Plunking For Salmon: The 2 Best Setups And Baits

Plunking For Salmon

Plunking for salmon is an old school method that is actually quite popular with both West Coast and Great Lakes salmon anglers. Most guides that I know of do not use this method often; however, there are times and conditions when this method works well, so I’ve connected with our guide staff that uses this method to write about the “when, where and how” to do plunking for salmon.

Plunking for salmon is when you cast a bait out into a lake or river and allow the large heavyweight attached to your leader to anchor and hold the bait on the bottom. You leave the bait in place and hope a salmon swims by and grabs your bait. Having a buoyant bait work even better.

With plunking, you cast to an area where you think salmon will swim past, and you just wait for a bite.

It sounds easy, however, there are some tips and tricks that guides and experienced anglers use that will make plunking for steelhead more effective.

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Plunking For Salmon

The heavy weight anchors the bait close to the bottom while you sit and then wait for the salmon to swim by and eat your bait, but your bait needs to be placed in the right area, and you can control the depth of the bait for better results.

Often, anglers will just cast the bait out into the middle of the river and put the rod into a rod holder and just wait. It may take minutes or hours for a hungry salmon to swim by and grab your bait or nothing will bite at all.

Periodically moving your bait around the pool and also choosing high percentage areas can greatly increase your chances. I will discuss this more below.

Also, only certain baits will work with this method which I will also discuss in this article.

Plunking for salmon actually works in rivers or in the still waters of the ocean or great lakes. You will see guys using this method at the mouth of the river or on the banks of the coast.

In this article you will learn a couple of setups for plunking for salmon, you will see which baits work best, and how to make those baits work better. Some baits just don’t work well.

There are also certain hooks that work better than others which will also be discussed in this article.

When Is Plunking For Salmon Effective

Plunking for salmon is an effective technique for salmon fishing when the fish are moving through or when there are concentrations of fish in a spot. However, on many rivers, it is not a very common method anymore and you won’t see it done very often.

It’s always good to have other options since plunking may not always be the best method in some river situations or spots. That’s why after reading this article it’s a good idea to check out my page How To Catch Salmon In A River: Methods, Baits, and Setups Used By Guides.

Often, it’s the old-school guys near the mouths that are using this method the most. Part of the reason for this is that plunking in a pool where all the guys are drift fishing or float fishing doesn’t work well since their lines are always moving and can drag across your stationery line.

This is what I mostly only see plunking done at the river mouths.

There are times when certain salmon rivers are blown out of shape and with low visibility after heavy rain. This is one of the times when plunking can be effective.

It often takes a long time for some rivers to get low enough to the point usually considered ideal fishing conditions for other methods such as float fishing or drift fishing, These method just doesn’t work well in the high dirty water.

Plunking is a still fishing method, and because of this, it provides lots of time for the salmon to locate and see the bait.

During this high flow and dirty water period, the salmon will often abandon the middle of the river or other areas where they would typically hold, and instead, they locate the path of least resistance which is usually close to the bank or in deep pools that are hard to fish, or they will hold off to the sides just below the rapids.

With plunking, you can get very deep, and into spots the salmon will hold.

Plunking also allows you to position your bait along the bank where the salmon travel during high and dirty water. Your bait can stay in this spot for long periods of time and will be found by passing salmon.  

Generally, the principle behind plunking is to drop the bait into a spot where you know salmon are holding or will be traveling through and then wait for them to strike. 

Guide Tip: Locate concentration areas and place your bait in the middle. This may mean walking a long way, but if you learn how to read the river and the current, you can find water where the bulk of the salmon will travel through a narrow section of the river.

What I mean is if you are fishing a river that is on average 60 feet wide, if the current is equal or present from on bank to the other, the salmon can potentially use the entire 60 feet. I look for areas where the current pushes to one side or the other due to a corner or a high spot or other obstruction.

You may also find an area with part of the river being too shallow, so normally all the salmon will follow the deepest path. These are concentration areas and are where you should target fish when plunking for salmon.

Pros Of Plunking For Salmon

With a salmon fishing method such as plunking, an angler is able to fish at odd times such as when the water is high and off-color.

You don’t have to join other salmon anglers in waiting for the river to drop to normal conditions before you leave your house to go fish. So whether the time is seemingly right for salmon fishing, or the water is high, you are still able to fish for salmon with plunking. 

Plunking is also not difficult to do and even the newest angler can do it well. It does not require any special casting skills, just a good setup and some knowledge of where to fish.

Plunking also allows you to fish near the bottom all the time. Most salmon travel tight to the bottom so placing the bait 2 to 3 feet off the bottom is perfect.

Where To Plunk For Salmon

Salmon like to follow the current and remain as deep as possible. That’s why you have to take note of the current and focus on the deeper areas and channels.

There are a number of salmon rivers that enjoy stocking and natural reproduction. When the salmon attain maturity, they will return to their native streams where they were released as smolts, for the purpose of spawning.

Plunking for salmon is largely dependent on this upriver migration and movement of salmon and demands that you know the rivers they return to and the route they pass through on their return to their release points.

This way, you can position your plunking along this return area.

Plunking for salmon also demands that you know where salmon are holding. There are times when salmon will hold or stop migrating periodically for hours, or days. It could be due to low water, high sun, or obstructions in the river. It can also be due to fatigue.

It is only natural that you want to be plunking where the salmon are, and holding salmon can be the best fish to plunk as that will often casually swim around the pools in large numbers.

Best Baits For Plunking

There are many great baits for plunking. Live and real baits are often the best baits.

Artificial baits like beads can be fantastic when fishing with other methods, but those hard beads have no taste, and as soon as a salmon picks up and bites that hard bead they will spit it out.

