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Author Topic:   North Channel Fall Fishing
kingfish posted 09-22-2004 05:46 PM ET (US)   Profile for kingfish   Send Email to kingfish  
Just a short report from a week at Neptune Island with my daughter Jess, just before her fall classes are to resume. The weather was great except for one windy day (gale winds in Lake Superior were kicking up 3-4 metre waves there, and we got what was left over and a little worn down), and the fishing was stupendous!

We took Outré along, and my outriggers, as we had word of fish going after Stingers in 35 to 50 feet of water a little East of us. On the first day I had available to fish, there was a mild South wind and clear sky; the area I wanted to fish would be protected and calm. I went out by myself before Jess rolled out of the sack (which wasn't really early - about 9:00), and set both downriggers at 35' and proceeded with the plan to zig-zag back and forth across a drop off from about 38' to about 55'.

As soon as the downriggers were set and I was running on the new kicker at about 2 mph, I went back to the helm and poured a cup of coffee. Before the coffee had cooled enough to take a drink the port downrigger went off! I went back and picked up the rod (9' Ugly Stik with big Shimano spinning real and 20# test line), and knew right away it was a big fish. So with that rod in my right hand I grabbed the other rod with my left hand and yanked the line out of the downrigger to pull the line in. But it didn't come free so I yanked again, and it yanked back! A double! So I set that rod back in the holder and loosened the drag on it a little and pulled both cannon balls up, then proceeded to bring the first fish in. I couldn't believe my eyes when it got close to the boat, and my landing net was almost too small. When she was finally ready to be netted, about the last 1/3 hung out of the net, and before I could get the fish on board it flopped out of the net back into the water. It stayed hooked, and I got it on board the second time by levering the handle of the net over the bowrail - it was a 20# steelhead! I let it flop arond on the foredeck while I went back to the other rod, and the fish was still on! It put up a pretty good fight too, and when I got it on board it turned out to be a 12# walleye!

That was it for the morning for me, but we went back after lunch and Jess pulled in an 8# and a 12# steelhead, and I got a 15# steelhead. I went back the following morning and pulled in a 17# steelhead on one of my lighter rigs, a Shimano 7' MH spinning rod and Diawa reel with 12# line. I had to back down on that one to keep from losing all my line. What a trip!

Here are some photos:

Buckda posted 09-22-2004 06:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Great Report John!

What great photos, too. Glad you had a chance to get back up there this fall and reel in some of those beauties.


LHG posted 09-22-2004 08:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
And here I thought, after looking at Jimh's video, all that could be caught up there were perch and small mouth!

I hope our West Coast fisherman have noted this Midwestern catch.

jimh posted 09-23-2004 12:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Nice fish! And I bet half the fun was catching them while trolling with that new auxiliary motor installation running like a fine Swiss watch.

Actually, the last time we were fishing in your next of the woods, I hauled a nice Northern Pike out of [Location Blocked by Security Daemon]. No video camera along to document it, however.

I think this calls for a new tradition: Filial Fall Fishing Festival

LHG posted 09-23-2004 12:28 AM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Yes, I can see it now, an annual Late September Steelhead Fishing Classic at Neptune Island, guided by The Kingfish and sponsored by ContinuousWave.
andygere posted 09-23-2004 01:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for andygere  Send Email to andygere     
Great report, great photos and nice fish! I must admit those big steelies match up pretty well with the king salmon we get out here on the Pacific. The scenery doesn't look too bad either. Believe it or not, I've daydreamed about towing Namequoit a few thousand miles for an extended Great Lakes cruise, and the hot North Channel fishing makes it all the more interesting. From the photos, it looks like it was downright warm for at least part of the trip. Oh yeah, nothing like a double hookup when trolling on the wire. Turned my boat into a regular 3-ring circus the first time it happened to me :)
prj posted 09-23-2004 11:06 AM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
Beautiful photos of some fine fish, John.

Just this year I've began taking my Outrage-19'
onto Lake MI for some of the spectacular King fishing available.

