The heavy sinker helps to get the line down to the bottom and keeps the bait in sight of the fish. Lakes and rivers will have different needs than ocean waters that run deeper and have stronger currents.
Don’t use a stronger weight than needed, as it will make it harder to feel the fish bite. It’s important to choose the perfect sinker that will help in your bottom fishing success.
When the grouper strikes make sure they don’t go back into their hole, you’ll want to start reeling right away. Grouper are notorious for taking your hook and diving to find a hole, often causing the line to snap as it’s dragged across the structure.
Redfish, shook, grouper, halibut, trigger fish, and flounder are also caught when bottom fishing, depending on the season and location. Anchoring the vessel is very effective when the fish are in a concentrated area or you decide to use chum to draw them in.
This is as simple as putting the boat out of gear and letting it drift naturally on the water. Popular live or cut bait include shrimp, sardines, mullet, squid, or minnows depending on what you’re catching.
A jig is a type of lure that has a lead sinker and hook molded into it. Snappers and grouper are notorious for running for cover and cutting lines with the nearby structures.
Or your line can get tangled up in submerged tree roots or grass and you’ll find yourself fighting the nearby natural or artificial structures. And remember, with that sinker at the end of the line you’re dragging extra weight back up to the boat.
And depending on how big of a fish you’ve got on the hook, you could be dragging an extra 10 to 15 pounds through the depths of the water as well. Bottom fishing is a technique that’s easy to learn, and yet difficult to master.
For a successful trip going bottom fishing, hire a local guide that can show you this technique. But for some anglers, salmon is the ultimate prize, which can be found in the tributaries of the Great Lakes virtually all year long.
The Chinook are the largest of the Pacific salmon and have been established in the Great Lakes for more than 50 years. Because they generally prefer cooler temperatures, Chinook are caught in deeper waters.
Chinooks begin their upstream migration in late summer and are usually present in catchable numbers by mid-August. Popular spots to target Chinook in the fall include Lake Michigan piers, streams along the Lake Michigan coast, or inland streams such as the Minister (Hippy Dam), Père Marquette and St. Joseph rivers.
Fishing off the pier of St. Joseph Lighthouse | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan According to the Department of Natural Resources, Coho salmon is “the fish that really started the Great Lakes salmon fishery.” This popular species can be caught in Lake Michigan throughout the year, though the best fisheries on the lake's east side occur in early spring and again in late summer and early fall.
There is a fishery in Torch Lake, where fly fishers find success fishing at the mouths of tributaries as they prepare for spawning. The salmon begin spawning in mid-summer and fly fishers pursue the fish in the fast-flowing rapids of the river.
Coho Salmon: You’ll find lots of anglers use spinners, spoons, and plugs when fishing for this species. The boy, Lane Frame, was on the pier with several family members when a wave pushed them into the water.
“ Lake Michigan is the worst of the Great Lakes in terms of numbers of drownings,” said Joseph Atkinson, the chair of the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo. The nonprofit based in Homewood, Illinois, educates people about the Great Lakes and how to stay safe in them.
Jamie Racket, the executive director of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said the reason Lake Michigan has the most drownings among the Great Lakes is a combination of wind direction and tourism. The organization’s goal is to educate people on water safety to decrease drownings.
Lake Michigan is a bigger tourist draw than the other lakes, with more beaches and parks, which attract more people. According to Mark Breeder land, an educator with Michigan Sea Grant, water levels are extremely high.
Michigan Sea Grant funds research and educates people about the lakes. With high water levels, waves are able to sweep people off them, as happened to the boy in Frankfort.
Breeder land said the warm weather this summer caused Lake Michigan to heat up more than in past years, bringing more people to the beaches and into the water. Not only has climate change affected air temperatures, but it has caused more violent weather conditions, said Racket.
Atkinson also said more people may be going to state parks and beaches on Lake Michigan this summer due to COVID-19. Decades ago, Lake Michigan teemed with nutrients and green algae, casting a brownish-green hue that resembled the mouth of an inland river rather than a vast, open-water lake.
