Because of the huge number of salmon and the various locations that they can be fished, it is virtually impossible to offer one or even several blanket salmon fishing tips and techniques that will apply to all species.
Instead, this article will focus on describing the various types of salmon that can be found in certain locations, and suggest some times of year when they can be caught, and what types of tackle you might need to catch them. The mystery and excitement of fishing is experimentation and what works one day may not work the next! Keep this in mind when your out there because what you may think doesn’t work…may SLAY!
Another tip is to talk to local anglers and shops to see what’s been working lately in an area. Often in really good tackle shops or websites like this, there may be postings of successful catches in local water systems, giving you the information of what you can use. You’ll also be surprised at how many people love to indulge in their stories of exciting catches and banks of knowledge of the river system from experience and skills that they themselves have experimented with in the past. Just ask!
In the past when fishing was a “secret” sport, abundant water systems and spots were kept quiet, in fear of risking the production of that particular holding water, but with the popularity in the sport and current salmon management as well as the intentions of conservation for future fisheries, these “secrets” have been becoming more and more known as time and tradition carries on.
It’s more common for excellent anglers to teach novice anglers about the sport so that they become practicing conservationists of the sport and get involved in volounteer work or the sport itself. It’s a common belief amoung outdoors people that “if something interests you, you will take care of it.”
Atlantic salmon occur all over the eastern seaboard of North America and are also found throughout north western European countries. The most popular way to catch this fish on both sides of the Ocean has been through fly casting when they return to their hatching grounds to breed. During the fall months in particular, the odds of taking a salmon are greatly increased in the rivers as the migrate in great numbers.
Unlike many of their Pacific cousins, Atlantic salmon continue to eat during the spawn, sometimes even increasing their intake due to the large amount of nutrition needed for the journey. They key to a successful catch is to know the habits of the salmon in the run close to where you live; several thousand fish may be passing by (if you happen to live in the northern areas, where populations have not been so depleted) but it is only for a limited time. Once the big group has passed, your luck will diminish.
There are a lot of fresh water members of the salmon family native to the Pacific coast and the water bodies in the interior; salmon fishing tips and techniques will vary accordingly. Favored techniques for species of salmon such as rainbow and cutthroat trout include fly casting and trolling. A handy tip is to make sure and gather evidence so that you know what type of insects are hatching in the area; these are most likely the staple of the fishes’ diet at the moment. Solid trolling techniques involve spoons to grab the attention of these aggressive fish and irritate them.
Steelheads are rainbow trout that go to sea and return to spawn. Important tips for catching these fish involve knowing when the winter and summer runs are near you. Steelhead will typically migrate at both times of year; veteran anglers say that the winter run is much better in size and taste. As with any run, make sure that you are in the river at the right time. Spey rods are popular amoung Steelhead anglers who want a real challenge (as if it weren’t challenging enough!), as well as drift fishing.
To have success fishing for saltwater salmon, it is important to be safe first and foremost, and second to have a good idea of where the fish are likely to congregate. Some areas of the west coast have naturally large concentrations of these fish; these are especially prevalent in the northern regions such as Vancouver Island, Alaska, and the Queen Charlottes.
All three locations are home to large numbers of all five ocean species as well as populations of cutthroats and steelheads. To learn the best techniques, go out the first couple times with a guide or a friend who frequently fishes the water. It is likely that they will have some great salmon fishing tips and techniques of their own!
“Where can I go Salmon Fly Fishing?”
Salmon like to hold where the water is black, as this is where the dark colors on their backs will help protect them from predators above. At the outside of many bends, where the water gets deep, is also a common spot for salmon to congregate. Here, there is fast water on top, and the slow water down low. Generally, the salmon will sit in the slow water, just six inches off the bottom.
During daytime, they may move up or down in the slow water column. Thus, you may need to adjust the depth at which you fish throughout the day. Be careful though, as In these deep holes, you can find the snags before the fish and you don’t want to be loosing too many flies. If you can get above the hole from either bank, you may see downed timber or big boulders that you may want to cast a different pattern past (wearing polarized glasses will dramatically help you do this).
This can also help to spot where in the hole the fish are sitting, as some salmon such as Steelhead and Coho love to take refuge under these natural river shelters. Another trick is to drift a fly, you won’t mind loosing, through the hole a few times to get an idea of the water current. You can also drift a few times with just a split shot to test the current and see if you need to add another split shot or two to get to the bottom increasing your chances at salmon fly fishing.
