If you have been following any Michigan fishing reports, the salmon are starting their run.
When the chinook salmon, or otherwise known as king salmon, start their annual migration up the tributaries of Lake Michigan, a chain reaction of events begins to take place. It's this time of year when Ludington, Manistee and Muskegon start to attract thousands of fishermen. They aren't there looking for smallmouth bass or lake trout either. Salmon fishing in those areas is second to none and there are plenty of brown trout in good numbers, too. If the current Michigan fishing reports are legitimate, this is going to be one incredible year to be on the water.
If you talk to anyone who fished the salmon run last year, it was a year of big fish. Now, the rumors are starting to swirl that not only will this year have big fish, but there's going to be even more of them. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there has't been very hard winters over the past couple seasons so more baitfish have survived. Therefore, this has created a perfect storm of Lake Michigan king salmon to get even bigger with better-than-decent numbers for the Great Lakes. As of now, the water levels are still great. Rain has been in the forecast, as has colder weather, so fish are going to be on the move.
So, this is all well and good, but how do you go about actually catching these Michigan monsters? Well, right now in the early season, salmon are crushing crank baits like Thundersticks or other similar lures. Reports have been coming in from the Grand River and South Haven regarding fly fishing with big streamers. However, the best chance at catching these fish right now is with heavy spinning gear and braided line throwing the hard-body baits.
Anything white has been the going pattern, but fire-tiger colors have also been showing success. These salmon have been eating small baitfish out in the open water so they naturally key in on this pattern once inside the rivers, too. However, as the migration drags on and nears mid-September, egg patterns will be the only thing these fish will focus on.
It's also this time of year that you shouldn't be surprised if you hook into a good-sized northern pike or even a trophy smallmouth. They are there still, but when the kings come in, that's about the only game left in town.
Right now, fishing reports are showing the lower river parts downstream near the mouth have the most fish. Once some cold weather starts to hit the northern Michigan areas, fish will push heavy up river in good numbers. The Muskegon river, Manistee, Pere Marquette river, White and Grand Rapids are just a few of the rivers that all hold fish.
Over the next few weeks, once the early morning run of fish push through, they start to hang out in deeper water in the river channels throughout the day. Most of their activity where they really push to their spawning ground takes place at night. As a general rule, if you can't see the bottom and the water has a current, there are going to be salmon there. Watch for drop-offs next to rock bars. Those areas are normally loaded with fish.
Trout fishing can also be very productive in those same spots. As the kings reach gravel beds to spawn, trout tend to hang just behind them and eat the eggs that get lost in the shuffle. If you're drifting an egg pattern, or even a small white streamer in that general area, they can get eaten in a hurry. Sometimes some very early steelhead get in on the mix as well. However, if you hook into Michigan steel, you'll know it.
When you are talking about Michigan salmon fishing, it's all about being on the water at the right time. Most fishing reports light up with catch rates from the end of August through the end of September. Once October starts to roll around, you'll begin to find more dead king salmon that live ones. However, great fishing can still be had, it's just harder to come by. Decent numbers of steelhead begin to fill the Michigan rivers at that point. Then, a whole new batch of fishermen fill the rivers looking for chrome.
As most say, the peak time for Michigan salmon fishing is right around the third weekend of September. Any creek or river connected to Lake Michigan will be full of fish. Make sure you check the laws though before you make a decision to head that way. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is there in force. Thousands of dollars in fines and tickets are issued every year to salmon fishermen trying to skirt the rules. If you want to see this first hand, just head to the Tippy Dam on the Manistee River. It can be a madhouse of salmon snagging every weekend.
If you want to get in on this, there are plenty of guide services that can put you on fish. For example Chad Betts is a go-to guy. He also updates his own Michigan fishing reports with a dialed-in forecast.
What are you waiting for?