Streamer Fishing For Salmon: Best Tactics and Best Flies

streamer fishing for salmon is great for Coho like this

There are times when salmon that have entered the river refuse to eat because they are focused on spawning and not eating. However, streamer fishing for salmon can often be the only way to get them to bite when other flies won’t work.

Streamer fishing for salmon plays on the salmon’s aggression and instinct to bite anything that’s in their territory even if they’re not hungry. They simply bite out of aggression.

Some salmon will even bite a streamer fly out of instinct or habit as a natural reaction to something swimming past them since just about every day of their life out in the Ocean they are eating machines that will eat just about anything that swims by them.

I have a couple of effective streamer fishing tactics that use that has helped me catch more salmon which I will discuss in this article.

There are also a number of streamer flies that I use as a guide that helps my clients catch these big aggressive salmon once they enter the river.

Streamer Fishing For King Salmon

Streamer fishing for King Salmon

Big king salmon are my favorite salmon species to target with streamers. Once they enter the river they become sexually even more aggressive and once on the spawning grounds they become territorial.

Stripping or swinging flies in front of them can trigger explosive hits.

I prefer 4 to 6-inch streamer flies in bright colors like chartreuse, pinks, oranges, and white.

Fly Rod and Reel For King Salmon: I prefer a 9 or 10-weight fly rod in the 9-foot length when streamer fishing for salmon, matched with a suitable fly reel and a floating line with a heavy sink tip. I will use a full sinking line in some situations.

Fly Leader For King Salmon: A 6 to 9-foot leader salmon leader that is 16 to 20 pounds combined with a 12 to 24 inch 14 to 16-pound tippet.

NOTE: When fishing great lakes salmon I tend to be on the lighter end of those leader recommendations and when fishing west coast salmon I will use the stronger leaders.

Streamer Fishing For Coho Salmon

An angler with a nice coho salmon.
Eli from SBS OutDoor Action with a coho salmon.

Coho Salmon are another aggressive salmon species I love to fish for with streamers.

Coho fresh in from the ocean will eat as they move up the river and they are very aggressive on large 4 to 6-inch streamer flies.

My favorite streamer fly colors are red, white, and orange, however at times black can be great.

I also like to add some flash to my salmon flies which I think makes a big difference.

Fly Line For Coho Salmon: In shallower water of 6 feet or less, I prefer a floating line with a heavy sink tip. I will use a full sinking line when fishing faster deeper rivers.

Leaders and Tippet For Coho Salmon: A 6 to 9 foot leader salmon leader that is 16 to 20 pounds combined with a 12 to 24 inch 12 to 14-pound tippet.

NOTE: When fishing great lakes salmon I tend to be on the lighter end of those leader recommendations and when fishing west coast salmon I will use the stronger leaders.

Chum And Pink Salmon Fishing With Streamers

An Alaska Chum Salmon
An Alaska Chum salmon with spawning colors.

When streamer fishing for Chum salmon I don’t change my tactics much from the way that I streamer fish for Coho.

I will use the same streamer flies and same gear that i use for coho salmon.

Since pink salmon are smaller, I will use lighter fly rods and reels in 6 to 7 weight with a 9-foot length, tippets around 8 to 10 pounds, and slightly smaller flies in the 3 to 4-inch sizes. Other than that I do not change my presentation or tactics.

Gear For Streamer Fishing For Salmon

and angler holding a fly rod

The right fishing fly fishing gear really helps when you are streamer fishing for salmon.

Proper gear helps with casting, hooking, and landing big salmon. The right fly line will improve mending as well as making stripping and presentation easier, or less effort.

Often, you can use the same gear when fly fishing for salmon with nymphs or when casting streamers. On another page, I discuss all the best methods for fly fishing for salmon.

The gear you need for streamer fishing for salmon is:

  • Waders: Good chest waders will help you get into position and help you access the best water.
  • Fly Rod For Salmon: 7 to 10 weight fly rod in medium to fast action in the 9-foot length is best for streamer fishing for salmon. For big west coast king salmon go with heavier fly rods.
  • Fly Reels: It is important to match the fly reel to the rod and have a reel large enough to hold the fly line and at least 200 feet of 30-pound fly line backing
  • Leaders: I use Rio Steelhead and Salmon Leader since they are strong enough up to 20 pounds.
  • Tippet: A good fluorocarbon tippet is a must for big strong salmon and fishing on rocky rivers.
  • Streamer Flies: Have a good assortment of streamer flies in the 3 to 6-inch sizes. (see below for my favorite salmon streamer flies)

Aside from these essentials, there is a lot of river fishing gear that I use and recommend. Things such as Nippers, Forceps, Fishing packs, and more.

