Fishing the Lake Michigan transition in Chicago area waters is simply based on an understanding of water temperatures and what the this fish are doing. Patterns of the fish given the time of day and movements based on prevailing winds can be tricky to understand. However, once we have an understanding of that we can maximize the catch.
Fishing the Lake Michigan Transition – Chicago
Lake Michigan Fishing Chicago

Fishing the Lake Michigan Transition - Chicago

Fishing the Lake Michigan transition in Chicago area waters is simply based on an understanding of water temperatures and what the this fish are doing. Patterns of the fish given the time of day and movements based on prevailing winds can be tricky to understand. However, once we have an understanding of that we can maximize the catch. When we hear anglers talking about the transition… What do they mean exactly? Well, it’s when the surface temperature of the water begins to warm up (56 - 60 degrees) and all those coho salmon we were catching on yellowbirds slows down. The following tips should help increase your catch during the Lake Michigan transition around Chicago waters. 

Predawn and First Light

It’s not uncommon to pick up a king or two predawn and going into first light running glow spoons in the bottom half of the water column. Here’s a secret, if you’ve been fishing 70’-90’, we set up in 50’ of water and place glow spoons in as many places as possible (lead cores and riggers). Second, we’re going to set-up a couple Yellow Bird combos on each side and run them until light is up. The surface temperatures are rising too high to hold coho there for long. 

The reason to set-up shallower is that the fish will migrate in-shore over night to feed. If we run right to the depth where we left off yesterday or where the last report came from, there’s a high probability we will pass some fish. Second, as the transition occurs and thermal layers develop in the water column, the kings will be found inside the coho. I.e. if we’re fishing in 120’ for coho and steelhead, the kings will be inside of 100’. As a charter, we always set-up 20-40’ shallower and work our way out toward the area we believe will be holding fish. 

Sun Up

We should be well into the 70’-90’ of water by now and begin making some changes. The yellowbirds are coming out as we know from experience they will be dead sticks. We drop the riggers by 15-20’ of depth from where we originally set them. Drop the dipsys back to match the depth of riggers once the bites start coming or vice versa. In place of the Yellow Birds we’ll add a couple lead cores to each side. One shallower lead like a 4 or 5 color and then the 10 color to the inside of the lead core spread. During and after the transition our 6-10 color lead cores are going to be some of our top producers. If we don’t pick pick up fish through the 70’-90’ of water we just keep heading out deeper until we find them. We run spoons on our long line leadcore or copper wire. 

Once the sun is up we only change out lures that are not producing for lures similar to those that are. If could cover comes in, it may require a color change of the entire spread except for a couple stud lures. Lures placed higher in the water column should be colors of choice for the coho and steelhead. Those colors include; yellow, orange, pink, red, a blue and a green. There’s days where one lure color/pattern is so hot, we’ll put it on every line running in that portion of the water column. 

Finding the Thermal-cline - Daylight Fishing

Finding the thermal can be done a couple ways. If you’re using a good graph as most any newer graph is, it’ll show up as pixels in say 50’ for example. That’s because the water is colder and denser. The second way to find the thermal layer is with a depth probe. Once the thermal layer is defined place the lures just above and below. Bait fish (unless your marking large masses) will typically be in the vicinity of the thermal-cline. If you are marking big masses of bait, that’s where you want the lures… running through and above the depths those bait ball are. Fish always strike up or froward so running baits below the bait balls we most likely be unproductive. 

Sunset and Sun Down

We reverse everything to the morning set-up and make our way back into the shallower water. Kings that have been cruising around will often move to shallower depths at night as the coho and steelhead will begin to rise up in the column again. 

Prevailing Winds

The water in the lake is like a conveyor belt. If we have winds blowing from the west shores to the east for a sustained period. The surface waters head toward the shores of Michigan and rolls under pushing cooler water from depth back toward the east shores. Therefore, if we were fishing 110’ foot of water yesterday and the winds have blown all night as mentioned we will start in 70’ because this fish will most likely be found between 80’-100’ based on the water movement. Similarly would be a North or South wind. Say we fished in front of the harbor yesterday and we had a North or South wind develop during the day and sustain overnight, we will start a mile or so toward the direction of the wind rather than right back in front.

Lure Sizing

This time if the year the peanut flies are given way to 2” slider flies behind 00 or stubby dodgers…or 3”/4” flies behind 8” dodgers or flashers. Our preference in flies turns toward Rapture Trolling Flies as they seem to consistently produce and will last all season. If you can afford a few, the staples would be the Hypnotist, Oceana UV, Last Supper, and Silver Hypnotist. 

Our spoons will be downsized from magnum to a standard size Moonshines, Michigan Stinger Standard and even Stingray size is a good choice too, along with Dreamweaver Super Slims. The reason for downsizing the lure is the alive spawn. The spawn is over and the big alewives have died off and smaller alewives provide the staple diet along with insects. 

Note: {If you are targeting lake trout continue to use the magnum spoons.} 

Dipsy’s and Down-riggers

Note: {If you do not have down riggers yet, buy a couple Luhr Jensen Double Deep Six’s. These are very effective in achieving depth of 135’ and will run straight behind the boat. They can be run on a MH rod with 40-50 pound braid. They are a hell of a lot cheaper than down riggers and will work nearly all season as we rarely run riggers deep than 135’ anyway.} 

As we enter into the transition we know that we are going fish deeper in the water column. We also know we have a high probability of catching quality size fish. Therefore, we replace the dipsy’s with wire line. We put away the braid and mono rigs for the season. If you only have one set of Dipsy rods, opt for braid. It’s the most versatile during the remainder of the season.

As for our down riggers we size up the weight of the balls from 10lb to 15lb. The fifteen pound balls allow us to fish deeper with less blow-back or side movement from the currents. Mentioned in the note above, Deep Six’s are a great alternative if you do not have down riggers. 

In Summary

When the Lake Michigan Transition begins around Chicago area waters, many anglers hang their hats until the following season. Rather than hanging you hats and awaiting next coho season, get out there and try some of the tip offered here. We are confident you will increase your catch and possibly hook up with a fish off a lifetime! Good Luck and Safe Fishing - Spendthrift Charters.

Welcome to Spendthrift Charters!

Frequently called the "Best Chicago Fishing Charters" in Chicagoland and proudly serving the Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois areas for over 40 years, Captain Jerry Nied has been chartering the finest of fishing trips. Spendthrift Charters is one of the largest fishing charter fishing vessels available on Lake Michigan today. We currently have three 39-ft Tiara ships to satisfy every fishing need, no matter the size of the group. Captain Jerry is a full time U.S. Coast Guard and licensed captain. Fishing charters are available 7 days a week. Call now for the next available Chicago fishing charter departure time!

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