Ice-Out Coho Salmon Action

Southern Lake Michigan is the capital of the Coho Salmon fishery. Indiana’s shoreline begins  attracting crowds of boats as soon as the ice goes off, usually in March. 

Small boat owners! This is the time to get out there and knock em’ dead…..

Just after the ice is out in late Winter, and the waters of southern Lake Michigan warm up,  thousands of  Salmon fisherman swarm to the ports of Indiana to troll the shore lines for the “Wild One!, ”  too experience  more fun, excitement and confusion than a power outage at a three ring circus!  Fishing rods go off two and three at a time. Anglers holler, “fish on” while passing rods over and under each other to avoid tangles! If everything goes right, the result is a cooler full of good eating silver bullets. When things go wrong and the Cohos succeed in making shambles of everyone’s tackle, the boat can look like a set from a Three Stooges movie. Coho  fishing is like that!

Once the ice breaks up trolling is superb! It’s the best time of the year for small boat owners to limit out on coho. Chinook, stealhead and some brown’s will also be around.  Often the secret to catching fish is to fish near the surface. Here the salmon find warmer water and baitfish . Although the water temperature is below the peak activity range for salmon (45-54 degrees) to feed, the fish sense the warming trend and become aggressive. High-flat lines and planer boards are the way to go for fast ice-out salmon action…..Small great lakes trolling flies w/flashers and  fish imitation lures like floating Rapalas work great! I recommend a slower trolling speed than used during summer months. The waters that warm the quickest will hold  marauding salmons searching for baitfish.  Coho Salmon strike savagely! Although, they run small, since they are just beginning to chow down on the food that make them fat later in the season. But what they lake in weight is more than made up for in fight.  On days when the lake is alive with baitfish, feeding gulls and coho chasing lunch, the action lasts up to an hour and if you are fishing when the frenzy occurs, the action is unmatched! The salmon will gorge themselves on baitfish and a few of the crippled ones will swim to the surface. This attracts Sea Gulls, and is a pretty good bet that the salmon are nearby. Be sure to troll in and around areas like that….. Savvy lake Michigan trollers know that coho salmon are not often in big schools during spring. So, it is important to cover a lot of water while trolling in an effort to intercept scattered pockets of fish.

Some years after the ice was gone around the boat launches in late February, I literally killed the coho and caught some brown’s in the teens.  If you can get out, try trolling with flat lines between floating ice. As usual be extra aware of hazards in the water left over from the melting ice, and larger icebergs that can block the entrance to the boat launches. Find the warmest water, and you will limit out and fill your coolers before noon!

Once lake surface temperatures warm to the 60′s, salmon will migrate to deeper water and form small schools.  This usually begins in late May. The fish are still feeding but they are mostly found suspended over cooler water. This is when downriggers and deep water planers work well. Lead line has become a super producer, as well…..

Wind speed and direction are super important in early spring!

As usual west winds are best, as you will be protected by the shoreline and have calm waters. South, southwest and even northwest winds are productive, also. Light north and northwest winds are ok as well, if they are not too strong.  In most cases, east winds are generally not productive….. take a pass! Instead,  if the ice is out, take a ride to Michigan City…..It  can be a decent bet if there are light east or northeast winds. Use flat lines and planer boards at the warmest water you can find near the shorelines and at the mouth of the river…..l

Oncorhynchus kisutch

Coho, also called “silvers” or “silver salmon,” are another species of Pacific Salmon found in King County. Coho often spawn in the smaller streams and don’t tend to use the larger rivers like Chinooks. Because spawning coho can be red in color, similar in size, and spawn or travel though the same streams, they can sometimes be confused with sockeye. If you see a salmon, here’s some tips to use to determine whether or not it’s a coho…

Male coho Adult Male Coho Salmon.

Female coho Adult Female Coho Salmon.

Identification characteristics:

  • Back and head dark bluish-green
  • Lower sides brilliant red to wine color
  • Gill cover reddish
  • Spots on back and UPPER lobe of tail fin only
  • Lower gum line is light colored
  • Range in length from 17 to 38 inches  (Learn more about the “Wild One”)

Thanks for Looking…..Good Luck!