Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mom’s Fishing for Chinook Salmon Again

– it’s just not just a guys thing anymore!

Chinook salmon are the largest of Michigan salmon species. The state record is a whopping 46 pounds 1 ounce but they average around 12-14 pounds. This is the same average weight of most Chinook found in Alaskan waters.

The circle of life of a Chinook salmon in Michigan is truly amazing! They complete an extraordinary migration, often over hundreds of miles, to return to the exact tributary where they were hatched, to spawn and complete their life cycle.

I am a single mother with a 14 year old son, Kyle. Kyle’s birthday was soon to arrive and I wanted to create a memorable experience with him that wasn’t related to video games and computers for once. So I thought about it for a while and decided to make plans and take Kyle fly fishing for salmon on his birthday with Mike Marsh of Marsh Ridge River Guide Service, . I had personally been exposed to river fishing this past year and thought Kyle might like it as well.

Kyle and I learned many exciting facts the day of our fishing trip. We fished on the Pere Marquette River, near Baldwin Michigan. This river is very clean and crystal clear, so one can see the fish easily. This river and its surroundings are simply beautiful. I highly recommend experiencing a Michigan fishing trip during the fall months, the colors are truly spectacular and the fishing can be plentiful.

(“Mom” fly fishing for salmon - photo courtesy of Marsh Ridge River Guide Service)

While fly fishing, we witnessed the spawning process first hand and it was amazing! The female salmon lays on her side and uses her tail to dig a hole in preparation to lay her eggs. She then chooses a male salmon to fertilize them. After the eggs are fertilized, both the female and male salmon guard their nests for approximately four days to insure predators don’t eat the eggs.

This is why it is “extremely important” that all anglers try not to disturb and/or capture the females nesting on the gravel beds. If captured, their eggs are no longer protected and will not hatch. If the eggs don’t hatch, then there will be less salmon to return in the following years. Try to catch the males only if near a gravel bed – they can usually be found in nearby shaded areas, and not too far away from the females currently nesting.

Our guide, Mike Marsh, and his side kick Gracie, (a 9 year old Doxin) were truly great hosts. Gracie was dressed for the occasion sporting a fly fishing vest and is highly trained to find fish. Mike sure had a gracious way of making nature both fun and interesting for my son while at the same time, teaching him respect for it as well. My son and I were both intrigued by the fact that a Chinook salmon’s life, marked by both tenacity and transformation, represents one of nature’s most unique journeys. They are also very challenging and fun to catch – my son was surprised by their strength while reeling in and capturing a 20lb male.

(“Kyle” with his catch of the day - photo courtesy of Marsh Ridge River Guide Service)

If you want to have a great fishing experience with children or adults, I highly recommend that you learn more about Mike Marsh and reserve a fishing trip with him by visiting his website at

(River guide, Mike Marsh)

Mike is U.S. Forest Service Permitted for The Pere Marquette River (The PM River), The Big Manistee River, The White River, The Little Manistee River and The Pine River.

In conclusion, I have included a brief description of the Circle of Life of a Chinook salmon (for those of you who may be interested):

1. Chinook salmon lay eggs in nests, called redds, excavated by the female.

2. After a female salmon lays eggs in the redd, one or more male salmon may fertilize the eggs.

3. After fertilization, the female buries the eggs by lifting gravel upstream of the redd onto the eggs.

4. Chinook salmon die after spawning, completing the circle of life. The bodies of the salmon provide nutrients to the river ecosystem to help young salmon grow.

5. When the eggs emerge, they are referred to as “alevins” or yolk-sac fry. Alevins remain in the gravel where they survive by absorbing the nutrients in their yolk.

6. As baby Chinook salmon grow, they become fry. Fry wiggle out of the gravel and move to areas with little current near shore. Fry feed on small insects and crustaceans.

7. Young chinook salmon migrate downstream to the estuary anytime from immediately after they emerge from the gravel to after rearing over 1 year in the river. The majority of young Chinook salmon migrate out of the rivers in the spring months.

8. As young Chinook salmon prepare to enter the great lakes, they go through a physiological process called smolting. During smolting, many physiologic processes prepare them for life in the marine environment.

9. After Chinook salmon enter the great lakes, they grow rapidly on a diet of other fish. Eventually, as fully-grown adults, they find their way back to the rivers.

10. Chinook salmon generally spend 1 to 4 years growing in the great lakes before they return to the rivers to spawn. Some may stay in the great lakes 5 or more years. Once back in the rivers, Chinook salmon will migrate upstream to an area very near where they were born.

11. When home, Chinook salmon will find a suitable location to spawn and complete their life cycle.


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