10 Best Salmon Leaders And Setups For Multiple Methods

Plunking For Salmon

As salmon fishing guide who has been fishing for salmon for over 37 years, and who has been out with other guides and top anglers, I have seen and tested out many salmon leaders and the best setups for all methods of fishing.

I can tell you for certainty that using the wrong salmon leader setup will significantly effect your ability to catch fish.

The best salmon leaders will be constructed in a way that provides the angler with a natural presentation, and the strength to not break, yet still be thin enough that it’s not seen by the fish.

Almost always, the best leader for salmon will be a fluorocarbon line. It is abrasion-resistant and less visible in the water. With methods such as trolling, some anglers will still use monofilament. But, in this article, I will be discussing salmon leaders for river fishing.

Best Brands For Salmon Leaders

Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon Line
The Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon Line is great for making steelhead leaders.

Before I get into the leader setups for each method, you should be aware that it is always best to use a high-quality fluorocarbon leader.

I have tried many different brands and have consulted with other guides and top anglers and these are the best.

NOTE: You do not always need a leader that is made to be a leader. I have used mainline fluorocarbon lines with zero difference in function and fish-catching ability. And, often, the mainline are much cheaper.

  • Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon Line – Loved by many top river anglers and guides, CHECK PRICE
  • Drennan Leader – Great spool size, good price; this is my go-to leader line most of the time simply because of the spool size and function. CHECK PRICE
  • Seaguar AbrazX – This is mainline from a great company, and it’s one of the least expensive per foot. CHECK PRICE

GUIDE TIP: Your leader and tippets are only as good as your knots. Are you using good knots? Check Out: 4 Best Knots Used By River Guides

Best Float Fishing Leaders For Salmon

Float fishing is often one of the most effective ways to catch salmon and steelhead in rivers, but only if you do it well. Anglers will use spinning reels, baitcasting reels, and centerpin reels when float fishing.

If you are interested in learning how to use this method well, be sure to check out my page, Float Fishing For Salmon.

This is a very effective float fishing leader.

The idea behind this leader is that the bulk of the weight is near the top of the leader, and as you go further down, the weight is less.

We also put the weights on what is called a “SHOT LINE” because the type of weight we use are called split shots.

There are multiple yet important reasons for this configuration.

#1. We set more weight near the top because often the fastest current is near the surface, so this will keep your leader more verticle near the surface, which improves depth.

#2. Less weight near the bottom allows for a better, more natural movement of the bait, and being sparsely weighted, the weights are less likely to be seen by the salmon.

#3. Less weight near the bottom also allows the bait to move slightly ahead of the weight and float, which presents your bait first, and this tends to be better since the salmon are less likely to see your leader, weigh, and float.

#4. By adding a shot line that is 2 to 4 pounds heavier than the lowest part of the leader, should you break off for any reason, only the hook or lower leader will need to be replaced. There are times when I will break off on snags over 50 times, and I never need to replace my shot line.

#5. Another function of the shot line is a larger gap between your thicker and more highly visible mainline.

NOTE: The Shot Line and lower leader should always be made from fluorocarbon because it is more invisible and abrasion-resistant.

The weights are usually the same size but spaced closer at the top and further apart at the bottom to allow for a smooth curve angle and better bait placement.

My Float Fishing Salmon Leader Recipe

  • Two strong swivels: I use
  • Shot Line: Same as the lower leader – Upsize 2 to 4 pounds heavier than your lower leader
  • AAA to AB split shots: I use Raven Super Soft Split Shot
  • Lower leader – 10lb to 12 pounds for Great Lakes salmon – 16lb to 18lb for West Coast salmon
  • Hooks: Size and shape are based on the bait, size of fish, and velocity of the river – Best Hooks For Float Fishing
  • Baits: Check out Best Baits For Salmon

Other salmon leaders for float fishing:

A 2 bead salmon leader rig
One of the hottest baits for river salmon is beads. This is a 2 bead salmon leader rig that I use. NOTE: Some areas do not allow for 2 baits.
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.
Salmon Leader Formula for Great Lakes Salmon
A simple Salmon Leader Formula for Great Lakes Salmon
A good salmon leader rig for fast water or pockets
A good salmon leader rig for fast water or pockets

Best Fly Fishing Leader Setup For Salmon Fishing

fishing salmon with spinning reels

Fly fishing for salmon is another very popular method. The leader for fly fishing for salmon is very different than what we use for other methods.

Often, you will simply buy a standard tapered leader and then adjust the lower part of the leader by adding what is known as a tippet (the tip of the leader section) as well as weights and then your flies.

This is a typlical salmon leader for fly fishing when nymphing
This is an effective salmon leader for fly fishing when nymphing.

Salmon Leader For Fly Fishing Formula

  • 12 to 16 pound, RIO Steelhead/Salmon Tapered Leader – Check Price
  • 2 Tippet Rings, or Tripple Surgeons Knots
  • AA or AB split shots: Add as much as needed.
  • 12 to 16-pound leader
  • Flies

Use an indicator large enough to suspend or hold up the weights you need. I discuss the best indicators for both salmon and steelhead on my page Best Indicators For Fly Fishing.

Salmon Leaders For Plunking

Plunking is another method used for salmon fishing in both rivers and in the ocean or Great Lake. This is a still-fishing method, but the leader is still a critical part of this method.

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.

With this method, you can use baits or lures.

If plunking is a method you are not familiar with or is something you want to learn more about, check out my page, Plunking For Salmon.

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.

Drift Fishing For Salmon

Drift fishing for salmon is another popular method, and it is known that drift fishing works well on faster and deeper rivers that might be too deep for float fishing.

When drift fishing, you don’t use floats or indicators of any kind. It’s simply a line to the leader, some weights, and your bait.

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

A sliding pencil lead, bell sinker, or a slinky weight will all work for this method.

If you don’t have these types of weights, simply tie on a dropper line and add as many split shots as you need.

For the lower leader, 12 to 24 inches is good.

For more info on fishing salmon and these methods, check out my page, How To Catch Salmon In Rivers: Best Methods and Tips.

Tight Lines,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Comment