5 Most Effective Salmon Fishing Rigs Used By Salmon Guides

John From Get Bent Guide Service with a giant salmon. Guides like John know the best salmon fishing rigs for their area.
Guides like John know the best salmon fishing rigs for their area.

Top trout guides use these five highly effective salmon fishing rigs to maximize their clients’ success when using bait.

These salmon fishing setups are suitable for fishing still water lakes, ponds, reservoirs, small streams, and larger rivers.

As an experienced guide with over 20 years of expertise, I have extensively tested and used numerous salmon fishing rigs that I’ve learned from fellow guides and skilled salmon anglers, and the ones I’ll share with you are the best of the best.

Additionally, I will highlight common salmon fishing rig mistakes that unknowingly hinder anglers from catching salmon. By avoiding these errors, you can significantly enhance your chances of landing fish.

The Key Components of a Salmon Fishing Rig

Alex from Fireplug charters with a nice salmon. Guides like John know the best salmon fishing rigs for their area.
Alex from Fireplug charters with a nice salmon. Guides like John know the best salmon fishing rigs for their area.

To achieve a successful salmon fishing rig, two essential elements must be carefully considered: the hook and the leader.

These components play a crucial role as they are what the salmon sees when it approaches your bait.

If either of these elements is wrong, your ability to catch fish will be compromised and maybe even to the point where you catch nothing when you could have caught many had these things been perfect.

However, don’t worry, as I will provide you with the specific hooks and leaders and the sizes that I use in my own salmon fishing rig and the rig I use when I’m guiding.

Selecting the Right Hook For Your Salmon Fishing Rigs

The Raven Specimen hook is one of the best trout hooks for most situations
Raven Specimen Hook

A high-quality hook should effortlessly penetrate the fish’s mouth during the hookset and maintain a secure hold throughout the fight. Unfortunately, not all hooks fulfill these criteria.

Some hooks, popular among novice anglers, are actually inadequate and prevent them from successfully catching salmon.

I see these hooks on the rods of anglers all the time, and when I see them, I know these anglers are not catching anywhere near the amount of salmon my clients are catching.

Furthermore, using the wrong hook size in relation to your bait can also impede your fishing success. Unfortunately, many anglers believe the bait they are using is the problem. I know this because when I tell them how many fish my clients have caught, 99% of the time the question they ask is “What bait are you using?”

Unfortunately, great bait is nearly useless on a bad hook or with a leader so thick that the fish can see it from 10 feet away.

Salmon possess excellent vision, especially in slow currents or still water where they have ample time to inspect the bait. They may choose not to bite if they spot the hook, particularly the more experienced and larger wild salmon.

Regrettably, many anglers unknowingly use subpar hooks due to misleading articles written by uninformed authors who advocate for bait-holder hooks. These bait-holder hooks are even recommended by store staff at certain large retailers, as well as by anglers who lack proper knowledge.

Allow me to be 100 percent honest with you, reputable fishing guides and experienced anglers never use bait-holder hooks because THEY SUCK!

Fishing guides are very picky when it comes to selecting hooks. To provide their clients with the best chance of hooking and landing salmon, they rely on hooks that can efficiently penetrate the fish’s mouth and securely hold it during the battle. And they must be very sharp with a fine hook point.

If bait holder hooks were truly superior for bait fishing, all guides and seasoned anglers would utilize them. However, the fact that they don’t is a clear indication of their ineffectiveness.

Instead, skilled anglers and guides opt for reliable short shank wide gap hooks such as the Raven Specimen or the Gamaktsu Octopus hook.

Choosing the Appropriate Hook Size

Good Hook Size For this bait
This bait is a good size for this hook and the hook gap is wide enough to hook a fish.

Choosing the appropriate hook size is also crucial to success with any fish.

An overly large hook is easily noticeable to the salmon, while a small hook may go unnoticed but fails to provide adequate penetration and grip on the fish.

You need to use the right-sized hook based on the size of your bait. So, unless you only use one bait and one size, you need multiple-sized hooks ranging from size 2 to size 10.

Bait and hook size
This bait is way too small for this hook which could result in the fish seeing the hook and refusing to eat the bait. Match the hook to the size of the bait.

In the great lakes salmon region, size 6 to 10 are perfect.

For west coast salmon where sometimes shrimp and large chunks of skein are used as bait, a size 2 hook might be sufficient, but you could go as small as a size 10 for use with beads or plastic worms.

Proper Bait Placement On The Hook

How to put a bait on a hook
An example of where you want to put your bait on a hook to be sure most of the hook is covered but also to be sure the hook gap is wide enough and the hook point is not covered.

While having the right hook is crucial, improper rigging can diminish its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, numerous salmon fishing setups promoted online are incorrectly rigged, greatly reducing the chances of catching fish.

