Captain Josh Keeran has been fishing the Lake Michigan waters near Racine, Wisconsin for most of his life. Racine Harbor is one of the most well-known ports on the western shore of Lake Michigan and for good reason. Thanks to significant structure the fishing can be phenomenal all season long. But the spring coho bite is legendary.
Keeran and his First In Fishing charter clients get excited for coho season every year. “Our coho fishing is a little bit different than how it starts on the southern end of the lake. By the time they make it up to us, they come from the southern basin and come up the edge of the lake… they hit Chicago, Winthrop Harbor, Waukegan, and then come up by us… Our technique is a little bit different. When the water is super cold and we don’t have them in big batches yet, we use body baits and thin fishing spoons but for the most part, once we get our cohos and we’re in full coho mode, pretty much everything is a dodger, peanut fly, and we’ll mix in some flashers too. The biggest difference is when they’re really heavy down there a lot of times guys are using body baits and they’re biting on that stuff and when they’re heavy here we’re dodger and fly fishing.”
The timing of the coho bite isn’t always predictable. It fluctuates from year to year depending on the weather. “It’s all water temperature based for the most part. Last year it took forever for the cohos to get to us. A lot of guys from northern Wisconsin come down and fish the Winthrop Harbor area. I was going down and checking on them and they were running all the way down to Chicago trying to get their cohos. That’s a long run. This year, things are different. The boats are not in the water, we can’t run charters right now(because of COVID-19) but they are at the state line pretty heavy. Last week I know guys were getting them right out of Racine Harbor. It’s a completely different year than it was last year. The water is warming up more. By May they should be pretty heavy by us. Last year it was the end of May or June.”
When the coho arrive in the Racine area, the boats dial in on a specific pattern. “When I’m in full-blown coho mode, I’m fishing four to five flat line boards on each side and it’s a red dodger and a peanut fly on every one of them. I’m running four divers, with medium-sized divers, with an orange dodger and a peanut fly on those. My downriggers, the same thing, orange dodger, and a peanut fly. I mix in some of the Silver Horde B&B flashers too. But for the most part, it’s just an orange dodger and a peanut fly. When you see the charter boats and the guys that are really hardcore… every rod is orange. That’s all you see is orange.”
Full-blown coho mode is an exciting time of year. The net never dries out. “As many people as you have on the boat, you’re getting all your coho. To get 30 fish on our charters, it’s not uncommon at all. It’s just a matter of time. Some days it will be an hour or two hours, some days it takes all five hours of the charter. But you can get your 20 or 30 fish without a doubt most of the time.”
Catching a box full of fish is always rewarding but getting people excited about fishing is what it’s all about for Captain Keeran. “I just love the experience of taking people fishing. Of course, we want to catch fish but if we hook a fish and somebody loses it, it’s kind of like “whatever man, we’ll get another one. I’m not a yeller or a screamer. I want people to enjoy themselves and have fun. What that entails is what we’re going to do.”
Captain Josh Keeran is a recent guest on the Great Lakes Fishing Podcast. To listen to the full conversation, click the player below or click here to check out our podcast page and listen to the entire audio library.