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Salmon Fishing in Washington (A Complete Guide)

Salmon Fishing in Washington (A Complete Guide)

Without question, Washington is one of the top US states for salmon fishing. 

Its numerous fresh and saltwater fishing spots offer excellent fishing opportunities for all five Pacific salmon types, and the fish here are both abundant and capable of reaching incredible sizes. 

If you are looking for helpful information about salmon fishing in Washington or are in the middle of planning your next fishing trip to one of the state’s popular rivers, this article is for you!

To help you find everything you need to know, I put together this ultimate salmon fishing guide for the state of Washington. 

It includes the following:

  • Best times of year to catch salmon in Washington
  • Best salmon rivers in Washington
  • Best charters for salmon fishing in Washington
  • Helpful information about fishing reports, licenses, and regulations

I hope you will find all the info you need for your upcoming salmon trip, and I already want to wish you tight lines!

PRO TIP: Just here to check out a charter for your salmon adventure in Washington? You can find some of the state’s very best right here:

What Types of Salmon Can You Catch in Washington State?

Let’s start with the most essential question: what can you catch here?

Luckily, Washington state is home to all five Pacific salmon types, namely:

  • Chinook (King)
  • Chum
  • Coho
  • Pink
  • Sockeye

They can be found in many of the state’s fresh and saltwater fishing areas and can reach very decent sizes. 

When Can You Fish for Salmon in Washington?

an angler on a river in Washington with a really big chinook salmon caught in October
Courtesy of Lace Baumgartner

There are three main periods for salmon fishing in Washington State.

The first one takes place during spring, stretching from January through March.

Number two is the summer salmon season, which typically stretches from June through July.

And the third is the primary season during the big fall runs.

The latter commonly stretches from August through October or November, depending on the river you are targeting. 

Some rivers even allow fishing into December. 

If you prefer winter and spring fishing for blackmouth chinook, the prime time to focus on is between January 1st and March 31st.

The Puget Sound can be absolutely amazing during this first salmon season in Washington.

If you’re after summer salmon, fishing the mighty Columbia River upstream Bonneville Dam in June and July should definitely be on your list!

The Columbia’s summer chinook can be absolutely mad and are an underrated target fish! As a bonus, you might also catch quite a few sockeye salmon.

If you prefer fishing for Washington salmon during the fall runs, which is what most anglers will prioritize when fishing here, you should focus on the months of August through November!

While the salmon runs usually start sometime during early August, the main bulk of salmon will migrate upriver between late August and mid-October. 

If you want to experience an extraordinary fishing adventure and see thousands and thousands of salmon rushing up the current, that’s the time of year to do so!

Of course, you’ll have to check the respective river’s regulations and salmon seasons so that you can show up at the right time. 

That information and some of Washington’s very best salmon rivers can be found in the next section. So keep reading!

Where Is the Best Salmon Fishing in Washington?

a aerial image of the Columbia River
Aerial view of the Columbia River and Bonneville Dam

To be honest, Washington State has plenty of great salmon rivers, and listing them all would result in a gigantic article.

So I decided to focus on some of the state’s most prominent and productive river systems.

These rivers are visited by thousands of anglers every year and produce a lot of big fish.

If you’ve never fished in a region or state and are trying to gather helpful information for your first trip, starting with some known waters and spots is generally a good idea because you can be sure that they produce bites!

So without further ado, here are some of Washington’s finest salmon rivers:

Columbia River

Every serious Washington salmon fishing article must start with the Columbia River!

Both the states of Washington and Oregon are lucky enough to fish this grand river, and the salmon runs that migrate up and down the Columbia can be insane!

It is claimed by many that the Columbia River’s salmon runs are one of the best and largest in the entire world, certainly in the lower 48 states.

This river has not one, but three major chinook runs and one major sockeye and coho run each year.

Fishing spots like Bonneville Dam, Buoy 10, or the Highway 395 Bridge are known by millions of salmon and steelhead anglers, and it is around these that you could end up catching the salmon of a lifetime!

GOOD TO KNOW: Check the Columbia River’s fishing regulations updates regularly! They can and do change fairly often!

Where Is the Columbia River Located?

Chehalis River

The Chehalis is another popular salmon fishery in the state of Washington. The river offers fantastic fishing opportunities for both chinook, chum, coho, and pink salmon during the fall.

The months of September through December can be nothing less than phenomenal on the Chehalis and its many tributaries, and many anglers are able to catch their daily limits here.

Some notable tribs of the Chihalis that produce very decent salmon catches include the Satsop, Wynoochee, and Skookumchuck river.

If at all possible, try to visit all of them, it’ll be well worth it!

DID YOU KNOW: The best months for Chehalis steelhead are December through April. You can read up on steelhead fishing in Washington in this related article!

Where Is the Chehalis River Located?

Sol Duc River

The Sol Duc, the longest river on the Olympic Peninsula, offers excellent fishing opportunities and is open for fishing year-round, making it a desirable destination for salmon enthusiasts.

The river is primarily known for its great spring and fall chinook and coho runs.

Additionally, anglers can target steelhead practically all year round!

Both king, coho, and steelhead can grow to really good sizes here, so be prepared for some serious runs in the many rapids of the Sol Duc!

Pink, chum, and sockeye salmon can also be found in decent numbers here.

Fly fishing from a drift boat is hugely popular on the Sol Duc.

If you prefer fishing from the bank, you can easily access the river from Highway 101.

Where Is the Sol Duc River Located?

Cowlitz River

The Cowlitz is one of the Columbia River’s many bigger tributaries, and much like the main river, the Cowlitz has a lot to offer!

