There is a reason they call them kings. It may be the fact that they start their lives in wild cold mountain streams later migrating to the ocean where they will live and grow. During the first three years of their lives they have been known to swim from the West Coast of California, Canada and Alaska to Japan and back. Feeding and growing large in the Pacific Ocean they become the wild giants and great fighters anglers seek out. King salmon, the largest member of the Salmon family, made famous in videos fighting their way up cold wild Alaskan streams, battling wild rapids, jumping up waterfalls while fighting through grizzly bears to spawn. After 4 years they will return to the stream they hatched in, to spawn and then die.
Powerful giant fish, the world record was caught in Alaska in 1985 weighed over 97 pounds. Wisconsin’s record fish, caught in Lake Michigan tipped the scales at over 47 pounds in 1995. Powerful fish with great tasting flesh they are sought out all over the world. Stocked in waters all over the world and into Lake Michigan along with Coho salmon in the 1960’s, today there is an estimated 10 million salmon swimming in Lake Michigan, Superior and Huron.
Ben Elfelt is a professional angler who fishes in the AIM professional walleye circuit and operates Prime Time Guide Service out of his home in Shafer. He is also the head of Polk County, WI Parks and Recreation Dept., was on Lake Michigan recently chasing kings with his good friend Jason Swingen of Duluth, an avid steel header on Superior streams on both the North and South Shores.
“It was going to be a quick trip to Sturgeon Bay to fish but on Thursday night when we got to Green Bay we were hit by heavy rains and flooding. When we got to the Sturgeon Bay we decided to just sleep in the truck until daylight for a short time and then hit the water. We awoke and found out that we were in the middle of a giant Bass Tournament. There we ran into Kevin VanDam, the all-time money winner in professional bass fishing having earned well in excess of $6 million.” But the lake was still boiling from the big storm so Elfelt and Swingen had to wait until Friday evening to hit the water in Elfelt’s 19 foot Lund Pro-V tiller.
“We got on them right away. We were running two downriggers at 115 feet, two Dipsey divers set 30 feet down and two boards with lead core. All with line counters. We started out with spoons on one downrigger and large flies on the other. Both rigs had 11 inch chrome flashers in front of the baits. Rule of thumb is that the lures are set back 3X the length of the flasher. You can consistently change the action by changing the speed of the boat keeping everything consistent. Consistency catches fish. “
In this case the large trolling flies were catching all the fish, so this pair of seasoned anglers switched out spoons for flies. “One fish is a fluke, 2 is coincidence but three fish are a pattern. Find a pattern and you catch fish. The large flies and flashers (skateboards) were working trolling 2.4 to 2.6 mph going with the current and 3.2 to 3.4 going against. One fish actually spooled us. Jason had on 40 lb fluorocarbon leader and heavy line and he couldn’t stop the big king. He actually thought the drag was broken but it wasn’t. Jason sounded like an auctioneer counting off line as the fish rocketed away calling out 200 (yards of line left) 150, 100, 75, 50 PING!! We didn’t catch anything on lead core down 30 feet.”
“We hooked into one fish that actually passed us in the middle of the fight. It was a big king that wanted to go where it wanted to go. We actually netted it up near the front of the boat while we kept on trolling.”
With only two people in the boat landing big kings proved to be a challenge with a tiller motor! “Whenever we’d hook into a fish I’d start the kicker motor and keep it on a lower trolling speed. That gave the guy fighting the fish an opportunity to battle it in while the other person could get poles and downriggers out of the way and then net the fish,” added Elfelt with a laugh!
“I’ve been fishing Lake Michigan for the past 5-years and everyone says it’s never going to get better but it gets better every year. The average size is getting bigger; our fish were averaging 20 pounds. Jason landed a 13 pound steelhead.
Elfelt can’t wait to get back. After talking to him I’m rigging my boat to go. There is a reason they call them KINGS and I can’t wait to get over there too!
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org