The Oregon Coast’s Salmon River (not to be confused with a tributary of the Sandy River east of Portland) is smaller than nearly all of Oregon’s best fall Chinook rivers, but thanks to both hatchery and wild chinook runs, this stream just north of Lincoln City is capable of sending 1,000 to 2,000 big kings home with happy anglers in good run years.
The Salmon River, located between Lincoln City and Neskowin on the coast, is an easy drive from Portland, Salem and McMinnville.
This small river can be a good early bet, with the first bit of rain in September often sending fish scurrying to the hatchery and beyond while Chinook in other systems wait for heavier rains to get moving. It generally fishes well into October but the traditionally early run here is often pretty well played out by the time November hits.
The first Chinook appear in the estuary near the small town of Otis in decent numbers by early September, sometimes even in late August. Fishing in the bay can be very good in September. How long the good fishing goes into October depends quite a bit on rainfall. Dry fall weather prolongs bay and tidewater fishing through most of October, but a series of early, heavy rains can pull the bulk of the run into the stream earlier.
Boaters will find a good launch at Knight County Park, located down Three Rocks Road heading west off Highway 101 north of the junction with Highway 18. Fish the Salmon River estuary at high tide, using a prediction for a nearby location as a guide. The river itself is too small for traditional drift boats.
Bank anglers can find access to good tidewater fishing where the Highway 101 bridge crosses the river north of the junction with Highway 18. Other popular bank access points include the Red Barn Hole on Highway 18 (south side of the river) and the hatchery on North Bank Road (north side).
Derek Wilson, an ODFW fish biologist, also said anglers should try above the hatchery up to the fishing deadline at the Highway 18 bridge near Milepost 9. Given enough rainfall to raise the water level, both wild and fin-clipped chinook will venture upstream.
Note: The Salmon River previously was also stocked with hatchery coho salmon. That program has ended, and the last good catch of silvers here was in 2008. Unclipped coho must be released unharmed unless ODFW has opened a special season for wild fish. There is now a modest limit for wild winter steelhead allowed here, in addition to hatchery fish that stray from nearby systems. See Best Small Winter Steelhead Streams in Northwest Oregon.
The Salmon River doesn’t have a gauge but you can predict flow changes here by clicking the River Levels link in our menu’s Best Resources tab and checking for changes in nearby rivers such as the Siletz and Nestucca.