Return to Joe's Lake Superior Fishing

Equipment and Fishing Techniques

Below is a description of my boat and equipment:

Boat:

Type. My boat is a 1988, 22' Sea Nymph with an aluminum hull and cuddy cab. It's named "Cooler By The Lake" because that's our usual summer forecast in our home port of Marquette and being on Lake Superior.

Power Train. The power train was a 3-Liter (130 hp) Mercruiser with an Alpha One outdrive. That's a small engine for the boat but it sure was economical to run. Cruising speed was around 21 mph but with time and ethanol gas, dropped off to around 19 mph. I put an oil reservoir on the I/O to monitor the oil and that is something I'd recommend to anyone with an I/O. I rebuilt the engine in 2001 which worked wonders for its performance. Well, in 2015 after talking about putting a bigger power plant in, Rick found a 1992 boat with a Merc V-6 LX and Alpha One, Gen II I/O so I bought it and we swapped engines and outdrives. It took a couple of days and the only real mods we needed to make were front motor mounts. We also went through the I/O with new seals and water pump. My stainless steel 17" prop was woefully inadequate for the power and even with a new 21" prop, RPMs were at the top of the WOT (wide open throttle). However, with a 19" big blade prop it's performance is spectacular. Cursing speed at the sweet spot of economy is now 28 mph at 3,600 RPM and the gas economy is only slightly more than the 4-cy. Quite a kick from 130hp to 223hp. It's absolutely wonderful!

Trolling Motor. My second latest auxiliary motor in 2006 was a 1989 Yamaha High Thrust 9.9 hp. The fuel line was connected to the main tank and its charging system is connected to the main batteries.  It worked great for a year then started giving me fits by arbitrarily changing speeds. I tried everything with the carburetor but couldn't resolve it. I then bought another Yamaha 9.9 High Thrust and modified it as it had remote controls. It has served me very well starting in 2010. It did have a gas starvation problem when it was running wide open so I switched to a separate gas tank and that cured the problem.  My 1985 Honda 10 hp had 5,831 hours on it when it just wore out. Up to the end, in never used oil and never failed to start. It averaged around 4.5 hours of trolling on a gallon of gas. I had the original plugs in for nearly 9 years and put only $25 in parts in it over all those years. Well, that doesn't count the 3 impellers. However, the Honda never had as much thrust as the Yamaha motor that is designed for slow speeds.

Steering. In 1983 I devised an electric steering system for my trolling motor. It was made from a car electric window opener and worked fantastic wired to a toggle switch I could use from anywhere on the boat. However, in 1998 I made the plunge and got a Nautamatic® (now bought out by Garmin) autopilot steering system. It automatically holds whatever course I set, even into gusty wind and waves over 3 feet. It is so wonderful to be able to walk about the boat, catch fish, fish by myself, and do other things (including BS) without the required 100% concentration on steering. It also saves my guests from sharing the steering burden. In 2003, I upgraded to the TR-1 Gold, a model more advanced that holds course within a few degrees, does circles, zig zags, and other things. Love it.

Electronics:

Radios. In 2006 I replaced my Apelco® marine radio with a Uniden Oceanus. Like everything else, radios have gotten complicated and this one has a menu. I set it to scan several channels, including channel 78 which is my main channel. One downside to the radio is the short microphone cord that won't stretch when it's cold. What were they thinking? It just amazes me to think that we can have mobile phones with touch-screen technology today and yet and we can't install a cord that won't be affected by cold weather. Channel bleed-over is a problem too. Of course I always monitor channel 16 which I feel is very important should someone else need assistance. I miss the days when most boaters using marine radios knew radio protocol and never said such things as "Breaker, breaker!" or "Do you have your ears on?"        

Navigation. I used my Lowrance® Color H2O iFinder for a couple of years until it failed. I had mapping capability using a Navionics chip showing lake depths.  Actually the depths shown are pretty useless as they're too far apart. As I catch fish, I sometimes mark the spot on the GPS plotter with an icon to see the pattern of where the fish are so I can go back if I wish. I upload and download my coordinates from my GPS directly into my home computer. I leave the icons there and the next time out I use a different set of icons. I occasionally use an icon to identify where we marked significant amounts of fish (there may be only a couple if it's a slow day). I'm waiting for Garmin or Tom Tom to make software changes to all the car navigation touch screens so they can be used for nautical purposes. I can't believe they haven't done that yet.

Radar. Furuno® 1621 LCD radar. It's a modest radar with a 16-mile range. However, all I want to know is whether there is someone nearby (particularly ahead of me) in the fog. Some years are nearly fog free and others have considerable fog. However, it gives me great peace of mind knowing it's there when I need it.

Graph. I retired my Bottom Line Tournament Master for a Furuno FCV582L color graph in 2005. I just love it with the dual frequency transducers. I didn't get the speed indicator as they are notoriously inaccurate and my GPS does just fine. The Bottom Line worked out fairly well but just didn't do the job like I was hoping. We mostly use our graph to watch the bottom going up and down in order to adjust the downriggers accordingly but now I see more below, and in color.  Fishermen with more imagination than me see more fish on their graphs than I do. Given time I felt I just wasn't seeing what was below me, including fish as I expected so I bought a garmin Echo 201 graph (monochrome) which works fantastic.

