Silver Salmon Fishing

Silver Salmon Fishing

Silver Salmon Fishing In Alaska

Before I made my home in Alaska many years ago the smallmouth bass was by far my favorite sport fish. Soon after moving to Alaska in my 20’s I found a local creek. The creek was choked with log jams and loaded with silver salmon that were moving in to spawn. Shout out to my neighbor at the time for the insight. I quickly learned silver salmon fishing techniques that Ed shared with me during those first months upon me arriving to my new home in Southeast Alaska. Thanks Ed. The silver salmon in Alaska also known as the Coho salmon


During the silver salmon’s ocean phase, they display silver sides with blue/green backs. During the spawning phase, the silver salmon’s jaws and teeth become hooked and after a time in freshwater the silver salmon in Alaska develop bright-red sides, dark bellies and spots on their back. Sexually maturing fish develop a light-pink or rose shading along the belly. The males may show a slight hump in its back. Mature adults become a deep red in color with darker backs. They average 28 inches and 7 to 11 pounds, occasionally reaching up to 36 pounds. Mature females may be darker in color than males.

Reproduction Of Silver Salmon In Alaska

Silver salmon eggs hatch from late winter to early spring. They will rest for six to seven weeks in the redd. There’s many factors that can determine the hatch rate for any given spawning season. The silver salmon, like other salmon species, have mastered the process. Once hatched, the tiny silver salmon remain mostly immobile in the redd during the alevin life stage, which lasts another 6–7 weeks. The alevin no longer has the protective egg shell and rely on their yolk sacs for nourishment during this stage. The alevin life stage is very sensitive to contaminants both aquatic and sedimental. Alevins will leave the redd when the yolk sac is completely consumed,. Young Alaska silver salmon spend one to two years in their freshwater natal streams. They often spend the first winter in off-channel sloughs as they transform into the smolt stage. Smolts are generally 3.5–5.5 inches and as their parr marks fade and the adult’s characteristic silver scales start to dominate. Smolts migrate to the ocean from March through July. Some fish leave freshwater in the spring, spend summer in brackish estuarine ponds, and then return to fresh water in the fall. Coho salmon live in saltwater for one to three years before returning to spawn. Some precocious males, also known as “jacks”, return as two-year-old spawners.

Fishing For Silver Salmon In Alaska

In North America the silver salmon is a game fish in fresh and saltwater from July to December. The fly rod or light tackle is often used to catch silver salmon in Alaska. This tackle option will provide plenty of fight and oftentimes aerial displays only rivaled by the Alaska rainbow trout. It’s one of the most popular sport fish in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada and fishing for silver salmon in Alaska is very popular. Its popularity is due in part to the aggression in which it attacks lures and bait. Fishing in the ocean for Alaska silver salmon can be incredible as they return to the large number of coastal streams during its spawning runs. Its habit of schooling in relatively shallow water, and often near beaches, makes it accessible to anglers on the banks, as well as in boats. Trolling or mooching is the most common ways that anglers pursue the silver salmon in Alaska’s saltwater. Bobbers are often used by bank anglers. I was able to experience fishing with a bobber for silver salmon one year from a pier in Valdez Alaska. A lot of fun, especially fighting these silver salmon from 50 feet above the water during low tide.

Here is a few techniques for fishing for silver salmon in Alaska

Trolling For Silver Salmon In Alaska

When the silver salmon show up from the ocean to spawn, trolling is the most effective way to pursue them. As the silver salmon migrate to the freshwater streams and creaks throughout its range they are hungry as they feed up for the rigors of reproduction. Silver salmon in Alaska are very aggressive, especially when still prowling the salt. Slow trolling cut herring, whole herring or lures. When I was trolling for early season silver salmon back in the day I always used herring. When the silvers are still in saltwater they are still feeding and feeding intensely.

Look for silver salmon to be anywhere there might be some freshwater flowing into the salt. Outside large estuaries not only have silvers that might be moving into the drainage forming the estuary but it will also hold migrating silver salmon that are moving through looking for their home waters. Oftentimes, as salmon search for their stream of origin they will pause to sample the water from other streams. This is why trolling for silver salmon in Alaska around these estuaries is so effective. It is also the reason that these areas are great to fish for silver salmon from shore. That is if you can get there without a boat.

