Silver Salmon in Alaska

Silver Salmon, aka Coho Salmon, are a favorite of sport fishermen because they are highly aggressive fish that strike with tremendous force and fight like crazy.

The species have an average size range of 8-12 pounds, but the outliers can reach upwards of 30 pounds and over 30 inches in length. The Alaska State Record for Silver Salmon is 26 pounds 11 ounces and was caught in 2011 breaking the previous record that stood for 35 years. Their heads are usually dark green and black while the sides are sometimes reddish with a silver sheen. Despite their name, silver salmon can also appear more reddish in color.

While king salmon have the edge in size and poundage the smaller silvers make up for it in their willingness to fight - they can be amazing fighters. It is not uncommon for silvers to breach and display wildly when hooked. Kings are gentle when they strike, but a silver salmon strike can startle you with their aggressive hit - their strike is legendary. It feels like something is trying to rip your arm out of the socket. From then on, there is no more worrying about anything except how to get this fish into your net. They are powerful, smart, and wily - that is perhaps why so many sports fishermen prefer targeting them over the monstrous kings. No doubt, you will be worn down after a day of fighting silver salmon.

Silver Salmon caught at Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska
Silver Salmon caught by Rebekka Redd at Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska

Where and When to Target Silver Salmon

You can catch silver salmon in salt water but freshwater streams and rivers are where the most amazing fly fishing action is found. You might target silvers in the fast moving currents as they migrate upstream, however, the best location to find them is in deep holes where they stack up to rest. Early morning or mid-afternoon those deep, cold holes will fill up with salmon. By the end of the day, silver are tired and grumpy and that plays well into their willingness to snap a fly. In the morning, silvers are well rested and full of fight. That aggression is critical and a good deep hole full of silvers will remain productive for hours.

As noted, silver salmon are almost always found in deep holes. They also like to sit and rest on the edge of clear water. So as you approach a fishing spot, look at how the water plays. If you see a clear section that is adjacent to an area that has turbidity try that spot. Look for a deeper hole if such a spot is not present. Silvers like to congregate. As fry, they will find a spot and then drive off other fish.

Silver Salmon Flies; drive them crazy

Like other members of the salmon family, silver salmon are attracted to bright colored sinking flies. By bright I mean brilliant pink, multi-toned pink and purples. Solid flies like royal purple and deep black should also be in your fly box. Silvers are relatively smart fish, so you may have to change up your game as you fish for them and see what's working that day. The rule of thumb for catching silvers is to start bright and then fade to black.

Where possible, silvers will also hit egg bags. As mentioned, silvers are smaller than king salmon, so use smaller flies with hooks that are between 2-0 and 3-0 in size. The goal would be to get the fly down quickly to where the fish are. Since most fly fishermen and those who use a spinning rod will fish for silvers in the deep holes, the brighter colored flies work well in the darker waters. If the water is clear, then spinners and spoons may also work for those of you who prefer to fish with a spinning rod.

Fly fish leeches from bright pink to black and those that are multi-toned in combinations such as pink and purple, pink and black, pink and green, pink and red. They like larger flies that sink fast - and that is something that is important as you fish for silvers. The leech flies are very popular among sports fishermen. Think about heavy flies that sink fast and help to carry the line.

Successful Fly Action and Advice

The basic goal is to let the rivers momentum carry your fly downstream. As the fly sinks to the bottom, you pull the tip of your rod back to the 10 am position and then let it fall again to a flat position. The basic skirt and sinks action keeps the fly in the active zone for silvers. The two key terms that you should consider are flash and action.

If you were to ask every successful silver salmon fisherman you met the following question: If you could only take one fly with you to fish for silver salmon, what color would it be? Most of them would answer pink. Naturally you will find some variation in that answer but in general fly fishermen know that Silver Salmon are addicted to pink flies. The trick to working that addition is the action of the fly. Lift it up off the bottom and let it sink downstream. Lift, sink, lift, sink. Keep this up and, before you know it, you a silver salmon will strike.

When silver salmon strike, it feels like they want to rip your arm out of the socket. There have been a few fly rods ripped out of unprepared hands by this species. This is one of the reasons these fish are so well loved. If you have found a nice, deep hole where the silvers have bunched up to rest, they will keep you busy for most of the day. As the fishing action slows, change flies. Change from bright to multi-toned to dark. These are smart fish, and they seem to catch on to the fact that you are fishing for them. They cannot resist a good fly though so when your favorite bright pink leech stops working, switch it up.

The basic goal is to let the rivers momentum carry your fly downstream. As the fly sinks to the bottom, you pull the tip of your rod back to the 10 am position and then let it fall again to a flat position. The basic skirt and sinks action keeps the fly in the active zone for silvers. The two key terms that you should consider are flash and action.

Additional Resources

Excellent Video - Fly-Fishing for Silver Salmon near Bristol Bay

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