Favorite Streamers For Salmon Fishing

When it comes to streamers for all species of salmon, many guys make it difficult with lots of different patterns, sizes, and colors. However, In my experience, the salmon are really not that picky so a few good streamer patterns are all you really need.

What makes a good streamer fly for salmon is size, color, and action. As long as you fly has this, you will do well.

  • Streamer Size: Use streamer flies in the 3 to 6-inch size with 4 and 5-inch being my go-to sizes in. I will drop to smaller sizes in very clear water with nervous salmon. Otherwise, bigger is usually better, especially in big water.
  • Streamer Color: The color that works best will really depend on the salmon’s aggressiveness, the water clarity, and light conditions. Aggressive salmon will smash bright streamers, non-aggressive salmon may want black or olive streamers. I have an assortment of white, chartreuse, orange, red, pink, black, and olive. As well as color combinations such as white and pink, orange and pink, blue and black, purple and pink, etc. Adding tinsel and flash to your streamers can make them twice as effective.
  • Streamer Action: When salmon fishing, the best streamer flies have materials like marabou, ostrich herl, rubber legs, tinsel, and rabbit fur, all of which will pulsate and provide an almost life-like action that triggers bites. You will see a lot of flies tied with these materials and combinations of them.

I mentioned that you don’t really need to go crazy on fly patterns.

There are so many stream fly patterns that anglers will swear by, but most are just variations of other patterns and to be honest, if you took five different bunny leech variations and presented them all to the salmon, the salmon will probably eat them all.

It’s really hard to say if a salmon you just caught wouldn’t have also eaten other flies from your box.

The key is plenty of action and plenty of flash or movement that gets their attention. Even a simple wolly bugger or egg-sucking leach works for me all the time.

Try these Salmon Flies

  • Steelhead Bunny Leech – Giant Bunny leaches, or similar patterns are great for salmon. I use these for stripping and for swinging.
  • Better wooly bugger (oversized and very bushy) this is a great fly when tied large. I use this stripped or for swinging.
  • Circus Peanut: It’s a trout fly, but when tied 4 to 5 inches long it has been my most effective salmon streamer fly for the last few years. This is a streamer that is best used with a stripping retrieve.
  • Sex Dungeon – Another fly designed for trout that works well on big salmon.
  • Zoo Cougar – a good streamer for pocket water and shallower runs.
  • Intruders: Regular intruders or variations like the King Salmon Intruder seen above are good options for swinging flies.
  • Hobo Spey: A good fly for swinging flies for steelhead and salmon.

Tactics For Big River Streamer Fishing For Salmon

I use two different tactics when I am fishing for salmon in large rivers.

In very large rivers and in deep rivers with faster currents, I will use floating lines with heavy sink tips or I will use full sinking fly lines. I will often also use bigger flies and sometimes weighted flies to get the attention of salmon from a further distance and to get the fly down and deep.

Swinging Streamers For Salmon

Swinging streamers might be the most popular tactic used to present a streamer fly to the salmon.

For this method, I cast across the river at a slightly downriver angle and allow the streamer to swing across the pool.

I might mend to adjust the speed and the depth of the streamer.

I will adjust my sink tip lighter for shallower water or heavier for deeper water.

The key to presenting a streamer fly this way is to get the fly within a few feet over the salmon head.

Start at or above the top of the pool or run at a distance far enough that you fly swings across the pool at the first drop. After each cast step down 2 to 5 feet and repeat until you have covered the entire area.

I will also use a stripping-type retrieve which I discuss more below.

Small to Mid-Sized Streamer Fishing For Salmon

When fishing smaller rivers or creeks that are under 50 feet wide, I prefer to use floating fly lines with sink tips. If there is a lot of deep water I will go with a full sinking fly line or an intermediate sinking fly line.

In these smaller rivers, both swinging flies or stripping in streamers work well.

On very small creeks less than 30 feet wide stripping streamers is usually best.

Stripping Streamers For Salmon

Stripping streamers the same way I strip streamers for brown trout and steelhead is a very effective tactic.

When stripping streamer flies for salmon I am imparting a lot of action to the fly which can trigger a lot of hits from salmon.

Erratic retrieves where I strip, rip, and pause the streamer are fantastic at triggering the aggressive nature of large salmon.

Similar to swinging streamer flies, when stripping them in I prefer to start my first retrieve across the river as far as possible and always start a the top of the pool, and then with each consecutive cast, I move down 3 to 5 feet.

The clearer the river, the further the salmon can see therefore the further apart each retrieve can be. However, I like to take my time so I’ll generally spread out my casts about 3 feet each time.

I will try to get my fly within 3 feet above the salmon heads for the best results.

Got A Question About Streamer Fishing For Salmon

If you have any questions, comments, or advice about streamer fishing for salmon, let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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