By Spencer Durrant
Salmon Fishing – whether you’re using a fly rod or conventional tackle – is one of the most popular sport-fishing endeavors in the world. Salmon are known for being great game fish, and of course, they’re phenomenal table fare. It’s hard to find someone – even the picky eaters in your family – who doesn’t like freshly caught and grilled salmon.
But, buying salmon at the store gets expensive quick. And, if you’re already a competent angler, doesn’t it make sense to go catch your own?
So, whether you’re looking for an excuse to get away for a week and fill your freezer full of healthy, fresh fish, or you’re chasing a record king salmon on a fly rod, these are the five best salmon fisheries throughout the United States and Canada.
These aren’t listed in any particular order, as fishery quality varies year to year. As always, consult with local, state, and/or national/provincial guidelines before throwing a line into any of these fisheries.
1. Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada
When to go: July through August is your best bet for snagging any of the five species of Pacific salmon.
Why fish here: The Campbell River is unique because it offers a chance at all five species of Pacific salmon in a relatively short window of time.
The Campbell River flows out of Campbell Lake, right at the mouth of the Discovery Passage on the west side of Vancouver Island. This is one of the prettiest places in all of British Columbia, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a higher concentration of salmon in a smaller geographic area.
The Campbell is unique in that it’s very close to a major metropolitan area – Vancouver – but still offers a great, remote, and fantastic fishery.
Throughout the July to August season, you’ll have a chance at any of the Pacific salmon, and you’ll catch plenty of fish that count as trophies for most any angler. And, you’ll have the opportunity to fish in either salt water or fresh water, and with a variety of techniques. Whether you’re a diehard fly angler, or you prefer fishing with conventional tackle out of a boat, you’ll find something for everyone in the Campbell River area.
And, if you get tired of fishing for salmon, this area is also known for its spectacular halibut and rockfish fishing. Booking a charter and going after any of these big fish in the open ocean is an experience you’ll never forget. And, it’s a bit more family-friendly than trying to pry salmon from a swift-moving river. The Campbell River might be the most family-friendly salmon fishery on this list, so if you’re bringing everyone with you, this is a place that you’ll definitely want to look at.
For more information or to book accommodation / guided tours, contact the nearby British Columbia fishing lodge at Port Eliza Inlet in Tahsis, British Columbia.
2. Kenai River in Alaska
When to go: The best time to fish the Kenai River is from late May to August, depending on what species of fish you’re chasing.
Why fish here: The Kenai has some of the biggest runs of sockeye salmon in the world, in addition to spectacular rainbow trout, dolly varden, and silver salmon fishing.
No list of salmon fisheries would be complete without mentioning the Kenai River (and as a heads up – this list will have a lot of places in Alaska listed). This river is known for growing salmon so large that the Alaska record books have a separate category just for fish landed on the Kenai River.
Alaska has a unique Trophy Fish program, where anglers can submit their catches and receive a verified Trophy Fish certificate. To certify a king salmon as a trophy everywhere else in Alaska, you need to land one that weighs over 50 pounds.
On the Kenai River, 50-pound kings are common enough that a trophy king has to be 75 pounds or heavier.
So, the Kenai River isn’t child’s play. This is a serious river, with seriously big fish.
The most popular way to fish the Kenai is from a drift boat. Whether you’re throwing big streamers or pegged beads on a fly rod, or swinging roe sacks on spinning gear, you’ll find plenty of salmon ready and willing to take your offering.
And, if the salmon fishing is slow, the Kenai is known for great rainbow trout and dolly varden fishing, as well.
Ship Creek is also a must-see when in the area, Anchorage is filled with other activities for you and your family to enjoy. Plus, you’ll be blessed with some of the most beautiful sites in the country.
3. Bristol Bay, Alaska
When to go: June through September provides the best action for both salmon and trout fishing.
Why fish here: Bristol Bay is home to the largest run of sockeye salmon in the entire world. Nowhere on earth do these fish gather in as big a group as they do in the rivers and streams of Bristol Bay. Not to mention, the rainbow trout fishing here is world-class.
Bristol Bay has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the efforts of a Canadian company to place a mine near the headwaters of major sockeye salmon spawning streams. While the area has a lot of attention for folks who are against the mine – and the drastic environmental consequences a project like that could have for the salmon – it’s a legend for salmon anglers, especially those who like to chase fish on a fly.
