By Mike Schoonveld
Take a survey of all the resorts, travel destinations, fishing guides and charter services populating the booths at the Ford 65th Annual Indianapolis Boat Sport Travel Show and ask them what’s the most often asked question they hear from show attendees. I bet their answer would be, “What’s the best time to come fishing?”
That’s what I hear when my phone rings or I open an email and get a question from a person about my charter fishing business on Lake Michigan. Sure, there are other questions at times. I’ve been asked about bringing a newborn baby along, or pets. I routinely get asked about what fishing license is needed. Where to meet? What time will we start?
But the number one question, whether I’m on the phone, at a booth at a sport show, get a text or an email: “What’s the best time of year to come fishing on Lake Michigan?”
Realistically, it’s the toughest question a potential customer could ask, at least until I know more about their wants and expectations. It’s the same whether the person being questioned is a resort owner in Canada or a fishing outfitter in Florida.
Let me use my own experience as an example. Let’s say the fall run of king salmon is going and the fish are active. On the best days the number of fish caught is dictated by the amount of time it takes to boat one of those behemoths, then get set up for another pass through the staging area. At the end of the trip, it’s hard to get the cooler shut there are so many whoppers in the box.
That’s got to be the best time to come, right? Perhaps.
Perhaps the next day the fish are moody and we troll all morning and only get one or two bites. That happens with spawning run fish. Do you want to take the chance with these “boom or bust” conditions?
Perhaps the group includes a petite mother and an eight-year-old child. Mom may not be able to handle the power of a full-grown chinook salmon. Junior might get tired, bored and grumpy if the last bite was 90 minutes ago. Dad might like it, but the others would have had much more fun in the spring catching more, but smaller-sized fish.
There are many reasons to go fishing (or hunting, or mushroom picking, or….) besides catching fish (or bagging a pheasant or finding a morel). I try to take a weather-break trip to somewhere far enough south each winter just so I can forego wearing insulated boots and long underwear when I’m outdoors – often to Florida. No trip to Florida (for me) would be complete without having a fishing rod along or scheduling a fishing trip. It’s great!
The catching isn’t great, but fishing in warm weather is great. Just being there puts a smile on my sunscreen-smeared face. When I want to catch fish in Florida, I head south in the summer. That’s when I can pick from sea trout, tarpon, sailfish, snappers and most any other kind of fish Florida has to offer. The fishing is terrific, but it’s killer-hot, stinky-humid and rains almost daily. When would you rather go?
On Lake Michigan, our spring fishing in April features mostly coho salmon. If you want to catch a steelhead, show up in mid-June or into July. Have a hankering to boat a brown trout, bundle up and show up in March. Anglers on my boat catch as many browns in the first few weeks of the season as they do the rest of the spring, summer, and fall. Things change on Lake Michigan and most other places from the beginning to the end of the season.
Want to catch crappies at Patoka Lake? Ask the Patoka Lake people when the crappie spawn usually happens. Want to catch a few big walleyes at Lake Erie or lots of eater-sized fish? Almost every destination has good, better and best times for big fish, for numbers of fish, for specific kinds of fish and for when it comes to weather conditions. Seldom do all these good, better and best times overlap.
I had an individual who fished with me on Lake Michigan several times in early season and always caught his limit of cohos and brown trout but never anything more than five pounds. Then he came on a fall trip to try for mature chinook. He succeeded! In five hours he caught two king salmon, each over 15 pounds.
“I’m never coming back with you in the spring,” he told me. “I’d much rather come out and catch one or two of these huge fish than catch a limit of the small ones in the spring.”
My family has taken several summer vacations to Kentucky Lake in August. The fishing ranged from bad to terrible. The water was warm, the lake uncrowded and water skiing, tubing and other watersports was terrific – perfect for most of our group.
This is why a venue such as the Ford 65th Annual Indianapolis Boat, Sport, Travel, and Outdoor Show is such a great way to plan your next fishing trip or vacation. There’s the opportunity to ask the guides, resort owners and destination representative the right questions. Just don’t start with, “What’s the best time to come?” It’s always the “best time” for someone.
Check out all the latest information on the show at www.indysportshow.com. It’s your ticket to adventure.
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