POINT TO POINT - Mike Gnatkowski

POINT TO POINT - Mike Gnatkowski

The points act like a log in a river. Current peels off the end of the points depending on wind direction. From the north, the wind pushes the warm water on the surface near Big Point Sable (44.0577° N, 86.5143° W) southward down the lake. How dramatic the movement is, and the temperature change depends on the intensity of the wind. The contours act as a funnel. 


More and more jumbo coho salmon have added to the mix caught between the points in recent years. 


I’d like to see a better piece of salmon structure on the Great Lakes than between Big Point Sable and Little Point Sable. The two points are the most prominent fixtures of landscape on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, and what you see on a map or the shoreline extends into the lake. The structure there causes wind-driven currents to funnel along the drop-offs, and salmon gravitate to the combination of structure and current. 

I remember legendary charter captain Pete Ruboyianes telling me that wind
is the most important element in Great Lakes fishing. Wind moves the water. The microorganisms that alewives feed on move with the water. Salmon follow the baitfish. Salmon can lie in wait and bide their time for dinner to come to them along the contours found off Little and Big Point Sable or they can use the structure to trap fleeing schools of prey. Either way, salmon, especially king salmon, gravitate to the structure.





The points act like a log in a river. Current peels off the end of the points depending on wind direction. From the north, the wind pushes the warm water on the surface near Big Point Sable (44.0577° N, 86.5143° W) southward down the lake. How dramatic the movement is, and the temperature change depends on the intensity of the wind. The contours act as a funnel. After a big summer blow, the warm water might have been as warm as 60 or 65 degrees from the surface down to 80 or 90 feet and is then replaced by the upwellings and 45-degree water.

I always laughed when I watched private boaters and even charter boats make a right-hand turn and head north after a big summer north blow towards the point because that’s where they caught ‘em yesterday. You could often see the water to the north flat as ice, nearly as cold and devoid of fish. The advancing warm water would have ripples or two- or three-foot waves. Finding the edge and staying ahead of it could produce spectacular fishing. Savvy anglers knew the warm water would be stacked up on the north side of Big Point Sable, too.


Anglers passing the Ludington lighthouse need to decide. Do I go north or south?


The key is to follow the moving surface water to the south or go around Big Point Sable. Fishing at Little Point Sable would be on fire as the warm water stacks up against the bank with loads of fish in it. Even a lesser wind could have the same effect earlier in the year during spring and early summer when the warm surface layer is thinner, the water is moved even more easily and takes less wind. With predominantly north and east winds during most of the spring, you can’t go wrong heading south early in the season.

Security in the form of deep water is only a short distance away for edgy salmon off The Shelf. The bottom plunges away quickly and salmon have the security of deep water close at hand when sunshine and boat traffic forces them off The Shelf. Five miles off the Big Point Sable, anglers will find 500 feet of water. There and beyond is where steelhead accumulate on the surface during the summer months. Kings and lake trout take refuge there a fathom or two below.





In between the points, plenty of places hold fish. A recognizable landmark is the Bathhouse at Ludington State Park (44° 01’ 41.52” W 086° 30’ 16.20”). The Bathhouse marked the outflow of the Sable River, where salmon held in net pens years earlier would naturally want to return. The bottom there slowly dips to 30 feet before it undulates in a series of troughs from 30 to 50 feet of water before it reaches the lip of the Shelf in 70 to 90 feet and plunges off the edge. Beginning as early as mid-July, kings begin making nightly forays into the troughs. The kings stay well after daylight on rainy overcast days. Their numbers build through August into September. Most anglers don’t consider the skinny water.

To the south, where latitude/longitude changes from “43” to “44” degrees, veteran charter skipper Jerry Lee and other savvy captains would refer to the location as “00” or the tournament numbers. The spot is where the contours and structure to the north run into the alluvial plane created by the Pere Marquette River. The topography creates what walleye anglers call “an inside turn” but on a much grander scale. Schools of salmon would collect there and mill around or follow the edge. To the north, 100 feet of water is a relatively short distance offshore from the Ledge, where it quickly plunges into deep water.


Mary Ellen Gorshing has reason to grin after catching this husky Chinook salmon north of Ludington off Big Point Sable.


During prime time in August, it would be a constant battle to see who could stay on top of the Shelf. The loser bounced their riggers inside, where the bottom came up quickly or got pushed out to deeper water. Savvy captains like Lee plied the tournament numbers and watched as boats streamed by headed to the Bathhouse and the promised lands to the north, knowing he’d have fish in the box before they even shut their motors down. A troll would take you to the Bathhouse, where you’d quickly turn when you encountered the pack. I remember many days when a light blue Cherokee Sea Screw and the Equalizer were the only two boats working the tournament numbers and discretely scooping salmon as fast as you could set lines. Fishing would remain hot if you traced the 100-foot contour to the southwest.

Some of the most fun fishing of the year at Ludington occurs in August when pre-spawn kings start moving into the shallows. The kings cavort and frolic in a finned foreplay drawn by the outflows of the Sable, Lincoln, and Pere Marquette rivers. I loved when I would clear the pierheads and make a quick right headed towards the twinkling lights of Epworth and shut down in 30 feet of water. It was a crap shoot whether the kings would be shallow, but it was more of a sure bet the deeper you got into August. Short cores pulling plugs, long leads on Slide Drivers, and clean deep-diving crankbaits off Yeck boards often resulted in bedlam with three or four kings screaming off into the darkness at once with no idea where they’d end up. If it worked, you stayed until the fish told you otherwise. If not, I was a short troll to deeper water from there.






