If I had to choose only one area of the Great Lakes on which to focus my late summer salmon angling attention, it would be a simple choice.
I was born and raised on Georgian Bay, I cut my teeth on Huron Chinooks when I was just a toddler, and no matter the current year, bait supply, or return rates, Huron Chinook get my nod come late August.
Caption: This Georgian Bay Chinook was taken along a bluff wall of the Bruce Peninsula in August. The fish was caught on a GlowFrog pattern Hotfish spoon.
Clean water, hard fighting salmon, prime table-quality fillets, and the most beautiful scenery to troll in the lower Great Lakes is all at my doorstep. That is why I find it surprising that the region flies under the radar of most traveling salmon junkies looking for a new angling destination.
Huron is a monster lake that is still in flux from the changes in its aquatic ecosystem.
Invasive species such as Zebra and Quagga Mussels, Round Gobies, Spiny Water Flea and the likes have altered the food chain in this once booming salmon factory.
Alewife numbers virtually collapsed just over a decade ago, and stocking numbers on both sides of the lake (U.S. and Canada) were cutback in recent years. Yet Huron still produces Chinook and Coho catches that will fill a cooler and leave you beating sweat off your brow when the timing is right.
For the most part, gone are the “sky is falling” proclamations of the demise of Huron salmon.
In the past decade, Chinooks have found a way to maintain a stronghold in Huron, adapting to the changing food-web and making use of the ample watersheds that feed the lake to propagate naturally in numbers never imagined by fisheries scientists in Canada and Michigan.
I will save the history lesson about the rebound of salmon numbers for your own personal reading online, instead let’s focus on the where, why, and how of targeting Chinook on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in the late summer. This is a sleeper fishery you don’t want to miss.
Why the Canadian side of Huron?
I believe it would be safe to say that come late summer the most productive Chinook fishing on Huron takes place in Canadian waters.
Caption: Devon Samson shows off a nice late August King landed in the clear waters of Georgian Bay
The majority of Huron salmon are wild born fish, and an examination of the potential and productive spawning rivers on the lake points to Ontario as being the home to these tributaries.
No doubt the State of Michigan pumps out wild salmon, and a much greater percentage of hatchery raised fish, but the productive spawning rivers along Ontario’s West Coast and throughout Georgian Bay have proven to accommodate large numbers of natural recruitment. So much so that, according to studies undertaken my Michigan DNR and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, nearly 80% of Huron salmon have been proven to be of wild origin, born in Ontario waters.
Once late summer rolls around, the largest numbers of Kings in the lake can therefore be found in close relation to their origins of birth.
The other attractive benefit of chasing Kings on the Canuck side of the lake is the multitude of ports for small boat anglers.
Huron is split into two separate water bodies in Canadian waters; there is the Main Basin with a shoreline extending from Sarnia to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, and then there is the water East of the Peninsula, which is referred to as Georgian Bay. Both sections provide spawning rivers for salmon and an endless number of ports for anglers to access with a range of boat sizes.
The Bruce Peninsula itself is perhaps the most unique destination, as the spit of land formed by the Niagara Escarpment splits the lake and allows anglers to fish the main basin of Huron, or the Georgian Bay side with just a short trailer ride of less than 30 minutes.
Talk about an easy way to avoid prevailing winds once they kick up on the open water!
When there are heavy rollers rocking into the Huron shoreline, small boat anglers seek protection by fishing the bays and shorelines to the east of the Peninsula in Georgian Bay, and the opposite when the wind picks up from the E or NE.
In terms of productive trolling areas, the Peninsula provides anglers with some of the most dynamic trolling water in Huron.
Deep water can be found less than 100 yards from shore along the eastern side of the Peninsula, as anglers troll tight to cliffs, points, and bluffs that resemble those of the western shore of Vancouver Island or Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Along the main basin shore from Goderich north to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce, anglers need only venture a mile or two offshore before the depths drop to 100 feet. Close, productive fishing is never far from port in this neck of the woods, which is a bonus because Huron can kick up some nasty storms.
Where to Focus Trolling Time
In late August, Huron Chinooks show up in the greatest numbers off local ports that are supported by spawning tributaries. These rivers just happen to meet the big water in urban centers that are accommodating to traveling anglers, providing launch sites, marinas and lodging. On the western side of the Peninsula and down towards lower Huron, major angling effort takes place off the towns of: (North to South) Stokes Bay, Southampton, Port Elgin, Kincardine, and Goderich. The Lake Huron Fishing Club raises and releases hatchery raised Chinooks that return to the mighty Saugeen at Southampton which add to the overall catch.
Caption: Author with a Huron Chinook taken on a Spin Doctor Flasher with a Williams HQ spoon in tow. This salmon was caught off of Southampton on the main basis of Lake Huron.
Main basin trollers can expect numbers of returning salmon to arrive in nearshore waters by early August, with more fish arriving towards the end of the month. Schools of bait will dictate locations north or south of each port up until the fish begin to stage and go off the feed.
Productive depths off these ports tend to be in water of 70 to 150 feet.
Thermoclines can get driven deep along this stretch due to prevailing west winds, and targeting Kings outside of normal ranges becomes the norm.
Along the Georgian Bay shoreline, top attraction tends to be Owen Sound and Colpoy’s Bays. This area supports not only a wild return of Chinooks, but also a hatchery component with nearly 50% of Owen Sound Bay returns originating from the Sydenham Sportsman Association Hatchery.
Unlike many U.S. states, private clubs who are permitted to raise and release salmon through volunteer efforts undertake the Ontario Chinook stocking program on Huron. Heading east along the Georgian Bay shoreline will reveal productive ports at the towns of Meaford, Thornbury, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach.
