It’s August, It’s Salmon Time

With new months come new adventures in Michigan.  Dan Donarski provides some helpful tips and tricks for this year's salmon fishing season.

If ever there were a sure bet when it comes to fishing this is it: When the calendar says August, then the kings are sure to be hot. Kings as in king salmon, the mighty chinook, the bull dog with fins.

Why August you ask?

It all has to do with biology. The short story is that king salmon live for a short four years and then they return to the streams where they lived their first few months. They return to spawn, and then die. Beginning in August the kings start to move towards these natal streams in preparation for their turn in the spawn and die cycle. The move to towards these streams is called staging, and by mid-August you can bet that there are massive schools of 4-year old kings waiting in the vicinity of the streams before they move into the outflowing currents. Four years is a short life spawn to be sure, but these fish know how to use their limited time.

An Impressive King Salmon

In that short length of time the fish go from egg to supreme predator of the Great Lakes. Fish topping 20 pounds are not uncommon and fish tipping the scales in the 30-pound plus range aren’t unheard of.

August is the major transition time for kings. They are getting ready for the spawn. In most places along the coasts of Michigan, Huron and Superior that means that the adult kings will be moving into the near-shore shallow water in the evenings and then move back out to deeper water, say 120 to 140 feet, when the sun comes back up. The kings don’t like making that long swim any more than the anglers like running their boats that far so if you can find these two styles of water in close proximity to one another then you’ve got a leg up on the salmon.

Salmon fishing isn’t the sport of buggy whip rods and gossamer lines. These are big brutes that deserve respect.

Fly anglers matching wits with the fish on rivers like the Pere Marquette and Muskegon, Manistee in the L.P., and the Carp, St. Marys, and Manistique in the U.P. will want to come equipped with an 8-weight rod and a matching fly reel that has a real, as in disk, drag system. The reel should be spooled with at least 150 yards of backing. For leaders a simple leader of 10-pound mono run to the fly should do the trick nicely.

A number of flies work well on these kings. Among the best are blue and black streamers, egg patterns, hex nymphs and stone fly nymphs.

If casting hardware in rivers is your game then make sure your rod is in the medium to medium heavy action range. Again here, make sure you have a dependable drag on your reel with a full spool of 14 to 17 pound mono. Weighted in-line spinners, like those by Blue Fox and Mepps, work very well on these aggressive fish. Most salmon addicts stick an additional piece of hot colored tape to the inside of the spinner blade to attract even more attention from these brutes.

Out on the Water

Probably the best way to target these salmon, especially in the early stages of the month, is to hop in your boat and head for any port along the lake shore that has a river coming out of it. If you are just getting started in this game you’ll save a lot of frustration by begging your way onto another salmon angler’s boat, or failing that, to book a half-day charter trip with a knowledgeable charter captain.

These fellows not only have all the tackle you’ll need to tie into one of these line-screaming, hard-charging and tail-walking fish, they are also on the water every day. This gives them the edge when it comes to fishing- they know the water, they know the fish, and they know their livelihood depends on producing for their clients. Meaning, of course, that they will do everything in their power to make sure you get to know the thrill of fighting one or more of these silver bullets before your trip is done.

And, they also are capable teachers. You will learn from them.

If you know all there is to know, then just make sure in these early weeks of August that you have a complete arsenal with you. Spoons are probably the easiest to work with. Black and raspberry, green and silver and blue and silver are the go-to colors when the fishing is a bit slow. The other colors, things like wonder bread, monkey puke and a host of others are worthwhile in time, too. Have some J-plugs on board in these colors, too.

Dodgers and flies, and/or squids, have taken on a shine over the past few years. These old-style baits still have their place in your tackle box and deserve to be pulled. In fact, of late these baits have outfished the others by a good margin.

Dan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.