October is a time of transition for fish and the anglers who seek them. Baitfish and the gamefish that follow seek preferred water temperatures and autumn is a time when that can bring the predator fish that anglers prey on close to shore. Walleye, salmon and trout are on the move and feeding heavily in advance of the colder, leaner times to come.
In Great Lakes fisheries where chinook, coho, steelhead and lake trout are abundant, it’s possible to catch all four species on a single autumn outing. The Lake Michigan waters off Kenosha, Wis., are such a place, where until recently, anglers could also count on hooking up to a broad-shouldered brown trout before local stocking efforts by the state ended.
Members of the Kenosha Charterboat Association remain busy practically until the snow flies, the baker’s dozen captains putting anglers on whatever species is most active on a given autumn day. Association President Captain Terry Holmes says it pays to be flexible when you have such a rich fishing resource to angle.
“I specialize in being adaptable,” said Holmes during a recent interview. “My job is showing my fishing parties a good time, and that means catching fish – sometimes any fish. So I have to be prepared and knowledgeable about what’s biting when and where. I have to have the right tools and techniques to catch them.”
Holmes, the son of a charter skipper, has been honing his fish-catching skills for four decades.
His first job was scrubbing his dad’s boat and cleaning fish for tips. He was a first mate at age 12 and earned his USCG Captain credentials 15 years ago. A union painter by trade, 48-year-old Holmes hopes to retire soon and become a full-time fishing charter skipper.
The fishing season off his home port of Kenosha kicks off about May 1 each spring, when water temperatures are in the 40s.
“At that time of year we’re actually looking for pockets of warm water and targeting coho salmon, which are migrating up from south to north,” he explained. “The boat can be over water as shallow as 15 feet or we may be out over 200 feet in the spring, wherever we find the coho.”
Holmes explained that regardless of the water depth, the coho fishing usually takes place in the top 20 feet of the water column. The action on coho typically lasts through early July.
“By the Fourth of July the kings start showing up,” he said, adding that some lake trout catches start being tallied as well. “Sometimes when you go out deeper you can get into some rainbow (steelhead trout) too. But lake trout and kings are the staples through the summer fishing here.”
Much of the action takes place between the shore and what is called the Hill, a long, narrow underwater ridge that comes up to within 80 feet of the surface some 4.5 miles off Kenosha before dropping to 100 feet and deeper to the east.
A typical summer and fall outing for lakers and salmon aboard Holmes’ 36-foot Tiara would start at the Hill, where the captain would spend an hour looking for active salmon, trolling baits behind downrigger balls.
If the bite is on, he’ll have no reason to leave; if the fish aren’t there, he heads due east and “goes fishin’” until he marks kings suspended in the water column or lakers near the bottom. The latter may be as deep as 300 feet, and require downriggers built to handle balls that may weigh 25 pounds. Local captains have come to rely on downriggers made by Magnum Metals, built in nearby Spring Grove, Ill. “Most downriggers won’t last long hauling 25-pound balls up from 300 feet,” he explained.
To hook-up with bottom-hugging lakers, behind those downrigger balls will be rigs such as an Old Moe, which is a Trash Can or Spin Doctor dodger combo featuring a Warden’s Spin-N-Glo trailing a fly, with white being Holmes’ favorite.
Trolling at speeds of 1.8 to 2.4 mph, “You want your ball to bounce off the bottom from time to time to make sure you bait is close to the bottom where the lakers are,” says the skipper.
Suspended salmon respond to a different method, one featuring a braided wire main line affixed to a magnum-size Dipsy Diver.
“The big dipsy gets it deep and the wire gives the rig a different action since it doesn’t stretch,” Holmes said, adding that a rod-length leader is attached to a Spin Doctor trailing a Howie Fly two feet behind the dodger. His go-to pattern is a frog finish for both dodger and fly, which he trolls at speeds from 2.4-3 mph from 8- and 8.6-foot Shimano Talora Rods fitted with Shimano Takota line-counter reels.
This time of year, the captain says kings can be found well inside the Hill, where they stage in shallow water in anticipation of the spawn. A popular autumn chinook trolling area for Kenosha anglers are the Lake Michigan waters off Pike’s Creek.
When he is successful, and Holmes has fish for the table, he bakes or smokes his lakers, blackens his kings and puts coho on the grill. Better yet, for $11, the restaurant at the Boat House Marina where he docks will cook a fisherman’s catch to order, a perfect ending for an autumn day spent fishing.
Captain Lee highlights Captain Terry Holmes
Capt. Terry Holmes operates Harbor Rat Charters, named for what his dad called him and his buddies who were always hanging around the boat docks as kids. Capt. Terry is the president of the 13-member Kenosha Charterboat Association and has owned a dozen boats over the years, starting at age 22 with an 18-foot Lund Tyee. He now skippers a 1986 36-foot Tiara with a 14-foot beam sporting a huge cockpit that offers plenty of space for his anglers. You can reach Holmes and his charter captain peers at www.kenoshacharterboat.com or by calling 262-945-8560.
For More Information
Kenosha Charterboat Association
Simmons Island Docks
4520 Kennedy Drive
Kenosha, WI 53140
Booking Office Hours 9am - 9pm CST