Bristol Bay encompasses a large area southwest of Anchorage, and north of the Aleutian Islands. Many major Alaskan rivers drain into Bristol Bay, including the Kvichak, Naknek, and Togiak Rivers. These places are legendary in fly fishing circles, for their huge rainbow trout.
But the salmon fishing here is phenomenal, too. The big draw is the runoff sockeye salmon, as it’s the largest gathering of these fish on the entire planet. You’ll also find silvers and kings in the countless miles of streams and rivers in the Bristol Bay area.
This is a pretty remote fishery, most easily accessible by plane. It’s not a trip for the faint of heart, but it’s a trip that’s worth every bit of effort it takes to get there.
4. Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
When to go: The season is pretty long here – May through September offers fantastic fishing, especially for king salmon and halibut.
Why fish here: Ucluelet is a tiny town on the west side of Vancouver Island, and perhaps most importantly, has easy access to a giant undersea plateau that’s been dubbed the “Salmon Highway.” If it’s salmon you’re after, this is the place to go.
Ucluelet is a small town that was pretty isolated before the Internet age. Then, once word could spread quickly about its fantastic fishing, thousands of people visit this town on the west side of Vancouver Island each year. Most of them come to fish.
A 25-mile boat ride from Ucluelet takes you to a big undersea plateau that’s become known as the “Salmon Highway” because it intercepts all five species of Pacific salmon as they migrate back to their spawning grounds. The plateau is unique in that it forces salmon to congregate in large numbers as they swim around or over it, which means that you have ample opportunity to hook into something worth writing home about.
Seeing as most of the fishing is done offshore, this is a location best reserved for anglers who don’t mind fishing with conventional tackle. Later in the season, some of the local streams and rivers near the town of Ucluelet will have salmon in them, but the main action is out in the salt water.
5. Salmon River, New York
When to go: March through October
Why fish here: This is an easy-to-access fishery in upstate New York that offers some spectacular fishing for salmon that run up out of Lake Ontario. While these salmon aren’t native to this part of the country, they grow to great sizes – and so do the resident brown trout.
The Salmon River in New York is one of the better man-made salmon fisheries in the United States. It flows into Lake Ontario, where Pacific salmon were stocked years ago to provide both a sportfishing and harvest opportunity. Today, you can count on finding huge king and sockeye salmon moving up the Salmon River when it’s time to spawn.
The river is only 44 miles long, so it’s quite a bit shorter than most of the others on this list. And, as much of it flows through or around private property, fishing from a drift boat is your best bet for seeing as much of the river as possible.
Both conventional and fly fishing are popular methods here, with fly fishing being the most-used technique to chase the resident brown trout – which grow to monstrous sizes thanks to the endless supply of salmon eggs and decaying salmon carcasses.
Salmon fishing is an incredible experience, and one you and the entire family aren’t likely to forget. Chances are, if you can get everyone to go out salmon fishing just once, they’ll keep begging to go again and again. Take them to any of these places, and you’ll be sure to have a great time, in some of the world’s most incredible scenery.
Three More Salmon Fishing Locations Worth a Mention in the USA
6. Wind River in Skamania County, Washington
This small 30 mile river has a small fishing season in the summer, but that short season is prolific for people who want to catch salmon. There are usually a lot of Chinook salmon in the water during this time, and you will find plenty of steelhead salmon, too.
7. Lake Oahe in South Dakota
Even the Midwest can have a great salmon fishing location! Next to the Cheyenne River, the fish find their way into these shallow waters. Most people find success in the winter, but fish as large as 25 pounds have been caught in the summer as well. The area is filled with unique Native American culture for you to experience after your fishing trip.
8. Salmon River in Pulaski, NY
Winter is the most popular time to come catch the Steelhead Salmon which are in the area from October to April. The fishing is known to be good, and two fishermen received records for their salmon fishing in this river. Camping and hotels are very busy in the winter, so plan accordingly.
When you’re done fishing, there’s plenty more to do in the area and plenty of restaurants.
These places are definitely worth the trip if you want to have a successful fishing trip! While these locations have great fishing, don’t forget to experience what other things each area has to offer.