Born in Abilene, Texas and growing up in San Antonio, the only exposure I had to spawn run salmon and trout was through biology textbooks in school and what I saw on TV.
Today, for the first time, I got to experience the annual mating ritual live on the Sheboygan River, in Sheboygan, WI.
It more than lived up to expectations. Twenty pound and larger king salmon muscled through as little as six inches of water, half their bodies exposed to reach the breeding grounds as well as their burial grounds. These four-year-old fish migrate out of Lake Michigan into its tributaries to procreate using every last ounce of life and then die. The current takes their spent bodies back towards the lake. That said, there are opportunities to actually catch these fish during the run. Guided by Sheboygan’s Wolf Pack Adventures, our crew was outfitted with handmade, inline spinners adorned with Northland baitfish image spinner blades. This was the easiest presentation for a newbie to use and effective as well. First spying a fish in the current, we cast just upstream of the fish, finessing the spinner past its snout in hopes the “irritant” caused a strike. These fish are not here to feed. However, their sometimes hostile instincts will cause them to attack moving objects. These fish, being easily agitated with minds focused on spawning, did in fact take cracks at the spinners.
It’s hard to describe 20 pounds of angry salmon blowing up in the river, exploding completely out of the water, but I’ll try. It would be like a full-sized adult jumping into the kiddy pool and causing the biggest aquatic ruckus you’ve ever seen. The river was only 100 feet across, mostly less than knee-deep, making these fish in their environment seem twice their actual size. I managed to tame the largest fish of the day with a St. Croix Mojo Inshore Rod. Built for saltwater, it acted like it’s known how to tussle with salmon since it left the St. Croix factory in Park Falls, Wisconsin. The reel was spooled with 12-pound Sufix Siege. The line weight was intentionally chosen to be outmatched so I could fully experience the power of these fish. It took nearly a half-hour to land the largest fish but the line and rod together never surrendered during battle.
The river was also occupied by fish there to feed. Rainbow trout follow spawning salmon upstream to feed on their roe. Although I did not catch a rainbow, we saw several. They were far spookier than the salmon.
I’ll be back again, hopefully in the spring, when the trout make a similar pilgrimage through the tributaries to breed. They forge upstream to spawn but not with a death wish, returning to Lake Michigan. Frabill pro Pat Kalmerton notes that the spring run trout are more apt to bite than the zombified salmon in the fall.
Off now to try for small mouth bass in the Sheboygan harbor out of my Hobie. Word is that a few were caught yesterday. To find out more about current Lake Michigan fishing reports along with news and fishing product information, visit Fishhound.com.
Images courtesy Dena Woerner