How to Go Salmon Fishing: An Angler's Guide for 2024

May 16, 2024 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

If you enjoy exciting and challenging cold-water fishing adventures, there’s no need to ponder what species to target. Salmon fishing is sure to provide you the ultimate thrill! Learning how to catch Salmon isn’t an easy task, but your hard work will pay off once you get one of these colorful, tough-fighting creatures up close.

A group of three anglers hold large Salmon on a wooden dock after a fishing trip
Photo courtesy of Built For Speed Fishing Charters

Around the whole world, these fish are famed for their delicious meat, and most people know about their impressive jumps when spawning. But fishing for Salmon is something else completely. And that’s why I’m here today. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the different species of Salmon, their habitats, how to catch them, and much more. Be sure to stick along as we dive into the good stuff! 

All About Salmon

There are a total of seven official Salmon species in the world, and they’re scattered across the globe. In North America, anglers will be most familiar with the five Pacific Salmon species – Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye – along with the Atlantic Salmon

A man and a woman standing on a fishing boat in upstate New York, holding a large King Salmon between them on a cloudy day with calm waters visible behind them
Photo courtesy of Reel Addicted Charters – Pulaski

These creatures thrive in cold water, therefore you’ll need to head to some chillier climates to get your hands on them. You’ll find them schooling along in the ocean, or sometimes strolling solo in freshwater. They also enjoy swimming upriver, where they can be seen searching for food. While they’re not too afraid of anglers, they promise to start a battle if you hook them. Be warned, you’d better get ready for an intense fight!

Every angler needs to respect Salmon, especially as the fisheries they inhabit have become increasingly popular. With their cool appearance, exciting fights, and delicious taste, there are plenty of reasons why Salmon are so sought-after wherever they’re found. 

Where to Find Salmon

Speaking of where you can find them, let’s dive into some of the most prolific Salmon habitats. A unique fact about many Salmon species is that they’re born in freshwater but spend most of their lives in the ocean before heading back to freshwater for spawning. That means you have double the chances of locating some Salmon if you live close to the ocean!

An aerial view of Puget Sound canal and boat on a sunny bright day

It’s beneficial to know the habitats of Salmon so you can easily identify where they may be. A couple of key freshwater Salmon habitats include rivers, streams, and lakes

For saltwater habitats, estuaries, shorelines, and the open ocean are all areas you can expect to find Salmon. Overall, any area that has shade, cool and clean water, as well as objects like rocks, branches, or vegetation provides a great habitat.

When it comes to hotspots for Salmon, don’t worry, I’m here to share a few! Salmon are widely distributed across the globe, therefore there are plenty of chances for anglers like you to get your hands on them. Here are just a few world-renowned Salmon fishing destinations:

Top Freshwater Salmon Fishing Spots 

A view towards a waterfall in Salmon River, NY, with fall foliage all around on a cloudy day
  • Willamette River, OR. One of Oregon’s favorite nature spots, the Willamette is a joy to behold. Salmon fishing is a hit here, especially during the colder months.
  • Lake Shasta, CA. With a surface area of 30,000 acres, Lake Shasta hosts some of the best Salmon fishing in California. Come spring, it’s all about the King Salmon action.
  • Salmon River, NY. With the species in its name, it’s no surprise that the Salmon River is an excellent location for targeting these prized species. King Salmon frequent the waters here every fall, with a stellar supporting cast of Coho and Atlantic varieties.
  • Skeena River, BC. The 360+ mile-long Skeena River is a Salmon hotspot in the Great White North. The cold temperatures bring out the hungry fish in this remote corner.

