Though many good sized fish inhabit small lakes and streams, when that’s the case, the big dudes are usually few and far between. It’s also true fish sized from tiny minnows up to those just panfish sized can be caught in waters of any size. But big waters mean big fish. In the ocean that may mean wicked tuna, Jaws-sized sharks and others. What about Lake Michigan, here along Indiana’s South Shore. It’s a big lake, often characterized as a freshwater sea. Are there sea-sized fish to be caught?
Absolutely! Lake Michigan offers fishing for five species of salmon and trout. There are lunker lake trout, bruiser brown trout, super-sized steelhead trout as well as coho and king salmon with ancestors from the Pacific Ocean. You never know what is going to bite, at times, although it's usually predictable depending when and where we are fishing and the lures being used.
Coho salmon are the "bread and butter" fish at the southern end of Indiana. Very possibly a coho will be the first fish boated in the spring and the last fish of the season - with plenty of them in between. They start the season as 2 ½ year old "feeders," weighing three pounds each, give or take, and they grow rapidly through the spring and summer. We call any over ten pounds a "mega-ho."
Also known as king salmon, these fish are the most popular sport fish in the lake. Their numbers and availability vary from season to season since the number present in the lake is determined more by natural reproduction than hatchery stocks. They are a welcome if not frequent catch anytime of the season beginning in April. In very late August and September spawning run kings are specifically targeted. Most chinooks mature to weigh around 15 pounds, with a few twice that size caught each year.
Indiana is renowned as the home of the Skamania strain steelhead, unique because they grow to a larger than average size and they swarm in the south end of Lake Michigan all summer long. Catching a steelhead (or two or three or...) is common all season long. These "lake-run" rainbow trout are the acrobats of the lake, making repeated jumps, three, four or more feet out of the water. When conditions are right, anglers target nearshore Skamanias during June and July. Southern Lake Michigan steelies commonly range in size from six to sixteen pounds.
Lake trout are the only "native" trout in the Great Lakes and their numbers are at modern era high levels. Both stocked fish and wild spawned lakers are caught. During the summer months most are caught in deep water 90 or more feet deep. There's a special period in late April, through most of May they can be caught in water much shallower. Expect these fish to weigh from just under 10 pounds to over 20.
Most trips in March or April will include one or more brown trout in the catch along with cohos and other fish. After that, browns nearly disappear but are always welcome when one slams a lure. Most of the spring brownies are four or five pounds. Most of the summer-caught browns are over 10 pounds. The Lake Michigan record is over 40 pounds and the Indiana state record is nearly 30 pounds.