How to Fish for Salmon on the Sacramento River

How to Fish for Salmon on the Sacramento River

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The 384-mile-long Sacramento River is home to seasonal migratory runs of Chinook, or "King," salmon that draw fishermen in great numbers, especially in the fall. The river's salmon-fishing season opens July 16 and runs through the end of January. Chinook will begin to appear in the upper river in early August, and peak months for their arrival are September, October and November. The largest of the salmon will typically arrive in late November and December. Chinook are powerful fish; they can be difficult to hook, and a real challenge to haul in. Using the right bait and tackle and employing the right casting techniques can improve your chances of catching one. The California state record catch is an 88-pound Chinook salmon; it was caught in none other than the Sacramento River.

Items you will need

  • 7- to 8-foot soft-tip spin rod

  • 20- to 50-lb test line

  • Spoons

  • Spinners

  • Salmon eggs (roe)

  • Red or orange bait mesh

  • Pencil lead

  • Rubber band

  • California fishing license

Travel to a narrow portion of the Sacramento River where there is medium running current and the water is relatively shallow. Make sure it is an area where salmon fishing is permitted.

Rig your line. With your rubber band, tie a piece of pencil lead to your line, approximately 18 to 24 inches from your hook; this will help your line sink to the river bottom, where the fish are. Prepare your bait by selecting a few salmon eggs and wrapping them in your bait mesh. Tie your bait to your hook and add a spinner or a spoon just above it.

Cast your line slightly upriver, and allow the current to take your line back down the river towards you. Alternate your casts to cover different parts of the water; look to present your bait in areas of the water where swifter currents meet slower-moving waters or static pools.

Manage your line in the water. Keep it taught at all times; this will ensure you feel every bump and pull.

When you feel unnatural action, set your line. Pull up sharply and reel it in to maintain the tension.

Reel the fish in. Allow the fish to run your line a bit if it wants to, then reel it back in, and repeat. Maintain the tension in your line throughout.


  • In 2007, salmon fishing bans were established on the Sacramento River due to historic shortages of the fish. Be sure to check with local fishing authorities for the latest information and developments. Specific parts of the Sacramento River have special regulations pertaining to the use of barbed hooks and live bait, and possession limits for salmon are frequently updated. Fishermen are advised to check with the California Department of Fish and Game for the latest regulations. Fishing in California requires possession of an appropriate state fishing license.


  • When male salmon migrate, they develop a bony, upturned lower jaw, which can make setting your hook difficult. Be sure to make your initial jerk of the rod a strong one. Talk to local fishing authorities at bait and tackle shops or at information centers in the area and ask them what the fish are biting and where. You may also consider bringing or renting a boat, to get around the river quickly and to reach areas inaccessible by foot or car.
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