I had a TV crew on my boat in early April a few years ago. The coho action was non-stop. Eventually, the TV angler told me, “I’ve got to tape an intro and wind-up to splice in at the beginning and end of the episode. Can we get somewhere we can have a few minutes without a fish biting?
I’d been staying in 15 to 20 feet just off the beach near Portage, Indiana. I turned the boat due north and once we went a couple hundred yards farther offshore to 30 feet of water, the fish stopped biting and the star could do his work uninterrupted.
No wonder people from across the country come to Indiana’s portion of Lake Michigan each spring, brave the cold and head home with limit catches. Indiana’s “spring coho” season can be crazy-easy and is always crazy-fun.
Some boaters have one lake they consider their “home lake,” but with all the possibilities across Central Indiana, most don’t restrict themselves to just one destination. One trip may find your group heading for Raccoon Lake, the next time your destination may be Brookville Reservoir.
One lake few central Indiana anglers have on their list is Lake Michigan. It’s too big for their boat. The fish are too mysterious. Specialized gear is required for success. Specialized lures are needed, as well. Right? And where-N-ell are the boat ramps located to launch?
All of this has a grain of truth to it as well as a bit of mythology.
Indiana has three main access points for trailer-boater fishermen coming to Lake Michigan. The best place to launch at Michigan City is Trail Creek Marina. Just follow U.S. 35 into town and the marina is on the east side of the road. There’s another public ramp at Washington Park, but it’s often silted in or plagued with other problems. Sheltered fishing areas are nearly non-existent at Michigan City so pick a day with south to southeast wind predictions.
Portage Public Marina is just off of S.R. 249, not far from I-94 and the Portage Bass Pro Shops store. The breakwaters of the Port of Indiana can provide some sheltered fishing areas for days with east winds, otherwise schedule trips to Portage on days with a southerly flow.
The Marina at East Chicago, (formerly called Pastrick Marina and still referred to as Pastrick on highway signs) is an early season favorite. The marina is five miles north of I-94 on Cline Avenue. The marina is tucked into the corner of an artificial “bay” built by man-made breakwalls guarding the shoreline industries. These breakwalls also provide protection to small boat fishermen on anything other than a east or northeast wind.
Regulars to any of these areas have boats rigged up with specialized gear such as rod holders, downriggers and side-planers. But from now until early May, that gear is handy, not necessarily required. Plenty of guys simply troll with two or three hand-held rods and lines pulling small lures directly behind the boat. And they catch fish.
From now until early May nearly any crankbait that will catch a bass somewhere in Indiana will catch salmon and trout in Lake Michigan. If the lure has fluorescent red highlights, that’s good. If it’s predominantly fluorescent red, that’s better. If it has internal rattles that’s great!
Most bass or walleye rods will handle springtime cohos in Indiana. Spool up with 10 to 15 pound line and you are in business. There are other species, larger than the three-pound cohos around such as king salmon, steelhead or lake trout that just might crash the party. The walleye pole may not be up to the task, but won’t it be fun trying?
How big a boat is needed? The answer is it depends. In bad weather, even ocean-going ships seek cover. In good weather, I’ve seen people fishing in canoes and tiny john-boats. A rule of thumb is if you can safely navigate Lake Monroe, Brookville or other popular boating lakes on a summer weekend, your boat will be fine for nearshore work on Lake Michigan.
Hiring a guide the first time you visit a new lake is good advice. There are plenty of charter captains available in Indiana, including myself. Each year, I do host people wanting to start bringing on their own boat. I’m glad to do it. Others do it like I did years ago. I showed up with a boat and my bass and walleye gear and went to work.
What are you going to do?