It’s true that fishing Northern Lake Huron comes with a host of challenges, but there are fish to be caught for those who are willing to work at finding them.
Northern Lake Huron is producing a mixed bag of lake trout, Chinook, coho, Atlantic salmon and steel-head like the one the author is holding. Thanks to stocking efforts and also robust natural reproduction, steelhead have become the second most common fish in the Lake Huron mix.
At Fishing 411 TV some of the assets we value most are the relationships we have developed over the years with Great Lakes charter captains. My youngest son Jake grew up on charter boats, first mating for a host of captains on Lake Michigan and also Lake Erie during his high school years. By the time Jake was 18 he had his own captain’s license and was running both salmon and walleye trips.
For a young man who loves fishing, it’s hard to imagine a better summer job than working amongst some of the most talented anglers in the Great Lakes region.
After two years in technical school, Jake came to work full time at Fishing 411 TV. While Jake no longer works on a charter boat, we have maintained friendships with captains all over the Great Lakes. When the phone rings and I recognize the number of one of those captains, I know I can trust the information that is about to be shared.
Last September the phone buzzed and it was a Northern Michigan area code. I knew instantly it was Captain Ed Rutherford from Alpena. Captain Ed is one of the most celebrated charter captains on the Great Lakes. One of the few actively fishing captains who can say he was running trout charters before salmon were even introduced into the Great Lakes, Ed’s professional fishing career has spanned more than 50 years.
After a few minutes of catching up with family talk and other chit chat, Captain Ed got down to business. Captain Ed blurted out, “I’m on a good mixed bag bite of lake trout and steelhead.” The excitement in his voice told me he was dead serious.
For some time our TV crew has wanted to film an episode in Northern Lake Huron. Weather, scheduling problems and a host of other issues had undermined our efforts, but this time things were going to be different.
“I just checked “Sail Flow” and we are looking at three straight days of light and variable winds,” announced Captain Ed. There are lots of different apps out there that help anglers predict wind conditions, but Sail Flow is the one that Captain Ed has found to be the most accurate in Northern Lake Huron.
Anyone who has fished Northern Lake Huron knows that this region of the Great Lakes is highly vulnerable to sudden and often violent changes in wind directions and wave conditions. About the only thing that’s predictable regarding Northern Lake Huron weather is that it’s a sure bet it is going to be unpredictable.
After picking Ed’s brain for more than an hour on the phone, my next call was to our videographer and field producer Gabe VanWormer to check his availability. The moment I got confirmation that Gabe was good to go, Jake and I started packing the boat in preparation for a few days fishing out of the port of Presque Isle, Michigan. Presque Isle is a little known port located about half way between Alpena and Rogers City. The Michigan DNR maintains a small marina and public access site at Presque Isle.
We arrived in town about supper time and hooked up at a local restaurant so Captain Ed could fill in the blanks. “Your lake trout are going to come on a Spin-n-Glo rigged about 18-24 inches behind a flasher,” announced Ed. “I run a flasher because I can troll faster, cover more water and also add other gear such as spoons into my trolling pattern.”
Captain Ed runs his lake trout gear primarily on three downriggers including two out-downs and one chute rigger. This frees up the rest of his boat to run lead core and copper wire on boards and also diving planers fished primarily with troll-ing spoons.
Beautiful mature steelhead like this one caught by Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV are coming to net regularly in Lake Huron from Rogers City to Alpena.
“The silver fish are going to be mostly in the top 40 feet,” Ed went on to add. “We’ve been hitting five to seven steel-head a trip on 3, 5 and 7 color lead core set ups running standard sized Silver Streak spoons. The best Silver Streak steelhead spoon colors are pretty much anything as long as it features lots of silver and orange.”
Captain Ed went on to explain that Northern Lake Huron has always enjoyed good trout fishing, but in recent years they are seeing more and more silver fish in the mix. “Not surprisingly the best fishing for steelhead and salmon is associated with the ability to find bait fish,” added Captain Ed. “Lately every trout and salmon we catch have been keying on the growing population of rainbow smelt. It’s not un-common for these fish to have two handfuls of smelt crammed into their guts.”
Captain Ed had a charter trip the next morning, so Jake and I made plans to hit the water on a shake down cruise. The next morning we were launched and heading out before Ed’s customers arrived at the dock. Minutes into our trip we had our first hook up, a lake trout on a Spin-n-Glo fished in combination with a standard sized flasher fished off a downrigger set to run about five feet off the bottom. As instructed by Captain Ed we used a Fish Hawk and kept our down speed in the 2.0 to 2.5 MPH range.
