King salmon don't give rods a rest on Lake Michigan
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Monday, 08 August 2005 03:29

On Lake Michigan, king salmon seem ready to play before the fishermen do.? The other day, for instance, we had the first fish hit while our captain and his mate, Shelly Anderson, were setting lines. The second rod went off before the first fish was boated.

Fact is, it took a couple of hours before we had a whole compliment of rods out and working because the fish were cooperating so well.

Kings seem to want to go during the soft light and can become increasingly difficult as the sun rises in the sky. That's how it went for us when we made a short trip with Richard Laaksonen out of what is perennially one of Lake Michigan's most productive ports.

The first fish hit a flasher and fly on a diving planer. The next took a plug on lead core. The third came on a flasher and fly on a downrigger.

You have to do it all if you want to succeed, Laaksonen said.

``These days, more attention to detail is needed,'' said the 38-year-old captain, who started fishing out of Ludington in 1975 when he mated for his dad (Al). ``The right color, the right depth, the right presentation.''

The plug, a Lyman Lure, is a new wrinkle, for instance.

``It's a newer plug to us here,'' Laaksonen said. ``It's real big in the Canadian market. They've got good colors and it's helped me take a second and third in a couple of tournaments.''

We picked away at our fish, taking most of our kings on long lead-core lines.

``Early in the morning, you'll get more bites on downriggers,'' Laaksonen said. ``But when the sun gets up later in the day, I'll take lead-core. Mature fish are basically loners. A lot of time you'll get that fish on lead-core.''

A lack of downrigger fish has been a pattern for the last couple of weeks, Laaksonen said, ``although I fished an evening recently and we took most of our fish on riggers. Whether that's just a difference between morning and night, I just don't know.''

At any rate, the days of running all riggers and catching quick limits are in the past, Laaksonen said, possibly because today's clearer water demands presentations further from the boat.

Running fewer downriggers isn't the only change Laaksonen has made.

For instance, we ran either flasher-and-fly combinations or plugs on all our rods except for the two half-core (50 yards) lines that run high in the water column. Laaksonen's theory is that bigger, three-dimensional baits are more likely to produce in deep, clear water than the thin spoons.

So why spoons up high?

``When those high lines go, it's usually either a coho or steelhead,'' Laaksonen said. ``They eat a lot of bugs; they feed up near the surface.''

Sure enough, the two fish we took on the spoons up high were a coho and a steelhead. The coho hit the hot spoon these days -- chartreuse, red and nickel with black spots that the guys call ``mac and cheese.''

Where do these names come from?

In any case, we had most of our action by 9 a.m. So we cruised around at 2 mph, listening to Jimmy Buffett on a CD player and catching two more fish over the next two-plus hours. By late morning, when we called it, we'd put 10 fish -- eight of them kings -- in the box.

``King fishing has been very strong,'' Laaksonen said. ``Lake trout and steelhead fishing have been tough. That's been a trend for about five years now.

``There are a few trends developing. The size of the king salmon is down. A big king is now 15 to 17 pounds. They just don't get as big anymore. They don't have the bait to eat.''

It's no secret that fisheries surveys show a diminishing alewife population in Lake Michigan. Laaksonen says he's marking fewer concentrations of bait on his electronics these days.

``I've not marked a good pod of baitfish today,'' he said.

``This summer we've had decent fishing. Seven or eight fish in a five-hour trip, maybe a dozen on an eight-hour trip. But what is missing is the fish we mix in -- the lake trout and steelhead.''

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