This river is primarily known for its spring king salmon; the best months are generally April and May.

Fall king season commonly starts in August and lasts all the way through October.

Additionally, the Cowlitz also produces plenty of coho salmon, and fishing for them usually starts in September and lasts throughout November.

The stretch between Longview and BlueCreek/Barrier Dam can be a good starting point.

Where Is the Cowlitz River Located?

Humptulips River

This renowned salmon river is located near the coast, between Greys Harbor and the Olympic National Forest.

It mouths into North Bay and thus enjoys vast salmon runs during the fall.

It’s a well-known destination for fly fishermen and drift boat anglers, as it has many mile-long stretches and plenty of great fishing spots.

Most of these are, however, only accessible by boat, which is something to keep in mind when visiting this salmon river.

Between September and December, it’s high season for king, chum, and coho salmon, and if you’re after some really big fish, the Humptulip is the proper river for you!

The average chinook weighs between 15 and 20lb here, while the average weight for coho and chum is between 8 and 12lb.

King salmon of more than 30lb are not all that uncommon on this legendary river, and on a good day, you can easily catch 10, 15, or sometimes even up to 20 fish.

Where Is the Humptulips River Located?

Puget Sound

The Puget Sound is a saltwater inlet directly connected to the Pacific ocean. You know what that means, don’t you? Millions of salmon!

All five Pacific salmon types can be found here, and the fishing is open all year long, making Puget Sound one of the most popular salmon destinations in the Northwest.

The most targeted species are chinook, coho, and pink salmon, and fishing can be done from both boat and shore.

If you head out on a guided boat trip, trolling is definitely the most practiced method for salmon.

When fishing from the shore, many anglers will either spin or jig for salmon.

But no matter which, Puget Sound offers endless opportunities to hook up to a new PB salmon, or two, or five.

It truly is a salmon paradise!

Where Is the Puget Sound Located?

What Are the Best Salmon Fishing Charters in Washington?

a charter customer fishing for big king salmon on the Puget Sound
Courtesy of FishingBooker.com

Not only is Washington full of great salmon rivers, but you can also find plenty of highly skilled fishing guides and charters here!

Once again, I simply cannot list or recommend all of them, even if I wanted to.

Instead, I did some research, checked hundreds of customer reviews, and found the following top salmon charters for the state of Washington:

Fishing Charter

Target River

Target Species

Columbia River

King, Coho, Sockeye (also Steelhead)

Puget Sound

King, Coho

Chehalis River

King, Coho, Pink (also Steelhead)

Cowlitz River

King, Chum, Coho (also Steelhead)

Sol Duc River

King, Coho (also Steelhead)

Humptulips River

King, Chum, Coho (also Steelhead)

Salmon Fishing Reports for Washington State

It’s always a good idea to get the newest updates and fishing reports before heading out to the river!

One excellent source for updates and reports is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

Here, you can find the WDFW Weekender Report, which has a lot of detailed and valuable information on the state’s current salmon action. 

Another great source is WashingtonFishingSpots.com. The site has everything from up-to-date fishing reports, tips for the best fishing spots, and information on current and changing regulations and limits.

Checking out a few Washington State fishing groups on Facebook can also be a great idea, as members frequently post their latest fishing reports and share valuable tips and tricks:

Washington State Salmon Fishing Regulations

a fly fisherman on the Chehalis River with a huge chinook salmon
Courtesy of Christiaan Ricci

The state of Washington has plenty of fishing waters, and hence all types of regulations and rules (for both fresh and saltwater!). 

Before starting your salmon fishing adventure here, it is essential to familiarize yourself with these regulations to avoid any trouble. 

Reading through the state’s guidelines won’t take many minutes, and reading them will ensure you can fully enjoy your Washington fishing trip!

All current fishing regulations and information on the state’s emergency rule changes can be found in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fishing Regulations section

PRO TIP: To get up-to-the-minute regulations and emergency changes for every species and water in Washington State, you can also download the Fish Washington Mobile App. It’s super informative and convenient to use!

Do You Need a Fishing License for Salmon Fishing in Washington?

The WDFW also has all necessary information regarding recreational fishing licenses, which all residents and nonresidents age 15 and older need for all waters in Washington State. 

For salmon and steelhead, you will also need to carry a catch record card to track your harvest. 

PLEASE NOTE: Everyone, including anglers below the age of 15, must carry such a card when fishing. 

You will receive your catch record card together with your purchased fishing license.

More detailed information can be found in the WDFW’s fishing and shellfishing licenses section.

Here, you may also purchase your fishing license digitally, directly via the state’s online licensing system.  

How Big Do Salmon Get in Washington?

Washington State offers superb salmon fishing opportunities, and all five Pacific salmon types can reach impressive sizes here.

Washington’s king salmon are, of course, the real heavy-weights of the state, as they can reach maximum weights of close to 100 pounds.

However, the average Washington chinook commonly weighs between 10 and 40lb.

The average size of chum and coho is between 8 and 15lb, which is really impressive.

These salmon species reach a maximum size of 20 to 25lb in the state of Washington.

Pink and sockeye salmon are somewhat smaller, with an average size of 3 to 6lb and a maximum size of about 10 to15lb.

What Is the Washington State Salmon Record?

an image of a big coho salmon being released back into the Cowlitz River in Washington

Below is a list of the current state records for all five Pacific salmon types in Washington:

Salmon TypeState Record
Chinook (King)68.26lb
Chum25.97lb
Coho25.27lb
Pink15.40lb
Sockeye10.63lb

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