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Trip to big lake brings fish, but a mix of them

Coho salmon, steelhead, lake trout all in catch

Bob Gwizdz • Lansing State Journal Outdoors • May 9, 2010

Capts. Dave Engel and Bill Bale catch Big Lake TroutMICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - It can be strange fishing on the big lake in April. It may be shorts-and-sandals weather on shore, but get out offshore with the wind blowing across all that 40-degree water and its like fishing in a refrigerator.

Except the fish are biting.

Or at least they have been so far this spring, said Dave Engel, skipper of Best Chance, Too, one of the top-performing charter boats in Lake Michigan tournaments year in and year out.

Engel, who's from Saugatuck but follows the fishing around the lake, invited me to accompany him and
his crew on a reconnaissance mission here the day before a weekend tournament. Engel, who already
had figured out how and where he planned to start the tournament, was looking for a Plan B.

We headed due north out the harbor and when we hit 160 feet of water, Engel throttled down the motor and began setting lines. I think we had four rigs in the water when a diving planer trailing a spoon started throbbing in the rod holder. Minutes later, we had our first Coho salmon on ice.

"Early fishing appears to be better than in previous years," said Engel, a 30-year veteran of the Lake Michigan charter boat scene.

"With the early spring, it seems that things have kicked in sooner.

"We're fishing right now like we would in the middle of May and that's because that's where the bait is."

There was good fishing right on the beach in early April, Engel said, as usual, but by mid-month he was running out to deep water. And he's been rewarded with good to excellent fishing most days.

"It hasn't been crazy or stupid, like can happen down here, but we've only missed a limit three days in April. We've had to work for our fish, but we've been catching 20 to 30 a day - whatever we havel icenses for."
Bill Bale, a licensed captain and Engel's second-in-command, noticed a planer board moving backward on the surface and directed me to grab the rod.

Coho No. Two came on a spoon-on-wire line.

"The majority of our fish have come on planers up near the surface," Engel said. "Super Slim Dreamweavers (spoons) in orange and gold have been our best all spring."

We kept moving straight north, picking up fish and just about everything we dragged - spoons, dodgers and flies, dodgers and Spin'N Glows. They were largely Cohos up near the surface (though we did boat a pair of nice steelhead, too). The deeper rods caught lake trout.Bigger fish

Engel is pleased by what he's seen from all species.

"The size of the steelhead is better," he said. "If you didn't have steelhead in the last two tournaments, you weren't in the money.

"It's the best steelhead fishing we've had in 10 years."

And the lakers?

"They're packed with gobies," Engel said. "When we're catching them best, they've got gobies in them.

"There's a lot of lake trout. Once we adapted our techniques to the lake trout eating gobies, it's been easy for us. They're very healthy, too; two to three years ago we had to measure them to see if they were 20 inches. Not now. You can always find a few trout. They're still the bread-and-butter of Lake Michigan fishing."Salmon shortage

We fished our way out to 230 feet of water, did a 180, and started fishing back. If there was a fly in the ointment, it was that we didn't catch any Chinooks. The kings showed up for a couple of boats (most of which were fishing much closer to shore) just that day.

But the lack of kings didn't bother Engel. He'll catch his share as he begins moving northward for the season, he said.

Overall, Engel is optimistic about this year's fishing.

"The thing I'm most excited about is seeing all the bait out here in deep water," he said. "We've got all sizes of alewives, three year-classes. When you see the Cohos are bigger this year and packed with alewives, it makes you feel good about things."

We fished until we had a dozen fish in the box (10 Coho and two steelies) and decided to call it early. With the handful of lake trout we tossed back, we would have been fairly close to a limit.

"We never changed lures or moved to another area," Engel said.

"If we'd have run our downriggers higher in the water column, we'd have caught another four or five
on each one of them. That's good fishing."

Sadly, there are fewer people taking advantage of it this year, Engel said, as the economic fallout continues to slow the charter fishing business.

"At least the tournaments are still bringing in people to fish," he said. "If it wasn't for them, things would really be slow at this port."

Bob Gwizdz is a Department of Natural Resources communications specialist. He retired from a 30-year career as an outdoors writer for daily newspapers in 2007.
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Lake Michigan Charter Fishing

Join Captain Dave Engel aboard the Best Chance Too for the best fishing experience you will ever have!  Join the winningest tournament team on Lake Michigan.  Go charter fishing for Chinook and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, Lake Trout and Brown Trout from their home port of Saugatuck, MI or the many other ports around Lake Michigan that they travel to every year.

 Lake Michigan Charter Fishing for King and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, Lake Trout and Brown Trout on Best Chance Too with Capt. Dave Engel and Capt. Bill Bale - 450x338

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