A highlight of the trip occurred after we got back to the dock. Captain Dan deftly filleted our catch while we went over to Captain Morgan’s Grindstone Bar & Grill to thaw out. Captain Morgan’s claim to fame is they will cook your catch for you.
Captain Dan Curchon prepares his charter boat for a day on the water out of Grindstone City.
Grindstone City is like other cities and towns in Michigan’s Thumb—you have to be looking for it to find it. Tucked away at the very tip of the Thumb, Grindstone City is not much more than a stop sign at four corners. That’s exactly why its residents and visiting anglers like it.
There’s a saying “nothing ventured; nothing gained.” That had to be what Captain Dan Cruchon (stormychinook.com) was thinking when I joined Eric Guider and his daughter Hannah at Cruchon’s dock in Grindstone City for an early May trip. If you never act on a hunch you’ll never know if your hunch was right. Cruchon had a premonition that the mother lode of lake trout had spent the winter basking on structure that existed in the middle of Lake Huron. Curchon had visited the spires in the summer months and had done well, but he was curious if the trout congregated there when the water was still cold. Since this was a “fun” trip we were all up for exploring. We had nothing to loose. Plus this was Curchon’s first trip up of the season so it would be good to run the boat a bit and get a kind of shakedown cruise under his belt.
Captain Dan let the motors on the 28-foot Albemarle warm up to supply the heaters in the cabin with tepid air so the long run would be more comfortable. Once everyone and their gear was on board Curchon threw off the lines and idled out of the harbor and pointed the vessel north.
I was glad I’d brought a Thermos of hot coffee to sip on as we made the long run. Gloves and hoods were welcome apparel. The trip went fairly quickly as we chatted about the fishing out of Grindstone City, shared acquaintances and new tackle that Shimano was coming out with in the coming year. By the time Curchon pulled back on the throttles we were closer to Alpena than Grindstone City.
Opening the drop curtain was a shock. With water temperature in the upper 30’s and the air not much warmer it was a blast back to reality. You could see your breath. Fortunately, there was little wind. I half expected to see some icebergs floating by.
Hannah Guider and Captain Dan Curchon with a lake trout from the cold waters of Lake Huron.
Curchon handed each of us a Shimano rod and reel with a heavy butterfly jig attached. The idea was to spot some trout on the graph, determine their depth and then drop the jig to them and then rip the jig up two feet before allowing it to flutter back down. Trout were most likely to take the jig as it fluttered back down. Ripping the jig upward required some exertion, which was good in the cold.
Captain Dan was idling from waypoint to waypoint to locate the abrupt structure that rose from the 200 to 300 foot depths and topped out at 75 feet. He reported he was seeing the odd trout, but not the numbers he expected. We went from one piece of structure to another for two hours, but couldn’t find the trout. Finally, Captain Dan suggested heading back in towards shore where we could try fishing for an hour or so before we had to quit.
We were even farther from port than when we originally stopped so the ride back in took even longer. We stopped in about 60 feet of water. The near-shore water temperature had nudged upward to 43 degrees. It was the warmest water we’d seen. Captain Dan commented that he was seeing a few fish on the electronics so our spirits were warmed unlike our fingers.
Captain Dan and Eric Guider set about getting some lines while Hannah and I remained behind the drop curtain in the warmth and out of the way. One of the wire magnum divers got a flasher and fly while the other got a magnum spoon in black/green/glow. A couple of ‘riggers were set with flasher and flies. Curchon let out a couple short cores to tempt fish that might be higher in the water column. Curchon pinned an orange spoon to the swivel on a five-color hoping entice any steelhead in the vicinity. The other lead core as mated to a spoon with a green/glow tinge. We only had about an hour to fish.
It wasn’t long before a diver started thumping and Eric cleared the rod from the holder and handed it to his daughter Hannah. There was no need for instruction. Hannah has caught fish all over the world with her Shimano rep Dad and made short work of the 8-pound lake trout. We all high-fived when the trout hit the net glad to get the skunk out of the box. It wasn’t long before the same rod went again with another trout that Eric reeled in. Eric and I both spied one of the lead cores as it started pulling back, but the fish let go before we could get to it. A minute or two later the same board starting skiing backward and this time the hook stuck and it didn’t seem like a lake trout. As it neared the boat we could see it’s silvery sides and we got excited at the prospects of catching a bonus steelhead. We caught another lake trout before we decided to call it quits. I had no doubt if we’d have spent the entire day in shallows we would have had a heck of a box of fish.
