Thursday, August 29, 2013

Repost: Fishing For Big Trout And Salmon in The Great Lakes

The salmon run is fast approaching, and this old blog post of mine has been getting a lot of traffic.  I'm doing something I've never done and recycling some old material to help my followers get ready for the salmon and steelhead run. 

First off, I've added a couple new pages, a little bio about myself, and a page with links to the official fishing websites for every state, and Canadian province.  This could be helpful if you're ever planning a multi state or international fishing trip.

A couple enjoys the view on Milwaukee's
north pier
Fishing for salmon and big trout is one of the reasons I love living so close to Lake Michigan.  If you've never seen one of the Great Lakes, they're big!  My Minnesotan wife still calls Lake Michigan "the ocean."  As I discussed in an earlier post, most trout and salmon aren't native here, so the Great Lakes might be a nice opportunity to get out on a stream and catch a nice chinook without going to Alaska.  Fishing out in the lake with a boat is the obvious way to go, but I don't have a boat, and I'm going to assume you don't either.

Mckinley Marina in Milwaukee
What you are going to want to do is find a pier, or some structure that allows you to get out in the lake.  I think the wall provides cover for smaller baitfish, and big fish come there to be treated to a buffet.  When fishing off the pier or even just off a wall into the bay in Milwaukee, I like to use big, heavy spoons that cast far and get down deep.  In my opinion, Acme Tackle makes the best spoons, with my favorites being the Little Cleo, The K.O. Wobbler, and the Kastmaster.  I've caught more salmon on Little Cleos than on anything else, I even mentioned the name Cleo for my daughter, but the wife shot that idea down.  I like the silver and blue ones for salmon.  I've never caught a steelhead, but I hear that orange is the hot steelhead color, and gold is good for big browns.  When fishing the lake, I'll use a heavier one, the 3/4 oz size casts further and sinks faster.  The Kastmaster also casts very far, it's not just a clever name.  With these lures, just cast as far as you can and wait while the lure sinks.  Retrieve the lure just fast enough to make it wobble, you'll feel it.  You can also use Wildeye Swimbaits or Rat-l-traps for trout and salmon in the lake.  There is no telling what else might bite those though.  Fishing in the lake is great fun, the bites might be few and far between, but there's something about sitting along our gorgeous glacial sea all day with a sandwich for lunch, and a beer or three that takes you far away from the world while a million people scramble in the city just a half a mile away, completely oblivious to what a beautiful resource we have.

I found this Kastmaster in some streamside bushes

little cleo, gold and red.
The Little Cleo is about the sexiest lure there is

beat up looking rat-l-trap
My Rat-l-trap has seen some action!

In about mid August, the salmon will start to move toward their natal stream. This time is the best opportunity to catch them in the lake, or even in the channel if they start to swim upstream.  Any change in the weather will make them start to move and then you can try to catch them in the streams.  It might just take a drop in temperature, or a little rain and a few overcast days to make them start running.  I've caught salmon in the middle of August in the White River in Michigan, but this year, I didn't see any salmon in the Menomonee until the end of September.  In the streams, I'll still use Little Cleos in deeper pools, but I may use a 2/3 or 2/5 oz instead of a heavier one.  They move a little more erratically in the current than a heavier one.  I will also use some diving crankbaits in the streams; Storm makes my favorites, and they're reasonably priced too.  The deep diving Thunderstick Jr. and the Hot 'N Tot are the ones I use most.  You will find that fishing in the stream can be very frustrating.  There are days when the salmon are so thick that you could walk across them, but they won't bite a thing, then other days, they'll bite anything!  If you're on the stream and salmon are flying out of the water like ballistic missiles from a Russian nuclear submarine, that is the day they will bite anything.  You will probably get splashed by salmon jumping, and they'll scare the hell out of you, but they are angry at everything in the water.  All you have to do is put something in the water with some hooks in it.  The best days always seem to be overcast and rainy days.  I've had the best luck in the evening on overcast and rainy days; not a really hard downpour, just a steady rain.  In both the stream and the lake, using ten pound test line is probably adequate.  I've seen guys use 20, but that's overkill.  This season, I used 6 pound test and I only had one salmon break my line.

three storm lures
Two Hot 'N Tots and a Wiggle Wart

My Thunderstick, marred by salmon teeth.  Note the
scale just behind the front hook.

This is the first year I've ever spent a lot of time fly fishing for salmon.  I cut the tapered leader down to about three feet and just tied on about six feet of hybrid six pound test.  I used mostly Woolly Buggers, and egg sucking leeches.  I haven't had a chance to use my creation, the Force Choking Leech, very much.  You can find instructions on how to tie it here.  If you're a fly fisherman, you're probably better at it than I am, so I can provide very little instruction.

black and red egg sucking leech
Egg sucking leech with flashabou in the tail

black cat sniffs a streamer in the tying vise
Kittie examines my fly tying skills

black woolly bugger, silver cone head.
Probably the best looking bead head Woolly Bugger
I ever tied.
Salmon and trout can be hard to catch, but you'll remember your first one forever!  I fished for salmon for a few years before I caught my first one, It was October 1, 2002.  It takes time to learn how these fish work.  I can feel the change in the weather that brings the salmon into the streams now,  an instinct I can't explain.  The clouds look a certain way, the air has something different about it.  It took me years of fishing and lots of luck before I even had a salmon bite.  How bad do you want it?


  1. I'm so happy to have found your site. I love all things about local fishing and can't wait to follow along with you.

    1. I'm also quite happy to have found yours.

  2. Cool site man. Great info and its great to meet another passionate angler. Def will follow.

    1. Hey Atlas, glad to have another follower.