Floats for King Salmon

Weather is what it is for fishing. You go where the fish are when they're there. But this certainly beats melting ice out of your guides with bare fingertips. Boiling, leaping fish that melt line off the reel in shirtsleeve weather remind me of flats in the tropics. But we're surrounded by northern deciduous forests, with cool breezes sifting through deep shadows.

The best summer runs of fishing with floats for king salmon in the Midwest occur on those trout streams that hit Lake Michigan. My friend Dr. Bryan Burroughs of the Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited┬áinvites me to join him on the Little Manistee River, where bright silver kings wolf down oversized caddis imitations beginning in July. And, while I love fly fishing for kings and fully ┬áintend to join him one of these years, I think I enjoy float fishing even more — and it's a better way to cover water on Michigan's bigger trout-and-salmon rivers.

Basic equipment begins with a 9- to 12-foot float rod, depending on the size of the flow and whether or not you're on foot. Shorter rods work better on boats, while you can control the drift of a float better with a longer rod when wading. Most long float rods are designed for steelhead, brown trout, or carp. A salmon rod needs to be a little more broad shouldered — able to make a 20- to 30-pound king stand down, if that's even possible. And, actually, it isn't. Not when they're fresh. I tend to use rods not really designed for float fishing, like the 10-foot, 6-inch St. Croix Wild River medium-heavy casting sticks or Fenwick's 10-foot HMX Great Lakes spinning rod. Mark Chmura prefers to use casting gear from his jet boat with 15-pound mono right down to the hook. It pays line out smoothly. I usually prefer spinning gear with 15-pound braided line and 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders. These rods are compromise lengths, because I'm always getting in and out of boats this time of year and I want a stick that can do both. But float rods for salmon need the backbone to control larger baits and larger fish.

Lindy and Northland make the best slip floats for fishing kings. Generally, a moderate float — not too big and not too small — is best. Line needs to slide through the tube easily, allowing it to drop right back down after you manipulate the bait over snags or to trigger strikes. Salmon generally rest in pools 4 to 12 feet deep. The bigger the river the deeper these pools tend to be. Slip floats allow you to get a bait or plastic just above bottom — where they'll be unless you've found a pool with more than 12 or 15 fish in it and they're stacked up and suspended.x

We tend to "bulk" enough split shot to pull the float down past the "water line" (the white line across the body of the float in the photo). We bulk shot in a stack just above the swivel, which holds a 3-foot fluorocarbon leader. I like size #1 to #1/0 Lazer Trokar TK 150 Drop-Shot hooks on the business end of the deal.

Because the water is warm this time of year, I want that 3-feet of leader unweighted so the bait can "swim." Not that we're using any livebait that can actually swim. We just want the plastic or cluster of eggs on the hook to drift free and we want to keep the bait up over their heads a little.

As for what we put on the hook — we'll get to that next time.

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