Salmon Fishing in the Lower Mainland Rivers: Tips and Techniques

September 19, 2023
Home »

Learn » Fishing Tips »

River Fishing » Salmon Fishing in the Lower Mainland Rivers: Tips and Techniques

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. There are openings for pink salmon retention on the non-tidal mainstem Fraser River through to September 25 (September 21 for the section between the CPR Bridge at Mission and the Highway 1 Bridge at Hope) , along with retention opportunities for chinook and hatchery coho on various tributaries of the lower Fraser. Make sure to check the Region 2 recreational salmon limits, openings and closures on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

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.

Spotlight on Pink Salmon

In odd years (2023, 2025, etc.) millions of pink salmon will return to the Fraser River and its tributaries during September. The key to fishing for pink salmon is the old adage “pink for pinks”. Whether you are fly fishing, casting spoons or lures, or twitching jigs, remember that various shades of pink in your presentation are a must.

Locating pinks is generally not hard, as they run close to shore in most cases and are quite visible. Watch for rolling or surfacing fish and cast right in among them. Pinks have soft mouths; play your fish lightly so the hooks don’t pull out, and you’ll be “in the pink.”

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.

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.


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.

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.

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!

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