My go to silver salmon rig for trolling was a tandem slip hook rigged herring. The slip tie tandem hook rig allows you to control the roll in your presentation. I will explain this roll in a moment. Now, there are so many different ways to rig a herring. This includes cut plugs, herring strips fresh and cured on a hoochie or other type lure. There are herring spin rigs that attach to your whole herring or cut plug. These spinners take the rigging out of the rig because these bait holders like the Pro-Troll Roto Chip Bait Holder, has a built in fin that causes the herring strip or whole herring to spin.

The Herring Roll

I tried many ways of rigging a herring when I trolled for silvers in Alaska. I always came back to the tandem slip-hook rig. Sometimes I added a hoochie to the rig, but more times than not I trolled a whole herring on the tandem rig. There are many many ways to rig a whole herring for trolling but I will explain the way that I rigged mine for silvers. Run the bottom hook through the eyeballs and bring it back to the tail and hook it into the tail section just above the tail. Make sure to pierce the herring in the spine to help keep the herring from tearing out. Now pierce the herring through the bottom lip up through the nose making sure to get that hard part of the nose. Again this will help keep your hook from tearing out.

With the tandem hooks rigged this way on the herring you can now adjust for the roll that you want. Many anglers insist on a tight roll but I have seen times when the salmon prefer a wide roll. They will miss sometimes with the wide roll but will usually return to devour the herring. I have watched silver salmon as well as king salmon swipe at a wide rolling herring several times with two other lines out that had tight rolling herring. Adjust the slip hook so the it crooks the tail on your herring. The crook or bend in the herring will cause it to spin. The less the bend the tighter the spin. There is a fine line however as you adjust for a wide rolling herring. There is a point where the herring may spin tight even with a drastic bend in the bait. Experiment by adjusting the rig and tossing it into the water at trolling speed and visually verify the roll.

I’m only point the two different rolls here because I did see when salmon preferred one over the other. I like to add my 2 cents when I have 2 cents to add. Having trolled for salmon many years in Alaska I found this to be true. I’ve never read or heard of anyone adjusting for a wide roll so if anyone else knows what I am talking about here or has experienced similar conclusions feel free to explain in the comments. I would love to hear something about it. It’s been a long time since I trolled in Alaska for silver salmon.

Preparing Herring For Salmon Bait

Herring is the most widely used baits in Alaska for silver salmon. There are many ways to prepare herring to use for bait. I normally used fresh herring and it works great, but will only last a little while before beginning to deteriorate. After a while of being dragged through the water trolling or casted out for mooching a fresh herring can only take so much.

One way to prepare your herring bait is to brine them in salt water. The brining process toughens up the herring and will help it last much longer under the pressures of fishing. You can use a homemade brine or a store bought pre-made brine like Pro-Cure or Fire Brine. By soaking your herring bait in this salt brine they will harden and toughen up considerably. You can also add scents and colors to your brine. The pre-made brines usually come in different colors. This scent and bright fish attracting colors permeate the herring. This color attracts silver salmon and the scent, that has penetrated throughout the entire herring, releases scent as long as they will last on the hook. 

I have also seen old timers and I am sure people still do it somewhere. This old timer I met on the docks in Alaska was catching herring with a Sabiki Rig and laying them neatly in a 5 gallon bucket. I watched this guy for a while and finally asked him about what he was doing. This was after I saw him carefully sprinkle pickling salt on the layer of herring. He told me that he could keep the herring for the entire fishing season in the 5 gallon bucket with a lid on it. The herring was layered with salt and he almost filled the bucket while I was there.

Spooning For Alaska Silver Salmon

In the first paragraph I mention my neighbor turning onto a great creek in Southeast Alaska loaded with silver salmon. He also told me how to catch the silver salmon as well. With a spoon. He told me all he used was a red/white daredevil spoon. I would use the daredevil spoon that first fall but soon tried a few other spoons like the Krocadile spoon and the Hot Rod Spoon, all of which were blaze orange in color. Spooning is done in the ocean with a mooching technique which is also done with herring. I only mooched a couple times for silver salmon in Alaska, but a lot of people do it successfully. Mooching is where you lower your bait or lure straight down to a depth you feel that the silver salmon are and pump the line with the rod up and down. This presentation represents a dying baitfish and can trigger strikes.