Without the time or inclination to mount riggers this year,
I've had marginal success fishing shallower with Dipsey Divers.

Next year, I hope to match some of your beauts.

One photo particularly intrigued me, the Unukshuk.

My guys and I fish Lake of the Woods yearly
and we've spotted/photographed similar constructs,
calling them "standing man".

From the few I've seen, they appear to have some
commonalities in the chosen location:
Perched on roadside culvert - over running water
Perched on point between pair of islands - adjacent
to running water (channel between islands).

What can you guys tell me about the unukshuk?

JMARTIN posted 09-23-2004 12:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for JMARTIN  Send Email to JMARTIN     
Yeah, being a West Coast fisherman, actually Puget Sound, I noticed. I am envious. Being a non-tribal fisherman, I am only entitled to 50% of the fish and I "share" my 50% with the non-tribal commercial fisherman. The tribes are still allowed to net the rivers. The 2004 sport fishing rule pamphlet is 135 pages long. Some rules that we have to live by, one hook in the water per one license holder on the boat, barbless hooks, one chinook minimum 22 inches, can have one coho also but must be a hatchery fish, not a wild one. No halibut, no ling cod, no fishing in the closed areas untill the end of the month, I think the run will be thru by then. There are 5 different seasons for salmon now, with 5 different rules for what you can keep, with 5 different area closures. Talk about micro-management for such a small portion of the fish actually caught compared to the commercial side. No wonder why so many sport fisherman in Washington go up to Canada now. John
kingfish posted 09-23-2004 01:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Thanks Dave, Larry, Jim, Andy, Patrick and John-

A fall fishing rendezvous up around Neptune Island would be kind of a cool thing, I think (or a "Filial Fall Fishing Festival"). Boats could take off in different directions in the morning (I'll leave after everyone else in order to protect my secret fishing hole!)and rendezvous back at Neptune in the afternoon for lies and fish cleaning to prepare for dinner. There is very little competition for water space up there come the middle of September, and as evidenced in some of my photos, the weather is usually quite nice still.

One caveat though - this is the best fishing I've had up there in over 20 years! I have honestly never even heard of anyone catching steelhead up there, and while there was a big walleye ("pickerel") fishery up there until the thirties and maybe into the forties, it has been completely decimated for over 50 years due to uranium mine tailings leaching into and acid rain (nickel smelter in Sudbury) falling onto the ph-sensitive breeding grounds of the fish. I have heard stories of local fishing clubs stocking some walleye around the Bay of Islands in the past couple of years, but I have never talked to anyone who has caught one. The fish that are caught this time of year up there are typically large, though, and there are Northerns, Salmon and Perch that I know of if you're in the right place at the right time.

It would be a distinct pleasure to show you around the area if you ever made it out this way.

Take a look at this link:
It is an artist's site and there are many more referencing "inukshuk", but I like his description. We see them all around the shores of the North Channel, and my belief has been that the native first nation people had been building them, but it has now become a fun thing for cruising boaters to do while on vacation (and is a lot less poorly impactive of the environment than graffiti and beer bottles).

The law in Michigan allows us to have two lines out per person, but the law in the North Channel portion of Ontario is one line per person. I am so used to putting two lines out that I went ahead and did it sort of on automatic pilot. It was a thrill to hit that double (and pull them both in) though, I've got to tell you.


JMARTIN posted 09-23-2004 02:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for JMARTIN  Send Email to JMARTIN     
John, are you allowed barbed hooks? Here in Washington you can use them is fresh water, but not salt water. I have always wondered why. John
kingfish posted 09-23-2004 02:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Yeah, we are allowed barbed hooks - and thankfully so, or I would still be wondering how much that first one weighed after it flopped out of the net (probably would have been 25# *at least*!). I don't think it would have been around for me to net a second time with barbless hooks...