Anglers looking for salmon action in the north end of the lake can find good catches in the North Channel; intercepting migrating Kings returning to the St. Mary’s Rapids in Sault Ste. Marie. North Channel ports include the town of Blind River, Thessalon, Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island and the Soo.
Access to deep water on the Georgian Bay side of Huron is never far from shore.
Anglers focusing on the eastern side of the Peninsula can find depths exceeding 200ft within a couple hundred yards of land. Most productive depths on “Gbay” range from 80 to 120 feet of water.
Gbay water is colder than the main basin of Huron for the most part, and this allows salmon to use a wider range of the water column while searching for food. Anglers should take note and target active fish on their electronics. Large schools of baitfish are not the norm here, and whenever you can locate “some” bait, chances are salmon are in the immediate area. Alewife numbers are low, so Chinooks now focus on smelt, deep-water chub, cisco and shiner populations.
Spreads and Techniques for Success
The general idea is that “a salmon is a salmon no matter where you find them”.
However, we all know there is great variation to popular baits, and preferred spreads for different regions of the Great Lakes.
Same can be said for the Canadian side of Huron.
Main basin anglers are fortunate to fish two rods per person while trolling. Georgian Bay anglers are only allowed one rod per man. This creates a dilemma when fishing Gbay, as your options are limited.
Most anglers who fish the Georgian Bay side rely on rigger spreads, with added dipsy set-ups deployed on braid if enough anglers are aboard. Hot picks in terms of baits for Gbay include the locally produced Hotfish spoon, Dreamweavers, NK 28’s, and Williams HQ’s.
Most Gbay anglers take advantage of the super clear water and run color patterns in blue/glow/green and white/black options. Plugs take their fair share of fish on Gbay as well, with Lymans being a popular pick for Chinooks in the bay. Troll these agitating baits below 2.5mph for best results.
Fire dot pattern Lymans have likely accounted for more late summer Chinooks in southern Gbay than any other bait in the past three decades.
Huron main basin anglers have the option to add more rods to their spread.
Boards play a big role on Huron, with many fish coming up high in the water column when water temperatures allow. Leadcore setups, copper lines, and riggers are also mainstays on the big lake.
Popular spoon choices include: Hotfish spoons, NK 28’s and Mags, Dreamweavers, Silver Streaks, and Silver Foxes. Blue/Glow and Green/Glow are top picks for most Huron regulars. Plenty of fish fall victim to paddles and flies on Huron as well. Spin Doctors and Hotspots are popular, as are Yakima/Big Al’s Fish Flash with either Atomiks, Hotfish, or Dreamweaver flies in tow.
A misconception among many Huron and Gbay anglers is the effects of super clear water on Chinook angling.
Many anglers believe the clear water (we can often see cannonballs down 45 feet) means super long leads and sending gear far away from the boat. However, more often than not, gear fished closer to the boat will take more active fish.
Chinooks that have not been spooked by boat pressure, and fish that are actively feeding will be attracted to the spread and boat, creating a calling card in vast expanses of open water.
Spoons perform just fine on sets behind a rigger ball of less than 50 feet most days. Sure, some conditions require stealthy set ups when the fish are shy, but Huron Kings do not have a huge buffet of bait at their disposal and rarely turn down an opportunity to chase down your properly presented gear!
Huron Kings will not tip the scales to the same extent as Lake Ontario salmon. Winning derby fish during August tend to be between 21 and 25lbs. Average 3yr old Kings weigh between 10 and 14lbs. Don’t let the size of these fish fool you, Huron Chinook are strong, basically growing proportionately to their food supply over recent years, and no longer looking skinny.
These fish fight hard in the cold clean water, often leaving anglers scratching their head as to why the fish didn’t have another 5 to 10lb on it upon arriving at the net.
There is no need for super heavy gear when targeting Huron Kings. Match gear according to presentations, with mono set-ups off the riggers with line no greater than 20lb test. Diving disk set-ups are medium outfits with 50lb braid. I run Abu 6500C round reels on Fenwick rigger sticks and enjoy the tussle a clear water King provides on well matched gear.
Caption: Tyler Goodings shows off his 2012 Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular winning Chinook salmon. The fish was caught on a Lyman plug trolled in Owen Sound Bay.
Location of baitfish and sunlight are probably the two most important factors in connecting with numbers of late summer Kings on Huron. Super clear water means light penetration at great depths. Windy days produce a good chop on Huron and rough seas can mean decent catches when the sun is high. Morning and evening bites are the norm, with major feeding windows during these times of the day, this is standard across the Great Lakes but amplified here.
Lack of alewife means less suspended bait pods for anglers to locate with electronics.
Instead, look for bait holding tight to bottom structure in 70 to 150 feet of water. Often these bands of bait are smelt, which attract Kings just as well as any other prime baitfish in the lake. Small clusters of deep suspended bait on Gbay normally mean chub or cisco, which quickly fatten up feeding Kings. These prey usually relate to structure adjacent to very deep water, as seen along the eastern shore of the peninsula.
When it comes time to hit the road in search of late summer Kings, take a look at Canada’s abundant opportunities on Huron.
These clean waters produce some of the finest eating salmon in the Great Lakes. Wild fish, hatchery fish and incredible scenery will have you staring at the sights while trying to keep an eye out for a bucking rod.
Located just a couple hours north of Toronto, the Bruce Peninsula serves as a prime destination for adventures on either Huron or Georgian Bay. Multiple derbies are organized during the peak of the King fishery each year which attract thousands of anglers.
Why not put one of them on your “to-do list” this year!
- Written by Josh Choronzey