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 Results on 5/18/03

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Our Catch

Home 2011 Events Tips and Trix Capt. John's Log Members Only

Opening Remarks

Hopefully, by now you're read that vast repository of the Great Lakes fishing education in all the articles in Capt. John's Encyclopedia.  If not?  I do recommend doing so, because that's what the following will cover.  How to put into action the experience you've gained is of vital importance.  Being flexible and going with the flow is a key ingredient in any successful endeavor.

Great Lakes fishing can be akin to a Sherlock Holmes novel.  Pick up on the clues and you'll solve the mystery.  Fishing is not a science, no matter what anyone says.  Over complication with gadgets, gauges, do-dads and dials demands way too much attention.  Besides, it subtracts from your awareness level. Fishing should be a hands on sport, meaning your hands should be on a rod doing battle with the adversary.

Staring at a graph and 4 different kinds a speed measuring devices can be a useless waste of your efforts.  Myself?............I'd rather stare at a full box of fish!  Being comfortable and having enough confidence in what you're pulling through the water is what this is going to be about.  Mindset can be the most vital tool in your much too expensive arsenal of angling weapons.

In this article, the focus is going concentrate mainly on spring Salmon fishing.  In the ports where I've fished this generally means May and early June, because summer doesn't start until the later part of June.

The Spring Plan, or Lack Thereof

I've been asked countless times of what my game plan is when I leave the dock.  The 1000 per cent absolute truth is that I don't have one!  I let the conditions and boat traffic constantly adjust and dictate my strategy.  It's my contention that Kings in Great Lakes are one of the spookiest critters you'll ever deal with.  

Things that spook fish, like the smells from gasoline, or handling greasy donuts is not the shortest route to a full box of fish.  I make a point to always take on fuel the evening before a morning trip and wash my hands before setting lines.  I do not believe in adding commercial scents to any of my baits and actually think they work against you.

Things I Know......?

I might not know much, but what I do know, I know exceedingly well,  Sounds like a convoluted  Not really, it just the facts I've been able to determine over the past 36 years of pursing Great Lakes Salmon.  Let's start with the whole recipe, which begins with the terminal tackle.  The monofilament line I use on my rigger rods never tests between 15 and 20 pounds.  I've found Ande clear to perform best aboard my boat.  While this line won't work during the fish-hook water flea season in July and August, this pesky zoo plankton isn't around in the spring.  The water is just to cold for the massive blooms I've witnessed in July, especially.

I do know super-line divers do not out-produce mono divers and wire divers aren't warranted unless you're seeking fish below 50 feet down.  This statement applies to the early spring Salmon fishery, later in the summer when the Salmon go deep, you'll need the super braids and wire.

I do know the spring fish have a inclination towards the lesser profile the smaller sized spoons represent on Lake Michigan, especially!

I do know what I have in the water is the "good stuff" and if I'm not taking strikes it's probably not my lure selections.  So, I don't stray much from my basic program.

The "Out" Program

I refer to surface side-planers, divers and drop weights as my out-program, because these lines other then lead core are the furthest distance away from my boat.  Pay close attention to what your out-program is doing, because it's telling you where the fish are.  Keeping in mind, it better to be slightly above them, then beneath where the fish can't see your offerings.

I've come to rely on exclusively for Slide Divers for all my spring season trolling. Why?.....they out produce Dipseys.  Slide Diver teamed with 20 pound Flea Flicker is one deadly fish killing tool.  The white Slide Diver seems to perform best for me on Lake Michigan, as of late. I play "arts and crafts" and put some crushed-ice glow tape on the top of it.   Having a movable 20 to 30 foot lead behind the diver is much better then a static 8 to 10 foot lead off a Dipsey.  Like I said, spring fish are spooky!  Let me add, I've found increasing the lead length from the Slide Diver any further then 20 to 30 feet doesn't increase the success rate.

Lead Balls & Core are a fundamental part of the "out" program too.  So, let's talk about these no brainer rods.  10 foot divers rods, and keeping with same vein, 10 foot diver rods also work fine for using one pound balls.  These rods will produce just as many fish as rigger rods and the cost is a whole bunch less than a downrigger.  My "out" program will produce more fish then the riggers on most days.  Concentrate your efforts on these stealthy rods that do their damage out and away form your boat.  The rewards are tremendous once you get the dropper rods and divers cooking.

