The area in and around Holland offers some of the most productive, and most diverse, fishing opportunities available in the State of Michigan. While itís probably best known for its salmon and big-lake trout opportunities, the area also offers great spots for walleye, northern pike, white fish, perch and other panfish, depending on the time of the year.
The Big Lake
Fishing for salmon, lake trout, browns and steelhead on Lake Michigan is about as good as things get, provided you have the right equipment for it.
If youíre going to come during summer, as most out-of-towners do, the pattern is that youíre going to be trolling heavy lines with big hooks on them through various depths of water.
Sound easy? It is and it isnít. Itís easy because the fundamentals are easyódrag big `ole hooks through the water until something bites one. It is easy because itís nothing like trying to finesse a light-biting walleye on a 1/8- ounce jig. That requires touch and technique that few people pick up quickly. Itís also easy because sitting out on Lake Michigan on a gentle summer day is a great place to be anyway, and if you catch a few fish itís gravy.
But easy pretty much ends there. Thereís a bewildering array of equipment and lures used, depending on the time of the year, and itís not always a simple trick to find the fish in something the size of Lake Michigan.
So hereís some practical advice: take the time to stop in the bait shops and ask about w
hatís hitting what, how far out they are and how far down they are running. Next practical noteóget yourself a marine radio and tune it in to channel 68. Thatís where a lot of the captains and private fishermen are talking, and while they wonít give away everything on the air, they will provide a decent sense of whatís going on while youíre on the water.
Having said that, here are a few more specific tips for the Big Lake.
In the early spring, troll small and medium-sized minnow baits on in-line planer boards and long lines in close to shore. If you find yourself in 40 feet of water you may be too deep and in less than six feet you might be on the shallow side. Thatíll get you some browns, steelhead and maybe some Coho's.
In late spring and early summer, rig dodger & fly combinations for Chinooks and lake trout. You can run them off your downriggers or Dipsy Divers, and they are the best bait going. Youíll spend a lot of time working that in 50-150 feet of water. If you donít know what a dodger & fly is, stop by American Tackle Outfitters or Best Chance, and theyíll show you. Thatís where we learned.
In mid and late summer, the action goes mostly to spoons. If youíre working them off a downrigger, you can supplement your baits with something called a slider. Itís a six or eight-foot leader with a spoon attached to one end. The other end has a snap swivel that just clips on to your main line, so it slides more or less freely on your line within a depth range you can more or less control using rubber bands or other devices. It allows you to present more baits at more varied depths, so it helps increase your chances. Again, visit one of the bait shops to get the lowdown on how to use sliders.
In late summer and fall, a lot of local anglers switch over to J-plugs. Itís an ugly lure with a tremendous wobble that really attracts pre-spawn fish. You can use them off downriggers or Dypsies, but you do have to have some means of getting them down to the depth you want.
No matter what time of year, it frequently pays to have some kind of a crank bait working (preferably out on an in-line board) in the top 25 feet or so of the water column. The steelhead patrol up there a lot and if you hook up youíll have a blast.
Always use good rods and reels intended for big-water fishing. Some of these fish are monsters, and if youíre not a really competent and attentive fisherman, theyíll tear up your light spinning gear faster than you can say Dammit!. Also, invest a couple of bucks extra to get good, stainless steel, ball bearing snap swivels. If you lose a trophy fish because of cheap terminal tackle, youíll hate yourself for life, and rightly so.
Lure color? Who knows? Just like anywhere else, certain colors will always have their day. Thatís a good reason to listen in on the radio. I always remember that the main baitfish in Lake Michigan, the alewife, is silver and black, so I try to keep a spoon colored like that in the until it proves its not going to produce anything that day.