How To

Creating Chaos on Big Water Flatness

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Catching trout in still waters made easier with suggestion from Great Lakes maestro

Driving the roadway along Lake Michigan’s shoreline on the way to the launch and not a ripple could be spied. In fact, the lake was so calm it looked as if a layer of Saran Wrap had been stretched tight across its surface.

The sky was cloudless, and the air temperatures had finally risen to more like what spring should be rather than the late-winter nip we’ve suffered through.

What a great day to be fishing trout on the Great Lakes. Or not…

There was a downfall to the day. Although the fishing was grand, the catching was not; in fact, it was downright dismal.

It’s not that the steelhead and brown trout were absent – quite the contrary. As the sun’s glare was cut from the façade through the our polarized glasses, we could see big fish skitter out from the path of the boat in the ultra-clear water.

We knew the fish were there for one reason and one reason only: to feast on baitfish, aquatic insects and crustaceans in the warming water. So why were they impossible to catch? We were spooking them. It was as simple as that. Even our in-line planer boards lightly roiling the surface had fish turning tail.

It was a day of lessons learned. But not enough; I wanted to know more about catching big water trout during those warm, calm days. After all, I’d rather be out there when it’s calm and comfortable than when it’s windy, cold and blustery anyway.

Chop, chop

Enter Pat Kalmerton, charter captain and proprietor of Wolf Pack Adventures, based out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

“Just as there’s a ‘walleye chop’ (small waves churning the surface and breaking up the penetrating light) that make the bite better, there’s also the light winds and waves that make the steelies and browns turn on and be less spooky to passing boats and planer boards. But sometimes the weather’s too nice. And that’s when you have to apply stealth to your approach,” says Kalmerton.

In fact, in an attempt to add covertness to his big lake fishing, the seasoned charter captain purchased a Lund aluminum boat for fishing in tighter quarters where his larger charter vessels can’t maneuver as easily. “Smaller boats are perfect for sneaking in on trout this time of year.”

Mad bomber

Great Lakes fish swim in peculiar places. Not necessarily tight within cover, but in extremely shallow water very near structure that radiates heat. And it takes a sly approach in a smaller boat using rigs that won’t alarm fish.

It only takes a half a degree increase in water temperature to bring in baitfish and get bugs and crayfish moving, which in turn attracts trout. And more often than not, the warmest water is right tight to land.

Of course the mouths of rivers and power plants dumping warm water into the lake are always ideal spots to troll through; however, often overlooked by anglers are more subtle warm areas such as shorelines with rock or gravel reaching out into the drink, as well as huge sand bluffs that reflect sunlight and reheat the water.

By day, Kalmerton can see gravel bars. Before the sun rises overhead, however, he watches for rock-strung bottoms with his Humminbird sonar in Side Imaging mode.

“Even in super shallow water I can be 75 feet away and still see the content of the bottom with Side Imaging. This allows me to get my lures close without the boat running over the structure and spooking fish,” he says. “And to the outside, I can spy baitfish farther out yet, and even game fish, and steer my boat appropriately so my lure crosses their path.”

Forgoing in-line planer boards, Kalmerton breaks out the old-fashioned full-size boards, their releases attached to rigging ropes and sent out with fishing line clipped on. “I use the big boards in calm water because there’s only one on each side churning up the surface rather than a huge set. And if a fish spooks, they’ll often swim right into the path of my lures.”

With bodybaits (minnow-shaped crankbaits) clipped to a snap and spoons attached via a snap-swivel, his outside lines sometimes reach back as far as 200 feet on 12-pound-test monofilament, with a fluorocarbon leader of the same test affixed by a ball-bearing swivel.

Once the planer board lines are out, Kalmerton rummages through his Plano tackle totes choosing from Rapala Flat Raps, Reef Runner Rip Sticks and Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogues, setting them out at least 300 feet directly behind the boat. Longer than normal rods are chosen, as they get his baits out from behind and into fish that have scooted out the sides. His favorite long sticks for trolling trout are St. Croix’s 10 1/2- and 12-foot Eyecon rods. These are great rods for anglers running without planer boards and still get lures out wide.

Small boat comfort

Nothing can shorten a trip faster than being wholly uncomfortable. Even on days the mercury slides upwards on land, it’s easy to get chilled to the bone when on the big water.

All the Great Lakes are slow going when it comes to warming up. Even when inland waterways start touching the 70 mark, the big lakes will barely see the low 40’s. Although it seems like overkill at the launch, bring extra layers of clothing; especially an outer layer that’s both wind and waterproof, such as a Frabill FXE Stormsuit, which is a must due to the cold temperatures wafting from the water.

Long handled nets, such as a Frabill’s 8513 Power Stow net—with deep-cupped mesh for large fish and a handle that extends to 72 inches—not only make scooping wild-fighting trout easier, but keep anglers safe as they don’t have stretch for fish. The net folds ups up, to boot, making it a small boater’s delight.

Looking to land more trout from the Great Lakes on days the fishing’s grand but the catching’s not? Getting stealthy will help. Look for waters that warm the fastest, and fish them from a manageably sized boat. Use equipment to get your offerings out from your vessel’s path, like long rods, and hang on.

Images courtesy Mitch Eeagan

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