Bass and Walleye Baits for Trout and Salmon


You don’t need special tackle for Lake Michigan salmonids


A lot of anglers come up to me and comment, “I see your pictures of all these big Lake Michigan fish, and I’d love to try that, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have the right gear.”

Well, this column is here to help you know where to start, but “I don’t have the right gear” is probably not true.

I’m going to try to dispel the “I need special tackle” myth here and go through some of the baits and tackle that we use every day that actually spawned out of the bass or walleye world. You probably have all you need to do Lake Michigan shore fishing and be successful.

I remember the first time I went to Florida and fished in the Atlantic and then the Gulf. I had no idea what I was doing. I took the rods I had. I took the lures that I use here in Wisconsin and Lake Michigan. And guess what? Yes, I caught fish very quickly. I remember my first saltwater trip ever was off a pier at Port Canaveral. I was having a ball catching a variety of fish when a guy drinking his morning coffee slid up next to me and said quietly out of the corner of his mouth, “You know, you are the only guy catching anything out on this pier.” I told him, “Yeah, I noticed that, and it’s strange because I’m the dumb guy from Wisconsin.” He said, “I knew it!” Turns out, he was a Wisconsin transplant and watched people fish on this pier every day, and he said that he could tell when they were people from the Midwest, “because they knew how to fish!”

So, let’s all take that as a compliment, but the bottom line is that…fishing is fishing. If you are an accomplished bass or walleye angler here in the state or Midwest, Lake Michigan “is just fishing”! Big fish eat little fish. Know your fish, know what they eat, know where they live and you’ll catch fish!

Let’s bust the special tackle myth. I’m a “use what you got” believer. Down the road, if you want to specialize and get into a 9-foot rod, do that. But, if you own a 6- to 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod with a 2500 size reel spooled with 8- or 10-pound clear mono, you are in business!

Back when I started fishing the shores of Lake Michigan in 1974, there was one lure: the silver spoon! If you weren’t chucking a silver and blue spoon, you were chucking a silver and green spoon. Pretty boring. I never could live with just one lure.

Little by little, tactics and lures from the bass and walleye world started to infiltrate my arsenal because, “fishing is fishing,…and big fish eat little fish.” When this teenage kid started throwing Bomber Long As and Rapala Fat Raps down by the old Lakeside power plant in St. Francis, Wis., I got looks probably similar to when they said that tennis balls were going to be yellow and not white…(gasp). Fortunately, the trout and salmon responded very well, and the rest is history. Both were “bass and walleye” baits that I had along in my general tackle box, and the trout didn’t know that they weren’t Lake Michigan lures.

So much of what you probably own now is very effective on trout and salmon, and so many of the tactics from the bass world have trickled into the Great Lakes. So the excuse, “I don’t have the right gear” is again, probably not true.

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Let’s start with one of the staples, the minnow bait. I must admit that one of the first lures I used from shore was a #9 blue floating Rapala. It worked when the wind was right, but if it wasn’t, it cast like a potato chip. When Bomber As and Storm ThunderSticks hit the market, the problem was solved. Plastic would cast twice as far! And now, minnow baits are high-tech, and what bass or walleye guy doesn’t have a dozen minnow baits? ThunderSticks are still great. Smithwick Rogues, Rapala X-Raps, Husky Jerks, Shadow Raps, Lucky Craft Pointers and Yo-Zuris are all great shore casting lures.

Going deeper, let’s talk diving crankbaits. Bass and walleye guys love crankbaits, and so do Lake Michigan salmonids. Who doesn’t have a Shad-Rap or a Flicker Shad? Both are great trout and salmon baits! What bass guy doesn’t have a box of Rapala DT-6s or DT-10s. Bass baits…yes, but also one of my favorite shore casting baits. Some others would be Bomber Fat Free Shads, Wiggle Warts, Normans and any of the deep minnow baits like Deep ThunderSticks, Deep Husky Jerks or Bandit Walleye Deeps.

Lipless cranks are a staple of the bass and walleye world and they transfer their catching powers over to trout and salmon very well. I know you all have a few Rat-L-Traps, Rippin’ Raps and my personal favorite, Strike King Red Eye Shads. They all work great on Lake Michigan species, and in fact they are a staple for fall kings.

Similar to lipless cranks are blade baits. Sonars, Zips, Big Dudes, you name it. Blade baits flat-out work all year long as shore casting tools. And I know is, there isn’t a walleye guy out there who doesn’t have a few, or even an entire box, dedicated to blades.

Plastics…where do I even start? It all began with the Mister Twister Sassy Shad and Blue Fox Vibro-Tail. Although primitive, they were the first paddle-tail swimbaits. They worked fine, but they were no comparison to what is available today. Your favorite 3- to 3.5-inch paddle tail on a 3/8-ounce jig is perfect for shore casting.

The Midwest finesse rig that bass anglers fancy so much these days can’t possibly catch trout, right? Wrong! A Midwest Finesse imitates a bottom-dwelling goby perfectly and can be deadly on browns in particular.

Fluke baits grew out of the bass world a long time ago with the popularity of the Sluggo. Three- to 4-inch flukes rigged on a jig head, ripped near the bottom, are great producers for active midseason trout and salmon.

I have to finish with my favorite plastic, the tube jig. I can’t say enough about the effectiveness of tubes. This is another bait born out of the bass world, but it has a great home in the shore casting venue. In a light color or pearl white, it imitates a fleeing baitfish. In watermelon or darker colors, it can be worked along the bottom to imitate a goby. You bass guys have plenty of tubes in your arsenal.

One word on colors. Don’t get too caught up if colors aren’t traditional “Lake Michigan” colors. These fish like white, gold, silver and shad colors. But don’t think they wont hit that fire-tiger or perch color you already have for walleye fishing. If they are going to eat, they will eat!

Fishing is fishing. Don’t think that Lake Michigan shore fishing is any different than the bass or walleye fishing that you do. You already have all the tackle you need. Get out there this season and give it a try.