My program with my lead ball drop-weights begins with a 20 to 30 feet lead behind a one pound lead ball.  I generally use a one pound ball rigged to stay attached to a Pin Popper Release from Legendary Products.  There's been some rumors floating around the DNR is calling dropping lead is littering and tickets might be issued.  You can affix the ball not to drop with a lanyard to the hole in the Pin Popper Release.  Drop weights constantly search up and down due to boat speed and turns, so don't over look this valuable tactic.  Spring Kings are by and large, infrequently deeper then 60 feet down in the areas where I fish and 20 to 40 feet is more like the norm.
If the fish are deeper then 50 feet I'll use a heavier ball, 1 1/2 pound balls and 2 pounders get the nod then.  My goal with the dropper rigs is not to have the line entering the water to far in back of my rigger spread, where tanglements can take place.

By using drop weights I've found that the presentation will be slightly following your rigger spread.  Giving the fish a second probability to strike if they're to wary to accept your rigger baits.  Incidentally, I use a ten foot diver rod, which provides sufficient clearance to the outside of my 5 foot Fishlander rigger arms.  Lay drop weight rods horizontal and you're good to go.  Same thing with your diver rods, laying them flat towards the water presents more working room then having them up in the air.

Lead Core has to be the perfect no-brainer way to fish, if I've ever seen one.  Just drag half cores (5 colors), which will get to about 20 feet and full cores (10 colors) that will get down to around 35 to 40 feet, depending on your trolling speed.  The leader length of mono is important, at least aboard my boat.  I've found over the years, 60 to 110 feet of mono between your lure and core performs the best.  I use 20 pound Ande clear and only 27 pound Kerplunk Cortland Lead Core.

While I know it sounds like I'm trying to push Cortland products, I'm not!  Cortland manufactures their own lead core with a tight nylon weave.  Cortland is an American Company and the best part is, it's employee owned,  So, turning a quality product is what keeps them in business.

Surface side-planers are part of my "out" program too.  All the info is going to be at this link, because I'm not gonna plow the same ground twice.
Click here for planer tactics    Click here to modify Offshore Side Planers

Rigging the Riggers

I run and believe in 3 rigger spread.  With five foot out-down riggers this gives me a 21 foot spread, or about 10 foot between each downrigger.  This wide coverage is a definite advantage when it comes to enticing skittish Salmon to whack your lure.  Each rigger line has a 6 foot add-a-line anywhere's from 3 to 8 foot above the mainline lure. 

Seeing this article is about the earlier part of the season, please always keep in mind spring fish tend to be found in a narrow band.  I think this is, because the uncomfortably cold waters laying beneath the fish's comfort zone.  I don't know for sure (nobody does) and that's why I said, "I think."

On the weekend of May 17th and 18th, 2003 my rigger depths were 32, 38 and 50 foot down.  The 50 foot, or chute rigger had a fixed slider 8 foot above the mainline.  The 38 foot rigger had a fixed  slider 5 foot above and the 32 foot rigger had a fixed slider at only 3 foot above the mainline.  My length of the sliders, or add-a-lines was about 8 foot, because I wasn't in any tournament.  Most of the time tourney rules prevent a slider longer then 6 feet.   

Slider definition:  Sliders can be called a add-a-line too. Under tournament rules a sliders are 6 foot long and are attached above the downrigger release.  They can be fixed in position with a device like a small Offshore Release, or a rubber band half hitched to the mainline.  Sliders can also be used above a diver like a Slide Diver, or Dipsy.  A deadly overlooked tactic is to add a slide above a lead ball drop-weight rig too.  Unless you're a tournament junkie, don't install sliders on divers, or drop weight rigs, because you're asking for more grief then it's worth!

What's My Line?

I don't use any super-lines, or wire divers, because attaining depth is not the big deal, distance away from the boat is.  I've come to fall in love with Cortland's Flea Flicker line for my divers and drop weights.  The oval shape of this line provides a better knife-like cut thru the water and tracks far superior when compared to any round monofilament.

Rigger rods are all carrying 20 pound test Ande clear and so are my sliders.  I use and trust the Trilene knot exclusively, because I tested all knots against at the Cobo Hall Boat Show in Detroit, Michigan while doing the show there in the mid 1980's.  What made my knot testing program easy was the Trilene booth was across from mine.

