June 01, 2012As the setting sun turned the horizon bright orange, then faded to pink and deep purple, the rods started dancing. The first fish came on a blue dolphin spoon with glow tape. The second smashed a glow Mongolian Beef Moonshine spoon. Then all hell broke loose as a monster fish gobbled a green reflective tape spoon with glow tape. The big fish smoked line off the drag as I hurried to clear lines and quickly grab the bent double rod. This fish was different, strong, hard fighting and he stripped line from the reel like a runaway freight train.
Four year old adult Chinook salmon are highly prized for their fighting abilities and this fish was more powerful than Super Man and meaner than a junk yard dog. He made several long runs and melted line off the reel drag with ease. I'd pump him to the boat but when he got a glimpse of the craft he would turn tail and sprint the opposite direction. After four long runs my forearms were burning but we eventually put the net under the beautiful king that tipped the scale over 28 pounds.
I took several minutes to catch my breath and admire the beautiful monster from the deep. He was a perfect specimen with no lamprey scars, fantastic girth, white tummy and a solid body outlined with deep purple/bluish flanks and a tail wide enough to slap you silly. Pinned in the corner of its maw was one of my deadliest lures, a glow spoon.
I'm not certain what it is about glow lures that drives kings bonkers but spoons are one of the hottest lures going for limit catches and a net full of fun. Is it the beautiful green, red, purple, pearl, and blue glow patterns that attract fish? Could it be that glow lures get smacked more often because predatory fish can see them at longer distances? I'm not certain but fishing with glow lures is a deadly tactic for Great Lakes trout and salmon.
The tackle industry began the craze with glow eyes or a strip of glow tape and they found the tactic increased catches. Then, manufacturers started making lures that completely glow and they were adorned with the revolutionary new super glow. That's when glow lures launched a fishing revolution that changed tactics for most captains. Savvy anglers found that by using glow spoons they could set lines in the pre-dawn darkness and catch fish like gangbusters. Some were back at the dock with coolers full of salmon while most fishermen were just headed out of port. The glow lures helped fishermen to cash-in on the hot morning bite when salmon would smack glow spoons with reckless abandon because they are on a pre-dawn feeding spree. In many cases, a few minutes after sunlight the hot bite was over as salmon gorged themselves on baitfish and swim to the comfort of the depths for a nap.
Author with dandy Pentwater king.
As word spread about the hot super early morning bite, some captains tried glow spoons as the evening sun touched the horizon. The results were impressive and today savvy trollers often leave port late in the afternoon to cash-in on the fantastic salmon fishing that arrives as the sun dips below the horizon. This was the case when I took a trip to Pentwater in July.
Pentwater has a long history of serving up fantastic salmon fishing a month before schools show at Ludington or Manistee. The trick is to ply the 100 ft. depths near the steep drop-off found south of Pentwater along the coast of the Silver Lake State Park dune rides.
It was a hot day with temperatures soaring into the 90s when I motored along the Silver State Park beach in search of baitfish. We were in about 12 ft. of water and in the noon sun we could easily see the bottom in the emerald green sea. "There they are!" remarked my fishing buddy Debbie Gilmore, from East Lansing, as I brought the boat to a crawl. We stood up and for a distance of about 3 miles looking at the bottom that was mostly obstructed by millions of tiny baitfish. It looked like a scene from Planet Earth as zillions of 3-inch alewife dashed from our moving craft. With the aid of polarized sunglasses we were entertained by the constant tornadoes of millions of swirling baitfish rushing from the shadow of our slow moving craft. They were baitfish that hatched out in 2010 and their solid numbers were the main reason salmon fishing was off the hook last year.
We played in the mid-day sun, went swimming and dined on wine, cheese and salmon sandwiches aboard the tiny craft. When the sun got low we motored to the deeper water outside the masses of baitfish and sent lures down 70-100 ft. We picked off a couple kings but when the sun touched the horizon the fish smashed glow lures until we had no lines in the water. At one point we had a double-header with 25-pound fish on both rods. That's when Debbie noticed something floating near the boat. It was a Church Walleye in-line board with line still attached.
After netting the FREE board I started to pull the line by hand when all of a sudden the line got tight and I felt the solid tug of a big fish on the other end. I brought in the leader two feet at a time while fighting the big monster. The last few yards the big salmon charged the boat as I frantically pulled the slack line and the big fish swam directly into the side of the boat. The solid thud of the 20-pound salmon hitting the boat got Debbie's attention but when she scooped with the net the fish swam away and she came up fishless, empty handed. No, wait! There in the net was a big glow spoon.
For a moment I was angry she missed the beautiful fish but after all we got a free board and dandy trolling spoon. Little did I know the spoon would serve up impressive catches, pronto!
So, I put the lure on a rod, dropped it down and POW immediately had a fish. We limited that night and the last 5 fish came on the Moonshine spoon. Same thing occurred the next morning as I lowered the big spoon in the early morning darkness. It was like the spoon was a salmon magnet and it attracted savage strikes from every big dog on the block. The icing on the cake took place at Ludington when fishing with old fishin' pal Sammy Conner from Ionia. Sammy was pulling kings no problem and on a bright sunny day decided to try the huge glow lure. Darn thing wasn't down ten minutes when we had a solid strike. We could not stop the fish from melting 20 lb. Berkley Big Game line off the Daiwa line counter reel. I pulled lines and stated the 90HP as Sammy did battle with the huge fish.
