I was skimming though the archives of the FishwithJD Youtube channel and ran across this video of underwater salmon bites I shot last summer. Yeah, I’ve posted it before, but after a long winter, it got me fired up to fish…and figured it would pump you up, too!
On the 6 a.m. Southwest flight from Sacramento to Portland on a Monday morning, I am the odd man out. Surrounded mostly by folks in suits and briefcases – business commuters – I’m sporting fleece wading pants, a Gore-Tex parka and stained fishing cap. When we hit the tarmac at PDX, most of my spiffily dressed friends here will shuffle off to work somewhere downtown. I’m headed just a few miles southeast to do something quite the opposite – to go steelhead fishing on the Clackamas River.
This interesting contrast gets me thinking about how big cities and good fishing don’t always go hand-in-hand, but here on the West Coast, we have several major urban areas that play host to some surprisingly productive and diverse fisheries. Here now, in no particular order, are some of the best:
San Diego, CA
You could spend a lifetime sampling all the sportfishing opportunities that the greater San Diego area has to offer and never come close to doing it all. From giant tuna to record class largemouth bass and everything in between, there’s a little something for everyone here.
San Diego is perhaps best known as the homeport of the extremely popular long range fleet that fishes along the Mexican coastline – and points further south. Cow yellowfin, wahoo, dorado, albacore, yellowtail and marlin are the main draws, but there are plenty of calico and sand bass, barracuda, halibut, white seabass, rockfish and bonito in the local inshore waters to keep the small boat crowd happy, too.
Get seasick? No problem – just head into San Diego or Mission bays with some ultralight gear and have a ball with sand bass, spotted bay bass and halibut. Additionally, bay anglers also catch the occasional seabass, bonito, barracuda – and even bonefish. Or, you can always prowl the beaches for small ‘butts, corbina, perch and croaker.
Then there’s the whole freshwater scene. Giant Florida strain largemouth draw record hunters to places like Lake Dixon (formerly home of “Dottie,” the mammoth bass that made so much news a couple years back), Lake Miramar, Lake Hodges and others. As if that weren’t enough, you can also catch trout in lakes like Poway and Cuyamaca.
San Francisco, CA
Of all the West’s big cities, San Francisco may just offer the most diverse collection of angling opportunities. Right outside the Golden Gate there are lings, rockfish of every size and color, albacore and Chinook salmon to chase. And who could forget the Dungeness crabbing? Inside the bay, there’s terrific striped bass, sturgeon and California halibut fishing all within sight of the city’s high rises.
Shore-bound anglers can fish San Francisco’s ocean beaches for perch and striped bass or venture to one of the region’s many freshwater lakes that kick out a wide range of fishing that should suit just about everybody’s taste. Most feature put-and-take trout fisheries, along with bass, panfish and catfish. Check out Lake Chabot, Del Valle Reservoir, San Pablo Reservoir, Shadow Cliffs Lake and many others.
Just inland lies the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that pumps out all sorts of mixed bag action. Stripers and sturgeon probably get the most attention here, but the Delta also has a solid reputation for harboring good numbers of jumbo largemouth bass, along with a modest population of smallies. The place is also teeming with catfish that can go from paniszed bullheads to blues and channels that have topped the 50-pound mark in recent years.
Location, location, location! Situated about an hour and a half from the coast and just minutes south of the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, Portland is an angler’s dream. Right downtown there’s some of the best sturgeon and spring-run Chinook salmon fishing to be found anywhere in the two big rivers. Smaller tribs like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers play host to seasonal runs of winter and summer steelies, springers, fall Chinook and coho salmon.
An hour east is the amazing Columbia River Gorge and more epic sturgeon, steelhead and salmon action – plus smallmouth bass and walleye, too. To the west lies the fabled Tillamook Bay area, which is the epicenter of some of the West Coast’s best salmon and steelhead fishing and there’s plenty more up north across the Washington border.
Los Angeles, CA
Much like San Diego, there’s a ton of saltwater fishing to be had off LA. Near shore, you’ve got calico and sand bass, barracuda, bonito, mackerel, halibut, sheepshead, sculpin, white seabass, cabezon, lings and rockfish. Get out into the blue water and you’ve got a shot at big game species like bluefin and yellowfin tuna, dorado, albacore and billfish.
