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Salmon… The Right Way by Kevin Morlock

 ***This article appeared in the 2010 FlyMasters Magazine on October 2009.  Click the link to visit the FlyMasters site.

      Each fall, anglers from every corner of the country converge on the rivers of the Great Lakes to chase big, powerful king salmon. The thrill of hooking into one of these brutes is worth the trip even if one has to walk from Texas. Yet, while nearly all these traveling fisherman agree on the salmons’ worth as a sporting challenge, most first timers, and unfortunately too many “old pros,” don’t understand how to properly fish them.

     Expectations must be reasonable. Snagging salmon is easy. Getting salmon to bite takes skill and patience.  I don’t understand how an angler can be elated with hooking 6 steelhead, but disappointed in a day when they only hooked 25 salmon, especially since they average twice the size of steelhead. Now, even the best angler cannot help but foul hook salmon in the course of honest fishing, but snagging should never be an angler’s goal.

     Salmon have a few tendencies that cause some anglers to stray to the dark-side. First, salmon are large and easy to spot. Second, they often congregate in large numbers. Third, they can be tight lipped. Fourth, and often the deal breaker, salmon won’t flee for cover when disturbed. They may boil about, but usually end up settling in the same hole.

     My goal, as a professional guide and devoted conservationist, is to help you achieve the excitement of “salmon fever.” I want you to catch fish, not because I’m hoping for a big tip, but because I want you to love salmon. The pure excitement and thrill of watching a 25 pound buck swing out, rush forward and smash your fly is a memory that will last forever.  Snagging the same fish is a shallow, prideless act, you  won’t want to tell a story about.

     Most fly fishermen are attracted to the sport because it’s dynamic and challenging. Over the last decade a positive change has occurred; anglers are now discussing the number biting fish they landed instead of hook-ups. This is a big step in the right direction.  As more anglers look down on “hook-up” style salmon fishing it will convert or displace snaggers while creating a better atmosphere on the water for everyone.

Starving and Angry but not Hungry
     During their fall run, salmon go through physiological changes. Their color changes, as does their body shape. Their reproductive organs also develop. To top it all off, they loose the desire to feed. The good news is, in order to compete for the best spawning opportunities and guard their nests against egg predators, spawning salmon become supercharged with aggression. The most common nest predators in this region—small trout, sculpins, and other small fish, crayfish and large aquatic insects—are easily duplicated as flies. Meaning, we have a chance at catching fish that are killing, not eating.

Be Quiet
     If you disturb a group of fish and immediately start flopping flies at them you’re essentially doing  all you can to eliminate your chance of getting bit.  You must approach salmon with stealth. If you disturb fish, give them 5 to 10 minutes to settle down.  Use this time to sharpen hooks, change flies or replace tippet.  It’s common to get bit on the first couple of drifts trough a new spot, but it’s quite rare to get struck on the 50th.

Give Them Something Different
     When you’re confident a hole is holding fish, but you haven’t had a hit after thoroughly covering the water, change flies.  Good water can be hard to find, so try several flies before moving on.

Fly Selection — Eat It or Get Out of the Way
     Most of the flies I consider top producers for west Michigan salmon are wets and streamers in the three inch range, and eggs the size of your thumb nail.  Normally, I go bright and flashy in dirty water or low light, and natural with little or no flash in normal to clear water.  Experimentation over numerous seasons has taught me salmon like some of the new UV tying materials.  Of course, all flies should be tied on high quality hooks, since spawning salmon have hard bony mouths.

     I find it difficult to accept the suffering salmon receive from the ills of misinformation and lack of understanding.  The Great Lakes states are blessed with abundant salmon runs providing a level of fly fishing opportunity most of the country should envy.  Do your part to protect this incredible resource. You, and those you educate, can help lead a movement of creating a much better experience on our region’s salmon rivers and streams.

Kevin Morlock is a guide for Indigo Guide Service in west Michigan.  (www.indigoguideservice.com)

The one fly in the article is a Morlock’s UV Rabbit in purple/black.  There is a recipe in our fly area, click to see the recipe.