Salmon Fishing in Canada: An Angler's Guide

Nov 6, 2023 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Anglers everywhere recognize Canada as one of the top nations to fish for Salmon. Ideal conditions on the east and west coasts allow these prized fish to thrive. Some estimates place Salmon’s 1.12 billion dollars annual revenue behind only the nation’s Lobster and Crab harvests. Quality commercial fishing in Canadian waters translates to good recreational fishing, too.

A group of anglers probably in their twenties, standing on the deck of a fishing charter and holding a Salmon each, with open waters visible behind them on a a clear day
Phantom Sportfishing – Great Lakes

For example, Quebec’s Cascapedia River holds Canada’s Atlantic Salmon (sea-run) record at 47 pounds. In British Columbia, a 92 lb specimen was once the world record for sea-run Chinook. You can find quality Salmon fishing for various species across the entire country!

Salmon fishing has thrived here for thousands of years. The nation’s First Peoples used Salmon to help establish settlements 7,000 years ago. The Salmon runs allowed powerful chiefs to build larger homes and distribute their marine wealth amongst their people. 

The consistency and quality of those ancient runs continue to this day. Many anglers head to the West Coast, like in the United States. But that doesn’t mean you’ll only find Salmon in British Columbia. Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec also offer some quality angling opportunities. So read on, and let’s see how to enjoy Canadian-style Salmon fishing!

Types of Salmon in Canada

If you’re interested in catching Salmon in Canada, the first step is becoming aware of the many different types of Salmon in the Great White North. But here’s a quick intro to them…

Chinook (King) Salmon

A teenage boy in a baseball cap and sunglasses on a fishing charter in Canada at sunset, holding a large Chinook Salmon while standing next to the boat's console
Photo courtesy of FISH NV

There’s a reason this species lives up to its name in the Pacific Northwest. It supports commercial and recreational fishing, and is a crucial keystone dietary species for bears, birds of prey, orcas, seals, and other wildlife. With some specimens reaching over 59 inches and 110 pounds, it’s easy to see why.

Coho Salmon

A man and young boy aboard a fishing charter in Canada, with each holding a Coho Salmon each, with calm waters visible behind them on an overcast day
Photo courtesy of FishOnAdventures

Also called “Silver Salmon,” Cohos develop hooked jaws and males become red once they enter freshwater during their spawn. Anglers love them for their fast and aggressive nature that borders on recklessness when chasing lures. These natives to the Pacific regions in Canada have also been transplanted into the Great Lakes, and you can also find them in Ontario today.

Sockeye Salmon

A man in a baseball cap, sunglasses, and camouflage fishing gear holding a bright red Sockeye Salmon aboard a river fishing charter, as two other anglers look on
Photo courtesy of Five Dogs Fishing

These fish were a part of the First People’s diets, ceremonies, and social norms for centuries. Their abundance in the fourth year of cyclical dominance helped make them the first commercially fished Salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Sockeye was also the first Salmon to be canned in significant quantities, beginning in the 1870s. Needless to say, it remains popular to this day. 

Pink Salmon

A man in a baseball cap standing on a shoreline after fishing for Salmon and holding a large Pink Salmon, with a rockface behind him
Photo courtesy of Reel Addicted Charters

A pronounced hump on the backs of male Pink Salmon returning to spawn gives them the nickname “Humpbacks” (or “Humpies”). They also dominate the Pacific Northwest, representing up to 70% of the region’s Salmon. These fish have a two-year lifespan, making up for their smaller sizes with a wide upstream range that anglers can exploit biannually.

Chum Salmon

A man in a baseball cap and life vest leaning over the side of a fishing charter in Canada and holding a Chum Salmon on an overcast day
Photo courtesy of Champ Sport Fishing Charters

Large canine teeth on spawning males give Chum the nickname “Dog Salmon.” These fish are less sought-after but have served as a food staple along the coast due to their abundance. They’re common along the Pacific coast because they’re poor jumpers, which impedes their migration upstream past obstacles other Salmon can clear.

How to Fish for Salmon in Canada

Catching Salmon requires an awareness of Salmon behavior and eating habits – and how that changes throughout the different seasons and temperature changes. Let’s take a closer look…

Salmon Behavior

Migration is the top influence on Salmon behavior that you must understand for successful fishing. These fish hatch in freshwater streams and rivers and then migrate to the sea, where they live into adulthood. Once ready to spawn, they use the earth’s magnetic field and sense of smell to navigate to where they hatched. That usually occurs between August and December for many Salmon species in Canadian waterways.

Another behavior consideration is how they feed. Young outgoing Salmon dine on amphipods, insects, and crustaceans. Adult fish – at sea – eat other fish. They are, however, opportunistic and will take in a variety of naturally presented baits or lures common to the waterways you fish.

Fishing Techniques

A view from behind of a woman in a baseball cap, standing on a fishing charter in Canada and casting a fly fishing line into calm waters
Photo courtesy of Outsider Charters Inc.

