Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Broken Rod, A 22 Pound King Salmon : 24 Hours in Search of Salmon

I stepped out of a friend's car at around 9:00 p.m. yesterday and began my walk out on McKinley Pier in Milwaukee Wisconsin, the beginning of the Salmon hunt. I came equipped with a box of spoons, 2 boxes of crank baits, 1 box of spinners, a box of my salmon flies, and 3 fishing rods.

The rain was coming down gently, wind was from the north, and large swells were thundering in from the south-east, left over from a day of hard winds. There were only a handful of other anglers on the pier, I passed all of them and headed straight for Milwaukee Harbor's North Gap, a favorite in low pressure, high wave conditions. I casted "moonshine" glow spoons for something like an hour to no avail, so I switched spots and tied on my tried and true X-Rap 11 deep runner, in blue and white.

8 or 10 casts in I had a bump, swung my 10' 6" float n' fly casting rod up and set the hook. I immediately knew I had a king salmon on as it turned to make a deep, hard run toward the harbor. As the drag unwound quickly I suddenly heard a loud crack, the kind of crack you hear when snapping dry kindling to start a fire, and the top 4 feet of my rod slipped down the line, quickly heading for the salmon.

I've never broken a rod before, and always wondered how people manage it. I suspect there was a defect in this rod, as it broke well down into the meat of the rod, and I have landed a handful of large fish on this rod before. It is, however, a new rod that has been taken care of well and only brought out half a dozen times for casting.

I tried fighting the fish with half a rod for another minute but the fish ran toward me and I couldn't keep enough pressure on the fish and the lure slipped from it's jaws. I retrieved the front of my pole and, disappointedly, decided it was time to call it an early night.

I casted a dozen or so times on my way in, stopping every 15 feet with my second rod to try for redemption but it was to no avail.

I walked the 3 or 4 miles to a friend's fifth ward loft apartment, thank you Nathan for a spot on the couch. It was a pleasure to meet your beautiful husky dog and catch up.

I woke in the morning with new ambition, as on the walk to Nathan's house I saw my good omen, a fox crossed the road in front of me, and to this day, I have never seen a fox in Milwaukee and not caught fish within the day of seeing it.

I hopped on the northbound 15 bus and, weird glances from everyone that saw me with waders and a bag with 6 fishing pole pieces sticking high out of it aside... made my way toward the river.

The river is still a bit cloudy to be in optimal fishing condition, but I quickly became optimistic when I observed a few fish moving over rapids. The frequency seemed to be that of about one fish moving through every 8-15 minutes. This let me know that not only are there fish there, but they aren't sticking only to holes and that I would be able to fish rapids as well.

It was only about 30 minutes after I started fishing that I hooked up with what would turn out to be a beautiful male King Salmon, 38 inches long, weighing in at 22 pounds on my old spring scale. It had no real kype and still had a lot of fight in it. It was taken from a deep run where a small island split the river near its bank, forcing a water to move quickly through a 10 foot wide channel that was littered with large boulders. It hit a custom made silver spinner with orange bead and orange painted blade.

Within another hour I found my drag screaming as a silvery, recently in the lake king salmon grabbed a different spinner I had tied on and started tearing up river. It took drag for about 10 seconds and then (due to a bind in the line on my reel) snapped my line and was never seen again. It would have been nice to continue to fight that fish. Although it was maybe 8-10 pounds lighter than the first fish of the morning it had just as much fight in it. It even surfaced once to give me the fin and show me just how chrome colored it still was.

Fish slowly decreased their rate of movement upstream as the sun got brighter so I took out the fly rod and started drifting a purple and black egg sucking leach through a deeper hole beyond the base of a large rapid. After a few dozen roll casts I found myself tied into a beautiful steelhead. After tail walking and doing some impressive rolls and aerials I had this fish to the bank. Being a beautiful lake run rainbow trout spawning in the Milwaukee River I didn't want to take this fish, and since my camera was not only across the wide river on the bank, but 100 meters upstream I was happy to let it go unphotographed. It splashed and sloshed it's way back into the pool and stacked back in with what I could only hope were other Steelhead.

I didn't get a tape or weight on this Trout but an educated guess would put it near 30 inches and somewhere in the 8-10 pound range.

Feeling hungry and worn out from miles of wading with a very heavy pack on my back I began my trip home, which involved another bus ride, followed by a ride on the Amtrack and a ride in Chicago on the L. I met a few interested souls today who inquired as to where I might be going with that much fishing equipment. I was happy to relive my story for them, as they were eager to hear it.

It has been a long day, I'm preparing to take my boss and his son back to the Milwaukee to get them on some King Salmon for their first Salmon experience. I hope I can get at least one hook up for them. Reports will follow this one. Enjoy the photographs and until tomorrow, I'll see ya out there.

-Tom Harris
Great Lakes Angler


  1. Excellent photos like always Tom. Loks like a great outing. That chinook is a monster!

  2. the chicago trout bum told me about you -I like your site - I am sure I will see you out on the river sometime soon - i've been on the milwaukee for the last three weeks just waiting - and catching monster carp and smallmouth - Matt Steelhead