Great Lakes Salmon Fishing E-mail
Written by Allen Bushnell   
Saturday, 23 June 2012 00:03

The Great lakes, by any standards, are an angler's mecca. A wide variety of cold and warm-water species are available for the hunt. Depending one's preference, looking for gar, sheephead, bass, steehead, brown trout, perch or pike can be productive. The biggest and the baddest however have to be foraging or spawning salmon. These landlocked Kings and Silvers have plenty to eat in the oceanlike lakes, and grow to oceanlike sizes.


 

bfb-2008-022 Angler:    Chris LeMessurier
Location: SE Michigan
Website:  www.kayakfishthegreatlakes.com
Events:    No-Mo Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament held in Michigan each May

Just about any Great Lakes angler knows that fall is the best season for salmon. The near-shore salmon fishery of Lake Michigan attracts thousands of anglers from all over the region. Of those thousands, only a handful are savvy enough to target the mighty salmon from a kayak.

This fall, like the previous three, I found myself on Lake Michigan in my kayak. Although it is common to see people leisurely paddling along the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in early fall, my purpose is a little different. I am paddling my 14-foot Wilderness Systems kayak with two rods securely trolling lures behind my gentle wake. My eyes occasionally glance down to look at the fish-finder to monitor my paddling speed and water depth.

Despite the unconventional approach and added challenge of fishing from a kayak, I was successful that day. Over two days of fishing I landed three Chinook (King) salmon, two of which were certified IGFA State Records. On day two of the long weekend, I landed a 14-pound Chinook salmon on 12 pound line trolling a homemade in-line spinner. The following day I landed a 12-pound Chinook salmon on 4 pound line after a 20 minute fight and "sleigh ride" (being towed around by a large fish).

When I am in my kayak I like to think of salmon as the tarpon of the Great Lakes. After all they are both "Silver Kings," albeit worlds apart. Like targeting tarpon, an angler can spend a whole day on the water without so much as a glance from the fish. Also like tarpon fishing, there is nothing more rewarding when that strike finally comes and the fight is on. However, that is where the similarity ends. It's really quite simple, tarpon go back into the water, and salmon go into the cooler.

All species of salmon in the Great Lakes were introduced and are not native. Although there are small populations of Pinks and Atlantics, the salmon sport-fishing industry revolves around Chinook (King) and Coho. The Great Lakes salmon that I am targeting are staging near shore, usually just outside river mouths. This close proximity to shore is a great advantage for the kayak angler. The Lake Michigan shoreline drops off into the water quickly, so 50-60 feet of water is within 100 yards of the beach. The most productive pattern is to troll two lures, one off each side of the kayak. Speeds of 2-2.5 mph are ideal for attracting bites and also a comfortable padding pace. Body baits with large, deep diving lips are effective and are responsible for most of the fish caught. Storm Hot N' Tots, Deep Thundersticks, and Rapala Deep Tail Dancers do a great job of diving deep and enticing strikes.

Recently, I have been making my own lures to troll from my kayak. I have had great success with an in-line wire spinner that combines flash, vibration, and glow. creation is pretty basic and is made with common components. By itself, the lure weighs less than an ounce, so it is necessary to add weight to the line.

Unlike other regions, kayak fishing in the Great Lakes is still in its infancy. I n states such as Florida, California, or Texas, kayak anglers have proven the advantages of the sport and built a large following. However, the kayak fishing "boom" has just begun here, and to some, the sport seems like a novel or silly idea. This is evident at just about any public boat launch where a kayak angler is setting up and launching their rig. It doesn't take long for someone to walk up, scratch their head, and ask: "you can fish out of one of those?"  The answer, of course, is "yes" and all the advantages that kayak fishing presents in other regions hold true for the Great Lakes as well.

Kayak Fish the Great Lakes.com hosts an annual "Salmon Slam" event on the scenic Lake Michigan shore in northwestern Michigan. The outings are a blend of beautiful national seashore, rod bending strikes, tasty fish, smoldering campfires, and friendly people. Take all of that and bake at 68 degrees with light winds for 3 days.

We hold the Slam when falling water temperatures concentrate the fish (Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, and Steelhead) relatively close to shore. This means that kayaks can be launched from the beach and paddled a very short distance to the fishing grounds. Last year, most of the salmon fell to Storm Hot 'N Tots trolled at 1-2 MPH, but a few were taken with home-made salmon spinners. The targeted fish can be found throughout the water column, and that's why a fish finder/GPS combo is a must. The weekend sounded so appetizing that it attracted both beginners and pros from Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Ontario, and of course, Michigan. The meal did not disappoint and everyone that attended can't wait to taste it again next year.


 

Angler:     Keith Gelhar  kfw   
Location:  Milwaukee, WI
Website:   www.kayakfishingwisconsin.com   
Events:     Kayak Super Tournament- http://newglsf.org

I fish Lake Michigan mostly out of Milwaukee Wisconsin. What makes Milwaukee unique is its very large and deep harbor. The break wall is almost three miles long and has depths of up to 37ft. There are three openings to the harbor locally named, the north gap, the main gap, and the south gap. All three gaps will hold bait and fish.Spring (April-May) is when the Coho salmon typically start to show up here. Then the King or Chinook salmon start to show up in greater numbers around June.

In Wisconsin, to fish Lake Michigan you will need a regular fishing license as well as a Great Lake Salmon/Trout Stamp. The daily limit is 5 fish in total and they must be at least 10 inches. The season is open all year.

This year however the Kings have come in early. People are catching more Kings than Coho at this time of year. The water is cold all over now and the fish can be anywhere in location and depth. The salmon will be where the bait is so fishing can be found in as close as ten feet of water. The mouths of the harbor tend to always hold bait fish and with it, Kings and Cohos. So that's where I like to start.

