How to Salmon Fish in Michigan

How to Salmon Fish in Michigan
Catching salmon in Michigan can be done from a boat on the Great Lakes or in a river when the fish are on their annual spawning migration. Specialized techniques have evolved to consistently catch salmon from the waters of the Great Lakes State.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Michigan Trolling Techniques

Things You’ll Need:
  • Trolling gear for the Great Lakes, fly rod and reel for the river scene, lures and or flies
  • Trolling gear for the Great Lakes, fly rod and reel for the river scene, lures and or flies
Step 1
Michigan's salmon fishery dates back to 1967 when the first Pacific Salmon were brought in to control unchecked baitfish populations. Downriggers used in the Great Lakes today were invented in Michigan during the evolution of this great fishery. They aid in getting the lure down to the fish without having excess weight on the line.
Step 2
All downriggers use a large weight called a cannon ball that is attached to a wire line on the downrigger reel. The cannon ball is lowered to the depth were the salmon are feeding and thanks to the counter on the downrigger reel, you know exactly where your bait is.
Step 3
When trolling with a downrigger, start by letting the lure out behind the boat. Lightweight trolling spoons are the lure of choice for this fishery as they mimic the swimming action of the salmon's prey. Once the lure is 10 to 20 feet behind the boat, attach the line to release the clip that is near the cannon ball.
Step 4
As you lower the cannon ball in the water, make sure your fishing reel is on free spool so it will let line out as the downrigger drops the cannon ball to the depth where the fish are. Once you have the downrigger set at the desired depth, engage the fishing reel and crank down till the rod is doubled over in the rod holder on the downrigger.
Step 5
When a fish strikes the lure, the line is pulled free from the release clip on the cannon ball and the rod will "pop" up in the rod holder. Depending on how deep your downrigger is set, you may need to crank the fishing reel quickly to take up the slack and get tight to the fish.
Step 6
Many salmon fishermen in Michigan like to use two to four downriggers on their boat. This way they can troll their lures at multiple depths as well as run different lures to see what the salmon crave that particular day. A good electronic fishing graph is a vital tool for this type of fishing as it will show you how deep the fish are and where your lures need to be.

River Fishing for Salmon

Step 1
Salmon have a three to five year life cycle that starts in the river when they hatch from the gravel and ends when they return to the same river gravel to deposit their eggs. Since salmon lose their desire to actively feed once they return to the river, it becomes a matter of agitating them with bright flies or lures to get a bite.
Step 2
Fly fishing for salmon breaks from the traditional manner of fly fishing for trout. Instead of using a float and fly that imitates a bug the fish are actively feeding on, salmon fly fishing requires the use of a thin fly line called a running line and split shot to get the fly down to the fish.
Step 3
Since salmon are seeking out gravel bars to spawn on, these is where you will want to focus your efforts. Salmon will actively spawn during low-light periods and then rest in deeper holes behind the gravel bed.
Step 4
Once you find an area with spawning salmon, position yourself so you can cast above the holding fish and let the current sweep your fly through the holding area. The use of the split shot and thin line will not allow for a traditional fly cast, but rather a lob cast to get the rig in the water. Once you begin fishing a piece of water, you can adjust the amount of line to cast so the fly will stay near the fish at all times.
Step 5
River salmon will show a range of emotions during the spawning process. Some days the fish will strike on the first few drifts near them, other times it takes hours of repeated casting and drifting to draw a bite. No matter the mood of the fish, the end result of hooking a large Michigan salmon on light fly fishing gear is a thrill of a lifetime!

Tips & Warnings

 
No matter if you are trolling or fly fishing for salmon, always make sure your hooks are sharp. Salmon have a hard mouth and require a strong hook set to bury the hook for a prolonged fight.
 
Always check weather forecasts for the Great Lakes before heading out on the open water. Rough water can be dangerous and not worth the risk to catch a salmon. When wading rivers for salmon, always wear polarized sunglasses. They will cut the glare from the surface of the water making it easier to see underwater obstacles that could trip you up.
 
Always check weather forecasts for the Great Lakes before heading out on the open water. Rough water can be dangerous and not worth the risk to catch a salmon.
 
When wading rivers for salmon, always wear polarized sunglasses. They will cut the glare from the surface of the water making it easier to see underwater obstacles that could trip you up.

Article Written By Brian M. Kelly

Brian M. Kelly has been freelance writing since 2003. His work has been published in respected outdoor magazines such as Outdoor Life, Great Lakes Angler and Salmon Trout Steelheader. He holds an associate's degree in automated machine design from Macomb College.

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