Fun and fascinating.
That’s fishing and 2015 on Lake Michigan provided plenty of both in spite of being a down year for salmon and steelhead.
A review of Outdoors in The News-Dispatch shapes the season.
May 8: It was so bad, the winner fished the other side of the lake. That was the inglorious answer to how the local fishing was during the 41st annual Hoosier Coho Club Classic held in Michigan City. Pro division champion Flat Out was the only boat to manage 10-fish limits on both days, but had to make a 60-mile round trip to Chicago each day to secure them. Fish catching had been spotty since ice-out, although there were a few bright spots leading to the Classic.
April 17: Net, what net?
A shakedown cruise aboard Tom Riley’s Other Woman yielded a quick limit of coho and a reminder of why we go fishing. Surprisingly, everything worked perfectly until an angry 10-pound Skamania reminded we forgot to bring a net. No problem, Tom worked the big female alongside for a release that was quicker and easier than expected.
May 2: Two Atlantics in two days.
Pre-fishing the Classic aboard Carter Elenz’ Salmon Hawk, who finished second an unprecedented three consecutive times in the spring tournaments, we caught the rarest of Lake Michigan salmonids on back-to-back days. Atlantic salmon are not stocked in Lake Michigan. There is, however, a meager program on distant Lake Huron. These beauties, a sprightly two-pounder and a gorgeous nine, roamed hundreds of miles to get here.
May 15: A trout weighing twice his age.
Ten-year old Roland Henderson of Seymour, Ind., landed a whopping, 21-pound, eight-ounce laker aboard Steve Kreighbaum’s Crorkindill to claim top trout for Week 2 of the Coho Capital Derby as well as the biggest fish to date in three seasons of the event. Two weeks later, Gary Huffman (Holly Lynn) steered a client to a mammoth 27-9 lake trout. It was the first of several monster lakers over 25-pounds to be landed in 2015.
June 5: The Coho Capital Derby salmon winner wasn’t nearly as big as the trout, but was equally unusual.
The 2015 crop of spring kings was down in size (and numbers) until an extraordinary 17-12 was caught aboard Dan Messina’s 21-foot EdgeWater. Notably, Messina’s boat is not equipped for salmon trolling, but borrowed rods (but no net) yielded a limit of coho and the bruiser king, which was tailed bare-handed and slung over the gunnel..
June 12: SKAMANIA LOST. Big, silvery and likes to jump. Sometimes steals lures and breaks lines. Been missing for weeks. If found, please return to Michigan City. REWARD: Really nice prizes available in the 25th annual Skamania Mania fishing contest.
Pseudo ad nailed the point the beloved steelhead were headed for a disastrous year. Flooding and lack of fish postponed the contest until July.
July 3: T-Rex Trout. A Lake Michigan Leviathan, a dinosaur from the deep and likely the largest trout caught on the big lake in 2015. Ian Stewart, former Michigan City charter captain, fishing out of Chicago at the time, put client Chad Conover on a 31.6-pound lake trout aboard the Kingfisher. If there was any doubt 2015 was the year for big lakers, this fish kicked things up several notches.
July 13: Butt-Kicking Skamania.
Todd Hatfield of Union Pier, Mich., subdued a 12-pound, two-ounce steelhead in the cramped confines of Trail Creek to win Skamania Mania.
“This fish kicked my butt,” Hatfield, a veteran shore angler, said. “He was streaking, I barely hung on to get him in.”
Although a beautiful specimen, this was the smallest winner in 25 years of Skamania Mania.
July 15: T-Rex too. Sylvia Goodheart of Michigan City landed another mega-laker aboard Boatre Dame. This time it was a beastly 28.6 pounder. The summer of giant trout continues.
July 23: Finally Some Perch. Dan Messina was on a roll of eight or nine straight trips of limit catches. Previously, like chinook and steelhead, perch had been perplexingly scarce.
August 14: Season on the brink? Or, just a blink?
Preview of concerned angler’s pow-wow with DNR officials. Lake Michigan fishing was the worst in memory. While catching had turned around quickly in the past, the long-term outlook was bleak.
August 28: A lake trout lake.
Despite what anglers want, biologists have a goal, among other reasons, of establishing a self-sustaining population of “native” lake trout. And who knows? Five years from now fishermen may be thankful lake trout were pushed so relentlessly. Lakers were here long before the invasive species/industrial upheaval of the last century and appear to be better suited for a more sterile Lake Michigan.
September 25: A rock bass, a pike and a catfish.
That was the daily catch among a handful of salmon fishermen in the Michigan City harbor on a heretofore busy Chinook date. Haunting thoughts of “this is what it looks like when the salmon fishery dies,” filled my mind.
October 2: Perch to the Rescue.
While Chinook catches continued to flat line, perch perked up again. On top of the catching, researchers along the shores of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin were discovering a bumper crop of young-of-year perch, providing hope for the future.
October 16: Closing the coffin.
Nobody knew for certain if the Lake Michigan Chinook population had collapsed until “the chickens came home to roost” via returns to stocking streams. Now there was no doubt. 2015 returns were the lowest ever – by a wide margin, in Indiana as well as Michigan.
Terribly poor alewife hatches and survival in 2013 and 2014 are a prime suspect as small salmon with small mouths need small baitfish at some point in their young lives. Alas, a smidgen of hope came via early reports of a decent alewife hatch in 2015.
There you have it, a down year in many ways buoyed by some wonderfully huge lake trout. Still, it was great fun, albeit more challenging than the past.
What will 2016 bring?
Here’s hoping things will bounce back. Remember we’re only a year removed from 2014, which provided some of the best spring coho and steelhead fishing ever seen in these parts.
Complete columns noted by date above are available at www.thenewsdispatch.com.