By: Jerry Costabile
This time of the year when fishing the shoreline of Lake Michigan you will hear that the fish are hitting on spawn. If you have never fished with it, I hope to give you the information that will add a technique that will increase your chances for success this fall.
The term spawn comes from the ritual that occurs every fall around the begging of September thru October on the Great Lakes. In the northwest and in Alaska, this happens anywhere from mid May thru late August. This is the spawning run of the Chinook or king salmon. The Coho or silver salmon also make this run and are usually right with the kings. Female’s are carrying eggs or roe, and will migrate up rivers to where they were released or born, with the male’s right in tow! This is the time to be fishing the spawn techniques.
The eggs can be present in the spring, but are at a very immature stage. As the season progresses, the eggs, or roe, will mature right up to the day that the female releases them into the nests that they and the males have been making in the rocky bottom of the rivers.
What we have to do is to catch a female that is full of eggs and use it for our bait. There are times that is easier to buy a few spawn sacs at the bait shop to get started with. If you catch a female early in the fall the eggs will be inside of a membrane sac called a skein. This is a favorite of mine to use because it is fresh and natural. I just cut a small piece of the skein with the eggs and put the hook thru the middle (we will talk hooks later). As long as the eggs are still solid in the skein, use it this way.
As the eggs mature and the skein start’s to break apart, you will have to start tying the eggs into a netting to create a spawn sac. With the eggs loose in the skein, you will lose your eggs on the cast and be left with just the membrane on your hook.
At a certain point you will know that the females are really close to spawning or are spawning, the eggs will be running out of the fish. Try to have a bucket or bag to save the loose eggs when this happens. I will explain why in a little bit.
The techniques used to fish with spawn, are fairly simple. If you are fishing in current, use just enough weight to naturally roll the spawn or spawn sac along the river bottom. I have had some success in weighting the spawn to stay on the bottom, but I use foam floaters in the sacs that I tie to keep it slightly off of the bottom. When I am not in the river and I am fishing at the mouth of the river in the lake, I will simply cast the spawn, skein or sac, out into the outgoing current and let it naturally roll to the bottom. If you are fishing in this location and can’t get into the current, fish the downwind side of the river current. The wind will push the river water in the direction it is blowing to and the fish will use this water to guide itself into the river. If you are not sure what this direction is, look for the stained water and you will see this current pattern.
Let’s say that we are fishing in the harbor areas and want to fish with spawn. We can still put it on the bottom or float it under a slip bobber. I prefer to fish it under a slip bobber. I have caught a lot of fish this way and I always have one out. Set up a rod this way and while you’re casting spoons, you have another technique working for you! I like to add just a little weight to help the spawn sac sink under a bobber. You don’t have to add a lot, just enough to get the line easily thru the bobber. In the deeper holes of the rivers, this works great there also.
Now, I like to use a #6 octopus circle hook early and then switch to a #2 later in the season. As the spawning run progresses, I increase the size of the spawn sac that I fish with. More to see and more to smell! Treble hooks work too but there is more exposed hook to get snagged up. Keep it simple and you will increase your hook ups.
There are a lot of options and tricks to keeping your spawn fresh and keeping it good for the entire fall season. You can buy a box of good old borax at most grocery stores. Some of the other products out there are Atlas Shake “n” Cure, Pautzke Bait Co. makes a great cure, the BorxOFire. This comes in several colors. Also Pautzke makes a couple of liquid cures, Nectar and Fire Brine.
Watch for an upcoming event at Bass Pro Shops, Gurnee, IL. I will be holding a demonstration on curing and tying spawn sacs. I will show you some of the ways to keep your eggs working for you for the entire fall salmon run and discuss this topic more!