Most fishermen associate the fall run with striped bass, blues, and false albacore tearing through massive balls of baitfish nearshore, but the truth is, the changing seasons drive migrations and intense feeding in freshwater fish as well.
After three to five years feeding and growing in Lake Ontario, king salmon return to the tributaries where they were spawned (or stocked) each fall. The kings quickly lose their open-water chrome, taking on the dark coloration of the river bottom as they push through the currents to gravel areas upstream. The fish aren’t feeding on this journey, but they retain the aggressive instinct that helped them pack on as much as 30 pounds over their short stay in the lake. Fishermen line the banks, hoping to do battle with the returning kings, and while many fish are hooked, the majority escape, using brute strength to snap lines, straighten hooks and empty spools.
Stake out staging areas where the salmon are likely to rest during their upstream journey. This can include the head or tail of a pool, or even a current break created by a bend in the river or a large mid-river rock. Chokepoints, where fish are forced to travel during periods of low water, are also popular, although many fishermen believe that moving fish are less likely to bite than staging fish.
When fly-fishing, swing large, colorful flies to get the attention of and aggravate the migrating salmon. On spinning gear, drifting skein, the cured egg sacs of salmon, is a deadly technique, but swinging spinners, or bottom-bouncing with colorful flies is effective as well. Driftboat fishermen should have great success back-trolling with plugs like the Storm Wiggle Wart. The frantic action of these plugs in current can draw furious strikes from staging kings.