Back then, the lake's swampy complexion was less than inviting to swimmers and kayaks, but it supported a robust fishing industry as several companies trawled for perch, and sport fishermen cast their lines for trout. In a study published last year, the researchers said limiting the amount of agricultural and sewage runoff in the lake has had an immense impact.
However, the emergence of invasive mussels, which number in the trillions and have the ability to filter the entire volume of Lake Michigan in four to six days, has had an even greater effect. “When you look at the scientific terms, we are approaching some oceanic values,” said Michael Sayers, a research engineer at Michigan Technological University and co-author of the study.
In filtering the lake, the mussels have decimated the phytoplankton, a single-celled, green algae that serves as the base of the food chain. For much of the past decade, prey fish, like alewives, have remained at historic lows, prompting state managers to scale back the annual stocks of prized predators such as king salmon.
The startling evolution has called into question the future of Great Lakes marine life and the region's $7 billion fishing industry. “It's a game of hide-and-seek in a brightly lit environment,” said Henry Vanderploeg, a research ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
After years of working aboard a relative's charter boat, Rick Bentley was leaving the fishing industry in the early 1990s to pursue a career in finance when the mussels began arriving. Since the introduction of the mussels, there's been a sharp decline in nearly all fish species in Lake Michigan, including king salmon, scientists say.
Despite the drop, Bentley, who had fond memories of fishing's heyday, returned to the lake in 2007 with his charter company, Windy City Salmon. King salmon are low-light-feeding fish, so with sunlight reaching into lower depths, it's become increasingly difficult to catch them during midday hours, Bentley said.
The clearer waters have made flashers and dodgers, devices that reflect light and attract fish, more effective tools, Bentley said. Sea lampreys latched onto large fish and drained their blood, leading to a collapse in populations of native predators like lake trout.
Though they were abundant, the saltwater fish, already weakened from living in freshwater, befouled local beaches in spring die-offs after being exposed to higher temperature fluctuations when they came close to shore to spawn. The arrival of zebra and quanta mussels led to the collapse of alewives and king salmon in Lake Huron in the early 2000s.
The Lake Huron king salmon, emaciated as their favorite prey became harder to find, migrated to Lake Michigan in search of alewives. For a doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan, Key examined Lake Huron's king salmon collapse, concluding that the fishery that once existed likely won't ever return to its glory days because of the alewife shortage.
Last year, Key ran hundreds of computer simulations to consider changes in mussels, nutrients and fish stocking in Lake Michigan. Since 1984, the state of Illinois has raised fish to stock Lake Michigan at Jake Wolf Memorial Hatchery in Topeka, Ill., where the staff oversees eggs until they grow into fingerlings.
Built atop a huge aquifer, the facility draws water into its network of concrete raceways and plastic-lined ponds, where it has up to 15 species of cold-, cool- and warm-water fish. Each year, the hatchery staff, which works with state biologists, rears millions of fish in hopes of supporting a stable ecosystem and decent season for anglers.
By 2016, the entire prey fish population in Lake Michigan, including alewives and a half-dozen other species, weighed about 11,000 metric tons. In response to the lack of alewives, fishery managers around Lake Michigan have called for reducing the number of king salmon at least twice in the past decade.
Last year, managers proposed making even deeper cuts, stocking only 690,000 king salmon, a 62 percent reduction from 2016. As sunlight reaches greater depths, it converts nutrients from the mussels' excrement into nuisance algae known as Ctenophora.
During storms, wave action rips up the algae and washes it ashore, where it is known for its potent stench and propensity for killing birds. The growth in Ctenophora raises alarms, because it could help establish LakeMichigan's next potential invasive species: Asian carp.
Asian carp rely on plankton, which they may not find if it reaches the lake, but researchers say the fish also feed on Ctenophora. Researchers say there may no longer be enough food for the Asian carp in open waters, but there is likely enough floating algae and Ctenophora near shore to sustain them.
With less plankton, the concentration of mussels in Lake Michigan dropped 40 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to a yet-to-be published report by Buffalo State University's Great Lakes Center.