Southern Lake Michigan changes: The changes seen and taught, Capt. Ralph Steiger

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Capt. Ralph Steiger, shown with a lake trout caught in February, 2016 on southern Lake Michigan,
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

“It seems like I was scooping minnows yesterday,’’ Capt.Ralph Steigersaid last week.

It does seem like only days ago when I met Steiger as a teenager ‘‘scooping minnows’’ at the now-defunct Mik-Lurch Fishing Tackle Outlet in Hammond, Indiana.

He has come a long way.

On March 21, 2008, Steiger received his 50-ton masters captain’s license. Since then, he has grown into the rare year-round captain on southern Lake Michigan.

For the last four years, he has taught winter seminars for multiple species on the lake. His ‘‘Learn Lake Michigan’’ seminars are this weekend at Cabela’s in Hammond.

His seminarSaturdaywill be on smallmouth bass fishing, withRyan Whitacrehelping.On Sunday, Capt.John Warrenwill assist with salmon and trout.

In Steiger’s decade of chartering, he has lived the changes in Lake Michigan and, most important, adjusted.

The biggest change is the drop in Chinook fishing. What got him a loyal group was casting for kings in the fall. In recent years, though, their fall return to shore has dropped so much that Steiger adjusted and targeted other species.

‘‘The other change would be the lake trout,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘A lot of people, not just me, got better at fishing for them. They are definitely becoming more popular, and more guys are getting good at it. I almost think they were always there; I don’t think they just showed up one year. We just weren’t fishing for them.’’

Steiger has settled into his year-round routine off the changes.

‘‘First thing, the last six or seven years, is to get out early to cast for lakers,’’ he said.

It is usually February to early March, though this year he was fishing for lakers a few days in January.

‘‘Then coho show up,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘Casting for coho is action-packed, and people like to eat them. Then coho disappear byApril 1, then I fish smallmouth bass to early June.’’

Summer is generally salmon. June is usually more coho, and July and August are a mixed bag.

‘‘There’s a real good smallmouth bite in August, believe it or not,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘Wish I had more guys who wanted to do it then.

‘‘September is really good smallmouth for me, plus hopefully casting for some kings. October is really good smallmouth. Then November and December, it is lakers.’’

If the timing works, Steiger gets a few October days of casting for kings. Generally, though, it is smallmouth.

‘‘It keeps it fun for me, too, because I don’t have to do the same thing every day,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘Guys come, and they don’t do the same thing with me.’’

That variety is one of Steiger’s great assets.

‘‘Moral of the story: We have a really good fishery, but you have to spend a lot of time out there,’’ Steiger said.

For more seminar information or to enroll, go to

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Northern Cardinal. (PRNewsFoto/National Audubon Society, Jerry Acton)

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