Want a True Trophy? Attack the Streams

There was a chill in the air as we sat on the tailgate of our truck and wiggled into our waders. There was a slight crispness to the air, not frost, but pretty soon we knew the first shinny “white” would be appearing on the rooftops. The familiar northeasterly winds from nearby Lake Michigan were piercing through the trees. There was a slight cloud cover keeping the darkness near black, just giving us enough time to slide down to one of Tyler’s favorite holes to attack a few big kings.

As we zigzagged down the trail to the stream, the sky was just starting to lighten a bit—it wouldn’t be long before it turns to a crimson-orange and the sun pierces through the yellow leaves and casts shadows on the trickling stream before us.

Tyler reminded me that if we played this just right, we could double up on some kings with our first couple drifts of his custom, hand-tied spawn sacs complete with bright orange beads. Precision, timing and a little direction from the master, and yes, a little luck, wouldn’t hurt either.

As we neared the stream, I snuck slowly toward the bank and readied my first cast, just as Tyler had instructed.

I flipped the sac right where he told me. It was seconds before the pool erupted—not once, but twice! Yunk had mirrored my cast only a few yards downstream, and, knowing the pool, he had a feeling that several large kings rested along the bank.

It was a double. Game on!

I’m used to doubles in the dark on the boat, but 15 yards apart on a 30-foot-wide section of tributary stream, well, that is quite interesting. My 6-foot 6-inch, medium-action Ugly Stik Elite was bent almost in half and my Abu Garcia Revo SX was peeling out 10-pound-test-line.

I hung on to battle this monster of muscle for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality, the battle lasted about 20 minutes. What a thrill—a double on 20-pound monster kings and the day had just started!

After a few photos, we slipped the pair back to the stream to continue their spawning journey upstream. During a short rest, I chatted with stream guide extraordinaire, Tyler Yunk, and his fishing partner, Tim Maher, who own Habitual Guide Service. They specialize in steam guiding for kings, steelhead, cohos and browns in the tributary streams on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan.

Tyler explained that with Lake Michigan levels up the past couple of years, the tributaries have excellent water levels and that last year the fall run was one of the best ever, right up to Christmas. They had outstanding action on steelhead, browns and coho salmon right up to first ice. Spring and fall are their premier seasons, but they also attack trout through the ice in the same streams during the winter months. In summer, Yunk is also a charter captain out of the port of Algoma. When it comes to salmon or trout, Tyler knows his stuff, paying very close attention to every detail right down to the Mr. Derk’s custom beads and netting which he uses to add just the right look to match the color of the water and sky.

Year’s prior, I tramped up and down these very same stream waters each spring and fall, laying plenty of kings on the bank. Now, it is not all about the meat, but the thrill of the chase and the quality of the fight that brings these young guides full circle, teaching an old, salty veteran of the fishing league a thing or two. I’ve always felt the part of “teacher” when these young captains would come by my boat for advice or information, but now it was my turn to learn from the next generation.

I had never seen a rod and reel combo up-close like Tyler sported that morning. It was a 13-inch, custom Raven rod with a Colville center-pin reel, and almost looked like a hybrid fly rod. Yunk offered to let me have a go, but I thought it best to watch him for a while. The casting had a very different motion, and Tyler was smooth, deliberate and accurate—almost as if the rod was an extension of his body. He laid the bait and Raven float right above the ripple of current above the hole, and almost immediately the water exploded with the furry of a giant king ripping at the custom spawn sac. And in one swift motion, Tyler raised and reared the rod over his head. He masterfully used his hand to control the drag on the reel and it left me wondering if that king had any chance at all. I could tell that this was a skill learned over time, and for an oldster like myself, I knew my Elite would be my best tool in my arsenal.

That day, I was looking for an escape of the hustle and bustle; frustration from casting was not what I was looking for. I was very content, and the tranquility of Mother Nature was just what the doctor ordered—that and a few moments of a great battle with a big king salmon tearing downstream.

I had this day to remember, and it had been too long since I’d fished the streams like this. I am not waiting this long to do it again. You can bet I’ll be joining Tyler next spring for yet another adventure and tackle some Lake Michigan steelhead during their spawn up these same tributaries.

Capt. Lee Haasch is a charter captain out of Algoma, Wis. Capt. Lee has over 40 years of Great Lakes angling experience and has been instructing anglers for over 25 years with education seminars and timely freelance articles in outdoor publications.