Big, angry, adult, king and coho salmon are heading back towards the Great Lakes tributaries, where they were stocked or born in, right now. They are running big with many fish over 20 pounds and legitimate chances at fish over 30. While there are many ways to catch them, using bass tackle and vertically jigging spoons is my preferred method. All you need is some sort of boat to get in on the action, no other expensive specialized gear required.
If a tributary gets some sort of salmon run there is a good chance you can catch fish jigging there. Finding areas that the fish stage in before heading up into the river is the trick. Deeper holes (25 feet or more) just outside the river or in the harbors are likely places. In west Michigan that means looking at the holes between the pier heads and the river mouth in each of the “drowned river mouth” lakes connected to Lake Michigan. These places are no secret so a little bit of research will reveal the popular jigging holes in each lake. You’ll also see a concentration of boats in these areas as salmon jigging often means fishing in a crowd.
While there are definitely exceptions, mid-August to late September are ideal times. Generally the further north you get the earlier you will start seeing fish. I keep a close eye on the winds and water temps in Lake Michigan. Strong north or east winds that create an upwelling and bring cool water (and salmon) close to shore are ideal conditions. But as it gets later in the season you just have to go and give it a shot. The biological clocks on these fish are ticking and they know it’s time to run the river. The morning bite is always good but they can bite all day long if there are a bunch in.
You can make most standard bass gear work for this but I prefer heavier bait-casting gear. You do need a rod that has some give in it though because they are going to go on some crazy runs. I use 30-50 pound braided line to a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. If it’s busy out you’ll need to have gear that allows you to put some pressure on them, don’t be the guy trying to land one on 8-pound test. 2-ounce P-Line Laser minnows are my go-to spoon but there are lots of other good ones out there. There is typically some current in the jigging areas so you’ll need a spoon of at least one ounce to get down there. You’ll definitely want to make sure to change out the hooks on most spoons. I usually add round bend 2x to 4x strong trebles so there are no worries about a hook bending out.
Be respectful to your neighbors if they have a fish on, get your lines out of the water and move your boat if need be. Also if you are one of those boats that throws out an anchor line instead of using a trolling motor. Please go find your own space away from the pack, no one wants to lose a fish in your anchor line. When a ferry or freighter comes through please get out of the way before the last possible second. But also move in where they went through immediately after as sometimes it turns on the bite. Lastly, once you get a bite, be prepared for a battle you have never expected. One of the most common mistakes I see with people and their first salmon is not anticipating how fast they will move. After a solid hookset, they will often rocket to the surface so fast you will think you lost them. Reel as fast as you can and keep the pressure on.
That’s enough to get you pointed in the right direction. It’s time to get out there and give it a shot, one bite and you’ll be hooked for life.