This article describes the basics of saltwater salmon fishing from a boat for the beginning angler. It is intended only as a starting point, and is not meant to cover every aspect of salmon fishing. After getting your feet wet, a good angler will constantly search for additional information to improve their abilities and skills.
Knowing the habits of salmon is important for figuring out how to catch them. In general, each of the species can be found in the following areas:
Adult chinook salmon are usually found in two general habitats. Early in the morning or late in the evening, chinook can often be found cruising very close to shore, especially near kelp beds. At this time, they can be caught in 20’ to 120’ feet of water. They are most likely suspended in the water column, that is, they aren’t on the bottom. In open water, chinook are going to be found were there is abundant bait. They can be anywhere from in the top 20’ of water to down on the bottom at depths of 200’ or deeper. Usually they will move deeper during the day as the sun gets brighter. A good starting depth for open water is between 40’ and 80’.
These juvenile chinook are generally found within 10’ of the bottom at depths between 60’ and 150’. Occasionally they will be suspended, especially if there is lots of bait that is suspended.
Coho are an open water fish. The easiest way to find coho is to locate tide and/or current rips. These rips concentrate zooplankton and other invertebrates, which concentrate baitfish. Coho are often in the top 20’ of water, regardless of the time of day or weather. They can be found down to 70’ or 80’, but seldom are caught below 100’.
Pink are also an open water fish. However, they are not necessarily associated with tide rips. They can often be found at depths of 40’ to 80’.
The most popular boat fishing methods can be lumped into two general categories, drift fishing and trolling.
Drift fishing generally means fishing without a motor, although in some cases a small outboard may be used to slow down or speed up your drift. Drift fishing is most effective in specific areas where salmon are concentrated. Types of drift fishing include mooching, jigging and fly-fishing.
Trolling consists of fishing out of a constantly moving boat. Trollers will use weights, divers, or downriggers to achieve a desired depth to present their bait or lures. Trolling is more effective than drift fishing when salmon are spread out over a large area. Trolling with a downrigger is probably the most popular method of salmon fishing in saltwater in Washington.