BrianBM

Surf Fishing the Great Lakes

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A question for those anglers who are regular shore fishermen on the Great Lakes. Do you fish "surf" conditions there at all, or are you local salmonoids, pike, SMB/LMB and carp happiest in calmer waters?

 

The Great Lakes are certainly big enough to have swells, ocean-surf-sized swells under some conditions. Striped bass aren't bothered at all by white water, but they have fairly tough mouths and you can fish for them without much worry of losing fish because they have a tender mouth. All the salmon and trout, as far as I know, are soft-mouthed (at least when compared to striped bass or bluefish). This could easily make it hard to fish for them in surf.

 

Or does it? Fill me in.

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Now you are talking! This is right up my alley for a change. Let me start by saying that the shorelines of the great lakes are long and diverse, so my comments have to be taken as a broad swipe of the brush.

 

Generally surf fishing is nothing like the ocean. Sure, maybe you can find pre and post spawn salmon in the shallows, but these are rather specific conditions and not generally pursued by fly fishermen.

 

For a fly fisherman beach fishing can sometimes be found in the early spring when lake trout, steelhead and brown trout can be found in close. Often small creek mouths, or break walls at the mouths of larger rivers collect fish. Most anglers cast lures or bait and only a very few cast flies.

 

As the water warms many chase carp in the shallows and others look for spawning smallmouth bass with flies. By this time the trout and salmon have moved out and follow deeper temperature and bait zones for the rest of the year. These fish are not in a fly casters realm.

 

Then in the fall the process reverses. Some pre-spawn salmon can be caught off the rivers, while most are found up the tributary. Steelhead, my favorite on a fly, often follow,the salmon and feed on their eggs, but this is all in the rivers and not the focus of the question.

 

There may be some who read this and say, "Oh yeah, well in my area....". And they may be right for their circumstance, but in the big picture it is true to say the surf fishing in the ocean and surf fishing in the great lakes have very little in common other than being fun.

 

BB

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I agree with what Backlash has written. In addition, the downtown Chicago area has few beaches. The shoreline is mostly comprised of harbors, piers, and boulder-lined concrete seawalls. The few beaches that do exist are great for summer smallmouth and carp...but not when the surf is up. You wont catch any fish from shore in these conditions no matter what method you choose. The water tends to be very dark when the waves are high. But when it's calm, like the fish are used to, it's more like surf fishing the Gulf for snook than the mid-Atlantic for stripers.

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Brian,

You also asked about how tough the mouths of these fish are. While I have not caught as many stripers and blues as I have trout and salmon, I've caught quite a few and don't see a big difference in the toughness of their mouths. Bass' teeth can grind through a leader and a blue chop it; none of the trout or salmon species can bite through them. their teeth are pointed, not sharp edged or raspy. As for over all mouth toughness call it a draw between them in my opinion. However if you hook a pike or musky, think sharp molars that cut like a blue.

BB

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The comparison to Gulf Coast snook angling is the most relevant to the particular question: if there's a genuine surf thumping ashore, say home and tie flies. Or mix up ingredients for a secret carp bait.

 

Food for thought here. Thank you all.

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On 5/17/2011 at 6:43 PM, BrianBM said:

A question for those anglers who are regular shore fishermen on the Great Lakes. Do you fish "surf" conditions there at all, or are you local salmonoids, pike, SMB/LMB and carp happiest in calmer waters?

 

The Great Lakes are certainly big enough to have swells, ocean-surf-sized swells under some conditions. Striped bass aren't bothered at all by white water, but they have fairly tough mouths and you can fish for them without much worry of losing fish because they have a tender mouth. All the salmon and trout, as far as I know, are soft-mouthed (at least when compared to striped bass or bluefish). This could easily make it hard to fish for them in surf.

 

Or does it? Fill me in.

Brian,

 

Its depends on each lake.  I have fished Erie in NY/PA and Ontrario in NY.  Certain areas of each lake tend to have better surf fishing than others.   It can be lights out fishing, or a total dead zone similar to striper beaches.  You need to know what weather conditions and river flows will created ideal conditions at each beach area.  I use 15lb leaders primarily because the flies are smaller with lighter hooks not so much because fish mouths are softer.  These fish are feeding on emerald shiners, smelt, or gobies so forage is similar size to silver sides.  Also night time is the right time, but day fishing can be productive.

 

Dan

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Would a 7wt be a reasonable selection of rod for a shorebound angler? Should be fine for carp, a touch more then needed for smallmouth. Steelhead and salmon are a specialized business, so I'll leave that one alone.

 

Amazing how a long-dead thread will bob to the surface at times. 

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Often wondered about all those large breakwaters in front of Chicago, Toronto etc. Is there access. Just curious, I don't live up there.

 

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6 hours ago, BrianBM said:

Would a 7wt be a reasonable selection of rod for a shorebound angler? Should be fine for carp, a touch more then needed for smallmouth. Steelhead and salmon are a specialized business, so I'll leave that one alone.

 

Amazing how a long-dead thread will bob to the surface at times. 

It should be fine for most fish including steelhead.  I landed all my steelhead on a 10' 7wt orvis rod and a 11' 7wt Gloomis Switch rod.  Only fish you would be under powered on is King Salmon.  

 

Oddly enough the thread popped up in my feed like it was new so I responded to it.  Ghosts in the SOL machine maybe? 

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You never know, but I can't rule out ghosts.  Given the fits that each new iteration of software gives TimS, I can't even rule out demonic possession. 

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I read an article on this very topic. As noted different Lakes demand local knowledge. The article noted the mouths of streams or creeks offered good chance at steelhead in the early fall. Living there, having a friend or hiring a guide will cut down the learning curve. Five hour ride for me forget it, in early fall its albies and anything else the surf has to offer. I always hold out hope some guy comes down here for surf fishing and we trade some info and I head north for a change.

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On 1/23/2019 at 5:59 PM, JoeGBreezy said:

Often wondered about all those large breakwaters in front of Chicago, Toronto etc. Is there access. Just curious, I don't live up there.

 

There isn't any access to the breakwaters here in Chicago. I see a couple fly fisherman every once in while going for perch ans salmon at some of the harbor inlets, but i've never actually tried.

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