Top 6 Salmon Fishing Techniques

By: Rosalind Jackson  | 
Person lifitng catch out of water.
Larus Karl Ingasson/Nordic Photos/Getty Images

Remember whe­n you were young, and grandpa used to take you fishing? Your favorite kind of fishing was salmon fishing because you thought salmon was the best tasting fish. Plus, whatever salmon you didn't eat immediately would go toward the large collection already stocked in the freezer.

Now that it's been a few decades since you last went salmon fishing, and you've started your own family, you want to create your own fishing traditions.


First and foremost, you need to be aware of the most effective salmon fishing method­s. Depending on how many people you're fishing with, the kind of salmon you're aiming to catch, and how many salmon you plan to catch, you'll want to choose a different technique. Keep in mind that regulations in each area will determine if you'll be allowed to take your catch home, so check to make sure you know if you're fishing in a catch-and-release area.

­If you want to catch multiple salmon, the best bet would be to use a downrigger or planer board on a boat. These two methods provide you the opportunity to have many fishing lines in the water simultaneously. Fly fishing, on the other hand, might be better for a fishing trip for two. Trolling and float fishing are nice for a relaxing weekend on a lake. And fishing with egg sacks will allow you an all-natural opportunity to enjoy the excitement of salmon spawning season.

Read on to learn about one of the most effective ways to fish for salmon.


Salmon Fishing with a Downrigger

salmon fishing with downrigger
Downrigger used in fishing tc_2 / Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Using a downrigger is one of the most effective ways to fish for salmon from a boat. A downrigger enables you to fish at increased depths, allows you more control with the rel­ease mechanism and has the potential to carry more than one line at a time.

You might be wondering exactly what a downrigger is. Though it's a method of fishing that makes your goal easier and more successful, it's a complex tool. To start with, the basic components are an arm-and-rod base that acts as a holder. Both are attached to a spool of wire line, which is in turn put in the water. The lead weight at the end of the wire allows the lure to reach the right depth [Source:Hoffman].


Depending on your water depth, you can choose between a long or short arm. For perspective, anything deeper than 22 feet (6.7 meters) requires a long arm. Also, depending on your desired amount of physical exertion, you will have to choose between a manual or electric crank. The manual crank is cheaper, easier to manage and can be moved from boat to boat. Though an electric crank is more expensive and attaches to your boat's battery, it's easier to operate and can reach fish more quickly [Source:Hoffman].

In order to find fish, it might be a good idea to invest in a fish finder, which is a sonar device that measures the depth and location of your finned friends. Be sure to keep your line a few feet above the fish, since fish eyes are set to the side and above. Also, you don't want your line to catch on the bottom of the water.

To learn about another boat device used in salmon fishing, read on.­


Salmon Fishing with Planer Boards

If you happen to be near the Great Lakes, you might want to know about a strategy often implemented there -- the use of planer boards. Planer boards are either made of wood, plastic or foam and don't do well in heavy currents. The nice t­hing about planer boards is that they allow multiple lines to be used on one boat at the same time. If you space your lines out from the sides of your boat, the angles created by your planer boards will help you to cover a larger area of water when trolling. Trolling is a boating technique used in lakes, which is covered in greater depth a little later.

When fishing with planer boards, you must first decide where your rods attach to the boat. Make sure you use a planer board that corresponds to the side of the boat that your rod will be hanging from. This will create varying angles, which will prevent your lines from tangling in the water. Next, you want to attach your planer boards to your fishing lines. A planer board uses a release clip that operates as a pulley system to adjust the angle of your fishing line. When using a planer board, you'll also want to make sure you have a weight on the line to keep the lure at the desired depth. You'll then attach each of your rods to the sides of the boat in a manner that sprawls the lines across the water [Source: In-Fisherman].


Once you've got your line rigged and you've begun trolling, pay attention to your planer board to see when a fish has bitten your lure. When you notice your planer board bobbing or falling behind, you can assume a fish has found your bait. At this time, stop the boat's forward motion and begin reeling in. Once you reel in the planer board, detach it and the weight from the line. After all the accoutrements have been removed, you're golden!

Get your waders ready, and read on to learn about fly fishing.­


Fly Fishing for Salmon

fly fishing
Fly fishing a Salmon in the lake Kmatta / Getty Images

Fly fishing is a method of fishing typically done while standing on a ­river bank or in the water with hip waders on. It might be helpful to use a boat to get from one place to another, and sometimes it might make sense to stand in a boat while fly fishing if the water is too deep.

Fly fishing poles are longer and more flexible than a spinning reel or a bait-casting reel. In the world of fly fishing, you'll want to choose between a fast action rod, a moderate action rod and a slow action rod. A slow action rod will have much more flexibility than fast action rods [Source: Fly Anglers Online].


At the end of the line is the artificial fly, which is where this method of fishing got its name. A fly is often a flashy and attractive lure that resembles an insect. Flies can be made out of many materials, including feathers and deer or elk fur. Some fly fishers think it's taboo to attach live bait to the fly, but it's a possibility. Fly fishing attracts fish because the fly is weighted and resembles a minnow, herring or needle fish, which are the salmon's natural prey.

