Winter Fishing for Chinook Salmon

winter fishing for chinook on vancouver island

Fishing Season Doesn’t End When the Temperature Drops

Chinook (King) salmon are a species that can be fished year-round here on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, so you can go ahead and keep fishing all season long. Of course, this is subject to any local area restrictions – always check those before planning your trip. 

What do Chinook Salmon look like - Identify your catch

Also known as “feeder springs” or “winter springs,” Chinooks actively and aggressively feed in the winter, making them a hard-fighting, very flavourful species of fish. If you love fishing for Chinook in the summer, you’ll really enjoy fishing for Chinook in the winter. There are a few tweaks, with location being the biggest one, since you’re targeting young fish that are on a mission to feed. These juveniles feed voraciously starting in early November. These fish will typically be smaller, but if they’ve been well fed, chances are good that you’ll be able to spot and land some larger ones. 

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What Do Chinook Salmon Look Like?

It can be easy to get different species of salmon mixed up, but chinook have a few defining characteristics that can help you identify chinook vs. coho, sockeye or another species. A chinook has large, sharp teeth, dark gums, a V-shaped, silvery tail and large spots on its back. Pinks also have large spots on their backs, but they’re much smaller and do not have a silvery tail. To spot the differences between various species of trout and salmon, check out this easy to use guide to identify your catch. 

Consider the Weather Before Boating in the Winter

Winds in the Georgia Strait or Howe Sound can change rapidly during the winter, and harsh storms can blow in without much advance warning. Always check the forecast and keep close tabs on the weather and tidal conditions before setting out on your boat during winter. Of course, you’ll always want to make sure you have our winter boating checklist, emergency checklist, a full emergency kit, multiple warm layers with plenty of extra items on hand, and that your boat is in good working order. Another thing to keep in mind is that changing wind and current can compromise your fishing trip, scattering the chinook in the opposite direction. Your best bet is to wait for a calm day with a steady current or try a protected area like Barkley Sound, near Port Alberni or the eastern Juan de Fuca Strait near Victoria. For other ideas on where to go, take a look at Where to Go Fishing in BC For Saltwater Fish.

Check Regulations and Limits Before Fishing

Check regulations and limits before fishing - Chinook Salmon

One more check – making sure that it’s legal to fish in the region you’re headed to. You can quickly check for any last minute closures or changes in regulations, tackle requirements and more by visiting the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Recreational Fishing. Currently, Chinook fishing is closed around southern Vancouver Island in an effort to protect the southern resident orcas. If you see an orca while you’re out fishing and you’re 1000 m or closer, slow your boat to under seven knots. This helps keep the noise and wake down. Our guide to boating with marine mammals will be helpful if you’re uncertain about general limitations.

Trolling Can Be Much More Effective for Chinook Fishing

Chinook fishing can be more productive when troll-fishing with the current of the Pacific Northwest. Chinook salmon swim in schools and are more passive than other fish like trout. It will get caught up in a current and not be able to swim against it. This makes trolling for Chinooks more effective than using bait. If you do use bait, make sure it blends in with whatever is schooling nearby. This will dramatically increase your chances of landing a nice big Chinook. 

Adjust your trolling speed as needed

Campbell River is a great spot to troll for these Feeder Chinook. These fish eat a mixed diet and are not picky. Because of this, they’ll chase herring, anchovies and some squid, depending on where you’re fishing. Who knows? You may be able to catch some Pacific Coast Squid and enjoy calamari with your salmon dinner. 

Adjust Your Trolling Speed as Needed

Speeding up and slowing down at intervals can also increase the chance that you’ll have a good trophy to bring home. If the fish aren’t biting, you may be going too slowly. Speed up and your bait will too, attracting the salmon to what you have on offer. A good rule of thumb is to always have a 30-degree angle on your downriggers.

Try it Without the Flashers

In the winter months, the water is much clearer and the fish may not be fooled by a large flasher. It’s all about personal preference, but consider switching to a flasher with more natural colours, like a bronzed edge, or skipping the flasher entirely. 

Aim for the BottomFishing season doesn't end when the temperature drops

A lot of winter Chinook fishing is about keeping a balance between fishing near the bottom and not getting your gear caught up in the gravel and rocks. Because Chinook love Sand Lances, another tasty baitfish, you’ll want your own bait to blend in with their school. Another reason not to get too close to the bottom is that you might nab an out-of-season rockfish or lingcod. These guys are fighters and will cause a commotion as you reel them in. All this commotion will disturb the Chinook and pretty much ruin your chances of a salmon dinner.

If you’re new to winter fishing, we highly encourage you to get out on the water and give it a try. Winter is feeding time, which means that chinook salmon between two and four years old are out fattening themselves up on schools of sand lance, herring and anchovy. These young fish can reach over 20 lbs, with many coming up from the Puget Sound’s hatchery production. While these fish are marked, it’s legal to keep them under the Canada – U.S salmon treaty.

>> Check out these quick and delicious salmon recipes


Van Isle Marina Can Help You Find Your Ideal Fishing Boat

Winter fishing requires a boat you can trust to stay steady on the winter ocean. When it comes to world-class sport fishing boats and yachts, we’ve got your match here at Van Isle Marina. Whether you’re looking for a pre-owned vessel or a brand-new Pursuit Boat loaded with innovative and luxurious features, our brokers will help you find the perfect fit for your next adventure on the water. Contact Van Isle Marina to speak with an experienced yacht broker today!