Monday, April 9, 2012

A Look Back at the 2012 Coho Shore Fishing in Chicago

I started this blog three years ago, it's purpose was to be a journal of adventures in the Great Lakes region.  It kept me busy through some slow times, and took the back burner in the middle years.  I let it grow to an unsustainable point, with all of the forecasts, news, related stories, and links to other blogs and fishing venues.  I let it snowball and then I nearly killed it in the middle of last year, but given some distance I've realized that I miss it, and that I'd like to cut it back to the meat, what it was started for, to share stories with my friends and those who care to read it.

The first Coho Salmon of the year, on March 6th.
This spring we conquered the lakefront coho fishing like in no year before. We fished in the slim slice of daylight before the work day started, some days I had two coho on ice in my car, in the dark, in the cooler, in the trunk.  Away from everything, my mind full of the thought.  Those perfect coho scales covered my boots, they are still on some of the cork and carbon of my rods, I leave them there to remind me of the spring.

Two days after the first.
This year I was fortunate, I caught them under floats, with lures, with spoons, and with the trot line.  Every time I went out I caught fish, and everything I used caught fish.

One day three others joined me and in one morning we caught 34 between the 4 of us, myself catching 14.  The record warmth we had in the first quarter of 2012 brought the fish up from the south basin a month early, and they were only here for a short time.  Two weeks of perfect fishing, followed by a short spurt of brown trout, followed by only hopes that they would return, though I knew they were out in deep water, and headed north, toward the flotilla of boats waiting with peanut flies off Waukegan, Racine, and Milwaukee.

42 degrees.  When the surface temps hit 42 degrees, the fish will be here.  When they get to 40 it will be time to get out, though the water may take a few rays of sunlight before the fish get active.  Once you hit 45 degrees things will slow down, and 46 and up you'll see the slowdown kick in to full gear.  42 degrees and you can't miss.  Muddy water, clear water, wave action or glass, you'll find fish.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Battleship finds Lake Trout : Milwaukee Harbor Fishing, April 2012

This weekend I found myself sliding into my sleeping bag in the back of my car for the first real salmon hunting adventure of the year.  I thought I was paddling out at dawn in search of small brown trout which swarm to Milwaukee's harbor and surrounding areas in the spring, and that with enough luck I might find a lake trout to add a notch to the battleship with a new species.

The first lake trout found a white/grey 600 series Deep Little Ripper from Reef Runner, my now undisputed favorite lure maker for all species of salmon and trout the great lakes has to offer.  I was in 39 feet of water at 7:30 in the morning, the sun still low on the horizon.  I stopped paddling to check my lines, as I had traveled something close to 3/4 of a mile without a hit I wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly.  I burned in my other line first, which happened to be a 7 cm wonderbread colored flicker shad, made by Berkley.  That line was clear, so I grabbed my second rod, and began to crank in the reef runner pretty quickly.  About half way in, maybe 60 feet from the Kayak, probably just when the lure started to pull up from 20 feet below it stopped dead in the water.  I set the hook and the battle started.  It was the classic Lake Trout fight, a little hit, followed by a slow heavy drag until I got a glimpse of it below me in the water, then straight down to the bottom it shot, drag screaming all the way.  After that there were a couple more halfhearted attempts at an escape to the bottom, but it submitted and I grabbed it by the tail and kept it in the water while I removed the hooks.  Pulled it up onto the battleship, as it was her first successful Lake Trout catch, for a photo.

I released the beautiful fish with a little more confidence, having learned that it might be helpful to paddle harder than I do for Kings in the fall.  When I generally move deliberately slow and even, with pauses and pops of the paddles to trigger strikes.  I checked leaders for scuffs and re-set lines and picked up at a quicker, somewhat less sustainable speed.  Within 10 or 15 minutes my other rod started deeply pulsing and I swiftly snatched it from the rod holder and set the hook, this one was a bit heavier and I did the usual comical two rod shuffle to keep pressure on my fish, and clear the other line.

