Gone Outdoors

How to Fish for Spawning Salmon

by Dave P. Fisher

Every year salmon migrate from the ocean, up the rivers of the Pacific Northwest to spawn providing some exciting fishing action. There are several ways to fish for spawning salmon, however spin fishing with a variety of lures is the easiest for novice salmon fishermen to learn and accounts for just as many catches as any other method.

Fishing for Spawning Salmon

Select a variety of salmon lures. The best are: spinners-½ oz. size, spoons-¾ oz. size and large diving plugs in "salmon size." Buy a variety of colors and several of each, as hanging up the lure on underwater rocks is a common occurrence in river fishing, resulting in a broken line and a lost lure.

Locate where salmon lay in the stream. Salmon fight their way upstream. When swimming through rapids they move then rest in the quiet pools or the long smooth stretches of river. The salmon will be found on the bottom of deep pools and in the smooth water just below a series of rapids.

Wade into the water if it is shallow enough, or stay on the bank if it is deep or the water is moving too swifthly. Cast at a 45-degree angle upstream and reel the lure back as it drifts downstream with the current. Continue casting all through the smooth water, working the entire pool or stretch of water. Work the lure at different depths as salmon may be on the bottom or hanging midlevel. If you don't catch one here work your way up or down river to the next hole.

Keep the rod tip up upon feeling a strike. The salmon will run, but make the fish struggle against the power of the rod. Adjust the drag on the reel so the running fish can peel line off the reel but has to work hard to do it.

Reel line in whenever the fish tires. Bring the fish into shallow water where you can get the net under it and scoop it up. If there is another person available, have him net the fish while you control the rod. If the shoreline is level with the water, another option is to slide the exhausted fish up on the bank.

Items you will need
  • Spinning rod, 8 1/2-foot, medium weight
  • Spinning reel to match rod
  • 20 lb. monofilament fishing line
  • Lures
  • Landing net, salmon size
  • Hip boots


  • Visit the tackle shops along the river and find out what the fish are being caught on and where. Spending a couple of dollars for a lure in the shop can result in some valuable information.
  • Take your time fishing a stretch of water. Salmon are not aggressive biters, so it can take several passes of the lure in front of them before they take it.
  • Salmon are strong fighters. You can't force them in. If a hooked fish runs a long distance, follow it along the bank while keeping the rod tip up and fighting the fish on the move.
  • Salmon in the lower parts of a river will be fresher and more likely to bite than those that have traveled far upstream and are worn out. Fishing the lower river, toward the ocean, often results in more success.


  • Use caution when wading. Rivers often have slick rocks that can cause a slip and fall. Drop-offs are also common, stepping into one will put you instantly into deep water.
  • The hooks on salmon lures are trebled and large. Use caution when handling the lures to prevent getting a hook stuck in flesh.