The Spin-n-Glo is hands down the “go to” bait among lake trout fishermen in Lake Huron. Most anglers favor the No. 2 and 0 sizes. Some of the most popular lake trout color patterns include the Metal-lic Green, Glitter Lime/Chartreuse, Pearl Clown, Yellow Clown, Double Trouble Green and Lime/Chartreuse Tiger.
The Yakima Bait Spin-n-Glo fished in combination with a dodger or flasher is the preferred method for targeting Lake Huron lake trout. Using a flasher allows anglers to troll a little faster and mix other lures like spoons into their trolling pattern.
Productive flasher colors include various combinations of silver, chartreuse and lime. While hard core lake trout anglers might argue that a dodger is better, the ability to troll faster while targeting a mixed bag of lake trout and steelhead made using flashers the obvious choice.
“In the spring when the water is icy cold we will slow down and run the dodger and Spin-n-Glo combination to get our trout,” explains Captain Ed. “Once the water starts to warm, we switch over to flashers, bump up our speed and it’s game on all summer long.”
Our day started with a steady stream of lake trout, but it wasn’t long before we found the first school of steelhead. “You’ll find the steelhead in small pods,” said Captain Ed. “If you have one steelhead on, chances are you’ll hook another one before that fish can be landed.”
The steelhead that spend the summer months along the Presque Isle shoreline are a mixture of wild and hatchery fish. “When you catch a steelhead, look to see if the adipose fin is clipped or not,” suggests Rutherford. “Fish with a clipped adipose are hatchery stocked and those without an adipose clip are naturally reproduced. Not only are steelhead naturally reproducing in nearby tributary streams, there is some evidence to suggest a lot of our wild steelhead are coming from the Ontario, Canada side of the lake.”
The Michigan DNR is two years into a five year steelhead study aimed at pin-pointing the movements of these elusive fish. Any steelhead that has an adipose fin clip will also have a coded tag in the snout. When keeping fish, cut off the head of adipose clipped steelhead and turn those into the DNR to help with ongoing research. Most of the popular ports have freezers at fish cleaning stations where anglers can drop off the heads of rainbows.
Anglers who are interested in fishing the Presque Isle area face some interesting challenges. “The prevailing winds and cur-rents of Northern Lake Huron are tricky to predict,” warns Captain Ed. “While we can pretty much guarantee lake trout on any given day, the thermo layers that attract and hold the steelhead, Chinook salmon, coho and also Atlantic salmon come and go quickly. Generally, the best days for silver fish occur when the lake has laid down for several days in a row. Calm water allows the thermo layers of the water column to set up and concentrate fish.”
Spoons fished in combination with lead core line and in-line planer boards account for the majority of the steelhead caught in Northern Lake Huron. Both standard and mini sized spoons do a nice job of imitating the smelt that steelhead gorge themselves on.
Another hurdle that anglers who head to Northern Lake Huron face is the fact there aren’t a lot of anglers on the water on any given day. Without an army of anglers fishing daily and figuring out bites, it can be difficult sometimes to sit down consistently on fish. That goes double for fishing on those days after a blow has scattered fish.
It’s true that fishing Northern Lake Huron comes with a host of challenges, but there are fish to be caught for those who are willing to work at finding them. Before lunch our Fishing 411 filming adventure was a wrap. We boxed an easy limit of quality lake trout and a half dozen bonus steelhead thanks to the information shared by Ed Rutherford. Back at the boat launch a DNR creel clerk also shared with us that the steelhead bite had been exceptional during August and September.
These days it seems we hear a lot of negativity when anglers start talking about Lake Huron. Certainly, Lake Huron has evolved in different directions since the alewife population crashed more than a decade ago. While alewife numbers have not recovered significantly, the loss of the alewife has seemingly opened up a niche that is allowing smelt populations to thrive.
As long as the smelt numbers remain steady, it’s a safe bet that fishing along the Northern Lake Huron coast will not disappoint those willing to make the trek.
IF YOU GO
Anglers interested in experiencing what Northern Lake Huron has to offer can find Captain Ed Rutherford based out of either Presque Isle or Alpena depending on the time of year. His charter business is called Trout Scout Charters and Captain Ed can be contacted via cell phone at (989) 356-9361. The TV episode described in this article will run on Sportsman Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Canada during 2021 in quarters one and two. Anglers can also find this episode on the Fishing 411 TV YouTube channel.