Small boat tactics For big trout and salmon

By Jeff Zinuticz - July 1, 2006
With salmon catches reaching all time highs on Lake Michigan more and more anglers are flocking to the nearest boat ramp all along the Lake Michigan coast. Fisherman from Sheboygan south to Kenosha have been out in full pursuit, targeting the elusive and feisty Coho and Chinook Salmon that roam the vast expanses of Lake Michigan, in hopes that one just might crush their spoon or dodger/fly like a freight train. Some may believe that the only way to get out and land a few of these silver bullets is to run way offshore into the blue abyss, that's not the case for a majority of the season. The boat and much of the gear you own can go from the inland lake out to the big pond with little or no variation.

You may be asking yourself OKAY Jeff, how do I get started? Well I'm going to start by focusing on the most crucial and important concept for this article which is SAFETY. If you know when and when not to venture out onto the great lake you've conquered step one. Many are under the impression that just because you don't own a 20' rig you have no business being out on Lake Michigan. Well let me tell you, if you keep an eye on the weather and think safety first there's no reason why you couldn't be out trolling in your sixteen foot deep v.

Another advantage that the smaller boat angler has is the many near shore fishing opportunities the harbors, break-wall gaps, and river mouths all offer great fishing for trout and salmon all year long. With the right conditions in place, primarily cold water, fishing can stay consistent near shore all season long. This is why west winds are critical for trolling near shore the warm water pushes out and the cold water filters in along with baitfish followed closely by the big boys. Getting started:

With all the new technology and products on the market today, especially equipment designed for fishing the great lakes your head may be spinning at your local tackle shop trying to figure out what you'll need to get started. We can narrow down that search and hassle by focusing on 3 techniques that I guarantee will be putting fish in your boat. These 3 pieces of gear are downriggers, dipsy divers, and flat lines with or without the use of a planer board.

Downriggers for the beginner may be frustrating and cumbersome at first but by practicing on dry land for a short time it'll come as second nature before you know it. A downrigger is a way of taking your line down to a certain depth and keeping it in the strike zone i.e. (controlled depth fishing). A downrigger acts almost as a big fishing pole. Steel wire is attached to an 8-10lb lead ball, clipped onto the ball is a release similar to a powerful clothes pin that you then clip onto your line that in turn takes your lure down to the desired depth.

I use Big Jon downriggers, there are electric or manual styles of these for a smaller boat I'd recommend two manual style riggers for the back corners of your boat, these are inexpensive running about 200$ a piece. You can also get detachable bases for the downriggers so that if you choose to fish another lake you can remove them from the boat.

You can catch fish without downriggers but I highly recommend you get one or two for your arsenal if you seriously want to get started fishing Lake Michigan.

The second piece of gear we will discuss is what's called a dipsy diver often referred to as a poor-mans downrigger. Dipsys are a round plastic disc with an adjustable weight built into the underside of it, there's a barrel swivel and a pin that you tie your main line to which will then lock down into a groove. The swivel is used to attach a leader to, I run a leader of roughly 5- 6 feet long. You can either use spoons or dodgers and flies behind a dipsy. The adjustable lead weight that turns left and right has settings of 0-3 I run mine on a # 3 setting this will take the dipsy and lure way out and down to whichever side of the boat you are fishing. This weapon is rather simple to use and very productive follow the instructions on the package and you should have no problems getting familiar with them. Your straight out of the package dipsy diver will have a plastic ring around it, I normally remove it from the dipsy, the ring is used when needing to gain more depth, that ring puts an awful lot of drag on your rod and sometime s causes false trips. When the pin is locked in place the rod will double over; when a fish hits the pin releases from the groove thus making the presentation in-line and there's less drag to fight the fish. Getting a big freight train Chinook on a dipsy rod is one of my favorite, watching as the bent rod buries down into the water while peeling line is about as heart pumping as it gets. A snubber can also be used between your leader and dipsy this acts as a shock absorber so when a big fish hits your line won't snap.

The amount of line you will let out on a dipsy diver set-up is dependent upon which depth the fish are most active; to reach a certain depth with a dipsy is normally double the amount of line out for the depth you want. So if you want your presentation down to 20 feet you'll let out approximately 40 plus feet of line, 30 feet down 60' out and so on. Dipsys are a cheap easy way to put fish in the cooler, and can be deadly on more than one occasion.

The last but definitely not least the simplest way to catch these Lake Michigan bruisers is the flat line. I'm going to touch on 4 various ways to run flat lines, as some of you may or may not know a flat line is just a bait attached to your line and trolled behind the boat with at least 100-200 feet of line out. With a few modifications to this age old fish catcher this set-up can be the hottest rod on your boat, and yet simple enough for the smaller boat or beginner angler to use. There are four choices in running flat lines they are straight monofilament and lure, mono and snap weight or bead chain sinkers, use of planer boards, and the use of leadcore line.

