Late Summer Salmon From Shore (Part 1)
Salmon are in my opinion one of the most exciting fish to target in the Midwest. Between the drag destroying runs and the aerial acrobatics, they really put on quite a show, not to mention how amazing they are on the grill. Late summer is prime time for targeting pre spawn King and Coho salmon as they move in closer to shore following the baitfish and preparing to spawn. The best part about it is the fact that you don't even need a boat! Just wander out on the closest breakwater and cast. With a little know how and a few basic tools you can have an absolute blast catching these sliver monsters.
Probably the most commonly used technique for targeting these fish is casting and jigging with spoons and soft plastics. Both lure styles and presentations imitate the baitfish that the salmon are chasing. Using the right equipment is key to success, especially when you are going up against fish that can be in excess of 20lbs and can swim faster than most people can run.
Lets talk hardware. After experimenting with several different rod/reel/line configurations (and being laughed at by the veterans when fish swam off with all of my Rapala X-Raps because I was using my walleye "fairy sticks"), I have found that the most forgiving and bulletproof setup is an 8'6" medium power spinning rod with a medium sized (size 30-40) reel and 30lb braided line. The long rod provides two things: leverage to cast lures a long distance, as well as plenty of forgiveness during drawn out fights and sudden explosive runs. My rod of choice is the Eagle Claw Powerlight (graphite, not fiberglass) 8'6" medium power salmon/steelhead rod paired with a size 30 Abu Garcia Orra S. This combo is inexpensive and gets the job done.
Salmon can and will run upwards of 70 yards of line or more off of the reel, so having enough is crucial. I shoot to have a solid 150 yards of line on each of my salmon reels. The line is also a very important factor, especially when fighting these fish from shore. For casting applications I prefer 30lb PowerPro braid due to its casting ability and abrasion resistance. I've been wrapped around, stuck on, and taken through just about every obstacle on Lake Michigan and lost an awful lot of fish using mono, flouro, and even some lighter braids. In the last 3 seasons, 30lb PowerPro has been absolute money.
As far as the lures themselves are concerned, I only have one thing to say: HEAVY DUTY HARDWARE. Absolutely do not skimp on hooks and split rings. Unless the lure was designed for salmon specifically, odds are some of the components may not be up to par. At the very least, I change out my split rings with a heavier duty ring, similar to what I use for attaching muskie lures to my leaders. Also, if you find yourself looking at the hooks and thinking "no, there's just no way...", you should probably beef them up to something a little heavier. A perfect example of this is my beloved Berkley Flicker Shad. Although the stock hooks work fine for smaller gamefish and especially walleye, they are just too light to handle a full grown 4 year old salmon. If in doubt, change them out!
My summer salmon casting assortment of lures is very basic and really only consists of a few go-to lures.
1. Acme Kastmaster (1oz)
This lure consistently produces fish all the way through ice up (and even through the ice for big brown trout and lakers). Casting and retrieving with a straight retrieve or with a rip jigging retrieve is hard to beat.
2. Zoom Super Fluke (4-5") with a Kalen's Ultimate Darter Head Jig (3/8oz)
Straight out of the bass world the humble fluke with its darting action is an absolute killer. Fished with a fast, jerky retrieve just under the surface, or deep making contact with the bottom, this thing triggers terrifying strikes.
3. Cabela's Game Fish Spoon (3/4oz)
With its wide wobble and bright flash, this spoon (which is very modestly priced I might add) drives salmon insane. The thing looks just like an injured Alewife (the primary pelagic forage) and gets absolutely hammered. The only thing with these guys that you need to watch out for is the split rings. They are just a little too light for this kind of fishing, so I swap them out with heavier duty rings to ensure I don't loose any fish.
4. Berkley Flicker Shad (size 7)
I freaking love Flicker Shads. They are my number one go to crankbait for just about anything, especially walleyes. They are especially effective on salmon as well. As mentioned above I swap out the hooks and split rings to something a little heavier (I like the Lazer Trokar TK310 in size 5).
As far as colors are concerned, you really can't go wrong with plain silver or white. Essentially all of the forage in the Lake Michigan system that these fish actively target are silver, so no need to get super fancy. Sure, the insanely bright colorful stuff works, but why pay more?
With these tools you too can get in on the great lakes salmon action. Be prepared to make a lot of casts, get covered in slime, question your life, and have an absolute blast.
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