I've fished salmon on Lake Michigan for years, but I'll be the first to admit that, until recently, most of my trips have tanked. My fishing partners and I would manage a few fish during the chaotic bite at daybreak, miss a few others, then wrap up by mid-morning when the bite fell off the table. On a good day, everybody would get to take a fish—or often just a fillet--home for the grill.
Then in summer of 2006, I gave Pro-Troll and Mustad a call and asked to try some of their EChip-equipped tackle on my next trip to the big pond. Skeptical as I was, I'd heard rumblings from NAFC writers that the stuff was legit, and I wanted to see for myself.
A grab-bag of ProChip flashers, E-Lures, Mustad Hoochies and individual EChips arrived the day I left for Sheboygan, Wisconsin. All featured one of the electronic pulse-emitting capsules, the idea being that they would increase strikes by adding the attraction of the electronic discharge of a wounded baitfish to the lure or flasher's existing action.
It honestly sounded far-fetched at the time, and after driving five-plus hours to get within striking distance of the lake, it took all my effort to muster the motivation to re-rig my rods with the stuff. I got to bed at around 1 a.m., and the alarm clock was going to ring in just two hours.
It was worth it. Ten hours after my head hit the pillow, my fishing partners had to I drag a 120-quart cooler filled with a limit of 4-year-old kings to the cleaning station back at the launch.
Granted, the bite was hot—really hot. Plus, because we were fishing the entire water column, and thus using a wide variety of presentations, a truly scientific side-by-side test of EChip vs. conventional tackle was next to impossible.
On the other hand, the results spoke for themselves: after countless dismal days on the water, 20 of the biggest salmon we'd ever caught were staring back at us through the cooler ice, and most impressive was that we'd caught them steadily throughout the morning—not just in the frantic moments of low light on either side of the sunrise.
Was it because of the EChips? I wouldn't be so reckless as to say yes or no, but I also wouldn't presume it was because we were using a particular lure color, size shape or style. Fact is, we'll never really know what bait characteristic triggers a fish to bite, including more tangible traits like color, action, flash, vibration and others that we take at face value.
To help find out if my experiences that day were EChip-related or a fluke, I headed back to Sheboygan in late July 2007, this time joined by the skeptical eyes of North American Fisherman Art Director Shawn Bjonfald and NAFC Field Test Coordinator J.J. Reich. Both travel the continent fishing for a variety of species, plus, Reich, has considerable experience fishing Lake Michigan. They made an excellent jury.
We got our first clue of what we were in for when our host for the day, Pro-Troll's Russell Gahagan, told us to meet him at 5 a.m., less than 50 minutes before sunrise that day. Both Reich and I were used to launching the boat in the cola-black hours of the morning just so we could have all lines in the water by the time the eastern horizon began to glow. That's how much we relied on the daybreak bite—if we didn't catch our fish then, we didn't catch fish.
But with Gahagan, the sun was high enough to demand a shot of SPF 30 before a single line was in the water.
We slammed the fish anyway, with a mix of EChip-equipped Pro-Troll ProChip flashers and flies.
Our limit was on ice by 10 a.m., and most of those fish were 3- and 4-year-old kings between 12 and 20 pounds. What's more, bites came steadily throughout the day—we even had fish hit after we'd caught our limit and were bringing in the lines!
Gahagan, who's been running charters since he was 10, and fishing tournaments for both salmon and walleyes for decades, says the results are typical, especially when conditions are tough.
"There are times when fish will hit anything and everything, and when that's the case, you're honestly not going to see that much of a difference between EChip tackle and conventional stuff," he says. "Where EChips stand apart is when fish aren't biting.
"A great example was our 2006 Coho Derby. We had a northeast wind—the worst thing that could happen to the fishing here on the west side of Lake Michigan," he says. "We fished nine lines, each with an EChip flasher, and we won the event by over 50 pounds. It wasn't that we were much better than the other teams. We were just the only one using nine EChips in our trolling spread!"
Those thoughts echoed what Pro-Troll vice president Lawrence Snapp told me weeks earlier at the ICAST show in Las Vegas. "EChips aren't fish callers or anything like that. We think of them as a triggering mechanism for fish that are in a neutral or negative mood," he said.
Snapp claims EChips also key on the larger older fish within the area.
"We think fish are just like people in that the older we get, the more our senses degrade. Fish, too, will start seeing and hearing less, and they'll begin to rely more on their electroreception senses to find and capture prey."
To be honest, I have a hard time making that much of a leap of faith, and it's impossible to quantify exactly how—and how much—EChips make fish bite that otherwise wouldn't. All I know is that my Lake Michigan salmon catch rates have at least tripled since beginning to use these products, and I'm going to expand their use to other species and presentations.