Salmon Fishing on Lake Superior: A Complete Guide
Feb 18, 2021 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Salmon Fishing on Lake Superior is quite a journey. Today, catching a wild Salmon on the lake is all but guaranteed, but that wasn’t always the case. The different Salmon varieties have been stocked in the Big Lake for a long time, and we can now see the success these initiatives have had.

An angler holding a Salmon on a lake

These fascinating fish were first stocked in Lake Superior in 1969, and it wasn’t long before they started taking over. A whole industry was born, drawing in anglers from all around the world to this famous fishery. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Salmon fishing on Lake Superior.

Lake Superior Salmon Species

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. So it’s no wonder that there’s room for multiple Salmon varieties here. These waters hold Coho, Chinook, Pink, and Atlantic Salmon, and now we’re here to help you decide which to target. 

An infographic showing types of Salmon on Lake Superior, including Chinook, Coho, Atlantic, and Pink Salmon

Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon were first introduced to Lake Superior in the 60s, and they’ve adapted quite well. Lake Superior Cohos grow up to 26 inches. While this doesn’t make them the biggest variety, it does make them interesting to anglers from all over.

An angler holding a Coho Salmon

These creatures have a short lifespan, reaching just three years when they go back to the streams to spawn. This takes place in late September and October. Come spring, and the newly hatched Coho Salmon take to the waters of Lake Superior where they spend most of their lives.

Chinook Salmon

These hard-fighting fish are known as King Salmon, and they really live up to that nickname! While fewer Kings are caught annually on Lake Superior than all of the other Great Lakes, 99 percent of Chinooks caught here are wild. There’s a healthy population in the lake now, and there’s plenty to go around.

An angler holding a Chinook Salmon on a lake in Canada

Lake Superior is the perfect habitat for these trophy fish, and they seem to thrive in these waters. There’s plenty of food, the temperature is just right, and they have a lot of space to roam. This means one thing – fishing for King Salmon is only going to get better!

You’ll find them closer to shore in spring before the water starts heating up. They prefer colder temperatures, so in the summer they go deeper to cool down. In fall, they tend to go up to the rivers and streams to spawn, so you can find them in Lake Superior’s tributaries at this time of year.

Pink Salmon

One of the most distinguished Salmon varieties, Pink Salmon is a unique species. Nicknamed “humpies,” thanks to the unique hump on their backs, these colored creatures are some of the most elusive on Lake Superior. Like Coho Salmon, they spend their adult lives scattered across the lake, only to make their run to the lake’s tributaries in the fall to spawn.

An angler fishing for Pink Salmon

When spring comes about, the newly-hatched specimens migrate to the lake again. If you’re looking to hook into these hard fighters on Lake Superior, head out in summer when they move to deeper waters. Fishing from shore, though, spring and fall are your best bets.

Atlantic Salmon

One of the most prized freshwater game fish, Atlantic Salmon were originally natives of Lake Ontario. However, their population declined there, but efforts to stock them seem to be working in the Big Lake. St. Marys River is where you’ll find these stunning creatures spawning, before going into the open waters.

An angler releasing an Atlantic Salmon back into the water

While they’re not as abundant on Lake Superior as you may like, they’re still a coveted species anglers love targeting. This is because they’re very willing to take your bait and put up a great fight. Most of the specimens come up to the 10 lb mark, but creatures up to 20 pounds have been reported.

Lake Superior Salmon Fishing Techniques

Salmon are known for their game qualities, and they’re not the type to go down without a fight. That’s why anglers have developed a variety of ways to hook into these prized fish. Here, we’ll break down some of the most common ways you can target Salmon on Lake Superior.

Trolling

One of the most popular ways of going after Salmon on Lake Superior is trolling. Why? Well, the sheer size of this lake makes it the most productive way of fishing. You can cover a lot of ground and have multiple lines in the water, improving your chances of hooking a trophy.

Salmon tend to scatter across the lake during summer, looking for just the right temperature. The 50s are perfect for them, so make sure to bring a thermometer with you to narrow down your target areas.

