Salmon fishing is a sought out hobby for anglers and fishers worldwide. For some, it is a passion that is unlike any other I have witnessed, and for good reason.
In this article, I am going to cover how, when, and where to fish for salmon and give you some top salmon fishing tips and advice!
Different Types of Salmon & How to Identify Them
There are several different kinds of salmon located all over the world. Telling them apart may be tricky initially; however, it is crucial when faced with bag limits and various regulations. I want to discuss the different kinds of salmon, as well as identifying markers to help you identify your catch.
Pink Salmon begin their life silver in color. Once adults, you will observe green and blue on their backs and silver color on their sides. These adult Salmon have pinkish-colored flesh. Once getting closer to freshwater, adult Salmon will have large black spots on their back and tails. Once spawning, the males turn a brown color on top and show a beautiful white stomach.
Unlike the Pink Salmon, Sockeye Salmon do not contain black spots on their backs or fins. Male and female colors do differ. The male Sockeye advertise a bright red color variation on their back and sides, while the female shows more of a dull red. The male Sockeye also carries a beautiful green head.
The Atlantic Salmon begins its journey with black spots while also showing through reds. Their body is a shade of brown and contains almost black streaks that run vertically. Once the spawn migration occurs, the Atlantic Salmon's back will turn black, with a white stomach and silver shade body.
Like their brethren, the Sockeye Salmon, the Chum Salmon will have black spots running along its back, paired with greens and blues. Once the male Chum Salmon finds itself in freshwater, it will contain a dagger-style red marking on its front body and a black style mark on its back body. The salmon grow fangs in freshwater, and their body morphs into a calico style color pattern. Female Chum Salmon do not host as bright of a color package, nor will you see them with large teeth.
Coho Salmon will tote a beautiful blue and green shade with silver and metallic sides. You will find them wearing black spots on their back and the tops of their tails. Once spawning, the Coho Salmon will sport a commanding maroon body with a darker-colored head.
Tackle You’ll Need For Salmon Fishing (& Best Setup)
The best tackle you can have when you start Salmon fishing is your eyes and ears. I tried my hand before seeking help from a professional angler, and it did not turn out well.
Fly fishing is a popular method for Salmon fishing, though it is a touch tricky for beginners. Spinning rod and reel setups, as well as down-riggers for trolling, are all popular forms of Salmon fishing. Let’s look at the gear you will need.
The rod you are going to want depends on how you plan to fish for salmon. When fly fishing, I suggest an 8 weight rod that is 9 feet in length. When chasing salmon with a spinning setup, a good choice is an 8’6’’ Medium Heavy spinning rod. Both of these choices give you an advantage when landing a trophy fish while also providing excellent casting distance.
Choosing the right reel when fishing for salmon is essential to success. When chasing salmon with fly fishing gear, a 7/8 reel may prove successful if you are targeting the smaller pink or sockeye salmon, but a 9/10 reel is preferred when chasing King Salmon. With spinning tackle, a 2500 reel will prove worthy when drifting, whereas a 3500 class reel will be more versatile and provide you with a larger spool.
Fishing Lures/ Bait
A salmon's diet is vast. This is largely due to its habit changes. When fly fishing, I love an Egg Sucking Leech lure. Salmon love bottom eggs, so I prefer to keep this fly handy. On the spinning tackle side of things, there are few types of baits here I would like to discuss.
Salmon love a "fancy" or flashy bait. A spinner paired with chartreuse and white colors is deadly in the water.
Popular crankbait companies that target bass anglers will sell you a crankbait for bass fishing that I have caught numerous salmon on. Salmon love the erratic movement of a crankbait.
Both musky and salmon love spoon baits. I prefer to retrieve this bait slower, causing the bait to move side to side quickly. I have found salmon love this presentation.
Jigs are popular in the salmon fishing holes as well. I like to cast it out without afloat, let it drift the pool as I jig it up and down.
Hooks, Sinkers/Terminal Tackle
Hooks are the most important piece to your salmon fishing tackle rig. Choosing the correct hook for the species of salmon, as well as the action of your rod, is crucial. A 3/0 hook is popular for Salmon fishing conventionally, whereas a 5/0 hook you find in most saltwater settings.
