Great Lakes Salmon and the Dog Days of Summer

By: Mike Boyd of Coldwater Charters

lake michigan king salmonThe Great lakes salmon fishing has been in full swing for a few months now with the ravenous appetites of the Salmon and Trout gorging on huge pods of bait fish all Spring. As the heat index rises and the bait [Alewife’s] starts to disperse the fisherman rely on electronics and wind direction to find active fish.

Here is a short list of key things to look for and how to find them while on the Lake or getting ready for a weekend of fishing.

Wind direction:

This is key to finding active fish in bigger schools feeding on the available bait fish in a given area. Northerly or easterly winds bring cold water in shore on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan. Southerly or westerly winds bring in warm waters in and move any cold water out and with west winds being the best to set up horizontal thermo clines off shore. So if you are planning a trip pay close attention to the wind direction from 5 days in till you leave on your trip. Nothing feels better then finding your own fish without anybodies help. The odds are if cold water is near shore so will the bait and the predator fish. Offshore Westerly or Southerly winds will put the colder water in deeper parts of the lake, so start your searching in the deeper 70′ of water more. the key here is to find the thermal cline. You may be able to find a slight temp break on your graph but I rely on down temps on my riggers. The Moor 900 and the Fish Hawk probes that attach to your down rigger are a big factor on a few things but will help you locate the appropriate temps to target. When looking for Salmon I always set my top line at the top edge of the break at around 58 to 60 degrees and if there is 45 degree water below I set my bottom rigger there. Everything else will go at or between these temps.


When searching for active fish keep your spread simple and very speed friendly,,, meaning no dodgers. When I am searching for the mother load of fish I run strictly spoons and maybe a fishcatcher with a fly on the back end. This will allow me to go as fast as 3 MPH to cover as much water as I can in the shortest amount of time. Once you have located fish either on your graph or from rods starting to make those goofy jerks, then start putting the dodgers down if they are not coming fast enough on what you already have down. The proper Dodger speed I like to run is 1.8 to 2.1 MPH it is a very slim window. When I see the dodger slashing almost out of control but still not spinning this is the speed I like. I don’t like to see the dodger spinning although you will catch the occasional fish while it is spinning. The proper speed at the lure will make the difference from 3 to 5 fish to 10 to 20 fish, in my opinion it is just that important!!!

Exception on temperature:

Steelhead, especially summer run Skamania. These fish will consistently be caught out of what we feel is the proper temperature. I try to have half my spread set up for these fish or close to half depending on the circumstance. It is not uncommon to catch these fish in 70 degree water even off the surface especially in early morning. So keep some lines up in the higher temps if Skamania are present in your area.

Currents and making speed adjustments:

First of all there is a couple things beside electronics that can help you figure out the currents underneath the water. Two things to watch are your rigger cables and you dipsy rods. If the riggers are hanging straight down but you speed over ground on your GPS says you are going 3 MPH on a 330 heading then there is a strong southerly current and you are going to slow. If you are going 1.5 and the cables and dipsy’s are bent way back then you need to through a drift sock to slow down. It is however much easier and accurate to have a Fish Hawk or Moor 900 probe. Now, try to find the exact heading the current is going by adjusting in 10 degree increments. Once you have the current direction established turn the boat 180 degrees to the current. I have found that is much easier to go cross current then to try to fight it. This will also give a great presentation to the fish. Disregard this if the fish are whacking the rods while trolling with or against the current. If it’s working, don’t change it. But if the graph looks great and the fish aren’t coming very fast then troll cross current. Be careful though, many a tangle have come using this method so keep good separation in your spread.

Fishing ethics:

This is real important in my book. Always consider that the boat you are going to go behind has long lines out to 600′.

If it is in the harbor area give them at least 200′ before going behind them unless you have made contact via the radio or by asking them boat to boat.

Always while fishing the harbor, stay in the same direction as all the other boats, do not be a *** and make everyone’s life harder by trying to fight on coming boats. When 200 boats are circling the Harbor it only takes one or 2 boats shooting in and out and going in reverse direction to heat up tempers and tangle stuff up.

If you caught fish at a certain spot in the Harbor and it looks like you might get tangled with another boat if you keep up your heading, bail out and slip outside the pack and time it so you won’t have trouble with others getting to the spot. Kinda like merging on the expressway.

lake michigan king salmonWith work and our fast paced World we live in today and relief sometimes far and few between, details can make the difference from having a skimpy box to one all the other boats envy. Take the time, this should help you catch more fish consistently. Have a great summer and most of all be safe and make sure you give the Salmon Bobber a wide birth out on the water. I am running 80 yards wide and 600′ back behind the boat unless fishing the harbor.

For Charter fishing info out of St. Joseph MI go to

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.