Trolling on a lake

When it comes to equipment, anglers tend to use spoons. The reason is quite obvious – Salmon love shiny things! You can also use spinners and plugs.

Salmon tend to move aggressively, and if there’s one thing they enjoy, it’s a fight, so make sure to use a 20–25 lb line. They’ll hit your bait hard and won’t go down easy, so prepare for a long, hard battle.

Fly Fishing

This is a fishing technique reserved for those with a little more experience under their belt. It’s one of the most exciting ways of targeting Salmon on Lake Superior, and can yield some amazing results. Up for the challenge? Grab a fly rod and head over to the tributaries in fall when Salmon are spawning. 

An angler fly fishing

One thing you need to know is that Salmon are especially hard to land when fly fishing. They’re feisty and aggressive, so make sure you bring heavier tackle. Use egg imitations or streamers. Also, nymphs are popular with local anglers.

Drift Fishing

This is another interesting technique you can use if you’re targeting Salmon, especially around the river mouths, where it can yield the best results.

You’ll need to determine the weight of your setup, which means that you’ll need to figure out where the fish are. Make sure you cast your line upstream and let it run its course in a natural way for the best results. You can also try plunking using winged bobbers, spoons, and spinners.

Father and sons drift fishing

When it comes to the gear you use, it depends on your target. For larger Salmon like Chinook, use 20–25 lb lines. For smaller fish like Pink Salmon, anglers tend to use 10–15 lb lines. You can drift with spoons and spinners, but also try fishing with egg sacs, Salmon roe, or sand shrimp.

Lake Superior Salmon Fishing Spots

This is the largest lake in the world, and Salmon can be found almost anywhere in its waters. Target them in the tributaries when it’s time to spawn, or head out into the deep waters of the lake during the summer months. Let’s take a look at some of the prolific Salmon fishing spots.

North Shore

Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior North Shore

We know, this isn’t very specific. However, all of the rivers on the north shore of Lake Superior offer amazing Salmon fishing opportunities. Just head up from Duluth towards the border with Canada, and pick one! Chances are, when it’s spawning time, you’ll find them in abundance.

Grand Marais/Thunder Bay

Depending on which side of the border you’re on, these two towns are great spots to head out from if you’re looking for exciting Salmon action. During the summer, troll the deep for Coho and Chinook. It’s an adventure you’re sure to remember!

St. Marys River Mouth

St. Marys River scenery

This stunning river connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron is a major Salmon hotspot. If you’re looking for Atlantic Salmon, this is where they reproduce, and where they return when it’s time to spawn. There’s hardly a better place on Lake Superior to hook into these coveted fish. And you can expect to hook into Pink and Chinook, too!

Rules and Regulations

Now you know everything about how to fish for Salmon on Lake Superior. There’s just one piece of the puzzle missing – the rules! First things first, you’ll need a fishing license. If you’re on the American side of the lake, make sure you buy the appropriate freshwater license depending on the state.

If you’re fishing in Canada, don’t forget to grab an Ontario fishing license. Also, remember to bring your passport if you plan on crossing the border.

Signage at local Oceanside tackle shop, advertising bait and fishing licenses

As for bag limits, they differ depending on the state, too. In Michigan, you can keep any five Salmon, but no more than three of any one species except for Coho. In Minnesota, you can also keep five in total, but only one Atlantic Salmon is allowed.

Wisconsin has different regulations depending on the season but, in general, you can keep five, just as in Ontario. It’s best to double-check these before heading out, however, to avoid breaking the law.

Lake Superior Salmon Fishing – It’s Truly Superior

Lake Superior might not have gotten its name for its Salmon fishery, but it can sure be applied to it. This inland sea is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and its stunning natural beauty is something you have to experience.

Salmon fishing has become an important part of the Lake Superior experience, so it’s hard to imagine that it once wasn’t the case. However, today it’s booming. And, if Salmon is what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in these deep waters!

An angler fishing in the waters of Lake Superior

Have you ever tried fishing for Salmon on Lake Superior? How was it? Tell us all about it in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

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