Fly fishing success is heavily dependent on proper casting techniques. It's best to learn proper casting from experienced fly fishers, which you can do by simply watching their technique out on the water.

Have no access to a river but plenty of lakes? Read on to learn about lake salmon fishing.



Lake Salmon Fishing

lake salmon fishing
Salmon caught in the lake lightasafeather / Getty Images

If you want to fish for salmon out on the open water, your best bet is the Great Lakes. However, salmon are located in many lakes across the northern United States. Unless you plan on fishing from the shore or a dock, you'll need a boat -- and depen­ding on which strategies you decide to employ, you'll need a motor as well.

The most popular method of lake fishing is trolling, which is when you fish from a boat that's constantly moving. To begin, rig your line with whatever accessories, bait or lure you like, and then cast your line into the water from the back or side of the boat. When trolling, be sure to keep the boat at a slow enough speed to keep your lure below the surface of the water. You can also change the speed of the boat to manipulate the depth and speed of your lure in order to better entice a bite [Source: Washington Department of Fishing and Wildlife].


The fully mature salmon found in lakes are often very large; make sure your rod, line, hooks and the rest of your equipment can handle a big catch if one comes your way. The larger fish tend to group in deeper water, and you can control the depth you're fishing at by using devices like sinkers, divers or downriggers.

Sinkers are small lead weights that can be tied to your line, and divers are larger weights designed to make fishing at great depths less of a struggle. Both sinkers and divers are used with a variety of lures -- flashers, spoons, bucktails or plugs -- or a small fish as bait.

Interested in something a little more relaxing? Read on to find some alternatives.



Float Fishing for Salmon

If you're looking for something a little more relaxing or simple, you may want to try float fishing. When float fishing, all you need is a rod with a spinning or bait-casting ­reel, a bobber, and a lure or bait. You can float fish from a stationary boat, a dock or the shoreline.

The key to float fishing is the bobber. The bobber is a floating indicator of whether or not a fish has bitten your bait. The height of your bobber on the line will depend on how deep in the water you'd like to fish. No matter how far you cast out the bobber will float at the surface of the water, and the remainder of the line, with the bait and hook, will sink. Many anglers use small sinkers when fishing with bobbers to ensure that their bait sinks all the way down into the water [Source: Ball].


After you've cast your line, keep an eye on the bobber to tell you when you've got a bite. If the fish is only nibbling on the bait, or even swimming into it, the bobber may bounce up and down or sway from side to side. However, you should wait until the bobber is submerged before you attempt to hook the fish, or you'll likely scare the fish in the area away from your bait. Once you see that the bobber has gone completely under water, jerk your rod back to hook the fish and reel it in [Source: Roberts].

Although float fishing isn't likely to attract larger fish, it does allow you to place your bait wherever you think fish may be swimming. A popular strategy when float fishing is to cast your bait into areas of weeds and lilies, which aren't as accessible when trolling. This strategy is often successful with salmon and many other species of fish.

Feeling organic? Keep reading to find out about fishing with egg sacks.



Salmon Fishing with Egg Sacks

For anglers who seek a less artificial fi­shing experience, using egg sacks to catch salmon is a method that is both natural and effective. It has been proven that during salmon spawning season, fishing with egg sacks is the most prosperous method because many fish will bypass all other baits and lures. If you'd like to capitalize on the rivers and streams overflowing with salmon during spawning season, make sure to check when each salmon species spawns and plan your trip accordingly.

Fish eggs are used individually and bundled in sacks. Egg sacks typically contain 10 to 15 eggs in each sack and can be found at many sporting goods stores and tackle and bait shops. If you're looking to get your paws dirty, you can collect your own eggs, mix your own egg cure and construct your own egg sacks [Source: Lake Michigan Angler].


Egg sacks are made up of cured salmon or trout eggs, which are then grouped in spawn netting and attached to the fish hook at the end of your line. Be careful not to burst any of the eggs when attaching the egg sack to the hook because this will decrease their luring potential. Cast the egg sack into the water and let it drift to the bottom without reeling in order to imitate a natural grouping of fish eggs [Source: Hoffman].

If you can't stomach egg sacks, or if you don't want to deal with the extra hassle, you can always use plastic beads that imitate the size and color of salmon eggs. The beads are sold individually and are tied onto the end of your fishing line near the hook. Much like the actual fish eggs, the imitation beads can be used successfully solo or grouped together. [Source: Shuster]


Lots More Information

Relate­d HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Ball, Bob. Piscatorial Pursuits. "Float Fishing."
  • Birkholm, Deanna. "Fly Fishing 101."
  • Hoffman, Justin. "Deciding On a Downrigger."
  • In-Fisherman. "Planer Board Trolling for Walleyes."
  • Roberts, Sean. "Float Fishing."
  • Salmon Fishing
  • Shuster, Joe. "Beads, Beads, Beads, Beads."
  • Tower Rock Lodge Photo Album
  • Washington Department of Fishing and Wildlife, "Recreational Salmon Fishing"
  • "Yellow Bird Assembly and Rigging Instructions."