How to Catch Salmon
How to Find and Attract Salmon
If you are going to catch salmon in open water the first thing you have to do is to find where they are. The Pacific Ocean and its inlets present a vast expanse of water. So do the larger lakes and reservoirs. Some of these waters will hold salmon and some will not. Knowing the habits of salmon can help a lot. If you are contemplating fishing out of a certain port or harbor the first thing you should do is get the salmon fish reports. The newspapers, marinas and bait shops can tell you if the salmon fishing has been good or bad in a given area. Over their lives salmon may migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles. They are constantly in search of food and ideal water temperatures. If baitfish are abundant and the water is in the 55 to 57 degree range, salmon will stay in one locality sometimes for months. If the baitfish disappear the salmon will soon disappear also. If the water gets too warm the salmon will either go deep to cooler water or move out of an area.
Once you establish that salmon have been caught in the general area where you want to fish, the next problem is finding the schools. They may be shallow, they may be deep and they may be concentrated or scattered. If they are shallow (in the top 40 feet of water) your best strategies are to look for baitfish schools on your electronic fishfinder or look for birds diving and feeding. Salmon attack shallow baitfish from underneath and push them to the surface. Sea Gulls and other birds will then dive on the same baitfish. Diving birds are usually an excellent indicator that salmon are present and are feeding. If the salmon are not at the surface look for deeper balls of bait. Sometimes these will be near the bottom or along reefs or rocky structures. These will usually be herring (in the saltwater) which are another good food source for the salmon. In this instance you will need downriggers to get to the salmon which may sometimes be hundreds of feet down. In finding salmon you should also look for concentrations of boats that have found the school and are catching fish.
Salmon have some definite likes and dislikes. Knowing these can help you find and catch them.
He likes large schools of baitfish in the three to seven inch range. He will follow and stay close to these baitfish as long as his other likes are also met.
He likes other salmon. They depend on each other for company and assistance in navigation and will usually travel in loose schools. Smaller salmon will follow the larger ones back towards the spawning rivers.
He likes cloudy water full of plankton or other particles so he feels safer from larger predator fish and mammals.
He likes a disturbed surface on the ocean or lake. Whitecaps make him feel more secure in coming to the surface to get food.
He likes to be ready to spawn when his biological clock says go. He will forego all his other likes including food in order to be at the appointed river on time.
By the same token Mr. salmon also has some very strong dislikes.
He doesn't like warm water. Temperatures of 58 degrees and higher will send him elsewhere, either down deep or north. He may enter the warm water briefly to eat, or if he is moving towards his river to spawn.
He doesn't like bright light or clear water. He will come to the surface at night or as dawn breaks, but sun or clear water will usually send him deep in a hurry - unless he is mighty hungry and the baitfish are on the surface.
He doesn't like calm water with lots of boats on it. This particularly applies to chinooks. If the water is choppy he doesn't mind the boats nearly so much.
He doesn't like predators. Sea lions, sharks and other large fish will usually convince him he is not very hungry.
As salmon begin to mature and start their move back to their spawning rivers, they become very predictable in their habits. They will usually migrate along the same paths each year at approximately the same time. This migration starts months ahead of when they enter the fresh water. If you know these patterns or can get information about them you will frequently be rewarded with abundant catches of large salmon.
Attracting Salmon to Your Bait or Lure
Under the section on fundamentals we pointed out that the most important factor in attracting salmon is action on your bait or lure. Erratic or wounded fish action is the best. When salmon get ready to feed they will look for a tight school of baitfish. If they find one, they will go crashing through the middle of the school hitting the baitfish with their heads and tails. They will then turn around and look for the cripples which they will eat. If you are fishing this same school of baitfish you want your bait or lure to look like the baitfish and to look injured. If the salmon are feeding on anchovies you want an anchovy bait in a harness or a lure that is the same size and color as an anchovy. If they are feeding on squid or krill you want hootchies and if they are feeding on herring you want herring or herring imitations. I will often open the stomach of the first salmon I catch to see what it is feeding on and what size.