Lake Michigan produces a mixed bag of trout, salmon

Gary Plyler and Jim Toth had a double Monday with this king salmon and steelhead, respectively.

A recent charter fishing trip out of Grand Haven confirmed what I’ve been hearing all summer: Fishing has been pretty darn good on Lake Michigan.

Weather certainly has been more of a factor than lack of fish. Persistent wind has blown many charters off the lake this summer. But when they can get out, the fish have been cooperating.

Three friends – John Stormzand or Auburn Hills, Gary Plyler of Brownstown Township and Jim Toth of Canton – and I joined Captain Denny Grinold, the 2016 Michigan Outdoor News Person of the Year, for a morning of fishing Monday, July 17.

The author reeled in this hefty 18-pound king salmon.

We arrived Sunday afternoon in Grand Haven to a small-craft advisory for the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan. West and north winds between 23 and 28 mph were sending 3- to 5-foot waves crashing into shore, grounding the local fleet of sport and charter fishing boats for the day.

Monday’s forecast called for 1-foot waves and 5 to 7 mph winds from the east, but you know how quickly weather reports can change. I fell asleep wondering if we’d make it out on the lake or not.

Fishing fortune was upon us and the forecast was spot on. The wind died down and the lake had flattened out by morning.

According to Capt. Denny, the change in wind direction pushed the warm surface water to the south and west, which would allow the thermocline to rise. (The thermocline is the transitional water between the warmer surface water of a lake and the colder bottom water, where temperature changes rapidly.) We started fishing about a mile off shore, and before all the lines were set, we had a nice steelhead in the cooler.

The action was relatively non-stop. Fifteen minutes later we tied into another steelie, then a laker, then a double with a feisty king and a hungry steelhead.

The action never really died down all morning.

By the end of the trip we’d boated eight steelhead, four lakers and a pair of king salmon. We ended the trip with our third double of the day, which included our biggest fish, a fat 18-pound chinook. We also lost a half dozen fish that, if landed, would have given us a limit.

Captain Denny said they have been catching some nice-looking fish this summer. A check of their stomachs when cleaning the fish revealed a couple different year classes of alewives.

The catch is more mixed than the chinook-heavy limits of years past, but the mixed-bag action of salmon and trout has been hot.

Reports on the demise of the Lake Michigan fishery have been a bit premature.

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