Best Salmon Fishing Tackle Setup & Bait Rigs

Salmon aren’t just fun to catch—they also make delicious table fare. But while they’re a great target for anglers, many beginners are intimidated by the many bait and lure rigs used to catch them. We’ll try to demystify your options below and explain everything you need to know to catch a few big fish of your own. Here are some of the best salmon fishing tackle setups and bait rigs.

Note that the rigs used to catch salmon (and the terminology used to describe them) vary quite a bit from place to place. Don’t let this confuse you. The concepts are all largely similar and most will work in a variety of locations.

Rod & Reel

Most anglers targeting salmon use relatively long, heavy-powered rods. Typically, rods in the 8 ½- to 10-foot range are ideal. Select a medium or medium-heavy powered rod if you are targeting small salmon species. You’ll likely find that a rod with a heavy power rating will work better if you’re trying to catch big chinook or Atlantic salmon.

A bait-casting reel is probably the best choice for experienced anglers, but beginners will usually find a spinning reel lets them side-step some of the technical challenges bait-casting reels present. No matter which reel you choose, you’ll want to load it up with plenty of 10- to 30-pound-test monofilament line.

3 Popular Techniques & Rigs

Anglers have devised a variety of salmon rigging styles, and you could probably spend years learning them all. However, there are three popular types of rigs that are effective and easy to set up as well. These include drift fishing, trolling, and plunking. Learn more about each below:

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing requires you to cast your lure or bait at the downstream side of a riffle (an area of shallow, fast-moving water). You’ll then allow it to float downstream with the currents. Most drift fishers stand on the shore while fishing, but you can drift fish from a boat too.

Begin setting up a drift-fishing rig by tying a swivel on the end of your main line. Attach a length of fluorocarbon or monofilament line to one of the holes in the swivel to serve as a “dropper line.” Tie the free end of the dropper line to a small sinker.

You’ll need to experiment with different dropper line lengths and weights to achieve the best possible action. Whatever length you decide is best, just be sure to use a lighter line for your dropper line than you do your main line. This way, if the weight becomes snagged on rocks, you can break off the dropper line without losing your entire rig. 

Tie an 18- to 48-inch fluorocarbon leader to the open side of the swivel. Thread a corky (a small, round bobber) onto the leader and then tie a hook on the end. Tie a short length of colorful yarn to the hook, stick a single fish egg on your hook—and get ready to fish.


While drift-fishing relies on the water currents to carry your bait past waiting salmon, trolling works by using the boat to animate your lure or bait. Usually, trolling is most appropriate in the deeper portions of major river systems, but some anglers manage to have success trolling in relatively shallow water (10-20 ft) too.

You’ll need to begin by tying a three-way swivel to your main line. Tie a dropper line onto one of the open holes and add enough weight to get the bait down to your target zone. Some anglers prefer to use downriggers or diving planes rather than weights, but beginners will usually find weights are the simplest method for getting their bait in front of the fish.

Attach a 4- to 6-foot-long long leader to the remaining hole on the swivel. You can then tie on your bait or lure of choice. Spoons and crankbaits are two of the most popular options for trolling, but some anglers prefer using cut bait. Often, you’ll have even more success if you add a flasher to the line a few feet above your bait or lure. Flashers spin when pulled through the water, which will help to attract the attention of salmon in the area. 


Drift fishing and trolling both utilize a mobile bait or lure, but plunking takes a different approach. When plunking, you’ll essentially set up your bait or lure so that it remains in one place. You may occasionally raise your rod tip to move the bait or lure—or the currents may do so automatically. But, in general, plunking is a stationary fishing technique that requires you to simply cast your bait out and then wait for a bite.

To set up a salmon plunking rig, you’ll want to tie a three-way swivel to the end of your main line. Attach a short dropper line to one of the open holes on the swivel. You’ll want to use quite a bit of weight to help keep your bait or lure in place and slide a couple of beads on the line to help protect your knot from the bouncing weight.

Add a 2- to 6-foot-long leader to the remaining opening on the swivel. You can use a number of different lures or baits when plunking. Eggs, metal spoons and “kwik fish” lures are some of the most popular choices.

Keep It Legal

Don’t forget to review the local laws and regulations governing salmon fishing in your area before you head down to the water. Because salmon are important to commercial and recreational anglers, the rules and regulations in effect are often quite strict.

Some locations limit the length of the leader you can legally use, while others restrict the number of hooks or hook points you can use. Other places impose rules regarding bait selection.

Just check with your local fish and wildlife office or the department of natural resources for your state. This will help you stay on the right side of the law and avoid unpleasant encounters that’ll taint an otherwise-perfect day on the water. We’ll see you out there!

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