Salmon Fishing (Salmo salar / Oncorhynchus spp.)

All Tackle Record
79lb,2oz / 33lb,4oz; 97lb,4oz; 14lb,13oz; 15lb,3oz

Salmon Fishing (Salmo salar / Oncorhynchus spp.)

Salmon are the most highly appraised freshwater fish of North America. They are excellent fighters and produce outstanding quality meat, which is commercially marketed around the world.

The various species of Salmon can be found in subarctic fisheries, usually spawning in estuarine waters or higher upstream in rivers and rarely venturing out into deeper oceanic waters. The Atlantic and different types of Pacific Salmon have, due to their enormous commercial value, been cross transplanted between the two fisheries with varying levels of success.

All Salmon change color in different stages of life, for adapting to new environments and for spawning purposes.

How big

Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) average at 8 to 12lbs, but can commonly be substantially larger, up to 80lbs.

Relevant Pacific Salmon types are:

  • Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) - between 6 and 12lbs;
  • Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), also known as the King Salmon - the largest of the Pacific species at 20 to 30lbs average, but able to grow up to 5ft and 100lbs;
  • Pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) - the smallest Pacific Salmon, normally caught between 3 and 8lbs;
  • Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) - between 5 and 12lbs; Kokanee, a population of Sockeye that stay in freshwater, are much smaller in size - 1 to 3lbs on average;

When & Where

Atlantic Salmon can be found in the northern Atlantic Ocean - throughout north Europe, in Iceland, Greenland and from Quebec to the Connecticut River. Once mature, they migrate to the sea between March and June for feeding and growth purposes and then come back to their native freshwaters to spawn in late fall. This species, unlike most Pacific Salmon, does not die after spawning. They have been introduced to the Pacific Ocean, but had troubles adapting.

Atlantic fattie hauled in aboard Reel Silver Charters from Pulaski, NY

Pacific Salmon:

  • Coho can be found in rivers from north Japan to Anadyr River in Siberia and from Monterey Bay, CA to Point Hope, AK. They were also transplanted into freshwater lakes along the Pacific coast and the Great Lakes, but to many lakes and streams on the East Coast, where they mainly remain landlocked. The fish that migrate to the ocean or salty estuarine environments for growing and feeding purposes do so March through July, to come back in the fall or after one to three years for spawning.
  • Chinook is the least abundant Pacific Salmon, found in rivers of the Pacific Northwest from the Ventura River, CA to Point Hope, AK and in those flowing into the Bering Sea (up to the Anadyr River), Okhotsk Sea and the Sea of Japan. It has also been successfully introduced to the Great Lakes. Those that come from freshwater streams will migrate to the ocean after the first year to feed and grow for several years, after which they return to spawn in spring, summer and fall runs. This species travels extensive distances during migration.
  • Pink Salmon in North America can be found in the Mackenzie River in Canada, in Alaskan rivers and down south to the Sacramento River, CA. In NE Asia, it spans throughout rivers from the Lena in Siberia down to Korea, including rivers that flow into the Bering and Okhotsk seas and the Sea of Japan. Due to their late spawning, they are called "Fall Salmon" and are less popular targets. They hatch upstream December through February and quickly migrate to estuaries in March and April. Upon maturing in two years, they return to freshwater in summer or fall to spawn. They develop a characteristic hump during the spawning migration. Are very similar to Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) in behavior and habitat, and sometimes interbreed with them to create sterile hybrid offspring.
  • Sockeye Salmon inhabit NE Asian rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the Anadyr River in Siberia and from Point Hope, AK to the Sacramento River, CA. They spawn near lakes and spend the first year or two in freshwater, to migrate great distances as juveniles into the ocean, where they will spend the next two to three years growing and feeding. Upon maturation, they return to freshwater to spawn during fall. Some Sockeye Salmon stay in freshwater throughout their lives and they are known as Kokanee. Sockeye go through dramatic changes before spawning, including snout extension, hump development in males, and changing coloration from silver to bright red.

Pacific fattie caught with the help of Salmon King Lodge Guide Service in Gold Beach, OR

How to catch

There are several popular methods of fishing for Salmon, that can be done either from the shore, if you're fishing shallow rivers, or from a boat, if it's a deeper river or estuarine environment:

  • Drift fishing is done by casting upstream and allowing the weighted line to drift along the current and bouncing the bait on the bottom by reeling in.
  • Plunking also requires a weighted line, but the cast leads to still fishing in the migratory path or an area known to hold Salmon.
  • Bobber fishing is used in very calm or slow moving waters and requires a bobber rig, available to purchase in most tackle shops.
  • Trolling using weights, divers or downriggers in large river estuaries can create good bait presenting circumstances due to the continuous motion.

Herring and sardines have been proven to be the best natural bait, but most anglers will use lures such as spinners, spoons, maribou or yarn jigs.

Salmon fishing is something of an art form though, and takes much preparation and practice. For best results, read up on excellent in-depth guides on wikiHow and the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife's websites.

Good to eat?

Perfect, highly sought-after worldwide. Pacific Salmon in descending order by taste: Sockeye, Chinook, Coho, Pink. Atlantic tastes the best. Wild is leaner, tastier and toxin-free compared to farmed Salmon.

Nothing says "romance" quite like a Salmon dinner


Each state has different seasonal, size and bag limits and regulations for different fishing zones.

Read up on regulations for:


Similar Game Fish: