Salmon Fishing in Pennsylvania: A Guide For Anglers

When salmon fishing in Pennsylvania it's possible to catch chinook salmon like this.
When salmon fishing in Pennsylvania it’s possible to catch chinook salmon like this.

Unlike other articles on Pennsylvania salmon fishing, I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that salmon fishing in Pennsylvania is poor. The numbers of salmon in Lake Erie and the salmon that return to spawn up the rivers are extremely low.

Most salmon caught in the area are incidental catches from anglers fishing for other species such as steelhead and lake-run brown trout.

With that being said, some salmon are caught in the lake and rivers, so if you want to try salmon fishing, I’ve provided my salmon fishing methods and the best baits that I use and teach my clients.

About Pennsylvania Salmon Fishing

Salmon fishing in Pennsylvania consists of the odd Coho or Pink salmon that is caught out in Lake Erie or in one of the tributary rivers. The occasional chinook salmon is also possible in this area.

Most salmon caught are from stray salmon that have come down from Lake Huron or are the rare natural salmon that have survived previous stocking programs. Both are rare.

The good news is that often there are steelhead in the rivers and out in Lake Erie at the same time as you would fish for salmon, and they are caught on the same methods, baits, and lures.

The Keystone State boasts some of the finest steelhead rivers in the Great Lakes region and I’ve had the pleasure of landing over 60 steelhead a day, but once PA and Ohio stopped stocking salmon over ten years ago, most salmon disappeared.

Anglers in Pennsylvania have the chance to hook salmon both in Lake Erie and in the rivers, where they return in the fall to spawn.

The state’s extensive shoreline, adorned with countless rivers and streams, offers ample opportunities for salmon fishing.

Understanding Pennsylvania’s Salmon Runs

Some small salmon runs start after the first autumn rains in September, continuing with each subsequent downpour until early November.

The Salmon Species of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania anglers have access to four distinct salmon species. The primary salmon reported are the Pink salmon and Coho salmon.

Chinook Salmon: Also known as king salmon, these are the giants of the salmon world. It’s not uncommon for boaters to reel in their limit of sizable lake salmon within a matter of hours. River enthusiasts can enjoy the excitement of landing 20 or more of these powerful swimmers in a single day. The average mature chinook salmon tips the scales around 25 pounds, with many boasting weights exceeding 35 pounds.

Coho Salmon: Though smaller in size, Coho salmon are renowned for their resilience and impressive fighting skills. Despite averaging around 10 pounds, these feisty fish put up a fight akin to opponents twice their size.

Pink Salmon: Pink salmon sightings are rare and generally associated with natural reproduction from past stocking endeavors or strays from Lake Huron.

Pennsylvania Salmon’s Appetite in the River

Contrary to popular belief, salmon in Pennsylvania’s rivers don’t abandon their appetite once they enter the waterways.

While growing up, I often heard that salmon’s digestive systems shut down during river entry, rendering them non-eaters. However, firsthand experiences have shown me otherwise.

I’ve observed salmon actively engaging with lures, flies, and even floats. Scientific studies on the Salmon River in New York corroborate these observations, confirming that spawning salmon do indeed feed.

Strategies For Pennsylvania Salmon Fishing

Pennsylvania anglers can approach salmon fishing through three primary avenues: shore, boat, and river fishing.

Shore Fishing: Capitalizing on the seasonal proximity of salmon to the shore offers anglers a thrilling experience. Casting lures or bait from the shoreline can yield fruitful results. Choice spots for shore fishing include river mouths, breakwalls, piers, harbors, and warm water outflows. See Shore Fishing For Salmon for tactics and tips.

Boat Fishing: The expanses of Lake Ontario are a haven for salmon fishing. The boat fishing season spans from April through the peak of summer, tapering off into late fall. Trolling lures, plugs, cutbaits, and flasher fly combos constitute the primary techniques, often augmented by lead core lines or downriggers. See the Trolling For Salmon article for methods and setups.

River Fishing: The crux of Pennsylvania salmon fishing unfolds in its rivers. Thousands of anglers hit the rivers in the fall in search of steelhead and this is when the odd salmon is caught. Salmon enter these streams during the fall in search of spawning grounds.

While larger, well-known rivers attract most anglers, even smaller creeks see salmon movements during heavy rains.

Optimal Times for Pennsylvania Salmon Fishing

The best times to pursue salmon in Pennsylvania depend on the desired fishing style.

April and May: Early spring finds salmon congregating on the south end of Lake Erie, particularly around Erie PA. These months are favorable for both shore and boat fishing.

June, July, August: Late June to late August ushers in prime mid-lake fishing, with salmon being caught by steelhead and walleye anglers and charter boats. As August progresses, larger salmon make their appearance near river mouths and closer to the shoreline.

September to November: The onset of significant rainfall in August signals the beginning of prime shore and river fishing, extending well into mid-November. The peak fishing window for migrating salmon spans from late September to late October.

Salmon Fishing Erie PA

One of the more popular questions is about salmon fishing Erie PA. I think anglers believe that because the steelhead fishing is so good in this are that the salmon fishing around Erie, Pennsylvania, is also good.

But like all areas of PA, unfortunately, the salmon fishing in Erie, PA, is very limited or considered poor fishing.

Techniques for River Salmon Fishing

Landing salmon in Pennsylvania’s rivers involves mastering various techniques:

  • Float Fishing: Drifting bait beneath a float along the current, particularly in rivers that are at least 3 feet deep, can prove successful.
  • Lure Fishing: Casting spinners, spoons, and crankbaits at river mouths or within the river itself is a favored method. Check my article on Lure Fishing for Salmon for further insights.
  • Centerpin Fishing: A specialized reel known as a Centerpin reel facilitates float fishing in Pennsylvania, delivering optimal bait presentation and potential for high catch rates.
  • Fly Fishing: Personally, I lean toward fly fishing for Pennsylvania’s salmon rivers. Casting streamers, drifting nymphs under an indicator, or engaging in spey fishing can yield excellent results. Brightly colored flies, particularly egg patterns, tend to entice salmon effectively.
  • Drift Fishing and Bottom Bouncing: Employ drift fishing for larger, deeper rivers and bottom bouncing for smaller sections and pocket water. The latter technique shines in waters less than 3 feet deep.
  • Plunking for Salmon: Plunking involves casting a weight to anchor bait near the river bottom. Ideal for capturing deep cruising salmon, this method suits both river and shore fishing.

Preferred Baits for Pennsylvania Salmon

My bait choices for Pennsylvania salmon mirror those suitable for the entire Great Lakes region.

Spawn sacs, Skein, live or plastic worms, minnows, and artificial flies all present successful options.

PA Fishing Regulations.

Be sure to check the Pennsylvania fishing regulations before you start fishing for PA salmon.

Tight Lines,


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