Chinook Salmon (The King)

The ‘KING’ of the Great Lakes

The power, strength, speed, endurance and awesome fighting capabilities of an adult Chinook Salmon makes them worthy of the title “KING.” Fighting a 30 pounder provides enough excitement to rank as the ultimate trolling thrill!

There is no doubt, salmon claim the title as the Great Lakes most popular game fish. They are highly respected for their powerful long, line-stripping runs and hook bending strikes, as well as their tasty fillets. Pound for pound, I feel that the King Salmon gives the best fight of any fresh water fish. That includes the over rated Musky. If you are looking for fishing action that is so exciting it’s addictive, then give salmon trolling a try. One glimpse of a thirty -pound Chinook slicing a calm lake surface, or a wild Coho frantically leaping to shake the hook, you will be sold and keep going back for more, again and again.

  Salmon fishing on Lake Michigan certainly had its up’s and down’s over the years. I have weathered the salmon kidney disease storm of the late 80’s and early 90’s. However after all is said and done, it was never really that bad. Salmon fishing simply tapered off and I think everyone including myself just became spoiled with the cooler busting catches of huge Chinook salmon.

The main reason salmon fishing slowed down was the lack of food for these hungry fish; simply too many salmon – too little forage. These fish are true eating machines and in a 4 year life cycle they can grow up to 40 pounds. Salmon on the average grow 8 pounds per year, that’s some serious eating!

The reason the D.N.R. planted salmon in Lake Michigan was to take care of the over populated forage base of shad, alewife and smelt in the early 60’s and the salmon did just that. The D.N.R. is now trying to keep the salmon/bait fish population as even as possible so we don’t run into the salmon kidney disease of the past. While keeping close studies on the salmon and their food supply, the D.N.R is that one species of fish in Lake Michigan that certainly picked up the slack over the years was the trout. I agree catching Coho and Chinook salmon is truly the greatest line peeling battle, pound for pound, that anyone could ever experience. However, trout fishing should not be overlooked especially when the salmon at certain times of the day don’t have on the feed bag. Lake trout can offer you an arm tiring fight with the average weighing 15 to 20 pounds. Rainbow trout can also give you an acrobatic fight which is truly breath taking and average around 10 pounds. Brown trout are very unique as they are river and harbor mouth oriented and can be a blast to catch averaging out at 8 pounds a piece. So as you can see, a combination of salmon and trout can make for some exciting fishing action on beautiful Lake Michigan.

King Salmon fishing the past few years has become somewhat tricky at times especially when the water warms up. They practically jump in the boat when the water is cold (mainly 45 to 60 degrees), but temperatures rise above this and fishing techniques change. Blame it on El-Nino? I don’t know! Best advice is to adjust your techniques to the warmer water when searching for salmon and trout. When you find them,  you can stay on these fish all summer long. Salmon simply love cold water and as the shallow water warms up by mid summer, the fish move to deeper water. It’s  true that shallow water salmon and trout fishing is easier for everyone.  First off, you don’t have to venture out as far which is nice considering the changes in weather from day to day. Another reason is you can troll more lures in the strike zone in the shallower water. For instance, close to shore in 50’ of water one mile out you can cover from top to bottom using high lines or ski boards in the top 10 foot range, dipsy or slide divers in the mid range area of 10 to 30 feet and downriggers  from 30 to 50 feet down. The above method allows you to cover every depth from top to bottom as you troll through an area.  As surface temperatures jump into the mid to upper 60’s, these fish start moving to deeper water. You might find the sames schools of fish that were in close now out in 80 to 160 feet of water then migrating deeper to depths over 200 feet as the water continually warms. Generally salmon and trout are not down that deep but will stay near the temperature break or thermocline allowing you to catch them suspended. However, depending on the warmth of the water I have seen them go belly to the bottom out deep. The high line or ski board surface fishing at this point and time is probably not worth running for salmon since they don’t like the warm water. Dipsy and slide divers may be worth running early and late in the day as salmon and trout sometimes come up to feed before the sun gets too high in the sky. Changing your divers from monofilament line to fireline, spiderwire, stainless or any wire line of this kind helps a great deal in getting these divers down even deeper. Downrigger fishing is the answer this time of year as finding cold water is much easier because you can troll these from the surface down to 300 feet. I suggest if you are fishing deeper than 100 feet you may want to use a 10 or 12 pound downrigger ball. This will get the lure down deep with less angle on your cables while trolling which in return creates less tangles. I tend to concentrate heavily on downrigger fishing when the water warms up. Stacking is another method of sending more baits down deep. This is where I run two baits on one rigger at the same time.  To find different temperature breaks below the surface using a monitroll or other type of temperature unit that attaches to your downrigger is helpful. Many units also display the trolling speed of the lures down deep which also helps as surface wind and current can change the presentation of lures down deep.

