I just came back from my first trip to the Pere Marquette river in Michigan. It was a blast. I was there this last weekend and the main part of the salmon run was just starting to heat up. There were actually lots of fish in the river. Finding fish was not the problem, getting them to bite was the challenge. I had most of my luck on big stonefly nymphs and eggs. Streamers were useless.
After fishing hard for three days I got gradually better at fishing and fighting them each day and on the last day I finally landed two kings. This one was slightly the bigger of the two at 35 inches:
I would estimate it at 20-25 lbs and I would say it was an average fish. I definitely hooked some bigger fish that broke me off.
I don't have any experience to say whether the fish are big this year but that seemed to be the consensus among the people I talked to. All in all, I had probably 12-15 hook ups and the 2 I landed were the only 2 that I got even close to landing. They are amazingly strong fish and the jumps and runs and exhilarating. To see a 30 lb fish do a backwards somersault three feet in the air so close that you get splashed when it crashes back into the water is simply awesome.
I fished a 9wt fly rod with 16 lb leader. I sometimes used a 10lb leader and it seemed to get me more hook ups but the 16lb leader was better to keep fish out of log jams...but even a 16lb leader could not stop every fish. Several of fish I hooked simply ran down stream like a freight train and when I was in danger of getting spooled and tightened down the drag to the breaking point, this was sometimes the result:
Not a lot you can do about that! As I said, they are amazingly strong fish and the hard work to hook one is worth while when you feel one on the end of your line. Tackling one of those beasts with anything less than a 9 wt rod would be gear suicide...at least this year.
As for the crowds, I think I missed most of them (intentionally) by going a little early but the Pere Marguette is a long river and if you are willing to walk a ways I would think you could find an open hole if you are willing to hike a ways even in he heat of the run.
Anyway, that is my report. If you get up there, good luck and give us a report and pictures when you come back!
By the way, they are delicious too!