Now that we’re finally nearing the end of this hot Milwaukee summer, the Chinook Salmon (King Salmon) are returning to their spawning nests in record numbers. These salmon originally inhabited the Pacific Ocean but were introduced into Lake Michigan in the late 60s, which means they grow bigger and stronger than most standard lake fish. The return of these behemoths means one thing to charter fisherman—Trophy Fishing Season is in full swing! 

You may be wondering, though: 

What exactly is trophy fishing season? 

First, trophy season refers to the time of year when the biggest of the big fish return to Lake Michigan. For King Salmon, this usually runs from July to September, though there is wiggle room on either end of this timeframe. Trophy fishing on a charter boat is different from your standard weekend fishing trip. Most of the differences come down to the time and effort spent reeling in a monster once you’ve hunted one down. 

It’s fairly easy to drop a basic 6 foot rod with bright orange PowerBait into a lake or river and land a palm-sized perch without batting an eyelash—it’s entirely another thing to cast a 12-foot pole off a speeding charter boat and wrestle with a 30- to 40-inch king salmon. Most fishing enthusiasts in Wisconsin have caught panfish and bass (nothing is better than a do-it-yourself fish fry), but King Salmon are a different, larger beast. You’ll have to be prepared to wrestle with these kings, sometimes for a pretty long time, if you want to boat one. There are a few steps you can take to increase your odds of catching a lake monster, and it all starts with using the right technique. 

A group of six fishermen at Reel Sensation’s dock at Milwaukee Marina with a long lineup of large fish from Lake Michigan
Three men in a Reel Sensation charter boat carrying three large trophy fish from Lake Michigan
A man standing on a charter boat while carrying an enormous King Salmon caught from Lake Michigan after a charter fishing trip with Reel Sensation

How can I catch a trophy salmon? 

As you can see, these King Salmon aren’t called King for no reason. Most salmon you find at a restaurant or at the grocery store clock in at anywhere from 4-15 pounds, but these trophy salmon can grow up to over 40 pounds. From August to around September, these kings have two things on their mind: eating and spawning. King Salmon usually strike from the bottom up and they sense the vibrations of their prey, so we recommend using either a trolling/spinning spoon or a jiggling/jointed lure to make the salmon swim up through the water column. While feeding and during low light hours, King Salmon will tolerate warmer water temperatures (that is, water closer to the surface of the lake), so be sure to keep a high line during these times; otherwise, be sure to drop your line deeper, as these big boys prefer to spend their time deeper in the water column where it’s nice and cold. 

Once you catch a bite, you’ll hear your line zipping out from your reel—this is when the fun begins! When this happens, be sure to stay calm and start reeling slowly and steadily. The best way to keep your salmon on the line is to let it tire itself out, so be sure to go back and forth between reeling in and letting out the line. These fish have a surprising amount of energy, so you’ll have to feel it out and switch between fighting against the fish and letting it swim away. Once the salmon is close enough to see through the water, you’ll have to keep the line right and keep reeling while someone else helps boat your trophy fish with a big net. Usually, charter fishermen bleed and ice the fish after they help boat the fish, but only after cracking open a celebratory beer and taking your victory picture. 

What are the odds of boating a trophy fish?

This might come as a surprise to many, but it’s hard to argue that there has not been a better time in recent memory to catch The Big One. Over the past couple of years, fewer Chinook Salmon from outside water sources have been introduced into the wild waters of Lake Michigan. Fortunately, the population of wild fish has increased over time. Despite the fact that the total number of Chinook Salmon is down, the quality and size of the fish currently in the water has increased. These wild fish now have to fight against fewer competitors when it comes to finding nesting grounds and feeding areas, which means that they have become used to eating more and more. This translates into a higher bite-rate whenever you drop in a line. There is never a guarantee that you will catch a monster, but, by following the steps in the section above, you can maximize your chances of boating a true trophy fish.

Catching the King of all King Salmon might seem impossible, but we have a phenomenal track record. Don’t take our word for it, though: check out the hundreds of fish Reel Sensation helped catch! As early as June, Reel Sensation boated Chinook Salmon with a family of fishermen from Iowa. Sadly, though, not every fishing trip leads to the ideal victory. Even if you don’t catch your ideal trophy on your first trip out, there are still plenty of fish to catch in lake Michigan, and we guarantee you will catch a wide variety of lake fish. Reel Sensation’s Captain Jason is a master angler who will do everything to make sure you land your dream trophy fish.  We’re so confident in our ability to help you catch fish that we will refund your entire trip if we cannot help you catch one legal fish during an 8-hour session. 

Here at Reel Sensation Charters, we take trophy fishing seriously—we even named our 33 foot Wellcraft Coastal charter boat “Trophy Hunter”. If you’ve been thinking about fishing Lake Michigan and scheduling an appointment with Reel Sensation, there’s no time like the present. Check out our competitive rates and flexible packages for trophy fishing on Lake Michigan. We provide 3- to 8-hour single sessions as well as multi-day sessions for those of you who are ready to brave the elements. Book a trip with Reel Sensation Charters today to put yourself one step closer to catching the ultimate trophy fish!

A 33 foot charter fishing boat named Trophy Hunter on Lake Michigan with a group of anglers from Reel Sensation
A man standing on a charter boat while carrying a huge Chinook Salmon caught with the help of Captain Jason from Reel Sensation
A man holding a large king salmon trophy fish while standing on Reel Sensation’s charter boat on Lake Michigan