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Fishing the Zone for Salmon #1

Let me explain how to be more productive by following some basic rules and using basic tools. Activity and habits of fish are dictated by many variables. A rather basic approach will put you on fish and keep you there. I will cover how to find the most productive zones by species.

What Is A Zone
    I define a zone as a location where greater concentrations of the target species are found. You may use, as I do, this system for any type of fishing or in fact hunting. The basics are simple. What does your target want? Focus on what you know and do research to find out more.

Zone Rules
    Pick the type of quarry you are after and make a list of the known environmental preferences for that species.  Armed with that information you will have the guidelines or rules to become more successful. Breaking the rules will put you in water with less of the target fish

 Environmental Preferences
    The top of the most important list and what I look for is food and temperature.  When you are in a zone with the correct temperature and good forage you will increase your chances.  Other important factors are cover, habitat, maturity of fish, light intensity, water depth, weather, current flow, current intensity, oxygen level and fishing pressure. Your ability to measure, monitor and locate the ideal set of fishing preferences for your target is key.

Zones By Species
     Lake Michigan is an outstanding fishery with many options for anglers. The most popular targets of anglers here are Chinook salmon, Coho Salmon, Rainbow trout, Brown Trout and Lake Trout.  Allow me to offer environmental preferences for each of these.  Breaking each fish down by their preferences is the best way to find steady consistent action on any fish.

Chinook Salmon Zone And Presentations
   Big Chinook Salmon are a cold water species, so look for them in temperatures below 50 degrees.  The exception is when they come into spawn.  At this point in their life temperature is not important.  Keep your baits in 45 to 52 degree temperature and you will increase your odds on big fish.  When I am catching small fish, I know the water is too warm for a trophy.  It is time to adjust the tackle to colder water.  A temperature gauge is a tool a salmon fisherman cannot be without.
    The principal forage for these bruisers is the Alewife. Look for pods of forage for consistent action.  The baitfish will hold Chinook in any area.  Keep your fish locator cranked up on the gain to show baitfish along the bottom.
    I have caught them in water as shallow as 10 feet and out to 300 feet fishing near the bottom.  There is no limitation on the depth they like.  Key in on temp for success.
    Clear water and sunny conditions are the enemy.  This scenario will turn off most fish.  However, some fish can be had when certain presentations are used.  A stealthy approach is necessary for the biggest fish.  In definition stealth is a presentation that avoids being notice.  Several are used for salmon trolling.
    Downriggers are a popular method to run tackle with many variations possible.  In sunny conditions increase your downrigger leads to 100 feet or more.  By running long leads you work water undisturbed by noise and turbulence of the boat.  Leadcore is another good choice.  A weighted line with a Seaguar fluorocarbon leader is attached to a Church Walleye Planer board.  The planer board is run well off to the side of the boat out of the travel path.  Leadcore is graduated to allow five feet of depth for every color.  Five colors will run lures approximately 25 feet down 10 colors fifty feet and so on.  This allows you to fish any depth you want and is a killer for huge kings.
    Chinook live four and a half years and it makes sense that they will be the biggest at the end of their life cycle.  These monsters will be the most aggressive and easiest to get in the months of July thru September.  I have produced Kings over twenty pounds in April, although this is the exception to the rule.  
    Weather is as big of a factor as any and when the conditions are favorable you can expect huge fish.  Weather fronts, sky conditions, barometer and sea state all play a role in turning on the fish that dreams are made of.  I always look for barometer movement.  A steady barometer may offer a great chance to get a suntan but it is not conducive to trophy fishing. 
    Let’s wrap this up with my favorite lures.  Magnum spoons are my first choice.  Big lures big fish with a consideration to the size of the baitfish and amount of light in the time period you are fishing.  When fishing in very bright conditions or with the presence of small baitfish go to regular or small lures.  My magnum spoons are about five inches long, regular four inches and small three inches.  The two most productive spoons for me during the 2008 season was the Vulcan magnum and Reaper Magnum both sold by  For a slow 2.0 M.P.H. or slower presentation I use the Reaper.  Above 2.0 speeds the Vulcan is best, it mixes well with most big plugs and flasher flies.
  I will continue with Zones for Brown Trout in the next article.  Good Luck!  Jim charters out of Milwaukee, WI. with Blue Max Charters. He can be reached at 414-828-1094 or visit his web site at Copyright© 2009, James J. Hirt, All Rights Reserved

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