Michigan Salmon Run Off to Great Start

By: Chris Shaffer

Fall salmon fishing can be unpredictable in Michigan. Some years rain draws the fish into Lake Michigan tributaries in early September and others dry conditions could keep large numbers of fish from beginning their spawning migration until late in the month. This season has been abnormal. There were large numbers of salmon in many tributaries prior to Labor Day weekend.

We flew into Grand Rapids last week and drove north to film a few episodes of Pautzke Outdoors in the region and were blown away by the number of salmon already in the rivers. Having stopped in at several tackle shops, gas stations and local restaurants all told us how vital the much better than average salmon run has been for business. Owners and workers were thrilled anglers were back in town giving a shot in the arm to local economies and ecstatic that tributaries had lots of fish in them, which hasn’t been the case in recent years.


Only in town two days we drove alongside many of the region’s rivers to survey the run and also floated two days with Kyle McClelland of XXL Chrome Chasing. Many of the rivers had dozens of boats on each and another few dozen anglers walking the banks targeting salmon (and this was midweek). The buzz is back – at least this season.

Michigan’s salmon run has started earlier than most anglers are used to. This could be in relation to cooler than normal temperatures. Last week it was in the low fifties when we launched and didn’t rise past the mid sixties. Regardless of the cause, there are large numbers of salmon in most Western Michigan tributaries now. In fact, one of the rivers we scouted was black with salmon in its lower stretch (and it was no secret to angers – they lined the banks). I’ve never seen so many king or silver salmon over a quarter-mile stretch. Not even in Alaska.


This was a quick run to Michigan. We fished with McClelland a full day the first day and only a few hours the second. Fortunately, it was more than enough time. In fact, McClelland caught fish on his first cast both days. Fishing was so good I even got to put the camera down and catch several fish. Give or take a few we probably caught 25 fish the first day and another dozen the second (most were released as you’ll see on Pautzke Outdoors).


All our fish were caught on Pink Fire Cure eggs dusted off with Pink BorX O Fire. McClelland, like many Great Lakes salmon anglers prefer to cure eggs in Fire Cure first (salmon like sulfite cures and Fire Cure is sulfite based) and then dust them off with BorX O Fire to help dry them out so they stay on the hook better. Where I’m from out West anglers like a wet, juicy egg, whereas in the Great Lakes a tackier egg is more popular. Drifted under a bobber action was nonstop. McClelland uses pink, but we chatted with several anglers who told us they use red, natural and orange and were successful as well.


It’s still early in Michigan’s salmon season. We are all hoping for a long, solid run and signs are pointing that way. If you are new to salmon fishing local tackle shops and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources can help you find a local rivers or a stream that experiences a fall salmon run. Even as most guides aim to keep their local river out of the limelight due to heavy pressure from anglers as far away as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and many other states, congregations of cars give away the secret.


Editor’s Note: Chris Shaffer is the director of operations for Pautzke. For more information on guided drift boat salmon trips with XXL Chrome Chasing please visit https://www.facebook.com/XxlChromeChasing. For more info on Michigan salmon fishing visit the Michigan DRN http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_52259-323650–,00.html.