Word spreads quickly when the king salmon start running, and on Tuesday last week, reports of slamming salmon started surging in from the Michigan ports of St. Joseph/Benton Harbor and Muskegon, with tales of harbor patrol also starting at South Haven and Holland.
So I was eager as heck to get aboard with my old friend and pro walleye angler Mark Martin and newer buddies Todd Sokolow and Jeff Sowa in Muskegon. Todd rang me up Wednesday morning.
“Lots of jiggers doing well in the lake, and trollers getting them at the pierheads,” Todd said. “Last night we went offshore and got into the steelhead in 140 feet of water, and when we came back, saw all the boats around the pier and in Muskegon Lake. We didn’t join in, though.
“Tonight we’re taking Mark’s boat offshore and if it’s rough we might jig the lake or cast Shad Raps and Thundersticks at the end of the pier—we’ve done well in year’s past doing that.”
I couldn’t wait and headed to the city launch in Muskegon, arriving at 5:30 p.m. Mark, Todd, and Jeff were already there, tweaking salmon tackle aboard Mark’s big 2075 Lund that he uses in walleye tournaments around the upper Midwest.
“Might as well troll in the channel since we have to slow down to five miles an hour anyway,” commented Todd as Mark wended his way through the hodgepodge of boats jigging at the channel entrance. The fleet included small and mid-size aluminum models, bass boats, an old tri-hull, a kayak, and more modern pleasure boats. We didn’t see any of them fighting a fish.
As we set lines in the channel, trolling with the boat’s big 250-horsepower Mercury four-stroke outboard, we paralleled a charter fishing boat with their lines already set. We were close enough to chat, and the crew aboard told us they’d already caught two salmon on Silver Horde Aces High plugs in the glow-pearl-with-black-spots pattern set 15 feet down—about halfway to the channel bottom. As we neared the end of the channel, one of their downriggers fired, and they soon netted their third king of the evening, close enough for me to take pictures.
Although the lake had been kicking four-footers all day, it was calming down, so Mark and Todd decided to head back to where Todd had caught steelies the night before. We would come back and troll the pierheads after dark. Todd and Jeff set out a spread of leadcores on Church Planer Boards, a braided diver rod on each side, and two downriggers. Although we saw fish out deep on the electronics, we trolled for more than two hours, watching the sun sink in the west, before a planer board finally zipped backwards and caused a reel to squeal drag. Since I was the guest writer (and maybe because it was a 10-color core, meaning more than 100 yards’ worth of reeling) Jeff handed me the rod, and it put up a nice fight, finally surfacing at the back of the boat, its silver side, green back, and square tail identifying it as a steelhead that looked to be about seven pounds. Todd was ready with the net and all seemed fine and dandy until the Silver Streak Magnum spoon in the green alewife pattern came fluttering about 20 feet through the air. The fish just came unpinned, as they say.
As we trolled towards shore under the increasing darkness, Todd saw another board acting funny, grabbed the rod and, sure enough, there was a fish on. No net necessary for this one, as it was about a 17-inch king, well-hooked. It went in the livewell.
Under a clear, moonless, and starlit sky and in about 50 feet of water, lots and lots of big fish showed between 25 and 30 feet down on Mark’s Lowrance sonar. Jeff set just four colors of a 10-color core out, putting the rod horizontal to the water in the Big Jon holder. He’d hardly taken his hands off when the reel started screaming for mercy. The fish sizzled out the remaining 70 yards of leadcore and considerable backing, but Jeff’s careful battle had what looked to be a 20-pound king right at the back of the boat. Todd dipped it, but somehow this fish turned and shot out of the net, getting the snap stuck on the mesh. Ping. Snap open. Fish and spoon gone.
To make a long story short, we lost another nice fish on a diver rod and relentlessly trolled a while longer, Mark’s sonar showing so many big red hooks that it seemed impossible that we couldn’t get one to bite. The screen continued to taunt us with the big red blobs from just outside the pierheads, all the way through the channel and well into Muskegon Lake. But we couldn’t get a taker. Blame it on salmon lockjaw.
We all knew that the morning bite was going to be incredible, but none of us would be able to return.
But the salmon are in, and now is the time to get out and after them!
Images by Dave Mull