A Marathon Trip for Lake Michigan Coho

I remember about a year ago on a Friday evening around 7 PM, Micah and I were eating pizza on the couch and planning to lay low for the night, when Micah suddenly got a call from his fishing friend Drew. He hung up and gave me his best puppy dog eyes as he asked, “Do you care if I head to Lake Michigan for the day tomorrow to fish salmon?”

“Sure—when do you leave?” I asked. “… At midnight.”

He ended up traveling 5 hours overnight with Drew and Nick, arrived at the river before sunrise, caught some massive lake run coho salmon and made it back home Saturday evening, staying awake just long enough to dump his gear and give me a brief rundown of the day.

One of Micah’s coho salmon from last season

After seeing his photos and hearing about the fishing, I knew I wanted to get in on the action this year. I bugged him all year long, “If Drew and Nick call you to go chase salmon, I want to go too!”

Fortunately, the call came at the end of October and they had no problem with me tagging along.

We met up on Friday evening a little after midnight… I had slept for a couple hours after work, but wasn’t thrilled to be awake again. Fortunately, Nick handled all the driving, allowing me to doze in and out of sleep while the guy’s blasted classic rock and some other screamo genre.

Around 5:30 AM, we hit up KwikTrip for our breakfast sandwiches and coffee, and then pulled into a dark parking lot tucked back into neighborhood park. It was still pitch black outside, but Nick insisted we needed to get our gear on immediately and make sure to get to our spot. Sure enough, while we were wrapping up, a rusty old Volkswagen slowly rolled in and two men with thick polish accents hopped out to start gearing up.

We trekked through the woods in the dark for a short hike and came up on the river. It was still nearly pitch black out, but the guys shone their phone lights in the river and shouted, “Oh yeah—they’re in here!”

The only salmon I had caught previously were pinks running on the far north shore of Lake Superior. They were fun, but only averaged around 14”. These salmon were going to be much larger, so the guys gave me a quick rundown of what to expect. We posted up a short casting distance away from each other as the first light started to peek over the horizon just before 7:00am.

About 40 minutes in, we heard a sound from Nick’s direction and saw that he had hooked into a beautiful dark salmon that was still very fresh. At this point, I hadn’t even seen a fish yet, save Nick’s first catch, so I hopped up above him and started scouring the slack water near the opposite bank. Finally, I spotted several large, dark shadows moving upstream.

Nick’s first coho of the day

It’s kind of bizarre when you first see the salmon moving upstream—the river is quite shallow in places, but these massive fish will do whatever they need to do to push upstream, blasting past us with several inches of their backs sticking out of the water. Sometimes, they would move by so closely you had to be careful not to step on them.

For about 15 minutes, I casted my leech streamer at the salmon across from me in the slack water, allowing it to drift in front of their faces. They didn’t seem too interested, until suddenly, a big one made a sharp turn and started chasing towards my fly—and then I felt the weight.

I set the hook as the coho immediately took off upstream giving me one of the heaviest pulls I had ever felt on the fly. I tried to quietly call for one of the guys to grab the net, but at this point, the river had started to fill up with middle aged men, and they were all starting to turn and look. I let the coho run for several minutes, while Nick stood by with his net, ready to scoop the fish up as soon as he let his guard down.

And he did, allowing Nick to effortlessly net my first coho salmon ever!

Coho Salmon, fly fishing salmon, Lake Michigan salmon, Lake Michigan fly fishing, girls fly fishing
My first coho!

Even though we were only about an hour into the day, I hopped onto the shore to “take a break.” When I catch a nice fish, I have this total fishing flaw where I feel like I should make sure everyone else in my group catches a nice fish before I start again.

Fortunately, this just meant I got to enjoy some time to relax while the guys kept fishing. Drew landed his coho a couple hours later, followed by Micah shortly after. Since the pressure was off, the rest of the day was spent casually taking turns casting the same short span of the bank. Because the fish are constantly moving upstream, you don’t need to move spots if you don’t want. Between the group, we caught a handful of other kings and cohos, and false-hooked a few more.

Around mid-afternoon, we packed up and headed back to the car to start the long trek home. In total, we traveled 11 total hours to fish for 7, and skipped sleeping for an entire day.

I value my sleep way too much to salmon fish regularly, but I’ll definitely try to get in on the action once a year when I can!

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