There is a “Grand Slam” in nearly every sport imaginable and in Great Lakes fishing, anglers rarely score one. A Coho salmon, a King, Brown Trout, Steelhead and a Lake Trout. Five species- a tough spread of fish to put in the box on one outing considering their varied lake habitat. Most of the year, it would be nearly impossible. Spring does offer a limited window of opportunity-cold waters warm and many great lakes fish move nearer to shore than where they normally haunt. If a big water fisherman wets lines on just the right day, it could happen. For my fishing partners and captain, we almost did. Almost.
Good friend and charter captain Kris Davis of Northfork Sportfishing knows how elusive the grand slam can be. I try to make a couple trips down to the Kenosha marina, where Northfork is based. He's hunted down great lakes fish everywhere from Ashland to Keewaunee to southern Lake Michigan. His crew consists of Uncle Dan Davis and kids Megan and Blake-they're fisher-kids, born into the sport. I'm lucky enough to be invited to join them and I mark early May on my calendar for the coho run. We've had exceedingly good luck over the years out of the Kenosha port and the waters north and south of there.
Arriving early in the morning, Kris had the boat ready and Uncle Dan started in with jokes that had the kids eyes rolling. A prettier sunrise you won't find and glass flat water greeted us as we slipped the bounds of the break wall. My friend John Merreck joined us-a consulate inland fisherman, who loves to dabble in this big lake thing from time to time.
The report from Kris centered around slow action so far this season. He traded a first-ice-out smaller boat for the “Corkscrew,” a Luhrs 290, Northfork's usual fishing rig and one I can attest to being a perfect boat for the job. Most of the charter captain's chatter indicated the big coho run hadn't started-inconsistent weather perhaps was the culprit. Kris was confident we'd get something and predicted (as it turned out, rightly) that we'd have a mixed bag. Boats had been bringing in a few of the small salmon, a brown here and there and even a laker, which is unusual at this time of year in near shore angling.
Spring fishing usually means shallower depths and we motored out less than a mile off shore. Other fishermen had the same plan and near “the bubbler” ( Kenosha's warm water discharge) it looked like a parking lot. The water here ran 25-40 feet and had temps of 46-49 degrees. Finding exactly what depth and temps the fish liked was Kris' challenge and one he's exceedingly good at.
“BING” “Fish on!” Even before we had a third of the gear down, John was on a pole cranking in a nice fish. A big 8 pound brown-perfect start to the day. When a fish is on, it's a team effort-a net is grabbed, planer board removed and who ever is battling the fish given room while the captain keeps the boat on course. Having the first fish “in the box” so early made us all pretty optimistic.
Hours passed by and the number of boats staying on the water dwindled. Kris kept the boat further out hunting for that subtle difference in water temperature where we seemed to pick up a fish once and a while. The radio talk was lamenting a lack of action by the other captains- “crickets” as they say. We kept at it and were rewarded with a nice 14# king, which fired up the boat and crew. A few more average sized cohos were boated and a real nice one....turned out to be a steelhead. Hmmmm, that's four species onboard, and thoughts of the grand slam surfaced-we'd just need that “pretty one” (A laker as the fleet calls 'em).
It was not to be-we'd miss that fifth species but not for lack of effort. For much of the day Kris had a full pull going-15 lines in the water, from 35' down to just below the surface. Downriggers, dipsy divers and the 8 little soldiers (planer boards) all trying to coax a bite. By afternoon, the Corkscrew was about the last boat on the water and we kept a few lines in all the way through the harbor entrance, just in case.
That elusive last ditch fish never took the bait so to speak, and the grand slam would be safe for another day. No matter-we felt pretty good about the excursion compared to most of the other fishermen. It was slow, but we'd put 8 in the cooler and would have great meals ahead. For John and I, who don't get on big water very often, just being out there was reward enough-as I commented when we slid through the morning water, “This pretty much doesn't suck.” I know, not very eloquent, but in the warming colors of the sunrise and cool air coming from the cold water the Corkscrew slipped through, everyone nodded in agreement.
For more information: Northfork Sport Fishing, http://www.northforksportfishing.com/index.html