Wild Things: Great Lakes, Great Fishing

Green Bay & Lake Michigan double the pleasure 

by KEVIN NAZE, [email protected], Peninsula Pulse contributor

When it comes to sheer numbers of fish and variety of species to target, Green Bay offers some of the best action in Wisconsin.

In fact, the big five – smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike and muskie – are all abundant, with world-class size potential for some of the oldest specimens.

But when you start talking salmon and trout, the lakeshore is where it’s at.

While the bay side of the Door Peninsula does harbor some Chinooks, browns and rainbows, your chances improve dramatically when you pull away from the boat launch or dock at spots like Sturgeon Bay, Baileys Harbor and Washington Island.

After one of the slowest starts to consistent catches in decades last spring, Lake Michigan is back on target in 2023. In fact, the salmon and steelhead (rainbow trout) bite the last two weeks of May was much better than average.

John Pollock of Reel Impression Sportfishing Charters of Sturgeon Bay said the dawn bite within a few miles of shore has been good for kings (Chinook salmon). Once the sun is higher, the steelhead have been smacking out deeper. This past week, that’s been about four to seven miles off shore. 

“Five colors (of lead core line) and high Dipsys (a diving planer) have been really good,” Pollock said.

Flat-calm water conditions most of the past week made for an enjoyable ride.

Veteran charter captains are thrilled with the early bite, but say last year’s poor start means many repeat customers pushed back their bookings this season.

“Lots of our normal early birds now want to go later in the season, and we’re left with a pretty light schedule right now,” said Dean Gordon of Hooked Up Sport Fishing Charters in Sturgeon Bay. “I wish I could fill in the next few weeks, as the bite is pretty good out there right now.”

Troy Mattson of Kinn’s Sport Fishing in Algoma said it was a good spring for his boats that fished cohos in southern Lake Michigan, and now it’s time to focus on kings and steelhead. Both species have been scooped into landing nets after drag-sizzling runs and breathtaking leaps from Lake Michigan this past week.

“It’s been a fantastic start,” said Lee Haasch of Haasch Guide Service in Algoma. “Anyone who wants to get out there should be making plans right now.”

Pro-Staffer Josh Dokey of Yacht Works Kewaunee and Kathy Haegele of Algoma Hardware & Sporting Goods have been busy spooling line for customers.

“The fishing has been really good,” Haegele said. “We’ve been busy.”

People come from across the country to try to capture Great Lakes salmon and trout. This Missouri couple was doubled up battling fish Tuesday morning on Lake Michigan out of Sturgeon Bay. Photo by Dean Gordon.

With photos of Great Lakes catches exploding on social media in the past week, outside interest is picking up.

“After last year’s slow start, there’s a lot of people definitely reserved,” Dokey said. “But you can’t argue with what’s going on out there this year.”

Haasch credits a warmer than usual winter with the hot start to great catches.

“People say it was cold a lot in spring, and that’s true,” Haasch said. “But because January and February were so much milder than normal, the water never got as cold as it usually does.”

Dozens of charter boats are able to take out hundreds of customers a day. Many of the visitors stay multiple nights, dine out and shop in local businesses.

Anyone considering a charter should get a group together and contact a captain as soon as possible, said Haasch, who’s predicting a terrific June through mid-July period. After that, it’s all about how warm the water gets.

“It’s up to Mother Nature,” Haasch said. “Whether you’re fishing inland or Lake Michigan, everything is driven by the weather.”

Most of the action right now is in the top 60 feet of 100 to 250 feet of water, and the fish are big, and feisty.

“A lot of the steelhead and kings are just round,” Haasch said. “They’re so fat from good feeding.”

Dokey recommends a mix of spoons and flasher/fly combinations scattered from near-surface to 50 feet or more down.

“It’s easier to fish when they’re up high like that,” Dokey said.

Water Still Rising

Green Bay and Lake Michigan water levels were four inches higher than last month and are expected to rise two inches by late June. Levels are seven inches above long-term averages, but down three inches from one year ago and 26 inches below the record monthly high, set in 2020. 

Free Fishing Weekend

June 3-4 is Wisconsin’s Free Fishing and State Parks Open House weekend. No licenses or stamps are required to fish, but all other regulations apply. Vehicle entry fees at state parks will be waived, too.