Salmon Fishing With Skein: Expert Tips and Skein Setups

Salmon Fishing With Skein can produce large salmon like this one
Image Courtesy of our team photographer Matthew. See more from him on Instagram at wisco_castin

Having been a guide for salmon for over two decades, and a passionate angler for over three and a half, I will let you in on proven tips and tricks that salmon guides and good anglers use when salmon fishing with skein.

I’ve tried many of the most popular baits that everyone uses, but salmon fishing with skein is something you don’t hear much about.

I’ve had very good success with skein for steelhead and for trout, so why would salmon fishing with skein be any different?

I’ve had the opportunity to test skein in all kinds of conditions and all the stages of the salmon runs, and there are things you can do to really improve your catch rate when salmon fishing with skein as bait.

What Is Skein?

Skein is the mature salmon eggs that are attached to a membrane known as the skein or skein sacs. Since the eggs are not loose and are all attached in a sac, chunks of eggs can be cut into effective sizes and put on a hoo with a special knot.

Anglers will obtain skein by catching their own fish and using the skein, or some fishing shops will sell it, and you can even get preserved skein online.

Anglers will use skeins from all salmon, steelhead, and trout, but the most used skein comes from Chinook salmon.

Curing Skein

Anglers that catch salmon or steelhead will cure the eggs using ingredients like Borax, salt, and sugar, or commercially available cures like Pautzky or Pro-Cure.

Some anglers will use a combination of these ingredients.

Borax is a preservative widely used by anglers to cure fish eggs for bait. Anglers using Skein cured in Borax find that the skein is more effective if the skein is left for a few days or weeks in the Borax.

Guide Tip: See below for my tips for easily obtaining skein without buying skein or catching a fish to get skein. Plus, see guide tips on curing, drying, and using skein.

Dying Skein

Some of the commercial cures will also dye your skein. You can also use food coloring.

Many anglers believe dyed skein is better, but I have found natural undyed skein to be better at times, especially in clear water.

The most common and effective colors are red, pink, and fire orange. You will likely find that dyed colors like red are best in murky water.

I’ve witnessed days when colorful skein outperformed natural color, but I’ve always believed that it’s more about using high-quality eggs that give off more scent, which is more likely to attract fish than the actual color itself.

Skein VS. Roe

You will hear some anglers swear that skein is better than roe and then hear other anglers swear that roe is more effective. I use roe 75 percent of the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s always better.

Let me be clear, based on my experience of fishing for salmon with Skien for about 30 years, there will be days when skein with be a better bait and other days when roe will be a better bait. For this reason, I usually have both with me, and this is what I suggest for all anglers, if possible.

I have seen times when fresh run salmon prefer skein over all other baits, and I have also seen times when pooled up holding salmon in gin clear pools will only bite skein. This is the reason why having skein while fishing for salmon is a good idea. Skein has accounted for many large salmon for my clients.

However, I have also seen a lot more days when early in the morning, a well-presented chartreuse spawn bag is superior, and then later in the day, light pink, peach, or white spawn bag is all they will hit.

The upside to using roe bags for salmon is that you have plenty of color options and can adjust size and color based on the conditions.

Just be sure the regulations in your area permit using skein as bait.

When you are done here, check out Salmon Fishing With Eggs.

Which Salmon Species Like Skein?

Skein is good for King, Coho, Chum, and Even Atlantic salmon. Although I don’t have extensive experience, some anglers claim they do well with skein when fishing for pink salmon and Sockeye salmon.

What Depth For Fishing Skein For Salmon

Salmon are often closer to the bottom, therefore, the majority of the time, I will set my salmon leader 12 to 24 inches off the bottom.

However, I have seen a lot of suspended salmon, so if a bait on the bottom is not working, I will raise the bait up in 2-foot increments until the bait is three to four feet below the surface.

Skein Size For Salmon Fishing

I adjust my skein size based on the conditions as follows:

  • Dirty or murky water: Use golf ball sized chunks or bigger.
  • Fresh Run Fish: Ping pong to golf ball sizes chunks are good for fresh run salmon.
  • Clear Water: Dime or nickel-sized chunks are good in clear water.
  • Gin Clear Water and Nervous Salmon: Verty small 3 to 4 egg chunks can be best.

These are just guidelines, there are times when the salmon will prefer small or large eggs for no apparent reason, so mix it up and see what they want.

You can also purchase larger skeins and trim them down to the size based on the conditions.

Using The Right Hook For Skein

Considerations such as hook type, hook size, and baiting the hook properly are critical in increasing your chances of hooking salmon.

Selecting the correct hook is vital for successful salmon angling with any bait, particularly with skein.

When it comes to hooks, a short shank, wide gap hook with a razor-sharp point is ideal. As all hooks are not created equal, choosing wisely is crucial to catching more salmon. A good hook will easily penetrate the fish’s mouth and secure a firm hold during a battle.

The best hooks for salmon fishing with skein are Raven Specimen Hooks or Gamakatsu Octopus hooks.

What Size Hook For Skein Fishing For Salmon?

The hook size should correspond to the size of the skein and will depend on the conditions. A hook that’s too large might deter salmon from grabbing the bait due to its visibility.