If throwing using a 3000 class spinning reel, 15-30lb monofilament line will do the trick. Fluorocarbon and braided lines are other popular choices, but they are a step up in price.
If you are using a braided line and throwing a spinner, you will want to tie a swivel on the end of your line, and attach 3 feet of leader line, or tie your leader line to the braid with a uni-knot. If your spinner is not on the heavier side, to cast it out further, tie a weight to your line. From there, attach your leader and spinner.
Tackle storage is important. There is nothing worse than losing your favorite lure, only to find your replacement lure fell out of your bag or has been damaged. Check these proven storage options out here.
Where to Fish For Salmon (Salmon Habitats)
From Iceland to Idaho, Idaho to Alaska, ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean, fishing for salmon could land you in a plethora of environments.
I started Salmon fishing at Lake Ontario and recently took on Kokanee fishing at Anderson Ranch Reservoir near Sun Valley, Idaho.
Salmon fishing can be done in a vast amount of regions, countries, and bodies of water. Let’s discuss a few of the salmon habitats I am familiar with.
Catching Salmon in Ponds
Though salmon in ponds do not grow as big as their saltwater brothers and sisters, there are ponds stocked with salmon. When fishing a pond, be sure to adjust your tackle to the body of water.
Catching Salmon in Lakes
Fishing for salmon in the Great Lake, Lake Ontario, proved to be a worthy trip for me. While on the water, we trolled for Pacific Salmon. The method we chose was trolling.
While trolling for salmon, we utilize downriggers to know the exact depth we were fishing at and had a diver tied to our line. I used a variety of spoons and found the method to be quite successful. This is a great video on lake fishing for salmon!
The same method was used for Kokanee at Anderson Ranch Reservoir in Idaho. I was unsuccessful at that particular reservoir, but I was there long enough to see the photographs of those you were successful before me.
Catching Salmon in Rivers
In the Pacific Northwest region, river salmon fishing happens in the fall - late fall. However, salmon fishing rivers kick off as early as June. When fishing rivers, I prefer to fish in remote areas, especially those that haven’t seen many anglers.
From experience, I fish differently in Idaho than I have in Washington. When salmon fishing in new areas, I always make my way to the local tackle shops and keep my ear open for proven methods in that region.
One lure I love when river fishing salmon is the jig. This is a popular method by those who introduced me to Salmon fishing and one of the first ways I caught a salmon on a river.
One place I like to look for salmon on a river is just after a strong, rough patch of water. I try to fish holes that allow the salmon to take a rest but also still have water moving through them.
Catching Salmon From Shore
Drift fishing is my go-to here. I love drift fishing, but I also despise it at times. All it takes is landing that one fish, and it makes the whole outing worth it!
When drift fishing, I attach a weight to a 24’’ line. I tie my swivel onto my mainline, followed by a leader line. The length of my leader line always depends on where I am fishing, as well as my lure choice. Drift fishing can prove to be difficult at first due to how your bites feel.
The key to setting the hook while drift fishing is knowing what the bottom feels like. As you sit there fishing, get to know the familiar bumps or the terrain as your bait carries downstream. The next key is to keep an eye on your line. The moment you lose the feeling of bottom and your line is no longer floating downstream, a salmon has your lure in its mouth!
Catching Salmon From the Ocean
Coho, Chinook, Kings, and Pink Salmon are all popular salmon to find in the ocean. A popular method for saltwater salmon fishing is trolling, using downriggers and divers. A crucial part of catching salmon in the ocean is having quality gear.
One tactic that has become more popular when Ocean fishing for salmon is "Mooching." Mooching is drift fishing; only you utilize live bait and drift your setup through a school of baitfish.
How to Catch Salmon (5 Tips from a Pro Angler)
1. Be Flashy
I cannot express this enough. Salmon love flashiness, reflections, movements, and agitation. When I am salmon fishing, especially in freshwater, I am trying to make the salmon mad. Invading their space, being flashy, will get you more bites.
