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The first and last hours of daylight are favorites with most salmon anglers. It's hard to top a calm morning and beautiful sunrise.
The first and last hours of daylight are favorites with most salmon anglers. It's hard to top a calm morning and beautiful sunrise. / Photo by Kevin Naze
While most of the chinooks hooked run in the 5- to 15-pound class — with an occasional "20" — every now and then a giant in the 25- to 30-pound-plus range hammers a bait. When you finally get one of those trophies boatside, be prepared to be impressed. A 40-inch summer "king" is a sight to behold! / Photo by Kevin Naze
Watch the weather, and even small boat trollers can safely and successfully fish miles off shore on Lake Michigan. Unlike fishing structure for bass or walleyes, open-water action for salmon and trout often means getting away from the crowds and looking for schools of baitfish. Where you find alewives, chinooks and steelhead won't usually be far behind. / Photo by Kevin Naze

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ALGOMA — Once known as the “Coho Capitol of the Midwest,” Algoma has long since switched gears to targeting chinook salmon and rainbow, lake and brown trout.

There are still cohos to be caught, for sure, but nothing like the bonanza taking place right now in the southern lake basin.

More than a handful of Algoma charter boats head south to Winthrop Harbor, Ill., early each spring to tangle with the abundant and tasty cohos before returning home later in spring to cash in on the Algoma area’s reputation as a Great Lakes hot spot for “kings” (chinooks) and “steelhead” (rainbow trout).

With their sizzling runs, cooler-filling length and girth and amazing fillets for grilling or smoking, there’s little doubt that chinooks are the most sought-after summer species swimming the big lake.

DNR creel harvest reports and charter captain records show that Algoma and Kewaunee have combined to set the pace in the Wisconsin king salmon harvest for 18 straight seasons. Kewaunee County is the only state 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.

Additionally, if you like to fish high-flying, head-shaking rainbows, Kewaunee County has been No. 1 for steelhead 22 of the past 25 years, including 12 straight.

All told, Algoma and Kewaunee have produced more than 850,000 chinooks and some 150,000 steelhead over the past decade, more than a million of the top sport fish on Wisconsin’s favorite lake since 2004.

While the summer of 2013 saw some inconsistent “king” catches, the average size was up significantly over the previous season. There were 57 chinooks larger than 25 pounds registered in a 9-day salmon tournament, including the winning fish at more than 32 pounds.

Once the water finally set up late in summer, the action got much more consistent. Some of the best charter catches of the season took place from late August well into October, after many private anglers had already traded their fishing rigs for bows and shotguns.

Inspired by the large runs of spawning chinooks in the tributaries last fall, and the excellent catches of younger salmon and steelhead in September and October, veteran captains are expecting a more “normal” summer this year.

That means that once the water warms a little more, they plan to be hollering, “FISH ON!” a lot.

More on fishing: Fishing news from around the state | Your fishing photos | Build a map | Read fishing reports

History on its side

Algoma was the site of Wisconsin’s first salmon stocking in 1968. At one time or another, the city held most trout and salmon state records. It still claims three, including a 42-inch, 27.11-pound rainbow.

With the city marina recently seeing a management change and lake levels up 14 inches over last year at this time, there’s more optimism heading into the peak months of June, July and August.

When launch docks were still sitting on concrete instead of in the water earlier this spring — and brown trout action was hot in the nearshore shallows — city crews got the message loud and clear, vowing not to let that happen again.

Lee Haasch of the Algoma Chamber of Commerce’s tourism committee said there’s a renewed emphasis on trying to meet the needs of Great Lakes anglers, from pier fishermen to charter customers to launch ramp anglers to seasonals moored in the city marina, private marina or on upriver docks.

“We’re looking to bring back that image of friendly Algoma,” Haasch said. “We appreciate all the visiting anglers, and we think they’ll appreciate what we have to offer here.”

Algoma has about three dozen licensed charter fishing operations, the most in Wisconsin. Five-, 6- and 8-hour morning trips are very popular, but there are also 5- or 6-hour afternoon options. A few captains even offer shorter evening runs to cash in on the night bite.

Keep in mind is that the water is still very cold in spring and early summer. Dress in comfortable clothes, and wear layers so you can take some off as the day warms. Polarized sunglasses, soft-soled shoes, snacks, sunscreen and a camera are among the other essentials.

If you’re pulling your own boat to fish for salmon and trout and an east wind kicks up, there’s an option to trailer and launch at Dyckesville for walleyes. In fact, many times on what appears to be a rare blow day, anglers can be seen cleaning ‘eyes at Algoma’s state-of-the-art “green” fish-cleaning station. That’s because a strong east wind still allows fishing for walleyes near the protection of the west shore of Green Bay at Dyckesville, just 17 miles west of Algoma on County S.

The $100,000 fish cleaning station facility uses a unique conveyor system and cooled totes to store the waste in between pickups from a local liquid fish fertilizer company, the Dramm Corporation. Seeing the station in operation while packed with anglers on a day when the fish were “happy” — a term coined by some of the local charter captains — is a real eye-opener. Many anglers pick up tips on where to start their search for silver simply by hanging out nearby, watching and listening. Stay long enough and you’ll usually be able to find someone willing to give you some inside tips.

More than fishing

Haasch said if you’ll be bringing non-anglers along on a family trip — or will be making a mini-vacation out of your visit — the area has a wealth of attractions, including antique shops, a large public beach, an award-winning winery, and quality coffee shops, restaurants, gift shops and farm markets.

A good first stop is Algoma's Visitor Center that overlooks the lake, just a short block south of where Highway 54 meets Highway 42 at the lake. A half-mile boardwalk done with volunteer labor connects the center with the city marina, is handicapped-accessible at both ends and has soft night-lights for evening outings. The boardwalk is handsomely made with recycled plastic decking and benches.

Nearby, the Ahnapee State Trail gives bikers, hikers and horseback riders a chance to see the wild side of the country up close. There's even a county-owned ATV and mountain bike course open to the public.

For those who want fresh fish but don’t want to wet a line, Bearcat's Fish House in Algoma and LaFond's Fish Market in Kewaunee sell fresh, smoked and frozen fish and seafood of many types, including Lake Michigan whitefish, chubs and smelt.

Get more info

The Algoma Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 edition of Friendly Algoma has information on charters, lodging, restaurants, events and much more. Request a copy by calling (920) 487-2041, or order online at algoma.org.

A fishing hotline is updated twice a week at (920) 487-3090, and you can “like” the Algoma, Wisc. Fishing page on Facebook for updates and photos at https://www.facebook.com/algomafishing.

Finally, get a dawn-to-dusk look at Lake Michigan and Algoma’s usually-cherry red lighthouse — now a washed-out pink but awaiting a $100,000 Coast Guard overhaul this spring — at http://cam.algomafishing.com.

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