Use smaller hooks for smaller skein chunks and larger hooks for larger chunks of skein. I suggest using hooks in sizes 2 to 8, with my go-to size being a size 4 or 6.

Some anglers will use size 1/0 and 2/0 single hooks with larger skein chunks, however, I’m more of a finesse guy, so I never go this large.

Avoid treble hooks, which can harm fish and are challenging to remove if lodged deep. Opt for high-quality single hooks that provide excellent hooking and holding percentages instead.

A hook that’s too small might not effectively hook the salmon during the hookset, resulting in a weak hold while battling the fish. Smaller hooks are also more susceptible to bending or breaking with large salmon.

Setting Up Skein On the Hook

The advice I give my clients applies to any bait not just skein, and that advice is that proper bait rigging can double or triple the amount of salmon you catch.

Using the bait knot, known as the egg loop knot, is what I and many other guides use to secure the skein.

I always ensure the hook point is fully exposed and not obscured by the skein or any bait. This is critical for increasing your success rate. An exposed hook point has a higher chance of self-hooking the salmon.

Without diving deep into the theory, let me tell you I’ve seen many salmon, steelhead, and trout get self-hooked simply by the current pulling on the line and bait, but if the hook point isn’t exposed, this won’t happen.

Additionally, the hook’s gap should be wide enough to securely hook the salmon.

See: How To Rig Skein: 2 Best Ways Of Using and Attaching Skein

Methods For Fishing Salmon with Skein

There are a few methods that I use when salmon fishing with skein.

Bottom Fishing Or Plunking

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

When using the stationary rig known as the bottom rig or bottom fishing or plunking for salmon with the plunking rig, cast your line and let the bait sink to the riverbed or bottom of the area you are fishing.

Keep a slightly slack line to give the salmon an opportunity to swim a bit with the bait.

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.

Watch your rod tip and the line, and if the line starts pulling out, that usually indicates a bite.

This approach can boost your chances for a successful hookset.

If you notice the rod tip twitching or the line pulling out close to the bait, set the hook hard.

With this method, I also use a floating bead to keep the skein up and off the bottom.

Float Fishing

Salmon leader for float fishing
This is the same leader setup that I use when guiding and fishing for great lakes salmon.

Float fishing for salmon is often my most effective method for fishing baits in rivers, and this also includes fishing for salmon with skein.

In still water or deep water, use a slip float to allow you to cast easily and to get the optimal depth.

When angling in rivers or when fishing in less than 12 feet deep, I prefer a stationary float. Rather than using round bobbers, go for pencil-style or thin-style floats. The Raven FM float is a great float used by many seasoned guides and anglers.

Suspend your bait 6 to 20 inches off the bottom for best results, but be prepared to adjust for suspended salmon.

Other Methods Include:

Tips For Fishing Salmon With Skein

  • The Take: While there are times when salmon will grab the skein gently, there are other times when they will rip the rod out of your hand. Without getting into the reasons why this happens, I recommend that you set the hook even on light bumps.
  • Drag-Free Drift: It is critical to ensure you get a drag-free drift with every drift.
  • Set Your Depth: Along with a drag-free drift, setting your depth to the level at which the salmon are holding will drastically improve your catch rate.
  • Add Color: Sometimes, the salmon are more responsive to certain colors. I have tied skein into the same mesh used for roe bags to experiment with colors to find out what the salmon what. Doing this has saved the day many times.
  • Obtaining Skein: Head to a fish cleaning station near where the charter boats leave and return. Try to be there when the half-day charters return, likely around 11:00 AM or between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. These charters often clean the salmon for their customers, so politely ask if you can have the skein eggs. This is an easy way to obtain the freshest eggs possible. Sometimes you will also find skeins in the garbage can at the fish cleaning station.
  • Clean Skein Well and Preserve: If getting your skein from a cleaning station or after cleaning your own fish, try to pick the skeins with as little blood as possible…blood speeds spoiling. Then rinse the skeins thoroughly in the lake or river as best you can…pat dry. Don’t use water with chlorine or other chemicals. Spring water is often OK. Try to cure or freeze your eggs as soon as possible.
  • Scent Is King: The scent is a big part of using skein. My tip for you is, if you have a lot of skein, change your skein chunks every 3 to 6 drifts for maximum success. Also, don’t drop your hooked-up skein at your feet and then cast it. You will lose a lot of scent at your feet. Don’t let the skein hit the water until it’s in the path you are going to fish.
  • Dry or Not Dry: Extended drying of the skein eggs in the fridge will make the eggs milk less but will keep them a little less tacky and a little tougher, which is good for keeping them on the hook longer.

Should You Use Skein for Salmon Fishing?

Skein can be an additional good bait option when other baits aren’t producing results. However, I wouldn’t suggest skein as your only bait.

Do Salmon Guides Use Skein?

Skein is an effective bait for salmon so there are many top salmon guides using skein for salmon fishing.

Feature image proved by John from Get Bent Guide Service and SBS Outdoor Action with a nice salmon.

Salmon Fishing with Skein: Q&A

If you have any queries, insights, or advice about salmon fishing with skein, please share them in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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  1. If I feel little nibbles when fishing for coho and using skeins in the river, do I set the hook or wait until the fish has the whole thing in its mouth ?

    Thank you