Lake Michigan Corner

As always, we are chock full of great expectations for the new year. Whether they are fulfilled or not, though, can only be determined by weather.

As of this writing, we have experienced nothing unusual. Yet, we still have a lot of winter left and only time will tell.

Although we do have a cold snap predicted for southern Wisconsin and the Chicago area in the long-range forecast, Lake Michigan is still open and the fish continue biting.

The Chinook shore action is pretty much done and the snagging season ended as of the first of the year. There are, however, still plenty of options for the Chicago area and points east.

Some three-year-old Chinook along with smaller spring coho can still be taken by boaters, running out to 145 feet of water or deeper. Most fish are hitting $60 Williams Wablers in (Gold Honeycomb) or (Silver & Gold Nu-Wrinkle) and magnum Dreamweavers in (Doctor Death), (Michael Jackson Glow) and (Orange Pearl Fireball) on downriggers or full-core leadcores.

Lake trout have been spawning on the reefs and actively hitting #4 and #6 Spin-N-Glos (Egg Florescent), (Yellow Clown) and (Luminous Green) behind (Beer Can), (Clown) and (Fire Dot) dodgers.

If there isn’t too much boat traffic on the reefs, which there probably won’t be, try anchoring and fish a 4 or 7-inch Berkley PowerBait Powerworm (Shad) or (White) on a jig with spinning gear near the bottom. Who said lakers don’t fight hard?

Weather woes can sweep you off the lake

Just remember, the weather can be somewhat unstable at this time of the year. Most of your fellow anglers will have their boats put away for the winter, so you probably won’t have much company out there should you have problems. Always keep this in mind and have a reliable marine-band radio onboard should the need arise. It can save your life!

Shore fishermen along the shoreline in the harbors have been picking up brown trout. Any areas that were good in the fall for Chinook should also produce brown trout now. The browns will be hanging around to feed on the eggs left behind by the spawning Chinook and coho.

Fish skein spawn or spawn sacs either on the bottom with a slip sinker gig or 3 to 5 feet down beneath a Cast-Away bobber. Crankbaits like the Berkley Floating Bad Shad 5, Cutter 90 and Digger 6.5 have also been getting attention from the browns.

The perch have arrived!

It has become almost a tradition over the past several years. The perch have arrived right on schedule, just before Thanksgiving. They have moved in along the shoreline in big numbers.

In Chicago, Navy Pier has pretty much remained the hotspot for both size and numbers. The standard perch rig with a bell sinker on the bottom with a short-snelled hook about a foot up and another about 18 inches up from that. A #4 or #6 should be about right for hook size.

The weight will vary with the wind and the current. On many days, especially in cloudy water, (common after a northerly blow) a brightly colored perch fly like the Galambos Go-Fly will make the big difference.

The type of minnow and the size is entirely up to you. Anglers swear by shiners, baby roaches, rosy reds and other varieties. They all work well. For me, I prefer the medium fathead or mud minnow. They are lively, cheap and will stay alive in a bucket in the garage if kept cool. During the winter, the type of minnow doesn’t seem to matter that much. The perch won’t be that picky.

Your biggest battle may be parking

If fishing Navy Pier, early morning parking is available for $6. Check in at the parking office in the east lot. You may be asked to produce your fishing license and you must be out by 10 a.m. That’s usually plenty of time to take your limit.

As the winter progresse,s the perch will move into the Chicago harbors: Montrose, Belmont, Diversey, DuSable, Burnham and Jackson Park. Here’s where they want money. The Chicago Bears won’t get any of this.

You will need to purchase a pier pass for $6 to fish these harbors. If you fish DuSable or Burnham, you will need to shell out another ten bucks for a two-month parking pass. Passes are available at Henry’s, so you can get them when you are buying your minnows.

Down on the South Side in the land of free parking (unless you are trailering a boat), the perch action also has been hot.

Calumet Harbor has been very good for boaters working the reciprocal waters with many limits taken by boaters drifting minnows. Launching is available at the 95th Street ramps at Calumet Park. Although there is no attendant on duty, don’t expect a free ride because it’s the offseason. When it comes to the Chicago Park District and money, there is no offseason.

A little robot machine is there. It will be willing to help empty your wallet if you want to launch there. After the fee is inserted (not cheap), it will spit out a ticket to put under your wiper. If you have a trailer behind your vehicle and no receipt on your windshield, the friendly Chicago police officer will put something on your windshield… gotcha. These tickets, I’ve been told, are not cheap and are practically unbeatable in court. Whatever happened to the “Good old Days.”

A big producer, if you can get to it

The Calumet River, if you can find a place to park, has also been producing well. The parking, however is getting tough to find. The slip at 87th can be fished up to the fence at the Steelworkers Memorial Park. Don’t go around the fence. Fishermen have been arrested for trespassing. Another great spot, the 89th St. Slip—another winter hotspot—is now posted “No Trespassing.”

The fish are out there, but it’s getting harder by the day getting at them. Many great fishing spots from the past are now posted with “No Trespassing” signs. I guess to a large extent, though, fishermen have nobody to blame but themselves.

I’ve seen piles of garbage, beer cans, broken glass and every other type of debris left in these areas. Piles of smaller dead perch and things I will not mention are also left by these slobs.

One of the top spots on the river, from years ago, was an old breakfast cereal plant. The slips were probably the best perch-fishing spots known to mankind. The barges would dock up to unload their grain from which a variety of breakfast cereals was produced. The spillage of grain attracted the minnows. Minnows, in turn, attracted perch to feast on them in numbers that were almost impossible to describe.

This was before there was a limit on perch. In a couple days, you could fill up your freezer for the entire year. The employees would come out at lunchtime, chew the rag with the fishermen and let us know when and where the next grain barges were due.

Everyone lived happily ever after…

Until the word got out and some undesirables moved in. Calumet Harbor is a great place to build a fire and have an all-night beer party, and things got out of hand. The amount of garbage left behind was unbelievable, and a maintenance shed was burned to the ground. The last straw was when a front-end loader, used to unload grain, was taken for a ride, and driven into one of the slips. Guess what? No more fishing!

It’s sad that a bad few have ruined our winter perch fishery, and I encourage MidWest Outdoors readers to report these kinds of incidents to the authorities to protect our public access, so that we and future generations can enjoy our natural resources.