Early and late in the season you'll be able to get away with a straight flat line using a deep diving stick or crank bait like a hot n' tot or reef runner. But later on in the season you'll have to run your lure deeper, that's when a snap weight or in line chain sinker comes into use. A snap weight is what it implies a sinker attached to a snap that clips onto your line to get a deeper running presentation. Place these anywhere from 10-60 feet up your line and let 200-300 feet of line out; you'll be able to reach depths up to 30 feet with these. My favorite way to fish a flat line is on a standard 10' steelhead rod spooled up with 10lb test monofilament, you cant horse the fish on the light tackle but it is an absolute blast when you get a fish on.

The next and most used way to fish the great lakes the last couple of years is trolling with the use of leadcore line. Leadcore line increases depth with less line out and adds much more action to your lures than standard monofilament or braided lines. The most popular use of leadcore has been what is refered to as the secret weapon rig (SWR), this rig especially this year has put the majority of fish in my Yar-Craft already, and should only get hotter as summer progresses. Leadcore comes on a spool with different colors; each section of color is ten yards. The SWR consists of 2-3 colors plugged in between monofilament or power-pro. The significance of leadcore is that for each color you let out you'll get roughly 5ft of depth. You can run more colors of line known as a half core or full core, but from a smaller boat that's a bit to much line to be dragging. Id spool up a minimum of 2 rods with 2 colors of leadcore on each, monofilament leader lengths should be 20-30ft long. To adjoin leadcore to your backing and leader you'll use a Willis knot which you can search on-line, it's basically an overhand knot, very simple but tougher than nails. Leadcore is versatile in that you can fish it straight out the back or with a planer board; you'll need a bit bigger board like the X-24 Walleye board to help with the drag but the run of the mill yellow bird will work in a pinch.

You can run dodgers and flies, spoons, and crank baits with leadocore. I mentioned earlier the SWR flat lined off the back with a small alderton flasher and fly has been deadly for me the last few months the Coho's have loved it. This is just another tool that can be ran easily and still catch tons of fish, on some days I'll pull two riggers and run 2 flat lines, there just that versatile and productive. My advice would be to experiment with each flat line set up and leadcore rigs to see what works the smoothest and go with it, stay simple you'll be surprised at how many more hook-ups you'll get.

All of these pre-mentioned ways to target salmon and trout don't matter if you don't have the correct rods and reels, now some of the walleye or pike gear you have will work just fine for some of these applications. You're going to need good sturdy trolling rods which you can purchase rather in-expensively at any tackle dealer. I prefer Shakespeare downrigger rods; they are cheap but yet strong enough to haul a whale out of the depths. A good line counter reel is a must, daiwas are my trolling reel of choice they hold a lot of line and have a solid smooth drag system. If you already own a few trolling reels but don't have line counters built in you can buy clip on counters that work just as well. Knowing the amount of line you have out is just another piece of the puzzle when it comes to figuring out day to day were the fish are in the water column. It's easy; you catch a fish with 50ft of line out on the counter, put another rod at that depth and see what happens.

A few more pieces of equipment that I encourage anyone who wants to head out onto the big pond to have is a GPS and a marine radio, either hand held or affixed to your boat will be adequate. Both of these items could save your life one day. These can be used to help with knowing were to set lines and being able to log exactly were you caught fish. Most information from other fisherman is gained over the radio, I don't know how many trips have been saved because of hearing about a hot bite on the radio, they are a must have on the boat.

There are other items that you'll need before heading out onto the lake; look at the U.S Coast Guards web-site to see what's required gear you'll have to have on board when fishing Lake Michigan. Most of the required safety gear such as flares and fire extinguishers are fairly cheap and easy to find at most stores. Remember a Great lakes trout salmon stamp is required to fish Lake Michigan for them.

I hope that this has made the daunting task of wanting to fish the big lake less stressful. If you stay simple and safe, I know that you'll be catching fish in no time, even if I'm fishing three guys on my boat I will still only run six lines it's simple and has less clutter for the smaller boat it's a cleaner presentation. Lake Michigan trolling is my passion and most enjoyable style of fishing, it truly is in a league of its own, hard work and patience is what drives us all to be more proficient anglers, this especially holds true on Lake Michigan. The fish are constantly roaming, thus patterns change day to day as the old adage says "here today gone tomorrow" this pretty much sums up fishing for salmon. Trying various lures and new ways to present them while staying simple is what's going to make your adventure on the water the most enjoyable.

Nothing is more rewarding then watching as that rod throbs down with a big fish on and knowing that what was once an idea or dream is now a reality, you are a great lakes angler. Safety first and foremost fish second, hey if you happen to be out on a calm balmy day off of Milwaukee somewhere and see a white Yar-Craft bobbing along come by and say "hi" Id like to meet ya.

I'll see ya on the water,

Author Jeff Zinuticz
Jeff Zinuticz
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