Every September huge numbers of king and coho salmon make their semi-annual spawning runs into the tributaries that feed the Great Lakes. Waters like the Salmon River in New York fill up with salmon that often weigh twenty pounds or more. Countless anglers arrive at the same time, trying to hook up with these bruisers.
Once October rolls around the salmon approach the end of their run. Their bodies start to break down and they eventually die. Like the steelhead in the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes salmon populations are not native. They were implanted and they continue to be stocked today since natural reproduction rarely takes place. That doesn’t stop the fish already in the water from trying though.
There is some debate over whether or not salmon feed in freshwater rivers and streams. Recent research suggests they do. Anglers who use the following baits and lures are most likely to catch them.
Atlas Salmon Eggs have long been used on the Great Lakes tribs for one reason: they work. They used to be widely available. Nowadays they are a little harder to find. They come in a wide variety of colors but only one size. They are inexpensive but they last a long time.
These anise scented artificial salmon eggs actually work very well when fished on a slinky drift rig. They are translucent and display the same properties of real eggs in the water. The anise scent may not help attract salmon in the Great Lakes tributaries but it can’t hurt either. It may even help mask human odors.
The yellow and green eggs look most like real salmon eggs. Orange and red stand out more in clouded water. When Atlas Eggs are unavailable Z-Man EZ Eggs are a suitable replacement.
Gulp! Alive Salmon Eggs
Gulp! Alive Floating Salmon Eggs also work well for Great Lakes salmon in the streams and rivers. These eggs are firmer and larger than the aforementioned Atlas eggs. They are also easier to see in the water which can help both the angler and the fish.
One or two Gulp! eggs on a size 8 salmon hook works very well for drift fishing. Fluorescent yellow seems to be the best color. Fluorescent Orange may perform better in stained water when visibility is an issue.
Few people fish jigs on a floating drift rig for Great Lakes salmon. That gives the few in the know a real advantage. Salmon in the tribs see tons of bait thrown at them day after day. A lot of it looks the same. When something new comes along it has a good chance at spiking their interest.
Eagle Claw Salmon Jigs don’t cost much but they work. Available in a wide range of Salmon catching colors, these jigs are pretty well made. Eagle Claw doesn’t have the best reputation for making quality products but in this case there isn’t too much to worry about as the jigs are pretty well put together.
The Eagle Claw Salmon Jigs come in two sizes. The 1/4 ounce jigs are too big for most Great Lakes tributaries, but the 1/8 ounce jigs are just right. Although they are a little large, salmon jigs will occasionally catch Great Lakes steelhead too.
Lure Jensen J-Plugs
Lure Jensen’s J-Plug is an old standby for king salmon. It gets more use on the West Coast but there are people who fish the larger Great Lakes tributaries with J-Plugs too.
The J-Plug is uniquely designed with a ball and chain set up that gives the lure complete freedom. No matter how fast the troll or the water the lure keeps up, darting back and forth and generally stirring things up.
Some people claim that J-Plugs are only good for illegally snagging salmon in the Great Lakes tributaries. It’s undoubtedly true that some people do go out of their way to snag salmon especially in shallow stretches of water. It’s also true that big salmon will slam a J-Plug hard. Just ask any Salmon fishing guide!