Flasher and Flies for Great Lakes Salmonids

One of my favorite (and all to often) comments I see when reading through online fishing reports is something to the effect “its an all spoon bite right now, nothing going on flasher flies”, or “i just can’t get flashers to work for me”.  Well the purpose of this post is to help you out if you are in that camp.  Other than a few specific scenarios Flashers and Flies will be your most consistent bait…daily for Kings, Cohos, and Lakers, if not you’re fishing them wrong!!  Seriously.

Lets dive in and take a look at the top 5 mistakes made when fishing Flashers and Flies.

1. Not Running enough of them –> This absolutely has to be the single biggest mistake the average weekend fisherman makes.  Whether it stems from a lack of confidence in the presentation or not a good understanding of how they work in your overall spread dynamic.  Flashers suck fish into your spread and when you’re out combing the vast great lakes the more fish you get to look at your spread the more that end up in your box at the end of the day.  If the fish are below 40ft, load up your riggers and divers with Flashers, no more than one of your rigger rods should have a spoon on it.  If you only fish two riggers make them both flashers.   You want to create the effect of a school of salmon aggressively pursuing baitfish. Riggers and especially divers are not subtle presentation methods so pair these methods with flasher and flies and you’ll play to the aggressive fish in the school and make things happen!  If you want to run a spoon run it way back behind a rigger, down and below your main flasher presentation.

2. Not Running Flashers on Leadcore / Copper setups –> If I had a nickle for every time I’ve been asked if you can run FF on leadcore or copper I’d have a new boat!  Of course you can run flashers this way, and in a lot of cases this is exactly what you need to do to maximize your bites.  Lets start out and walk through an average season on Lake Michigan.  Throughout May we’ll be aggressively targeting Coho, the vast majority of the fish are going to be in the top 15fow no matter the overall depth of water. In this scenerio 6″ orange/red Jensen Dodgers with a peanut or mini fly are ridiculously better than any other presentation.  When targeting spring/early summer Coho no spoon or plug will out catch a well presented spread of  6″ orange dodgers on board rods be it flat lines with snap weights or off 1 and 2 colors.   If I’m targeting Kings on my board rods my main gauge on when to reach for the flashers or spoon box will be the target depth of the presentation.  If I’m fishing 30ft to the surface (5 colors and up) more often then not I’ll reach for a spoon, 35-50ft (7-10 colors) is no mans land sometimes flashers are better sometimes spoons.  Now copper lines fishing below 50ft almost always are, and should be loaded with flasher flies.

3. Wrong Color Combos –> Think of flashers and flies as a pair, they work together to seduce a strike.  Sure some crazy color combos sometimes work but you’d be best served to stick with the basics and branch out slowly.  Also certain fly and flasher colors work better for specific species so know your target.  Kings are suckers for green and aqua patterns like Milwaukee Minnow, Naughty Leprechaun, Green Willy, Smooth Operator, and First In’s Fire Fly to name a few with all being yearly big King producers. Frog Patterns like 50/50 Frog, Bullfrog, Naughty Frog, Fire Frog and Super Frog are especially deadly during the 2nd half of summer.  The mix of the rubber and tinsel is just killer on Kings and when they are keyed in on frog flies often times that is all they’ll bite.  Not running a good mix of frog flies would be a huge mistake if you’re targeting kings.  As with the straight tinsel flies greens and aquas once again are the dominant colors.  Flasher color can be really important as well, kings as a general rule prefer flashers like White Double Glow, Chartreuse Double Glow and various Chromes like Salmon Flute and Black Friday.  The flies I detailed above work with any of these flashers, stick with the white flashers during low light hours and down deep, run the chartreuse flashers in the top 60ft, and chromes can be ran anywhere but often are the best producers on tough sunny days on mid-day kings. Lakers aren’t nearly as picky and will hit nearly any correctly presented flasher fly combo, that said flies in light green to chartreuse like Limesicle, Bad Apple, and UV Triton 8-12 are particularly deadly on Lakers, pair them with a Chartreuse Double Glow flasher. Now Cohos are really not a picky fish and will hit nearly any fullsize king/laker combo all summer long.  Rainbows are similar to Cohos and will hit any Flasher Fly combo without much of a pattern, the only combo I’ll run to specifically target steelhead is a 6″ Orange Jensen Dodger and Steelie Stomper Mini Fly which is a great set up on your outside board rod.

4. Wrong Leader Lengths –> Keep it simple!  The old rule of thumb, 3x the length of the Flasher or Dodger still holds true!  For Coho run your peanut and mini flies 18″ behind your 6″ Dodgers.  When running 8″ flashers 24″-26″ fly leaders work best most of the time, if you’re running 11″ paddles try 36″ leaders.  I set my fly leaders in this range and leave them be, don’t second guess yourself these are proven lengths and work every day.  All lengths are measured from the bottom bend of the treble hook to the end of the mono loop you form to attach to your flasher.

5. Divers and Spoons…Just say no! –> Spoons as I mentioned above have a time and place and catch lots of big salmon every year…but that time and place is NOT behind your diver on a wire line rod!  Don’t make this mistake…wire divers take our biggest kings every year and they are always running flashers and flies no matter the depth.  Wire divers are the most aggressive presentation you have in your arsenal..make sure you match it with an aggressive presentation like a flasher fly combo at least 8ft behind the diver…10-12ft is better.


Hope that helps!




5 responses to “Flasher and Flies for Great Lakes Salmonids

  1. Thanks for the info. This hopefully should help me put a few more fish in the box this summer.

  2. I enjoyed the article and believe that you are spot on. I use flashers and flies for landlocked kings and usually out fish the guys using spoons.

  3. Thanks for the article. When trolling a flasher/fly setup what speed are you looking for at the ball? Would this change the deeper you go out or would you always look for that range?

  4. Steve, we generally troll between 2.0-2.6mph when looking for kings. 2.2mph seems to be a good sweet spot. Doesn’t matter to me how deep I always try to keep it in that range. Slower sometimes can work, especially for Lakers but generally not any slower than 1.8.

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