Salmon Fishing At Night: Tips From Pros and Anglers

John from Get Bent Guide service with a big salmon caught while salmon fishing at night.
John from Get Bent Guide Service with a big salmon caught while salmon fishing at night.

When I was a kid, we would often arrive at the river at dusk and fish for salmon through the night during the salmon run.

As a guide thirty years later, I can assure you that salmon fishing at night is an exhilarating experience that can be a viable option for catching salmon in the open water, at the river mouth, and even up in the river, but only if you understand a few key things.

Salmon fishing at night can be very good if you are aware of the challenges and hazards that come with fishing for salmon in the dark. It’s also essential to know the best methods, and the most effective baits and lures. Moving slowly, knowing your surroundings, and using larger baits that scent well is key. Using glowing lures or lures that have a good wobble at a slow speed or make a lot of noise is often required.

In this article, I’ll provide you with valuable tips, my most effective methods, my best nighttime baits and lures, and guidance to increase your chances of success when fishing for salmon after sunset.

I’ll also cover tips for fishing salmon in open water at night, fishing for salmon at the river mouth, and in the river at night.

Why Night Fishing For Salmon?

Matthew with a huge salmon caught at night
Team photographer Matthew with a huge shore salmon caught at night. Check out more from Matthew on Instagram.

I used to offer guided trips to anglers interested in the thrill of salmon fishing at night, but it became obvious to me that fishing for salmon at night can be a challenge.

There are issues and potential hazards associated with night fishing for new and advanced anglers. But with patience and caution, night fishing for salmon can be very good.

Salmon will often enter the rivers during low light or in the dark, especially on smaller creeks and rivers. This provides night anglers with the opportunity to catch fresh run salmon before anyone else.

Salmon staging at the river mouths will often move in closer to shore or nose a little way up the river to determine if conditions are good to run, and some will turn and head back out. This provides anglers the opportunity to target these concentrated roaming fish.

Do Salmon Bite at Night?

Eli From SBS Outdoor Action Night with a night time spoon caught salmon
Eli From SBS Outdoor Action Night with a nighttime spoon caught salmon. Watch the video of this salmon being caught on YouTube.

Salmon will bite at night, and although they let their guard down in the dark, it can be challenging for them to find the bait, so good night anglers will adjust the size and speed of the bait and even change locations.

For this reason, certain baits will work far better than other baits. The same is true for lures, anglers will consistently do well with certain lures. I’ll discuss the most effective lures and baits for fishing salmon at night.

Are Salmon More Active at Night?

I don’t think salmon are more active at night than they are during the day, with the exception of river fishing.

It’s very common for salmon to move into and up the rivers at dusk and throughout the night under the cover of darkness. Darkness gives the salmon a sense of security, especially when moving into a clear or shallow river. These runs are the only times I believe that salmon are more active at night.

Anglers can take advantage of these nighttime migrations and be in strategic areas along the river to intercept the incoming salmon.

You will often see charter boats heading out in the dark, and it is common that salmon will be very active an hour or so before dark and through the morning hours. This feeding window may be the result of less active salmon throughout the night.

1 Hour After Dark

Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a lure caught salmon at night
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a lure caught salmon at night

Some anglers find that the salmon will turn off for about an hour after sunset. But there is a theory that salmon don’t turn off, but instead, they tend to run higher in the water column.

Many anglers persistently fish deep, unaware that the salmon often swim closer to the surface or come in close to shore. If the salmon are running closer to the surface, you won’t mark them on your depth finder or won’t catch them with deep lures.

While many anglers give up in such situations, I suggest running your riggers shallow with glow lures or trying all levels of the water column to increase your chances of success.

This is often why I see the boats struggling but shore anglers casting lures still doing well. It’s also why guys using baits on the bottom catch few fish than the guys casting lures.

It may also be that in the first hour or two after sunset, the salmon move in closer to shore.

Lure Fishing For Salmon Fishing At Night

The Storm Thunderstick is a good crankbait for steelhead, salmon, and big trout

Lures are a great option for fishing salmon at night whether you are fishing from shore or from a boat. Many anglers will use lures like crankbaits, wobblers, plugs, and spoons.

Popular and effective nighttime salmon lures include:

Best Lure Colors For Night Time Salmon Fishing

There are some colors that just seam to produce better at night. Anglers do well using colors like:

  • Blue Chrome
  • Chartreuse
  • Green silver/chrome
  • All Silver,

Best Lure Sizes For Fishing Salmon At Night

Most anglers will agree the larger the lure, the better. Lures in the 4.5 to 6-inch are best. However, at times, 3 to 4-inch lures will work.

