The Best Line For Salmon Fishing In Rivers

Guides Like Matt with this kig salmon know the best line for salmon fishing
Guides Like Matt with this king salmon know the best line for salmon fishing

Most guides like myself and those that I network with have already determined the best line for salmon fishing in rivers. I will break down the best types of lines and the best weights for all the fishing methods and all situations and explain why some lines are good and some are not.

Most anglers would say the best line for salmon fishing is braided lines or mono lines in the 12 to 16 pound range. However, this is just a basic guideline. Top guides and anglers will use lines that best match the type of water, the method, and the size of the salmon, and you should to.

As an example, using a lighter line when float fishing is better because lighter lines tend not to sag, they float, and they cast better. This makes catching salmon more effective.

Whereas, if your preferred method is to cast lures, the same light line that you use for float fishing might break often and you will lose a bunch of lures.

A misconception is that you need a heavy line like 20-pound test because the salmon are so big. That’s not always the case when river fishing with certain methods.

There are also downsides to some lines which I will discuss.

If you are new to salmon fishing, be sure to check out How To Catch Salmon In A River.

Cover photo courtesy of Matt from Smooth River Guiding Co.

The Best Line For Salmon Fishing

Salmon fishing on a great lakes river

There are 4 types of lines used for fishing salmon in rivers. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Anglers will argue that one is better than another but often, these arguments are based on personal opinion and the angler’s preference.

The lines I recommend are also suitable for all types and sizes of salmon in all areas around the world.

I’m going to be as unbiased as possible and just tell you the pros and cons of each line. I will then tell you what I use and what most guides are using and why.

What Pound Line For Salmon Fishing In Rivers

salmon Fishing Pulaski

Before I get into the 4 types of lines, let’s talk about the best line size for salmon fishing. This means thickness and the line weight rating. There is no perfect one size fits-all.

The best line size for salmon is 12 to 16 pounds. 18 to 20 pound line may be more suited to very large rivers with very large salmon that you might find in Alaska.

I tend to use 10 pound line when float fishing for salmon and 12 to 14 pound line when spin fishing and casting lures for great lakes salmon.

The line weights I recommend for salmon are the recommended line weights for just Mono, fluoro, and copolymer lines. Braided lines are the exception since braid is super thin.

NOTE: Before you think I’m an idiot for recommending 10-pound line to fish for 20 to 40 pound salmon, there are four very good reasons for this that most anglers don’t consider.

First: understand that the vast majority of fishing lines are not rated exactly to what the label says. Most mainlines that go on your reel are almost always 30 to 100% stronger than the company claims.

This means a 10-pound line might be closer to 14 pounds or it could be as high as 20 pound breaking strength which is plenty for salmon on small to mid-sized rivers. If all line brands rated their lines to the exact breaking strength, I would recommend heavier lines..

Second: The other reason I recommend the lines that I do is because of how the reels drag works.

Many 2500 to 3500 size reels only have a max drag between 8 and 12 pounds. Some reels have drags that don’t have more than 16 pounds of resistance, so a line over 20 pounds is useless since the reels drag can only produce 16 pounds of drag. On top of that, 20 pound line is usually closer to 24 to 30 pound stregth.

Sure the line is super strong, but if the mximum drag of the reel is only 12 pounds, whats the point of having 30 or 40 pound line? See: Best Reels For Salmon Fishing

Third: There are also times when you might be fishing for line-shy salmon, and a 10 pound leader is required just to get them to bite your bait. So, why have a 20 or 30 pound mainline on your reel if your weakest link is 10 pounds. All that extra pound test line in a 20 or 30 pound line is useless.

And, often leaders are true to the claimed pound test on the label, so a 12-pound leader has a 12 pound breaking strength, however, a 20 pound mainline might be 25 pound break strength.

Fourth: The heavier and thicker the line the less line you will fit on your reel spool. Having more line has it’s benefits when dealing with hard fighting fish like salmon.

Conclusion: Lighter mainlines are usually best to use when possible. Lighter lines tend to cast easier and cast farther, and they are easier to fish with. Lighter lines also tend to sink faster as they cut through the water better. Lighter lines also tend to be thinner and therefore less visible to the fish and you get more line on your reel.

General Breakdown Of Line Sizes For Salmon fishing In Rivers:

Spin fishing for Salmon in Pulaski NY
Anglers spin fishing on the Salmon River as a local guide drifts by.
  • Lure Fishing Great Lakes Salmon – 10 to 14 pound
  • Lure Fishing West Coast Salmon – 14 to 20 pound
  • Small streams and rivers – 10 – 14 pound
  • Medium rivers (40 to 80 feet wide) – 10 -14 pound
  • Large and extra large rivers – 14 to 20 pound
  • Float fishing in Great Lakes rivers – 10 to 12 pound
  • Float fishing in west coast rivers – 14 – 16 pound

This may help you decide what the right size is for you. But first, let me say that I always go with the lightest line possible.

