We all know that real winter will be coming soon. But there is a hot brown trout and salmon bite in Lake Michigan near Milwaukee and will continue possibly into March.
The Wisconsin weather has been below normal and cloudy with virtually no snow. Open-water fishing is an option for the hardy angler.
December has even been a little milder than November.
The milder weather has been a boon to Great Lakes trout and salmon fishermen. There’s no doubt the water will get colder, but the tributaries to Lake Michigan are open to fishing year-round and all the tributaries from Milwaukee to Racine are open and ice free. Despite the forecast of colder weather, those waters are warmed by the warm water discharges of the Oak Creek Power Plant.
The power plant is where you want to target your fishing. The best place to launch is Bender Park which is off Ryan Road and Highway 100. This is not far off the Interstate 94 and just south of Milwaukee. Bender Park is a good landing, even in winter and there is no charge for parking this time of year.
The Oak Creek Power Plant is a short boat ride from the park. As you motor from the harbor's mouth, go due east and head out to 30 feet before you head toward the power plant.
The water is shallow and dangerous if you head out right for the power plant, so go out to deeper water before heading toward the discharges. Thirty feet of water is only a half a mile at most from the harbor's mouth. When you reach 30 feet, then head south toward the break wall and you’ll be in the right area. This is not a secret spot, so expect to see other boats on most nice days.
There are two ways to fish the Oak Creek Power Plant. One is by trolling and the other technique is anchoring and casting spoons, cranks, and live bait.
First, let’s cover the trolling pattern.
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An angler can fish from smaller boats this time of year because you are close to shore and shallow water. Most anglers are fishing out of their walleye boats or all all-around boats with few if any charter boats still fishing.
Anglers are trolling with their “kicker” motors at a speed of 1.0 to 2.0 MPH. Vary and change your speed until you can dial in on the speed the fish want. The deepest water that you’re going to fish is 20 feet.
The area to concentrate your fishing is in the waters around the discharges because the warmer water really attracts the brown trout. Some fishermen troll with Off Shore planer boards (OR-12’s) and crank baits, while others prefer to long-line their lures. I like to use the Off Shore boards because they allow me to get my lures farther away from the boat to avoid spooking fish.
The best baits seem to be Mann’s Stretch baits, Rattling Rogues, Bombers, and Rapala Shad Raps. The best colors have been blue, green, silver, and grey tones. Try experimenting with the size and colors of your crankbaits because the size and color that the browns prefer can change daily. Some days the longer “stick” baits seem to work best while on other days a shorter crank like a Shad Rap work best.
The Rapala glass Shad Rap in white has been hot so try to have a few in your tackle box. The Precision Trolling Book is a must if you want to know where your crankbaits are running when trolling. The amount of line that you let out to your cranks varies from 80 to 120 feet depending on what lure you’re using. Spoons such as the Stinger and Northport also work well and should be included in your arsenal. The keys are: 1) Work the water around the discharges; 2) Vary your trolling speed until you find the speed that the trout prefer; 3) Have a good assortment of crank baits and spoons in the “hot” colors and the different sizes I mentioned earlier; 4) Experiment; 5) Look for the cleanest water that you can find and fish there.
The other proven method for catching Lake Michigan brown trout is to anchor near the discharges and cast. Spoons and crankbaits work well, but the best method lately is live bait.
Anglers are hooking shiners (best bait now) on a plain hook with a split shot for weight and casting the rig out and “dead sticking” it. Having rod holders and putting the dead rod in a holder works best. Some days, all of your fish may come on the dead rod baited with a good size shiner. The important thing is to keep moving and re-anchoring till you find fish. The brown trout keep moving, so you have to keep moving until you find the aggressive fish.
While anchored, cast your crank baits and spoons varying your retrieve until the fish tell you the speed they want that day. No spot is better than another, so moving around is important. Recently, some friends of mine caught their limits fishing shiners and a split shot in 8 to 10 feet of water.
Most fish caught lately are good size, with numerous fish ranging from 10 to 15 pounds. Anglers have been doing well since Christmas and the good fishing should continue into March at least. Dress warm and check the fishing reports regularly to get up to date reports. This is definitely a must if you want some great action and are tired of fishing on hard water.