Planning on fly fishing for king salmon? Use these flies!
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Fly fishing for king salmon is pretty much...nuts.
Every year people all over the US head to the Great Lakes to chase king salmon. The annual salmon fall migration from the deep cool waters of Lake Michigan to the tiny tributaries that feed the lake is something that needs to be experienced to fully understand. Thousands of 10, 20, 30-pound, and even bigger king salmon swim past fishermen all hoping to catch them on the way to their spawning beds, where they lay eggs and die, thus completing their life cycle. For many, fly fishing for king salmon is one of the highest pure adrenaline rushes you can have. Here's how to catch them.
Many people say that salmon don't eat once they enter the river system. Science says the same, so don't go calling those first people liars. However, just when salmon enter their spawning tributaries in late August to early September, they are still eating. If you can find yourself on the water during this time, focus on using 4 to 6-inch streamers and an 8 or 9wt rod. Just find dark water and strip or swing your streamers right through it. Weighted streamers can be effective as well. You'll know when one hits because the crushing strikes these fish offer will definitely get your attention.
As the fish adapt to the river, their stomachs begin to shrink and their need to spawn becomes pretty overwhelming. By the end of September, not many kings are still eating. However, reaction strikes can still happen if you are throwing streamers. If you can find a hen on a nest, she will protect it. Keep a streamer in her face long enough, she'll eat it and not even know what happened.
One other tactic that must be utilized when fly fishing for king salmon is the use of eggs. Egg patterns can be deadly on salmon. They also work on the brown trout and steelhead that follow the kings in the river systems. Eggs are all over the place. If you aren't using them, you just cut your chances of catching a king in half, at best. My preferred method is a single egg pegged just above a bare hook often called a "peg egg". From there, I'll crimp a BB weight or two just above the connection from the leader and tippet. At the top, an indicator. Salmon will suck in eggs just as any other fish. They can be hard to hold onto though. Small hooks and big salmon mouths don't mix well.
Fly fishing for king salmon isn't for everyone. You'll see many go on trips to the Michigan waters and strike out. You'll also see many people snagging fish as well. This is illegal. Snags do happen though, and if you get into one, you must let it go. The fight is still fun, but please keep your ethics in check. Lots of eye are watching the DNR is only a phone call away, or even closer.