In some circles, the full moon in September is called the harvest moon.
Anglers on McKinley Pier in Milwaukee this week were treated to a succession of evenings with the luminous orb rising in clear skies over Lake Michigan.
“It’s a show, for sure,” said Keith Miller, 61, of Milwaukee. “Now will (the moon) trigger the fish? That’s what I want to know. »
Miller was one of half a dozen fishermen gathered around 7 p.m. Wednesday at the pier.
The “harvest” part is always uncertain in fishing. As is often said, that’s why they don’t call it “catching”.
But at this time of year, catch opportunities for shore, dock, and small-boat anglers are increased at ports along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan.
Late summer and early fall are marked by the return of certain species of stocked salmon and trout to the lake.
Fish respond to genetic impulses to reproduce or spawn.
They first leave the mouths of rivers in areas where they were seeded years ago. The footprint of fish on the water of the region and in a miracle of fisheries science and nature is able to find it in adulthood.
When conditions are right, they will swim up tributaries to lay eggs and milt.
But that is yet to come.
As of last week, fish were still pending in near-shore areas such as Milwaukee Harbor.
Several species could be present at all times, including brown trout, coho salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout and chinook salmon.
But it’s the chinooks, also called kings, that are often the first to appear in the greatest numbers. They also get the biggest, with many over 20 pounds, some even heavier than 30.
The Wisconsin state record chinook was a 44.92 pounds caught near Sturgeon Bay in 1994.
It was the hope of catching one of these fish, a mature king, that drew me and most other anglers to the pier and boats in the harbor last week.
Marco Momich, 31, of Milwaukee, cast a phosphorescent lure in the calm lake Wednesday night.
The sailboats drifted after the races. Couples strolled on the pier to admire the view.
“It’s one of the last great natural resources we have left,” Momich said. “We have to take advantage of it.”
Momich is an avid fisherman but had come to McKinley on Wednesday to try out a sequel.
His Facebook account reminded him that on September 7, 2018, he caught a 15-pound chinook on the pier.
This fish was in excellent shape and provided excellent nutrition, he said.
“Time to rehearse,” Momich said, charging her decoy with her phone’s flashlight.
Fifty yards further on, Leo Zignego, 22, of Clyman was also in the cast. He made an appointment with Miller, his colleague, for a few hours of fishing at the end of the day.
“Very relaxing,” Zignego said. “It’s my first outing in a while but I’m hoping to catch one of these chinook.”
Lake Michigan historically had two top predators, lake trout and burbot. But after invasive sea lampreys entered the lake in the 1930s, the native fishery was disrupted.
The gaspereau, another invasive species, then overpopulated the lake and marred the beaches in mass deaths in the 1950s and 1960s.
However, a solution was at hand. In the 1960s, fisheries managers began introducing salmon and trout from the Pacific Ocean to feed on the abundant alewife population.
It worked on two fronts. Stocked predatory fish have reduced excessive numbers of alewife and created a thriving sport fishery.
Since the 1970s, Lake Michigan has drawn anglers from all over to enjoy some of the best salmon and trout fishing on the planet.
Although there have been ups and downs, including disease challenges and worrying declines in the number of prey fish, the fishery has endured.
Over the past two years, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has worked with anglers to develop the 2020-22 Lake Michigan Stocking Plan to improve fisheries management in the lake. Under this plan, in 2021 MNR stocked 1.2 million chinook salmon, 514,657 coho salmon, 430,313 rainbow trout, 411,229 brown trout and 50,077 brook trout.
Additionally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service stocked 45,000 lake trout in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan last year.
The 2022 storage targets were similar.
And this year is shaping up to be a memorable year for big fish.
A 40.40-pound chinook was caught July 31 off Algoma, the first trout or salmon caught in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan to cross the 40-pound mark since July 12, 2010, when Roger Hellen of Franksville caught a 41.5 pound brown trout. Wind Point in Racine County.
There appears to be a good balance of predator and prey fish in the lake this year resulting in heavy catches of salmon and trout.
The late summer return of kings to ports along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan offers one of the best chances for the “little guy” to tangle with the biggest fish in the lake.
In addition to casting from docks and shore, anglers can launch from relatively small boats and fish in protected harbor areas.
Action was slow on McKinley on Wednesday night until 10:30 p.m. when I landed a 17-pound chinook on hank caught under a float. The fish was colored like tarnished silver and had firm flesh; it will eat well.
The following night, I returned under similar conditions. Catches on the pier were rare, but several boats returned with impressive kings.
In fact, Blake Jarrett of Elkhorn caught two chinook that weighed over 30 pounds while jigging near the harbor breach.
One of them was 43.5 inches long and had a circumference of 25.25 inches. He was estimated at 38 pounds and was the biggest king I had seen in person this year.
For reference, the 40.40 pound Chinook caught in July in Algoma was 44 inches long and had a girth of 28.5 inches.
Jarrett was fishing from a boat similar to what most people would use on inland lakes to fish for bass or walleye.
“It’s time to get out there and you don’t need a huge boat,” Jarrett said. “Ports are where they are now.”
The rain and cooler water temperatures will help attract more kings to ports in the coming days. The September moon will therefore increasingly claim its name of “harvest”.