Royboy posted 09-28-2004 01:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for Royboy  Send Email to Royboy     
Nice fish, John!! The fishing is really appears to be picking up in the Great Lakes. I'm hearing about limits of walleye being taken in Lake Erie, right in (Location Blocked by Security Daemon), and I caught a bunch of nice perch and also a walleye on lake St. Clair just off of (Location Blocked by Security Daemon) this past weekend. Most of the perch were in the 7 to 9 inch range, but a couple were in the 9 to 11 inch size. Walleye wasn't all that big (19.5 inch), but I caught it on a perch spreader, so for a minute there I thought I had the mother-of-all perch on the line!


K Albus posted 09-28-2004 03:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     

It looks to me like the fish that you have identified as steelhead are actually chinook (king) salmon. Here are some links to the Michigan DNR website descriptions of each fish: steelhead -,1607,7-153-10364_18958-45692--,00.html and chinook (king) salmon -,1607,7-153-10364_18958-45663--,00.html

In any event, they all look like very nice fish. There is nothing better than having a double when you are alone, and successfully landing both fish.

By the way, in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes, each fisherman is allowed three lines when trolling for salmon or trout, and each line may have two lures attached.

kingfish posted 09-28-2004 03:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
K Albus-

Thanks for the clarification on Michigan line number allowances; I should clarify also that the single line allowance is in the North Channel in *Canada*.

Fish are not kings, as far as my abilities to identify species are concerned, as they do not have black mouth or gums, the entire tails are spotted in patterns of radiating rays, and the leading spine of the anal fins extend the entire length of the fin. And, (I think this is significant, though not sure) the females were full of eggs.


LHG posted 09-28-2004 04:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
John - I may agree with K Albus. Those sure do look like Chinook to me also. The steelhead that I have caught have longer and slender bodies, smaller mouths, and a thicker tail before the tailfin.

I have heard there are several variations of Steelhead in the Lakes, and the one we catch down here in Lake Michigan is usually a Skamania Steelhead. I'm pretty sure yours are not Skamania.

Did these do a lot of jumping when hooked, which is usually the giveaway of a steelhead? They also tend to be hooked within 15' of the surface.

kingfish posted 09-28-2004 05:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Still think they were steelhead; I agree, probably not skamania. I'm basing my strongest case currently on the mouth and gums, neither of which were black. I reviewed some photos I didn't post of the 3 smallest (8#, 12# and 15#) laying together on the dock, taken from 3 different angles, and the mouths and gums were clearly white, and the tails when fully spread were square. All five salmonoids were clearly the same species, whatever they were.

More research tonight (and I welcome any expert opinion).


LHG posted 09-28-2004 05:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Any of you PNW salmon pros out there with an opinion?
JMARTIN posted 09-28-2004 06:12 PM ET (US)     Profile for JMARTIN  Send Email to JMARTIN     
By no means am I a Pro, but Chinook Salmon: Large black spots on back, dorsal fin, and both the upper and lower lobes of the tail. Dark mouth with a black gum line. Average size scales. Siver pigment on tail. Prominent teeth. This description is from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlfe. I have not seen one that was not already in the grocery store for so long I have forgotten what they look like. Do I sound bitter? They look like Chinook, but the lack of the black gum line is puzzeling. John
K Albus posted 09-29-2004 09:44 AM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     

There are two clues which really stand out to me indicating that your fish were king salmon. The first the appearance of the fish. Steelhead are generally a lot more "silvery". Although they darken up before spawning, in my experience they don't turn as dark as king salmon do when they spawn, which is at this time of year.

With regard to the mouths, a king salmon's mouth is not usually entirely black. There is often a lot of white coloring, with black around the gums. If the fish were in fact steelhead, the entire mouth and gums would most likely be white, with no black coloration whatsoever.

The next clue, which stands out the most to me, is the size of the fish you caught. While steelhead can grow to 20 pounds or more, they usually average about 12 pounds or less. It would be unusual, although admittedly not impossible, to catch so many large steelhead without also catching a number of smaller steelhead.

