Two Great Methods For Catching Lake Michigan Salmon From Shore

The most fun you can have in freshwater.
     Every year around this time I start to field a bunch of questions about the great salmon fishery we have here in the Midwest.  Specifically, people want to know how to go about catching these amazing fish from the Lake Michigan shoreline.  So in anticipation I thought I'd put together a post outlining the two techniques I most frequently use to put some great tasting fillets in my cooler.
     The first technique I use only in Port Washington and it's success rate is impressive.  Port Washington salmon fishing is unlike any other type of freshwater angling I've done.  It is done with 7-9 foot medium-light weight to medium weight rods, 2500 size reels, and 6-12 pound fluorocarbon line.  You can't use the common slip bobber setup because the fishing is shoulder to shoulder and the current coming out of the power plant discharge is constantly changing.  It involves not casting, but simply dropping your line twenty feet down to the water directly below you.  The action is fast with more fish lost than landed.  I tie up my salmon rigs 3 different ways depending on the terminal tackle I have with me.
     The first rig and most common is what I would call a 3 way swivel rig.  Bass fisherman would recognize it as a drop shot rig variant.  It involves a 3 way swivel tied to the main line.  A weight tied to a separate piece of fluorocarbon line 6-10 inches long.  With a final section of fluorocarbon line 12-18 inches in length attached to a #6 or #8 hook depending on personal preference.  All the knots in this setup are improved clinch knots.  Occasionally I'll use a palomar knot to connect my mainline to the swivel.  The obvious advantage of this rig is that your spawn sac stays free floating in the water column.  The negative is that it takes 5 knots to complete.  Those knots are a nightmare to tie on a cold fall morning.
     The 2nd rig I use is much simpler to tie.  It is the standard bottom rig most of us are accustomed to.  I myself have used this rig in different situations from catfishing in the local lake to targeting large blacktip sharks from the Florida shoreline.  This rigging uses 3 knots to complete.  First you put a weight slide on the mainline (I prefer the ones made by Team Catfish).  Then you add a bead or rubber bumper to protect your knot from the force of the weight slide hitting it.  Then attach your mainline to a swivel via a palomar knot.  Use a Trilene knot to attach 18-24 inches of fluorocarbon line to the other end of the swivel, then another Trilene knot to attach the hook. I have noticed a few issues with this specific setup.  First off if the weight gets snagged you may have to cut your mainline loosing the whole rig.  The other problem is if the swivel isn't pulled tight to the slide the fish may grab the spawn sac and rip it before you even notice the pick up.  I still needed something easier to tie that would put me into direct contact with my mainline.
     The 3rd setup has proven to be the quickest to rig.  It uses packs of pretied #8 hook snells, the ones you can commonly find in most tackle shops.  These snells have a manufactured loop on one end.  The way I tie the rig allows me to take advantage of this feature.  The mainline is tied to the weight with a palomar knot.  Then pass the hook through the weight, then through the loop on the snell.  Pull the rig tight and you have a rig that is tied with only one knot.  Since the snell is attached directly to the weight it stays in contact with the mainline.  This allows you to feel the slightest pickup of the spawn sac.  The biggest advantage is as long as your mainline is stronger than the snell line, if the hook breaks off you only have to loop another snell onto the weight and you are fishing again.  The only disadvantage I have found with this setup is that the hooks are normally poor quality and can straighten out on heavy fish.
     The second technique I use is just casting out lures and working them back to the shoreline.  It's extremely effective when the fish are inside or at least close to the harbor.  I've had really good success casting in the Milwaukee and Racine areas.  I love getting to chuck lures at salmon because it's surprisingly similar to fishing the surf on the coast.  Long rods are the obvious choice since they afford you the extra distance needed to reach the schools of fish.  I prefer to use medium to medium-heavy rods that are about 9-12 feet long.  Spinning reels seem to be preferred by most anglers usually in the 4000 size.  Fill the reel with 30 pound braid and attach a 3-6 foot 10 pound fluorocarbon leader.  The thinner braid improves casting distance while the fluorocarbon leader helps you trick line shy fish in the gin clear Lake Michigan waters.
Flicker Shads and Darter Jigs always a winner.
     When it comes to lure selection I keep it simple.  It's really hard to beat the darter jig/swimbait combination.  The Gamakatsu and Berkley Gulp! darter jigs are my go to favorites.  My soft plastics of choice are the Berkley Gulp! 2 inch minnow and the Powerbait 3 inch minnow.  Most of the time I use the Powerbait because the Gulp! products always seem to leak and make a mess in my backpack.  A quick tip when using Gulp!, always remove the soft plastic at the end of your fishing session.  It's impossible to get off the hook once it dries out.
Echotail in the wonder bread color.
     Finally, let's talk a bit about hard lure choices.  I use Flicker Shads and Echotails the most often.  The Echotail work great in the 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounce sizes.  Echotails are blade baits made right here in the Midwest by Vibrations Tackle (sponsor) with an interchangeable soft plastic tail.  I've used both the Gulp! and Powerbait on my Echotails and they work great.
     The other bait I use is the Flicker Shad in size 9.  You need to upgrade the stock hooks on these lures when dealing with king salmon, but it's a worthy investment.  Something about the Flicker Shad just seems to call the the fish.  I like to use the perch, fire tiger, or wonder bread color patterns when using either of these lure styles.  These two lures have become my go to baits, but I know a lot anglers that prefer to go old school and cast spoons.  Gold and silver/blue spoons seem to be the perennial favorites.
     Hope this helps to answer some of your questions about catching Lake Michigan salmon this fall.  It's really an amazing fishery with record setting potential.  I love the urban aspect that fishing in Port Washington, Milwaukee, and Racine provides.  Remember to pack light, bring some snacks, and of course a net (with a really long handle).  Fishing for Lake Michigan salmon is unlike any other freshwater fishing you've experienced.  Be careful though, as it can become extremely addicting.
     Tight Lines.

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