Tips For Lure Fishing At Night For Salmon

Consider these tips from the pros and salmon anglers for more effective lure fishing at night:

  • Slow Down: The key is to slow down when fishing in the dark. Some anglers will troll as slowly as possible. The casting anglers will reel in as slowly as possible.
  • Go Big: Larger lures and larger baits tend to do better when fishing for salmon in the dark.
  • Cover Water: Salmon at night will be moving and roaming, so getting as much distance out in the lake when fishing from shore is best, and covering more water with fan casts or moving along the shore can pay off. Fan casting from a boat is also a good idea.
  • Depth: For best success, anglers will try to fish 10 to 17 feet of water around the river mouths. This means getting your lures in that range.
  • Fish Calm Waves: For casting and trolling at night, try to plan your trips with waves under 2.5 feet. Especially if you are casting from a boat.
  • Glow and Non-Glow: Rotate between glow lures and non-glow lures. There are times when non-glow lures will outperform glowing lures, so mix it up.
  • Action: Use lures with a lot of action. Often the more erratic the lure the more attention it will get from the salmon. I often rip, twitch and pause my crankbaits on the retrieve to entice more bites from salmon. Just keep it as slow as possible.
  • Have the right net for the type of water you are fishing. See Best Salmon Nets.

Bait Fishing For Salmon At Night

Fishing for salmon at night using bait is another good option if you are fishing near shore, the river mouth, and especially up in the river.

Use these tips to catch more salmon when bait fishing at night.

  • Focus on migration routes: Salmon move at night, so try to position your bait in areas where they will move through and even areas they might slow down or rest for a bit. The head of pools, deep pools, corner pools, and areas that funnel the salmon are best options.
  • Go Bigger: Using larger bait that the salmon can detect is often a best practice. Roe bags and chunks of skein the size of golf balls are good options. Large shiners, herring, or minnows between 4 and 6 inches are also good. At times, a well-presented night crawler worm can also be good.
  • Use Scent: Baits like fresh roe or skein that scent well and attract salmon tend to work the best. See my article on salmon fishing with skein. Fishing salmon with shrimp or prawns is another good option.
  • Go Brighter: Using brightly colored baits like chartreuse or bright attractor beads near your bait can sometimes enhance the visibility of the bait.
  • Methods: Some methods just work better than others. Use more effective or high percentage methods for best results. I’ll discuss them below.

River Mouth Fishing For Salmon At Night

River mouths are like funnels and they attract salmon that are prepared to start their spawn runs. For this reason, salmon may stage in out from known spawning rivers for days or weeks before moving up the river.

Dusk: an hour before dusk and just before dark, salmon will start nosing into the river mouths and some will start swimming up the river, This is a great time for anglers to target salmon.

Anglers can target the salmon using lures like Lyman plugs, spinners, spoons, and crankbaits. Bait fishing using still fishing methods like plunking or using float fishing methods can be good options.

Sometimes staggered runs of salmon will continue to enter the river all night long and will continue at dawn.

Pier fishing is comment and rivers mouths with long extended piers attract the most anglers and are often the most productive areas because of the distance out into the lake.

If there are piers on both sides this funnels the salmon and concentrates them which is why these are good areas for fishing salmon at night.

Shore Fishing For Salmon At Night

Salmon will move into the shores at night, especially when they are close to spawning time. Anglers will find beach fishing or targeting salmon from shore on either side of rivers can be good options.

Some salmon will even roam into marinas and harbors at night and anglers will catch them from the boat docks. These are great areas for casting lures for roaming salmon, and sometimes the marina lights can even attract the salmon, as well as help you fish easier.

River Fishing For Salmon At Night

We would sometimes fish the mouth of the river just before dusk and for about an hour after dark, and then we would move up the river a few miles to target salmon in the river.

Salmon will generally move at walking speed, so you can often gauge their distance and follow them up the river. As a guide, on some rivers, I could predict within a quarter mile when the first wave of salmon would be at first daylight. This made for many days of great fishing for my clients.

Some anglers will fish too far up the river and catch no salmon, while others in the lower river will catch a lot. This can be reversed in the morning with more fish up the river. It helps if you can figure out how long it takes a salmon to move and to predict where they will be based on them starting their runs at dusk the night before.

Keep in mind that on large rivers with large flows, the salmon can and will enter the river during the day or at any time. It’s smaller shallower creeks and rivers that the salmon prefer to run during low light and in the dark.

Open Water Fishing At Night

Trolling at night can be good near river mouths, but it can also be good out in the open water if you know where the salmon are. The use of sonar units to locate salmon and bait fish is important.

Many anglers will use glowing lures or lures like crankbaits and spoons that have good action while being trolled slowly.

Some anglers will also anchor and cast lures near river mouths. It’s best to do this with waves under 2 feet. See Trolling For Salmon.