The size of your fish is also consistent with many news reports this year indicating that the size of king salmon in Lake Huron would be smaller this year than in years past as the result of a decline in baitfish populations. In years past, king salmon caught at this time of the year would usually weigh anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds. This year, however, must of the fish have been less than 20 pounds. The diminished baitfish stock also makes it less likely that somebody would catch a number of very large steelhead.

As Larry stated, if they were steelhead, they most likely would have jumped out of the water while you were fighting them. Do you remember that happening?

Anyways, no matter what type of fish they were, you clearly had a good of fishing. That's all that really matters.

kingfish posted 09-29-2004 10:34 AM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
I'm beginning to waffle now - I've reviewed about every on-line source of visual identification I can find, along with the Ontario annual fishing guide and the Great Lakes Sportsmen's Gamefish poster, and I guess I'm starting to lean towards Kings too, although with some confusion still.

I initially thought the first one was a salmon (the 20 pounder), but when I got back to camp and compared the fish with the identification in the Ontario fishing guide, the preponderence of evidence pointed to steelhead, according to their descriptions. All the fish were caught trolling with downriggers at 30' to 35' in 35' to 60' of water near the mouth (within say 3/8 mile) of a small cascading creek that (believe me) could not be negotiated upstream by any fish. Some of them broke the water while fighting (not all) and one or two broke the water more than once. None spectacularly. All the fish when in the water and before they were netted and brought aboard, were *very* clearly spotted over their entire bodies. Those spots faded pretty quickly once brought aboard, and the spots that remained were largely across the back and on the tail, in radiating rows.

The photos I posted, particularly of the 15# and 20# fish, show them to be very silver, as they were. None of the five fish in question (I'm excluding the walleye, as I have no confusion about his identity) had black mouths or gums, as Kings I have caught in lower Lake Michigan have had, and though of the five, four were hens, there was no hook of any sort to either jaw in any of them. The three smaller fish had very clearly white mouths and gums and the two larger had off-white mouths and gums.

They were fine fish and a lot of fun to catch, whatever they were, but one of the things that plays in my mind against steelhead now that I think about it is the fact that a bunch of them were caught essentially in the same place and essentially at the same time.

I guess I just don't know for sure...

Buckda posted 09-29-2004 11:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
John -

I'll tell you exactly what you caught:

A great time with a young woman who you love in a place that you love in a boat that you love.

Sounds like you caught plenty.

Thanks for sharing the great photos.


kingfish posted 09-29-2004 12:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Thank you, Dave-

I guess "It don't get no better than that"...

LHG posted 09-29-2004 03:36 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Maybe the fishing expert of the BWGLCC, JimG, who runs salmon tournaments on Lake Huron, will report in? I'm still betting on Chinook.

John, there isn't a chance these could be Splake, is there?
Splake is a Canadian hatchery plant of a cross between Speckled Trout and Lake Trout, usually caught in Georgian Bay.

kingfish posted 09-29-2004 04:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Don't think so - they're marked a lot like a Laker only lighter. There is or has been another man-made breed up there called a "Cross-back" which as I understand it is/was a Splake crossed back with either a Laker or Brook (Speckled) Trout; the Cross-back apparently could breed but the Splake couldn't. Don't even know what they look like though if they (did) exist.

JimG if you pick this up, I'd appreciate your input-


Plotman posted 09-30-2004 02:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for Plotman  Send Email to Plotman     
According to the Michigan DNR website, steelhead have 10-12 rays in the anal fin, Chinook have 15-17. It's a bit difficult to blow up John's pictures on photobucket enough to be sure, but it looked to me like the single 17 pounder had 12 rays in the anal fin, which would point to steelhead. Perhaps John can tell more from the originals.

Today is the last day of the season for lake trout on Superior, so I'll be out as soon as I can steal away from the office at the end of the day...

kingfish posted 09-30-2004 02:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     

I didn't count them at the time, but I do have high resolution originals of the photos from which I should be able to make some good counts.



kingfish posted 09-30-2004 02:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
p.s. I can see it now: they will have 13 and 14 rays!
JimG posted 09-30-2004 06:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for JimG  Send Email to JimG     
Hi John,

From the pictures there is little doubt your catch was king
salmon,they just do not look like steelhead. However, usually counting the anal fin rays gives the final determination.

