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The Chehalis River
how to fish the Chehalis river for Salmon above tidewater
Salmon fishing the Chehalis River

The Chehalis River fishery will cover two seasons.  The first will be for Chinook salmon in the spring of the year.  And the second more heavily fished time will normally be for fall Coho, because the bulk of the fall Chinook will have already passed upriver.  However there is a chance you may catch a straggler fall Chinook.

Listed below is information on the lower Chehalis River, however the same could be applied to many other rivers.

It will usually be centered around the waters from  Montesano to Elma. There are 2 launches in this area. 

(1)  South Montesano (WDFW) - Chehalis River 
      From Montesano, South on SR 107 .8 mi; Left at "Public Fishing" sign, go past the lumber mill .2  mi to end of Rd.
      Double lane concrete ramp, lots of gravel parking, but the ramps can be a problem at low tide.
(2) Fuller bridge boat ramp (WDFW)  - Chehalis River
      Single lane concrete ramp, lots of gravel parking,
     From Elma, W on US 12, 4 mi; S on Keyes Rd 1.5 mi; just before Chehalis River bridge turn R on paved Rd. 
     Launch site is just upstream from the bridge.

fresh salmon


This fishery usually takes place right after the first fall rains.  The fish tend to stack in the tidewater of the lower river starting about the first of September.  Many of them seem to refuse to bite at times.  Fishing for them is discussed in the article "Chehalis River Salmon in tidewater".  The best for the fishermen is if we get rain in moderation over an extended period of time beginning the later part of October.   The river needs to raise about 1 to 2 feet from the normal fall low to trigger the fish to move upstream.  The first fish to move will usually be dark due to their extended stay in tidewater.  But after this first wave passes upriver, the next fish tend to be brighter.  Some still have sea lice on them, which indicates they are not too far from saltwater.  Which can be attributed to the fact that you are only 20 to 30 miles from saltwater. 

There is a late fall Coho run that starts about December 10th.  These fish will be "biters" & tend to move into the system  more like steelhead.  That is that they trickle in until late Feb.   They are mostly hatchery origin fish & are heading to the Satsop, Skookumchuck, Newaukum, & upper Chehalis rivers.

Stream flow info can be gotten off the internet USGS address of   A good time to fish using KwikFish is when we get a little rain & the stream flow at Porter, (which is slightly upriver) reaches 2000 to 2700 CFS with a height of 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet.  Much above that flow, you are simply fighting to stay anchored & the current is getting swift with the water murky.  If the water levels & flow are less than the above, then it is best to use  spoons / spinners  and anchor in the tail-outs.  Details will be explained below.

When these conditions exist, plan an emergency day or two off ASAP.  Get your boat, gear, ice chest & head for the river, as fish wait for no one.  You have to be there when they are there.

If we get lots of steady rain, then the fish shoot straight up the river in the high water. And the water being muddier, makes it harder to effectively fish .  The fish seem to move in large numbers then and are more interested  in getting upriver to spawn with the heavy runoff, than with moderate river levels. 

The fish tend to run in small schools, so if your neighbor catches one, you may be next.

There are more than a couple of methods used here. It seems that these late pre-spawning fish normally do not hit the lure with the intent to eat it.  They however hit it if you put it in front of them,  they get mad at it & hit the lure more out of frustration or a territorial instinct.

Anchoring with Kwikfish:  

The bulk of the fishermen on the river will usually be spoon / spinner fishermen, as they can fish about anywhere & without much special knowledge of the river or how to read the water.  The fisherperson who is flexible and can read the water and can fish KwikFish when applicable will catch more fish.

This method will normally be to use a boat & at a faster river flow than when using spoons.  Either a jet sled or a drift boat can be used effectively.  Actually even a prop boat can fish much of this section of the river.  Anchor in a selected spot & use Kwikfish.  This lure is a brand name of a large type Flatfish made by Luhr Jensen.  The normally used sizes are K14 / K15 / or K16.   These are large, a K14 being 4 ¼” & a K15 is 5”, or Flatfish in sizes M2 to T60.  

