My friend in Michigan, the indefatigable “Hoj” (John Hojnacki) called me yesterday to declare (with no small amount of disgust) that mid-lake surface temperatures on Lake Michigan were still 70°F.
“That has to be some kind of record for the last week of September,” I thought out loud. “The days and nights are equal in length right now, and it’s dropping to 30°F at night around here. Just how hot did the water get out there this summer.”
“I don’t know, but the salmon are coming in really late,” Hoj said. “I’ve been spending all my time walleye fishing on the reservoirs, catching 40 to 50 a day. Most are 2 to 4 pounds. If you want the really big ones you have to fish 80 feet deep.”
If the pig walleyes are still 80 feet deep, the kings remain at sea. When Hoj admitted the rivers are still in the high 60°F range (too warm for kings to ascend), I felt a little guilty for all those “let’s get ready for kings” blog posts at the end of August. (Sorry about that.) For many years, I’ve looked forward to fishing kings in August—when they ascend rivers still wearing their silver chain mail.
“Things are changing in that regard,” Hoj said. “I don’t think we’re going to see many kings in August in future years. So I’m getting familiar with these other fish this time of year. Like smallmouths. You know what? Those puppies pull harder than anything else, pound-for-pound. They never quit.”
Preachin’ to the choir, my brutha. I love kings, but we have to roll with the punches. For me, autumn smallies are Balm from Gilead. Finding pigs like this one in reservoirs during their fall move into deeper water is aided immensely by that Humminbird 998C side-imaging unit in the lower right of the photo. Without going over their heads, I can spot aggressive smallmouths off to the side, riding ridges in those in-between depths (12 to 16 feet) they so often use this time of year. And smallmouths are aggressive 24-7 once those water temperatures dip below 60°F—typically showing up 2 to 5 feet off bottom. But side and down imaging can pick up smallmouths and walleyes belly-to-bottom in the rocks, too—something traditional sonar was very poor at.
Will there be a changing of the guard? I certainly hope not. Kings are awesome. But fisheries research indicates the Great Lakes region will, in the near future, become very amenable for fish like smallmouths—not so much for the salmonids.