Weekly Fishing Report and Tips for Trolling Speed and Direction

5/18/2023 Fishing Report From Waukegan Harbor

As we talked about in our blog a couple weeks ago there are kings in the area like this one we caught this morning. The coho have scattered and seemingly a bit early too. Although there’s some alewives around the harbors, we are marking most of the bait on the bottom in 60’ - 80’ of water where we’ve been getting our best catches. Moonshine Blue and green flounder RV’s have been best on the long lines. Surface temp is 53 degrees. Interesting to us is that the fish we are catching of late are filled with gobies rather than alewives. We are running a mixed spread throughout the water column using lead core 6 - 10 colors to target every species. Fish are coming 30’ - 50’ down in the column. The catches of late have been comprised of a few kings, lakers, a steelhead here and there, and a handful of coho. Boats have fished out to 240’ of water where the water temp is 43 degrees on the surface with no results. Looking at the other reports on the Facebook forums and our network of boats it’s about the same everywhere. We wish we had better news and a lot of limit catches to discuss, but it’s fishing! Lets hope this weekend is a good one. 

We would like to make note that some boats are catching salmon using some different techniques from the walleye angling world that might be worth a try. The recreational boats with spot lock trolling motors are able to position on the bait balls (weather permitting) and vertically jig using spoons, ripping-raps, and blade baits. It’s not trolling, but it sure is fun to hook up and successful. 

Tip of the week - Trolling Speed and Direction

It’s no secret that successful salmon trolling is dependent on achieving proper speed and finding the direction of troll that the fish respond to. As soon as we hook up, we check the speed and the heading (direction) of our troll. This is key information. If we hook up again pretty quickly we know have a good troll speed and direction. We’ll talk more about this below.

When running dodgers for coho and lake trout the speeds typically need to be between 1.8 - 2.4 mph. The best way to know you not going to fast is to drop the rig beside the boat and see that the dodger is dodging, if it is spinning the speed is too fast for the dodger to present properly. When running flashers w/flies and spoons for kings, steelhead and coho, we can get away with favor faster trolling speeds 2.6 - 3.0 mph. Since the salmonoids can swim up to 14 mph we really can’t troll too fast for them; just our equipment. How we read our speed is important too. 

Speed can be read from the GPS as Speed Over Ground (SOG), by the paddle wheel, or by a speed-at-depth (a.k.a. speed at the ball) with devices such as a Fish Hawk. SOG, does not represent surface current and is what we find to be the best overall speed source when fishing the top of the water column for coho or steelhead. The paddle wheel definitely picks up surface current and can be used effectively combined with SOG to determine current speed. If our GPS shows a SOG of 2.2 and our paddle wheel reads 3.0, we know we have .08 mph surface current coming from our direction of troll. When we turn around we’ll have to increase boat SOG to compensate for surface current or vice versa. Understanding the current speed is important. 

Keeping the same SOG in both directions will most often result catching in one direction and not the other because the speed is off. When fishing the lower portion of the water column, we highly recommend a speed-at-depth device because the current deeper in the column is often very different from that at the surface. When using a device to monitor speed at the ball, it is what your primary focus will be. Without a Fish Hawk or similar device speed and current direction at the ball can be determined by the amount of blowback and the angle of the down rigger wire to the back and side of the aft/stern. Ideally we like to keep the down rigger wires as straight behind the boat as possible with and angle off the transom less than 25 degrees. 

Direction of troll will typically be best when trolling with current (following seas) and second best when trolling into the current or slightly quartering it. This is because the salmon stage facing into the current most often as it assist with buoyancy. We’ll often zig - zig to identify the best direction. We will know it when we start getting bit repeatedly. This is where the heading is important. Once identified it should be maintained until we run out of fish. When turning around our heading will most often be 180 degrees opposite give or take 10-15 degrees. 

Fishing where we fish along the western shore of Lake Michigan we often troll north or south maintaining a set depth. If you are doing this and catching fish… just keep on going. Understand the fish are holding in this water level and you’ll come upon fish after fish typically. However, when trolling east and west we’ll definitely have to make some turns because the fish will be holding in a range like 60’ - 80’ for example. Therefore, the back and forth trolling will be forced upon us. 

We hope this information makes some sense as it’s a little technical in nature and becomes useful to increase your catches. 

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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