The Magic Of Winter’s Browns

Ice fishing is not the only mid-winter option for northern anglers!

Our Crestliner Commander eased away from the Bender Park launch and headed toward the open water produced by the Oak Creek power plant’s discharge flumes. I looked back at the trail of slush and broken ice that queued back to the launch and smiled.

It was mid-January in Wisconsin—Hallelujah! I was fishing for brown trout in open water with Captain Mike Hanke and Jim LaFortune of A1 Big Fish Charters operating out of the city of Racine. Joining us was Rich Galarno, who had traveled “south” from his home on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Superior.

LaFortune, Hanke’s fishing partner and a veteran Lake Michigan trout and salmon angler, examined the Michigan Stinger spoon with Wonder Bread color pattern then dropped it into the subtle current. He measured out line in long pulls, secured the line to the downrigger ball and lowered away.

Before wee could lower our second downrigger line, the Okuma reel screamed with a hooked brown. We landed the fish and boom! The second line connected.

LaFortune would choose a mix of spoons, crankbaits—Brad’s Thin Fish is his favorite—and minnow-style baits that would allow us to work the water column at different depths ranging from four to 10 feet. Church Tackle side planer boards allowed us to widen our trolling swath.

Winter temperatures and frozen water keep most anglers off the Great Lakes. But a number of electrical power stations situated along the shores discharge warm “cooling” waters back into the lake, providing open water oases through much of the winter.

Most trout and salmon spread out over Lake Michigan’s vast acreage in winter, but the more domestically oriented brown trout population thrives in these warmed near-shore waters, feasting on the large numbers of gobies and other baitfish species that congregate here.

Though the action ebbed and flowed, not until morning’s end did we go more than 10 minutes without at least a hook-up.

Our fished ranged from young “shaker” browns to fish in the 12- to 14-pound category. But perhaps the best part of this fishing is the prospect of catching a true monster! Lake Michigan already has produced multiple world record brown trout. LaFortune himself has taken four browns over 30 pounds, including a 34-pound winter fish!

Hanke’s enclosed and heated Crestliner provided warming comfort when needed…but, seriously, how much “comfort” do you need when the browns are biting?!!!

For more information on A1 Big Fish Charters check out the website, or contact Captain Mike Hanke, phone: (262) 989-9102; email:

North American Fisherman Top Stories