Early Salmon Magic in May


A distant rumble accompanied a few flashes on the horizon from the storm that just missed us to the south. I pointed out to Trevor that it might be a good idea to go north this morning. With everyone set, Trevor unhooked the last line and shoved the Grand Illusion 3 away from the dock. As I cleared Algoma’s lighthouse, you could see lights dancing on the clouds on the southern horizon. Above us, the skies were clearing, while the eastern horizon still held the last of the thick, puffy clouds. The winds were very light, and it looked like a perfect day to fill the cooler!

May is a magical time when everything seems to wake up. Lake Michigan is no exception, and in the northern half, besides the brown trout and lake trout that we have been targeting during March and April, we can expect to see steelhead and king salmon showing up.

Last year was a pretty mild winter, and mid-May sparked a few line-ripping kings. This year, I am predicting that kings will show up once again by mid-May, if not earlier. Mother Nature is kind of funny. We experienced the mildest winter that I have ever seen along with a lack of snowpack in the Midwest; and well-above-average temperatures to keep Lake Michigan winter water temps three to four degrees above normal. Couple that with below-average precipitation, and water levels have rapidly fallen to below-average levels again. Match that with an early spring—early-March reports of surface temps in upper 30s to low 40s—and that means an early warmup and early salmon fishing opportunities.

Today could be the day. Once the kings appear, it seems like some follow the smelt when they come to the shallows to spawn. Behind them appear the alewives, which will see even more kings and steelhead cruising the near shore waters. Today’s water temperature is in the low to mid-40s, so we are close.

We powered down in the 40s and Trevor was busy setting out his first Yellow Bird. “Got that pink clown Rapala on this one; it had three lake trout yesterday,” he exclaimed. I grabbed an orange-and-gold Husky Jerk and started putting my first Yellow Bird into the water. It didn’t take long. Trevor shouted, “Fish, fish on. Who’s up? Pink Clown again; they like that one.” After a short, 10-minute battle, he slid the net under a nice 12-pound lake trout.

The next one took off. “Fish, fish, look at him go! It has to be a king!” Trevor yelled, as the Slide Diver on my side just started pounding with line screaming out. “That’s the Penguin Blinky,” I yelled. “Going to be a good one, too!” I added.

In cold, spring water, king salmon have unbelievable spunk. This turned into an epic battle, with the powerful king taking line with long, hard, drag screaming runs, only to have the angler wince and moan about losing all that line again! After what seemed like an hour—in reality, about 20 minutes, which is long enough)—Trevor masterfully stabbed the net under the king and hefted it aboard. “Wow, what a brute!” Trevor exclaimed as he grabbed the handy scale. “22 pounds, 3 ounces! First king of the season, and it’s over 20!” he proudly added.

It’s not unusual to see an occasional king salmon in May; in fact, in May of 2023, kings showed up in full force by the middle of May. We had experienced a warmer-than-usual winter and saw water temperatures rise with a very-early-spring weather pattern. This brought alewives close to shore early, and along with them, the kings. Seeing a 22-pound king this early is a little unusual; it means that this fish very well would have packed on 7 or 8 pounds in the next 2 1/2 months of feeding and would have been one heck of a 30-pound-plus trophy come mid-August. Now, that’s what I like to see!

The month of May is an exciting time, fishing-wise, for me. I like variety, and May kicks off the mixed-bag season. I enjoy shallow-water fishing early, with football-shaped brown trout smacking Rapalas behind planer boards. Another delicacy is white-spotted lake trout that always seem to inhabit shallow water in spring. Lakers will slide into the shallows and feed on gobies inside of 50 feet of water most of the winter and spring, until warmer water temps push them back out a little deeper in early June. Drag something orange or yellow; if you run into a pod of lakers, hang onto your rods—the action is going to start!

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Springtime is spawning time for steelhead, and when those silver streaks are done depositing their eggs in the tributaries; they return to the lake and begin a feeding spree on any leftover smelt or shoreward-cruising alewives. It doesn’t matter if you are pulling Rapalas for browns or Cleos and Moonshines for lakers; if it looks like a meal and flashes in the clear water, steelhead will find it. Acrobatic, aerial shows are included!

Then, as the water warms up, the kings appear. Once we get all the gamefish actively feeding, it’s game on for the remainder of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing kings and steelhead joining the game sometime well before Memorial Day this season. That should complete the mixed-big magic for May and roll us into another fantastic summer fishing season!

For more information or current fishing reports, visit www.FishAlgoma.com, follow Haasch Guide Service on facebook or call 1-888-966-3474.



Tip of the month:

I am often asked about lure selection and why certain things work. Clear-water conditions are more common on Lake Michigan; you would think that lure selection is more critical—and you are right. I have tried lots of different baits, and my wife can attest to the large selection that I keep adding to.

Since we are talking about spring trout, one bait continually sticks out for me above the rest. Originally developed in Finland back in 1936, the Rapala Original Floating Minnow has stood the test of time and is still a “go-to” lure for me. Made of balsa, the original “Floater” can be trolled or cast and swims with the legendary Rapala “wounded Minnow” wobble. Because it mimics the natural action of a baitfish, it attracts all species, and lake trout are no exception. Fished in shallow water on light line, it is sometimes necessary to slow way down or even coast to bring a large fish to net.

Floaters slowly rise, sometime triggering strikes, and most importantly, keep you out of snags. Color selection is also key; Rapala Custom High-Definition Color Patterns are some of the finest HD lure patterns on the market. Created in perfect detail, the Custom HD Finishes are the most lifelike replicas of nature ever. So, tie on a Rapala and hold on, as that trophy lake or brown trout of a lifetime gives you that epic battle this spring!


    Capt. Lee Haasch is a charter captain out of Algoma, WI. Capt. Lee has over 50 years of Great Lakes angling experience and has been instructing anglers for over 35 years with education seminars and timely freelance articles in outdoor publications.