Unfortunately when you set the hook your kayak almost immediately spins around from the fish pulling opposite the direction you are facing.  This crosses your lines, I have noticed a pattern that is hard to describe in text, though I will do my best, as it may benifit any of you kayak anglers out there.  If your kayak spins to the direction of the rod with a fish on, you will have an easier time clearing your second line than if it spins the opposite way... this is to say if your left rod hooks a fish, if you grab it, and hold it facing far to the left, so that your left side swings toward the fish, your other line will cross behind you, and still be clear of the fish (provided it doesn't run across it which it almost always decides to do anyway). If it swings the other direction, to the right, you will be much more likely to tangle, unless you twist far right and keep the rod pointed to your stern...  The difference is small, but if hardwired in, it can make a small difference, as I usually try to clear my second line in the first 30 seconds or so, this might keep lines apart long enough to make less pain for you.  Another thing I sometimes do if tangled is have my knife ready to slice my second lure off the active line when it gets up to my rod.

Having said all this, I was just beginning a right turn... and the fish hit on my left rod... and I instantly swung right and had a very small line cross issue that I was able to solve by simply flipping some line back over the active rod when it got close to the boat.  I had the second laker in hand after a much more impressive run that took drag for a good 20 straight seconds. This one was closer to 10 lbs.

I released this one as well and made way for the center gap, which is where I would stop to try to my luck vertical jigging with hopes that since I found active lake trout willing to rise to a lure in 40 feet of water, that I would have the same luck near a strong mud-line in 30+ feet of water where I knew (hoped...) bait fish would be.

I stuck with that for an admittedly short period of time and with no luck, and paddled back outside the gap for a with-the-wind run back toward the north gap.  I first paddled crosswind out to around 45 feet on an easterly troll, I then hooked and headed straight with the South-East breeze back toward the gap, straying to find the rock drop off on the seawall that protects the harbor, hoping that I would find those browns I was looking for.  As I paddled through the north gap a shore fisherman netted a small brown and I gave him a solid fist pump as I paddled past.  I slowly had the realization that maybe my crank baits weren't going to cut it, and that maybe I should have been running a more diverse spread with either a dodger and peanut fly, or a Dipsey with a smaller spoon... I put a spoon on the heavier of my two rods and started trolling a small triangle that made use of structure that I thought some of the browns might start to relate to as the sun got higher.  At 10:21 (I know this because I suddenly realized I had to make a phone call I had promised to someone at 10:00) I pulled the two lines so I could stop for a second and as I quickly brought in the only 30 feet of line I had on the Dipsey rod I had a sudden burst of energy in the rod and a 25" Brown Trout busted out of the water with Dipsey Diver in tow and proceed to jump in front of the kayak and then out of the water right into the rod on my port side.  It was a short fight and I quickly grabbed the feisty fish and popped the hook out.  With wet hands, a wily fish, and with phone in my pocket I just let the little guy go and cheerfully made my call.  I made a couple more passes and decided to call it a morning around 11:00 and make the paddle back to where I launched.

I hoped to hit the water again at around 4:30 to get another session in, but the calm lake kicked up to 4 foot sets of white capped waves, and the wind did not submit back to a 5-10 mph breeze as predicted.  I made good use of my afternoon, making a solo trip to my old favorite beach in the area, where I enjoyed fruit and a bonfire in solitude.

My noble steed and the battleship.

All in all the day made for everything a good spring day should make for.  Adventure.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

King Salmon Fishing, Fall 2011 a Recap

After a brutal summer season of shore King fishing and a pretty lousy start to the spoon bite the night time crank bait action has been nothing short of killer.

I settled in with a lure of choice this fall, and more than 30 kings have been taken on a variety of colors over four outings in Wisconsin over the last month.  The reef runner ripstick 700 series has a perfect wide wobble at slow speeds and runs deep, but not too deep.  There was a lot of learning and tweaking to be done this fall with finessing my setup.  After breaking several lures off I started running a 2-3 foot length of 20 lb. test fluorocarbon to barrel swivel at the end of my braid.  After making this switch I only broke a single fish off at the fluoro.  In addition to a leader I found that changing out the hooks on all reef runners is absolutely essential.  While the eagle claw extra wide gap hooks seem to find a spot to dig in when they get bit, they have an awful track record of bending or breaking off during the long and hard battles with King Salmon.  All hooks are now immediately changed out in favor of something sharper and much more stable such as a 4x hardened VMC size 4 treble.

