Winter fishing can be some of the most prolific of the entire year. Brown trout in Milwaukee harbor are the primary target, but steelhead, lake trout and the occasional northern pike aren’t uncommon. Here two different methods of fishing apply; trolling and fishing vertically.
Mid-winter thaws also provide us with tributary opportunities on both brown trout and steelhead. The biggest challenge throughout these months in that you are at the mercy of the weather. This has a limiting factor on what is accessible.
These are transition months as we move from winter to spring. The days get longs, water starts to warms, and spring spawning runs are occurring. We have many different opportunities during these months.
Brown trout and lake trout continue to go strong out in the lake. As these fish continue to move offshore later in April, the first salmon of the year start to appear. Trolling is the optimal technique now.
Steelhead are bountiful now in the rivers starting their spawning when water temperatures break the 40 degree mark at some point in March and will continue strong through April.
This spring warming period also spells the start of the spring walleye run. We focus our efforts on trophy walleyes on the Lower Fox River at De Pere and Lower Green Bay.
May signals the start of the salmon fishing season on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Brown and lake trout fishing slows as near shore waters warm into the mid-50’s. This is when we head offshore in search of the steelhead, kings and the first coho’s of the season. We will also find suspended lake trout mixed in as well. These fish are relating to schools of alewives that wintered in the deep main basin of the lake. The salmon and trout will follow the baitfish as they migrate inshore to spawn starting at the end of May.
Most efforts during these summer months are spent within 5 miles from shore as these fish transition through their seasonal movements. Early on, salmon will be relating to shallow structure feeding on spawning alewives. During the mid-summer months, we are chasing salmon and trout relating to the thermocline and ever migrating alewives. Movements are all driven by water temperatures. Because of this we can be fishing anywhere from 20’ of water out to 200’+ depending on conditions.
Usually starting around Labor Day, the mature king salmon begin to stage at the North and Main Harbor Gaps in Milwaukee. These fish we are target very much the same way that we do in open water using downriggers, dipsy’s and short segments of lead core. These fish will stage at the entrances until around the third week of September into the first week of October waiting for west winds to cool the near shore water temperature or fall rains to trigger their upstream migration. We follow these fish on their spawning migration further in to the harbor and the lower stretches of the Milwaukee River. As these fish push out of the lake, our tactics change accordingly. Some trolling opportunities still present themselves but now we are just trolling hand ñheld long lines allowing you to feel the strikes. Other techniques applied will include casting crankbaits and in-line spinners and soaking skein (salmon eggs) under floats. This fishing is done on conventional spinning tackle.
Open water opportunities continue for immature kings, steelhead, brown trout and lake trout. Fall signals significant weather changes and high winds so open water opportunities can often times be hindered by high seas. When the weather allows us to get out, it can be some of the fastest salmon fishing of the season.
During the fall salmon season, the near shore fish will loose their edibility as they approach spawning. Catch and release is recommended unless a trophy is caught. If you are in search of a table fair catch, consider the open water trip.
While we continue to catch spawning salmon, there is also a good bite for brown trout and northern pike casting and trolling crankbaits and plastics in various areas throughout Milwaukee harbor. We often times will have salmon, bass and walleye mixed in as well.
Open water salmon and trout opportunities still exist through November as weather permits.
As we push into October, it finds us back up in Green Bay chasing walleyes returning to feed and winter in the river preparing for the spring spawn. Early on, this bite can be hit or miss depending on the size of the fall shad migration. As the fall progresses, fishing becomes more consistent as the shad population falls. This bite will persist until ice up. We apply various techniques including casting crankbaits, casting jigs tipped with minnow or plastics, vertical jigging, drifting, swimming plastics, drop shotting and trolling.
Usually starting around Halloween, the spawning salmon in the tributaries are winding down and the Milwaukee River sees a good push of steelhead and the occasional lake trout. This bite will continue right until ice up. Here we are wading the shorelines. We will apply various techniques including spawn or jigs suspended under floats and casting spinners, spoons and crankbaits.
As we proceed into December, the harbor brown trout bite will continue to improve. This is largely contingent on cooling water temperatures out in the lake. The fishing improves as the water drops below 40 degrees.