When the New Year arrives, a Michigan Great Lakes angler’s mind is generally too much on the next river steelhead or ice fishing trip to start planning the things he or she wants to do on big water in the coming season. So as we head into winter, long before the new salmon trolling season begins, here are some things to put on the “to do” list for 2013.

A spread of Swim Whizzes set tight to the boat in theory ought to be killer on cohos.

Super tight spread for cohos

Just got done reading the late Homer LeBlanc’s book on muskie trolling. Wow. What a great read. One of the things this Lake St. Clair legendary guide talks about a lot is making the spread all look like a school of fish—a concept not unfamiliar to salmon trollers. But he did it with lures right next to the boat, feeling that the muskies were attracted to the flash of a propeller and turbulence of the boat. He had forward rods set so the lures swam three feet or more IN FRONT of the boat’s transom. Well, lots of times cohos swarm right into the boat’s wake—it’s why a lot of fish get caught on a lure running right in the wash of the propeller. So why not try the LeBlanc approach with, say, Lindy River Rockers or even Homer’s invention, the Swim Whizz in the new 4-inch size? Run ’em right next to the boat, plus a couple of lures a bit farther from the boat on shallow dipsy rods, plus corner rods running to either side of the prop wash.

Night fishing for kings

Some fellows on the Wisconsin side of the pond are getting really good at this and have developed spreads with short lengths of copper—like three rods, each with 25 feet of copper line on one side of the boat; three rods with 30 feet of copper on the other. All six are out on planer boards and the boat trolls as slowly as possible, sometimes in neutral and making headway at just .5 mph. The idea is to sink the lures on the copper, then re-engage the engine and bring the lures back up through the water column. I was talking to one of these guys, name of Tony Castle, who does it a lot. Said the best bites were when the moon is full or when it is new. And the Solunar Tables (something, incidentally, that Homer talked a lot about in his muskie book) are dead on in predicting when the fish will bite. Can’t wait to get out of Algoma, Wisconsin with Tony this season and then come back and try a similar trolling set-up on this side of Lake Michigan.

Surface lures for offshore steelhead

Anyone who has spent any time at all offshore pursuing these leapers has seen them swirling on the surface. Why wouldn’t a prop bait or even a bass-style buzzbait work for them? Just set it out behind a planer board. It would be awesome to see a big silver fish smack one!

Predators eat fish and Reef Runners imitate fish. Try taking a deep-diver way down there on wire line for some real fun with salmon and trout.

Wire and cranks

To me, nothing is more fun that fighting a big king salmon or steelhead or even a lake trout on wire line. You can feel every head shake, every flap of its tail.

Successful walleye anglers on Lake Erie have used straight wire down to big-billed 800 Series Reef Runners and the like for years. Why wouldn’t this approach work for salmon? Wire can get a deep-diver just about as deep as you want to go, and hardbody baits can catch salmon all year. I’m looking forward to getting out and dedicating a few trips to running nothing else.

Steelhead eat bugs and minnows right off the surface. Why wouldn’t a surface lure such as this X-Rap Prop II trigger some strikes if you trolled it behind a planer board? And for lakers, dig up a little dirt with the new small #3 River Rockers.

Rediscover laker rigs

Used to be common to troll a small Helin Flatfish set off a downrigger or on a wire, three-way sinker rig, to run right on the bottom, kicking up mud. Lakers—big lakers—couldn’t resist biting. I’m thinking the new #3 River Rockers, which are sort of redesigned Tadpollies, will do the same thing very nicely. Put some flashy attractors such as the Flash Lite Trolls from Mack’s Lures in front.

If you’re like me, the main reason you go trolling is to catch fish. It’s nice to use the tried and true approaches that have helped fill the coolers for years. But, it’s also pretty cool to try something new. When it works and you put just as many or more fish in the boat, well, you get a mighty satisfying sense of accomplishment.

For more information on Michigan fishing go to michigan.org.

Images by Dave Mull

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