Angler believes copper wire the new secret to catching salmon
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Monday, 05 September 2005 13:42

Only an hour into the fishing trip, Dave Engel made a pronouncement: Things have changed.? Our first fish, 10 minutes into trolling in 130 feet of water, was a healthy three-year-old king salmon. But the next three -- a lake trout, a small king and a young coho -- told the story.

"When you start catching lakers and shakers, that's a sign the fish have moved," Engel said. "We could have set up right outside the pierheads and caught a bunch of kings."

But rather than pull lines, run back in to the shoreline, and start over, Engel chose to stay the course.

"We'll get a good catch," he said,

He was right. When we called it a day at 1 p.m., we had 23 fish in the box -- 17 kings, a couple of lakers, three cohos (including a dandy) and a nice steelhead. The only disappointment is we were one king short of a limit for the six-person charter.

"It's been limits every day," Engel said, "Just a matter of how long it takes.

"It's been a phenomenal fishing season."

It's been especially phenomenal for Engel, who with his partner Bill Bale, took six first places (along with a couple of seconds and thirds) on the tournament circuit this year aboard the Best Chance Two, a 36-foot Tiara that travels the lake following the salmon tourneys.

Engel, who is one of the most consistent captains on Lake Michigan, opens his season at Michigan City, Ind., then moves up the coastline -- and across to Wisconsin -- throughout the year. He finishes off the season here, spending most of August fishing out of Saugatuck and enjoying some of the best fishing of the year.

"The nice thing about this time of year is there's so much variety," Engel said. "You can catch big kings by the pier, then move out here and get the rest of the species."

There are few secrets in big-lake fishing, but Engel, who does well on the tournament circuit every year, has come up with a new wrinkle this year that he thinks has given him an edge. Engel and Bale have taken to running copper wire on their reels to get the baits down in the water. In doing so, they've gotten away from lead-core line.

Copper wire, Engel said, runs twice as deep for length as lead-core. He can get the depth he needs without having lures trailing 200 yards behind the boat.

Although he used divers and downriggers, too, Engel set out three lines on each side of the boat on planer boards with 200 feet, 300 feet and 450 feet of copper wire on them. All produced.

But, copper wire requires a couple of adjustments.

Because he has gone to all fluorocarbon leaders, Engel uses monofilament line instead of braided line on his reels for backing. Otherwise, it's break-off time.

"The problem with braid is there's no give," he said. "There's no stretch in copper. Everything is so direct and pulls so hard, you have breakage or you pull the big fish off."

Engel started using 45-pound test copper wire (made by Howie's Tackle in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.) late last summer. He's stayed with it all summer once the water warmed up this year.

"It's not a spring, early summer thing," he said.

Because it has a thick diameter, copper wire demands large capacity reels. Engel uses 700 and 800 series Shimano Tekotas. And using copper wire takes a little finesse, he said.

"If you get tangled, it doesn't untangle."

Engel ties a simple overhand knot in the end of the copper wire, runs a length of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader through the knot, then uses a reverse cinch knot to attach it to the copper. He cinches the leader down to the knot, he said, and he hasn't had a lot of trouble with breakage.

The copper wire works on all baits -- J-Plugs, spoons, dodgers or flashers -- but we did most of our damage with a flasher and fly combination.

"Flashers are always good this time of year," Engel said. "In the spring, we catch them on dodgers, in the fall we catch them on flashers. Spoons move in and out all year.

"But when the fish are down deep, flashers shine. I attribute it to current. When you've got a lot of current, it's flashers."

Although we hit our steelhead on a spoon (that's typical), the bulk of the fish came on flashers, deep.

For his part, Engel is finished fishing for the year. He hunts geese beginning Sept. 1 and stays with them through the end of the season, then goes to Arkansas to hunt geese in the winter. He's accepting reservations for next year at (616) 292-4812.

But for anglers who haven't fully scratched their salmon itch this season, Engel has some simple advice: Get out there just outside the pier heads and start trolling. You'll get your kings.

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