In cooler water smaller spoons, dodger flies, rapalas and fast track rebels work extremely well in shallow, but out deeper try bigger j-Plugs, spoons and plugs because these lures catch the attention of the deep water salmon usually provoking them to bite.

As you can see, changing your technique throughout the season can keep you on feeding salmon and trout all summer long. These fish have always been there, you just have to find them. So “think like a fish” when the fishing patterns change make the necessary changes so you too can enjoy the return of the King Salmon.

King Salmon State Records


State  Weight Length Location Angler Date Photo
Alaska 97 lbs 4 oz Kenai River  Lester Anderson 1985
California 88 lbs 0 oz Sacramento River  O.H. Lindberg 11/21/1979
Colorado 11 lbs 0 oz 28.5″ Williams Fork Reservoir  Helen Eaton 1989
Idaho 54 lbs 0 oz Salmon River Merrold Gold 1956
Idaho 42 lbs 0 oz 41.25″ Coeur dAlene Lake  Jane Clifford 9/13/1987
Illinois 37 lbs 0 oz Lake Michigan  Marge Landeen 8/7/1976
Indiana 38 lbs 0 oz Trail Creek  Rich Baker 1980
Michigan 46 lbs 0.96 oz 43.5″ Grand River Ray Essex 1978
Minnesota 33 lbs 4 oz 44.75″ Poplar River Dave Anderson 9/23/1989
Minnesota 33 lbs 4 oz 42.25″ Lake Superior  Jeffrey Gulbranson 10/12/1989
Montana 31 lbs 2.08 oz 38″ Fort Peck Reservoir Carl L. Niles 10/2/1991
Nebraska 7 lbs 5 oz Lewis & Clark Lake  James Ludlow 10/22/2011
New Hampshire 19 lbs 4 oz 37″ Exeter River Brian OConnell 11/9/1985
New York 47 lbs 13 oz Salmon River Kurtis L. Killian 9/7/1991
North Dakota 31 lbs 2 oz Garrison Tailrace Tom Schwartz 1986
Ohio 29 lbs 5 oz 42 7/8″ Lake Erie Walter Shumaker 8/4/1989
Ohio 29 lbs 8 oz 42.875″ Lake Erie  Walter Shumaker 8/4/1989
Ontario 46 lbs 6.08 oz 47″ Lake Ontario, Toronto Harry Oosterveld 8/7/2000
Oregon 83 lbs 0 oz Umpqua River  Ernie St. Claire 1910
Pennsylvania 28 lbs 15 oz Lake Erie  Gregory Lasko 1990
South Dakota 23 lbs 14 oz Lake Oahe Keith West 8/16/2003
Washington 68 lbs 4.16 oz Elochoman River Mark Salmon 10/5/1992
Washington 70 lbs 8 oz Pacific Ocean – Sekiu Chet Gausta 9/6/1964
Wisconsin 44 lbs 15 oz Lake Michigan  unknown 7/19/1994


building…..more to come