Strategies for GIANT KINGS

ll signs are pointing towards a banner year for larger than average sized kings. Last year the kings we caught on my boat at Manistee on Lake All ll signs are pointing towards a banner year for larger than average sized kings. Last year the kings we caught on my boat at Manistee on Lake Michigan averaged at least five pounds heavier than they had over the preceding few years. Twenty pounders were caught on many trips and some even surpassed 25 pounds. There were also some true jumbos caught that tipped the scales at over 30 pounds too. This spring and early summer has already produced some of the best king salmon fishing Lake Michigan has seen in years with both salmon numbers and sizes being outstanding. Kings can almost double their body weight in their last year of life. When 20 plus pound salmon show up in the catch during April, you can bet that when adult kings hit their peak weight during August and September, anglers will be tangling with some true giants during late summer. By applying some specialized techniques anglers can cash in by catching some of the biggest salmon of their lives this year.

Gear Up Heavy

One of the biggest mistakes salmon anglers make is to use to light of line on salmon. Sure standard 20 pound test mono (found on most salmon trolling reels) will handle most kings, but when a true jumbo salmon bites down on your lure and goes nuts, that 20 pound test will often prove insufficient. About eight years ago I switched over to 30 pound test, Salt Striker, co-polymer line on all my downrigger and clip weight rigs. This stuff looks like standard monofilament, but it is thinner and much tougher and after using it to land untold numbers of salmon, I have never had one actually break the stuff, even after wrapping around cables and other lines. It costs more than mono, but it is definitely worth the extra expense.

On my divers, I have tried all kinds of lines and wire rigs and have settled on 80 pound test Ripcord as the best all around line for divers. Ripcord is a super braid that is very thin, tough and resists spiny water fleas. I’ve been using Ripcord for about ten years and have never broken off a salmon with the stuff.

There are a lot of trolling reels on the market, some good and some not so good. I’ve been using Daiwa SG47LCA trolling reels for about 13 years and have never had one fail when battling a big king. I spool those reels to the absolute maximum so that if a big king takes off on a long run, he won’t spool me before we can take evasive actions. I also keep the mechanical and drag mechanisms it top working order with an annual cleaning and re-lubrication.

A lot of lure manufactures use substandard hooks, split rings and leader material. Savvy anglers change out the wimpy stuff with terminal tackle that is up to the task. One of the biggest flaws I see these days is with light leaders on flies, squids and meat rigs. The teeth on really big salmon are nasty and can rip apart all but the toughest leaders. Where a salmon’s teeth can come in contact with the leader, I use 80 pound test, fluorocarbon leader material on all my flies, squids and meat rigs and have never had a salmon bite the stuff off once. I actually believe that the heavier, stiffer leader material gives the lure more action behind the attractor too, which seems to increase the number of strikes.

Techniques For Giant Kings

I’ve boated jumbo kings on all sorts of lures including spoons, plugs, meat rigs, squids and flies. I’ve also caught them on riggers, divers and off the boards on various clip weight, lead core or copper rigs. From my experience, I have not noticed any particular rig that produces bigger fish compared to other productive salmon trolling rigs. In my opinion, it more a mater of location and timing that ups your odds for tying into big fish.

Many of the truly giant kings I’ve caught over the years have been taken either before daylight in the morning or after dark in the evening. Another prime time though for big kings is mid-day. This is when most anglers are back at the dock and the waters are much less pressured. Most of the trophy class kings I’ve hooked have been taken in waters with light fishing pressure. If most of the trollers are targeting 80 to 150 foot of water, then I typically ply the less pressured waters shallower in the dark and slide out to the deeper waters outside the packs during the daylight when targeting big fish. Big kings are definitely more boat and fishing pressure shy than small to medium sized fish.

As far as the best ports for big kings goes, one only needs to look at the DNR Master Angler Listings to get an idea where most of the big kings have been caught in recent years. The northern Lake Michigan Ports of Ludington, Manistee and Frankfort seem to consistently lead that list, and most of those fish are caught during August and September. Focusing your efforts at those posts at the peak time will up your odds for landing a big one.

Fighting A Giant

There are steps than can be taken to land the majority of the oversized kings hooked. First, keep the drags loose in the rod holders so that when a big fish strikes, he won’t break off. Speaking of Rod Holders, avoid those plastic models at all costs for salmon. Rod holders need to be ultra sturdy for kings. I’ve been using Great Lakes Rod Holders for many years and highly recommend them for salmon trolling.

When a big king rips a lure, he’ll often take off instantly on a long, powerful run. If he’s really big, he sometimes won’t stop either, unless the angler takes quick decisive action. If I see that we have a runaway locomotive type king on the line, I’ll turn the boat fairly sharply (not so sharp as to tangle lines). Typically the 90 degree turn will confuse the king causing him halt his charge, giving the anglers a chance to retrieve some line.

I normally don’t clear lines when fighting a king, but when we tie into a real hog, I will crank in any lines that are in the direction that the king ran. Kings usually get hooked in the corner of the mouth and will pull to the opposite side of the boat where the hook is located throughout the battle. This allows the other half of the spread to keep working during the long battle to subdue the big one. It’s not uncommon to hook and catch several smaller fish while a big one is being pulled in.

It’s no time for sloppy fish fighting techniques when a jumbo king is on the line. Heavy pumping tends to stop and start the fish and work hooks loose. Keep the pumping strokes short at two cranks of the reel to the pump. This keeps them moving slow and steady towards the boat.

It’s no time for a wimp at the rod when a big king is nearing the boat. This is where the angler needs to dig down and muster the strength to get the job done by controlling the fish and guiding into position where it can be easily netted. The netter should wait until the fish is well within range of the net before attempting to scoop an extra large fish. This is where a top quality salmon net can really pay for itself. I use a huge Cummings net with a heavy duty, 10′ long handle that features a clip on the net handle to keep the big net bag from getting in the way at the moment of truth.

The author offers fishing charters for Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay walleyes along with trips for salmon and trout at Manistee on Lake Michigan. Contact Mike Veine at or 734-475-9146.