Many anglers think of casting when visualizing fishing for Salmon. It can be an effective method for rivers, especially inlets when fish gather for spawn runs. Casting spoons and spinners matching local prey fish works well.

Fly fishing is a traditional method that many anglers swear by in Canada. Matching the hatch on rivers and streams can make a fly irresistible. Fishing with flies allows you to imitate insects and other prey items that other artificial lures struggle to copy.

Trolling is another favored option for Salmon fishing, especially on lakes and open waters. You can reach fish that shore fishing cannot and cover more water quickly. It’s the preferred method at shallower depths offshore.

Mooching is similar to jigging, where you imitate a wounded fish with slow up-and-down motions. It can be more effective than trolling when targeting schools or fish that swim deep during summer.

Choosing the Right Bait and Lures

Northern anchovies live in Pacific coastal waters, and Salmon are known to love these bait fish in places like British Columbia. That area is also a rich Pacific herring spawning ground. These fish make ideal bait choices for catching various Salmon species. You can also select casting spoons or spinners that imitate these bait fish.

Jig fishing is another fun way to catch Salmon, especially if you enjoy drifting on a boat. There are specialized jigs like buzz bombs that work well. Staging Salmon can also be vulnerable to plugs between 4 and 6 inches. Don’t be afraid to experiment with colors, with blue, green, and silver being very effective.

Gear and Equipment Recommendations

A view from behind of a group of three anglers on the deck of a fishing boat with the one in the middle casting a fishing rod and the one on the left holding a large net on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Phantom Sportfishing – Great Lakes

Most Salmon you’ll be targeting have some size to them, and they can also be heavy hitters and fighters. You’ll want a rod with some backbone to fight these fish, so an 8′, medium-heavy rod is a good option. 

A fishing line rated 10–15 pounds might be fine for smaller Pink Salmon, but go with 20–30 lb lines for larger species. Baitcasting or spinning reels are the most often used gear for Salmonids in Canadian waterways.

If you’re fly fishing, a 9′ rod rated at 8–9 pounds is a good starting point. A 36″ fishing net should be your minimum, with a 48″ basket being even better.

Water Conditions and Timing

Coastal Salmon do well in water temperatures ranging from 55–64ºF. Inland Salmon in areas like the Great Lakes thrive at a broader temperature range of 42–65ºF. The Salmon need, however, water in the 40–55 range to lay eggs. That makes cooler temperatures a good target for fishing Salmon runs.

Salmon not only like it cool, they like it clean as well. Sediment suspended in water columns can negatively impact Salmonid growth, reproduction, and spawns. Rivers, streams, lakes, and ocean inlets experiencing lots of turbidity will see diminished action. You’ll want to avoid turbulent water during ice melt and subsequent runoff.

Local Expertise and Tips

A view across the water towards a fishing charter on calm inshore waters in Canada, with an angler standing on the deck of the boat and casting into the water with mountains visible in the distance on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Tofino Saltwater Sports

Salmon live in deep ocean waters for the majority of their lives. That makes overcast days more productive on rivers or streams than bright sunny days. They usually face incoming tide flows. You’ll want to fish with tide flows and not against them in open water.

Salmonoids have thick jawlines that are tough to penetrate. You’ll want to sharpen your hooks to help provide the best penetration during a strike or set. Many Canadians like using red fishing lines when going after Salmon. Sockeye is the only Salmon that can see the color, and the lines become invisible in water around 15 feet deep.

When to Go Fishing for Salmon in Canada

A woman standing aboard a fishing charter in Canada on a cold day, holding a large Chinook Salmon, with the water visible behind her on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Top Rods Guide Service – Sooke

Chinook Salmon can have multiple runs on some waterways, causing some anglers to call them “Spring Salmon.” February through September are the times you can hook into Kings.

Coho will begin to appear a few weeks later but can run between late spring and early fall. July through early September are dates worth circling on your calendar.

The southern population of Sockeye Salmon will begin their spawn runs from June through September, while northern Sockeye migrate between September and December.

Pinks are a great way to mark the calendar since these fish return to spawn before dying every two years. Late summer, between July and September, is the time to fish for these creatures along with Chum Salmon.

As you can see, July through September tend to be overlapping spawning months for most Canadian Salmon. Most waterways provide spawn areas for more than one species of Salmon, and you’ll notice increases in wildlife populations that feed off the runs. Anglers closer to inlets will see Salmon build-ups and runs days or weeks before the fish reach their spawn sites.

Where to Fish

Sure, Canada is known for its Salmon. But that doesn’t mean you can find them anywhere. Here are four prime regions where Salmon are most plentiful.

British Columbia’s Coastal Waters

An aeiral view of islands ion the water around Vancouver Island, with green hills surrounded by blue waters on a clear day

Salmon fishing in British Columbia offers legendary action and trophy-sized fish. One of the best places to have a shot at all five Salmon is Campbell River on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Another island hotspot is Tofino, fueled by the local Pacific herring spawning grounds. Port Hardy, at the Northern tip of Vancouver Island, also offers King Salmon action from May through September, and the views are even better.