Come late June a thermocline will set up from anywhere from 20-100 feet of water. This helps to concentrate the fish, but also may mean paddling a couple miles out to reach them. Here in Milwaukee you hit 100ft at about 5miles out. I don't normally go that far out however, 2-3 miles out is definitely doable. Always check the weather forecast before heading out. In fall the King salmon will return to the harbor they were released from to spawn. This can be a fun time to try to catch a big Chinook right in the harbor. They are not always the easiest to catch, the will put on a great show and taunt you as they jump all about.

I like trolling. I don't like to troll from a power boat, but trolling from a kayak is both a relaxing way to fish and enjoy a day on the water paddling. It's the yin and the yang. One minute you're relaxed lost in thought and enjoying a sun rise, and then all hell breaks loose and you're in sudden reactionary predator mode. I do a lot of trolling using slide divers, torpedo weights, and copper to get my lures down to the right depth, but I will also jig for them or cast lures if they are concentrated.

The best technique I've learned, the hard way of course, is to paddle hard a few times right after you hook up on a fish, then grab the rod. A kayak is so light and glides so easily on the water that if we just stop and reach for the rod at the first tap, the kayak will almost be going backwards by the time you start to reel in line. It's hard at first, but give it a try, the "paddle hard hook-set."

Also, be sure to upgrade your hooks. Most lures are sold with just "OK" or even poor hooks. A dull or weak hook can cost you a big fish. I use Owner and Gamakatsu hooks. They are tack sharp and are available in various strengths. 2X strong is all you should need in fighting fish from a kayak. A 4X strong hook is thicker and just that much harder to drive into the fish's mouth. Check your split rings also. A 20+ lb King salmon will straighten out a weak split ring easily. Lastly, if you use a snap swivel a 3x3 Opti ball bearing double lock is a good choice for the larger lures.

I tend to smoke most of the salmon I keep and I really like the smoke salmon recipe from Alton Brown http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/smoked-salmon-recipe/index.html. I use a little more sugar and less salt and let it "brine" for 12-16 hours.

Some of the best hookups are the ones you never get to cook, though. Here's an example- I was fishing in the harbor for Kings during the fall run. The sun was beginning to set and I had not hooked up on a fish yet. As I came across a rock point I hooked up on a nice heavy fish that took my wonder bread reef runner down and hugged the bottom. As my kayak turned 180 degrees, a big beautiful Silver female King came bursting out of the water in a full porpoise jump, head level, straight at me. I reeled as fast as I could as she charged and did another full leap, head level, straight at me, and closing the distance between us. Continuing her charge she jumped again clear out of the water straight at me landing only 10 ft away. At this point my mind has quickly calculated that the next jump should place this high teen's fish with a crank bait hooked on its face right in my face. I guess as luck would have it, on the final jump the one treble hook I did not upgrade straightened out and the fish was gone. I was just fine with that and laughed out loud wondering if anyone else had seen this spectacle in the fading sun light.


  

robwendel Angler:     Rob Wendel
Location:  Kenosha, WI   
Website:   www.GreatLakesKayakAngler.com       
Events:     Salmon-a-Rama-   http://salmon-a-rama.com

One day I was sick of fishing from shore so I went out, bought a kayak, bolted down a couple of rod holders, and paddled out into Lake Michigan. I've never been good at keeping things simple so of course I set out trolling with three lines(the WI legal limit). In reality, it was much too windy for a first time kayaker out alone. Not knowing any better, I just kept paddling and before long I was really far offshore. I turned around and began fighting the 25mph winds back to shore. Then I heard the drag scream!

In disbelief I grabbed the rod, assuming I must be snagged. But it was no snag. The fish started dragging me around. It spun me in circles, my other two lines snagged and twisted around each other eventually breaking off. The salmon eventually found its way to my net at which point I realized I couldn't reach my pliers or get the hooks out of its mouth. I paddled a mile and half back to shore with the salmon in the net on my lap, hooks still in its mouth. I was covered with a mangled mess of fishing line but I didn't care. That experience taught me a lot about kayak fishing and had me hooked for life.

I usually fish the west side of Lake Michigan. During the spring and early summer Coho salmon migrate up the shoreline. They are easy pickings for kayak anglers. Once the Cohos disappear the Chinooks show and are our main target until mid-fall.

Lake Michigan's salmon population is mostly stocked, so anglers can keep their limit without hurting the future population. We are allowed to keep up to five salmon of any kind. I fish for Coho and Chinook salmon along with steelhead and brown trout.

The majority of salmon fishing is done by trolling with divers, planers, or weights designed to target specific depths. Great Lakes salmon can be very picky about bait speed. During rough conditions it can be tough to keep the kayak moving at a consistent and effective speed. So, instead of trying to keep my boat moving faster, I tune my baits to appear faster by changing the bend in the spoon blank or the length of my fly leader. I like to troll between 2.0 and 2.4 mph because it is a speed that I can keep during rough or calm conditions.

For extra stealth I convert my dipsy divers to "slide" divers by adding an extra release. This allows me to put as much line as I feel needed behind my diver. When a fish hits, the diver will slide down the line to a bead and swivel. I also like to use small 30lb snap swivels attached to my spoons. Small snap swivels allow spoons to have a better action than bigger snap swivels.

When the fish come into the harbors or breakwalls to feed or spawn it is often more effective to jig spoons or plastics, or to cast crankbaits. My favorite way to catch salmon is to cast big cranks like Rapala DT 16's or various similar baits in late summer and early fall. These fish are coming into the harbors and rivers to spawn and bite aggressively. A pissed off Chinook will just about rip your rod out of your hands and break your lures. It doesn't get much more exciting!

 

 

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