Trolling for Salmon on Lake Michigan

I would like to hear from any of you who troll for Stealhead or Coho Salmon on Lake Michigan, especially in the Chicago area. I am curious as to your rigging and equipment used as well as speed baits or lure selection, etc.

Thanks, Paul

How to Catch Salmon
How to Catch Salmon: Advanced Techniques by Charles White. Its a nice simple book from British Columbia. You can probably get it for about $3 on If you like to cast and jig try a Buzz-Bomb, also sold in BC, but offered by Cabelas by mail order. By the way all your salmon come from the West Coast you might as well used West Coast proved methods. Tight lines.

Contact some of the Local Charter Boat Captains,or ask around some of the Local Bait & Tackle Shops and see what their Hitting on. Most likely they will hit the same thing?

Been trying for 2 years now…
You pose a good question. I’ve been hacking it up for 2 years now (~10 trips) and have a big goose-egg to show for it. Though I’m getting more serious these days (depth finder).

I’ve progressed to using a dipsey diver & flasher, with a spoon several feet back. It’s my observation that salmon are VERY finicky. Most of the time I notice that the boat-anglers are also having a tough go of it. But occasionally they nail 'em and I can’t catch a cold. There are some online bulletin boards that charter boat captins frequent - they can be loaded with info.

I’m largely giving up on the trolling thing and am going to try “mooching”. Google it. It seems like a great tactic for deep summertime Great Lakes salmon. And I can’t figure out why nobody jigs a nice juicy shiner vertically. Or uses airplane jigs. So much to learn, so little works.

But the bottom line remains, I’m frustrated as hell, but at least I’m having fun kayaking while I’m frustrated.

fishing for salmon
Locating salmon is all about tempature. 54 and 55 degree water is where to look for actively feeding fish. This time of year you’re going to have to be off-shore. This spring was a terrific Lake Michigan salmon fishery because the water stayed cold longer and the fish were fairly close to shore. Right now i’m not sure how far out you have to go to find the fish. Your best bet with a yak to to fish the spring and fall when the fish are in close to the harbor mouths and shorelines. It was my intention to do so also but didn’t have my yak set up yet. Right after ice out in the spring, start trolling a rapala or bomber (best with in-line planers) along the beaches and your bound to hook up with a salmon, steelhead or lake or brown trout. I catch them every spring out of a 16’ boat and can’t imagine not being able to hook up using a yak. Now that i have my yak rigged, i’ll be out there around the harbor mouths especially early morning and late evening using either spoons behind didsey’s or diving discs or J-plugs. I like your idea about mooching, but i have a rec yak and don’t plan on going off shore to the 100+ feet of water to find them. Hope this helps!

Eventually even a blind squirrel will…
find a nut.

I’ve trolled for hours and hours near shore, around pierheads, and in drowned river mouths (Muskegon Lake) in the spring and fall. Nothing so far (except a jigangous Buffalo). But the time will come when I’ll live my “old man and the sea” adventure.

Another (reportedly) good kayak fishing destination is Grand Traverse Bay. Easy access, lots of depth, fish around all year (at least lakers), shore is never far away, and you’re sheltered from any wind not straight out of the north.

i have fished early browns
there also, but again in power boat, and again running in-line planer boards (big jon otters) and can’t imagine why it would be any different. Actually being stealthier in the yak should help, but in the boat i’m also running 4 - 6 lines.

Grand Traverse Bay
I’ve fished Grand Traverse several times in a 16 foot, outboard-equipped boat. In the morning and when the wind and waves are low, kayak fishing might be fun. However, when the wind and waves pick up, paddling would be a transportation/exercise experience, not one for fishing. Grand Traverse has all of the water characteristics of the rest of the Great Lakes within 1 mile of shore, which means they need to be respected for the big water they are. My biggest fear, however, is not the water–I can count on it to be dependable. I worry more about power boats, which aren’t always looking out for a small craft with only 12" of freeboard.

In case you’re wondering, I have paddled Lake Michigan in the kayak, and my experience was similar; you have to make sure conditions are right, and watch out for power boats.

Trolling GTB will catch a lot of things, depending on the season. The East bay has some football-sized smallmouth that will hit a trolled crankbait, with the odd sheepshead mixed in. The zebra mussels have really made the water clearer. Once you catch a 5-lb smallmouth on 6lb line, nothing in Michigan seems to be the same!