As the vernal equinox draws near, winters mighty clutch on the Great Lakes begins to loosen. Warmer daytime temperatures begin thawing the ice that has grasped the inland seas. Boat and fishing shows draw to an end and great lakes anglers become engrossed in preparing their fishing machines for the up coming trolling season. Anglers willing to venture out onto the chilly lake in late March and early April can find some of the best steelhead and trout fishing of the year. Mixed bag catches and hot-n-heavy action is not uncommon.
This time of year the smelt are beginning to migrate back to their spawning grounds. Following closely behind are the brown trout looking for an easy meal. In the southern half of lake Huron (which I am mostly familiar with), a variety of game fish will be mixed in with the smelt. One could easily land walleyes, lake trout, steelhead, brown trout, cohos and kings all in one outing. This makes for an exciting fishery because you just never know what could be attacking your baits.
The lures I like to use this time of year will greatly resemble the migrating smelt. I find that the smelt in lower lake Huron average around 5-6 inches in length, so keeping the baits around that size in crucial. Blue and silver lures are the staple of my arsenal. I prefer Rebels and Rapalas in jointed or strait designs, but a host of other lures work very well. Non-jointed, shallow diving Bombers and Thundersticks are also very productive and are great choices.
I have found that running the lures without snap swivels seems to be a little more productive. The snap swivel will slightly turbulate the water before it reaches the bill of the lure and will impede its action. A Rapala knot is quick and easy to tie and best of all it is free!
The equipment needed for this fantastic spring fishery is relatively simple. I like to use line counter reels spooled with 15 LB test mono- filiment on medium action trolling rods. A good set of planer boards or in-line planers are needed to get the baits out away from the boat and widen the trolling path to cover more water and depth ranges. If you choose to run planer boards, make sure to pay attention to boat traffic and wave action when adjusting the distance from the boat to the boards. I have found some nice areas where I can stretch the boards out to 100-150 feet away from the boat. This allows a greater span of depth while trolling the shoreline. A good fish/depth finder is a must because the fish are in shallow water and close attention must be paid to the water depth. I prefer a fish finder with speed and temperature. Although we tend to fish very close to the shoreline this time of year, a good GPS is always recommended. Spring weather is very unpredictable so you can never be over prepared.
I generally troll in 6-12 feet of water until the surface temperature climbs above 48 degrees or the smelt have moved back out into the lake. As soon as the ice is out it is time to start trolling the shoreline. Search for small surface temperature fluctuations of even ½ of a degree. This is the most essential thing for locating bait and fish. Start by running the lures 30-60 feet behind the planers and increase the leads as necessary. Try to search out leeward sides of points and calm water areas. Some of my best fishing days have been when the weather is calm, bright and sunny.
Find areas with minimal boat traffic. In water this shallow it does not take long to spook those leery browns and shut them down from feeding. The best times during the day to fish are literally whenever you can get out. We have had great action at all times during the day and night, but generally a good bite happens around 9:00 a.m. when the water temp climbs a degree or two.
Troll slow this time of year. The colder the water temp, the slower you should troll. I try to stay around 1.5-2.4 m.p.h. until the water starts to warm then you can play with increasing the boat’s speed. Try putting the boat in neutral briefly and then back in gear. This “jigging” action will trigger strikes on those slow days.
Good luck this spring! Keep those lines tight and coolers full!