Finally, we got a peek at the fish after several line stripping runs and a slugfest that took Sammy around the boat in circles. It was a huge male with maw like a prehistoric gator. It was my pleasure to bring the brute aboard and the Rapala electronic scale signaled 29 lbs. 11 oz. However, we did not check the line and apparently it was damaged by the huge male. We reset lines, got the glow spoon in the strike zone and when a salmon gulped it the line snapped.
The glow spoon caught plenty of fish on my boat but lures that get smashed on a regular basis somehow have a short life span on Lake Michigan. There are simply too many big fish eager to test their nail-sharp teeth and powerful jaws on a spoons that get'em going. In many ways the spoon was a gift from the heavens and it provided hefty catches. In other ways it broke my heart to see such a salmon catching machine meet an early grave.
The point is this, glow spoons are the hot ticket for salmon trolling on the Great Lakes. Kings simply love them! And there is a growing army of Michigan fishermen who unlocked the secrets of night or low-light salmon trolling and discovered the power of glow presentations. The trend began with white glow varieties but soon green glow became the most popular. Today there is a variety of lures with many color choices available and at times Great Lakes kings prefer purple, orange, red and offerings with black dots or super glow eyes.
I've sampled the night bite and would rate the pre-dawn feeding frenzy as tops. For some unknown reason kings like to go on a feeding spree at dawn. They are often staging in shallow water at night in an effort to herd baitfish for the feast at first light. But a well presented glow spoon attracts kings like no other and causes their strike instinct to take over. Spoons that wiggle and flash send sound vibrations through water that attracts kings. But glow lures tend to attract more salmon because the bright lure can be seen at longer distances in the darkness. Tossing a lure overboard that fish can see is a smart move but fishing during a high activity period is also beneficial. Michigan fishermen are fast learning that kings go bonkers after 4 am and sometimes they are full of baitfish and the bite goes dead as daylight approaches. Other times the bite begins at the faint hint of dawn and lasts for about an hour, and then comes to a halt at daylight.
Smart anglers wait for a pleasant weather forecast and have lines set long before daylight. If the kings move shallow under the cover of darkness captains set lines in deeper water and troll into the shallows. The ideal trolling pattern would be paralleling structure or a drop-off, sweeping lines close to bottom and trolling deeper to attract salmon holding on the edge of the drop-off. Salmon love to ambush baitfish along changes in bottom depth.
Other times you need to set outside boards high, troll spoons closer to the surface and far to the side of the boat. Spoons set using copper lines get lures far from the disturbance of the boat and offer the brand of stealth fishing that fools suspended kings hungry for an easy meal. Of course it is wise to have a light on the in-line board so you can see strikes. Great Lakes trollers are also fast discovering that an in-line board set far boatside that is pulling super-copper line and a spoon is the ultimate salmon trolling technique. Kind of funny the same tricks have been very effective for professional walleye trollers.
Now, don't get me wrong. Glow lures will catch fish all day, every day, depending on the conditions, weather and fish activity. I don't want you to think that glow lures aren't hot during broad daylight. However, when the light is low and the sun is close to the horizon it is my opinion that glow spoons can put fish in the box at lightning speed.
You don't need a caution notice from the surgeon general to tell you trolling at night can be hazardous. Make certain your boat lights are in working condition and bring along extra bulbs in case one burns out. Dress warmer, have your life jacket close and wear a headlamp or keep a small portable hand light to tie knots or get hooks out of the net. It is a good idea to also bring a large spotlight and use it to ward off approaching boats, find the pier head, spot floating debris or fishing friends.
A bright light is also needed to net fish in the inky water of the Great Lakes at night, although plenty of night trollers are rigging boats with Q-beam transom lights to help anglers see lines, rig lures and net fish. Keep extra tackle, gear and clutter out of the way; a clean deck is necessary when fighting big salmon at night. Midnight shift salmon trolling is not for the faint of heart, especially if the wind kicks up rough seas or fog surrounds your boat and blocks sight of shore, city lights and the moon.
I like night shift trolling when the seas are calm, night is clear and stars cover the sky. My best action has been on full moon nights when the gravitational pull excites fish, keeps them active and feeding all night. Full moon helps to keep track of harbor lights, shore and usually serves up calm, clear weather to help you relax while fishing and makes it easier to see other fishing boats.
There is something powerfully addictive about fishing under the cover of darkness with the shimmering water aglow from the bright light of the full moon. The color, size of lure and glow needs to match the baitfish present. Darker lures seem to produce on dark nights but under the spell of the full moon salmon prefer large, bright varieties. The use of line counter reels helps to reproduce a trolling pattern and dial in your bait to the ideal distance back and proper depth. This brand of fishing is a take-off from the Navy seal tactical attack guidebook. It is truly a stealthy approach to sneaking up on target fish and filling the cooler under the cover of darkness. The Great Lakes take on a peaceful atmosphere after sunset; a feeling of complete solitude sets in as you tend lines and relax to the gentle roll of the boat on calm seas. Then, a rod starts rockin', it bends double to indicate a strike and line is ripped off the reel making the drag sing. Suddenly your relaxing outing turns to complete mayhem as monster kings come to visit and tackle is put to the ultimate test.
In recent years with the introduction of evasive species and filter feeders, the water of the Great Lakes has become clearer and some fishermen feel the salmon are becoming boat, downrigger and line shy. Perhaps the cleaner water helps them to see your tackle when the light dims and darkness comes, which could explain the hot bite in low light conditions.
Night fishing calls for a stealthy approach and locating nomadic salmon that congregate in groups to feed at night. Savvy anglers know glow lures attract kings seeking food. While most people are home in bed, a growing army of Michigan salmon anglers ply the waters of the Great Lakes on warm summer nights in search of big fish and hefty coolers. What about you, are you prepared for night shift kings?