How to Choose The Best Line Size For You:

The line for salmon fishing in larger rivers is different
The line used for fishing bigger rivers will be different than the line used for fishing smaller rivers.

If your river is small and clear or slow, and you have the ability to walk up and down the river to chase a salmon that you have hooked, then the smaller size of 10 pound is plenty.

Smaller rivers, requires smaller line for salmon fishing
Smaller rivers require a smaller line for salmon fishing because the fish are more nervous, and anglers can easily chase the fish if needed.

If that same river has lots of wood and rocks or is fast flowing, or you primarily cast lures, then upsizing to a 12 or 14-pound line.

If you fish very large rivers or fast rivers where the salmon will use the current to help them, go with a much heavier line.

If the river is 500 feet across or you can’t walk the banks easily to chase a salmon, go with a line in the 16 to 20-pound size, especially if you are casting lures.

Fluorocarbon Line For Salmon Fishing

Fluorocarbon lines are good for lure fishing, plunking, drift fishing, and bottom bouncing methods. They should not be used when float fishing.

Pros

  • Fluorocarbon lines are less visible under the water
  • Fluorocarbon tends to sink
  • Fluorocarbon is very abrasion resistant
  • Does not absorb water like braided lines.
  • It’s not affected by UV rays
  • Less stretch on hook sets

Cons

  • Fluorocarbon lines or less subtle and can cause line issues on the reel. I discuss these issues below. Line problems are less of an issue if you use good quality lines designed for casting and used and tested by guides and pro anglers.
  • It’s more expensive compared to monofilament lines and some braided lines

Is Fluorocarbon Line Good For Salmon Fishing: Conclusion

The simple answer is YES, fluorocarbon lines are very good lines for salmon fishing if you cast lures, or when bottom bouncing and drift fishing as long as you use good quality lines.

I sometimes use Fluorocarbon lines on my lure casting reels because it offers near invisibility and should I accidentally run a lure and line over the rocks, the fluorocarbon is very abrasion resistant.

And, because the fluorocarbon line sinks more than other lines, it will keep the lure down and may get your lure deeper.

With other methods like bottom bouncing, drift fishing, and plunking, the invisibility, the sink rate, and the abrasion resistance are a big bonus.

Fluorocarbon is especially good when plunking is the preferred method.

With plunking your bait is sitting still either on the bottom of the ocean, lake, or river, and as the salmon swims up to your bait, lines like braid or mono might be seen. Whereas, fluorocarbon is less likely to be spotted by the salmon.

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

The Best Fluorocarbon Lines For Salmon Fishing

I have seen it, and many anglers report that cheap fluorocarbon lines cause massive bird nests on reels, the line can literally jump off the spool at times, and knots can be weak. But there are lines that tournament anglers and guides are using that are more subtle and cause few if any of these problems:

Conclusion: Fluorocarbon is the best line to use for more advanced anglers when drift fishing, bottom bouncing due to its invisibility and abrasion resistance, and sink rate. It’s also the best for casting lures if you don’t want to use a leader, meaning you want to tie the line directly to the lure or a snap swivel.

Braided Line For Salmon Fishing

Braided lines are being used more and more by professional and amateur anglers and for good reason. It is exceptionally strong for its super thin diameter and it has almost no stretch which makes braids a good line for salmon fishing.

A thin diameter is generally a good thing, as long as it’s strong. With braided lines, a 20-pound braided line has about the same diameter as a 6-pound fluorocarbon or mono line.

These thin lines are great for lure fishing and some anglers really like them for float fishing purposes.

Pros Of Braided Line

  • The thin lines cut through the water when using lures which can get your lure deeper.
  • There is literally no stretch with braided lines which improves hook penetration (can be good or bad).
  • Braided lines float or are more buoyant than mono or fluorocarbon, floating lines are a benefit when float fishing.
  • Because braided line is so thin, you can fit a lot more line on the reel for those long runs.
  • Braided lines last longer than mono.
  • Braided lines tend to be more sensitive, which is great for methods like Drift Fishing, Bottom Bouncing and Jig Fishing for Salmon. Use a fluorocarbon Leader.

