catch fish statistically about 98.5% of my trips over the years.  Some days a few fish, some days lots of fish and some days a whole lot of fish.  As guides, we do have a slight advantage in that we are on the water every day, can stay on patterns and also, via cooperation between captains, we share information that helps all of us stay on fish.  But to answer the number 1 question, I think you have to consider the second most popular question, “What is the better time to fish, mornings, afternoons or evenings?”

There are a lot of reasons why I think early spring is the most consistent, of the summer months, for fishing Lake Michigan.  Let’s explore a few of my theories.  First, the near shore fishery is just starting to “wake up” from the long winter and as the water starts to warm near shore, we will see the baitfish begin moving toward the shallows.  Alewife, the preferred diet of salmon, will be coming to the shallows to spawn.  When this happens, the salmon will also be moving near shore to stay with their preferred food source.  This normally happens early to late May to early June. This year with the warm winter and early spring, look for this to happen early to mid-May just like it did during the last warm winter in 2012. 

The next reason is that once the water starts to warm up and we start seeing some thermoclines setting up, the fish become very active.  When this happens, the fish can feed not only in the early morning, but all day long.  This can make for some pretty consistent catches throughout the entire day.  It only makes sense that when you can find consistently active feeding fish all day long, that is a great time to come fishing.   The thermoclines are a great place to target steelhead.  This is the time of year when middle of the day fishing can be the best time to be on the water.  “Steelies” are most active during the day and that makes May and June an excellent mixed bag opportunity to fill your cooler!           

Using logic, one would expect the early part of the season to have the most fish available for anglers.  With salmon and trout being “put and take” in Lake Michigan and, realizing that out of just one harbor alone, literally hundreds of fish a day can be harvested from the schools (factoring in the number of charter boats and private boats that are angling on the busy weekend days).  Realizing this, by the later summer months, it would make sense that the schools are a little smaller than in the spring.  Now, there are still lots of fish around for the late season as is evident by the large runs of salmon each fall in our rivers. However, the larger the schools of fish are in May and June, the easier they are to find and easier to catch.

In the spring, as water temperatures rise and the weather gets nicer, the salmon and trout tend to become more aggressive feeders as their metabolism picks up.  They will feed and digest their meals at a very quick rate, thus increasing the amount of time they spend feeding.  That, coupled with the larger numbers of actively feeding fish and limited bait make this primetime to target these fish and fill up a cooler of grilling fare.   

Probably the reason I like spring fishing the most is the weather.  After a long winter of cold temperatures and a steady dose of brisk, chilly north winds, I am ready for the calm, sunny, warm days that seem to show up in late May and June.  This is a time of the year that seems to have the calmest days, the least amount of wind and, on average, a little less precipitation.  That makes planning a fishing outing a little easier and actually getting out fishing a little more fun!

Normally, one would expect to catch the largest salmon in the fall.  While the average size of the salmon may be a bit larger in the fall, over the last several years, for me at least, the biggest salmon of the season have come in mid to late June.  Reason being that with the sheer numbers of salmon caught in June, when they are on the feed, the big salmon are very aggressive and trophy fish are going to be caught. 

Why is all this great early season action possible?  Well, a recent analysis of the lake-wide stocking program showed that the chinook salmon, stocked by Wisconsin DNR, are outperforming the rest of the Lake Michigan basin.  Illustrating the excellent returns of fish stocked by Wisconsin's hatcheries, from 2011 to 2013 Wisconsin provided 38 percent of all the chinooks that were stocked in Lake Michigan. Yet from 2012 to 2014, Wisconsin stocked fish accounted for some 49 percent of stocked fish harvested throughout the lake and 57 percent of the stocked fish taken in Wisconsin waters.  This further shows that the fish coming from the Kettle Moraine Springs and Wild Rose hatcheries are surviving better and providing an outstanding fishery for the anglers.  Give a hand to our Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Team for giving us top value for our Great Lakes Salmon and Trout Stamp funds.  

My prediction for 2016?  Early action. That’s right- we have experienced one of the mildest winters and earliest springs, just like 2012, if not more so.  I saw warm pockets of water near shore in mid-March that hit 42 degrees!  That is warm for April, much less March.  In 2012, an Algoma charter hit the docks on May 1st with a 20 fish limit of kings, and big kings at that!  So gear up for some hot action and attack a smorgasbord of fish this spring with brown trout, lake trout, steelhead and kings all available for early action!

For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing in the Algoma area, check out my report page at  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 this spring.  Good Luck and Good Fishing! 

Captain Lee Haasch is an Algoma charter captain with over 40 years of Great Lakes fishing experience. He’s been writing and giving seminars for more than 25 years. Visit or call 888-966-3474. 

TIP OF THE MONTH.  As the water warms up, early summer fishing is generally in the top layers of the lake strata.  What this means is most actively feeding fish will be in the top 60 feet of the water column, with the majority in the top 30 feet.  Early morning, low light fishing is always pretty good, but what about when the sun gets higher in the sky and the lake is calm?  Ever notice how your downriggers and diver sets work well early, but fade to nothing as the sun rises?  Try running longer leads on your downrigger sets using Slide Divers with Lite Bite feature.  With Slide Diver sets, you can lengthen out your leads.  In shallow water sets, I sometimes run 80 to 100 foot leads and my Slide Diver rigs become studs!  With calm water and bright sun, your boat casts a shadow in the water that spooks fish, by getting your sets further away from the boat (deeper or farther back) you will increase your catch during bright daylight hours and the Lite Bite feature makes your divers release on the slightest bite.