A highlight of the trip occurred after we got back to the dock. Captain Dan deftly filleted our catch while we went over to Captain Morgan’s Grindstone Bar & Grill (www.captainmorgansgrindstoneresort.com) to thaw out. Captain Morgan’s claim to fame is they will cook your catch for you. Captain Dan had made the arrangements before hand. Soon the waitress came out with heaping baskets of fries and our trout deep-fried with four different seasonings. The trout had been swimming less than an hour before. They were all scrumptious, but the blacken fish was a favorite. It was impossible to tell the lake trout from the steelhead.
Captain Morgan’s will cook your catch for you and does a great job captainmorgansgrindstoneresort.com.
Captain Dennis Cook fin-lander.com has been fishing Grindstone City since 1982, and began charter fishing in 2009. He is also the owner of Captain Morgan’s Restaurant and Resort.
“In the old days we use to catch a lot of kings all around Grindstone City,” said Cook, “but it’s not like the old days anymore.” Cook said the target now in May fishing is mainly for lake trout shadowing schools of smelt in 40 to 80 feet of water between 330 and 20 degrees out of the harbor. Some days we pick up a stray king along with a few steelheads and cohoes mixed in. The potpourri can include the odd brown trout, Atlantic salmon, white-fish, walleye, and pink salmon. Some captains make the 8-mile run to the northwest near the Port Austin Lighthouse where slightly warmer water often collects smelt, gobies and other minnows.”
“June is a transition month for lake trout,” said Cook. “The trout in June tend to set up on the drop-offs from 80 to 130 feet northwest of the harbor all the way to Port Hope. They start to relate more to the bottom then and we’ll target them with flashers and flies or Spin-N-Glows. Most years there tends to be more fish to the east from Huron City to Port Hope in June, depending on where gobies are present, but it’s unclear why this occurs.” Besides the ever-present lake trout, drop-back steel-head that have spawned in area streams fan out in the lake to recuperate in June and add some variety to the catch.
“Last year the walleyes didn’t show up in Grindstone City until late July,” lamented Cook, “but fishing well to the west of Port Austin was good.” During a normal year walleyes show up in early July, especially if there has been a southwest wind to bring green, fertile Saginaw Bay water to the area. The fishery is very dependent on prevailing winds. In the past, walleye didn’t show up until August sometimes because of persistent north and east winds.”
The walleye found off Grindstone City are a combination of fish from Saginaw Bay and those coming up the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. “When we get the southwest wind we need, the first wave of walleyes are usually the largest fish of the year,” said Cook. Fish up to 8 pounds are common then. Cook said the many people don’t realize that Grindstone City is in the MH-4 zone that includes Saginaw Bay so the daily walleye limit there is eight fish. Cook admitted that most people like the higher limit, but it can be a bitter pill to swallow for charter captains because of the time involved in catching and then cleaning the extra fish.
“When the walleyes show up, just about any method will work,” admitted Cook, “but the last 20 years we’ve be fish-ing a lot of artificial baits instead of crawlers like we did in the old days. Typically, we’ll run 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-color lead cores off of boards, a couple of divers and a couple of downriggers down 20 to-30 feet when targeting walleyes.” The spread entices walleyes as well as the potpourri of other predators like steelhead and whitefish that collect in the same area that time of year. Prime depths vary, but it can be anywhere from 20 feet to 100 feet with 25 to 45 feet being the average most productive depth. Cook said that stickbaits, like Bombers, Thundersticks, Reef Runners and Husky Jerks in wild colors have their day, but purple seems to be the hottest color overall.
Shimano representative Eric Guider has reason to smile after catching his first trout of the year.
A variety of spoons will also work off the lead core lines, but Cook said Silver Streaks (www.wolverinetackle.com) with a copper or gold back excel for him. Typical colors include purple, pink and red in shades like Bubble Gum, Shrimp and Mixed Veggies. “It’s strange because the copper-backed spoons don’t work as well in other places, but here they out produce any other colored back here,” he said. He said both the junior and mini Streaks work on any given day.
When walleye scatter in late summer, it’s back to the trout. Cook says that most of his customers prefer lake trout now because of the eating quality. “When alewives were present on Lake Huron they caused lake trout to be greasy with a lot of fat that accumulated in the flesh,” said Cook. “Lake trout weren’t as good eating as they are now with their diet of smelt and gobies.” Lake trout go deeper in the heat of summer. Cook said he deploys a full compliment of rigs then including copper, wire divers, long lengths of lead core and down-riggers to cover the entire water column because many fish species can be found from top to bottom during that time of year. “Prime time for lake trout varies from year to year, and it’s dependent on wind. If bait from deep water comes in to our drop-offs, especially after a north wind, it can be incredible for trout,” said Cook. “In the last few years the best fishing has been in August, when some of us are on Lake Michigan chasing salmon, but the great fishing at Grindstone City continues until the cold winds of late fall start blowing.” For information on lodging and charters in the area contact: thumbfishingcharters.com.