Cons

  • Braided lines are the most visible line to the fish, therefore leaders are almost always required when lure fishing and when float fishing.
  • Braided lines are more expensive than mono.
  • Some anglers have issues with line wrapping around the tip more often with a limp braided line.
  • Braided lines require special knots. Some knots will slip with braided line.
  • The braided line needs to be properly installed and secured to the reel spool or it can slip and spin freely.
  • Braided lines can freeze when fished in below freezing temps because they absorb water. For this reason, most anglers won’t use braids in winter.
  • Braided line has been known to cause grooves in the eyes of some rods, which can damage the guides and cause line breaking.
  • Anglers often find they will rip hooks out of the fish’s mouths on hooksets due to zero stretch.
  • Anglers find they are more likely to break fish off on the hookset, or they break fish off when the fish gets close due to no stretch.

When lake fishing with lures, I almost always use braided lines and I love it. I also mostly use braided lines when Lure Fishing For Salmon in rivers.

I do not recommend braided lines for Plunking For Salmon, since the lines are too visible to the fish unless you use a long fluocarbin leaders.

What Pound Braid Is Best?

Because the diameter of braided line is so thin, I tend to go a bit higher in weight. A 20-pound braid is often ideal for most situations and methods with its diameter being closer to 6 pound test.

20 to 30 pound braided line for salmon should be plenty for almost all lure fishing and float fishing purposes. I stick with 20 pounds when float fishing because it’s very light and floats well.

However, I would not go with a 10 pound braid which is around 2 to 4 pounds, simply because with such a thin diameter, it is more prone to breaking should you hit rocks.

Conclusion: Although rarely used, braided lines are the best line for float fishing for advanced anglers in weather above freezing air temps. It is also the best line when lure fishing if you are ok with using a fluorocarbon leader.

If you use braided lines, be sure to adjust your methods, meaning, do not set the hook as hard with lighter leaders, use braided lines that do not tip-wrap as much, watch for grooves in your rod guides or use braids that cause fewer issues.

Good Braided Line Options:

Copolymer Line For Salmon Fishing

Many Copolymer fishing lines are stronger, have low memory, are sensitive, sink faster, have less stretch, and have good knot strength when compared to mono lines. They also cast well and can be more sensitive depending on the brand and how they have configured the line. But are they a good line for salmon fishing.

Some anglers and guides will use copolymer lines when lure fishing, drift fishing, and bottom bouncing for salmon with baitcasting reels, but many anglers do not like it on spinning reels.

Based on what I have read and seen, some copolymer lines can have too much coil causing it to twist or jump off the spinning reel spools.

Copolymer lines are also not great for float fishing due to them sinking faster and not floating well.

Conclusion: I believe that there are other lines that are better for most situations and therefore do not use or recommend Copolymer lines for river fishing for salmon.

Monofilament Line For Salmon Fishing

Monofilament lines, also known as mono, are the most popular lines and are used by most salmon anglers for a few reasons.

Mono is a great all-purpose line and can be used effectively with just about any method and this makes mono lines a good line for salmon fishing..

Mono is cheap, it’s readily available, and it comes in many brands, and for that reason many anglers prefer it.

Mono has also been around for a long time, longer than all the other lines, so the old-school boys tend to stick with what they know. Also, for many anglers, mono is what they started fishing with as kids or new anglers, and it’s what they know and stick with.

Lastly, mono tends to be more buoyant, and therefore it is likely the best option when float fishing for salmon.

The cons of mono include being less abrasion resistance, and line memory, and it tends to stretch more than the other lines. Mono is also more visible to the fish than fluorocarbon.

I mostly use mono lines when float fishing and centerpin fishing because of how well it floats (not all mono lines float well) and because of how well and how easy it comes off the reel, as how it handles when fishing. This is important for me as a guide who teaches hundreds of anglers a year.

Many anglers prefer mono becuase the extra stretch is less like to rip hooks out of mouths during the fight and on the hookset. It also helps protect lighter leaders from breaking.

Conclusion: Mono is likely the best line for beginners. However, depending on the method you use, and your skill level, mono is not always the best line.

Proven and Trusted Monofilament Lines For Steelhead:

Lines For Salmon Fishing Q&A

I hope there is enough information here to help you choose the best line for salmon fishing based on your preferred methods and the rivers that you fish. If you have a question, comment, or advice to share, let me and other anglers know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,

Graham and The Guide Team

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2 Comments

  1. Great article!! I fish 18 pound line on the Quanault River in the Olympic National Forest in Washington State. Big Steelhead…… that will pull your boat around!!

    Keep writing and stay safe!

    Fred Easton is the guide I use on the Quanault River system in Washington State. Starting on my 30th (thirty) Steelhead over 25 pounds. I have only killed one fish over 25 pounds! It was 32 pounds, 42.1/2 inches long…Wow!!