The King (Chinook) salmon is the fish that put Lake Michigan’s fishery on the map. People travel from all around the U.S. to enjoy charter fishing on Lake Michigan, especially out of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Here, they have an excellent chance at hooking into a large King Salmon. King’s are, arguably, the hardest fighting fish in freshwater. Good sized specimens can easily take 100 plus yards of line off of a trolling reel in mere seconds.
Occasionally, fisherman have been “spooled” by large kings. Meaning the fish takes all the line off the reel and keeps right on going! Don’t worry, this won’t happen to us, our reels hold more than enough line. Kings can vary in size, ranging from 2lb “shakers” to upwards of 30lbs. Large, mature kings are sometimes referred to as “4 year olds” because that is the duration of their life cycle. Hard to believe that a well- fed King salmon can reach well over 20lbs in just 4 years, isn’t it? We catch Kings all season long but the best overall fishing for the biggest kings happens in July, August, and if conditions are right, well into September. Generally, the best times of the day for big kings seem to be right at sunrise, late morning, or anytime during a rainy overcast day. In October, mature Kings run up into rivers, creeks, and into harbors where they will spawn and die. The Pike River in Kenosha and the Root River in Racine are both major DNR King Salmon stocking sites. The Wisconsin state record is over 44lbs!
Coho, sometimes called “Silvers” in the Pacific Northwest are definitely our most commonly caught specie year in, year out. They are also our best eating fish, especially the ones caught earlier in the year such as in May and June. Coho winter in the far Southern basin of Lake Michigan and begin migrating north, towards Kenosha, Wisconsin in great numbers as water temps begin to rise.
During this time, Coho are aggressively feeding all day and put on over 2lbs of body weight per month! They provide great action and excitement when a school is found. When the Coho “bite” is on, catching a “limit” (5 fish per person per day) can be very common. And there’s no better place to do this than with Stellar Charters LLC, charter fishing out of Kenosha, WI! This action is usually at its best from early May to mid June but plenty of good catches are made before and after this period. Coho range in size from 3-8lbs (20”-26”) but we catch Coho well in excess of 10lbs each year. The Wisconsin state record Coho Salmon is over 26lbs and was taken during a Lake Michigan charter fishing trip!!
Aka “Lakers” or “LT’s” are a very common catch at just about any time of the season. They are also one of the primary native predatory fishes of the Great Lakes. Lakers thrive in cold, deep waters but we have caught them in as shallow as only 6 feet. Although they are very commonly found suspended in the water column, it is also quite common to find them actively feeding near bottom.
We are very fortunate to have them as part of our fishery as they can be a “dependable” catch at times, when salmon and steelhead are scarce. LT’s are not known as being very acrobatic or explosive fighters but any good sized lake trout will definitely get your arms pumped. Especially if the fish is 100 feet down when you hook him! Lake trout are probably not the best fish for the bbq but they are, without a doubt, my most favorite fish to have smoked. Lake trout are fall spawners and usually migrate to deepwater reefs and occasionally near shore structures to spawn. We are allowed to keep 3 Lake Trout per day. Lake trout average 5-15lbs but fish over 20lbs are not uncommon. I know of several Lake Trout taken in the Kenosha area that legitimately weighed over 37lbs!
Steelhead(aka Rainbows) or “Steelies” are a migratory rainbow trout. In the Pacific Northwest, steelhead live in the ocean and run into a river or stream to spawn. Whereas a true “rainbow” would live his entire life in a river or smaller lake. In the Great Lakes, steelhead live in the lake and run into rivers and streams to spawn.
Spawning season, unlike the rest of our salmon and trout species occurs in the late winter and into spring. Steelhead are truly a blast to catch. They hit very hard, usually stripping drag immediately. It is also very common for them to jump clear out of the water several times during the fight. Unfortunately for us, they often times earn their freedom by doing this but that’s what makes things interesting! Steelhead tend to favor the top 50 feet in the water column and feed heavily on insects, and baitfish of all types and sizes. Steelhead are a very common species but definitely one that is hard to pin down. We will catch several of them on each trip for a week and all of a sudden they disappear for two weeks. Steelhead start showing up in mid to late May, but overall June and July seem to be the best months. I can remember plenty of great steelhead catches in August and even September, though. So go figure, right! Steelhead average 5-10lbs and fish upwards of 15lbs are taken each year. At one time, the world record inland steelhead was taken in Lake Michigan not too far from Kenosha. It weighed over 30lbs!
Browns are, by far, our least most commonly caught specie on Lake Michigan. And it isn’t because they aren’t there in decent numbers. It’s because their habits are considerably different from the rest of the salmon and trout species, even though they prefer the same forage (baitfish), alewives. They tolerate warmer water than the other species and tend to be very low-light feeders.
At times, usually early and late in the year, browns are quite active. When this is the case, we definitely will target them. One thing that seems to remain quite constant with browns is, they are usually located in shallower water not too far from shore. It is rare to catch a brown in water over 75 feet deep and they really prefer the 25-55 foot depths better. Some years there is a good brown trout bite inside Kenosha Harbor that starts in late June and early July and runs on and off throughout the summer. We’ve also seen periods during the summer when big browns get active and we’ll get into them on the boat as well. Browns are fall spawners and average 4-12lbs with fish exceeding 20lbs not uncommon. Check this out, a world record brown trout was caught in July 2010 from Lake Michigan not far at all from Kenosha. It weighed over 40lbs!