K Albus gave very accurate information and observations.
I concur with all his explinations, especially the black mouth can be confusing because there is often a lot of white coloring, with black found only on the gums at the
base of the teeth. Also, when steelhead darken a little in pre spawn they usually develop some pink coloring on their sides.

The diminished bait fish stock is more drastic in lower Lake Huron than Lake Michigan or northern Lake Huron. The
MDNR fish biologists are of the opinion the kings have moved to northern Lake Huron to feed on the more abundant
supply of bait fish. This would help explain your increase of salmon stock this season.

If the fish we catch looked anything like they are shown in the fish identification manuals, there would be a lot less

Most important as all have said, you had a great trip to a
beautiful place with your daughter Jess and caught fish. I
could not think of anything that would be more fun.

kingfish posted 10-01-2004 09:04 AM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
OK, I'm buying it - Kings they were. It was indeed great fishing and great spending time with Jess; both those opporunities are far too few.

Thanks to all involved for the help in setting the record straight. I'm anxious to spend more time up in that neck of the woods downrigging next summer if there's the potential for that kind of catch. And I'll tell you I'm *real* interested in finding out how to lay my hands on some more Walleye up there...I'd be hard pressed to decide whether I'd rather over-eat on fresh North Channel Walleye or fresh Gulf Grouper. I think the answer is, "Yes".

Outlaw posted 10-12-2004 09:16 PM ET (US)     Profile for Outlaw  Send Email to Outlaw     
Hey Fellas

It has been a while!
I was just trying to find you guys and see what kind of adventures you all had this summer on board your boats.
I wrote to Russ a while back and never heard back from him. He was mentioning that you were all trying to get together for another trip through the North Channel. Did that ever happen?
John I was reading your reports on the fishing and became exteremly jealous. My father sent me some pictures of his fishing conquests over the summer and it made me realize what fun I was missing. I love salmon season.
Please post a quick update on the events of the summer and allow me to catch up.
I have had the Boyles place Outlaw back in her winter berth in the hangar and might not be able to get her out of hock for a year or so. Once I get the career settled I should be able to get her back out and on the water. My plan is to slap one of those Mercury Verado's on the back and see how she handles.
Anyway, I'll be anxious to ehar from you
hope all are enjoying the fall colours.
Brandon Nutt

kingfish posted 10-13-2004 09:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Hey Brandon, great to hear from you!

Didn't hold a rendezvous at Neptune island this past summer, but the GLBWCC did a huge trip covering the entire North Channel and Georgian Bay and back. I was sadly unable to attend that event, so am still looking forward to my first Paula Gilson blueberry pancake (Russ and Paula couldn't make it either, so I guess I would still be missing the pancakes even if I had been able to make it).

I've placed three hot links below to the threads making up the before, during and after of this past summer's event:

Did you look at the photos I linked at the top of this article showing the fish you read about? How about that Walleye? Not only huge, but the first Walleye I'm aware of any of my family catching up there in over 30 years!

Hope to hear more from you-


LHG posted 10-14-2004 02:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Brandon - Good to see you show up around here again. Check out John's links, I think you'll approve of my latest "ride".

Outlaw posted 11-09-2004 11:29 PM ET (US)     Profile for Outlaw  Send Email to Outlaw     

Larry, you're right, I was impressed. What a job you have done!
I was able to read all of the logs and convo's you all had in prep and execution of your latest adventure.
Sounds like many of you were able to get some new rides. Dave's boat looks pretty good too.
I had a chance to look at all the pics and am pretty jealous I wasn't able to make that run with you folks. I remember taking my uncle's old scarab through the small craft at high speed. that was a pretty good rush.
I would like to include some pics of the past rendezvous that I was able to attend, but Photo bucket is having some issues, so if you'd like them sooner send me your email and I'll direct you to them.
Enjoy the winter fellas


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