A bait like a spawn bag (also known as roe), skein, a worm, a minnow, and shrimp are all good baits because they scent well in the water and they taste and feel natural so the salmon will hold on long enough for the angler to detect the bite. This is critical!

I discuss all the best baits for salmon fishing at Salmon Baits Guide Use.

NOTE: check the regulations in your area to be sure baits are allowed.

Keeping Your Bait Off The Bottom

One thing that is really important is to use the correct setup that allows you to keep your bait 12 inches to 3 feet off the bottom.

Since salmon look forward and upwards and they are usually 6 inches to 12 inches off the bottom, it is rare for them to feed down. Therefore if your bait is lodged on the bottom, or is in between the rocks, the salmon are not likely going to see it and bite it.

To keep the bait off the bottom, anglers will use eggs floaters in their spawn sacks (as seen in the picture), or floating beads or lil’ corky’s on the line to float the bait up and off the bottom.

Also using a Drop Shot style plunking rig is a great way to elevate your bait and keep it at the desired level.

Plunking With Lures

It is also possible to use lures like Spin N Glo, or crankbaits, spoons, or one of my favorites is the Kwickfish Xtreme, or Flatfish.

These lures sit in place and spin or wobble back and forth, and as the salmon swim close, they see it and grab it.

In some cases like with the Spin N Glo, anglers will tip the hook with skein, a shrimp, or a minnow.

Spin-N-Glo have caught a lot of salmon and steelhead and many anglers swear by them. I have also caught many steelies and salmon using Spin-N-Glo but there are some things to make them more effective.

You should use 3 beads below the Spin-N-Glo to help prevent the hooks from fouling when casting and when in the drift. The beads also increase the distance between the hook point and the body of the bait, which gives you a better hooking percentage.

Be sure to use the correct hook size, bigger is better. Your hook should be the same size or slightly bigger than the Spin-N-Glo which will improve your hookups.

Many anglers will also tip the hook with a shrimp, live worm, lasting worm, twister tail, yarn, or skein which does seem to increase the number of hookups for many anglers.

See the diagram below for Spin-N-Glo rig for salmon fishing in rivers with the plunking method.

Flutter Spoons: Light weight trolling spoon can also work.

Plunking For Salmon: 2 Best Setups

The first setup is for plunking for salmon using lures. This is the most common plunking rig and it’s adjustable. You can set your depth based on the length of your dropper.

You can also set your weight based on the velocity of the current. In slower current use fewer weights, and in faster current use more weights.

Salmon Plunking Rig for using lures
This is a great Salmon Plunking Rig for using lures. Set your dropper length to the height you want your lure off the water. Go heavier line for west coast salmon and bigger rivers, and lighter for smaller rivers.

There are a number of ways to set up your rig, but for the sake of this post, these two are the most common plunking setups.

  • To start with, you need a sturdy rod holder that you can knock/forge into the ground and will firmly withstand a steelhead strike when they bite.
  • Tie a three-way swivel to the end of your mainline (I personally recommend a 50-pound braided mainline).
  • Tie your leader to one of the eyes on the swivel. I personally recommend leader material made of monofilament and in the range of 12- and 15-pound test.
  • Tie a long dropper line to the remaining eye on the swivel (about 8 to 20 inches)
  • Tie a hook (octopus-style) to the end of your leader, ranging from 1/0 to 3/0 using an egg loop knot
  • After tying the hook, slide down your spin and GLO choice and a bead matching the color of the lure.
  • Attach a Duolock swivel to the end of the dropper and snap in a sinker weight via this duo lock (1 to 10 oz). For best holding sinkers in strong currents, you should go for Pyramid or teardrop sinkers
  • Some anglers always like to attach a bell on the rod, so that when a steelhead bites, it alerts them. 

Salmon Plunking Rig For Baits

The plunking rig below shows you how to rig your line for baits like eggs. You can also use prawns, shrimp, worms, minnows, or even cut-bait.

For salmon fishing around the great lakes, one of the hottest baits for this method, and one used by a lot of river guides is Skein. Skein is the immature eggs that are still attached together by the egg membrane, or skein.

A good salmon plunking rig used with baits like spawn sacs and skein.
This is a good salmon plunking rig used with baits like spawn sacs and skein.

Always ensure to check your rig frequently, especially when you’re fishing in high water means there will still be lots of junk that can get caught on your hook or bait.

pro-cure whole skein
Pro-cure whole skein

Salmon Roe

Some of the best Salmon skeins you can buy are the Pro-Cure Vacuum Packed Salmon Skeins eggs.

The skein is cured in Pro-Cure’s proprietary blend and can be hard to find.

Check These Stores

Check Store

King Roe

Coho Roe

Skein chunks
Pro-Cure Salmon Roe

Pro-Cure Salmon Roe Clusters

These premium natural egg skeins are individually cut into soft durable clusters and packed on a tray.

They are made and processed to stay on the hook better.

Pro-Cure Wizard Egg Cure
Pro-Cure Wizard Egg Cure

Skein Cure

If you can harvest your own skein, be sure to cure it properly.

Many anglers use Pro-Cure Bait Cure or Pautzke Balls O’ Fire Cure Fish Egg Cure.

How To Detect The Bite

Some anglers always like to attach a bell on the rod, so that when a salmon bites, it alerts them. There’s really no rhyme to salmon bites when plunking, as it varies from one salmon to another.

Sometimes what you get is a series of taps that you will see on the tip of your rod that looks like a salmon bite. That could be as a result of a salmon coming along and just grabbing your bait or lure, and figuring out what is going on. Or it could just be a hit-and-run bite. In that case, your rod can get yanked if not properly kept.

Always look out for the tip of your rod, when it loads up or shakes, set the hook to check for a bite.

Plunking For Salmon FAQ

If you have a question, comment, or tip about plunking for salmon please let us know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines,


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