Top Saltwater Salmon Fishing Spots

A charter boat speeding through the blue waters of the Puget Sound, with forest scenery along the coast
  • Bristol Bay, AK. Globally known as one of the best Salmon fishing locations, Bristol Bay is a must-visit when fishing in Alaska. All five varieties of Pacific Salmon call this place home, making for unbeatable fishing.
  • Puget Sound, WA. If you’re looking for scenic views and an easy ride out of a bustling city, Puget Sound is for you. Most of the Pacific Salmon species pass by, depending on when you visit.
  • Zhupanova, Russia. If you thought British Columbia and Alaska were wild, wait until you see what the Zhupanova River has in store. Located at the far-eastern tip of Russia, it boasts many of the same species you’d see in our Pacific Northwest.
  • Shiretoko Peninsula, Japan. There’s no getting away from stunning scenery when Salmon fishing, which is part of the reason why this peninsula is a dedicated national park. Come for the heaps of Chum Salmon, which promise a delicious treat at the end of the day.

How to Catch Salmon

So you know where to go and what to look for, but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a catch. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to land a Salmon. Every angler has their own preference! I’ll introduce you to a few and you can decide what suits you best…

Drift Fishing

An aerial view of the anglers fishing from a boat with two drift socks tied to the side

One of the most common approaches to Salmon fishing, drifting involves casting your line and letting it drift in a current or flowing water. Adding a sinker is especially helpful to keep your bait underneath the surface. You can do the same without flowing water with a method known as plunking. You simply cast and keep your bait in one spot. 

Trolling

This is another drifting method, where, in this case, you troll your bait behind a boat or kayak to cover more ground. If you don’t have access to a boat, consider hiring a fishing charter captain who can get you onto the water. Trolling – and all other methods – can be done with both artificial and live bait. It’s most common on open lakes or larger rivers.

Fly Fishing

Angler holding large Chinook Salmon in his hands and balnacing fly rod in his mouth against a gray backdrop
Photo courtesy of A Spot Tail Salmon Guide

A more unique approach, fly fishing promises an exciting yet challenging fishing adventure. It takes a lot of effort – and you’ll need a lot of room to whip your line back and forth – but keen fly anglers swear by it. Once you get it down, you’ll enjoy seeing aggressive Salmon lunge on your bait. 

Before you start putting these techniques into action, you need to learn what gear to use. Unless you can catch fish with your bare hands, you definitely need some reliable gear when going fishing. While the exact strength of your gear will vary depending on what region you’re fishing in and how big the Salmon are, I’ll give you an idea of a basic spinning setup. 

A closeup of two reels on fishing rods suitable for fishing inshore and nearshore, with blue lines fitted on the reels

As some Salmon can reach weights of up to 120 pounds, it’s best to have a heavy setup. If you’re in an area with smaller Salmon, you can downsize, but an overall great choice for a Salmon setup is a medium to medium-heavy rod and reel. For your braid, 20 pounds is a good medium, and adding a leader of 15 pounds or more is perfect. For your hooks, stick to between 2/0 and 5/0, depending on the size of the Salmon in your area. Some anglers like to add a swivel before their hooks for extra strength, but that’s an optional add-on. 

Besides the basics, there are some other common gear used for Salmon fishing. A bobber is probably the most popular, as it allows you to see when a fish bites your hook. Sometimes, you’ll get quiet fish that sneak their way to your bait without feeling them, so a bobber helps you spot those out. 

Another helpful tool for Salmon fishing is gloves. Not only do gloves protect you but you can help protect the fish too! A net also comes in handy when trying to quickly scoop up a fish – and it also helps keep your hands off the fish.

Lastly, you need some gear for yourself. Salmon fishing is often done in cold environments, so you want to keep yourself comfortable. Bringing along some waders, boots, and a hat is always beneficial if you want to stay warm and dry.

Best Salmon Baits

But how can you get that bite? Here, we approach one of the most important topics of Salmon – bait. Every species has its own taste buds. Think of fish like humans – they all enjoy certain specific treats! Knowing the favorite food of a species is your key to success at catching them. Salmon commonly consume both live and artificial baits, and we’ll take a look at both. 

