How To Catch Sockeye Salmon – The Process Explained

Oh, yes. The beautiful sockeye salmon. The sockeye is one of many different species of salmon that you can find in the Pacific Northwest. Sockeyes are easily distinguished by their often red colors and green faces. Catching them is also very fun. How to catch sockeye salmon is a skill you want to have. They make an incredibly tasty salmon fillet when baked in the oven with garlic butter. They are also very, very, plentiful. You have to make sure you follow a few guidelines if you want to increase your chances of hooking up with some of these eye catching fish.

They can be taken on a variety of different techniques and setups so it is up to you to decide which one is your favorite. In this post, we will be covering and going over what some of those are so that it can make things a little easier. They are fun to catch if your an adult and they are even great for fishing with kids. They will readily chase many different types of lures as well as natural baits. Furthermore, they are different than the chinook salmon and so the approach has to be a little bit different. Just make sure that you always have a few extra techniques with you.

Sockeye Salmon Location Guide 101 – The Big Ones

The hardest part about finding the fish is where they like to live. Sockeye prefer certain environments that can make looking for them difficult. They are unique in that they have a saltwater version also called a red salmon and freshwater subspecies called a kokanee. They are all born in freshwater lakes or streams. Before they make their way to the great sea, reds will hatch in gravel in freshwater. Kokanee are almost the same animal but they will never see a bit of salt in their life.  This can determine which one you want to catch. Use a different approach.

You need to understand that extremely similar fish inhabit freshwater and saltwater alike. This means the approach for each is going to have to be a little bit different. Living in the great Pacific Ocean makes true sockeye grow to a much bigger size. The landlocked kokanee grows to a much smaller size. This means you will different tackle and gear depending on which one you want to catch. Look for the freshwater kokanee in areas of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, and Alaska. They can also be found in New York, Montana, and Utah in streams. The Pacific Ocean is the only place to find their saltwater counterparts in the northern hemisphere.

Using The Right Tackle Is The Best Way To Catch Them

Man with a big baitcasting rod holding the line between two fingers in a stream.

You should always use the right tackle if you want the best chance of catching the most fish. Ideally, there are a few components that make up a good sockeye setup. The first one is to have the right rod. The rod should be able to generate eight pounds of drag and it should have a smooth retrieve. Regardless if you decide to opt for a casting or spinning rod, the approach remains the same. Try to spool your rod with fluorocarbon or braided fishing line and skip the nylon lines altogether. Nylon lines float and this can become cumbersome to cast.

Since fluorocarbon has great abrasion resistant properties, you should make it what you spool up with. If not, try using braid with a metal leader leading to your lure. Teeth will slice your line. It does not matter if you choose a casting, spinning, or fly rod. All will work equally well. The main thing is that it has a flexible tip and a lot of backbone. While they not get extremely huge as some saltwater fish do, an average eight or nine pounds can still severely test your limits as an angler if not properly equipped. Make sure to get the right gear before you go out.

The smooth retrieve is for playing the fish as it fights as well as getting it in quickly. This is important to have with this species because they are jumpers and like to shake free. Make sure to have everything efficiently working too. You will catch more fish if everything works correctly.

Lure Selection And Bait Options That Work Everywhere

One of the most interesting things about this species is that they never chase baitfish in freshwater. Despite the incredibly sharp mouth of teeth, these fish are primarily plankton feeders. They will go after insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and almost any other insect. If your going to be using this to your advantage, you can always bring out your fly rod and find success that way. Live bait that you can use will include wax worms, nightcrawlers, crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, and dragonflies. Lure options may be limited for you.

Black and plastic tackle box with fly lures sitting on a wooden table.

I believe fly fishing is the best way to catch these fish if you are catching them in freshwater. If you are after the saltwater versions, I suggest trolling lures behind your boat during the spawning season. They naturally eat baitfish as well as squid in saltwater. With that, it is possible to be successful with traditional trolling plugs or other baitfish or squid imitating baits. Boat anglers only please! You will probably never find them near the shoreline because they like deep water. If you don’t have a boat, stick to catching the freshwater version. Don’t waste your time.

Techniques That Are Popular For The Sockeye Salmon

Float Fishing

A common way to take red salmon is on a bobber and a hook. This is called a float rig. You can use many different things on your hook as bait. Try using baits like salmon egg sacks, minnows, insects, sand shrimp, and a few others. Float fishing is the most basic of the preferred techniques. This is because it is also the easiest one. When used correctly, it can also catch king, chum, and steelhead. Float fishing is great when there are a lot of snags on the bottom. It is recommended to use a slip bobber rig and rig it with a bait or an artificial lure. Try it out!


Jigging is a tried and true method. Its an art. Jigging can be used to produce numbers of fish in still water as well as through huge currents. It will even work through the ice. Vertical jigging is the practice of hovering over a school of fish on a boat as you jig a fishing lure below. This can work well for both sockeye and kokanee. It tends to work the best when the fish are schooling tightly together. It also works very well during the spawning season when the males turn a bright red color. Try lures like marabou jigs and bucktail minnows when you are jigging.


Trolling is a great way to hook up on some nice fish if you have a boat. Try trolling with a crankbait or a spinner for the best results. Make sure to run your tackle on fluorocarbon fishing line too. When you are in saltwater, try using heavier tackle when you run your lures. The best practice is to make sure your hooks are incredibly sharp. Since sockeye salmon have very thick and bony mouths, you need to have your hooks as sharp as possible. Try to troll lures like crankbaits, spinners, and casting or jigging spoons. Use this method during the spawn.

Fly Fishing

If you like to fly fish already, you are in luck. These fish love insects and taking them on the fly is certainly fun. Try flies like bucktails, marabou jigs, and mayfly imitations. Use a strong enough leader on your fly rod. Don’t forget that you need to fluorocarbon fishing line as your leader. Make sure your fly fishing during the spawn when the males turn bright red in color. When they make it upstream is the best time to be taking them on a fly. Try to use a fly rod as the fish migrate up the main channel during the reproductive stage. This also lands you the biggest fish.

To Sum Everything Up – Many Ways To Catch Sockeye

One thing remains true. The sockeye is one of the most exciting fish to catch. With that, there are also many ways that you target and catch them. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge. Regardless if you choose to go after the saltwater version or the kokanee, both are very fun to catch. To sum everything up, all you have to do is find where the fish are, use the right tackle, and go fishing. All in all, I believe everybody can have some great fun catching sockeye. They are one of the best tasting fish as well as hard fighting. What is your method? Leave a reply below!

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