August 25, 2020

Fishing for Salmon in the Lower Mainland Rivers: Fall 2020

Another summer is coming to an end, and the colourful hues of autumn are starting to appear. Cooler temperatures and foggy mornings approach, as well as that magical time: the fall salmon fishery in local rivers. Thousands of anglers wait in anticipation for this event every year, and it is becoming more popular than ever, especially among younger people who have taken up this sport. While salmon closures on the mainstem Fraser River continue, recreational angling for hatchery salmon remains available on tributaries of the lower Fraser.

Where to Fish

Numerous river systems in the Lower Mainland have fall runs of salmon, but the most popular are the Chilliwack/Vedder, Sumas, Harrison, Chehalis, Stave, and Capilano, along with Dewdney (Nicomen) Slough. The common denominator for the popularity of all these systems is that they contain hatchery fish.

There are several species of hatchery salmon (including chinook, chum, and odd-year pinks) in all these systems, yet the most sought-after by sport anglers is coho. And why is that? You’ll find coho in almost every type of water condition: riffles; slow- or dead-water pools; long, slow runs; or faster, pocket water. While other salmon species will bite quite readily when a lure is properly presented, coho are naturally aggressive, and will usually dominate because of sheer numbers and their responsiveness to all kinds of angling methods.

Coho salmon. 

Techniques for Salmon

Effective methods to pursue salmon in fresh water include float-fishing, spoon- or spinner-fishing, fly-fishing, and twitching jigs.


For faster-flowing rivers, float-fishing is generally considered the most popular method, as it’s the easiest to present your lure to fish. Use a single-action centrepin, levelwind, or spinning reel with a matching rod. In any given scenario, cured roe, wool, beads, or Colorado spinners are some of the many types of baits or lures that can be effectively fished under a fishing float.

Rod reel combos for coho fishing. From left to right: casting, levelwind, and spinning reel.

Spoon- or Spinner-Fishing

A spinning rod-and-reel combination is the preferred gear for casting spoons and spinners. You can thoroughly work your lure to cover all depths with a minimum of effort in all water conditions. A popular and very effective strategy is to angle your casts upstream slightly, and then retrieve your lure down and across the current. Fishing this way also works well in waters where you can cast from an anchored or back-trolled boat.

Colorado spinners and heavy coho spinners - hammered and smooth blades. 


In slower or dead water, fly-fishing for coho can be very effective. Slower-moving stretches, like large back eddies, seem to attract these fish. Single-handed fly rod-and-reel combos in 7- to 9-weight are usually heavy enough to handle salmon. A sink-tip or an intermediate sinking fly line usually work well. As salmon are not really feeding in fresh water, use a flashy, colourful fly pattern to arouse their aggressive instincts to strike. Varying the speed of your retrieves can also be effective in triggering an attack.

Twitching Jigs

One of the newest and more popular methods for salmon – especially coho – is twitching a jig. Use a stiffer, quick-action two- to 2.5-metre (seven- to eight-foot) spinning rod matched with a quality spinning reel loaded with 15- to 20-pound-test braided super line. This combo allows the angler to feel the lightest strike while retrieving, and then effectively set the hook.

Coho and chinook twitching jigs.

Cast out various colours of jigs, and then wind each back in with a twitch-type retrieve that makes the jig swim in an erratic fashion. The jig’s darting, stop-start action seems to drive salmon into such a frenzy that they will strike the lure viciously. While twitching jigs takes a bit of practice, it is well worth the effort to master this technique.

Hatchery coho. 

Since our local salmon fisheries are managed based on abundance, be sure to check the freshwater salmon fishing regulations often for in-season changes and quotas. If you intend to harvest any salmon, remember to purchase a freshwater salmon stamp in addition to your regular license. This is a wonderful fishery that many anglers enjoy. If you haven’t already, give it a try, and discover what all the fuss is about!

Coho caught in the Stamp River. 

Author: Nick Basok, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Fishing Ambassador.
Images: Nick Basok, Dusty Waite, Steve Olsen.