Mature kings like this stop feeding as they prepare for spawning. These fish can still be caught using a variety of creative trolling and casting tactics. High action plugs like the Yakima Mag Lip used here features loud rattles that trigger strikes from fish that are more focused on spawning than eating. Glow-in-the-Dark colors are also helpful as the best action takes place in low light conditions.

August 01, 2018

Soon waves of mature king and also coho salmon will return to spawning streams pouring into Lake Michigan and also Lake Huron. As these fish stage near the rivers they will ultimately run and spawn in, anglers are faced with some interesting challenges.

At this time of year salmon are less interested in feeding than they are spawning. In part this can be explained by water temperature. The near shore waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron tend to be warmer than the water temperatures preferred by salmon. Warm water stresses these fish and causes them to feed less often. The best bite normally occurs just before sunrise in the morning and again just at sunset in the evening.

Secondly, as salmon mature the biological need to feed is replaced with an equally powerful biological need to spawn. Mature salmon eventually stop feeding, but these fish can still be triggered into striking a variety of lures that seem to elicit strikes more out of anger or frustration than a desire to feed.

Plug Trolling For Staging Salmon

When salmon stage near the mouth of spawning streams, the stage is set for a rather specific trolling strategy. High action plugs such as the Luhr Jensen J-Plug, Silver Horde Ace High, Yakima Mag Lip and the Luhr Jensen Kwikfish feature wide wobbling and aggressive actions, plus loud rattles that trigger strikes when other lures are seemingly ignored.

These plugs can be fished in combination with diving planers such as the Slide-Diver, with downriggers and also fished in combination with short lengths of lead core such as 1, 2, 3, and 4 color set ups. An effective eight rod trolling set up includes running a pair of plugs off the downriggers, another pair of plugs fished in combination with the Slide-Diver run on the No. 2 setting and a pair of plugs fished on lead core and in combination with inline boards.

To saturate the water column as thoroughly as possible, run the outside lead core and plug line on the port side with one color of lead core and on the starboard side with a two color set up. The inside board on the port side can then be fished in combination with a plug and three colors of lead core and the starboard side can be fished with a plug and four colors of lead core.

This eight rod trolling pattern spreads out lines, covers the water column thoroughly and makes it easy to fight hooked fish without having to clear other lines. Because boat traffic at the river mouths where salmon tend to stage can be rather busy, eight lines is about as much gear in the water as can be managed effectively.

Jigging/Casting for Staging Salmon

Both pre-spawn king and coho salmon can also be caught near the river mouths by casting inline spinners and also fishing jigging spoons and jigs tipped with paddle-tail style swimbaits and grubs. While jigging and casting is somewhat unorthodox, a growing number of anglers have discovered when salmon stack up in predictable places, jigging/casting lures trigger strikes and make for exciting fishing opportunities.

Casting Crankbaits

Once salmon enter the streams, casting crankbaits is one of the most productive ways to trigger strikes. A handful of baits have proven themselves effective including the Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick, Reef Runner RipStick and Reef Runner Deep Little Ripper.

To make these walleye baits salmon friendly I recommend switching out the factory treble hooks with stronger Eagle Claw Trokar TK300 or TK310 hooks in No. 4 and No. 2 sizes. The heavier wire featured on these hooks prevent salmon from straightening the hooks. Also, these Trokar hooks are surgically sharp, insuring the best possible penetration.

The best fishing usually occurs by casting cranks near log jams that provide salmon places to rest between upstream pushes. A run and gun strategy that involves fishing as many log jams as possible, puts the odds of success in favor of the angler.

Drop Back Spawn

Another method that routinely produces salmon once they enter the river is known as drop back fishing. Weirdly enough, salmon don’t feed once they enter the spawning rivers, but they will gobble chunks of fresh or preserved skein like gum drops. Drop back fishing using salmon skein can be fished two popular ways.

The first set up requires a baitcasting outfit with a main line of 14 to 20 pound test monofilament line tied to a three way swivel. On one arm of the three way swivel a 10-12 inch long monofilament dropper is added with a small snap attached. The snap allows different size bell sinkers to be quickly added and switched out based on water depth and current speed. The dropper should be a lighter pound test than the main line to allow snagged sinkers to be broken off without losing the whole rig.

On the final arm of the three way swivel a 30 inch leader of 15 to 20 pound test fluorocarbon line is terminated to a No. 1/0 octopus hook attached with an egg snell. This set up allows the leader to be loosened up at the hook to form a loop of line that holds the skein in place on the hook.

Skein is best fished from an anchored boat by slowly playing out line and allowing the sinker and trailing skein to drop back through holes and runs that hold salmon.

Skein can also be fished with the help of floats. This method works especially well for deeper holes and is easier to master than bottom fishing with skein. Both spinning outfits and baitcasting gear can be used to fish skein on floats.

When float fishing, just enough weight is used to sink the skein and keep the float upright. Float rigs are also fished from an anchored position. The fishermen simply drop the rig out the back of the boat and let the current carry the float and skein downstream naturally.

Using nine to 12 foot long steelhead style rods allows for longer and more productive drifts to be achieved. For the best results replace the chunks of skein often to keep them milking naturally in the water.

Summing It Up

When salmon start preparing to spawn, fish that are otherwise aggressive feeders suddenly get lock jaw. Getting kings and coho to bite consistently requires using a host of presentations that tease or frustrate these fish into striking.

It was once thought that spawning salmon would not bite lures or bait. We now know that both king and coho salmon can readily be caught with a number of creative fishing presentations.

The rod pounding action gets started in August and runs through September. Some of Michigan’s best salmon streams include the St. Joe, Muskegon, Pere Marquette, Big Manistee and AuSable.