Top 3 places to catch Big salmon in North America

Top 3 places to catch BIG salmon in North America.

There are 5 types of salmon so first you need to figure out what your goal is.

Many people consider Chinook (Kings) the top sport fish for their strength and relative size to the other 4 types. But the feeder Chinook in the 5-12 lb range are my favorite eating fish.

So where are the top spots to catch Chinook (King) salmon?

In order to answer that question you have to ask how do you weigh your criteria?

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Ease of travel getting to base location
  2. Time to fishing from base
  3. Level of comfort fishing (Waves, wind, precipitation)
  4. Likelihood of catching what you are aiming for
  5. Beauty of surrounding area.
  6. Cost of excursion
  7. Window of prime fishing time

Here are my pics for top Chinook salmon (King) locations for the above mentioned reasons :

  1. Ucluelet BC ( read an article about Ucluelet here)
  2. Haida Gwaii (both charters and fishing lodges)
  3. Kuoquot (remote location on the west coast of Vancouver Island)

For a list of the top locations on Vancouver Island BC you can check out this article here.

Chinook salmon caught in Ucluelet August 2022


The decline of Chinook salmon

There has been a steady decline of Chinook salmon in Alaska, some rivers on the north coast of BC and the Fraser River out of Vancouver. There are many theories on what the cause is including ocean conditions, Alaska’s commercial fishery, and seals in and around rivers. All those factors play a role.

Warming oceans?

Its unclear though how much ocean conditions play a role. From 1990 to about 2015 the Coho almost completely disappeared from the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Many people predicted it was warming ocean conditions since the Strait of Georgia is about 5-10 degrees warmer than the west coast.

But in recent years the Coho salmon have come back in relatively strong numbers in Georgia Strait and the temperatures haven’t gotten warmer. Others argue ocean acidity has changed which may be a larger factor.

Regulations and DFO

Anyone  in  the sport fishing industry can tell you that DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) doesn’t seem to make decisions based on science or logic. In Canada it is quite political and has more to do with lawsuits from NGO’s (many of them from the USA) , First Nations, and the commercial fishery than actual science. And the media running stories about starving Orca whales did help either.

We as sport fisherman knew the stories didn’t make sense as we always know where the salmon are and we know Orcas are very smart creatures. Because salmon numbers have actually been increasing slightly the past few years in BC, we know there is enough food. The stories  played on a starving calf which ended up dying. The most likely culprit is toxins in the water since Victoria dumps raw sewage into the ocean and that is close to the problem area.

The east coast and southwest part  of Vancouver Island have seen the largest restrictions unfortunately even though salmon numbers there are better than when I fished there in the early 90’s.

Sockeye Salmon

If you just want to catch any salmon and you are on a budget and have a lot of time, you may want to try Seward or Bristol Bay in Alaska. Both areas are known for large sockeye salmon runs. In Seward, you can find 1K fisherman with weighted treble hooks trying to snag a sockeye salmon .

Why I don’t consider this much of a sport, some people like it so much they will bring their campers up and camp in private parking lots which turn into May/June campgrounds with portable toilets.

You can also catch Sockeye salmon from a boat in Port Alberni which is on the way to Ucluelet. The Sockeye salmon run here is best from June 25 to July 10 but you can catch Sockeye up until the end of July.

Sockeye salmon have a rich flavor and are considered 1 of the top 3 salmon for flavor. While Chinook are my favorite, I would never pass up a well cooked sockeye salmon.

Seward Alaska

Coho, Chum, Pinks

Chum and Pinks are not known for being prime sport fish. Coho salmon can be a lot of fun and northern BC and Alaska have the largest numbers of Coho during the summer months. Northern Coho are also larger. When I guided at Hakai Beach Resort in Hakai pass, we could have a triple header of Coho and this was a lot of chaos and fun.

About the author

Sam Vandervalk is an owner/guide of Salmon Eye Charters. He loves especially loves Chnook salmon fishing but has also caught many other types of fish around the world like Sea Trout in Chile, Marlin in Cabo, and bluefin Tuna from San Diego. He has fished and guided many areas on Vancouver Island, northern BC and Alaska. If you have questions about fishing anywhere in the world feel free to reach out to him.