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rookie's general big lake questions

kid coulson

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*Anyone that fished out of Holland Sat 9/1/12 am,..how big were the waves around the 80' depth. My guess was 3 to 4 footers? I got chased off the lake going back at idle speed pretty much white knuckled. I want to know the est wave height for future reference.

*Do I need to add any height for (being in a boat) as to what the Holland buoy claims as significant wave height? It seems to indicate much less wave height than what I believe they are.

*What do you guys think is the most trusted/accurate weather web-site?

I had no business going out that far, in the dark, with my wife, in a 1650 Crestliner Fish hawk but,... man I really wanted to fish!! Plus it only called for waves around 1 foot within 5 miles of shore. I dont think that was the case!

Ill chock this wasted trip up to a learning experience and be grateful we made it back O.K. I certainly welcome your tips,advice,and criticisms(the life you save may be mine!!) Thanks fellas! -kid

P.S.- Yes,.... I know I need a bigger boat!

Edited by kid coulson
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I asked the operator of the UGLOS buoys (St. Joe, Holland, Ludington, Traverse City) about the wave height measurements values earlier this summer. He replied with this information:

First of all NOAA reports wave height as the distance from trough to crest (e.g. total height).

NOAA typically reports the "Significant Wave Height", which is the average of the highest 1/3 of all waves. So for every 9 waves, NOAA takes the largest 3 wave heights and averages them. There will always be waves larger and smaller than the significant wave height. The measurement is meant to be "conservative" meaning that it is reporting a value higher than the average of all waves since in bad weather its really the ocassional large waves that are the problem. Also, the NOAA buoys in the middle of the lake (e.g. 45007) are very large buoys and do not measure small wave heights (with small periods) very well and only report readings once per hour. The smaller buoys closer to shore (e.g. 45024 (Ludington) and 45026 (St. Joesph)) are smaller buoys and can measure smaller wave heights better and report wave heights every 10 minutes.

Hope that helps! Looking at the historical data from the buoy for this morning (http://uglos.engin.umich.edu/show_pic.php?station=45029&meas=WVHGT&uom=E&time_diff=-4&time_label=EDT), it looks like there were plenty of 2.5 to 3' waves out there as the norm which means there were plenty of 3 to 4'er too. I don't think the wind switched from the NNE/NE to E nearly as fast as NOAA said it would.

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Take what the bouy data says, and add 1' to it. Look at wind forcaste also.

I like to look here for hourly forecast.

East winds will always come up at calm to a foot through NOAA.

A 1650 Crestliner Fish hawk is a nice boat, but not ment to be out in 4' waves.

If you use an open bow boat for great lakes fishing, invest in a Bow Cover. One wave over the front and it could be lights out.

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Fished out of Port Sheldon today in 75-100 feet. I would call the waves today a real sloppy 2 foot chop with an occasional 3 (maybe) mixed in. I don't think it was the wave height that had you "white knuckled", it's more of those 2 footers that are about a millimeter apart from each other that makes the lake uncomfortable.

If I was in your boat this morning, I would not have complained when you turned back to port.

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Us small boat anglers reallt need to use best judgement. I look at all the data. Then hit the pier heads to make a go call. We will be run off more often than not when we go out in 2-3' forecast.

3-4 rally run us in in a hurry. But crest to crest distance. determins the how comfortable the ride is

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here's what i use for wind forecast. with a little experience you can guess if it will be too rough....


look for the forecast tables...the site seems to be dead nutts on 24 hrs in advance, and pretty good two days out, i really use it alot!!

for wave height:


another wind:


after a while you will get the feel for what you can handle by looking at the forecast, then there are just those days they are just wrong...which can be frustrating when you call a trip off and you find yourself stewing when the winds are flat when it should be blowing

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I have a 1950 crestliner and was out as well. It was definitely rocking the further you got out.

I look at the sites that were listed above, but echo the comment that the best determiner is hitting the pier head and making a judgement call. I will say that with my more experienced crew I will fish heavier water, but with people I am not used to fishing with I tend to play it safe.

Over time you will learn how your boat rides in certain water. The better you understand your boat the safer you will be. There is a big difference between fishing larger rollers vs smaller chop that is breaking over your gunnels too.

Bottom line is that making the call not to go or turning back at the pier head gives you the opportunity to fish again. Taking a risk and going for it.... Just google "fishermen dies on lake Michigan" and you can see what can happen. Even the most well maintained boats with the most experienced captains can have a problem at the worst possible time.

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I've got a 16 foot Smockercraft walleye boat. This is my third year fishing the great lakes, michigan and erie. I learned very quickly in my first year how important it is to respect the great lakes. My buddy and I actually signed up for a fun fish tournament on this site out of Muskegon a couple years back. We went up to prefish the tournament on a Friday and went out in a forecast of 1-3 footers. We were greeted with 1-2 footers.

Suddenly, in the matter of minutes, in 80 feet of water, the wind shifted from the west to the North and we were met with seas that built to 6', and this is according to others on the radio and not my own interpretation. We just rode the waves back in and finally made it home safe, and entered port to the sight of 26 foot boats (10 feet larger than mine) sitting idle waiting in Muskegon Lake waiting for things to calm down so they could go out.

Now, I will NOT go out on the big lake unless the forecast is for waves around 1 foot, or waves 1 foot or less. Yes, it is often wrong, but I do not take any risks any more. I also now check multiple weather sources to predict the waves, rather than the NOAA source or one single source. I'd rather catch a limit of gills, chase eyes, or trout on an inland lake than put myself in that position again. Besides, even if it is 3 footers, probably still safe I would say, it is NOT fun to fish in.

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Thanks for all the help fellas! I have a regular "milk run" of sites that I now hit before going out. It sure is a different game than inland lake muskie fishin' !!

Im going to continue to listen and learn from you guys/gals and hopefully establish some relationships so I can salmon fish successfully and more important safely!!

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  • 1 month later...

I just found this post. Great discussion guys on using all available information to make the call whether to go out or not. @Kid_Coulson, make sure to also check the "wave period" in the wave observations. The wave period is the amount of time (in seconds) between each wave. The higher the period the further apart the waves are. Typically "rollers" have a period period greater than 4 to 6 seconds and choppy waves are 2 to 3 seconds. So wave height plus wave period tells you ALOT about the sea state. If you see a wave forecast that says "2 to 4" I would always take the average of those two and then double it to know about how large some waves could be. So with a 2 to 4 forecast you will ocassionally see waves to 6 ft (so for 1 to 3 ft you'll see waves up to 4 ft). Also know that NOAA forecasts are very "generic" and cover large areas over an entire day. Conditions change hourly and can vary significantly nearshore to offshore. In small boats stick close to shore and ALWAYS carry the right gear.

Feel free to post again any questions you have as folks are always willing to offer advice and your question is helping many other people as welel.

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I have fished 6-8' waves in my 14'. No kidding. Big dying rollers that were on about a 12-15 second period, fish were in close and I had a buddy boat next to me. Well, we saw each other about every 5 minutes when we both would crest a wave. Ran in WOT as I could surf right down the waves back into port.

I've quit fishing in 2-3' chop in my 4500# / 260 Hp Four Winns. It was pounding from all directions and getting any kind of a troll was all but impossible.

Recall that sometimes the waves do weird things around the channel and it can be much calmer just outside of the piers than it is between the arms.

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