Live Bait

A closeup of a number of minnows swimming around in a box full of water, ready to be used as bait

Live bait is an excellent choice when Salmon fishing. Their liveliness and fresh scent attract predators. A few examples of popular live bait for Salmon include herring, fish eggs, minnows, sand shrimp, and worms. You can purchase these at bait shops or try and catch some on your own. Free-lining live bait is the best method, and bonus points if you can get it to drift in a current!

Artificials

A corn bait for Carp put on a hair with a push stop

There are tons of artificial options for Salmon, too. You can find plastic pieces that mimic their favorite treats, such as corn or fish eggs. A few lures that entice Salmon to bite include spinners, hoochies, flashers, rigs, paddle tails, spoons, and more. On average, a 3″ lure is the best size for Salmon. 

As I already mentioned, fly fishing is also common in the Salmon industry. While you can use dry flies, wet flies, as well as weighted flies, are more effective. Wet flies will sink, reaching deeper, hungry Salmon.

Whether you enjoy live bait or you’re an artificial kind of person, there are plenty of options to choose from when you embark upon your Salmon fishing journey.

When to Go Salmon Fishing

There are just a few more things you need to know to enhance your chance of a prized Salmon catch. Picking the right season and time of day will give you the edge over the fish. 

Two middle-aged men standing on a fishing charter out of Richmond, CA, holding two King Salmons each on a sunny day, with the shoreline visible across the water behind them
Photo courtesy of David Rooney

Peak Salmon season takes place between late spring and early fall, as the spawning season kicks off in the middle. Feisty Salmon hoard up on tasty snacks and assert dominance at this time of year, so the bite rate is through the roof. 

When it comes to the best time of day to fish for Salmon, stick to the low light hours. As they thrive in cold water, the low light conditions bring in cooler temperatures, which brings them out more. With that being said, sunrise and sunset are great times to get out there if possible.

If you can, try to plan a trip around a rainstorm – especially after one. With rain, the water will rise, allowing more room for them to maneuver around. There may also be stronger flows around which is where the fish tend to like to hang out. 

Salmon Fishing Regulations

An infographic featuring a vector of a Chinook Salmon, a vector of a boat, and the FishingBooker logo, along with text stating "Salmon Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a blue background

Regulations vary depending on where you’re fishing for Salmon. In some places, you can harvest a certain number, while they’re off-limits elsewhere. In general, though, most areas allow bag limits of 1–4 per angler during the open season – which is great, as these fish are mighty tasty! Check with your local authorities to get up to date with the latest seasonal closures and bag limits. 

One important (almost) global rule to take into consideration is the need for a fishing license. As Salmon live in both freshwater and saltwater, you’ll need to make sure you have a valid license for whichever body of water you’re fishing in. 

Salmon Fishing: Your Journey Begins…

A photo of five female anglers posing with Salmon each on a Washington charter fishing boat during a cold day
Photo courtesy of 360 Fishing Trips

Salmon fishing is not light work, but if you’re dedicated to your passion, then you already understand that hard work pays off. With the knowledge you gained above, you’re ready to begin your adventure. Check out some Salmon fishing guides and get out on the water. I’m sure you’ll be back for more. Tight lines! 

If you’d like to read about other underwater residents, visit our Fish Species: The Ultimate Guide blog post.

Are you an avid Salmon fisher? What’s your favorite spot? Maybe you need some more information? Feel free to reach out to us in the comments below!

Author profile picture

Hi! My name is Caitlyn Gatrell and I'm an outdoor writer and inshore saltwater angler based in Naples, Florida. My fishing is typically done in the Ten Thousand Islands region, as well as the Estero, Naples, and Marco Island areas, along with some Florida Keys trips here and there. I typically target game fish such as Tarpon, Snook, and Redfish, as well as some Jack Crevalle, Seatrout, Goliath Grouper, and Sharks. I have been involved in the fishing field since I was a little girl, and my passion has only grown since I’ve gotten older.

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