Fishing Big Water: Things to Know Before Starting the Boat

How to fish the Great Lakes
Table of Contents

Most anglers agree that the Great Lakes offer great fishing! In fact, fishing on the Great Lakes is a year-round sport. And with so many types of fish that are tasty and provide a challenge for anglers, there’s no wonder. 

However, just like anything else, if you’re planning a trip, do you wait until that morning to prepare? Well, you shouldn’t; the planning should start days in advance, so you’re not just chasing dreams. Thanks to some help from Jeff Liskay, we’ll discuss fishing Big Water/Great Lakes and the things to know before starting the boat. 

The Planning Process

Anytime you go fishing, on the Great Lakes or elsewhere, you should first check the local weather. Knowing what to expect from Mother Nature around your fishing spot is vital because sometimes she’s pleasant, but other times she’ll throw a bunch of nasty conditions at you. 

After you’ve checked the forecast, secure a hard copy of a map depicting the body of water you’ll be fishing. This is especially helpful with the Big River system surrounding the Great Lakes because it allows you to see the area days before to set a game plan for winds and other conditions. Once you’re on the water, you can correlate with GPS units, which don’t have to be that sophisticated. In fact, you can even use apps on your phone that serve the same purpose. 

As an angler, most already know that Mother Nature can actually dictate where you have to fish some days. Having this type of information at your fingertips is useful for helping you choose the right area. For example, if you know it’s very windy, and you’re going to deal with a lot of adverse conditions, then the launch spot you pick is crucial for having a productive day. And remember that even though one launch spot may make it easy to get going, you must also consider what conditions will be like in your spot and heading back to the dock. 

And this brings us full circle back to the weather. According to Jeff, “The weather is probably the key bullet point of being successful in predicting the day. Hence, it’s a good idea to get out in front of any storms by making sure you’re always checking your weather apps. Safety is always the main thing, and even though fish really bite just before a storm, don’t push your luck.”

Wind and Rough Waters 

As you may know, fly anglers face many challenges when it comes to big water, salt water, and fresh water. One of the biggest challenges is fighting the wind when casting. For instance, today, we’re expecting up to 15 mph winds, so it’s important to learn how you can adapt and still end on a successful note on big water such as Lake Erie, which is 51 miles across. With wind conditions like this, choosing a safe harbor is important where you won’t have to fight waves of up to eight feet. 

Jeff offers his rule of thumb: “When you’re scared to be out there, that’s when the fish bite. It can be hard to cast between the waves and action and rocking around, but that’s the best time to catch the fish with their guards down.”

He says if you feel safe enough to push the envelope, then push it as far as you want. The main key is staying safe!

Littoral Drift and Seiche

The other thing to keep in mind and that a lot of anglers are not really aware of is a lake effect known as littoral drift. With this, the five Great Lakes and Lake Sinclair, which is sixth, start way up north with Lake Superior and have a current that works its way down through the entire Great Lakes system. 

Jeff explained, “Lake Erie, for instance, has a natural current that goes from the west to the east all the time. So, if it’s a flat water combination day where there’s really not much moving, you can count on the natural current a bit.”

According to Jeff, the most important thing to note with the littoral drift is that you should always fish the top ends of moving water so that you’re fishing upstream or up the current side on slow days. 

This may seem like a crazy situation, which Jeff discusses in more detail in his online class, but a seiche occurs when you have strong winds that are blowing very strongly out of the south. This effect causes the water on one side of the lake to lower a foot or more while the other side of the lake is raised. The key here is being aware that it happens and preparing yourself for it. 

Water Clarity

Finally, water clarity is a major mountain that you will have to find a way to overcome when fishing in the Great Lakes or Big Water. You don’t have a real sense of vibration as a fly angler. Sure, we have great colors and synthetic patterns, but the fish have to see the fly. Hence, choosing water that’s clear enough for the fish to see what you’re offering is crucial. 

Additional Resources

Before we go, it’s important to mention that there are many resources and aids that can help with your homework and planning. The first is apps that you can apply to a phone or other device. According to Jeff, the apps you shouldn’t fish without are Windy App and the I Win Surf App. These are critical to gain information the night before or during the trip to keep you abreast of wind conditions and patterns. 

The other site to monitor is NOAA which will show you storm tracking and other weather conditions. Following these simple tips will not only keep you safe, but they’ll keep the fish coming your way all day! To cover each of these in depth, we suggest taking Jeff’s Masterclass at

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Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors is an ever-growing network of fly fishing experts who’ve been brought together by podcaster and fellow outdoorswoman, April Vokey.

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