Hooked on Reelin’ Rainbows


It was late summer in eastern Wisconsin and my good friend Doug wanted to get Gavin, his 12-year-old grandson and sidekick, in on one more fishing outing before school started.

But where?

Winnebago, usually a go-to fishing hole, was dead; a Green Bay walleye trip was a possibility. But since we hadn’t been there for weeks and weren’t on top of the bite, it would likely be hit or miss at best.

Though hesitant, and knowing Doug was not crazy about big water, I suggested that we give the “Big Lake” a shot. We had been doing some business there recently with rainbows offshore. We knew we’d have to watch the weather and pick a nice day.

We went on a high-skied day with only the slightest hint of a southerly breeze. We comfortably rode the gently rolling swell to a random starting point in 200 feet of water almost due east of the Sheboygan harbor. After deploying our simple six-rod set, we settled in and began a zigzagging search pattern.

It was Gavin’s first-ever Lake Michigan outing and it was predawn when we started. So with eyelids still drooping, he missed seeing that first midmorning strike.

But Doug didn’t. After grabbing the downrigger rod and tightening up the fish, Gavin was suddenly wide-eyed as the fish was put in the young lad’s hands. Now, thanks to Gramps, Gavin is a fairly experienced little angler and has caught his share of panfish, walleyes, pike and has even already experienced a Canadian fly-in.

Those prime summer rainbows (steelhead) really put on a show. On this trip, its headshaking, line-burning runs and flashy aerobatics gave the kid all he could handle. But he stuck with it. And after no small amount of coaching, were we able to finally slide the net under that pretty 8-pound rainbow.

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“Geeze—they really pull don’t they?” said Gavin, exhaling in wonder.

After a Kodak moment, we all got back to work. And it didn’t take long before we had another ’bow on—one tail-dancing far back behind six colors of leadcore on a board line.

Gavin pounced on the whipping rod, but didn’t get more than a couple turns on the reel’s handle before this fish was gone. Learning that going from hero to zero is part of the game, the look on the kids face was priceless.

We then sensed that we might be onto something. I punched the GPS, switched the other four lines over to rainbow-colored and orange and gold spoons similar to the ones we’d had bit, spread them through the top 50 feet of the water column which tends to produce the most rainbow action, and began a series of wide trolling passes around the point while roving from 250 to 300 feet.

With no temperature, food chain-holding sludge lines or bait balls on the graph to concentrate on, there was no rhyme or reason—other than good fortune—as to why the not-so-uncommon midday rainbow bite continued.

But it did.

It had been all great fun, even though when it was all said and done we could count considerably more “swings and misses” than fish in the box. But this is pretty much the norm when dealing with these uniquely challenging salmonids.

Now, all the exciting action and the five fish we did manage to box made for a great outing. But it was being able to share it with an enthusiastic young newcomer that made it so special. Gavin was thrilled to have felt the pull of that fish, and a battled unlike any other he’d ever experienced. It then occurred to me how we must’ve felt a lifetime ago when we started out. And just like we were back then and remain today—I think he’s hooked.