"Some days you can be out there bobbinen' and trollinen' til the cows come home and not buy a bite or catch a fish," said WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetalainen. "That's when it pays to think shallow, maybe even topwater."
When you've been wettin' a line as long as Ed Wetelainen, if they ain't biting, you don't try, try again. You try something else. When deep downrigging doesn't do the yob, lift your presentation up, and give flat-lininen, long-lininen, and planer boardinen a try," Ed advises. "The worst you can do is come up with a steelhead or king salmon."
"Sure you can catch fish downrigginen', dipsy-divinen' and geppulininen," Ed confirmed, "but you don't always have to go deep; go scumlinin' with a Suomalainen," adding, "It's the secret to finding fish without electronics."
The birds know all about scumlining, maybe even more than Suomalainens do. Find a concentration of gulls and chances are you've found a scumline. You'll know it when you see it, a disgusting collection of foam, flotsam and jetsam. In maritime law, flotsam, jetsam, lagan, derelict, wreckage of a ship or its cargo, sea-going bath toys, garbage and litter, all form a landing strip for gulls and other birds seeking a breather while boldly making the daring flight across Lake Superior to the Keweenaw to escape Canadian tyranny.
Mick Jarvi of Lake Linden is also a big fan of scumlines.
"We ran into a rare double scumline where two of them about 3-4 feet wide and maybe a hundred yards apart paralleled each other four miles outa Eagle Harbor. The bottom had dropped off to 800 feeta water with a 52-degree surface temp. We were trolling chartreuse and silver Finn Spoons at 1.5 to 2 mph, and caught six lakers in the four pound range when the big one, a 21-pounder, hit about 50 feet down on dipsies. We also caught fish long-lining backa planer boards."
Scumlines are a magnet for steelhead and big lakers in the mood for an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord with easy pickins and plenty to go around for seconds.
"Steelhead can find a scumline blindfolded," said Tom Rozich, retired MDNR fisheries biologist evolved to bartender at the Copper Island Beach Club where he keeps a close eye on the water. Even as we speak, he's sailing to Superior Shoals in search of trophy scumline lakers, with Captain Jim Vivian and Ralph Hodek aboard the Red Hawk.
"Water is most dense at four degrees Celsius, 39.7 degrees Fahrenheit," Rozich explained. "That's when Lake Superior mixes top to bottom, becoming uniformly the same temperature. Another factor is solar warming, which can penetrate 30 feet deep; lighter, warmer water floats on top of deeper, colder water, and they are reluctant to mix. The degree of temperature change in between is called the thermocline."
It's beyond, cool, it's downright cold. I always liked just saying thermocline and the sound of it on its own merits, even before I knew what it meant. When cold, dense, upwelling bottom water runs smack dab into warmer surface water, it gives it the appearance of wrinkled glass, like a shower door.
Scumlines trap insects, flotsam and jetsam which attracts baitfish, which triggers the entire marine and avian food chain, especially piscivorous (fish-eating) predators, lake trout and salmon. But lakers can't live on bugs and fish alone, and fishermen have found partially digested seagulls inside big lakers.
It's a fish-eat-fish world out there, but considering the nutritional value of a Finn Spoon or Reef Runner, you wonder what they see in them. Lake trout like to eat their own, but will pass up a herring or chub for a rainbow smelt, their favorite food. When smelt populations decline and the forage base gets down to mysis shrimp, they're less fussy and head for the nearest scumline they can find.
"I gotta lotta hot feedback about my moral compass from last week's column," said WW&W wildlife corrospondent and fishionista Paris Hiltunen, who thought it was something you use to find mushrooms. "But then, I always thought a scumline was a dive club where the scum line up outside and smoke," she cringed.
If you'd like to go scumlinin' on Lake Superior, call Captain Fred Funkey, Fred's Charters, 289-4849, Copper Harbor; Captain Doug Wills, Lucky Strike Charters, 289-1017, Lac la Belle; Captain Brian Helminen, Sand Point Charters, 370-2257, Lac la Belle; Captain Steve Erbisch, Hooked Up Charters, 370-4450, Lac la Belle.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.