Salmon Fishing In Idaho: A Comprehensive Guide

Salmon River has some of the best salmon fishing in Idaho
Salmon River north of Carmen Idaho

Salmon fishing in Idaho is not just a sport; it’s an experience, blending the thrill of the catch with the serene beauty of the state’s lush landscapes. Idaho’s rivers, teeming with various salmon species, offer both novice and experienced anglers a chance to immerse themselves in a fishing adventure like no other.

Key Takeaways

  • Salmon Species in Idaho: Chinook and Coho salmon are prominent in Idaho’s waters, each bringing a unique challenge and excitement to the angler.
  • Prime Locations: The Salmon River and Snake River are renowned for their abundant salmon populations and scenic views.
  • Peak Seasons: Spring and fall witness the most significant salmon runs, offering optimal fishing opportunities.
  • Tackle Essentials: A sturdy rod, a reliable reel, and a selection of lures and flies are crucial for a successful outing.
  • Best Baits and Lures: A list of the most effective baits and lures for salmon
  • Guides and Lodges:

Discovering Idaho’s Best Salmon Rivers

The Clearwater River has some of the best salmon fishing in Idaho
The Clearwater River has some of the best salmon fishing in Idaho

Idaho, with its pristine waters and abundant fish populations, has long been a favored destination for anglers seeking the elusive salmon.

Whether you’re navigating the swift currents of the Salmon River or exploring the depths of the Snake River, the promise of a rewarding catch and the tranquility of nature converge to create an unparalleled fishing experience.

Prime Fishing Spots For Salmon

The Snake River is know for great salmon fishing in Idaho.
The Snake River is know for great salmon fishing in Idaho.

Idaho’s four salmon rivers, each with its unique topography and salmon populations, have good opportunities for salmon anglers.

River Name Description Best Time for Salmon Fishing
Salmon River Renowned for its abundant salmon population, it stands out as one of the best rivers in the state for salmon fishing. May through October
Snake River The lower and middle Snake River provides diverse salmon fishing spots and hosts various salmon species and is considered one of the best salmon rivers in the state. It’s also known for Hells Canyon. May through October
Clearwater River Renowned for its pristine waters and scenic fishing locales, it offers commendable salmon fishing opportunities. May through October
Boise River Notably stocked by the state with Kokanee Salmon, providing anglers with a reliable fishing spot. May through October
The Salmon River

The Salmon River, often referred to as “The River of No Return,” is the best salmon river in Idaho. The Salmon River offers good salmon fishing and a journey through nature’s splendid isolation.

Here, Chinook salmon dominate the waters, providing anglers with a challenging and rewarding fishing experience.

  • Salmon River Highlights:
    1. Chinook Salmon: The primary species known for its size and strength.
    2. Scenic Views: Breathtaking landscapes that enhance the fishing experience.
    3. Accessible Spots: Various access points that cater to anglers of all levels.

The Salmon River’s accessibility ensures that whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, the Salmon River has something to offer to enhance your fishing journey.

The Best Times for Salmon Fishing In Idaho

The Southfork of the clearwater river

Timing is pivotal in salmon fishing since the salmon are migrating up the river from the Pacific Ocean.

The spring run, often starting in April, sees the Chinook salmon making their way through Idaho’s rivers in June and July. Some areas might not be open early for spring runs. However, there are still fisheries open in the Clearwater basin and the Upper Salmon River near Stanley, providing anglers with the first major fishing opportunity of the year.

August can be good on most rivers that are open for fishing.

The fall run, typically beginning in September in idaho, is good for late Chinook and Coho salmon.

Check the Idaho State Fish and Game fishing regulations before you go salmon fishing in Idaho.

Gearing Up: Tackling the Essentials for Salmon Fishing

A king salmon from the Salmon River
A king salmon from the Salmon River

Your rod and reel are your primary tools in the battle against the spirited salmon, but there are many methods that require different gear, and there is big water and smaller water that also require different types of gear.

Rods and Reels: Equipping Yourself for the Catch

A clients with bent rod waiting for my guide to net the fish.
A river guide client with bent rod waiting for his guide to net the fish. Image provided by Cody from Reel Fresh Guide Service in Ontario.

The rod should offer a blend of strength and flexibility, ensuring it can withstand the salmon’s powerful runs while providing you with sufficient control.

Similarly, the reel should facilitate a smooth line retrieval and have a robust drag system to manage the salmon’s persistent fights.

  • Choosing Your Gear:
    1. Rod: A medium-heavy rod that provides control and durability. Rod length is 7’6″ to 9’6″ feet depending on the method you use.
    2. Reel: Spinning reels and baitcasting reels are most popular. Ensure your reel has a smooth retrieval system and sturdy drag. Size 4000 to 5000 reels are used, and reels with enough line capacity for heavy lines and long runs are required. Your reel size will depend on the conditions.

Hook, Line, and Sinker: Selecting the Right Tackle

Embarking on a salmon fishing adventure in the prolific waters of Idaho necessitates a well-thought-out selection of tackle.

Your choice of hooks, lines, and sinkers plays a pivotal role in determining the success of your angling expedition.

A strong hook, generally size 4 to 8, will work for most baits. A strong line between 12 and 16 mono, or 30 to 40-pound braid with a 12 to 16-pound fluorocarbon leader is required.

I downsize or upsize the line based on the water I’m fishing. When I am fishing in bigger faster water or dirtier water, I go up in size, but since the rivers are usually clear, I will downsize in slower water, clear water, or smaller sections.

