How to Catch Salmon (Tips and Techniques)

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Fishing is a fun hobby and a great excuse to go outdoors. Learning how to catch salmon, in particular, may seem easy, but it can be quite challenging, especially if you are just a beginner.

To have a successful salmon catch, you have to know the basics and the tips and tricks on catching a salmon.

This article presents salmon fishing techniques and helpful fishing tips that can be a game-changer for you in the fishing field so you can have one of the best freshwater fish to eat for dinner!

With many people learning how to fish, you will be having a lot of competitors. You should know the best fishing methods and techniques there are to have your first successful salmon catch. 

Types of Salmon Fishing Methods 

You can go salmon fishing either when you are on a boat or on the shore of great lakes. These salmon fishing methods are applicable in both ways.

However, boat fishing anglers have more advantages compared to shore anglers.

Drift Fishing

The drift fish method is a common way of fishing from shore or a boat by casting the bait upstream, letting the line drift downstream, and then reeling in the line to start the process again.

This method aims to bounce off your bait to the bottom of the water to find fish that get attracted to it. 

Fishing Line

When you’re setting up your fishing line, you’ll want to weigh the setup so that it bounces along the bottom of the water.

The speed at which your bait will drift downstream will depend on how much weight you use. A good strategy is to work the entire fishing spot, from the closest shore to the furthest short from you. 

Beginners like you might have difficulty figuring out whether the fish has caught the bait or your gear just got stuck because of a rock.

Nonetheless, with the right practice, you’ll get the hang of it and become familiar with where to set the hook and avoid the rocks. 

Fishing Gear

Typical fishing gear for the drift method uses a foot rod with a fifteen to the thirty-pound line. The pound line will depend on the weight of the salmon you are catching.

Larger fish like the Chinook salmon (a great freshwater game fish) and king salmon need a pound line of 20 to 25, while smaller ones like the pink salmon would only need a ten to the fifteen-pound line. 

There are many weights, floats, lures, and baits that you can use with drift fishing.

The most common setup involves a snap swivel at the mainline end, a single loop with an egg loop, a cork above the hook, and a yarn on the hook.

If you do not want to use a corky, many salmon anglers also use spoons and spinners, and they bounce them off at the bottom and then slowly cast them in. 


Plunking is a salmon fishing method that resembles drift fishing; you can also do it on an anchored boat or from shore. The only main difference is that the gear is cast into a migratory path in plunking and then anchored on another spot. 

This gear is left alone in the water as you wait for fish to strike. Many anglers use active baits when they plunk in currents, such as spoons, spinners, winged bobbers, and kwikfish.

A critical part of plunking is knowing where to set your gear, especially in the shallow water of rivers. 

River Fishing

For larger river fishing, set up your gear on an inside curve. It is where schools of fish are forced around. Also, choose spots where currents are slow.

For small rivers, find tail-outs at upstreams of riffles and set up your gear there. If the current is slow, stay at the main current and then look for parts of the water where the current starts to act up. 

When you fish in rivers, remember that freshwater salmon will always prefer the easiest route with enough cover to protect them from other fish predators.

That cover may be in the form of logs, bubble curtains, deep water, or even whitewater in riffles. 

Bobber or Float fishing

Most anglers prefer bobber fishing when the water current is moving very slowly or stationary. It is usually the case of the water in a big eddy or tidewater at slack tide.

You use a sliding float, swivel, something heavy to pull the line, and 12 to 24 inches lead to a float fishing rigging lure. 

Bobber Stop

Use a bobber stop and small bead to set the float at your desired depth. The stop can be reeled through the rod guides for easier casting.

During early mornings, other salmon are suspended in deeper water. Set your bobber stop to ensure that your gear is just at the right depth where most fish are suspended.

When the sunlight is too strong, it hits the water, making the salmon go towards the bottom part of the water. When this happens, ensure that you adjust the bobber stop to make your lure reach within one foot from the bottom.


Trolling is the best boating technique when fishing for salmon. Trollers usually use divers, downriggers, or weights to reach the depth they want for their baits and lures.

For freshwater salmon, trolling is perfect when your spot is towards the end of larger rivers. Anglers with the standard rod for drifting with a 20 to 25-pound line can troll river or bay salmon. 

When trolling Fall Chinook and coho salmon, always try to stay near the bottom as much as possible. Always bounce your weight as much as you can.

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Salmon Fishing Tips

Prepare your gear and always sharpen your hooks

Before heading on your fishing trip, make sure you have everything you need — bait, lure, rig, line, and rod. It is best to be prepared because the water currents can be unpredictable. Also, make sure that your hooks are razor sharp. 

Salmons tend to have strong and thick jawlines, so your hooks have to be sharp enough to puncture through the jaw and hold salmon well. If they bite into your bait, but your hooks are dull, they can get away.

Choose the best bait

Choose the best bait for salmon. For live bait, the best to use is fish eggs or salmon eggs and sand shrimp. Most anglers also use salmon roe and cut bait which is usually a strip of plug cut herring.

If you don’t like live baits, there are also artificial lures like spoons and Flashtrap spinners. Spoons are light lures that can mimic any movement of smaller fish. 

Use baits with flash

Salmons usually prefer low light waters, so they are almost always at the bottom of the river or darker waters. When your baits have flashy and bright spinners, these can attract salmon to bite.

They are also more attracted to flashy baits in darker and deeper parts of the water.

Use the drift fishing method on rivers

Using this method makes your bait look more realistic. Cast upstream and let it float in the river’s depth where you think the salmon are mostly located.

Fish with the tide flow on open water

If you fish with the tide flow and not against it, different species of salmon tend to always go into incoming tides, so there is a high chance of seeing your bait.

Pick the best timing and the right location

During fishing season, peak times to fish are an hour before and after low tide. For a successful big catch of salmon, you have to pick the best location where most of the salmon are.

You should also know the best time for more salmon so as not to waste your time.

Go and try salmon fishing!

Learning how to catch a salmon may seem difficult at first, but you will certainly get used to it once you know different methods and techniques to make it easier. It makes eating it yummier.

With the best methods, fishing gear, location and time, you can have your very first successful salmon catch.

Different salmon species have different swimming habits, and you should be aware of these so that you know where to start fishing for salmon. Have fun!

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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