Drawing from years of experience and extensive trial and error, I can confidently state that covering the hook point or filling the hook gap is a big mistake for most baits.

By keeping the hook gap open and the hook point exposed, the fish often hooks itself, especially in currents. This simple adjustment can significantly increase your catch rate.

Choosing the Appropriate Leader Size for Your Salmon Fishing Rigs

Our Team photographer with a big Chinook salmon
Our Team photographer Matthew with a big Chinook salmon: See more on his Instagram.

When referring to the leader size, I am specifically discussing the pound test, not the length. The ideal leader length for each setup can be seen in the diagrams provided below.

I use different leader strengths and lengths depending on the size of the salmon and the conditions of the river.

Through extensive testing under various conditions, I have found that the diameter of the leader line plays a significant role in fishing success. My general rule is to select a line that is thin enough to remain undetected by the salmon, yet strong enough to prevent break-offs.

Unfortunately, not all brands accurately rate their leaders, which can hinder your fishing success and even completely prevent bites.

For instance, one brand’s 8-pound leader may have the thickness of a 14-pound test, which is unfavorable for salmon fishing as it becomes more visible to the fish.

To mitigate this issue, I recommend purchasing leader lines based on the diameter provided on the box rather than relying solely on the pound test rating advertised by the company.

Here are some basic guidelines for selecting the appropriate leader size:

Steelhead and Bass or large trout: Great Lake Region 6 to 10 pounds, with the ideal size being 8 pounds, and a diameter of 0.008 inches.

Steelhead – West Coast Region: 8 to 12 pounds, with the ideal size being 10 pounds, and a diameter of 0.009 inches.

Salmon: 10 to 16 pounds, with the ideal size being 14 pounds, and a diameter of 0.011 inches.

A Brief Overview of My Salmon Fishing Rigs

Allow me to provide a brief overview of the setups I employ for salmon fishing. It’s important to note that these setups are adaptable to various baits, including spawn bags, worms, minnows, shrimp, or any other bait you choose.

These salmon rigs have been proven effective by myself, fellow guides, and experienced anglers, making them reliable choices for maximizing your fishing success.

Float Fishing Salmon Fishing Rigs

salmon leaders for float fishing

Float fishing is often the most effective method for salmon fishing in rivers deeper than 3 feet and less than 15 feet deep. Whether I’m fishing in lakes or rivers, I utilize the same setup. The only distinction is that in a lake, if the depth exceeds the length of my rod (typically over 7 feet), I use a slip float.

In rivers, where longer rods ranging from 10 to 12 feet are preferred, I opt for a fixed float in water depths up to 12 feet.

A good salmon leader rig for fast water or pockets
A good salmon leader rig for fast water or pockets
Salmon leaders rig for 2 flies
Salmon will often feed on flies so this is a typical 2 fly salmon leader rig that works well for me on most great lakes rivers.

Drift Fishing Salmon Fishing Rig

Drift Fishing Leader For Salmon
This is an effective drift fishing leader for salmon.

When fishing in large rivers with strong currents or deeper water, the drift fishing method proves to be highly effective.

This approach has yielded successful catches of salmon, carp, bass, and catfish.

Bottom Bouncing Salmon Fishing Rig

An advanced steelhead bottom bouncing rig
Traditional Bottom Bouncing Rig for steelhead beads
This is a traditional bottom bouncing bead rig.

Similar to the drift fishing method, I employ this bottom bouncing method in smaller and shallower sections of rivers.

It is particularly advantageous in shallow riffles, runs, small pools, and pocket water.

Still-Water Salmon Fishing Rigs : Plunking Method

A bottom rig for trout , steelhead and salmon fishing ponds, lakes, and in reservoirs.
A bottom rig for trout, steelhead, and salmon fishing ponds, lakes, and in reservoirs. Use 2 to 4 pound leader for trout, 6 to 10 pound for steelhead, and 10 to 14 pound for salmon

This is known as the Plunking method is suitable for fishing in still waters such as lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. It can be employed to target salmon, trout, bass, carp, and catfish.

This setup is versatile, accommodating both daytime and nighttime salmon fishing. As salmon often exhibit increased activity during the night, still fishing can prove to be a fruitful strategy.

This is a very popular rig for shore anglers which i discuss on my page salmon fishing from shore.

Bobber Doggin Salmon Fishing Rig

Bobber doggin rig
This is a standard bobber Doggin Rig for Steelhead, Salmon, And Trout

Bobber Doggin is a relatively new bobber fishing technique gaining popularity among anglers.

This method is applicable for fishing in rivers and can be utilized to target various bait-eating fish species found in currents.

Salmon Fishing Rigs Queries and Advice

If you have any questions or insights regarding salmon fishing setups, I encourage you to share them in the comments section below. I wish you the best of luck in your salmon fishing endeavors!

Tight Lines,


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