One of my favorite sayings regard-ing fishing out of Ludington was, “When in doubt, go straight out.” I applied that axiom many times with great success. If you run straight from the Ludington harbor to the 35.00 “numbers,” you’ll be close to 100 feet of water. When the wind has been blowing and reports were sketchy, running straight out was a safe bet. You were close to any hot fishing you might hear about, traffic would be less, and the currents there were much easier to deal with than near the point, and finding the right trolling speed was easier. If you trolled straight west, the bottom would drip to 150 feet quickly. On a north/south troll you could go back and forth across the tip of the structure depending on the wind. In August, you could set lines at the pierheads and troll west. If you hit fish in the shallows, you could repeat the troll until the bite fizzled and then troll straight out, hitting the occasional fish as you did. Usually, you’d have a half dozen bruisers in the box before heading out to work the tip of the alluvial plane created over thousands of years by the Pere Marquette River. I can’t count the days I came in with an overflowing box to hang up, and someone would say, “I didn’t see you up by the point today.”

I’d grin and reply,” No, you didn’t.” And the whole idea was to make money right?

A similar ploy would work if you fish southwest of the Ludington Harbor (43.57218 N 86.28.17 W). The routine was to run a short distance to get out of the way of boats coming out of the harbor and set lines. Staging kings would be stacked in the color line just outside the pierheads. Once the bite waned, just keep trolling southwest, where the bottom quickly dropped off to 100 feet or more in front of the Consumer’s Pumped Storage Facility (43° 53’ 22.19” N 86° 26’ 25.79” W.} Schools of kings congregate there before blasting upriver after the first fall rain.


The lighthouse at Big Point Sable is a landmark where anglers are sure to find exceptional fishing for salmon.


Pentwater used to be a quaint, sleepy little harbor town. It still is compared to Ludington, but more and more tourists and anglers have discovered its allure. Many of us bemoan the change. Still, it’s an excel-lent port for the weekend angler, less busy than Ludington, with access to exceptional fishing between the points.

From the Pentwater pierheads (43° 46’ 32.39” N 86° 25’ 35.39” W), anglers will find exceptional fishing no matter which way they go. To the north, the project’s south end always seems to hold a few fish, and you’re likely to have very little competi-tion. Straight out of the harbor in the 200-foot depths and more is particularly good in June when fishing in other places can be difficult. The contours to the south offshore of the Three Sisters are not as abrupt as those found closer to Little Point Sable (43°39’ 00” N 86°32’24” W} and off the Silver Lake Sand Dunes (43°40’21.76”N 86°30” 53.15’ W, but they still hold plenty of fish.






“I usually don’t go north,” admitted Bret Daggett of sportsmencharters.com, who runs a fleet of charter boats out of the Pentwater municipal marina. “The fishing there just doesn’t seem as consistent,” he said. “The fish there can here today; gone tomorrow.” He said the bottom between Pentwater and the Project is flat compared to the south. He’ll run three to four miles to the south on a typical day before fishing. “Any closer to Pentwater, and it can be a long troll from 80 feet to deeper water. To the south, you can troll out and be in 175 feet of water within a half hour,” he offered. If the fish are there though, there may not be a need to troll deeper.

A focal point of fishing out of Pentwater is the Silver Lake Dunes. You can watch dune buggies and trucks frolicking and courting disaster while you’re busy battling husky kings. Though not as abrupt as the shelf found north of Ludington, the contours off Juniper Beach and Silver Lake plunge quickly from 85 feet of water to depths over 150 feet. Kings stack up there from early May through early September most years. Five miles off Little Point Sable will find you in 250 feet of water. Two to three miles farther south near Stoney Lake is much flatter.

Last year Daggett said they found better numbers of kings than the previous year and a lot of husky 25- to 27-pound Chinooks. While the previous year produced more 30-pound trophies than he can remember, last season only accounted for two trophy kings. Any charter captain worth his salt will tell you they’d rather have more fish than a few trophies.


Dennis Griffith with a chunky king salmon caught out of Ludington. 


Pentwater is the perfect place for anglers that have smaller trailerable boats. “Schools of kings are smaller these days, so it’s important that you stay on the fish,” advised Daggett. “Being out there every day helps,” Daggett said people with trailerable boats that can stay on the fish have an advantage.

“Last year, we had some exceptionally good coho fishing in June in 80 feet of water or less, said Daggett. “We were catching 10 or 12 cohos per trip. Whether that will happen again this year is anyone’s guess. It sure helped fill the gap.” The great coho fishing might be linked to the more widespread planting of cohos that has been taking place along Michigan’s Lake Michigan ports in recent years.





Like most Lake Michigan ports, fishing was tough at Pentwater in early July. “The kings showed up like usual about mid-July,” he said. “Late September offshore was phenomenal. The fishing there held up for a couple of weeks.”

Of course, it’s a crapshoot in the fall, depending on whether the weather cooperates. When it does, it’s hard to beat the fishing found between the points.






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