Best Bait for Salmon Fishing in the River

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Salmon can be notoriously difficult to catch because when they are in the rivers they are generally not interested in feeding. The salmon swims up the river for spawning, and as you probably know most fish switch off the feed during migration and spawning. We catch salmon quite simply because they bite a bait or lure out of anger and instinct.

Tricking a salmon to bite can be a difficult task to undertake and salmon anglers can go days without a single bite which can be heartbreaking. If you are just getting into salmon fishing or are going through a period of blanking on your usually lucrative salmon water, then you are probably looking for bait ideas. Having a variety of lures, flies, and/or bait in your tackle box will give you plenty of options when the salmon are not biting and may just get a fish in the net when before they were elusive.

Best Natural Bait for Salmon Fishing

One of the best natural bait for catching salmon in streams and rivers during migration and spawning is strangely salmon roe. No one is quite sure why this works but it certainly produces excellent results. Salmon roe can be soaked in additives however there is no evidence to suggest that this scent-covered “super roe” produces better results than raw untreated roe. To fish with salmon roe you will need to place the eggs in a mesh sack and band them to the shank of your hook.

Another great natural bait for catching salmon from rivers is the trusty sand shrimp. You can band sand shrimp onto the shank of a hook on a drift rig, bobber, or float setup. This is extremely effective on some waters but not on others, so the only way to see if this is effective on your local river is to try it out. Again, you can coat your sand shrimp in smelly additives to see if it makes a difference to your fishing however there is no proof that this is any more effective.

Herring can also work as a good natural bait for salmon, it is not only effective in the ocean either. If you are fishing a deep salmon lake or deep pools and slack water on a river, then herring can be used on a downrigger. This is a great bait for catching large salmon and is extremely effective when used in the right environments.

Best Flies for Salmon

Fly fishing for salmon in the river is a traditional way of catching salmon and it makes for excellent sport. Flies fit for salmon are different from your standard trout and grayling flies. They are typically much larger and resemble all manner of larvae, insects, fish, and even eggs. Fly fishing for salmon can be lucrative and many of the largest salmon caught from rivers have been landed on a fly rod and reel. It doesn’t matter whether you have been fly fishing for decades or have just started, there is always something new to learn about the spot and different fly designs that you have never seen before.

In this section, we will look at five different flies that you may or may not be using for targeting salmon with fly rods in the river. Some of the flies on our list resemble insects, their larvae, and some are quite bizarre looking. The one thing they all have in common is the fact they work and are effective for hooking up to salmon during their migration and spawning.

The Glo Bug Egg Fly

The Glo Bug Egg Fly pattern is excellent for salmon fishing. They are bright, fuzzy, and round which makes them clearly visible and almost intrusive in the water. Although they look out of place in the waterway when the pattern is a strange fluorescent color, they certainly get bites! They work well in all types of waters but they are quite a light fly so some weight may need to be added to the line for the best results in fast-flowing rivers.

Egg Sucking Leech Fly

This is another favorite among salmon anglers on rivers and it seems to be a favorite among the fish as well. They come in a few different forms both weighted with a bead-head and unweighted. These are best used in slow-moving water with sinking line and some extra weight added to the line. They perform well when naturally presented on the bottom of the riverbed with a slow drift. If presented correctly in the right kind of water, these flies are extremely effective.

Hex Nymph Fly

Hex Nymphs are often found in rivers where salmon spawn and they are a common natural food source. If you are looking for an effective salmon fly for dead drifting, then this is one of your best options. They are popular among fly fishermen targeting salmon in the mid-west areas and seem to be especially effective in Michigan and Ohio for big salmon. This is quite a light salmon fly and is best presented in the upper water layers using a floating line. They are most popular in sizes 12 to 8 and are relatively small compared to some of the other flies that are popular for targeting salmon in rivers.

Wooly Bugger Fly

The Wooly Bugger Fly pattern is another extremely popular fly that can be used to target salmon. They are extremely effective for catching larger fish and are a great allrounder not only for salmon, but for pike, musky, and walleye as well. The idea of the Wooly Bugger is to imitate a baitfish accurately so they are best worked in the bottom layers of a river. Try and find or tie a Wooly Bugger with a bead-head and adjust the presentation by using sinking line and some added weight on the line. In colored and clear waters the Wooly Bugger works well in dark green, blacks, and shades of brown.

Dirty Hoh Fly

The Dirty Hoh Fly is a must-have all-rounder, all location salmon fly. It doesn’t matter what kind of water you are fishing or the conditions, this fly seems to provide results anywhere. It works great in colored water as well as clear, fast flows and still pools, deep water and shallow. It is quite a large fly and you will find it in a size 1 or 2 hook typically which makes it perfect for targeting trophy fish.

Best Lures for Salmon

Spinning for salmon is a great way to catch salmon and it can be effective and enjoyable. If you are not a seasoned fly fisherman but commonly spin for bass, musky, or walleye then you should be familiar with lure fishing. Perhaps you are the predator angler that regularly fishes with lures and spinners of all types and fancy turning your hand to a spot of salmon fishing. If you are familiar with spinning, then using lures to target salmon in rivers is the perfect way to start.

