Great Lakes salmon and trout fishing started in Lake Michigan more than 50 years ago and Lake Michigan still offers the best fishing and widest variety of these fish of all the Great Lakes. No where on Lake Michigan offers a longer season for individuals wanting to catch their share of these gamesters than Northwest Indiana's small portion of water, at Lake Michigan's southern tip.
Many charter boat operators in Indiana have built full or part-time businesses catering to wannabe Lake Michigan salmon catchers from near and far. The charter captains are expert mariners, terrific fishermen, great people with whom to spend a day on the lake, but first of all, they are question answerers.
The questions start as soon as the phone rings or an email appears from a potential customer. Common questions involve available dates, what fishing licenses are needed, where to meet, what time will the trip start and dozens of others.
All of these questions are important; and luckily, all are easy to answer. However, the number one question captains are asked is also the toughest question a potential customer could ask. "What's the best time of year to come fishing?"
Let's say the fall run of salmon is going and the fish are active. The number of fish caught is dictated more by the amount of time it takes to boat one of these behemoths, then get set up for another pass through the staging area than the number of bites experienced during the trip.
That's got to be the best time to come, right? Perhaps.
Perhaps the next day the fish are moody and the captain works as hard as possible but can only get one or two bites during the whole trip. That can happen with spawning run fish. Perhaps the group includes a petite mother and an eight year old child. They may not be able to handle the power of a full grown chinook salmon. Dad may enjoy it, but mom and junior would have had more fun in the spring catching more, but smaller-sized fish - fish they can reel in themselves.
Northwest Indiana residents are used to weather reports including the words, "cooler near the lake." Lake Michigan is slow to warm in the spring and a day predicted to be "shirt-sleeve" weather ashore may require a warm jacket or more to be comfortable on or near the lake. If the goal for you and your fishing companions is to spend an enjoyable, warm, sunny day on the lake and catch a few fish to ice down for dinner, a slow "catching" day in July or August may be the perfect outing. If everyone in your fishing group are a four-season outdoors lovers, accustomed to spending hours outdoors in chilly to downright cold weather, a trip in March or early April, wearing your cold weather gear, can be the key to action so fast none will worry about the air temperature.
An avid fisherman from Jasper County fished several times in early season with an Indiana captain and his group caught a limit numbers of coho salmon, brown trout and steelhead on each trip - but nothing big. Then he booked a fall trip to try for mature king salmon the captain told him would be available in September.
In five hours he caught two big salmon more than 15 pounds each and told the captain, "I'm never coming back with you in the spring. I'd much rather have the chance to catch even one or two of these huge fish than catch a limit of the small fish in the spring."
That's why the question is hard to answer. Each group has different needs, desires and expectations. But there is a perfect time for each group. Call one of the professional captains in Indiana's North Coast Charter Association, (www. charterfish.org), discuss what will make a perfect trip for your group then decide when to go.
Me? I like it all. I like the fact the fishing changes month to month as the season progresses. My advice? The best time to come is when you can. Bundle up if necessary. Wear shorts and flip-flops if you can. Catch the fish that bite whether that be in early March, mid-summer or late September. There are no bad times to give Lake Michigan a try.
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