Do I Stay, or Do I go?
Part 1
My Jumbled Mindset of Finding Fish
 Then Staying on Fish ...with a Bit of Luck!
By John King 12/1/16

Todd B.    8/10/16 Manistee, MI      Chinook/King Salmon 28 lbs.

This is a window into my thought processes on August 10, 2016 when we had a unexpected big catch.  This was not sought, nor required to have a few happy hours away from my tackle manufacturing operation.

My days of being pressured for big boxes of fish came to a halt when I stepped away from the charter business in 2003.  I do not need boxes of fish that break the lid off my cooler.  Yes, this actually happened on 8/10/16 trying to stuff the last big guy into an already packed box.

The truth is? ...I got trapped into staying way-way later then planned, because of a double, that led to a triple in almost total darkness.  We did not have to pull lines to go in.  Every last rod we had in the spread loaded up with a fish while I'm thinking, it's late and ...getting later.  Getting home past midnight, then having to build & ship orders in the morning with short sleep, is not my idea of fun.  I run a time sensitive business.  Customers want their tackle ASAP with no excuses.

OK, let's back to the "thought process" part where every decision we make a on the water effects the outcome.  Being captain in charge of where the boat goes is a hero to a zero job.  The most important piece of equipment on your boat sits atop of your shoulders.  Your mind can weigh options, factor in risk/reward and come up with a game plan.

Everyone has different expectations when it comes to fishing our Great Lakes.  In my case Lk. MI. out of my home port of Manistee, MI a slew of negative publicity downgraded the Lk. MI King fishery way beyond the truth.  Yes, there has been a downturn where easy limits are no longer like falling off a log.  But, it's still pretty darn worthwhile when you make the right decisions, ...on the right day!

8/10/16 Can Do Crew

Son & Father

Dylan B.

Newbie Dimitrios G.

I believe in giving credit, where credit is do.  Any successful fishing trip is all about the team aboard.  It's dumb thinking to heap all the praise on ANY captain for what's in the box.  Results are communal affair with all hands on deck willing to pull their share of the work load.  Stuffed boxes of fish are not solo effort.  On sport fishing boats, it's your crew.  Charter boats often, the unsung hero is the good deckhand/first mate that's the sparkplug of any charter.

The father-son duo of Todd & Dylan B have fished with me for the about last 10 years, or so.  We have a strong bond.  Knowing what to expect from each other.  Dylan's young, quick reflexes to the rod and he spots 90% of the hits with his eagle eyes.  His dad, Todd has his own boat and commands total knowledge of how to run all programs.  Todd's big deal? ...he's highly adaptable.

The story of the newbie on my boat, Dimitrios G. begins with him showing up at my shop with his boat to pickup tackle a couple of days prior.  We covered some of the basics in a friendly meet and greet conversation.  He left saying he wanted to fish with me.  Well, at my late stage of the game, took this as a huge compliment that stuck in my mind.  Well, a couple of phone calls and a day later arranged for him to meet us at the launch ramp.  Dimitrios has fished all over for Salmon.  Including the Pacific Ocean on the west coast.  So, I found his conversation fascinating.  His years in law enforcement before he retired offered up an intriguing chat.

12" Ghostbuster Combo
Click to Purchase

Ghostbuster Pattern
Glo in the dark image

Here's the Setup

Every big water fisherman faces the perplexing cold, hard fact of what area to troll.  Make the correct decision and rewards will be many.  Get it wrong and results will not be as desired.  Wrong leads to looking for excuses to soothe a damaged ego. Then, the only alternative is looking forward to your next trip with a better plan.  Wandering aimlessly and still catching is good box is leaving too much the fickle finger of fate.  Having a game plan in motion where all factors come into play will get your program working.

There are no earth shattering revelations that can turn you into an instant hero back at the dock.  Good catches comes from good decisions for the circumstances and a fine-tuned presentation.  The magic elixir for failure is success.  And let's face it, we're all going to fail at times when it comes to the immense wide open of the Great Lakes.  Over the years going back to i2k, I've laid the groundwork for proven results in my: Encyclopedia of Trix and Tips section of this website.

Temp break, in more technical terms, the thermocline was down around 60' out in 400'.  You can figure the "said to be" preferred temp range for Kings is 54° to 50°.  In many years going back to 1968, let's expand this number to the high 50s to 38°.  60' zone is perfect for 300' sections of 45# test copper rods at 2 mph.

