Sunday, August 19, 2012


It's that time of year again when the air starts to cool just enough to cause your mind to wander to cool streams and rivers filled to the brim with spawning fall salmon and steelhead practically on their heels looking for an easy meal of eggs and fry. I look forward to sleeping with the windows open and listening to the pitter patter of cool rain drops landing on the leaves as I'm smiling just as slumber embraces me. Even my dreams become consumed by fishing possibilities as I know that the days are slowly getting slower. But, the true telling sign is when my allergies start to bother me. Humidity is lower as the Ragweed blooms in full, but it bothers me less because I know the leaves will slowly change in color when the Kings are coming home!!!

This King is looking forward to continuing its life journey.

The story of the King Salmon's spawning cycle is well documented. It is common knowledge that they return to their birth river to spawn and eventually die. It is the grand example of the circle of life when you are born, grow, reproduce, die to replenish the earth with your nutrients. The circle for the Salmon is much smaller than ours, but it is a grand event.

In 2011 the salmon runs almost all over the state have been the best in almost 30 years. The rivers were teeming with eager Coho and Chinook Salmon traversing the hazards of dams, predators and most of all fisherman!

The toothy grin of the fisherman and the sharper teeth of the Salmon.

There was much worry about the several invasive species that were thought to threaten our amazing fishery. The Zebra mussels actually made the waters cleaner. The gobys have caused a surge in size in other Great Lakes fish like the Smallmouth Bass who eat them like candy. Lampreys have been an issue for a long while and the MDNR has worked diligently to stop them, but their population has been on the rise the last few years. The greatest threat and what everyone fear will be the knock out punch to our 7 billion dollar a year fishery is the dreadful Asian carp. What many people do not know is that they have been a nuisance since the 1990's and have been kept at bay since so far.

The deadly lamprey, vampires of Lake Michigan.
Dead alewives washed ashore on some beaches last summer.

With the changing ecosystem in the big lake we still have a fishery where the fish are large and in abundance, so much so that the MDNR will be reducing stockings in many rivers to avoid the disaster that happened in Lake Huron where there became more predators than prey due to overstocking to the point the fishery is almost non-existant compared to former years.

The alewife populations have been so high that they have been spotted dead along the beaches like the days of old. They alwives have been of a decent size which coincides with the size of their predators as well.

A nice bunch of Coho's from Hamilton Dam

An early thaw this year accompanied by a warm winter attributes to the large size of the fish being caught in all predatory species of the alewives. While cleaning steelhead at the the fish cleaning station in Holland as early as June I had seen several 20# class Kings with many boats getting their limits.

As a fisherman the King Salmon has become my favorite target species. They fight like steelhead on steroids when you consider their power. They will test every aspect of your gear from your drag to your leader, if something isn't quite right they will put a beat down on you ! They are good jumpers as well, but are not as acrobatic.

A happy fisherman with an August King on the PM.

I was first introduced to Salmon fishing as a 14 year old boy on the Rogue River, just a 5 minute walk from my grandparents back door. It left an impression on me that has made an impact of every aspect of my life. My grand parents no longer live there, but I still go back and visit. They have been planting Salmon in the Rogue again and the next couple years should be excellent. The crowds are something I wish to avoid so I drive north to my favorite river, the Pere Marquette in Baldwin.

A nice male King being revived before release on the PM

The Pere Marquette is simply called the PM by those who love it and fish it. The Salmon return earlier to the PM than many other river because it stays cool in the summer due to the many feeder springs that flow into it. Fish can be found in significant numbers as early as mid August if you know where to search. Thundersticks are an early season favorite below the restricted fishing area and the kings will sometimes tear them apart. The strikes are bone jarring and not to be soon forgotten by your shoulder and arm. Hold on tight and if luck shines upon you then you can land a silver beast in the log infested waters. The kings come in pods that push up the river to their spawning grounds which lie mostly within the catch and release flies only area. Catching a big King on a fly rod on a fly you created on your own can be a feeling that you can't explain until you experience it yourself. Not everyone out there is a catch & release advocate, but the PM demands it and it is always fulfilling experience. Just bring a camera to capture the fish.

A Map of the Flies Only section of the PM.

Another river many people watch closely is the Grand River. As soon as the Charter boats and pier fisherman in Grand haven start nailing them the excitement travels upstream with the fish. There are a few areas that anglers catch fish, but once they hit the 6th street dam in Grand rapids it becomes a circus. Fisherman from all walks of life show up in numbers as the fish start showing up. Spinners, spoons and Cranks can be used in any run that could hold fish. The east wall  produce large numbers from drifters and casters alike, fly fishing is impossible in this area, but it's prime for people with disabilities. The boat ramp area is notorious for the ultimate combat fishing experience if your up for it. Its shoulder to shoulder drifters here. The dam itself causes the water to boil and travel in swirling patters while the water flows out the center and west runs. This is a free for all as far as what fishing style works best. Many tourists come to downtown GR to see the Salmon jump the fish ladder and to watch the fisherman. The Grand also has a few tributaries that can have hot fishing.

Some guys fishing from the boat launch during high waters.

The Kalamazoo has the best fishing at Allegan dam, but it is only for experienced combat fisherman. The dam is the upstream limit on the Kalamazoo and the fish stack up. If you wish to avoid the crowds this is not the place to go. The hottest area to fish is usually on the stairs where there is usually a fisherman per stair and the tempers often flare. Some decent fishing has been had in recent years on the Rabbit river in Hamilton, There is a dam there as well which draws a good sized crowd when the fish are in.

A nice Coho at the Hamilton Dam

The Muskegon is a great river and really awesome if you have a boat. The Kings come up maybe a month after the PM gets started and can only go as far as Croton Dam. People fishing from shore are gathered closer to the dam, but boaters can drift down looking for large groups of fish or fish actively spawning.

Croton Dam in Newaygo, MI

So as the nights get colder and the leaves start to fall my dreams become reality as I will fight epic battles against some of the hardest fighting  freshwater game fish  in the US. Any day now I will sit here less and be on the river more.....any day now......

No comments:

Post a Comment