Many people target large Coho and Chinook Salmon with lures, and it is becoming more and more popular as predator anglers start heading further into nature to get a taste of a salmon fight. Using lures for salmon in rivers is great fun and if you have never caught a salmon before you will be put through your paces with how hard fighting they are! It is easy to blank when targeting salmon though, so having an armory of different plugs, jellies, and spinners in your tackle box is essential.


Plugs are a great way to fish for salmon on the rivers. They work great in deep slower stretches of river and work well fished from a stationary boat, drifting boat, or from the bank. We have three favorites for targeting salmon but they as with most plugs they do feature double treble hooks, so check the rules and regulations of where you are fishing before dipping a line in the water.

The Wiggler Plug

Wigglers can make great salmon plugs and are extremely effective in shiny metallic or bright fluorescent colors. They can be used for trawling from a boat, casting from the bank into deep water, and worked through still pools and slow water. They will not produce an effective presentation in fast-flowing stretches of river or shallow waters.

Yakima Bait Maglip Plug

The Maglip Plug is another effective lure for catching salmon from rivers. These lures can be worked on most waters with the right technique and make excellent bank casters and drift fishing lures. They work brilliantly in faster flowing water, still pools, deep slow stretches of river, and tidal stretches too, making this one of the most durable plugs on our list. You will find these plugs in a range of sizes and patterns with plenty that come in metallic and bright colors.

The Kwikfish Plug

The Kwikfish Plug is an extremely popular and effective plug for salmon fishing. They are a deep-diving plug that have an incredible movement in the water. The larger variants of this style of plug are perfect for use in fast-flowing water for targeting large angry salmon. The smaller variants are great in shallow clear water, deep pools, and slow-flowing stretches. Having a few of these in your tacklebox for salmon is an absolute must.


Jellies are a popular lure type to use for catching salmon from both salt and freshwater. They are extremely effective and mimic natural baits very well when worked properly in the water. They are a durable piece of tackle that can be used in most conditions and waters and they are an essential lure to have in your salmon tackle box, especially if heading to new unknown waters.

The Salmon Hoochie

The salmon Hoochie is one of the best soft jelly lures for salmon in both salt and freshwater. They work perfectly on the river and can usually entice an aggressive bite from a migrating salmon in a river. They mimic a small squid or octopus and hide the hook under a series of rubber tassels that trail beautifully in the water. These soft lures work well in most conditions and all water types and can be combined with a spinner to add some extra attraction to your lure.

Soft Plastic Worms

Soft plastic worms are great for catching salmon in slow-moving water, slack water at the edge of the river, and still pools. They give a great presentation when drifted downstream slowly and they mimic a natural bait that can sometimes entice a finicky biting salmon. They come in a range of colors and sizes and are cheap enough to stock up on many different variants. This gives you a great range of choices when it comes to lure selection for different conditions. They are not the first choice for salmon anglers, but they are worth having in the tackle box if all else fails.

Imitation Fish Jellies

Soft imitation baitfish lures are an excellent addition to your salmon tackle box. Sometimes an intrusive baitfish imitation can be enough of an annoyance for an angry spawning salmon to take a lunge and a bite. Not as popular as the hoochie (squid lure) but still a great choice for aggressive Coho and Chinook Salmon in fresh and saltwater. Fish jellies come in a range of different shapes and sizes and can be used in most conditions and environments.


Spinners and spoons are a classic way of catching fish of all species. They are simple yet highly effective and have been putting fish in the net for centuries. The basic spinner design features a metallic plate that spins and flashes light when worked through the water. This action imitates a baitfish’s flank when it is injured, this attracts all manner of predator fish and catches the eye of the salmon very well. Having an armory of spinners in your tackle box is essential for salmon fishing in rivers. Here are three of the best.

The Vibrax Spinner

The Vibrax spinner is a massively popular spinner for salmon fishing on rivers across the US, Canada, and Alaska and is perhaps one of the most widely used lures around. These lures are best used in slow-flowing stretches, in slack water at the edge of the river, or shallow pools. They function well in colored and clear waters and require a slow retrieve to get the plate spinning and flashing. Smaller sizes work great in clear waters and larger sizes are good in colored waters as the larger plate flashes better. If you must have only one spinner for salmon fishing, then this is the one to keep close to hand.

The Classic Spoon

The simple spoon is the most basic form of fishing spinner you will find. They come in a range of sizes and colors and are a cheap and reliable piece of tackle that has had a place in the tackle box of salmon anglers for decades. It is still highly effective in this day and age when used properly, and it certainly deserves a place in your salmon tackle box. The spoon works brilliantly when used in smaller sizes to target finicky biting salmon in slack and slow water. They come in a range of colors and sizes but one or two that are small and metallic can sometimes give you the edge when the fish aren’t biting.

The Tail Spinner

The tail spinner is a popular lure for bass. It features a main baitfish imitation body with a spinning tail. Sometimes this bait imitation with the added spin and flash from the tail spoon can be the difference between a dry or wet net. These aren’t the most popular type of spinner for salmon fishing, but they certainly have a place in your tackle box as a secret weapon when the fish aren’t biting. They come in a range of shapes and sizes with small spinners working well in clear shallow water and larger ones working well in deep colored water.

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