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Salmon Fishing

Atlantic Salmon
When and Where to Catch Salmon

Adult salmon rely on cover and structure less than other fish. They go where they must to find food and get a comfortable temperature.

In the Great Lakes, salmon schools are are scattered during spring and early summer. Their search for 53 to 57 degree temperatures may take them miles from shore or within casting distance of piers. Although fishing is excellent on some days, catching salmon consistently is difficult. But as spawning time nears, they gather near tributary streams where finding and catching them becomes easier.

Trolling for Salmon

Trolling enables anglers to cover large areas in a short time, increasing their chances of finding salmon that are scattered in open water. Most trollers use several lines, so they can experiment with different lures and depths to find the combination that best fits the situation at hand.

Of course, it is possible to catch salmon simply by running a line behind the boat and trolling at random. But specialized equipment, such as a temperature gauge, recording sonar unit, downriggers and trolling boards, greatly improves the odds of finding and catching salmon. 

Shore Fishing for Salmon

Shore fisherman begin catching salmon in early summer, months before the spawning run begins. Salmon stay in the vicinity of stream mouths, generally feeding just off shore for a few hours in early morning. During midday, they move miles from shore, but return again in evening.

Most fisherman cast with flashy spoons. Heavy lures are best, because they can be cast farther. Still fishing with spawn bags and alewives also works well. A heavy duty spinning rod and a large spinning reel with at least 250 yards of 20 pound test monofilament line are ideal for shore casting.

Pier Fishing for Salmon

Piers, especially those near stream mouths, attract salmon throughout the year. However, the best fishing is just before the spawning run or after the run has started. Piers are popular because they enable anglers to fish deep water that could not be reached from shore.

Stream Fishing for Salmon

Even before salmon begin their upstream migrations, they begin changing from bright silver to dark brown and finally to black. Their digestive tracts shrink to almost nothing and they stop eating. As a result, salmon are reluctant to bite once they move into their home streams. Still, many are taken during the spawning run, probably because they strike out of instinct rather than hunger.

At the spawning sites, female salmon dig shallow nests or redds on the stream bottom. Once on their redds, salmon spook easily and are difficult to catch. Some anglers spend hours fishing the same redd.

Natural Bait for Salmon

Natural baits are used extensively by West Coast salmon fisherman and are becoming more popular on the Great Lakes. Favorite baits include, alewives, smelt, herring and fresh spawn.

Trolling, still fishing or mooching are common bait fishing techniques. When mooching, the angler drops the bait to the bottom, then slowly raises and lowers the bait while the boat drifts. When fishing with fresh spawn, most anglers still fish or drift fish with a single egg, a gob of eggs or a spawn bag.

Artificial Lures for Salmon

Salmon like colorful, flashy lures with a lot of action. Color of the lure depends on weather, location and season. In general, chartreuse, green, blue and silver lures work best. Red and orange lures often catch salmon just before spawning time.

Silvery colors are the best choice on sunny days; fluorescent or phosphorescent colors on cloudy days. Some fisherman flash their phosphorescent lures with a lantern or camera strobe to make them glow in the water.


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