Brown Trout Showing Early On Lake Michigan’s East Shore

By Mark Chmura | 04/13/2012

Manistee, MI – One of the things I enjoy about guiding Lake Michigan is that patterns are always changing. This year that’s an understatement. Being mid-April now, everyone is focusing on the time of year rather than what’s going on with our weather pattern. I’m not sure what’s happening everywhere else in the Great Lakes, but here on the east shore of Lake Michigan we are way ahead of where we should be this time of year.

This season is hard to understand because it’s changing so fast. The trees are all budded. I’ve seen flowers, animals are out and there’s grass on the roads. These things still shouldn’t happen for a long time.

I’ve had my boat in the water on Lake Michigan since mid-March and trolling has been really good, but I’m not sure how long it’s going to last. Last week it was 42 degrees out of Manistee Harbor and most of the lake (in this area) is 39 degrees. Normally, it would be 36, or so.


While many years we can fish them into late May, our steelhead fishing on the Manistee is pretty much over. Trolling for browns should just be starting, but I’ve been catching them for a month. Honestly, I’m at a loss right now. It’s the middle of April and I don’t know if the browns are ending or if it’s going to go until mid-May like it normally does.

Right now, I’m finding browns and lake trout along the shoreline. On an average day, if I’m fishing in tight to the bank, I’ve been getting my limit of browns (three-fish per person), but they are fairly small. Most days I’m getting one decent one, two all right ones and a whole bunch of little ones. The biggest brown I’ve caught this year was 15 pounds. The bigger browns haven’t come in yet, but I’m guessing they’ll be in any day.

As long as the browns remain shallow I’ll be fishing 8-10 feet deep, sometimes up to 15 feet. In Lake Michigan we have troughs created by high winds. Understanding our troughs is pretty simple, but important when going after browns in the spring. When the waves break the force of the water eats the sand away and creates troughs.


I’m finding the browns in the deepest troughs along the shoreline. They are in the troughs because they are pushing bait in the shallows and your boards should be really close to the shoreline if you want to catch them.

The bite has been great. However, offshore winds can hurt it. Because the offshore wind moves the warmer water offshore and sucks colder water in, the browns go into deeper water and spread out much more when an offshore wind occurs.

The biggest key to inshore trolling is the temperature. The warmer the water the more browns you’ll find. Meanwhile, if you have an offshore wind it’s going to be a tough day. If there’s an offshore wind I’ll stay by the harbors or river mouths because there will be warmer water coming out of the tributaries.

I’ve been using the same technique for decades and that isn’t going to change this year. I pretty much always use stickbaits, mostly Rapala Husky Jerk Glass Minnows and Storm Thundersticks. Once the water rises above 42 degrees you can start running bigger lures like a Bomber Long A.


Editor’s Note: Captain Mark Chmura caught the former world record brown trout here in 1995. That fished weighed 30 pounds, eight ounces. For more info on Chmura’s guided Lake Michigan brown trout trips please visit