Fly-Fishing for Michigan Chinook Salmon
Michigan Salmon are a challenge to Fly-Fish for, think your ready to try and land a 20lb fish on six pound tippert? Ever see your backing while
using an eight or nine weight rod, on a Michigan Trout stream?
Sound exciting? Fly fishing on the Manistee, Pere Marquette, Muskegon
and a number of smaller rivers on the West Side of the Michigan
Lower Peninsula offer this excitement during September and early
October. This is when Salmon from the Great Lakes invade our rivers.
In the Big Manistee the DNR has estimated that the naturally
reproduced Chinook Salmon are 80% of the run. The DNR stocks 100,000 smolts
annually to supplement the run in the Manistee. The creel surveys
over the last few years show an average harvest of about 30,000
Chinooks a year. As you can see there are a lot of salmon in the
rivers in fall.
How does the average fly angler catch a Michigan King? First let me refute
a widely held belief that salmon won’t eat a fly. Fresh run Kings, before they hit the gravel and start spawning, will hit a properly presented fly. Hawkins Outfitters lands in excess of 5,000 salmon a year in Michigan and Canada, we know when they are eating and when they have been foul hooked. The key to fair hooking salmon is keeping your flies dead drift, just like trout fishing just a little heavier tackle. Also some new and exciting streamer tactics are evolving click here to learn more.
Rig up a stout nine-foot, nine-weight rod with floating line. Put on a nine-foot 12-15 pound leader. Tie on a 6-8 pound tippet leaving one of the tag ends intact so that you can crimp some split shot there (see diagram here). Tie on a nymph, small spey or bugger. Some of our favorite nymph patterns are bright green caddis, big buggy hex patterns, green sparrows, and black fuzzbusters. If you want you can also add another fly like a Hawk’s Crystal Egg and cast two flies (a salmon favorite below). Tie your Crystal
Egg in Chartreuse, Peach, and Steelhead orange. Add a strike
Indicator about two times the water depth up from the flies and
you’re ready to go. Cast upstream of the fish far enough
that your fly gets down to where the fish are holding. Watch the
strike indicator and the fish carefully. Most takes are obvious
because the fish will rise up in the water column shaking its
head or you will see it eat the fly aggressively. Do not react
to every twitch of the strike indicator, you’ll be foul
hooking fish right and left. Pointing the rod directly at the
fish and pulling sharply on the line to break the tippet should
immediately break off all foul hooked fish.
You can also use the Chuck and Duck method so common in Michigan.
However in fall it is rarely necessary because water levels are
low so you don’t need as much weight to get the flies down
to the fish. We generally carry rods rigged both ways so we’ll
be ready to fish deep if we encounter fish in very deep water.
Most of our clients find it much more satisfying to catch big
fish using traditional fly fishing methods versus Chuck and Duck.Fighting
salmon is different from the average trout. I find that many beginning
anglers get as excited as the salmon is angry when they first
hook a big fish. Remember to relax and think. You can’t
turn a twenty-pound fish by lifting the rod tip up nor can you
stop a run by grabbing the reel handle. Both of these moves will
result in lost fish and disappointed anglers and guides. The number
one thing to remember when fighting any fish is that the tail
goes where the head goes. This means you need to fight the front
of the fish. Get your rod down parallel to the water and pull
that head around, the fish will follow. If possible stay ninety
degrees from the nose to give you the best angle to turn the fish.
I don’t mean chasing the fish down river just try and stay
even with it. Keep the fish off balance so that it expends energy
fighting you and the rod. As quickly as possible turn that big
head to the net. Quickly photograph the fish and release to continue
its journey to spawning gravel. Also you’re not going to
land every fish; sometimes they are too strong or too smart. Don’t
over stress your Salmon, if it’s 100 of yards into your
backing just break it off. Don’t worry there are more to
The best places to find fresh, aggressive fish in Michigan Rivers
such as the Pere Marquette, Manistee, and Bestie are the sections
of river down stream from the spawning gravel. Find the mouths
of feeder creeks and streams. Fish will stack up there prior to
spawning and will take a fly more readily, cooler water and more
oxygen. We have had some limited success swinging flies in front
of fresh kings. There is nothing like the hit of a fifteen-pound
fish slamming a swung fly. Try an Olive Woolly Bugger or small
Purple Spey. Tie it on the end of a three-foot leader with a light
weight sinking tip. Swing the fly with a tight straight line in
front of a pod of fresh kings and hang on. It doesn’t always
work, but when it does, what a hoot. They key to swung flies is
keeping your line tight and matching the water depth with the
weight of your sink tip.
Late August, September, October and November offer the fly angler
in Michigan opportunities at salmon, steelhead and lake run brown
trout. All are big aggressive fish that put a major bend in the
rod. While salmon aren’t the glamour species like steelhead and lake-run browns they provide more reel ripping action than the other two combined. A traveling angler can base themselves in Traverse City, Baldwin or Newaygo, Michigan and have access to some of the finest fly fishing for salmon in the United States. If your interested give us a call at 231-228-7135 or contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org