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Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: Learn From The Pros

As summer begins to slow down and hints of fall emerge, every salmon fisherman begins to get antsy. It’s that time of year again! Time to rig up the meat rigs, get your salmon roe in order, brine herring, and go catch some salmon. So what are the best conditions for salmon fishing?

This is a great question – and there are multiple answers depending on the type of salmon fishing you plan on doing, and where you are fishing. So we will do our best to explain the best conditions for salmon fishing by type of fishing you plan on doing. 

If you are looking for a short and easy answer, the best conditions for salmon fishing are overcast conditions and during an incoming tide. This is because overcast conditions are the lighting salmon prefer (it makes them more comfortable for feeding), and the incoming tide brings fresh food to them from deeper waters. 

But as we mentioned above, this can change depending on the time of year or if you are fishing for salmon upriver (like during spawning season). In this article, we’ll talk about the best conditions for salmon fishing as their spawning cycle progresses – starting within the open ocean and ending with up their spawning river.

Let’s dig in for more details!

Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: Ocean Trolling

Fishing for salmon in the open ocean is where you will find them earliest in the salmon season. You can start catching salmon in the open ocean as early as June, although they won’t be very big. 

The best conditions for salmon fishing in the open ocean are overcast weather with low wind and low swell. Tide doesn’t matter as much when you are in the open ocean, although the same rule about trying to fish the incoming tide still applies. 

What is most important for salmon fishing in the open ocean is finding where the fish are. All types of salmon are schooling fish, so if you can find a school of them you’ll be in for good fishing. 

Author Note: Salmon typically like pockets of warmer water in the open ocean (called upwelling) because it attracts baitfish that feed on the krill that like the warmer water. When the ocean close to shore warms up in the summer, it can be the best open ocean salmon fishing you’ll encounter.

How do you find where the upwelling occurs? Pay attention to ocean temperatures and use a fish finder! If you plan to fish for salmon in the open ocean, the best thing you can spend your money on is a good fish finder. 

Also, once you have found fish don’t move! This is probably the biggest mistake we see salmon anglers make. If it ain’t broken don’t try and fix it.

Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: Bay and Inlet Trolling

Silver Salmon

As the summer progresses, salmon will begin to congregate in the bays and inlets where their spawning river dumps out into. This tends to be the most prolific time of year for salmon fishing, as the fish are still actively feeding and have grown large as time has progressed.

The best conditions for salmon fishing during this period are similar to the open ocean but with another focus on the timing of the tides correctly. You will want to go fishing when the sky is overcast and the tide is incoming into the bay.

We mentioned this earlier but an incoming tide brings food in from the open ocean for salmon they feed on. It also helps lazy salmon swim into the bay where you are fishing.

Another point we would like to make about why we think that bay salmon fishing is the best kind of fishing is that the fish have reached their peak size to quality of meat. What do we mean by this? What we mean is that the salmon are not going to get that much larger before they migrate upriver to spawn. Once they begin to migrate into only freshwater, they stop eating and begin the spawning transformation.

Author Note: This process quickly degrades the quality of their meat, and you can taste it. Their meat begins to taste like dirt, and the farther upriver they swim the worse it gets. Eventually, they become inedible. 

So while you might be able to catch the largest salmon far upriver, you won’t want to eat it. And it probably won’t put up very much of a fight because it is beginning to die.

Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: River Trolling

As August turns to September, the salmon progress another step in their spawning cycle and begin to swim upriver to where the water becomes brackish. This is still a great time to catch salmon! They are often as large as they will grow, and are just starting to stop feeding. 

The best conditions for catching salmon during this period are when the sky is overcast and it has recently rained. This is because a recent rain will trigger the salmon to begin swimming further upriver. It doesn’t always convince them to go all the way upriver, which is exactly what you are looking for.

You want to get your herring or salmon roe in front of salmon that might still be feeding for just a short while longer.

Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: River Backtrolling

A little further into the season (mid-September to October) you can begin backtrolling. This often works best from a drift boat so you can get your bait in front of salmon farther upstream. These salmon have stopped actively feeding and now attack lures out of aggression or frustration. This is why you often see anglers using brightly colored Kwikfish or salmon roe as bait.

Why do salmon attack their own roe? It is because they become very territorial during spawning season and want to protect their own eggs from other fish attaching them.

The best conditions for backtrolling are overcast weather right after a big rain. Depending on how late in the season you are salmon fishing, it can even be good while it is raining. This is because the rain increases the river height enough for the salmon to swim further upstream to spawn. Each time it rains, more salmon leave the bay to head upriver.

Best Conditions for Salmon Fishing: Shore Fishing

big silver salmon

Shore fishing for salmon has similar rules as river backtrolling. You want to get your lure in the water when there are as many fish as possible migrating upstream.

Author Note: This tends to be right after a large rain, or even during a large rain later in the season. And as always, overcast weather tends to be better than sunny weather.


What’s the Best Time to Fish for Salmon?

We get this question all the time, and the answer is that it depends! As with most species of fish, they tend to feed around sunrise and sunset. This is because the lighting makes them feel comfortable and gives them an advantage for hunting. Besides that, however, there arent any hard and fast rules. Make sure you fish the incoming tides when in the ocean and bays, and look for overcast weather.

What are Salmon Attracted to?

Salmon, like most species of fish, are attracted to where their food is! Salmon enjoy feeding on herring and other small species of fish, so they tend to be attracted to bait balls of herring. You can usually find bait balls by using a fish finder or looking for bird activity above the water. 

If you see a flock of seagulls flying around a patch of water, that most likely means there is a school of herring below them. You might also see pelicans actively feeding on herring and diving into the water. The best sign of all, however, is actually seeing salmon jumping out of the water feeding on herring. That is where you want to be fishing!

What Time of Day are Salmon Most Active?

We mentioned this above, but salmon tend to be most active around sunrise and sunset. These periods have the best conditions for them to hunt their prey and are natural times in their diurnal cycle for feeding.

Is Salmon Fishing Better at High or Low Tide?

Salmon fishing is almost always best during the incoming tide. As we’ve mentioned several times in this article, the incoming tide brings food from the open ocean inshore for the salmon to feed on. It also naturally pushes the salmon closer to shore where you tend to be fishing. The worst times to go fishing for salmon are during a strong outgoing tide or during slack tides.


Wild Salmon

Know what the best conditions for salmon fishing are is an important skill set to have. It will help you plan your fishing trips and increase the chances of catching a fish. We hope you found this guide useful and informative! If you have further questions, please post a comment below and we’ll get back to you with our thoughts.

Happy Hunting!


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