ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – Another week, another round of record-crushing Chinook catches.
This time it was Michigan City's Brad Kreighbaum and his Fin Fire crew setting all-time marks in St. Joseph, Michigan, at the Schu's Summer Challenge on May 11-12. Previously, best-ever weights were established in three consecutive weekend contests in Michigan City.
Normally, there is some trepidation writing about salmon for a month straight. Missed out on an entire turkey season, morel mushroom finds and some of the best inland fishing of the year. This season, however, is special on Lake Michigan.
There is once-in-a generation salmon fishing going on.
How about a 212.7-pound box (12 fish) followed by a 210.6? A total contest haul of 423.3 pounds!
That is what the all-La Porte County Fin Fire team, comprised of Alan Kreighbaum, Tyler Kreighbaum, Will Dabkowski, Jeff Dabkowski, John Haferkamp and captain Brad, accomplished.
Never been done before at St. Joe. Likely never been done anywhere on Lake Michigan.
Life-long salmon trollers from around the lake cannot recall such a tournament catch. Not a 17.6 per salmon average for 24 fish.
"Catching 12-pounders at the pier heads wasn't a problem, avoiding them (and other smaller fish) was," Kreighbaum said.
Contest rules at St. Joe called for a halt to fishing after the first 15 fish were landed each day, of which the best 12 could be weighed. Get attacked by a handful of coho, lakers or relatively small kings and you're out of contention.
"We fished 120 to 155 feet both days and never left a one-mile stretch of water," Kreighbaum said. "Key was keeping baits within 20 feet of the bottom (where the largest salmon lurked), then cranking the other four or five lines in whenever we hooked a fish."
"Yeah, we backed down on some fish and netted them green," Kreighbaum noted. "First day we slowed to land a nice king (with other lines out) and we hooked a small laker (when a lure sank to the bottom)."
Indeed, winning a contest where 100 percent of the 25 professional teams caught limits both days takes some unique tactics.
"First day it was all meat (flasher and cut-bait rigs), but things started slow on Saturday so I put a few plugs down," Kreighbaum said. "I like Silver Horde's cut plug, but this was bigger was better – the bigger profile Moonshine plugs, the Mongolian Beef pattern, did it for us."
First place paid $5,000 and Fin Fire cashed in on several side bets as well.
Big fish for the Summer Challenge was a freakish 29.3 pound Chinook caught aboard Hambone.
Another note to put this year's phenomenal spring king fishing in perspective is the 2017 St. Joe contest was won with 188.2 total pounds, a 7.8 per fish average, which is typical for winning weights (24 fish) around the lake. Kreighbaum's catch easily doubled past standards.
Chinook fishing remained good at Michigan City through mid-week. Kings were still within a mile or so of the lighthouse, inside 60 feet of water. Standard size spoons pulled in the 20- to 30-foot zones were working well. Blue Dolphin, Lemon Ice and Caramel Dolphin were good patterns when the sun is out, Green Dolphins, NBK and Kevorkian a bit better early or when cloudy.
The local king action may not last long, but the biggest fish should continue to snap further north where colder, deeper water mix closer to shore.
Imagine what the salmon fishing is going to be like off Door County in Wisconsin or the Ludington/Manistee area in August. Twenty-five pounders are sure to be common with plenty of 30-plus pounders mixed in.
The 44th annual Great Lakes Shrine Association's Big Fish Derby fishes in Michigan City on Friday and Saturday.
Make plans for several youth fishing events scheduled around the area.
On June 2, the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders and the La Porte County Parks team up for a free Kids Fishing Fun Day at Luhr County Park, just south of La Porte. Fishing times are 9-11 a.m.; no preregistration is required; and a limited number of poles and baits are provided. For additional information, see laportecountyparks.org or call 219-324-5855.
Also on June 2, Friends of Fishing and the Valparaiso Park Department will host their annual, free Take A Kid Fishing Day from 8 a.m. until noon at Rogers Lakewood Park in Valparaiso. Trophies and prizes will be awarded to ages 15 and under in big fish categories, along with minnow races and casting contests. Loaner rods and bait will be available. See the Friends of Fishing Facebook page for more information.
On June 9, the Hoosier Coho Club will host a Youth Tournament on Lake Michigan. Weigh-in is at the MC Yacht Club pavilion, but boats may start out of Michigan City or New Buffalo. Entry is $25 per youngster and there is a huge list of prizes in the big fish contest. For more information, see hoosiercohoclub.org or call organizer Josh Wilson at 574-876-7034.
Free Fishing Days
Saturday is a free fishing day in Indiana. Residents are not required to have a license or trout stamp, although all other regulations apply. Additional free fishing days are June 2-3.
Michigan's Free Fishing Weekend is June 9-10 and includes non-residents.