When & Where to Fish for Salmon
Best Places to Fish by Month
So you’ve planned a trip to Washington State, or you live here and have a week of vacation, and you want to know where you should go salmon fishing. Here are some suggestions of places to fish each month based on historical catches. Be forewarned, however, they call it fishing, not catching. Although these times have historically been the best times to fish, there are no guarantees that they will be productive when you are there! Also, be sure to check the regulations and make sure the area you want to fish is open. Salmon regulations can change each year to protect weak stocks, or even weekly if in-season updates indicate a particular run is weaker or stronger than anticipated. While more salmon are caught in these places during these times, these areas are traditionally very busy. If you are looking for a more tranquil experience, you might want to avoid these areas and look for an area that doesn’t have as many salmon caught each year, but also has a lot less anglers.
Salmon opportunities are fairly limited in January. Best bets include blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound where open, or chum fishing on the Nisqually River.
There is really only one game in town during February, blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound. Marine Areas 7, 8, and 9 are traditionally strong areas during February.
The first spring chinook of the season will be pushing up the lower Columbia. Blackmouth fishing will continue strong in Puget Sound.
April is prime time for Columbia River spring chinook from the mouth to Bonneville Dam. By the end of the month, Wind River and Drano Lake start to come on. Lower river tributaries such as the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers will all be productive. Sleepers include the Quilayute and Sol Duc rivers.
Early May is the time to hit Wind River and Drano Lake for spring chinook. Other Columbia River tributaries to try include the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis, and way up the Columbia, Icicle River can by good if its open. On the coast, try the Sol Duc River.
The Cowlitz, Lewis, and Icicle rivers will still be producing spring chinook. If open, the lower Columbia River will be good for summer chinook. June is the time to start getting excited about fishing in marine waters. Marine Areas 11 and 13 will start to kick out some early returning adult chinook in June. Ocean areas may open as early as late June and chinook fishing at Westport, Neah Bay and LaPush will usually be good if they do.
The place to be in July is Neah Bay and LaPush. Columbia River chinook will be migrating south and the first place they hit in Washington is Cape Flattery. Chinook up to fifty pounds will be caught here in July. Coho will be good at Illwaco. The selective chinook fishery (hatchery fish only) will be going strong at Sekiu all month, while Port Angeles will take off towards the end of the month. The Tulalip Bubble in Marine Area 8-2, and the Elliott Bay and Sinclair Inlet fisheries in Area 10 will produce nice catches of chinook. Marine Areas 11 and 13 will be building towards their peak chinook catches near the end of the month. In odd numbered years, pink salmon will start to show at Neah Bay and Sekiu.
Ocean: Start working south towards Westport and Illwaco. The chinook that were up around Neah Bay in July will continue on towards the Columbia and Westport will be the hotspot early, followed by Illwaco towards the end of the month. Coho will start to really show some size and will be abundant in all marine areas.
Coast: On the coast, Willapa Bay can be very good for chinook from mid-August through the end of the month.
Puget Sound: Early August is the peak of the chinook run in Puget Sound and Marine Area 11 will produce more chinook than most of the rest of the Sound combined. The San Juan Islands can also be very productive in August. Hood Canal, Marine Area 12, will be good all month, although fishing is restricted to the southern end. The Skokomish River will be a good bet for chinook fishing. The Quilcene River is a great bet for coho when it opens in mid-August, but expect lots of company. In odd numbered years, pink salmon will be throughout Puget Sound from Sekiu to the San Juan Islands and from Everett down to Tacoma. Early arriving pink salmon will be caught in the lower Skagit and Snohomish rivers.
Columbia River: Buoy 10 will take off during the last half of August for both chinook and coho. For good reason, this is probably the most popular single salmon fishery in the state. You will have lots of company down here, but lots of fish will be caught. The lower Columbia River will also be producing well. The upper Columbia River will be very good for summer chinook.
September is a great time to fish for salmon because there are fish in both the marine areas and the rivers. Most chinook salmon will already be pushing into the rivers to spawn, but the marine areas will be at their peak for coho, and September is the time to find those big “hooknose” coho, fish pushing 15-20 pounds.
Ocean: Coho fishing will be sizzling in Marine Areas 1 – 4. At times, coho fishing can be as good as, or better than, anywhere else in the world, even better than Alaska or Canada.
Coast: Willapa Bay will continue to be good for chinook until mid-September. Grays Harbor will be good for both chinook and coho all month, but many times won’t open until mid-September.
Puget Sound: Inner Puget Sound will have its best coho fishing of the year. Sekiu is renowned for its September coho fishing, including the state record of 25 pounds caught there in 2001. Hit the Carbon, Samish or Skokomish rivers for chinook, and the Carbon, Puyallup, Quilcene, Skagit, Snohomish, or Green rivers for coho. In odd numbered years, pink salmon can be caught in the Snohomish, Skykomish and Stillaguamish rivers, but the big dog for pink salmon is the Skagit River.
Columbia River: Early September is still prime time for coho and chinook at Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia. But the rest of the Columbia River up to Priest Rapids will be good for chinook, as will the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers. For coho, hit the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers.
By October, salmon fishing is starting to wrap up in most places. Ocean fishing will be over and many marine areas will be closed.
Coast: A few coho will still be caught in Grays Harbor.
Puget Sound: Coho fishing will still be good in inner Puget Sound. Try Marine Areas 8, 9, 10 and 11. River coho fishing will still be good in the Carbon, Skokomish, Skagit and Green rivers.
Columbia River: Summer chinook will still be available in the upper Columbia River. Late season coho bets include the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers.
Coast: A few coho will still be caught in Grays Harbor. In the rivers coastal chinook run later than Columbia River or Puget Sound stocks. Try the Humptulips, Hoh, or Quilayute rivers for chinook. Good coho producers are the Chehalis and Satsop rivers.
Blackmouth fishing will be the primary marine opportunity with most Puget Sound areas open, although chum salmon fishing will also be good in some areas. Marine Areas 9, 10 , 11, and 12 are good bets for blackmouth. Look for good chum fishing in Marine Areas 9, 10, 11, and 13. Late season coho can be found in the Chehalis, Satsop, and Humptulips rivers. Chum fishing will be good in the Skagit, Skykomish, and Skokomish rivers. Two marine terminal areas to try for chum include Kennedy Creek and Hoodsport Hatchery.
Salmon opportunities are fairly limited in December. Best bets include blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound where open, or chum fishing will be good on the Nisqually River.
Rules and Regulations:
2012-2013 Sport Fishing
Fishing closures and openings happen constantly throughout the year. The Emergency Rules keep you up-to-date.