Plugs work best when they are wiggling rhythmically.  If the plug is shaking wildly, it will spook the fish.  To avoid overactive plugs, go to a smaller size.  The size used is dependent on the current.  These lures have to have considerable water to operate properly.  If in doubt, start with a K15.  Faster water dictates the smaller K14, while slower water will require a K16.  It seems that in slower water you need the larger shovel nose to get enough action on the lure. The color used will usually be dictated by the color of the water.  If the water is rather clear, then the lure can be a chrome/blue or chrome/green.  Darker water dictates a brighter color lure like a chrome/red, chrome/yellow, or chrome with chartreuse, green, or orange accents.  Some fishermen may use a bright fire red color. 

Kwikfish with a Sardine Wrap:  
The Kwikfish with a sardine wrap is one of the favorite lures for salmon.

Some guides say that you will more than double your catch by adding a small sardine wrap to the body of the plug. The fillet needs to be centered on the body of the plug to insure that the plug will still work right. The fillet is placed with the skin side toward the lure. Secure the fillet with elastic sewing thread. Replace the fillet after about an hour in the water as most of the smell has washed off.  Sardines are used as they tend to be oilier than other baitfish readily available.

These lures will come usually with (2) triple hooks attached.  Some river regulations may require them to be replaced with (2) single Siwash hooks.  It has been found that you may loose more fish on the single hooked lure.  If you however use the triple hooked lure, when you net the fish, be very careful that you do it right the first time.  Otherwise a badly scared fish may be on the outside of your net & the lure attached to the net bag.

The true secret here is location:  

For Kwikfish, you will have to learn to read the river.  Think like a salmon.  What section will be the easiest to swim upstream in?  If you have a chance, go to a smaller river during spawning time & just watch the upstream migrating fish, note their travel lanes.  These lanes may even change from day to day if the water level fluctuates.

They do not necessarily swim in the deepest spot either.  They normally swim in the seam between the fast water & the bank or slower shallower water.  Each spot will probably be somewhat different, but where they travel will always be the easiest for them.  Where one goes so goes the most of them.

Look for an island, riffle, large rocks, etc. all of which diverts the water in one way or the other.  Now your idea is to plan your attack area.  Do not just anchor in a tail-out & hope for the best.  Sure you may catch some fish, but you may be able to do better with your time.  Also do not think that since all the other boats are fishing one area that it is the only place to fish.  Many of these fishermen may well be amateurs & are just following the crowd.  You want to be in a slot that these fish will be coming thru, so if you can narrow down a 100 foot river into a 10 foot slot, your chances improve greatly.  They do not like to cross a shallow fast riffle if at all possible.  If one side of it is just a little deeper, and slightly slower, they normally will come thru there.  Each location will be slightly different.  They may come thru slower water along the edge of a pool that has fast deeper water on the other side, & then go over a riffle in about ¼  of the width where the riffle is deep enough for them & yet not as fast as the other deep fast side.


Water depth in a slot can vary depending on the river of course, but anywhere from 3-4 feet up to 9-10 feet have proven effective.  When you find the spot you think is good, run upriver enough so that when the anchor is dropped off that you will drift back & your lures will be in the slot you want.  50 to 60 feet of anchor rope usually will be plenty in locations like this.  You  should also consider having the anchor rope that is not permanently fastened to the boat, so that it can be detached from the boat in a hurry if need be.  Most boats set up for use in rivers like this will have a bow anchor roller system with a quick release rope chock.  The anchor rope usually will have a small float of some kind attached to the terminal end of the rope, which makes for easier retrieval if you have disconnect the boat.  The reason is that if a log or other debris may come down & get hung up on your anchor rope or bow, that you can quickly get the boat loose before you get swamped.

The other use for the detachable anchor is if you happen to hook into a large fish & need more room to fight it, you can again detach the anchor rope & throw it over the side.  When you then want to return to your spot, just run back upriver & pick up your float & anchor rope, reattach & start over again in your old location.


