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Midwest Sporting Journal, The Kings of Lake Michigan by Brandon Butler

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Midwest Sporting Journal

Michigan Salmon Fishing Article

This article appeared in the Midwest Sporting Journal on October 20th, 2009 by Brandon Butler from Driftwood OutdoorsYou can find a link to photographer Bill Konway’s site here.

Pluck your favorite fishing pole from its resting place, tie on a lure, and head out to your driveway. Convince someone to get behind the wheel of your automobile and back it into the street. Go around to the back bumper, and hook your lure to the vehicle. Have the driver slam the gas, while you try to fight the car like a fish. Trying to land your automobile is what it’s like to fight a “king” in a river.

Brandon Butler with a King
Bill Konway Photography

Chinook Salmon, referred to as king salmon because of their size, are the largest species of Pacific salmon. They were introduced to the Great Lakes in 1967 by the  Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help control the exploding population of alewifes-an invasive herring species found throughout the Great Lakes.

Salmon are anadromous fish by nature, meaning they are a migrating fish. Born in rivers or streams, king salmon migrate to the ocean, or in this case the Great Lakes, where they remain until reaching maturity, which is usually three to four years old. Salmon then generally return to the stream of their birth to spawn. They normally ascend rivers from the end of August through October. After spawning, having completed their lifecycle, salmon expire.

I recently returned from a trip for king salmon on one of West Michigan’s famed rivers. I fished with expert guide Capt. Kevin Morlock of Indigo Guide Service for three days, and am now a salmon fanatic. It’s hard for me to accept the fact that I have wasted a couple decades of my fishing life without having chased these brutes before.

Fly fishing is my forte, but this outing called for traditional bait casting equipment. The salmon were holding deep in the darkest pools of the river awaiting a surge of rushing water from a rainfall to trigger their forward migration. Salmon are not fans of bright sunny days, especially when the water is real clear. Don’t cancel a river salmon trip on account of bad weather.

Kevin and spent our days fishing from his boat, but the river was lined with fishermen finding success from the shore. While we were casting lures, fishing spawn sacks seemed to be the most popular method. As far tactics are concerned, your best bet is to find a hole a continue to work it while fish migrate through. With patience, and a little luck, you’ll strike a fish and experience a fight like nothing you’ve felt in the Midwest before.

There are some serious ethical issues surrounding salmon fishing in Great Lakes tributaries. Poachers are way too common. Salmon have qualities that cause some anglers to stray to the dark-side. Salmon are large and easy to spot, especially when congregating in large numbers. During their migration, they can be tight lipped. Watching these big fish swim by, blatantly ignoring your offering, can be too much for some to handle. Out of frustration, some decide to resort to snagging. Your goal should be to catch fish, not to poach fish. Snagging, which is illegal, eliminates the sporting aspect of salmon fishing.

If you do happen to experience the good fortune of catching a salmon or two or twenty, you don’t have to keep them all. Keep one or two for the dinner table if you like, but remember these fish have yet to complete their spawning cycle. There are state hatcheries planting fish, but natural regeneration is a beautiful thing. Let a few go, knowing you’ve done your part to ensure the future of salmon fishing.

If you love to fish, and you’ve spent your life living with a few hundred miles of the these Great Lakes salmon without ever experiencing the thrill of hooking into one of these monsters, you owe it to yourself to get up north. Your best bet for success is going to be hiring a guide on your first trip, but if you have the time and patience you can do it on your own. If you do decide to go the guide route, the team at Indigo Guide Service (www.indigoguideservice.com) will treat you right.Mi