I started out the year with confidence in reef runners in any color that had a lot of white in it, but as I lost most of those baits I was forced to start using green, yellow, and orange/gold colors and when all is said and done, every single reef runner in my box has taken a king.  Some, such as the one above, have landed hundreds of pounds of kings..

Some nights were better than others, such as this triple limit before the sun even rose.

Or this double limit on a night I landed more than a double limit solo.

After all is said and done what the fall king season really brings is beautiful changing colors, long nights (some calm and peaceful, some cold, windy, and hectic), and good friends furthering their knowledge of this giant freshwater salmon.

This will probably be the end of the all nighters in Wisconsin throwing crank baits.  There is a chance I'll make the trip north once or twice more before the end for some skein fishing.  Crank bait salmon fishing is my favorite time of year for great lakes kings, the action is a little more predictable than summer fishing, and nothing beats 25 pounds of angry king salmon crushing a lure into oblivion while you set the hook and then hang on.

Here's hoping that the brown trout and steelhead runs are half as good as this years army of huge kings.  I now pass the torch to the river fishermen, I won't be taking part in that part of the game this year, I left a few for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

King Salmon from Shore, Early September 2011

As usual I will apologize for my lack of posts these days.  Perhaps there will be a time when keeping this blog up will make sense in my schedule again, until then I will post only when I have time.

I made it up to a favorite harbor mouth in Wisconsin this week after work to see if any of the big kings were in.  They are, but not in great numbers yet.  The kings are huge this year, I haven't heard of one under 15 pounds yet.  I hooked one and proceded to hold on for dear life as it took me for a drag screaming ride up and down the rocks.  It eventually snapped my line on the rocks near the wall, easily a 20 pound fish, if not more.

It hit at around 10:45 at night, and hit a green/glow K/O wobbler on a steady retrieve near the bottom.  If you put in the time, you'll get your fish this fall. Look for them to concentrate around harbor mouths and become more active when the water temp drops below 60 degrees.  Sorry there are no photographs of the fish I didn't land, I am still playing the fight over and over in my head.  I'll be out this weekend, in the Kayak if wind allows, on shore if it doesn't.  Look for me, and say hello if you happen to see me.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Memorial Day Musky

I was lucky this weekend.  Lucky to have been able to flee Chicago to head north for a couple of days.  Lucky to get to see the northern lights after helping my girlfriends father land an 8 pound walleye.  Lucky to see a black bear with three bear cubs. But most of all, lucky to put a hook in my first musky that pushed fifty inches.

It was a glass calm May 29th and friend Tyler and I had been casting, trolling, jigging, and doing just about everything we could to land a bass or walleye.  I fired up the motor and decided to cut across the 2000 acre lake to a good backwater bass spot.  On the way across the lake I remembered a sunken island that sits 12 feet under water, dropping off to sixty feet or so on all sides.  I coasted up on the reef and watched the depth finder hit 35, jump to 20, then slide right up to 11 or 12 feet.  I cut the motor and we silently drifted onto the center of the island.  Rattle traps, and crank baits were casted to no avail, I suggested my accomplice take the musky rod he had sitting next to him and give the big daredevil a few throws.  Within 5 minutes of him picking up the rod he gasped a big sigh and said "come on!". I turned and asked him what had happened.  He said a "big one just came right to the boat and turned and swam off".  The third musky he had raised that weekend.  I flipped open my tackle box with haste. The last thing I had thrown in there before leaving the dock was a bigger, double bladed, hand twisted Sims Spinner.  I did the photography of the entire product line for Dan Sims, who ties them  with his business partner and sells them to local bait shops.  I had told him I needed something big for aggressive northerns in Yellow/White and he had given me a spinner to test for him.  I tested it alright.

