Fishing guide prefers simpler tactics for Lake Superior’s big Seeforellen brown trout
BAYFIELD — The parking lot at this boat launch near Bayfield on Lake Superior was half-filled with pickups and boat trailers on the morning of April 1. Lots of trollers were out on the 38-degree morning to comb the big lake for coho salmon, brown trout, splake and any other gamefish they might encounter.
Washburn's Luke Kavajecz launched his boat early the same morning, but he wasn't going trolling. Kavajecz, a Chequamegon Bay fishing guide, would be going after the popular Seeforellen brown trout, and he's discovered an alternate way to catch them.
He works the big lake's shoreline, casting spoons or minnow imitations or flies for these relatively new Lake Superior stocked trout.
"The reason I like them — it extends my shallow-water season," Kavajecz said. "People can use a spinning rod and a $5 Krocodile (spoon). You can fish without fancy tackle for eight months of the year."
Kavajecz, 33, guides mainly for Chequamegon Bay's trophy smallmouth bass. He's booked for 61 straight days so far this spring and summer.
A couple of years ago, he began experimenting with this new way to fish Seeforellen browns, a strain that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began stocking in earnest six years ago. Some of the fish have grown to 30 inches or more. While trollers love them, Kavajecz thinks that casting for these handsome specimens has great potential. "You can open up this whole area to light tackle," he said.
Because the browns provide a near-shore fishery, anglers don't have to have bigger boats needed for more distant trolling in the Apostle Islands.
Kavajecz, who guides for Anglers All bait shop in Ashland, starts fishing for these browns near shore this time of year and fishes them well into November, he said.
On April Fools' Day, we fished along the Wisconsin mainland's sandstone shores over a 10-foot sand flat dolloped with occasional boulders. We were casting into water as shallow as 3 feet. Kavajecz used a variety of minnow imitations, while I threw an orange and gold Krocodile spoon.
The water was emerald green and almost clear. It was also cold — 31 degrees, according to Kavajecz's fish locator.
Almost immediately, Kavajecz caught and landed a decent coho salmon, an early-season bonus to his brown trout fishing. He tossed it in a cooler.
"That one's going in my belly," he said.
We worked several pieces of shoreline where Kavajecz had done well in the past. It must have seemed a cruel contrast to where Kavajecz had been fishing most recently. He spends a month in the Bahamas guiding fly-fishers for bonefish, barracuda and other species.
Maybe part of him was still down there: He looked at the Wisconsin shoreline littered with piles of blown-in ice floes and muttered, "White sand beaches."
Like muskie fishing
Kavajecz says fishing for these scattered Seeforellen browns is a bit like muskie fishing, but with slightly better odds.
"It's not a numbers game," he said. "You'll get a couple cohos, maybe four or five small fish, maybe a splake — and have two or three large-fish encounters (with browns). But because you're landing a big fish on light tackle, it's a memory-maker."
One day last fall, he said, he landed brown trout, a northern pike, a smallmouth bass, a splake (cross between a brook trout and lake trout), a steelhead and a coho salmon. His brother-in-law, visiting from Colorado, caught several browns one day using a large streamer fly.
"This has turned into one of my favorite kinds of fishing," Kavajecz said. "It'll catch on."
We whipped our offerings toward shore and cranked them back to the boat. A bald eagle left its perch high in a pine and labored on heavy wings down the shore. Kavajecz often fishes where he sees eagles. He figures they might know something.
In the islands
From where we fished, we could count five of the 21 Apostle Islands. Kavajecz could tell it wasn't going to be a fast day of fishing. We weren't getting any follows — fish pursuing a lure to the boat, then turning away at the last minute. But we kept at it.
We saw one other boat — trollers — the entire morning. Kavajecz concedes that trollers might catch more fish than he does casting. Three people in a boat covering a lot of water, each angler allowed three lines, probably have better odds of catching fish, he said.
"But you can only troll so long before you get bored," he said.
And once you hook one of these powerful browns while casting, it's a much different experience.
"You have that direct connection to the fish," he said.
I was fortunate enough to experience that connection a few minutes later. A Seeforellen brown smacked my Krocodile and nearly yanked the rod from my hands. I set the hook and hung on.
"Keep your rod tip down," Kavajecz counseled.
These fish often leap clear of the water, he said. With the water so cold, however, this one didn't have the gumption to jump. But it made several good runs, zipping one direction or another, with a lot of head-shaking going on simultaneously.
The most spectacular part of the experience occurred when the brown neared the boat. Unlike brown trout in streams, which are olive-bodied with black and red spots, these Seeforellens are creamy-bright with random black flecks high on their sides. In the water, the fish I was fighting emitted an almost electric blue glow from its flanks.
When it came close enough, Kavajecz put it in the net. The brown, 2 feet long, was just as gorgeous in the cloudy light of an April morning as it had been in the water. We took a couple of photos and set it free.
"Even though it's a hatchery fish, there's something cool about them," Kavajecz said.