Big water produces great trout and salmon action, but finding nomadic fish can feel like hunting the needle in a haystack. Fortunately, there are tricks to speed your search. Thirty-five years of tapping Lake Superior’s salmonid bounty has taught charter captain Peter Dahl of Duluth, Minnesota, a thing or two about finding fish fast.
To be sure, the presence of prime food species such as shiners and rainbow smelt is critical. And few factors fuel forage location like plankton— which attracts hungry baitfish. This is why spots where plankton piles up, such as a bay on the downwind side of the lake, can be goldmines. Finding the fish’s preferred water temperature is also huge—especially critical temperature breaks where two different temp zones meet.
Though it’s off the radar of many anglers, Dahl contends that water clarity breaks are equally important— as long as water temperatures are still suitable. In fact one of his favorite drop zones occurs along sediment plumes. In his home waters, the tributary Nemadji River runs red when hard rains wash clay into the stream, eventually creating a band of stained surface water extending into Lake Superior.
“Nutrient-rich sediments jumpstart an infertile lake’s food chain, spurring plankton growth and attracting baitfish,” says Dahl, who dials in the plume pattern by long-line trolling a minnow-imitator like a Bomber Long A or Rapala X-Rap. Bright finishes such as orange-and-chartreuse are hot, though purple-and-black has its moments.
Trolling passes parallel the plume, with planer boards spreading baits just inside the mudline, where visibility averages a foot or two. He starts at speeds of 3.5 to 4 mph while in search mode and slows to 2.5 to 3 when he's on fish. He generally keeps baits in the 5-to 10- foot thick band of dirty water at the surface.
Keep in mind, too, that plumes typically don’t run more than 10 feet deep, and it’s always worth checking just beneath the dirty water.
Dahl’s plume pattern holds water for trout fans east to west, wherever stained inflows meet ideal water temperatures. These spots produce hot fishing throughout much of the season.
Related Video: Strolling Planer Boards