Newport Harbor is an exciting fishery for the light tackle aficionado and fishes a lot like a bass lake. By tossing small plastics around pilings and under boat docks, you can expect to catch sand bass, halibut and croaker. For a really interesting experience, hit the beaches around the Santa Monica Pier in July when the sand crabs are out in force. If you look closely, you should be able to see plenty of corbina working the foam line right at the feet of the scads of waders, swimmers and boogie boarders.
If coldwater species are your thing, check out the trout fishing at places like Irvine Lake and Santa River Lakes, where chasing oversized planter rainbows on featherweight tackle is almost a religion. There are big bass here, too. Though not the glory hole it once was, Lake Castaic has produced a number of monster largemouth, including a 21-pound 12 ouncer that narrowly missed the world record for the species by ounces. Other waters to check out include Piru Lake, Lake Casitias and Ojai Lake. If you’re into stripers, try Pyramid Lake near the Grapevine.
It may be the smallest town on this list, but the Capitol City can hold its own. Flowing smack through the heart of downtown are both the American and Sacramento rivers and then you have the Feather River just north of the airport. All three play host to excellent runs of Chinook Salmon and several other species.
Anglers flock to the Sac and Feather every spring for world-class striped bass fishing, while the American is more of a size over numbers game. Good shad runs also enter these streams April through June and the Feather gets a run of small fall steelhead, too. Most of the action in the winter comes courtesy of the American, where winter steelhead to 15 plus pounds are taken – or the Sacramento which yields big sturgeon to bait anglers.
To the southwest is the vast Delta system and all it has to offer, while Folsom Lake is an excellent trout, king salmon and bass fishery. Lake Natoma doesn’t produce a lot of fish, but a handful of rainbow trout over 20 pounds have been landed there. Then you have a myriad of lakes within an hour’s drive in any direction, including popular Lake Berryessa, Camanche Reservoir, Sly Park, Union Valley Reservoir, Lake Pardee and Lake Amador.
Because it’s bordered by both fresh and saltwater, the Emerald City is another urban area that features great fishing diversity. Just yards off Seattle’s western edge, you can catch king, coho, pink and chum salmon, plus rockfish, lings, halibut and crab in Elliot Bay and Puget Sound.
To the east, the city is hemmed in by Lake Washington, which produces good cutthroat and rainbow trout fishing, along with yellow perch and smallmouth bass. Additionally, sockeye salmon migrate up through the Ballard Locks and into the lake in the summer months. On years when biologists determine there are enough salmon in the lake to reach escapement goals, they open it up to anglers and a zoo-like troll fishery materializes overnight.
Just over the hill from Lake Washington is Lake Sammamish, which gets seasonal runs of coho and king salmon to go along with a nice resident population of smallmouth bass.
For the river fishing enthusiast, there are several rivers that serve up nice salmon and steelhead action, including the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Snohomish, Wallace and Sultan to name a few.
So there you have it – there’s some pretty good fishing to be had in the concrete jungles of some of the West’s largest cities. On that next business trip, you just may want to pack a travel rod in with your laptop!
Read More: Surf Perch How-to
King Salmon are awesome…and the truly giant ones are unbelievably special creatures. Here’s a list of 10 massive kings that will make you weak in the knees…
Close to 80 Pounds!
The Kenai River in Alaska has pumped out more monster Chinook than anywhere. This massive 53.5″ x 34″ buck weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 pounds!
On July 15, 2009, angler Joel Atchison caught this massive Chinook on the Kenai River in Alaska. Guide John Whitlatch of Reel Adventures says he’s not sure if the fish was a world record or not…because he and Aitchison decided to forgo their own glory and instead let the big beast go and make babies. Very, very cool!
The Biggest of All!
The biggest king salmon ever caught was this 126-pound monster that was caught in a fish trap near Petersburg, Alaska in 1949. My friend and fellow Alaska guide, Chris Sessions, sent me this pic and said that a friend of his has one of the three replica mounts of the behemoth on his wall.
All I can say is OMG!!!