Best Time To Fish For Salmon At Night

The hour before sunset and the hour after sunset is the best time to fish for salmon at night. The other window of opportunity is the hours before sunrise and the two hours after sunrise.

If the conditions are good, sporadic pods of salmon will move into the rivers all night long.

The Downside To Night Fishing For Salmon

There are some downsides to salmon fishing at night that you should seriously consider before you decide to fish after dark:

  • Vision: You can’t see very well at night, and it’s even darker in a forested area along the river. This means you are more likely to get injured or risk death. You are more likely to fall, which includes falling down banks, falling in holes or depressions on the trail, or even falling in the river. I’ve had plenty of clients, myself included, getting jabbed by branches in the face, and if it’s remote, you can get lost or lose the trail easier, you are more likely to hook things like trees, logs, the bank, or yourself.
  • Casting and Targeting salmon: If you can’t see the bank of the river, it’s much harder to cover the water properly, making fishing for salmon harder.
  • Strike Detection: It is much harder to see your line or your float which makes detecting bites more difficult.
  • Tangles: This is one of the biggest problems, especially for less experienced anglers. Tangles are much more prevalent when you can’t see what you are doing. And tangles are much harder to fix in the dark.

Tips For Night Fishing For Salmon

After many trips on the water fishing for salmon in the dark, I figured out how to make things easier and safer.

  • Fish Water You Know: I highly suggest primarily going to a fishing spot or areas where you already fish during the day because going to new water in the dark is a big mistake, and it’s dangerous. You are more likely to get lost on the way in or out, and you risk getting in over your head in water if you don’t know the faster deep spots that can be dangerous. You also won’t know where to cross safely, or even where the salmon hold.
  • HeadLamp and Extra Batteries: Get yourself a really bright headlamp that you can use for fishing and walking in the dark. Headlamps are a must for walking on the trails, crossing the river, fighting fish, as well as netting, and releasing fish. Also, be sure you have extra batteries because trying to find your way back in the dark can be tough and dangerous. Some anglers also use red light headlamps, which are good while fishing if you want to leave the light on the entire time. However, a bright light is better on the trails.
  • Move Slower: Slow down both on the trail and when in the river and when fishing. Slowing down will prevent dangerous problems and help you catch more salmon. Slowing your casting will prevent tangles and snags, and slowing your presentation down will help the salmon locate your bait.
  • Buddy System or Tell A Freind: If possible, always night fish with a buddy. Or, if you fish alone, be sure to let someone know exactly where you are going, then stick to the plan, and tell them when you will be back in case of an emergency or you get into trouble.

Best Methods To Fish For Salmon At Night

I fish at night using all methods of salmon fishing however, it is important to adjust those methods so they are still productive when night fishing.

The methods you should use when salmon fishing at night are:

Float Fishing For Salmon At Night

Salmon leader for float fishing
This is the same leader setup that I use when guiding and fishing for great lakes salmon.

Drifting your bait slowly down the river under a float is one of the best methods of catching salmon at night. You can buy glow-in-the-dark floats or mini glow sticks that go on the top of your float.

Using a good river-style float with a pointed top is the best way to bait fish for salmon, and with the proper presentation, it will help you catch more salmon. Learn how to float fish for salmon effectively and you will catch more salmon, day or night.

Plunking Or Still Fishing For Salmon At Night

A good salmon plunking rig used with baits like spawn sacs and skein.
This is a good salmon plunking rig used with baits like spawn sacs and skein.

Plunking for salmon or still fishing with your bait on the bottom is another method salmon anglers use. Focus on areas that the salmon will slow down and areas that the salmon will be moving through.

Learn how to use this method more effectively at Plunking For Salmon.

Drift Fishing And Bottom Bouncing

Drift fishing and bottom bouncing are effective methods for drifting baits without a float, and these methods can be very effective at night. However, it can be very difficult to detect bites in the dark so I prefer to use a float.

Check out Drift Fishing For Salmon.

Fly Fishing At Night For Salmon

Fly fishing at night for salmon can also be a good method in shallower rivers. When fly fishing at night, you really need to know your surroundings, or your fly will end up in more trees and bushes than in the mouths of salmon.

Large egg patterns, streamers like wolly buggers and egg-sucking leeches are good options for salmon. Large nymphs such as stoneflies or mayflies are another good option.

Check out, fly fishing for salmon.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing at night is also a great way to catch big salmon in the dark.

Pay more attention to slower deeper water where your bait will move slower past the fish and be seen easier.

Check out Lure Fishing For Salmon and How To Catch King Salmon.

Salmon Fishing At Night Q&A

If you have any questions or want to share some advice on salmon fishing at night, let us know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines


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