Forty-six years ago, when salmon from the West Coast were introduced to the Ahnapee River at Algoma, nobody knew they’d revolutionize the sport fishery.
Cohos came first, in 1968, and a year later, chinooks were stocked into Sturgeon Bay’s Strawberry Creek.
Today, salmon and steelhead (rainbow trout) dominate the Lake Michigan fishing scene, and anglers are looking forward to this year’s action.
After a near-record chinook catch in 2012, the 2013 numbers dipped to their lowest level since 2000. The inconsistency of the summer trolling — great one day, slow the next — could not be explained, though many theories abounded: too much bait, too much “ideal” water (few thermoclines, making it difficult to target fish in any one depth) and fish feeding far offshore, among others.
Come late summer and early fall, though, charters and privates found abundant “silvers” — non-spawning chinooks, cohos and steelhead — 3 to 8 miles off shore. It was the most consistent fishing of the season.
The tributary runs were solid, too, with thousands of big chinooks and cohos filling rivers and creeks, leaving anglers wondering where they were all summer.
Despite warnings from researchers that the lake’s forage base was dropping, the average size of last year’s chinooks was up dramatically, with more 20-pound-plus specimens than had been seen in years. The top 57 chinooks in the Kewaunee/Door County Salmon Tournament ranged from 25 to more than 32 pounds.
With a pair of DNR egg-collection facilities at Sturgeon Bay and Kewaunee, the K/D Peninsula is the most heavily stocked chinook and steelhead spot on Lake Michigan.
Kewaunee County, with two busy ports at Algoma and Kewaunee, has set the pace in the chinook catch for 18 straight seasons. It’s the only county to ever have a 100,000-plus-chinook harvest in a single year, and has done it five times in the past 10 years — most recently in 2012.
Kewaunee County has also been tops in the steelhead catch 22 of the past 25 years, including 12 straight.
April is knocking at the door, but a weekend thaw won’t likely be enough to jump-start the spring trolling season.
The Fox River at Green Bay is starting to attract some boaters, but most launches along the lakeshore are still iced in. On the bay side, it could be weeks before the Door launches are clear.
Guides were still reporting 30 inches of ice on much of the bay off southern Door County earlier this week. It won’t melt fast, either, with colder air coming back next week.
Closer to home, increased flows from rain and melting snow should lure spawning runs of suckers and steelhead into the tributaries. Spawn drifted into the deep holes might get some action from the trout.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see a few guys pulling their rigs over the ice to get out for some lakeshore browns. It might also pay to try casting spoons or spawn off the ends of the piers.
Kevin Naze is a freelance outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.