How to Catch Columbia River Sockeye Salmon


The Columbia River is famous for fly fishing because of its cool, clean waters. During fall, fly fishermen catch sockeye salmon with dry flies, especially as water temperatures begin to cool. At this time, sockeye salmon journey into the Columbia Rivers tributaries and gather within deep holes to spawn. Anglers pursing sockeye salmon for sport or food should gain knowledge of how to fly fish the river before starting an expedition.

Things You'll Need

  • Washington state license
  • 7 to 10 foot flexible rod
  • Rubber waders
  • Pheasant tail (fly)
  • 2-foot long plastic net (at least 2-feet in width)
  • Obtain a license. Washington state requires anyone over the age of 15 to have in their possession a state-issued fishing license. Licences can be obtained from most bait and tackle or hardware stores within the eastern Washington area.

  • Drive to the Columbia River, which flows in the eastern Washington state. Walk the river; scout out areas where the current is strong and where debris surrounds deep holes.

  • Use a 7-to-10 foot flexible rod which comprises of stout reel, spooled with at least 6-to-12 pound test line.

  • Look under rocks and in the water for tiny insects that frequent the Columbia River. Find a match or a close resemblance of the fly within your tackle box. According to the website Fly Fisherman, a popular method to catch sockeye river salmon is by using small nymphs. A good fly to use is the pheasant tail. This fly assortment is design to imitate an aquatic insect. Pheasant tails are primarily sinker flies, meaning it will drop down and move with the current.

  • Put on rubber waders; walk out 3 to 5 feet, and begin moving up stream while casting. Let your line drift within the rivers current, giving it time to come to a rest on the bottom. If you don’t get a strike within 2 to 3 minutes, jerk the line forcefully before reeling it in. Continue to walk up stream and cast in areas that resemble those where salmon like to reside.

  • Devote a great deal of your time fishing drop off areas along the Columbia River. Focus on sand and gravel inlets as sockeye salmon gather in these areas to feed and spawn. While fly fishing the Columbia River, stand and cast upstream into large pools. This technique will not spook a salmon facing up stream within the pool. Additionally, anglers can capture a hungry salmon and quickly land it without disturbing others salmon within the same pool. Therefore, this approach can bring a tremendous amount of hits from spawning sockeye salmon, as you will be able to drop flies on top of eager salmon.

  • Focus your efforts on fast water and large structures that can hide salmon from view. Look for sockeye salmon in water depths between three feet and 15 feet, and perhaps deeper. Cast your baits over top of, around or next to deep water structures. Make extra sure that you cast near submerged logs, weeds and large boulders. The rocky and woodpiles structures of the Columbia River offer the best habitat for sockeye salmon. Note that sockeye salmon do move back and forth from deep water to shallow areas in order to spawn as they make their way up river.

  • Jerk your rod back upon receiving any strong jolt. This will pierce your hook directly through the flesh of the fish’s mouth. It will wedge within the flesh and the barb will break through the fish’s mouth. Play the salmon until the fish becomes tired out before attemptoing to reel the line in.

  • Place a net underneath the exhausted salmon. Use a 2-foot long plastic net that is at least 2-feet in width. Lead the salmon's head into the net and then scoop it up. If your first attempt is unsuccessful, patiently guide the fish to shore until you able to bring it to land.

  • Lift the salmon from out of the water. Quickly remove the hook and either place it back into the water or keep for dinner.

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