Five casts in I set the hook quickly and hard.  Musky.

After the fish took its first run and I had it under control I flipped open my bag and turned on my GoPro camera, tossed it to Tyler and asked if he would keep it on the fish.

After about 8 minutes of delicate fighting on 12 pound test braid, with no leader mind you, I had the fish in hand next to the boat.  I grabbed pliers and popped the one hook out of the corner of his mouth.  A 50" musky was in my hand, the fish of a lifetime.

I hefted it out of the water for 2 quick photographs and put it back down before it put up a fight.  I let it rest boatside for 2 minutes before he kicked and I let him swim back to the reef he came from.

Take a look at the footage.  You'll see the musky swim by with the Sims Spinner in it's mouth, you'll see some good runs and a beautiful release to the depths.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chicago Kayak Fishing Report: Coho Salmon - 04/12/2011

I got the idea in my head just as I was taking a bite of my sandwich at lunch.  It's sunny out, the sun doesn't set until 7:30 these days... I bet if I went straight home after work, whipped on my wetsuit and threw the Kayak on the car I'd have a real shot at getting in a couple of miles before it got dark.

I did just that, got home, checked the wave forecasts, 1-2 feet - easy paddling waves on the big lake.

Turned out to be glass calm, barely even a swell.

5:00, left work.
5:12, got home and checked the waves.
5:25, wetsuit on and car pulled around.
5:30, Kayak on the car.

5:50, Parked at Montrose beach ready to embark.

6:00, one rod strung up after the long drag across the grass and beach.

7:30, out of the water with plenty of time to get her back on the car in the light.

I didn't land anything, but I got to do some good exploration and really used the night as a test to see if it's possible to hit the water after work.  If these 10-14 foot waves ever subside I'll be right back at it, this time with the battleship in full attack mode.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Coho Salmon Fishing Along the Chicago Shoreline

Hi folks, I'm back!  I had the rod and reels hung up for far too long and the urge to wet a line finally burned it's way to the surface.  Coho are definitely in thick up and down the shoreline this week.

After some recon pier walks late in the week I picked a spot, picked up long time Chicago Fishing comrade Mike, and we hit the pier.  We ran two power lines and casted crank baits and spoons.  The morning started slow, Mike hit a couple with a orange and gold K/O wobbler, from then on out it was steady action on the power lines.  We limited out just before we had to be back to the car.  First ever coho limit for both of us.  Just a wonderful spring day of Chicago fishing.

The Steelhead run has come and nearly gone and I will miss it this year almost entirely.  Reports have been mixed, but it sounds like if you put in the time to fish any river with a reasonable flow you'll likely find a dance partner.  It just may take some time and you will most certainly need to cover some water to find one.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wisconsin Trout Streams and Ice Sheets

Today it felt like spring may be on the horizon in an impossibly long winter.  I haven't any fishing to report, so here are a few images from Wisconsin.  Ice blue, clean water with trout in sight, and those wonderful air bubbles locked in ice we have all pressed our noses against the ice to see.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chicago Blizzard 2011 Photographs and Video

This week Chicago got more than 20 inches of snow accompanied by driving winds with gusts up to 70 miles per hour.  I spent a good portion of it out in the snow and wind with my camera making what I could.  I have always been one to make the best out of a great storm and I feel content knowing that I didn't waste a minute of the blizzard.

Here you can see the storm's progression at my front door.

The Louis Sullivan Church at Leavitt and Haddon near my house.  A favorite of mine, my camera can't stay away from it.  Captured here at dawn and again in the early afternoon.

This is a good friend of mine, Matt Messner who I do much of my photography with.  We hiked the neighborhoods together in the worst of it and made a video which I will embed below.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hoar Frost and Trout Streams

On the drive back from Hudson, Wisconsin to Chicago yesterday I stopped the car a dozen times to check out snow covered fields, farm houses, water towers, cemeteries and other Wisconsin delights.  None of them compared in uniqueness and complexity to the thousands of hoar frost crystal clusters that covered the ice on a favorite trout stream of mine in Wisconsin.