My 20 pound test Ande Clear leaders are 60 to 100 feet from the lead core too.   Once July and August roll around, I increase the pound test to 30 to better with stand the rigors of daily fishing.

The Main Course

When inviting the fish to feast, I set the table with smaller lures for the most part.  Stingers, size 1 Fishlanders, Northern King D-4s and mini-Streaks work best for me.  Larger, gaudy magnum sized spoon seldom produce as many strikes.  As a rule, you're fishing on the top 50 feet of the water column and the additional flash and commotion from bulky sized baits can actually work against you.

My selections in any spoon begins with a silver plated hammered finish.  I believe the hammered finish breaks up the flash better and presents a more life-like presentation to the scales and tails you're after.

I tend to grab the undersized lures, because I don't want a large amount of hullabaloo downstairs.  I don't want to be alarming the critters there's a bunch of fake junk being dragged thru the water in an un-natural manner.

I hardly ever pull attractors in spring.  Why?.......because they limit your choices in speed.  You gotta go slow with flashers, or dodgers to make them work to full efficiency.  Slow can mean staying over unproductive water twice as long.  Another over looked factor is that doing battle on a clean line minus attractors is easier for my charter guests.   If the early season fish are below 50 feet, then I re-assess my thinking.  Flexibility and not being "set in your ways" is something that's demanded, if you want to be successful.  There is no rigid rule when it comes to loading the box.

Idiosyncrasies of Enticement Velocities

Thanks to the Thesaurus, I was able to come up with over-baked terminology to cover something so important, it had to sound important.  Want to know three ways to catch spring fish?  Boat speed, boat speed and boat speed is the plain and simple answer.  Get speed wrong and it will be a long day, fraught with frustrations from lack of rodular activity.  Get speed right and you'll be cleaning too many fish and getting back to the dock early with a limit catch.

How do you get correct speed?  Buddy, there's no simple one line answer to this!  I wish there was and it would be a lot easier for me to explain.  Watching you hits on turns can signal the fast, or the slow side of the boat is one sure way.  Experience is another.  In my case I know from the 5 seasons I spent in Saugatuck the deal in South Haven would probably be about the same.  These ports are only 20 miles apart, so this isn't rocket science on my part. 

Slow seems to work better for me when I'm fishing in the southern part of Lake Michigan.  If I knew the answer to this, I'd be happy to share it with you, but I don't.
I judge my speed always by downrigger cable angle.  I do suspect and heavy on the suspect part, I think the fish are in colder water then preferred.  Bait fish also, are part of the equation.  If there's huge schools of alewives about?  Then fish aren't gonna run anything down, because they don't have too. A slow spoon limping along is easier to catch is the most likely reason  Click for a in-depth study of lure speeds 

The in-depth study of boat speed in much more detail and please don't be to broke to pay attention to it.  Case in point, I've watch far too many boats troll right pass me when we were on a hot streak with our nets dipping doubles and triples.  You'd have thought, they'd have slowed their speed to match mine.


  1. Pay attention to the course you're on when you're smacking the fish good

  2. Track a true course with little to no side away in your rigger cables

  3. Experiment with one rigger until you get the other riggers going

  4. Fish your own program and never rely on radio hear-say

  5. Keep an eye on the last five feet of mono to the bait, it takes a beating

  6. Pay attention to the sea gulls, they have to fish for a living, you don't

  7. Watch for color lines, or stained warms up quicker

  8. Keep your hooks beyond sharp, a Luhr Jensen file makes my life easier

  9. Yell loudly "fish drill" at your crew from time to time, just to keep them alert

  10. Stay by yourself when possible

  11. Keep track of the make, or break little things

  12. Watch the cable angles for speed detection, that's where the action is

  13. Don't overlook gold plated lures, especially if it's cloudy

  14. Respect the resource, and limit your catch

  15. Relax and go with the flow, and have no favorite bait

  16. Move rods to lessen tangles

  17. Think and watch where the fish is going, spring Kings are tangle masters

  18. Slow the boat to a dead crawl when battling all, but the smaller fish

  19. Try new ports, what you can take back to the home port is priceless

  20. Conduct yourself as you wished others did, even if they don't  


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