The King of Kings
No list of massive king salmon would be complete without the current All-Tackle IGFA All-Tackle World Record 97-pound, 4-ounce king caught by Les Anderson in the Kenai River back in May of 1985. The record fish measured a mind blowing 58.5″ x 37″ and was probably a 100 pounder considering it wasn’t weighed for several hours after it was caught.
You can read the whole story HERE
Imagine the surprise of California Department of Fish & game biologists when they found this Godzilla-sized Chinook carcass in Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River, nearly 300 miles upstream, from the ocean! The fish was almost 51 inches long and estimated to weigh 88 pounds… dead! In his prime, out in the salt, the fish could have been pushing 100 pounds!
See more photos HERE
83-Pound BC Beast (Released!)
Deborah Whitman-Perry of Newmarket, Ont., caught & released this huge king that weighed 83 pounds, three ounces in August 2012 at River’s Inlet, BC while fishing with guide Tyler Mills of Good Hope Cannery. Again, I’m loving the fact that people are letting these hogs go! Read the whole story HERE
The Good Ol’ Days: Columbia River June Hogs
Before all the dams royally messed the Columbia River up for good, it had some monster Chinook! Bound for the upper end of the watershed, “June Hogs” sometimes topped 100 pounds. The construction of Grand Coulee Dam, which has no fish passage, ultimately did these massive beasts in for good. :(
So, considering I’ve never caught a king remotely as big as this 80-pounder from River’s Inlet, BC… I can only imagine how ridiculously massive the fillets off a fish like this are! Kudos to the netter too… I’m thinking I’d have a sudden case of the shakes when this bad dude came to the surface!
85-Pound June Hog
Here’s another one from the “wish I had a time machine jet sled” files… An 85-pound Columbia River June Hog caught in 1925 at Astoria by Tony Canessa. Man, those fish were soon awesome!
Wolfgang Voelker, owner/operator of Kermode Bear Fishing Lodge in Terrace, BC writes:
Mrs. Ingrid Oeder, her husband Bernhard and their daughter arrived at Terrace Airport on August 6, 2001.
We went out fishing by boat the very next day. Fortunately, John Wright, the Kermode Bear Lodge Assistant Guide, joined us that day. We cast anchor right across the mouth of the Lakelse River. Suddenly, around 11 a.m., there was action on Ingrid’s rod. Bernhard hooked the fish and handed the rod back to her. Initially, there was no reaction on the other end of the line for about 10-15 seconds. All of a sudden, like an explosion, the fish headed toward the main current of the Skeena River.
At this point, I realized that this must be a really big one. We were lucky having John with us since we have been well-coordinated team for years. John released the anchor chain and started the boat engine. Now we’re prepared for the fight. I advised Ingrid to hold the rod up and to keep the line tight. In spite of her excitement she did everything right. We drifted downstream while Bernhard was operating the video camera. I would guess that we were fighting about 30 to 40 minutes with the fish, of course, Ingrid had to do most part of it. At last, the fish showed the first signs of tiredness and therefore the escape attempts lessened. Then it was my turn. After Ingrid finally managed to get the fish alongside the boat, I was able to net it. John and I lifted the salmon into the boat. Ingrid, meanwhile completely exhausted could not believe her luck. We drove back at full speed, since we did not want to set the fish back in the torrential current. I explained to Ingrid that we usually release all “the really big ones” to preserve the gene pool. She and her husband agreed to it without hesitation.
At this point, I want to thank them again for their understanding.
We took the measurements (136 cm x 98 cm) of the Salmon two times because could not believe it the first time. John and I put the giant back into the river approximately 10 minutes later, it swam into the deep water under its own steam.
There was a devout silence on the boat for a few seconds.
In the afternoon Bernhard caught his own smaller Chinook. This one, however, we took with us. Certainly, we will never forget this fishing day on the Skeena River.
The monster fish with a length of 53.5 inches and a girth of 38.5 using a formula (endorsed by FOC) of Length x Girth squared divided by 800 would weigh 99.125-pounds… clearly the largest Chinook (Kings as the Americans refer to them) ever landed. Along with witnesses a video was taken and a photograph made from the video.