It’s believed that silver salmon don’t feed after entering freshwater, but there is no doubt that they will aggressively strike a spoon in freshwater. Casting into runs where silver salmon stage as they make their way into their spawning grounds will yield many strikes. Silver salmon also love to stage or spawn within log jams and other gnarly cover in Alaskan creeks and rivers. Where they return to spawn each year. Fluttering these spoons into this cover is a very effective tactic for sure.

I was instructed to drop the spoon into these haunts and use a simple lift and drop presentation. This works great and can help limit hang ups and frustration. Silver salmon will hold in this cover in very shallow water. I’ve been surprised after lowering my spoon into an eddy and realizing it was only two feet deep. However, many times when I lifted the spoon there was a silver salmon hooked up and rolling on the surface. Needless to say after a couple times I began to focus more on these shallow holes and it paid off big. I would say as long as the visibility is low enough that you can’t see the bottom it could have a silver salmon lingering below.

Fly Fishing For Silver Salmon In Alaska

Fly fishing for silver salmon in Alaska quickly became my favorite way to chase them. Shortly after arriving in Alaska I became a die hard fly fisherman. It was at this time that other than trolling in the ocean, everything I fished for was with a fly rod. Silver salmon on the fly will always be dear to my heart and might even force me back to Alaska one day to live. The feel of the strike and the challenge of the fight is nothing less than spectacular. Couple this with the cool crisp fall days in Southeast Alaska, the ripples of low water and the snow that sprinkles the higher elevations around you and you have an angler’s dream.

Silver salmon in Alaska fight hard and grow big. The smallest fly rod I would dare go would be a 6 weight. A 7 or 8 weight might be advisable if you know the silver salmon in the waters you fish could be some of the giants that Alaska offers. These waters would include the Kenai river and others especially during the second run of silver salmon which tend to be larger in size.

Fly reels are often thought to only need to hold the fly line. With the Alaska silver salmon it is advised to have a little more of a fly reel. A fly reel with a good smooth drag is paramount when fly fishing for Alaska silver salmon. Some might argue that the runs can match those of a green steelhead and a smooth drag is very important. When fly fishing log choked creeks a drag might not be as vital. Since Alaska silver salmon are not leader shy you are able to use a heavy leader to fight the fish. You might argue you could do this anywhere but it has been my observation that in open streams and estuaries a fly reel with a smooth drag makes the fight much more exciting and with the rapid change in direction you can catch up to the fish easier than stripping line.

Silver Salmon Flies For Alaska

There are a few flies that are regularly used when fly fishing for silver salmon in Alaska. I have used and more often seen others use dark flies like a black woolly bugger or egg-sucking leech. I always used bright reds and oranges when fishing in freshwater for silver salmon in Alaska. These colors just seemed to work well for me but never underestimate black, olive or purple colors because they work as well. My favorite fly for silver salmon in Alaska is the showgirl fly in bright orange and white. The showgirl uses marabou which is another part of the silver salmon fly I find to be important. Marabou imparts lots of pulsating action in the current. Marabou will get caught in the salmon’s teeth. Feathers or tightly wrapped materials don’t do this. The marabou’s tendency to get caught in the salmon’s teeth will keep the fly in the silver salmon’s mouth a split second longer. This will allow you more time to set the hook. I have actually watched silver salmon trying to spit this fly out of their mouth and couldn’t. I had read about this fact but actually was able to see it with my own eyes. This was in some clear waters in interior. That’s when this fly became the only one I used.

Working a fly for silver salmon is dictated by the water you are fishing. In thick creeks you might only roll cast to eddies and pockets that are likely holding fish. Even with lots of overhangs and brush to fish around a 9 foot fly rod might still be a good choice. The holes that you must fish are small. High sticking may be in order. A 9 foot fly rod will work best for this technique. Fly fishing open water like big rivers and estuaries still calls for a 9 footer to fight the wind and to make that long cast that’s needed under these fishing conditions for silver salmon in Alaska. The 9 foot fly rod is just a good all around choice for the acrobatic and aggressive silver salmon in Alaska.

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About Ken McBroom 218 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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