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Spring Time is King Time

By Craig Ritchie - May 16, 2022
After a long, cold winter nothing feels better than to get out on open water and chase species of fish that I haven't seen in a couple of months. Sure, spring is prime time for pike and walleye and panfish, but I've most likely caught a few of those through the ice at some point in the winter. So for me, the extra special trips are those which involve species I haven't even seen since the previous fall.

Salmon might just be my favorite.

While most of us associate salmon fishing with the fall months, spring is probably the best time of the year to catch these incredibly powerful fish. Although the adults are still months away from attaining their peak weight, these fish are in prime condition right now, making them ideal eaters whether baked, grilled on a cedar plank or smoked to tender deliciousness. They're also at their fighting peak, especially if we lighten up the tackle to better suit their size.

Most of all, spring salmon are eating like crazy right now trying to pack on weight for this fall's spawning season. They're super aggressive, and reasonably easy to find, so spring usally means lots of action, making them prime fare for the entire family.

Perhaps the easiest way to get in on the spring salmon fun is to take a trip on a charter boat, where you can quickly learn the ropes while kicking back with friends and family.

Finding Fish

The best fishing for spring kings comes in those first warm spring days leading up to the Memorial Day weekend. While die-hards will start fishing for spring salmon as soon as the ice leaves the harbors, May's warming waters make it far easier to locate salmon by concentrating them. Kings and cohos prefer water temperatures in the low 50s, so as the shallows begin to warm under the strengthening sun, salmon sink deeper into the water column where the climate remains cooler and more to their liking.

I like to start fishing at the depth where that magic 52 to 54 temperature band contacts bottom. A temperature gauge like the Fish Hawk makes this easy enough - just keep driving offshore until you find the right temperatures within 10 feet or so of the lake bed.

From here, it's a matter of experimentation. Sustained winds can impact fish location by moving masses of water, taking schools of bait fish with them, so pay attention to the weather forecast a few days before you plan to head out, and watch what the offshore winds are doing.

Gearing Up

Salmon fishing is pretty easy for the most part. Because the fish tend to spread out in search of prey, trolling is the way to go, covering ground until you locate some active fish.

Most of the king salmon you'll come into contact with range from 8 to 15 pounds and the majority of the coho will be smaller still, so leaving the heavy trolling rods at home and gearing up with lighter tackle keeps the fishing fun and more of a challenge if you do lock horns with a bigger critter.

When fishing with downriggers I prefer eight-foot medium-action rods rated to handle monofilament in the 12- to 16-pound range. Lake trolling is one area where monofilament lines continue to rule - mono beats braid by being less likely to slip in line releases and less likely to pick up spiny water fleas once the water really warms up, and it beats fluorocarbon by being a buit less stiff, giving sures with subtle action a bit more life.

If you prefer to troll with wire or lead core, then again keep your outfit on the lighter side to have a bit more fun.

Regardless of your rod and reel choice, bait selection is easy with medium-sized straight minnowbaits my hands-down favorite. The subtle, rolling action of an original Rapala F13 or a Smithwick Rattlin Rogue is extremely tough to beat for spring kings, since it provides an optimal combination of flash, roll and wobble.

You'll want to experiment with color, though natural hues tend to be the most consistent producers in the spring fishery. I'll almost always start with either the traditional black back with silver sides or blue back with silver sides, and let the fish tell me if they want something different. More often than not, they don't, and the same bait stays on all day.
Other options include thin-bodies flutter spoons which, like the minnow baits, match the thinner profile of baitfish at this time of year. Meat rigs will also work well, but I find they're almost never necessary. Realistically, any smallish, silvery bait you can troll at around 1.5 mph will probably work just fine, so go with what you have confidence in. But stick with low-profile baits with subtle actions for the most consistent results.

The simplicity of spring salmon fishing is a bit part of its appeal. Drop down some baits, enjoy the warm spring sunshine with friends, and load up the cooler with primo table fish that are in top condition. It really doesn't get any better than that.

Although the fish are smaller than they are in the fall, spring salmon fishing is still a lot of fun, and a great way to load up on superb table fish.
Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.
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