2. Overcast Days
Take advantage of overcast days, as they are the best times to fish for salmon. Do not get discouraged if the forecast shows the sun will be shining, just hone in on dawn and dusk. Salmon love low-light conditions.
3. Utilize Drifting
Drifting has caught me almost as many fish as trolling for salmon has. I know it is tedious and takes getting used to if you are not currently applying this technique, but it is proven. It is one of the best ways to present your lure in a realistic way to a salmon.
4. Choose Your Bait Wisely
This goes without saying but choose the correct bait. This can be regional, I have found. Some areas do very well with less glamor, while others need action and flashiness.
5. Use Your Jig
I know this is becoming more popular, but it needs to be said. The jig can provide you with great success while salmon fishing. The technique is very realistic, and it gives you a not-so-normal presentation to present to the salmon.
Seasonal Salmon Fishing Tips to Catch-All Year Round
Spring Salmon Fishing
Figure out your points where salmon hold up and gain their bearings. Salmon travel a long way, and there are confusing directions along the way. Salmon are caught where they hole up and rest. If you can find a spot where salmon like to rest, and nobody is around, wet your line. If you do not, you will be forced to combat fish.
Combat fishing is fishing with a large group of other anglers. This is usually in a location that is easy to get to, which is why there are multiple anglers. Lines becoming tangled is a recurring event in this situation.
Summer Salmon Fishing
I love fishing rivers for salmon in the summer. I have learned over the years summer brings shallower pools. Just because the water height has lowered does not mean I need to venture further into the body of water. I believe I have spooked more salmon than I know this way.
If the river does not prove worthy to you, head out trolling. This is a perfect time to kick back on the boat and enjoy some time with fellow salmon anglers.
Fall Salmon Fishing
The fall is an excellent time to catch a giant salmon. In the midwest or the Great Lakes, salmon will migrate closer to shore. This is a prestigious opportunity to land a trophy salmon.
The Columbia River is a great place to chase salmon in the fall. I have found success drift fishing with artificial bait and terminal tackle in the fall.
Winter Salmon Fishing
Be selective about the day and times you spend fishing. Windy days are not ideal in the wintertime. Live to fight another day.
I have had success trolling the bottom in the winter season for salmon. When it comes to lures and tackle, I do not change it up much. I stay confident in my setup and trust the process. I will say I tend to run more spoon lures in the winter months than I do other baits.
People also Ask (FAQs)
How to catch salmon during the spawning season?
Catching salmon during the spawn or any fish of that matter raises an ethical question as to whether you should bother that fish during that specific time of its run. If you agitate that fish, you will obtain a bite. It’s a question you must answer yourself.
How do you rig a prawn for salmon fishing?
A prawn rig will usually have two hooks tied on top of each other, one being called a trailer hook. I place five 6mm beads of my color choice, matching my bead size to my blade size. I then slide a blade down. I tie several of these before I get out fishing.
I run a swivel at the end so I can swap out tackle while fishing quickly. I then place my top hook through my prawn. Make sure you are careful not to break your prawn while utilizing your line to secure the prawn.
Where can you find the king salmon in Alaska?
Alagnak River, Nushagak River, and Kenai River. The best time to fish for King Salmon is May - September.
Are salmon active at night?
Dawn and dusk-feeding salmon are likely to be feeding all night. When salmon start feeding at dusk, they will continue into the night. This is an opportunity most missed by anglers.
Where is the best salmon fishing in the US?
Ship Creek, Alaska, is known for world-renowned salmon fishing. May through September is your prime salmon fishing time in Alaska. However, I say the best place to fish for salmon is where the salmon bite is on!
Whether you fish for salmon in lakes or rivers, in the spring or fall, you will find there are many methods and tricks passed down through generations. You will hear different anglers talk about the best gear, tackle storage, rod and reel setups, and, more importantly, lures for catching salmon.
One thing I have found to ring true, you cannot catch salmon if you are not fishing for them. Get out there, and try a few of these tactics discussed today. You just might be surprised at the results!