Spoon Fishing For Salmon In Rivers: Guide Tactics and Tips

These are 4 colorful spoons used for spoon fishing for salmon.

Some anglers and guides swear that spoon fishing for salmon can be the most effective method for aggressive salmon that are running up the river to spawn. Even when salmon go off the bait bite spoons will often continue to work well since spoons can trigger a strike instinct.

Spoon fishing for salmon really isn’t that hard if you understand the three effective methods to present a spoon, as well as how to cover the water effectively. It’s imperative that you are also using the right spoons and the same methods that experienced river guides use.

When I guide salmon with spoons, the methods I use will depend on the river conditions, the depth, clarity, current speed, as well as the activity level of the salmon.

I will also change my spoon based on the same conditions.

Why Do Salmon Hit Spoons?

A large king salmon caught by one of my guides.

When salmon return to rivers for spawning, they are not there to feed. Instead, they are driven by a primal urge to reproduce and secure the survival of their species. However, salmon are aggressive and territorial as they move up the river and when they are on the spawning grounds.

Because of this, they will often bite anything that poses a threat, or that gets into their territory, this included a good-sized well-placed spoon lure. Salmon will also hit spoon out of instant or habit since 3 years of their life out in the ocean they grab just about anything that looks like baitfish.

The great thing with spoons is that they look and move like baitfish which can trigger a strike response in salmon.

Spoon Fishing Basics

Spoon fishing is a lure fishing method where an angler uses a lure known as a spoon that imitates the fluttering and unpredictable movement of a baitfish.

The right spoons can create a flash and vibration in the water that simulates a distressed fish, triggering the salmon’s predatory instincts. Despite not being in the feeding phase, salmon are provoked to attack the spoons, providing an opportunity for anglers to hook them.

Pro Tip: You want to reel or retrieve your spoon at a speed that gives the spoon and nice side-to-side wobble. If your spoon is spinning or popping out on the surface you are reeling too fast.

Choosing The Right Spoon For Salmon Fishing

There are two types of spoons available, so choosing the right spoon is important for success.

  • Trolling Spoons: These are lightweight spoons designed for trolling only. These do not cast well and they do not work well in current. These should be avoided in rivers.
  • Casting Spoons: Casting spoons are heavier, cast far, sink faster, have a nice wobble, and they stay down and work well in moving current. These are the best spoons for salmon.

Get some good casting spoons in the 3 to 5 inches length. This length is close to the size of the prevalent baitfish in the river and a larger enough target to get the attention of the salmon.

A general rule is to use larger spoons in turbid or high-flow conditions and smaller ones in clear water or when fishing for nervous fish that are holding in pools.

What Color Spoons For Salmon In Rivers?

A chinook salmon with spoon in its mouth
This image is courtesy of SBS Outdoor Action, Check them out on Instagram.

The color of the spoon can also influence the salmon to bite.

Silver, gold, brass, copper or bright-colored spoons with reflective surfaces are often the most effective, as they can create a flash that can be seen from a distance.

At times and under the right conditions, black spoons or black/silver can be very effective.

My most effective salmon spoon color for salmon fishing in rivers are chartreuse, Chartreuse/Silver, Silver, Silver/Orange, Green/Silver, and Blue/Silver.

The Best Spoons For Salmon Fishing

Spoon fishing for salmon is a lot more effective if you are using the best spoons for salmon fishing in rivers which include:

Eppinger Dardevle Spoon
Eppinger Dardevle Spoon
  • Little Cleos: The 1.25 ounce 3-inch size is great for big water and long casts.
  • Mepps Cyclops: 3.5 inches in various colors, great for all retrieve methods
  • Krocodile Spoon: The 3.5 inch size is the best. This is my most effective spoon for salmon.
  • Eppinger Dardevle: The 1 oz, 3 5/8 inch spoon is one of my go-to spoons in the lower river for aggressive salmon. This is a very highly rated spoon.
  • Thomas Speedy Shiner Spoon: A good 4-inch spoon that works well in rivers for salmon.

Three Techniques for Spoon Fishing For Salmon

Method #1. The most common spoon fishing technique involves casting the spoon into the river, allowing it to sink, and then retrieving it straight in with a slow retrieve.

Method #2. This is also fairly common and works best in faster currents. Cast across and slightly downriver and allow the current to swing the lure across the pool without any reeling in at all. This ‘swing’ technique carries the spoon downstream and across as it sinks.

Method #3. With this method, the angler cast the lure out and across the river allowing it to sink to the bottom. Then lift the rod tip from waist high to a few feet over your head and then lower the rod and repeat. This creates and jigging up and down motion causing the spoon to flutter like an injured baitfish which can really drive the salmon crazy.

The jigging method is beneficial in specific areas where salmon are known to congregate, such as beneath waterfalls or behind large obstacles in the river, and in pocket water.

Getting The Right Depth

The ideal depth for your spoon will be 2 to 3 feet over the salmon’s head. In very clear water, 5 or 6 feet over their head might also work, regardless, the key is to keep the lure over their heads since they prefer to feed upwards.

I also believe the closer you can get your spoon to the salmon the more you will aggravate them and the more likely they will grab the spoon. I have seen this with my own eyes. After multiple passes, the salmon finally grab the spoon when it’s very close to them.

