Well here we are. As I write this, the fall equinox is upon us as we wave goodbye to summer. It is a bittersweet time as we trade our shorts and flip flops for sweaters and jeans. That is the bitter, but what is sweet you ask? This transition into fall means that tributaries and staging grounds along the Great Lakes fill up with aggressive, mature Chinook Salmon.
The Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
The Chinook Salmon, otherwise known as Spring, King, Tyee and Quinnat are the largest species in the Pacific Salmon genus. These fish reach maturity in three to seven years and ultimately return to the very same areas in tributaries where they were hatched. The Chinook run/spawn takes place during fall between about mid-September to mid-November in a temperature range of approximately 10 to 3 degrees Celsius.
As Chinook begin this migration to their spawning grounds, they make a stop at what is described as “staging grounds”. Some examples include rocky piers and break walls adjacent to the tributaries and river mouths they will relate to and thus, run to spawn sites. This is a perfect opportunity to target them as they will be easy to find and predict and will be but a casting distance from urban shoreline structures and harbors near preferred habitat for procreation.
This is a fascinating time for any angler as giant Chinook are within reach for an, albeit short but very exciting period of time. If you have chased Chinook during this time period you know the staple presentations such as skein (eggs), spoons (my favorite being Little Cleo), jerkbaits and various flies. These are obvious choices that these fish see on a daily basis, so what really stands out? Lipless crankbaits/rattlebaits are truly an overlooked choice for sure. So let’s cultivate shall we?
President and founder of Kamooki Lures Ltd. Kam Sheikh certainly has some insights into this particular approach to targeting Chinook. You see, Kam cut his teeth chasing these fish along the rocky shorelines and breakwalls in and around the well-known Port Credit area with his father. Recently he returned to his beloved old stomping grounds with his childhood fishing buddy Darrell Smith and his, now famous, 3”-4” 1/2oz-1oz Kamooki Smartfish in tow. The results were nothing short of amazing.
Kam explains “Retrieves are usually quick and steady to keep the bait high in the water column, even at night”. This rings true to me as a quick steady retrieve can create an aggressive reaction bite as Salmon seem to be very competitive for forage.
As far as color selection goes, it is very simple. During daylight hours Kam favors the gaudy “Green Tiger” and the flashy yet neutral “Natural Shad”. Both can be very effective as “Green Tiger” mimics a variety of forage while “Natural Shad” represents one of the most prolific baitfish in the Great Lakes, in this case, Lake Ontario. Once dusk falls Kam snaps on a 4” “Glow Tiger” which was literally designed with Great Lakes Salmon in mind. Darrell Smith (pro guide) explains “It’s a pier fisherman’s dream and a Chinook’s worst nightmare. Big long casts, super loud rattles, all in an extremely snag resistant glow in the dark package”.
“Your gear selection is very important” Kam explains “Rod/reel/line combos should be both super tough, yet comfortable enough to cast and retrieve all day and night. Pier fishing can be rough on your line as rocks are abrasive so checking for frays is of the utmost importance. Better to find a fray than lose a fish”. He continues “On this trip my gear was a (baitcasting outfit) 10’ med/heavy Daiwa Heartland paired with a Shimano Calcutta 251 loaded with 20lb power Pro (braid). I also had my Dad’s 9’ heavy Eagle Claw spinning rod dressed with a Shimano Stradic 5000, also spooled with 20lb Power Pro”. One thing to note is that Kam tied the braided line directly to a heavy snap swivel without a fluorocarbon leader, which is something I have observed many times myself while walking the piers.
This style of fishing is what I describe as a simple pleasure. It is walking the banks with friends, old and new, your son, and maybe even the fond memories (of the good old days) when your greatest friend, your Dad, netted your first King along those rocky banks. A rod in hand, a backpack with a small assortment of rattlebaits, the inevitable sound of a screaming drag and the subsequent slaps of high five and loud hearty laughs. As Kam said “Get out there and get crankin’ as the run doesn’t last long”. Will do, my friend,
See you out there.