May Salmon slam in Lake Michigan

By: Bill Semion

When St. Joe anglers normally think of salmon fishing season, late summer and fall are generally on their minds.

When charter boat captain Steve Jones swings the bow of his boat away from his usual haunt after Lake St. Clair muskies and into the waves after salmon, the date on his mind is when the ice finally leaves the port of St. Joseph in April, staying there through at least mid-May.

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Such was the case last year, when I met Jones and his four Southeast Michigan anglers April Rue, her children River, 10 and Brooklyn, 12, and April’s friend Gina DeBiasi of Allen Park at the west basin of the St. Joseph municipal marina in early May last year. April had chosen to show her kids what big game fishing was like.
Jones had already been fishing Lake Michigan nearly a month when he nosed his Tiara out of the breakwall. We were headed to warmer water that morning, if you can call Lake Michigan in May warm, about six miles offshore, but where the fishing was already hot. “It’s been pretty steady here because there are three good year-classes that we’re fishing,” said Jones.
The oldest, he said, could go up to 18 pounds already after steadily dining on the lake’s offerings, but most fish, this time of year will be from 6 to 11 pounds. The lake had produced some of the best fishing in the last 20 years the previous fall, and he said this spring as already following up strong, and they were also full of bait, a good sign that these fish not only were healthy, they were looking to chow down on some springtime food. We trolled from 1.8 to 2.3 mph, Jones said, stirring these aggressive fish to hit, with lures set from 30 feet to the bottom, up to 50 feet behind us, over 140 feet of water. Others were on copper wire, too.
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Jones throttled down and began to set lures on his downriggers, with Silver Streaks and Dreamweaver spoons to imitate both smelt and alewives farther down in the water column where the fish seemed to be.
Then the two kids set to work. “This was River’s birthday present, his mom said, because he loves to fish and I’m along because it was Mother’s day weekend, so it seemed like a good fit,“ April Rue said.
“I’ve never been fishing like this before, never charter fishing on the big lake,” River said as we rocked with the rollers, waiting for the first rigger to kick. “Probably the biggest thing I’ve ever caught was a 4 ½-pound bass in my dad’s pond.” April’s largest ever: a three-pound bass. They’d be a bit over those weights today.
It only took a few minutes of trolling for the first hit, a dancing, then another, both on the deepest lines in the 50-degree water. As Jones coached them, River, then Brooklyn, April battled side-by-side. First, River’s came in over the port side as April stood by.
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“Oh my gosh, it’s a big one!” Brooklyn shouted, as she brought in hers on the starboard, and Jones struggled to quickly untangle the first fish from the net to shift and bring in Brooklyn’s bigger chinook.
“Raise your arm, keep reeling, slow it down, now raise up the rod,” Jones coaxed, the way he’s done hundreds of times before in his 30-plus years of chartering on the lakes.
“Look at it, it’s bigger than the other one!” she said. “I am sooo lucky today!” Translation: She was absolutely thrilled at experiencing something she and River will remember for a long time: catching their first really big fish. Kudos to mom, and to Jones, for giving her, and her brother, the experience.

More fish came that morning. “We got the first on copper wire 300 feet back, which puts them at about 100 feet down, and the others came about 30 feet down and 50 back. They’re all over,” Jones said.
They were bright, spring fish, some small, some large, as Jones predicted, and the cool Lake Michigan water made the biggest run line out, then back at the boat as only chinook can.
But the best thing about the trip may not have been the landing. The best thing may have been watching River and Brooklyn, and the catching. Indeed, they were lucky.
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When You Go
Contact Capt. Steve Jones about trips near St. Joseph from ice-out through May. Jones then concentrates on Detroit River walleye, and his passion, fishing for giant muskies in Lake St. Clair. He’ll also hit the Ludington area for salmon in late summer. Captain Steve can be reached at: www.fishpredator.com

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