Fishing The Spoon High

With methods 1 and 2, you can start reeling as soon as the lure hits the water to keep the lure high in the water. Sometimes the spoon will only be a foot or two below the surface. The faster the retrieval the higher the spoon will be.

Keeping the lure high is best in a shallower river under 6 feet deep.

Fishing The Spoon Deep

To get depth with your spoon, you can cast straight across or slightly upriver and let the spoon sink before you start your retrieve. The longer you wait the deeper the spoon will go.

The spoon will often start to rise as you start to reel in. However, the slower the retrieve, the deeper the spoon will stay.

If you bump the bottom, you are likely too deep. Lift the rod tip abruptly about 4 to 6 feet and this should lift the spoon 4 to 6 feet. If you keep the rod tip elevated it will keep the spoon higher.

Often, the salmon will be close to the bottom, but sometimes they will be suspended a few feet or more off the bottom, when they are not on the bottom it can be more difficult to catch them.

However, see my guide tip below for covering the water and fishing different levels of the water column.

What Direction Is Best To Cast A Spoon

Covering the water with lures
I cover the water systematically from the top of the pool to the bottom of the pool casting about 2 to 3 feet down each time and allowing the lure to swing across the river.

I have found that it is always best to cast your spoon and other lures straight across the river or across and slightly downriver. I discuss this in more detail on my page about Fishing Salmon With Lures.

Some anglers say they prefer to cast upriver and retrieve the spoon downriver, and that this works better for them but in my opinion, the reason is when you cast upriver the lure will get much deeper.

A lure coming straight down the river is much harder for the salmon to grab. A lure fluttering broadside and moving sideways is a much easier and enticing target.

How To Cover The Water Effectively When Fishing Spoons For Salmon

Covering the water with lures
In this image, the current is moving from the right to the left. Cast across and land your lure 3 to 6 feet downriver with each consecutive cast. Let the lure swing or twitch it across the pool from the far side to the inside as you retrieve it.

I am very meticulous about how I and my clients cover the water. I have seen anglers fan cast, or cast randomly and aimlessly, and this always results in fewer salmon.

Instead, because the salmon are facing upriver, I cover the water from the very top of the spot to the very bottom of the spot in 3 to 5-foot increments.

What this does is it COVERS ALL or most of the river and it gets your spoon in front of the most salmon. It keeps your lure in front of the salmon, and it slower lower the lure down towards them with each consecutive cast.

Covering All Levels Of The Water Column With A Spoon

Using the above method of fishing the top of the spot down, something that works well for me is casting 2 to 3 times in the same spot. I do this to determine where in the water column the salmon are holding. Let me explain.

  • First Cast: with the first cast I start reeling immediately to cover the top part of the water column.
  • Second Cast: With the second cast, I will allow the lure to sink 4 to 6 feet and start my retrieve, this will cover the middle or lower part of the water column.
  • Third Cast: If I haven’t hit a fish or the bottom on the first two casts, I’ll let my lure sink for longer or even sink to the bottom before I start reeling it in. Once it hits the bottom I’ll lift the rod tip 3 to 6 feet in hopes of keeping the spoon 3 to 6 feet off the bottom.

Once I feel confident that I have covered all levels of the water column I will move downriver 3 to 6 feet and repeat.

Pay attention to which level of the water column the fish are at so you can eliminate the high or low casts.

Understanding River Conditions

I will often change my methods based on the river conditions. These river conditions include:

  • Depth
  • Speed or velocity of the current
  • Water clarity
  • Structure – rocks and logs
  • Width

Clear Water Spoon Fishing For Salmon

In clear water, you can run your lure over 6 feet past a salmon and they might grab it. You can spread your casts out further and still be productive. Silver flashy spoons work and so do dark or black-colored spoons in clear water.

Faster retrieves can also work in clear water since the salmon see the lure coming from further and have more time to react.

The downside to clear water, especially shallow clear water is that the salmon can be nervous and not willing to bite. I’ve seen salmon spooked by the splash of a spoon or when the spoon gets close to them. This usually occurs in low water when they are holding.

If the salmon are spooked, smaller and less flashy spoons can work best when cast far away from the salmon and then pulled past them. Move the spoon slower and make sure you stay out of sight.

Guide Tip: When fishing spooked or nervous salmon, do not land the spoon on top of them.

Spoon Fishing In Dirty Water

When spoon fishing for salmon in dirtier water you may need to get your spoon within a foot or two of the salmon. You should also slow your spoon down as low as possible. The spoon jigging retrieve can be best when the salmon have a hard time seeing your spoon.

When the water is dirtier focus your efforts on areas that concentrate the salmon, like below rapids, or deep corner pools.

Fast Water Vs Slow Water

In faster water, the best presentation is the swing method which allows the spoon to move as slowly as possible. Reeling the line in fast water can cause the lure to spin or blow out and can make the spoon too fast for the fish to see or grab.

In slow water, a slow to medium-speed retrieve is best. The Jig-type retreive is also good. The swing method does not work well in slower water.

Spoon Fishing For Salmon Q&A

If you have a question or some tips about spoon fishing for salmon let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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