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Ralph Steiger has grown into his captaincy

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Updated: October 8, 2013 10:48PM

In the darkness before dawn Tuesday, one of Capt. Ralph Steiger’s clients set the hook on a Chinook on southern Lake Michigan. The king ran at the boat, then jumped in.

‘‘Never seen anything like it,’’ Steiger said.

The big king flopping around with big treble hooks in its mouth had everyone scrambling around on the back of the boat.

Fall fishing has its own follies.

Steiger, no longer the youngest captain around, has become a top captain for multiple species on southern Lake Michigan. In early fall, that means casting for in-bound kings near shore and smallmouth bass in current areas.

Smallmouth are my dream fish, and Steiger has had a good run. Last week, a client from Pennsylvania caught the biggest smallmouth of his life at 5 pounds, 10 ounces and nearly 22 inches. It was also the biggest smallmouth in Steiger’s boat this fall.

‘‘I have seen more 5-pound fish this year than any other year,’’ he said.

It’s something he didn’t really expect with the water temperature still at 67 degrees in Indiana.

For smallmouth, Steiger sticks to basics. He is primarily a jig fisherman.

‘‘I don’t follow trends — not the newest, hottest bait in the world,’’ he said. ‘‘I stick with what I know. I don’t try to reinvent the wheel. I don’t overthink what I do. Even when the bait fish are around, [the smallmouth] still orient to the bottom. Keep that bait on the bottom, near their face.’’

His go-tos this year were two Poor Boys: Tiger Ice and Mango Magic. His other lure secret is a custom goby-colored crankbait from a generic blank, no longer painted because the painter disappeared. Steiger has about 30 he can sell and plenty of his own.

More important is the water.

‘‘Basically, finding a place with any amount of current: discharge or wind or point,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘Staying on the current is the trick to me.’’

An example is the smallmouth seen in Buffington Harbor, but the active ones are caught where current comes around a corner.

‘‘When you find a pod of fish, don’t leave,’’ Steiger said. ‘‘Don’t look anywhere else. Don’t run away if you don’t get a bite in five minutes.’’

For many, though, October is the time for casting for kings. Steiger uses the analogy of fishing all day for one muskie.

‘‘We are catching, like, a 38-inch muskie eight times a day,’’ he said.

And you can eat kings.

‘‘Anybody who lives around here, if you haven’t experienced it, it is something you have to do,’’ Steiger said.

And this is a special year. Kings are fewer in number than they were years ago, but they are bigger, even if we don’t see the 30-pounders many of us thought might reach shore this fall.

As November comes, the lake trout will come to shore and the smallmouth will go until the water cools into the low 40s.

That’s fall fishing on southern Lake Michigan.

For Steiger, call (219) 688-3593 or go to

Stray cast

Having Curtis Granderson playing at Sox Park would be like finding a 20-pound coho running the South Branch.

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