Most any standard salmon rods will work here as the rod is in the rod holder & length of line out may be anywhere from 10’ to 40’.  Reels need not be big, since if you hook a large fish & it wants to go back downstream, you can chase it with the boat if need be.  The reel’s drag should be in good working condition however.  Line is always a topic for discussion, but any that you normally would use in ocean fishing should suffice.  25# monofilament seems to work quite well however

Cut off about 5’ of your mainline for use later as a leader to the KwikFish.  Use a sinker slider on the mainline.  Tie the mainline to a black swivel of 50# to 75# range.  Tie one end of the cut off mainline into the other end of this swivel, & the other end into the snap that comes on the lure so that you have about 48” of leader from the swivel to the snap. 

Use a lighter leader 8-10#, about 10”-12” long , as a dropper to another CHEAP swivel snap.  In this snap attach a cannonball sinker in weights from 1 ounce to 2 ounce, or maybe even 3 ounces depending on the water.

Attach the lure to the terminal snap & put the gear over the side to see if it swims straight.  If it goes to one side or the other bring it back & with pliers slightly twist the eye in the lure the opposite way the lure wanted to run.  Put it back in & try again.  If all is well, let out your line to the approximate location & set the rod in a rod holder.  Now watch the rod tip, if it is not moving, you have let out too much line & the sinker is setting on the bottom.  Wind in a reel handle crank & let it set, while watching.  You want to reel in just enough so that the rod tip starts throbbing as the lure is wobbling.

Depending on the time of the year, you may have to pull it in occasionally to remove weeds, etc. off the sinker or lure.  Many times if the lure has weeds on it, it will come to the top of the water because it is not ”working”.

Usually when these fish hit, they set the hook themselves.  They hit these lures, not because they are hungry, but because the lure is in front of them & they want to continue their upriver journey.  The main targeted salmon will be Chinook in the spring of the year.  Chinook & Coho will be the sought after specie in the fall.  However the fall Chum will hit them also.  

The use of spoons or spinners.  

When the flow is lower, the fish tend to go over the riffles in any location since the whole river's current is less.  This then allows the anchored tail-out fishermen a chance to fish the whole width of the river.  Spoons & spinners can also be used in this area since you need slower water to make them function properly.   Most fishermen using spoons will anchor up in the tail-out above the riffle. 

Line in the 15# range seems to work best here, since the drag on heavier line will raise the lure & you need lots of weight to keep them down in the strike zone.  In this situation it is not only the water conditions you have to contend with, but there will also be more than a couple of other boats fishing here at the same riffle.   Many who use spoons will anchor & fish the tail-outs & you will have to match their gear to be competitive.

Others using spoons simply drift & cast into the likely looking water. The FST spoons seem to be one favorite, Canadian Wonders would be another.  Spinners such as the Blue Fox or Mepps in sizes #3 to #6 seem to be some used.   For casting you should  retrieve SLOW, it has been observed that most fishermen retrieve way too fast. On spinners you may consider using smelly jelly on the back side of the blade.  Colors for spinners will tend to follow the same colors as the Kwikfish.

The use of sinkers  depends on the method of fishing.  If you are casting & need more weight, then add a sliding egg sinker to the mainline above the lure.  If you however are anchored fishing a tail-out, you might want to try the same sinker slider & dropper weight as when using the Kwikfish.

Bank Fishing:   

The bankies may work a combination of lures.  Some will cast the same spinners & or spoons that the boat fishermen use.   While others may be found plunking a large pink spin-n-glow with a gob of eggs attached on a 36" leader, above a 8 to 10" dropper to the lead sinker. 

Be Courteous:  

If using a sled, be mindful of the other guy.  If he is bank fishing or anchored & casting into a hole, don't run right through his hole.  If you come to this type of fisherman, cut your power as you go by, unless he is way to one side of the river & your passage will not disturb him.  As you pass slowly, you may even learn how he is doing, where he was fishing previously & what he is using.

The above information was used with the permission LeeRoy Wisner of
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or
click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!