10 Mind Blowing Giant Steelhead
Back trolling plugs is one of my favorite ways to fish for steelhead. The way a big steelie tries to atomize a plug that comes wobbling into its lair is so awesome!
It’s a technique that can really yield results – and plugs often attract the biggest fish in the creek: The giant males that are super territorial and all hopped up on hormones.
But you can’t back troll plugs without a boat right? What about the bank angler? Well… good news! With the help of a Luhr Jensen Hot Shot Side Planer (or similar device), you can fish plugs right off the shore. It’s a super fun and productive way to fish, too!
Recently, I’ve met a lot of anglers who are a bit confused as to how to rig a side planer… truth is the instructions on the package are more than just a little hard to follow. So, for those of you like me for whom pictures are better than words, here’s a nice, clear step-by-step look at how to rig one of these handy little steelhead catching tools.
Run your main line from the rod tip down through the wire eye at the front of the planer. I like colored braid for planer fishing so I can see where my rig is.
Next, the line goes down through the hole on the top side of the side planer.
Now, flip the planer over and run the line out through the screw eye on the back end of the unit.
Slide a bead up your main line and then tie a barrel swivel to the end. Your leader goes on the other eye of the swivel. Generally, I’ll run 3 to 6 feet of leader…but for the photo I kept it short, Finish it off with your favorite lure, in this case the super hot Yakima Bait MagLip. On larger waters, I love the 3.5 size. The new smaller 3.0 is awesome on smaller streams or when you have really clear water.
Now, you’re going to want to let out some line. With your reel in freespool, hold the planer in one hand and pull several feet of line through (and out the back of) the side planer. How much line you pull through is going to set the distance behind the planer your plug will be fishing. In clear or deep water, longer is better. I typically set my plug 15-30 feet behind the planer.
Okay, now you are about ready to get this baby wet! The next step to to ensure you have proper orientation of the planer. The wire rod at the front of the planer should always be pointed towards you and the “outrigger” arm should always face away from you. The arm easily attaches to either side of the planer and the wire will swing either direction. You have to adjust these two things depending on the side of the river you are on and which direction the current is running. Anyway, lock the wire eye into the notch of the planer as shown here.
Once the wire is snapped into place facing you, wrap your mainline 4-5 times around the tab at the front of the planer, keeping it tight between the wire eye and the tab. This keeps the planer where you set it (as I mentioned before, usually 15 to 30 feet ahead of the plug). When you start reeling in, the planer will slide back down to your swivel so you can fight the fish without having it well up the line.
Fishing the Side Planer
Okay, now it’s time to fish! In this case, the river is flowing from right to left, so we have to reverse the sides that the wire and outrigger arm from the ones in the rigging pix. Set the plug in the water and then ease the planer in as well, keeping tension on the line so it doesn’t unravel off the nose tab. You have to put the rig in water with some current, otherwise it won’t go anywhere!
With the reel in free spool, use your thumb to let line slip off the reel under tension. You need the tension on the rod side to help to get he planer to pull away from you.
It can take a while to work the planer out into the current, but it should eventually start pulling down and across from your position. The Luhr Jensen Hot Shot Side Planer comes with two different sized fins to run on the outrigger arm. Use the large one in slow water and the smaller one in fast water.
Continue to let line out at a controlled rate with your thumb until you get the plug and planer where you want them. As you can see, I have the planer working here near the opposite bank of a smaller river. Once in place, you can just hang out and wait for a fish to come to you or you can slowly walk downstream, back trolling like you would from a boat.
As I mentioned earlier, strikes are often savage! Resist the temptation to set the hook immediately and instead let the fish turn downstream with the plug first.
Steelhead love plastic worms! While there lots of ways you can fish ’em, these three rigs have been hot all up and down the coast this season.
1. Bobber & Worm Jig
For the beginning steelheader, this rig is a great place to start. Very few moving parts and it’s deadly effective! Fish it on a dead-drift and set the float so that the worm is about a foot off the bottom.
Standard pink is a good all-around worm color color, but the one pictured above is called the “Nightmare” pattern and it is a killer in low, clear water! For this rig, spinning gear is the way to go because its so light.
Next up… the Jet Diver Rig.