Gear:

I have had two BigJon® electric downriggers since 1983. They've been fantastic with almost no maintenance. I made the swivel bases that year on a metal lathe and welded them and still use them to this day. The riggers still worked fine but I put new motors on them both in 2007 as the brushes were getting worn and the new motors were supposed to be a little faster. I didn't notice that to be the case. Then in 2011, I felt a compelling need to upgrade one rigger to a faster one, so as to speed up returning the Johnson rod down. It's complicated so I won't get into it. However, I got the Big Jon Brute, which can go up and down at 200' per minute, and I got the optional automatic stop and variable speed control. I designed and welded my own pole holder that works much better than the ones that come with it.

My 9' graphite downrigger rod and Shimano® reel is my workhorse. For years I used Roemer® releases, one of the best for consistency and flexibility as you can stack with them easily too. However, several years ago I switched to Black® or Dubro® releases because of their low water resistance, simplicity, work very well, and they're less expensive.

Then there's my pumper or Johnson Rod. For years I used steel line run straight out the back of the boat with a 1.5-pound weight on it. I've now gone to a braided, non-stretch line, but all else is the same. It's tricky to get out once the downriggers are down but we seldom have problems. It's really fun when fighting a fish on a non-stretch line, which obviously has no give whatsoever and it's just you and the fish. It's a lot harder than monofilament, which is more forgiving with all its stretch. My latest trick is to sometimes run 2 or 3 lures off the one line. It's my secret how to do that and it's not for the faint of heart. I occasionally call it a pumper rod as we used to pump the rod and lure to entice the fish to hit. However, our standing name is the Johnson Rod, which we named from the old days when we fished Johnson spoons and we jokingly referred to that as "pumping our Johnson". I added another snubber in 2011 and it seemed to cut down on our losses.

Techniques

I don't use dodgers and flies anymore but instead use just spoons. I'm a treble hook fan and keep them very sharp. Whether one prefers single or treble hooks is a "fishing philosophy" and most fishermen have strong feelings about which is best.    

The release is placed around 2' above an 8# downrigger weight. Some fishermen run 10# weights and others even 12#, but I think that causes too much strain on my riggers. The lure is usually run around 12' back of the release, the same length back as the stacker line described below. I believe keeping several lures in a "group" somewhat represents a school of fish to Lakers. Also, 12' doesn't cramp the action of the lure as well as minimizes the likelihood of getting the lure in the motor when setting up. Shortening the line changes the action of the lure and if you choose to run dodgers, will increase the tendency to roll instead of flop.

I usually stack a second lure on the same line, about 6' - 20' above the bottom lure. Both lures are of course, on releases. I choose to fix it at that height, rather than let it free float to the belly of the monofilament (commonly called sliders). I usually catch 2 fish on one line about 10-15 times a year, which gets pretty exciting. I probably average about 15% of the fish I catch on the upper stacker line (average 10' from bottom).

Secrets - Not. There is really no great secret to catching Lake Trout. Usually, all you have to do is stay as close to the bottom as you practically can. Sometimes, fishing them suspended, especially in the Fall, is very productive. Speed is truly a variable in that I usually start around 1.8 mph but will go up from there depending on action, direction, and currents. I believe more in my instincts here and such things as watching downrigger line angle vs. depth, rather than solely electronics. However, my tachometer on my auxiliary motor helps me to get back to the speed when I am catching fish. Whenever I catch a fish, I make a mental note of the direction and engine RPM so I can duplicate it.

Safety

Safety I mention last but always consider first. We always keep in mind that Murphy of "Murphy's Law" works overtime on boats, including weekends. We think safety before we connect the trailer and then for the entire trip. You have to watch everything or the littlest thing can turn into a major problem. Don't be afraid to say to your fishing buddies - let's make this a safe trip. That same principle applies to not hesitating to stay home (and saying so) if the weather forecast sounds threatening and you're not comfortable. I've stayed home a number of times when the weather turned out very fishable, but seldom regretted being conservitive. Gut feelings have saved my bacon on more than one occasion. That includes checking for big things like not being overweight to little things such as having backup stuff on hand that's easy to find.

I've worn a SosPenders® automatic inflating life floatation device for several years, instead of a standard life jacket. However, due to my own error, I had a problem with it and wrote the Company for resolution. They never responded so I switched to a Stearns® inflatable which seemed OK, but did not seem to be of the same quality. I then  switched back to the SosPenders. It's comfortable to wear and provides a lot more floatation (35#) than a conventional life preserver (average 14# floatation) if you go into the water. Last Fall I switched to a Mustang inflatable as it's resistant to water spray and humidity, but they're pricey. So what if it saves your butt! To my knowledge, only some of the automatic types are Coast Guard approved but more of the the manual release models are. Go figure! I sometimes joke that no one returns defective life jackets to the manufacturer. I have regular life jackets readily available for guests and encourage them to wear one (most don't). I encourage them to bring their own if they have them, to ensure a better fit.        

Return to Joe's Lake Superior Fishing

This page updated 21 Dec 12