Now is the time to catch king salmon without down riggers or big boats on big water. Every fall, beginning around mid-August, salmon begin concentrating into the harbors and marinas or in front of tributaries up and down Lake Michigan. Outside of the West Coast, Lake Michigan reins king for king salmon fishing opportunities for numbers and size of fish. Pat Kalmerton is part of the Wolf Pack Charter Service and provides some great insights onto the king salmon fishing on Lake Michigan, head quartering out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “What makes this time unique is that you can catch salmon off the docks and piers. You can use small boats or even kayaks. These fish start to show up around the middle August and we will see fish up in these locations until early October when many of the fish push further up into the tributaries,” explains Kalmerton.
Many of these fish will push up in waves triggered by rain and tributary flow or strong west winds. Each trigger will draw new fish out of the abyss of Lake Michigan. The number of new fish in each harbor will ebb and flow with the conditions. When fish do concentrate in front of the tributaries or in the harbors and marinas, the fish are still desirable for consumption and will hit lures. As salmon push up into the tributaries, they often quit eating and are not desirable for consumption as they begin to die. Because of the water temperatures and bottom composition in these streams, there is no natural reproduction on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan but the fish still go through the motions and four year cycle of eating until they die in a failed attempt to reproduce.
What makes this harbor and marina fishing so popular is the accessibility and the fact that fish are shallow. You can catch salmon with spinning rods and jigging spoons or rattle baits like Ripping Raps. You can troll with long lines or just a color or two of lead core. A variety of J plugs in the 3 or 4 size, spoons and crankbaits will work with many local favorites including the Yakima Mag Lip or the Rebel Fast Track. Salmon will aggressively slam lures in the harbors or marinas but as they push upstream, anglers will floss with fly rods or sometimes trigger a reaction strike with an aggressive lure like the Mag Lip if you put the lure right in front of the fish.
Because these stocked fish provide a put and take fishery and the fact that these fish are going to die later in the fall, many anglers focus on the marinas and harbors because of the eating quality of these fish. The key to finding salmon in the harbors and marinas according to Kalmerton is fishing the edge of the mud water. The incoming stream or tributary will dump much dirtier water into the clear water of Lake Michigan and this difference in water color is very noticeable. Bait fish like alewives will often hide in the dirtier water from predators whereas the salmon often cruise this outside edge waiting for baitfish to leave the security of the dirtier water. This mud line can move with wind and current so look for the dirtier water and focus on the edges if possible.
Many of the fish will push up into the streams come late September and the marina or harbor fishing will fall off dramatically by early October. Now is the time to target king salmon if you are using a small boat or simply have a strong desire to hook up with one of these powerful fish without being attached to a down rigger clip. Many of these fish can be found in less than fifteen feet of water and anglers without boats can also target these fish from piers and docks. Make sure your spool is full! These fish will test your equipment and this time of year provides some tremendous opportunity.