Salmon still lurk in Lake Michigan
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Thursday, 08 September 2005 06:44
After nearly two hours in four- to six-foot seas, the search for big chinook salmon had gone fruitless in about 55 feet of water off Big Sable Point.

In the first 90 minutes of fishing the four anglers aboard the Equalizer -- Mark Duprey and his sons, Brandon and Jeremy of Lowell, and their pal, Jeff Telman of Ada -- boated two chinook, two lake trout, a steelhead and a coho salmon.

It was great to catch four species, but the biggest was only about six pounds. The chinooks were 2-year-olds still feeding offshore. The 4-year-old adult chinooks were close to the beach, staging for the annual fall run up the Pere Marquette River and other streams.

"We've been getting big fish in 30-50 feet of water a half-mile off the beach early in the morning, then as the sun comes up, they stop biting and I've been moving offshore, out to about 200 feet, to get the younger fish," said Capt. Mike Gnatkowski.

"Man, I just can't figure this out. Yesterday, I stayed offshore in the evening and people inshore caught some big fish. Today, I come inshore and I probably should have stayed out there where we were getting the smaller ones."

It was a classic case of speaking too soon. As the 27-foot Tiara rumbled toward the sunset, one of the planer board rods on the starboard side began to bob. A fish took the line, and Mark Duprey found himself attached to a fish that obviously was a lot bigger than the last one he caught.

That fish hadn't been on more than a minute when one of the port-side rods began to kick, and Jeremy Duprey began fighting a fish so strong that for the first few minutes he lost more line than he gained.

The father-and-son anglers were trying to keep their fish out of the other's way when a Dipsy Diver rod started to screech, and Brandon joined the fray to make it a Duprey tripleheader. But luck like this couldn't last. With the anglers fighting fish and Gnatkowski darting around trying to clear the other lines, the cockpit looked like the Labor Day sale at Macy's bargain basement, and Brandon's fish wrapped the lure around one of the lead core lines and kicked off.

The others were well hooked, though, and the other two Dupreys soon were posing for pictures with a couple of 20-pound chinooks that shone like mirrors in the camera flashes.

"I knew they were in here," Gnatkowski said. "They hit as soon as we got to that shelf where it drops real fast to 100 feet. They were just out a little farther than yesterday."

It has been an excellent year for salmon fishing on Lake Michigan, despite hot weather that has kept surface water temperatures in the 70s most of the time. Monday, the water was still 68 degrees at the surface, but most of the fish were in cooler water 50-60 feet down.

"When we're out fishing over deeper water, we've been using spoons and flashers and trolling flies because the cohos, steelhead and 2- and 3-year-old chinooks are still actively feeding," Gnatkowski said. "When we get in shallow, it's all 4-year-old chinooks, and we have to use big exciter baits like J-plugs and magnum Wiggle Warts."

Equalizer was the only boat fishing off Big Sable Point on the last day of the Labor Day holiday. Gnatkowski waved a hand at the big seas and said, "This sure thins the competition out some. Yesterday, it was real flat, and I bet there were 100 boats fishing right here. That's been a real problem all summer -- boat traffic. Everyone and his brother is fishing Lake Michigan because we have the fish."

About 150 miles to the south, Capt. Ken Neidlinger said fishing was still good in the big lake off the mouth of the St. Joseph River because water temperatures in the mid-70s had kept the fish from starting the spawning run.

"Usually, the kings come roaring into the pier heads the day after Labor Day," Neidlinger said Tuesday. "We went out this morning and fished the pier heads and only got three. We went up the river to the mouth of Pipestone Creek and caught seven skamania steelhead on bobbers and spawn. The water in the creek was 60 degrees, and the water in the main river was 75, and the fish were hanging right at the mouth of the creek."

Neidlinger, who runs Silverking charters out of St. Joseph, said a slight drop in water temperature and a good rain should bring the chinooks pouring into the river "because they have to start spawning sometime."

Late August is usually the time when anglers catch the biggest chinooks as they gather offshore, but the warm weather has delayed things, and trollers should be catching adult chinooks through mid-September.

 
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