  • Essential Tackle Checklist:
    1. Hooks: Ensure they are sharp, good quality, and of appropriate size for salmon.
    2. Line: Opt for a line with adequate strength and visibility.
    3. Weights: Choose sinkers that facilitate the desired depth and drift and the method you want to use
    4. Leaders: Use fluorocarbon leaders appropriate in length and strength to the method and conditions.

Bait and Beyond: Choosing The Right Bait Lures and Flies

Using the right bait is paramount in enticing the salmon to bite.

Whether you opt for artificial lures or imitation flies, understanding the preferences of the salmon in Idaho’s rivers can significantly enhance your chances of a successful catch.

From vibrant spinners to realistic flies, your bait selection should mimic the natural diet of the salmon, ensuring it is irresistible to these discerning fish.

  • Popular Bait and Lure Options:
    1. Baits: Roe or spawn sacs, worms (where permitted), plastic worms, beads are hot, artificial baits (plastic or Powerbaits)
    2. Spinners: Vibrant and motion-induced lures that attract salmon. Blue Fox Vibrax and Mepps in size 4 or 5.
    3. Spoons and crankbaits: Use 3 to 5-inch crankbaits and spoons in a variety of colors based on the conditions.
    4. Flies: Realistic imitations that appeal to the salmon’s natural diet. Eggs patterns, nymphs, streamers, and worm patterns are good.
    5. Plugs: Designed to mimic small fish, enticing salmon to bite. 3 to 5 inch crankbaits like Kwickfish, FlatFish, and Maglips are great options.

Techniques and Tips for a Successful Salmon Fishing Trip

Salmon fishing is an art where understanding the fish’s behavior and employing strategic techniques culminate in a successful catch.

From drift fishing in the larger fast-flowing rivers to float fishing a bait in the slower deeper waters, each technique requires a nuanced approach and adept skills.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing involves allowing bait to move with the current without a float or bobber, enticing salmon with a seemingly natural presentation. Anglers strategically place their bait in the salmon’s path, ensuring it hovers just above the bottom.

Float Fishing

Float fishing suspends bait beneath a float, which acts as a bite indicator. The bait is presented at a depth where salmon are present, and when they bite, the float signals the bite.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for salmon involves a few methods such as indicator fishing, streamer fishing, or swinging flies with a spey rod.


Jigging for salmon can be done by drifting the jig under a float or twitching the jig. When twitching, the jig is moved in a series of hops and falls, appealing to the salmon’s predatory instincts and can be used from a boat or shore.


Plunking involves placing a bait or lure in a stationary position in the water, often anchored on the bottom to remain in a strategic spot where salmon are likely to pass. The bait remains static, providing a steady target for salmon to strike.

Bobber Doggin

Bobber doggin for salmon combines elements of float and drift fishing. A bait or lure is suspended beneath a bobber and allowed to drift downriver, providing a natural presentation.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing involves using artificial lures that mimic the appearance and movement of prey, enticing salmon to strike. Anglers actively cast and retrieve lures, adjusting speed and pattern to simulate living creatures, such as small fish or crayfish, shrimp, or leeches.

Boat Fishing Methods

If you salmon fish in Idaho you may see drift boats, inflatable rafts, and even jet boats being used for salmon fishing.

With a bait you can use multiple methods.

  • Casting Lures: Casting lures as you drift through spots
  • Back Trolling: Back Trolling for salmon is popular on many of the Pacific west coast salmon and steelhead rivers and it is used in Idaho as well.
  • Back Bouncing: Back bouncing foir salmon is another good method used by guides and angers with boats.
  • Side Drifting: Another popular method that is used by guides and anglers to cover a lot of water.

See all the salmon method explained on my Page Salmon Fishing: A Complete Guide.

Navigating the Waters with Expert Guides

Navigating the intricate waterways of Idaho and understanding the habits of its salmon can be a complex task.

Engaging with expert fishing guides can not only enhance your chances of a successful catch but also enrich your overall fishing experience.

Guides, with their wealth of local knowledge and expertise, can navigate you through the most prolific fishing spots and assist in honing your fishing techniques.

  • Benefits of Hiring a Guide:
    1. Local Knowledge: Insights into the best fishing spots and times.
    2. Technique Tips: Hands-on advice to improve your fishing skills.
    3. Gear and Tackle: Access to optimal gear and tackle for the region.

Some Guides To Consider:

Lodging and Accommodations For Idaho Salmon Fishing

After a day of battling the mighty salmon, a comfortable and relaxing place to rest is paramount. Salmon fishing lodges in Idaho offer anglers a serene retreat, often situated in close proximity to prime fishing spots. These lodges provide not only a comfortable stay but also an opportunity to connect with fellow anglers and share experiences and stories over a cozy fire.

  • Selecting a Lodge:
    1. Proximity to Fishing Spots: Ensuring minimal travel to and from the rivers.
    2. Amenities: Adequate facilities to ensure a comfortable stay.
    3. Fishing-Friendly: Facilities like rod storage and fish cleaning stations
    4. Guided Trips: Availability of expert guides for fishing expeditions.
    5. Accessibility: Easy access to your desired fishing locations.
    6. Angler-Friendly Amenities: Such as gear storage and preparation areas.

6. Conclusion

Salmon fishing in Idaho offers a rich and rewarding experience, blending the thrill of the catch with the serene beauty of the wilderness. Whether you’re casting a line in the prolific Salmon River, exploring the various techniques of salmon fishing, or relaxing in a cozy fishing lodge, Idaho provides a diverse and enriching fishing adventure.


  1. Idaho Department of Fish and Game
  2. The Nature Conservancy in Idaho
  3. Visit Idaho

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