Living in the Great Lakes Region means we have more fishing opportunities than an angler can enjoy in a lifetime…
I’ve been blessed to have fished in a lot of very cool places. From world class brook trout to walleye, trophy pike, monster musky, king salmon, steelhead, right down to jumbo perch and panfish, I’ve done my part to sample as many fishing opportunities as possible. I’m often asked to share my favorite fishing destinations and to be frank, that chore always leaves me uneasy. Fishing success is so often based on weather and timing, that simply recommending a destination is a slippery slope. It’s possible and ultimately inevitable that even the best fishing destinations are going to turn sour sooner or later.
Case in point. A few years ago I flew into Kag Lake Lodge in northwestern Ontario. I’ve been to “the Kag” several times before and always enjoyed great fishing action for walleye and northern pike. On this particular trip the weather was lousy. When we arrived the camp manager announced that it had been raining steady the previous seven days. My reply was “good, I’m glad you got the rain out of your system”. For the next seven days it rained cats and dogs. The wind blew a gale and fishing literally sucked. My point is simple. Even world class fishing destinations like Kag Lake are only as good as the environmental conditions that so often dictate fishing success.
So what is an angler to do when even great fishing destinations are likely to let you down? The answer is simple. I plan my fishing adventures to coincide with the best times of year for the species I’m after and trust that the weather will cooperate. Life is full of risks and fishing is no different. It’s virtually impossible to plan a fishing trip a year in advance and know with certainty that the trip will be a success.
One of the best ways to hedge your bets is to plan trips that are several days long. That way if the weather is bad a day or two, the whole trip will not get washed out. This rule goes double for bodies of water that are large enough that wind and waves play a major role in even getting on the water.
During the past two seasons I’ve scheduled 13 days of fishing on Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. Of those 13 days, I was able to fish on Nipigon only five days. The remaining days were too windy to risk a fishing adventure.
Another option is to have a fallback plan should the weather influence negatively on the primary fishing agenda. That Nipigon trip just referenced is a good example. Because I knew that Nipigon is subject to big waves, I took along some stream trout fishing gear including waders, spinning outfit, appropriate tackle and a small landing net. When the wind made it impossible to fish Nipigon, I took advantage of the spare time to fish for stream brook trout that were not influenced by the windy weather.
The moral of the story is go prepared to fish other species and locations should the weather force a change of plans.
Lake Erie Cranberry Creek
Over 20 years ago I made my first visit to Cranberry Creek Marina near Huron, Ohio to fish for walleye in the fall. Every since that first visit I’ve kept coming back to sample not only the fall walleye fishing, but also great spring fishing for walleye, world class perch fishing and smallmouth fishing that’s second to none.
If I could only visit Cranberry Creek Marina twice a year, I’d plan a trip in late May or early June to target walleye that transition from the Bass Islands, east to Lorain about that time of year. Trolling spinner rigs on bottom and suspended in the water column routinely produces some of the best walleye fishing on Earth.
The second visit to Cranberry would be in late October or early November to sample the awesome fall crankbait bite this region is famous for. Trolling deep diving crankbaits like the Reef Runner 800 series or Rapala TDD11 series routinely produces walleye in the 10-14 pound range. There is just no where else I know that an angler has a better chance of catching a double digit walleye than Cranberry Creek Marina in the fall.
Lake Nipigon Brook Trout
For the angler who has never caught a brook trout over 20 inches, I recommend visiting Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. The minimum size limit for brook trout on Nipigon is 22 inches! Because this fishery is intensely managed and access to the best fishing areas is limited, brook trout grow to super large sizes. The time to go is late May and early June when the surface water temperature is cold enough that the brook trout are foraging along the shorelines of the many islands. The moment the surface water exceeds 50 degrees, these highly temperature sensitive fish start to seek out deeper water, making them much more difficult to find and catch.
I recommend using an electric motor to slowly cruise along island shorelines just far enough off shore that a spoon or spinner can be casted to fish that are typically found within a couple feet of shore. The name of the game is covering water to try and contact as many brook trout as possible. A good day on Nipigon yields eight to 10 brook trout in the 20-26 inch range! Duplicating that feat anywhere else is going to be very difficult unless you can afford to fly to the Arctic Circle and fish in waters that get zero angling pressure.
Lake Erie Steelhead
Lake Erie is better known for walleye or smallmouth bass than steelhead. The truth is, the north shore of Lake Erie along the Ontario shore is the best off shore steelhead fishing on Earth. In August and early September you can expect to catch limits of steelhead by trolling spoons in water from 60-70 feet deep.
At this time of year the steelhead are feeding on young of the year smelt that are routinely found in deeper and cooler water. Rarely will these fish be caught any closer to the surface than about 40 feet down. Downriggers, diving planers and lead core line are the most popular methods for getting spoons to the depths steelhead are most likely to be hunting.
A good day of steelheading on the north shore can produce a four man limit of 20 steelhead and nearly twice that many hook ups! The fishing is good from Wheatley Ontario all the way to Long Point.
Benton Harbor Spring Salmon
Long about late March or early April, people who live in the snow belt start to get a little stir crazy. One of the best ways I know to beat cabin fever is to target spring coho salmon in southern Lake Michigan. From Benton Harbor south to Michigan City, this region of the lake produces some amazing cold water trolling action for coho that average 18 inches in length. These two year old fish are awesome fighters and super delicious on the table.
Even better the numbers of fish available is staggering. When the spring coho run is at it’s peak, most boats are going to catch their five fish limit in a couple hours!
Because the water is very cold at this time of year it’s not necessary to fish very far off shore or to target these fish in deep water. The majority of the spring coho are taken in water less than 40 feet deep.
Trolling small crankbaits on planer boards is a popular way to target these fish. Small trolling spoons fished on mini-disks or diving planers is also a good way to cash in on coho gold.
This fishery also produces a few bonus brown trout, some steelhead action and the occasional lake trout. Some impressive king salmon are also taken while targeting coho.
Lake St Clair Bass
In the spring time, Lake St. Clair is without question one of the best bass fishing destinations in the Midwest. Both largemouth and smallmouth are abundant, but for me it’s the smallmouth action that is exceptional. Fish in the three, four and even five pound range are downright easy to catch on the lake’s many shallow flats.
Near Selfridge Air National Guard Base is a popular public access site. The flats in this region of the lake average three to six feet deep and have cabbage weeds growing on them. Smallmouth feed in these areas heavily before spawning, making them easy pickings.
The best fishing takes place in late April and into May during the catch and release season. Traditional bass tackle including spinnerbaits and crankbaits produce well, but it’s very hard to beat a three inch tube at this time of year.
Summing It Up
These fishing adventures are just a few of the trips I look forward to enjoying every year. One of the great things about living in the Great Lakes region is we have more fishing opportunities than an angler can enjoy in a lifetime. My goal is to sample as many as possible and report on the best.
For more information, check out the Fishing 411 YouTube library or the Fishing 411 blog launched weekly on Facebook. The goal of these resources is to encourage other anglers to get out and enjoy the excitement and fellowship only sport fishing can provide.