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Brown Trout and Lake Trout: Lake Michigan's Overlooked Spring Fishery

By Capt. Lee Haasch - June 1, 2012
Since I began fishing Lake Michigan back in the early 1970's, I've seen many changes to our fishery. Through the years these changes in water conditions, forage base and exotic species have caused ups and downs in our ability to put delicious meals into our coolers and onto our dinner tables. Through all the changes, one thing remains constant, the excitement of spring fishing!

For my money, the most exciting time of year on Lake Michigan is SPRING TIME! After months of seeing my boat covered up in the yard and dragging a sleigh around as I drill holes in the ice to chase whitefish and perch, I can't wait to make those first trips back out onto the big pond to set my lines for some tasty trout!

Often forgotten, those silver, football shaped, brown trout and colorful tasty lake trout are often overlooked by many fishermen. Truth is, the locals can't wait for their opportunity to set out after these tasty prizes. How sought after are they? Well, for about as long as I can remember, almost every year a group of local fishermen will show up at the local boat landing to drill, chop, saw and bust-out the ice that blocks the boat ramps, just to be some of the first ones to tie into those spring browns and lake trout!

Early in the season, these fish inhabit the shallows of Lake Michigan and anglers chase these fish in 6' to 25' of water. Perfect for 14' to 21' boats! Early fishermen find abundant numbers of trout cruising the shallows eagerly feeding. Long-lining minnow type stick baits and light spoons are the arsenal of choice and let the fun begin!

Remember over the years the changing conditions? Well, compared to 20 years ago, the lake is much cleaner than it once was, and with increased water clarity, we've had to change our methods of fishing the shallows. I prefer to spool up with light super braids, like 30 lb. Power Pro and run mono leaders of 8-10# Silver Thread line. Stealth is key. Then, it is very important to get your baits away from your boat. In-line planner boards are a must. A good 8' to 8'6" medium action rod like the Ugly Stick lite and Penn 310 reel and you're ready for action.

Bait selection is next. Minnow type stick baits like Rapalas, Rebel Fastracs, Bombers and Smithwicks in the 4" to 5" size are all good producers. Colors will vary with conditions, so be sure to have a variety and several of each color because some days only one color might work best. I also like to mix into my arsenal a variety of light spoons. I'm partial to the smaller R & R Razor spoons, but many other small spoons work too. I like to save these for mid-day times when I find the deeper 20' to 35' water depths tend to hold the more active fish. Remember that in shallower water (6' to 15') the stick baits will float up when they slow down where spoons will sink and hang-up on the rocky bottom structure.

Areas to concentrate, especially early season when the water is cold (mid to upper 30's) are going to be the creek and river mouths where the water flowing into the lake is warmer. I also watch my graph, looking for slight pockets of warmer water. Most common spots will be pockets of dirty water where the darker water will absorb the sunlight warming it sometimes 2 to 3 degrees. These pockets will attract baitfish and feeding trout. Many times I've caught a limit out trout out of a single "dirty water pocket" by turning and making several passes through that spot.

The great thing about springtime is, you can find both brown trout and lake trout all in the same areas. And with the new strains of brown trout being planted in Lake Michigan, they can grow to enormous size. Imagine battling a 35# plus brown trout on 8# test! Now, that's what I'm talking about, first trip out on the lake, early season, light tackle, monster trout… It just doesn't get any better than that!

Author Capt. Lee Haasch
Capt. Lee Haasch
Lee Haasch is owner and operator of Haasch Guide Service based in Algoma, WI. Lee began his fishing career in 1972, specializing in Lake Michigan trophies. Very few captains on the great lakes have logged more hours than Lee when it comes to sport fishing. With over 35 years of Lake Michigan sport fishing experience under his belt, you can bet he knows how to find fish.
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