Complete Guide To Salmon On The Lower 48

Peter B. Mathiesen


Although salmonids are not the most common fish to cast a line to in the United State, you could be closer to salmon fishing than you realize. Few fish give the tug (more like a slam) of a big king, or the blistering runs and jumps that a silver makes. Pound for pound, there is no fresh water fish that offers the variety, table fare and just plain violence that the six available American spices of salmon do.

Here is a primer in what’s swimming where throughout the Lower 48 to help you get started. We have also given you a list of guides that are state specific, and they anglers can help school you in the pursuit of these amazing fish.

East Coast

The coast of Maine is were you could have caught an atlantic salmon, recent declines in counts have closed the sea run season with little hope of reopening for several years.

This legendary fighter was pursued with a highly traditional style of angling that has changed little in the last 100 years. There were many unwritten rules at famous places like the Bangor Pool on the Penobscot River, while anglers used old school Maine streamers, and atlantics salmon flies as they patiently waited a turn to fish.

Atlantics are the only salmonids that do not die in their attempt to propagate, but many are lost due to the stress of spawning. They are extraordinary fighters with spawning pairs once found as far south as the Connecticut River.

You can still catch a landlocked atlantic salmon throughout much of Maine’s rivers and lakes. The interior fish range from 8 to 20 inches and will impress any fisherman with their fight and stamina. Yet true “sea run” Atlantics are for now, not available in Maine.


Inland Maine guide:

Atlantic Salmon Conservation Originations:

Great Lakes East

If you have access to Northern New York, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, you can chase kings, silvers and pink salmon, on Lakes Erie and Ontario in addition to numerous tributaries.

There is an improving reintroduction of atlantics in Lake Ontario with some found in Erie. Smaller pink salmon can be caught in nice numbers, but not as consistently as they return in alternating years.

Lake Ontario actually sported an indigenous species of atlantic salmon that is no longer propagating. Great Lakes fisheries agencies and the feds have stocked atlantics for many years and are just now having some successes.

Most fish out in the lakes are caught as adults with downriggers or using larger spinning and bait casting tackle. Spoons are a common choice, as are crankbaits in a wide variety of sizes.

Inland rivers are fished in the fall with fly tackle and size ranges can be 4 to 12 pounds for silvers, and in the 30s for kings. Atlantics are found in limited numbers, but legal to catch in the spring and summer while ranging from 4 to 12 pounds. Small crankbaits can also be used.


Guides for NY

Guides for PA

Guides for OH

Great Lakes Midwest

Lakes Michigan and Superior are credited by many with the first successful introductions of pacific coast salmon to help the declining lake trout fisheries after World War II. Every kind of American salmon has been stocked in these two lakes, with the vast majority of species available: kings, silvers, some pinks and few atlantics.

Fishing on the western Great Lakes varies little from the east with a few exceptions. There is simply much more water, so the salmon populations are often larger. On the open lakes, salmon are fished in deeper water with downriggers being typical most of the season.

In the fall, rivers see a mixture of fly and crankbait anglers and whether you choose Michigan or Wisconsin, there are limitless places to fish, including downtown Chicago.

Guides in MI

Guides in WI

Pacific Coast

If you want to go to the Mecca of Lower 48 salmon fishing, extraordinary numbers await you in the Pacific Northwest. Salmon can be found in limited numbers as far south as Mendocino County, California, and Idaho. As dams have come down, many species are experiencing improved numbers. The Pacific states can have excellent fishing in their prime drainages, most notably the Columbia River.


Open ocean angling can yield large catches of sizeable fish, and in the case of kings, those weights commonly tip the scales at near 50 pounds. There are also large numbers of slivers, sockeyes, chums, and pink salmon found throughout the fall seasons.

The Pacific coast even has a few unique spring salmon runs off of Washington however, fall is when you can count on millions and millions of fish. Techniques are typical of the styles already mentioned, however the tackle out west is often a little larger.

Guides in WA

Guides in OR

Guides CA

Guides ID


Please Note: Although salmon rule these fisheries, steelhead are often a part of many anglers’ springtime pursuits. All of the above fisheries have steelhead in the spring months except for the east coast.

Inland lakes 

To find out if your state has an inland lake salmon program, and many do, go to Google and type in salmon and your state.

2 responses to Complete Guide To Salmon On The Lower 48


  2. I live in Mississippi and love salmon fishing. What states offer this?

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