Another waterway worth fishing is the Fraser River, which flows over 850 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Straight of Georgia. The Skeena River also flows for 354 miles before draining into the Pacific south of Prince Rupert. Both offer lots of summer action and are favorite fly fishing waterways.

Yukon and Northern Territories

An aerial view looking through a valley where the Yuko River separates two mountain ranges, as it winds into the distance on a cloudy day

The land of the midnight sun provides visitors with 24-hour sunlight in June and July. Late summer and early fall also bring excellent views of the Northern Lights. The rugged terrain lets you connect with nature like no other, including crystal clear lakes and high-volume rivers. Some areas are remote enough that you need to fly in for the fishing.

The main Salmon fishery in this region is the Yukon River, the third-longest in North America. It’s one of the most crucial Salmon-spawning waterways in the world, holding Chum, King, and Silvers. Some species travel over 1,800 miles upstream, creating the longest known spawn runs.

Atlantic Provinces

A view of the Margaree River flowing across rocks against some fall foliage on the shoreline on a clear day in Nova Scotia

The West Coast is not the only place you can find quality Salmon fishing in Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador have lots of Salmon-filled waters. The Exploits River in central Newfoundland, with 20-40,000 fish passing through the waters annually. Another island river to target is the Portland Creek River, offering plenty of Salmon among a calm and peaceful backdrop.

You can also catch Atlantic Salmon in the waters of Nova Scotia. Anglers flock to the Margaree River on Cape Breton Island, hoping to hook a wall hanger with well-tied flies. Another option would be the 30-mile-long St. Mary’s River, especially the fast currents in the upper river section.

Great Lakes Region

A view from shore towards the open waters of Lake Ontario with the sun setting in the distance on the right and a small boat visible in the foreground on a clear evening

Through aggressive stocking programs and support from organizations like the Great Lakes Salmon Initiative, Salmon harvests have improved incredibly over the decades. Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, and Pink Salmon call the Great Lakes home today. 

Lake Superior provides impressive King Salmon around the Grand Marais/Thunder Bay area. You can also grab a charter for summer fishing in Lake Huron or wait for the Coho and Kings to stage at the mouth of the Spanish River. Lake Erie tends to be more shallow, and the Coho stocked here live closer to the southern US shores. However, Chinook and Coho get heavily stocked in Lake Ontario, with tributaries like the Salmon River keeping anglers busy.

Noteworthy Regulations and Licensing

Every province has its own regulations regarding recreational fishing, and the governing agency in the region you plan to fish will determine any necessary licenses or permits. You’ll find many rules that are unique to these regions.

An infographic featuring the flag of Canada followed by text that says "Canada Salmon Fishing Regulations What You Need to Know" along with the FishingBooker logo against a blue background

For example, gear restrictions change often in British Columbia, so research the latest information before your trip starts. Also, you can keep accidental foul hooked Salmon in open water but must release them if it is in a river or stream.

In the Yukon, many waterways require single-pointed barbless hooks. You may also find the provincial agencies doing short-notice closures in the event of poor runs, so check before you go.

Nova Scotia is catch-and-release waters only, and you’re limited to barbless artificial flies. Newfoundland has a 1–3 Salmon retention and 2–3 catch-and-release fish limit based on the class designation of the water you fish.

It’s worth noting that Ontario’s rules around the Great Lakes region include a one-fish limit for the Atlantic and a five-fish limit for Pacific Salmonids.

Consider Canada for Your Next Salmon Excursion

Salmon have been a part of Canada’s fishing history for thousands of years. Today’s recreational angler can experience the allure of fishing for several species from coast to coast. Managing agencies have even introduced Atlantic and Pacific species in non-native waters like the Great Lakes!

A group of middle-aged anglers on a boat dock after a successful charter trip in Canada, with each holding a large Salmon on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Top Rods Guide Service – Sooke

Canada offers some of the world’s best Salmon fishing in diverse locals, like the Pacific Northwest’s open waters and streams at the base of the Rocky Mountains. You can enjoy Salmon fishing along the banks of rushing rivers during spawn runs or try your hand with a Canadian fishing charter in open waters.

These Salmon waters aren’t just for today’s enjoyment, however. There are rules and regulations you need to follow to secure these quality locations for others to enjoy. That includes respecting catch-and-release and tackle requirements. So, pick a spot up north and prepare for some fantastic Salmon fishing!

Have you ever been Salmon fishing in Canada? What’s your favorite species? Any top spots you enjoy casting a line in? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Jon Stewart has been an avid fisherman for the last 27 years. Originally from Manhattan, Kansas, he currently resides in Texas where he spends every chance he has fishing for Largemouth Bass. He also combines his passion for fishing with his passion for writing, which can be found on FishTechOutdoors where he provides tips and educational guidance on all aspects of Bass fishing.

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