As we motored out to Oakland and Morgan shoals in late August, Phil Willink said, “Edges where the bedrock crumbles is where we find fish.”

As senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, Willink is a world-trotter. But he is also smart enough to know fishermen know things about water and fish that a researcher such as himself might find useful. Conversely, he knows things that can help fishermen.

As I promised a couple weeks ago when I wrote about the day with Willink and others from the Shedd researching the shoals, here are some fishing tips I picked up. Some apply to the shoals, others to general lakefront fishing.

The main fish of interest on the shoals to anglers are yellow perch and smallmouth bass, though Willink found salmon and trout also use the Morgan Shoal (41.808962o North; -87.580569o West) at times. (I was surprised how many suckers he surveyed on Morgan Shoal. They are rarely caught on the lakefront.)

Willink’s work on Oakland Shoal, slightly north of Morgan, is ground-breaking work, so not much is known about it. But Willink knows lake trout will stack up on the deep sides at times. He is not sure if they are using it for spawning or simply feeding on gobies there afterward.

At Morgan Shoal, the key areas for perch and smallmouth are on the drops where the bedrock breaks down into rubble, which edges to the sand. If you fish enough, that makes sense. It’s a transition area with cover.

The shoals are bedrock, some of it rising near the surface, even in a high-water summer like this. That explains the added cover of the Silver Spray wreckage from 1914 on Morgan Shoal. Willink said that they almost always find smallmouth around the boiler, which sticks out of the water in low-water years. The ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) showed several smallmouth when we were out.

There’s good reason the captain brothers, Adam and Damon Karras, from Great Lakes Expeditions (greatlakesexpeditions.com) cautiously piloted the 41-foot Double Jameson around the shoals. I highly suggest fishermen use similar caution.

Phil Willink, senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, and Sharon Fuller, a member of the Shedd's Learning team, watch the screen while an ROV scans the shoals off Chicago's South Side. Credit: Dale Bowman

Phil Willink, senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, and Sharon Fuller, a member of the Shedd’s Learning team, watch the screen while an ROV scans the shoals off Chicago’s South Side.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I was surprised how extensive the rubble was when Learning Team members–Belle Archaphorn, Sharon Fuller and Sabrina Bainbridge–put out an ROV to transmit the bottom view.

Willink asked if I had fished the shoals. I had with Mike Norris and a couple others, but never boated a fish and rarely marked any. But Willink found all kinds of fish.

On the day I was out with him, he set nets: three on Oakland Shoal, two on Morgan. All nets held yellow perch. Not sure what that means for fishermen.

Willink pointed out that nets on the south side of the shoals held more fish. There’s good reason. The general flow of current (and sand) on our side of the lake is north to south, left to right if you are looking from our shore. He also thinks there’s more rubble (cover) on the south side of the shoals.

Also note “Samantha’s Canyon,” if you can find it on Morgan Shoal. After some field work, Samantha Hertel, a Shedd volunteer, was using mapping software and found a mini-canyon. It is about 60 feet long x 20 wide x 8-10 deep. It is the kind of sharp drop that should attract and hold fish.

I just love it that there are still mysteries on Lake Michigan.

Phil Willink, senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, watches as Belle Archaphorn, leader of the Shedd's Learning Team, sets an ROV on the shoals off Chicago's South Side. Credit: Dale Bowman

Phil Willink, senior research biologist for the Shedd Aquarium, watches as Belle Archaphorn, leader of the Shedd’s Learning Team, sets an ROV on the shoals off Chicago’s South Side.
Credit: Dale Bowman