By Joe Picotte
Independence Day. To many, it means a day off work, family cookouts and fireworks celebrating the freedom of our nation. To Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP) area fishermen, it also signifies one of the most anticipated times of the year — the annual herring run.
Herring, or cisco, are 1-3 pounds on average, traveling in large schools that invade the St. Mary’s River in midsummer. Typically peaking around the July 4 holiday and stretching over several weeks, weather dependent, the herring run is an event you need to experience. The main factor influencing the run is the mayfly hatch that occurs when water temperatures reach the mid-60s, peaking around 68 degrees. Hot days and nights in late June and July trigger these hatches, and the fish follow right after. When the hatch is in full swing, light poles and other structures near the shoreline can resemble something out of a horror movie for those unaccustomed to the sight as hundreds and thousands of flies cling to them after emerging from the lake bed.
The most common area to start searching for a herring bite is among the many islands of Potagannissing Bay by Drummond Island. While fishermen are typically thought of as an independent group, when the herring run is in full swing, it's nothing to see dozens of boats anchored, sometimes even tied off together. Rods can be a basic 7-foot spinning rod, while others like myself prefer using a fly rod spooled with monofilament. Tackle needed is a #10 teardrop jig with a waxworm hooked to dangle and a large split-shot a foot above. Simply drop the split shot to the bottom and reel up 2-3 cranks. Hold the rod still and watch for the light bite of a herring, often nothing more than a light tap as they mouth the bait. For younger anglers, a small slip bobber can be added to help see the bites.
This herring run is an excellent time to take young kids out on the water. Last July, I had my then 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Clare, and wife, Mary, join me on a 75-degree glass calm mid-July day. Launching in DeTour Harbor around noon, we made the 10-mile run across into Potagannissing Bay toward the spot a friend had directed us to. As we came close, we easily spotted 150-plus boats anchored in an area the size of a football field and nets hitting the water as we eased in and hit Spot-Lock on the bow mount motor. After a couple of missed bites, Mary caught her first herring, and steady fishing was enjoyed for the afternoon. The highlight of the day was helping Clare reel in her first herring on a flyrod that had been handed down to me by my grandfather.
I encourage anyone who hasn’t experienced the summer herring run to get out and try it. Fresh caught and fried herring are great table fare and smoked herring fish dip is delicious. Hit the water, soak up the summer sun and enjoy quality time in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, God's country.