Around mid-August, the salmon run for streams on the western side of the lower peninsula of Michigan as well as all along the western coastal river inlets from Washington as far north as Alaska. The northern most streams start having the salmon first around Michigan. As the season progresses, the salmon will generally enter streams further and further towards south in the Michigan area and east in the Washington/Vancouver areas.
Pere Marquette River — Salmon enter this river by mid- August. Around September 15, they will be up to M-37, above the flies-only area. The peak time is mostly the end of September. Fishing is also good through October. Spawning takes places from September through October.
Betsie and Big Manistee Rivers – here you can try your hand, a week or two before the Pere Marquette.
Muskegon River — Salmon will be in the Bridgeton area (near Salmon Run Campground) somewhere around the middle of September. In the beginning of October, Salmon will be up to the Carmichael Flats area.
Rogue River – here it is unpredictable, but generally it begins by October 1.
Low light times of the day, as well as cloudy days, are the best days to go salmon fly fishing. However, on bright, sunny days, the salmon will definitely congregate deep in the holes. Salmon don’t feed while in the river generally speaking. Though, they do strike as it is a learned behavior, due to territorial instincts.
When in a big lake, salmon tend to be very aggressive and predatory. They will continue to act this way after entering the rivers. However, the longer they are in the rivers, the less likely it is that they will strike. Also, keep your hooks very sharp for penetrating the salmon’s thick jaw.
You can check the sharpness of your hook buy running your thumb nail lightly along the hook point, if it scrapes off some of your nail and digs in a bit it’s still usable. You can also save your dull hooks and buy a hook sharpener which will save you lots of money as well. Another good trick when going salmon fly fishing is to add a foam indicator above your fly, if you need to get your fly higher in the water column.
A great hook to use is “Gamakatsu” brand, if your spin-casting with live bait or wool. They’re not the cheapest but if you buy them in bulk you can save money in the long run and they’re the best!
Side note: when fishing in busy river systems while “bottom bouncing” there is actually an etiquette! Much like golfing you should follow these rules:
- Never cast your line or lure on top of another’s line. Doing this will result in a snag, but most importantly the loss of a fish that may not be legal if one is hooked by accident not to mention angry anglers and they can get real angry. (remember its supposed to be fun!)
- Always cast upstream and don’t cast any more than two people above you if it’s shoulder to shoulder crowds. Casting upstream more than that effects the “flow” of casting to anglers and can be frustrating to have to wait for someone who does this.
- As your line drifts downstream, keep it clear of peoples legs that are in the river, and don’t forget that your line will be further down the stream than where you see it go into the water. If you can see the person beside you at the end of your drift in a straight river, chances are you’re line has drifted too long.
- The person who is up-stream from you always casts first! You should be aware of your surroundings, whats going on and wait for the line to drift down a bit before casting OVER their line. This will help prevent snags and keep the casting flow going.
- If you have a fish on your line, you should yell “fish on” to let people know that you’ll need space.
- If you think that you have a Chinook on – usually they strip lots of line from your reel immediately, or they will hold in one spot or they will give a “head shake” which will cause your rod tip to go down in large downward bends – yell “SPRING ON!” and start moving with it down the river if you have to (and usually you have to!)
- If you think that you have a Sockeye – which instantly go nuts and move all over the place – or something else on, you should be able to bring the fish in where you are, so try not to take up the whole river unless your not sure, and get it in as quickly (without horsing it) as possible.
- It’s common sense, not to mention illegal in some cases and unethical in most others, that if you have your limit, you should give your spot up to another angler.
- Clean up after your self for goodness sake!! There’s enough lost gear in the river as it is and it doesn’t warrant you being able to leave your beer/pop cans or tackle on the river bar.
- Read the rules of the regulations before you fish. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen guys out there catching fish and not knowing what kind of fish they had or what body of water allowed them to fish for certain species of salmon. The species section will help you with this, so please take advantage of it!
- Have fun! Plain and simple. If you follow these rules you’ll have fun out there, and just remember there are always going to be “grumpy fishers” out there that are not willing to teach beginners and show a little patience, but rather complain and whine. It’s best to avoid these people all together, as they just wreck the sport for everyone.