EZ on Salmon

What, Where, When and Why:

"KINGS ARE IN, KINGS ARE IN!" that's the typical early September post that signifies the start of another Salmon season here in Michigan. However, by this time there's been Kings in a few select rivers for more than 2 months.

What exactly are "Kings"? King Salmon, also known as Chinook, (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) belong to the family Salmonidae and are one of eight species of Pacific salmonids in the genus Oncorhynchus. They are by far the largest members of the family exceeding 40 pounds here in the Great Lakes Region, and can on the West Coast top the 100 pound mark. Chinook, like many other members of the salmon family are anadromous and semelparous, which means they migrate from a marine (Big Lake here) environment to their spawning grounds, then die after just one spawning cycle.

This Fall spawning ritual typically starts sometime in September, depending on water levels, temperatures, and other factors I think no one understands yet, and by mid October is in full swing. While most people believe these fish start to "color" upon entering the stream environment, it's their internal clock which starts this process. Just ask the lake guys who catch dark salmon trolling in Mid September. The fish start their upstream journey in a quest for their home spawning waters in which they were born some 4-5 years prior. Look for these early fish to hold in deeper holes which provide them protection for high light levels. It's quite a shock for them to enter a stream environment and for the first several days they tend to be mostly adjusting and are often un-catchable. Just imagine living all of your life in dark wide open 100'+ waters then one day entering a confined stream which bottoms out, if your lucky, at 15'. What a lifestyle change!

There's always a great debate each year on weather or not these fish feed once they've entered a river ecosystem. Most biologists will give the same answer, No, they don't. They do have certain behavioral patterns that an angler can utilize to his/her advantage to hook up with one of these mighty fish. The easiest to take advantage of is aggression. Males, and females for that matter, become very aggressive once the spawning ritual has commenced. They often chase away smaller fish from the redds, which the streamer, spinner, or plug throwing anglers can use to their advantage. Also, the females sitting on active redds will often eat, or more accurately mouth and crush, other eggs that come floating by her. Also, predatory insects such as stonefly larva will be aggressively attacked if they come in close proximity. We'll take a longer look at patterns and baits below. There are ways to LEGALLY hook these fish!

One question we get asked here quite regularly is "What's the best Salmon river?". That's an easy one! The answer... Which ever one you can spend the most time on! Find a river that gets a decent run and learn the water. These fish are creatures of habit, if they hold in a certain pool this year, you can bet next year their gonna' be in the same place. Learn the run timing, the best holes, and the preferred patterns or baits. Find a local shop and make friends with them, their going to be your best source on information, along with sites like Quest :~) For the most part, like I stated above, these fish are creatures of habit, if they show up after the first big rain in Mid September one year, chances are they'll be there again next year if conditions are similar. Learn these habits and you'll have no problem finding the fish.

NEXT - Targeting, Techniques and Equipment