How to Catch Salmon on the Smith River in California

How to Catch Salmon on the Smith River in California
The Smith River in Northern California is renowned for trophy catches of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Experienced anglers on the Smith River check the water level reports on a daily basis as a part of their routine. Drift fishing is the key technique when the water is high, but shore anglers turn to plunking from the river banks when the water level begins to fall.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Medium-duty rod and reel
  • Tackle and bait
  • California fishing license and salmon punch card
  • Rain gear
Step 1
Plan your salmon fishing trip on the Smith River from October through December. November is the peak month of the season.
Step 2
Check flow reports for the Smith River at local tackle shops. Water levels of less than 11 feet along the main river usually drive salmon anglers to the middle and south forks. Stick to the main river when the water level is 11 to 18 feet.
Step 3
Go fly fishing for salmon with sinking leaders to get your lure into the cold water. Add a salmon egg to the fly hook as an enticement.
Step 4
Hire a charter boat that can take you drift fishing past promising stretches of water you might not otherwise reach from the river banks. Bait your hooks with anchovies or use salmon eggs (roe). Otherwise, use streamers and chartreuse or pink spinners. Some anglers fish the Smith with a 3-inch piece of chartreuse yarn tied to a bare hook and achieve startling results with 15-pound chinook salmon catches.
Step 5
Fish small surface plugs in clear, falling water, switching to larger plugs when the water is murky.

Tips & Warnings

Know the prevailing regulations before you fish. The Smith River resource is the subject of extensive fishing restrictions that vary with the time of year. There are periodic bans on using barbed hooks and there are strict creel limits on salmon. Catch and release is encouraged.

Article Written By James Clark

James Clark began his career in 1985. He has written about electronics, appliance repair and outdoor topics for a variety of publications and websites. He has more than four years of experience in appliance and electrical repairs. Clark holds a bachelor's degree in political science.

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