The Big Bay

It’s a busy, busy time of the year. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Just about the time I start thinking about turkeys, and crappies, and slipping the kayak into the water for the first time each year; just about the time my dog remembers how far she can jump off the dock; just about the time the Wood ducks return–just about now–I get a call from an old friend.

That friend is Chequamegon Bay, a big chunk of Lake Superior up near Ashland. And it is a Mecca for small boat anglers like me who enjoy fishing the big lake.

Chequamegon Bay is a Mecca for small boat anglers who like to fish the big lake.

Largely protected from the winds, broad Chequamegon Bay harbors every type of fish found in Lake Superior.

There are plenty of people who go there exclusively for the famous smallmouth bass fishery. I know some anglers who fish it specifically for walleyes and big northern pike, too.  And I shouldn’t forget the smelters either.

But I go there for the cold water species–the trout and salmon.

Right now is the easiest time of year to find and catch the ubiquitous little cohos, the numerous lake trout, with an occasional king salmon, steelhead, or brownie thrown in. This is the time of year they are all in the bay chasing the smelt.

While you’ll see plenty of anglers running big boats and with specialized deep-water equipment through the bay, there will be just as many people in little boats pulling a couple of flat lines.

Boats of all sizes congregate at Chequamegon Bay in the early spring.

Because the surface temperatures are still quite cold (the water was under 40F degrees where I was last weekend ) the fish will be up near the surface. That means you don’t need down-riggers or lead-core to reach them like you might later on in the season.

I usually run a combination of shallow and deep-diving stick baits, but you will find people using every conceivable lure and presentation, and they will all have some success.

If you have planer boards or skis, either in-line, or run from a mast, they’ll help, especially when there’s a lot of boat traffic, but they aren’t a necessity. The best fish I caught last weekend was a nice Seeforellen Brown trout that came on a flat line 60 feet behind the boat.

The author with a good Seeforellen strain brown trout taken on Chequamegon Bay.

It seems that the best fish of the day regularly comes almost in the propwash. And you never know what will be on the end of the line.

If you go, there are a couple of things you need to know:

Even though Chequamegon is relatively protected from the really sporty waves Superior can throw at you, it is still big water. You really need to pay attention to the weather there–especially the winds.

Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Technician, Mark Hanson, examines a brown trout near Washburn, Wisconsin.

Also, the lake level is way down. Many of the ramps around the bay are barely usable, even for small fishing boats.

Finally, there are specialized regulations for vessels on the Great Lakes. And the Coast Guard does patrol the bay, so read the rule book.

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