Most People really think of fall kings as fishable in the fall.

On the contrary, there are plenty of kings in late July and early August so don’t ever think it’s TOO early to start targeting them, especially if you don’t fish for summer steelhead much!














Location is Everything

There are some rivers that really don’t get their fall kings back until September (like the Humptulips), but plenty of other rivers so you can start targeting in late July (like the Nisqually and Cowlitz); Just be sure to check the regulations as some rivers are closed for fall Chinook until specified dates (like the Skokomish).

You don’t want to be the one who hears that a river is on fire and make a plan to go next weekend, be the one who is ON the river when it’s on fire. If anything, you’ll enjoy a peaceful day before the crowds show up in and maybe catch a tan. This is the time when you search for new log jams and holes that last winter and spring’s high waters created. If you go somewhere that will have other anglers, like Barrier Damn on the Cowlitz, it really is a great fishery but you have to be patient and cooperative. As on any river, being courteous gets you a long way.  Try to stand near people fishing the same technique as you want to try. Look for other anglers drifting or floating eggs. Avoid the holes that are riddled with the 8ft leaders, cannon ball weights, and hooks set every cast. Even if there are people hooking fish and fish jumping, the likelihood of one of those fish actually biting your bait is slim to none. Would you want to eat if you had lines ripping across your back and hooks stuck in your tail?


The Cowlitz is limited on bank access, but there are plenty of fish to go around. For the fall Chinook, head around the Barrier damn. There is plenty of bank access from the boat launch to the damn and there is all different types of water. There will be a lot of people there, but this is where the fish stack up. Being a Columbia River tributary, the fish have traveled quite far to come all that way and are hungry and aggressive. You can free drift eggs or float fish (remember to be considerate of how those next to you are fishing) when standing on the rock wall right beneath the deadline. If you go down a bit further, there are great drifting holes and you can even pitch a few spoons.


Don’t be fooled by the negativity you may have heard about the Skok. Yes, there are a lot of people and you can expect to fish next to others, but there are plenty of float fishermen that would generally be more than happy to share their hole with a fellow bait fisherman. You can fish all the way up to highway 101 if you wade through the water and walk down river. The tidewater is also great fishing if you can find a hole to yourself, but just about any hole is going to have fish. The distance the fish travel up the river is not very far so the fish hold in the tidewater longer than most rivers. If you fish the tidewater, check the tides and fish on the end of the outgoing tide and beginning of the incoming tide. Be careful if you cross the river at any point as the tides raise the water levels several feet and you can get stuck waiting for the next outgoing tide before you can cross again. Be sure to read the Washington regulations as this river is only open select days of the week and doesn’t open until August 10th this year and closes for a short period between king and silver season.


For me, the Nisqually is great because it’s close to home. Just off I-5, you can fish off highway 99 and if you get your military pass, you can avoid most of the crowds. Do be cautious as to read the regulations here as well because the places in which you need your military pass can vary. On the north side of the river from highway 99 and below and also on the south side of the river lower down. There is quite a bit of bank access if you can access those parts and you can hike all the way down to I-5. Before getting your military card, if you aren’t able to get on base yourself or through someone else who is, be sure to obtain a guest pass first. This takes a few days for approval so plan accordingly and follow instructions carefully. If you aren’t able to obtain the military pass, you can fish from the south side of highway 99 and upriver. There is a handicapped hole that has a few other holes in the general area as well.

Take advantage of learning new holes and spots on the river when there aren’t crowds and when you don’t have snaggers ripping through your hole.

When the crowds begin and the fish get stale, you may not have a choice but to stand at the same hole all day and either wait for the bite to turn on or find something different that entices the king. But, if you go to a river with very few people, because the fish are aggressive and will likely strike within the first few passes, you don’t need to “pound” the holes. You want to pick-pocket and explore the space given. Fish them like you would for steelhead. Run a few passes or a couple different baits through a hole and move on. If there is a fish there, they should strike as quickly as a steelhead would.

Don’t forget the scent!

These fish are hungry and aggressive. USE BAIT! In fact, I rarely use anything but bait when I’m fishing for fall Chinook. If I’m not using bait, I’m using scent on my lure. And yes, your bait and lures need to look enticing but the look is not as important as it is with steelhead which are very site oriented. Your bait needs to leave a scent trail and hold scent for a long time. Add different scents to your bait and try pairing eggs with sandshrimp. If your eggs leave a milky cloud when you drop them in the water, you have a good trail.

Always bring different bait with you. One day, red eggs may be the hot bait, and the very next, orange with a sandshrimp combo. When the fish see many baits all day, something as simple as trying a different color, scent, or size will turn the bite back on. When the bite dies down, or perhaps before it picks up, try running a different cure or even different color bait through that same hole. If that still doesn’t turn a bite on, try adding a different scent or maybe run with no scent.  The size of your bait can also play a large factor in the fish biting.

King salmon are notorious for pecking and nibbling at bait until they decide to actually swallow or bite so having a bait too large, or too small, can easily change their preference. Large baits are great for the fish that likes to peck a lot because it leaves more room for them to peck before they feel the hook, but it can also get sloppy and loose very quickly.

Speaking of hooks, the hook size you use is also very important for fall kings. The fish are larger than your average steelhead or even silver salmon and it’s ok to go a little bigger with the hooks. However, there is a time and a place for all hook sizes. When fishing under a float, you can get away with a 3/o and 4/o hook. The last thing you want is to finally hook a king and have the hook pop right out. Fish are smart and intentionally try to wiggle the hook out of their mouth and intentionally try to saw through your leader. However, when you’re drift fishing (including side drifting), you can get away with something as small as a number 2.

I don’t take any chances of having too light or small of gear for my fish no matter the species, and the same holds true with my line. I use 30-40lb braid main line and 20-30lb mono leaders. If I’m drifting, I use 12lb mono main line. The reason for having such heavy braid is because it doesn’t absorb the shock and hook set like mono does. There isn’t any stretch or give in the braided line. With that, you also don’t need to set the hook as hard as with mono. Mono has stretch and elasticity which means the strength of your tug or set doesn’t have the same impact all the way down to the hook.

So go explore and try new concepts for kings. The worst thing you can do when fishing for kings is to fish exactly what everyone else is fishing. Head out early in the season, look for slow, deep water. Boils that you can see on the surface of the water and along log jams and trees. Remember that no hole is too deep and fish the entire water column if you can. Change your scents and cures as well as the sizes and colors of your bait.















The end result? A fresh sea lice-ridden fall Chinook with not another soul on the river.