Lake Michigan Shore Fishing: A Strange 2018 Season and a Look Ahead to 2019


I honestly don’t know where this season went. This, the November article for this column, is the last one of the season and it seems like it just warmed up after a long winter of 2017-2018.

In my title, I note that it has been a strange season. It started off like gangbusters. March and April were on fire with a parade of giant browns. In early April, I almost had to pinch myself. It seemed like I could do no wrong with the pearl tube jig and browns in the 15- to 20-pound class daily. May was just so-so. By June, we were in the doldrums. But for shore fishermen, it’s not unusual for June to be a little slow. That’s okay because it’s usually time for us to regroup and get ready for July.

Something happened in July and August that I have never had happen in my 44 years of Lake Michigan shore fishing. In my home port, here in Milwaukee, we never had enough west wind to get a cold upwelling and provide us with a summer blitz. The water temps crept to 60, then 65, and then, at one point, eclipsed the 70-degree mark.

No summer blitz for Milwaukee. Some cities that are geographically positioned a little differently had some action, and there were a few browns caught at night, even in the warm water. But, mortality has to be considered at some point. A brown hooked and landed in 70-degree water is sure death. Definitely no releasing that fish. With brown trout stocking on the decline, we have to preserve those big fish.

Uncooperative kings

The king salmon run was about what it has been for the past few years. The kings started coming in the last week of August. By the third week of September, most of the fish were dark and had pushed way up the tributaries with all the rain w

e got in September. Even in September, we retained the 65-degree water temps which didn’t make the fall-run kings very cooperative.

Although the author’s original rod and reel need to stay retired, he came across some old favorites that are going back into the shore-casting lineup.

All in all, a great start and a lukewarm fall with a poor summer. Winter open-water action is always

weather dependent. Let me say, though, that even with last winter’s severity, there was only a day or two that I couldn’t find some fishable open water. If you watch areas with current, areas that ice gets shifted by wind, or warm water discharges, you will find somewhere to fish. And there are always some ice-fishing opportunities in harbors that have very protected bays or boat-mooring basins. Just be sure to use extreme caution on any harbor ice. Don’t ever assume that it is safe.

Bring on the new year!

Let’s look at the bright spots for 2019. I see us having another great spring for brown trout. There is still a good class of big browns out there. We haven’t started to feel any of the reduced Brown stocking yet. Let’s hope science and common sense eclipse politics soon and we go back to stocking browns at the rate we did a couple years ago.


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Smallmouth and even largemouth bass fishing continues to improve not only in the Sturgeon Bay, but in many port cities. If you are a smallmouth bass fisherman, you need to take advantage of this fishery we have along Door County right now. Ten-fish bags of over 50 pounds won the tournaments this season. Catches like that rank up there with any bass fishery in the country. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new state record swimming around Door County right now.

Pike are also doing well along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Soft plastic swimbaits, large minnow baits, and blade baits worked around any weed beds are a good option for shore anglers when the salmonids aren’t cooperating.

Changing directions here, I recently went through some tackle drawers and found my old Mitchell 300 

from circa 1972 and my 6.5-foot fiberglass True Temper spinning rod with rough steel “line eater” guides. I put the reel back on the rod and reminisced about using this outfit at the start of my Lake Michigan shore-fishing career. My thoughts of yesteryear ended quickly when my thoughts went to, “How the heck did I ever hook, or land anything with this outfit?”

The rod was a buggy whip that had no guts to set a hook. The only backbone this rod had was the metal ferrule in the middle. Wow, have we come a long way. But I also looked through an old tackle box and found some of the original lures I started with. Some of these were my go-to lures and wondered why I ever stopped using some of them. Plain spinners like the willow blade Mepps Aglia #3. Another standby was the Mepps Minnow. It sported a hook-filled plastic minnow that really did nothing special… except catch trout! A couple went back in the box to get back into the shore-casting lineup.

One of the first crankbaits I ever used in the 70’s was the Heddon Tadpolly. Trout and salmon hammered that bait. They disappeared for years. They are still gone, but those

of you that remember them will notice that they have resurrected as the Lindy River Rocker.

During the start of the walleye boom on Lake Erie, the weight-forward spinner was a staple of that fishery. It also became a staple of the trout and salmon shore-casting arsenal. You could cast them a mile, they stayed deep, and the fish ate them up! Why did I stop using them? Don’t know, but I kicked some back in the box for next year.

So, we wrap up another year. Big browns in spring, warmest summer water temps I have seen in a long time, highest water I have seen in a long time, and always a new challenge. I guess that’s why, after 44 years of doing this, I never get bored with it. It’s constantly changing. For now, have a great winter, be safe on the ice, and follow my lure-making column here in MidWest Outdoors starting next issue.