Most salmon fishing is very seasonal, so knowing where to catch salmon requires information about when the “salmon runs” are in progress on the body of water where you will be fishing. So before going on a fishing trip always do research. Local newspapers are a good source of information as well as tackle shops that sell salmon fishing gear. The best information, however, will come from local fishermen.
What Are Salmon Runs
Most wild salmon species return from the sea to their spawning streams and rivers along well defined routes. These are called “salmon runs”. These salmon runs occur at certain times of the year and are species specific. What is most important is that these runs of fish are usually found at well defined depths in the water column. So when fishing for salmon in saltwater inlets or bays one must fish at the correct depth. This is critically important when using trolling techniques. A difference of ten feet in the water column can make a big difference in the daily catch.
Where To Fish For Salmon
As mentioned above, in most cases salmon follow well-defined migration routes from the open ocean to spawning grounds in rivers and streams. Fishing for certain salmon species can be very seasonal, so you must fish when the runs of fish are happening. The fishing season in Southeast Alaska for example begins with king runs in early June, pink runs in July and the coho or silver runs in September, with most runs and fishing tailing off by late September.
Once you determine if the runs in the area you plan to fish are active, you must determine their exact location before beginning to fish. This information is best obtained from local fishermen or tackle shop sales people. Just knowing where to catch salmon in general terms is not good enough. You have to know exactly how far out from shore the runs are located in yards or miles. Ask exactly where there have been catches, and if others are catching around points, ask the name of those points. Have a chart handy to mark the exact locations.
The Importance Of Depth
When beginners are just learning where to catch salmon the thing they forget is that most salmon species return from the sea to their spawning streams and rivers along well defined routes and, most importantly, at well defined depths in the water column. So when fishing for salmon, regardless of which method one uses, one must fish at the correct depth. A difference of less than 10 feet in the water column can make a big difference in the daily catch. So what is the correct depth? Much depends on the species and the time of year but in general king salmon will be found deep in the water column near the bottom. Often when you are fishing for king salmon you will also catch other bottom feeder species such as flounder or halibut.
Coho or silver salmon are usually found near the surface or within the first 20 feet. Pink salmon are usually below 20 feet from the surface. One method when trolling and mooching is to test the depth starting at about 20 feet and every five minutes move down in the water column 10 feet until one is within 10 feet of the bottom and repeat the process until you get a strike, then go back to that same depth. It takes a lot of work but testing the depth does pay off in good daily catches.
Reading The Water
Learning where to catch salmon means learning how to read the water. In most saltwater estuaries, tidal junctions are a good place to start fishing. The location of these junctions can usually be detected from debris lines on the surface. If trolling, begin at either side of the junction and troll running parallel to the debris line. Don’t be stupid and cross the line as this will mean having to clean your gear and it usually screws up your depth also. If mooching try to stay at least 20 feet from the tide junction and keep in mind because the direction of the current will vary at a certain depths that it will be very hard to determine where your bait will be in relation to the tidal junction on the surface.
Go to where the birds are. Flocks of seagulls feeding on herring schools are a good indicator of where salmon may be. Move over to where the birds are feeding and start testing the depth. I have found this to be very productive when fishing for coho or pink salmon.
Go where the seals are. If you see seals feeding in the area you can be certain that salmon are present. Seals often make a loud clapping sound on the water. This sound sometimes can be detected over a mile away. Seeing a seal on the surface with a big salmon in its mouth is very common in the saltwater regions of the Pacific Northwest.
Many saltwater inlets have underwater cliffs and drop-offs. Keep a good eye on your chart and depth sounding equipment so you know where these formations are located. This is where mooching and trolling for king salmon can be very productive.
Floating kelp beds are good indicators of a shallow rocky bottom or areas wjere underwater rocks and reefs are located in depths of 20 feet or less. Knowing this has saved me from some very expensive boat repairs or worse. But sometimes these areas are also where silver salmon hang out and can even be taken on the surface adjacent to the kelp with fly fishing techniques. Local fishermen know where these areas are, so ask them and remember if you are going to learn where to catch salmon you have to ask questions and gather information before ever wetting a line.
In summary, fishing for salmon is learning how to catch them and knowing exactly where to drop a line. And that information can best be determined by asking detailed questions of local fishermen.