Relevant Reel-Facts

Ghostbuster BTI 10" Combo
Click to Purchase

X-G Frog 12" Combo
Click to Purchase

Ghostbuster SB 4.65
Click to Purchase

The morning of 8/10/16 began with my usual fare of filling and shipping orders in the morning.  Forecast was looking like it was going to cooperate in for an afternoon fishing trip.

Port & Date:  Manistee, MI 8/10/16
Troll speed:
  2.0 plus, or minus down to 1.2 (when fighting fish)
Thermocline:  60', or thereabouts
Best Depth Down:  60' to 70'
Rigger Lead Length: 70' down 30' back.  60' down 40' back (100' rule).
Sea Conditions: 3 footers with whitecaps.  Subsiding to 1s to 2s at dusk.
Wind Direction:  SW
Troll direction:  mostly N by NE
Light Conditions:  clear with a few clouds
Spread:  2 riggers, 2 wire divers (1 each side), two 45# test 300' coppers, and one 10 color, or 300' of 27# test lead core. 
This long distance program was being towed out to the side with my the big dual planer boards.
Lures:  10" & 12" flashers meat rigs™ combos & 4.65 Salmon Buster™ spoons
Best Colors:  X-Glow GhostBuster, X-Glow Frog patterns, and Super Silver Bullet (matching meat rigs, spoons)
Number of fishermen aboard:  4 (Dimitri, Todd B, Dylan B, & I)
Time Fished:  lines in the water from 5:30 pm till about 10:15 pm
Troll Path:  10s Guerney Creek (400'+) angled to port (15s), then due N to 17.5 to the state park in 120'-100' of water

Webstore Tackle Used
3D printed Diver Rings
10" & 12" flashers
2 & 3 fly Meat Rigs™
4.65 size Salmon Buster™ spoons
Roscoe's coast-lock snap swivels on the spoons
diamond hook files
Super Snubbers™
Black Releases/heavy duty rubber bands
Stealth Rigger cable
Light duty bands/shower hooks for board releases
6 ball (bead) chain coast-locks on the flashers
Click here to purchase this tackle

On the afternoon of August 10, 12016 the sea conditions were a short 3' chop with whitewater from the SW.  For Manistee, MI this is a miserable direction of wind for my boat, a hard cut deep-vee 22' Sea Ray.  Wind from the SW makes lumpy seas that hinder the usual N-S trolling direction with the seas quartering the port stern. N-S troll path is favored at my home port, because that's the way the structure runs.  It's a known reel-fact ...structure is a natural barrier, or a fence that concentrates fish.

After seeing the seas, the only alternative was to run out to deep water and set up in 400' plus about 4-5 miles S of port.  Then, troll the waves at our fanny on an intersecting NE angle back towards the drop off.  In Manistee, the dropoff is known as the, "shelf." All ports have their names for certain areas, or structure.  In Frankfort, MI they call their drop-offs the, bank, 6 mile bank and Herring Lake Hole  Ludington, MI's "bath-house to the point" is branded well.  Onekama has the barrel and at Arcadia it's the steeple hole.  Leland calls some their structure the 1st and 2nd bank.

At Grindstone City/Port Austin on Lk. Huron, they call a little piece of structure the "end of the world."  This is where 5-6 miles due N, the bottom goes from a 100/105' to 120'.

Critical Calculation Pays Off

8:19 pm Todd B.
BTI 10" Combo

8/10/16 Fish Box
Broke the lid off the box
trying to stuff in the last
 big King (28 lbs.) in!

9:00 pm Dylan B.
Big Grin!

My 22' Boat
1979 Sea Ray

Capt. Kevin Hughes
Onekama Skipper

Thought Processes Sidebar

We had just hit 2-fer (double header) kinda straight out of port in 170' of water.  The boat to the inside of us fighting fish too.  This is when I spied the battle cruiser (charter vessel) the, "Sandpiper" a 36' Tiara skippered by savvy Capt. Kevin Hughes from Onekama (next port 6 miles N of Manistee).  Kevin's been around for a long time.  He has an outstanding reputation for producing fish. 

Hummm....?  thinking to myself? ...Kevin wouldn't have drove his boat this far S (6-7 miles) unless the word was out.  Yes, there were Kings to be caught in this general vicinity.   Put 1 in the smarts column for yours truly for recognizing this.  Kevin is a holdover from my chartering days (1983 thru 2003) and at this point in my Great lakes career, his judgment is probably better then mine.  Reason being? ...during the summer he's on the water most everyday running trips and I'm not.

Here's what Capt. Kevin had to say about the evening of 8/10/16 some months later:

"I was out along side you off Manistee that night and we put a major whack on adult Kings that night. Those type of trips are never forgot."    Click for Capt. Kevin's website

A word of note about charter boats: there is no inside line as far as lure choices go.  It's all about the area/depth of water successful boats fished.  When I was in the charter business asking another charter skipper what they used was immaterial.  My main goal was to find out where they fished.  Every successful charter operation has their own unique "go to" lures and trick techniques that works for them on their boats that might not transpose to others.

OK, 2-3 boats in the same area working and more on the way.  Because as soon as nets go down?'s like a long distance magnet that draws more boats.  This is all part of the decision making process.  Weighing viable options that will effect your outcome.  Even more-so on a afternoon/evening trip where daylight is fading fast.  So, the clock is running down on your time fish before you call it quits.  In my case ...knowing there will be a heavy workload the following morning.

Tic-tock, tic-tock the clock is winding down and we needed a course of action.  Do I stay, or do I go? 

The hardest decision to make on 8/10/16 was to abandon this trafficked part of Lk. MI that was producing fish, or continue moseying northbound.  Besides, making 360 degree spins and turns with 300' coppers out is not the swiftest proposition in the world.  OK, by now there were 3, or 4 boats working a small pod of bait with Kings lurking.  This says the area was drawing crowd and it's time to move on.  So, let's roll the dice.  Knowing full-well, we left fish to find fish and proceeded N.  Which is never the wisest first choice.  This judgment call was made a little easier with the 3, or 4 fish we already had in the box at the time.  The deciding factor that pushed this move?  There was not a single boat to the N, in front of us, not a one! 

The area N to the state park was 100% unmolested virgin water that held, yet to be ...explored potential!

Reel Rewards North

No boats to a little N of port off Manistee in August was the direct result of negative press that kept the August fleet at all time lows.  It's unheard of to find any vacant water this close to the Port of Manistee in August.  Public perception and actual facts don't necessarily automatically matchup. Situations change fast in our ever evolving Great Lakes fishery.  What was, is not was is, in the present tense.  All I know is we had a 100% clear juicy shot to the N with zero boats to contend with.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce issues of where the fish are.  Patience and a strong resolve of not repeating the same mistakes by working the same unproductive water is sound advice.  Herd mentality seldom leads to a full box when targeting wary adult Kings with a bunch of boats pounding the same water.

Big deal about my decision to "keep-a-go" north was four-fold:

1. We already had fish in the box, This took a lot of the pressure off to play bumper boats.
2. Open clear water with zero boats meant we could run tight to structure better.
3. With dark approaching, the ride towards harbor would be a lot safer until we got a mile, or so from the pier heads.
4. SW wind was favorable for moving fish more northward.

Please note in the above to photos in this section, there's not another boat in the background.  Sparse boat traffic was due in part to the lousy 2015 season when King fishing off Manistee was plain pitiful say the least.  But you don't know, unless you go!

You Don't Know, Unless You Go!

Dimitri with Finale #4, a Master Angler sized 28 lb. King Salmon!
With his help, he earned the right to hoist our community fish!

What made this trip so memorable, besides the crew onboard?  It was totally unexpected.  We had no idea we were going to catch some many fish in the last 2 hours.  Especially, considering present state of the 2016 Lk. MI King fishery when you're better off to set your sights pretty low and hope for the best.  2 to 4 fish is plenty good for me for a 3-4 hour evening trip.  Knowing, if I can average a fish an hour thru-out the season this beats the MI statewide charter boat average according to catch data.

The icing on the cake was the last fish to come aboard.  OK, it's already triple city when this rascal hit.  That alone is good, but that many big Kings on at once creates bigtime issues.  In the process of landing this bookend fish, we had fish #1 get into the starboard diver wire line outfit.  Fish #2 spun around the port diver while this big guy was on peeling line heading to Wisconsin.  This meant some serious unstitching of under and over, unwrapping rods to get Kings 1, 2, and 3 into the net.

King #4 was one for the books when Todd hoisted the net aboard after a lot of grunting.  Being totally dark, we had no clue this last fish was going to be a jumbo and pull the scale down to 28 pounds.  When you listen closely to the accompanying video, you'll hear Todd do a major grunt & groan job trying to gain enough leverage to hoist this big guy aboard.  What a way to cap off a perfect evening? ...with fishing friends without their help none of this would have been possible.  While this is the end of the story of this trip, it's only the beginning of more memorable outings in the future that will surely write their own unique history.

If I had listened to the 2016 negative grapevine slamming the Lk. MI's King fishery? ...this evening trip on August 10, 2016 would have never happened.  Proving, beyond any shadow of doubt, ...if you don't go? don't know!

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