The chinook salmon is one of the most prized and pursued sport fish in Superior country. Anglers travel to Lake Superior and large tributaries such as the Nipigon and Kaministiquia River in search of these hard fighting. There are several options an angler can use to target salmon, and it will vary whether you are in the big lake or in a tributary, Here are five top lure presentations for catching salmon.
Smelt and Minnow Imitating Crankbaits
Salmon are eating machines. In the four short years these fish live – from birth to spawn to death – they can grow to ten pounds or more. Salmon spawn in rivers, and the small fry live on aquatic insects. Once the smolt salmon enter Lake Superior, they switch quickly to meat. That means minnows, smelt and herring primarily, but if it swims and can fit in a salmon mouth, it is food. That means an angler who wants to “match the hatch” should look seriously at minnow and bait fish imitating cranks. One of the very best for trolling is the Live Target smelt. Not only is it tremendously realistic looking, but it has a great tight action that fools salmon. In rivers, where you might want to cast a little, the Rapala Countdown CD9 is tough to beat. I’ve caught many salmon on both the black and silver and blue and silver version. There are other great cranks as well including those made by Storm, Bagley and other companies. Feel free to experiment.
Casting spoons for salmon is done by shore angler on river fairly frequently, but is less common in the big lake and from boats in large rivers like the Nipigon. I am here to tell you that it is a killer way to catch salmon. Last fall, one of my clients cleaned house casting a blue and silver half-ounce Gibbs Kroc spoon. Salmon were basically racing each other to clamp it. Other spoons that have proven their worth include the Little Cleo, Luhr Jensen Krocodile, Acme Tor-P-do and Eppinger Daredevlet. Although most casting spoons are used in rivers, there is no reason not to try them in the big lake. Salmon can be caught in the shallow, in shore areas from time to time, and if you ever see baitfish breaking the surface well out in the lake, you can be sure salmon are on the chase. Throw a spoon out there and see what happens.
Jig and Soft Plastic Minnow
When I look over the salmon I’ve out in the boat over the years, a surprising amount of them have been caught on a jig and plastic minnow. In particular, a 3/8-ounce Smeltinator jig head (sportsheadquarters.ca) with a four-inch Berkley Power Minnow. The Power Minnow can be black and white/pearl or even fluorescent green and pearl, but the four-inch length seems to be key. This a very subtle presentation that can be drifted in current or cast and swum back with an undulating action. When a salmon hits the jig, it is usually hard and the single hook improves the landing percentage. I’m not sure why the jig works so well in the current, but I assume the approaching minnow must look to tempting for a salmon to pass up. You can also fish a jig close to sharp banks and even cover like sunken trees that trolling anglers stay clear of. It would probably surprise many anglers how tight to shore and cover salmon will hold. This is particularly the case when boat traffic pushes the fish out of the main flow. You should use a longer rod of eight or nine feet, coupled with a quality spinning reel. Load the reel with 20 or 30 pound braid and add a monofilament/fluorocarbon leader of about 12 pound test. This allow great line control, log casts and solid hook sets. The minnow jig works in the big lake as well, but you will have to pick your spots as salmon are on the move.
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Diving and Jointed Cranks
The minnow and smelt shaped crankbaits discussed earlier have shallow running lips and a tighter action. However, there are times when you will want to get down a little deeper or have a more pronounced action. That’s when a crankbait with a diving lip, or jointed body – or both – will get the nod. On the Nipigon River the jointed Rapala J-13 balsa crankbait is the number one lure. The lure has veery enticing wiggle and seems to trigger salmon to strike. The J-13 in fire tiger is the go-to but the black and white or blue and white have also proved to be deadly. Another Rapala lure that I’ve had great success with is the jointed, deep diving Rapala Husky Jerk. In strong current, you can get this lure down 10 feet or more. The deep diving Husky Jerk in fire-tiger is tough to beat. Another jointed lure that has been good when trolling on Lake Superior is the jointed Rebel Fastrac. You don’t see this lure a lot these days, but it has produced many salmon over the years. The chartreuse green Fastrac is my favourite although the pearl/silver is a close second.
On Lake Superior, most anglers troll and pull a variety of spoons. Many of these spoons are trolled behind downriggers, others are placed behind large diving discs, and a few are trolled on an unweighted line. Salmon trolling spoons tend to be lighter weight than casting spoons and can run at quicker speeds. A few of the most popular trolling spoons include the Northern King, Pro-King, Silver Horde, Peetz and Lur Jensen Coyote spoon. There are many others, including some old-time favourites like the Nasty Boy. Colours for salmon vary, but silver, black, purple, pearl and a shade of green/yellow known as “monkey puke”. Always check to see how the lure is running at the speed you will be trolling. The spoon should not spin. Also, make sure you have sharp hooks. When you are trolling spoons, salmon often hook themselves when they hit – and if the hooks aren’t sharp – the fish will be gone fast.
Salmon fishing is one of the most exciting pursuits in Superior Country. Using some of the presentations here should help you hook up with a silver slab this season.