Trolling for Salmon: An Expert Guide to Catching Salmon

Want to cover more area and increase your chances of catching more salmon? It’s time to change tactics and start trolling for salmon. But what trolling equipment do you need? Do you need downriggers? Can you catch salmon using divers and weights? Find out in our expert trolling for salmon guide below. 

What Is Trolling

If you’ve ever seen anglers drawing lures or baits through the water behind a moving boat, that’s what we call trolling! The logic here’s that the boat’s movement builds up waves on the waters, attracting salmon.

The most common fish you can troll are salmon, bass, and trout.

Common Salmon Trolling Setup

If you want a successful salmon trolling trip, there are a few items you need to have in your fishing gear arsenal. A typical salmon trolling setup includes a flasher, leader line, rods, and hooks. 


Pro-Troll Fishing Products ProChip 11 Fin Flasher with EChip (Blue Plaid, 11-Inch)

You can use flashers to troll salmon. These devices look like rubber pads with two ends. And yes, the narrow tapered end is the front.

But there’s a rule here — rig it wrongly, and you’ll get a few salmon. If you rig it correctly, you can go home with a catch. To be on the safer side, we recommend you rig it frontwards and tie it to your fishing line from your reel and rod.

Leader Line

Seaguar STS Salmon Fluorocarbon Leader Fishing Line, 40-Pound/100-Yard, Clear

If you’ve gone fishing on any Alaskan rivers, you’ll know that monofilament and fluorocarbon leaders tippet, tapered leaders, and specialty leaders are pretty standard. But a salmon steelhead leader should do a perfect job when trolling for salmon, especially when you’re casting large streamers.

Anytime you’re trolling for a Chinook salmon, a 38″ leader is highly recommended. If you want to improve your results, you can shorten or lengthen it by 2.”


Sougayilang Spoons Hard Fishing Lures Treble Hooks Salmon Bass Metal Fishing Lure BaitsSILVER 5pcs

You need to consider your location to determine the best type of lure and style that will work for you. For instance, if you want to catch wild salmon in the northernmost zones of Alaska, you’ll need standard lures like plugs and spinners. But the most common lure when trolling for salmon is a flasher with a hoochie. You can also add some cut plug batfish (herring) to make it more enticing. 

Expert Tip: If you want to catch pink salmon, opt for 1/2″-1-1/2″ spoons and pair it with a 15lb lighter line. For coho salmon fishing, switch to medium-size spoons. Orange, green, and chartreuse are popular lure colors. 


Fiblink Saltwater Offshore Heavy Trolling Fishing Rod Big Game Conventional Boat Fishing Roller Rod Pole with All Roller Guides (2-Piece,6-Feet,30-50lb)

Salmon trolling is slightly technical, so you’ll need the best gear to get the right results. For trolling rods, look for a longer, more robust, and more flexible option. Its length needs to be around 10’6″ (at least 8’6″), and the line rating has to fall within 15 to 30 lbs.

Many fishermen trolling deep waters use downriggers (sometimes with a heavy lead weight). You can also use line counters or line counter reels. But ideally, you don’t need a line counter while setting your bait with a downrigger.

Have you fished with downrigger rods before? Well, they’re different from other types of fishing rods.

  • They are typically trolling/casting style rods.
  • Uses fiberglass-graphite or fiberglass.
  • The length should be between 8’6″ and 10’6.”

When trolling for salmon, ensure that you have compatible rod holders – unless you want to hold your several rods simultaneously. 


Goture Stainless Steel Fishing Hooks Long Shank Hooks Extra Strong for Saltwater Freshwater Size 6/0-12/0 10Pcs 8/0

There’s a tendency that the hook (particularly the tine) won’t even penetrate a salmon’s jaw. So, if you are trolling for King Salmon, getting a bigger hook size is always the better choice. Here are our hook size recommendations when trolling for salmon. 

Type of HookIdeal Hook Size for Salmon
Circle Hook2/0 – 4/0
Octopus Hook1 – 4/0
Siwash Hook1 – 2/0
Salmon Egg Hook4/0 – 10/0

Reasons Why You Should Troll for Salmon

Many trollers swear that trolling is the most effective technique to catch salmon. But why? 

  • The method is psychological and versatile. Remember, the essence is to trick the target fish into believing that the bait you laid is a moving prey. Funny.
  • It’ll help you drop as many as possible lines and target multiple water depths—all at the same time.
  • Trolling helps you target their most hidden spots. If you’re a fan of fishing in vast and deep waters, you’ll fall in love with trolling.
  • It also helps you mix up baits on each fishing line. So if one of the lines gets hooked and it’s not attracting fish, the other ones will rise to the task and draw the fish to themselves.

Trolling for Salmon With Downriggers

When it comes to trolling for salmon, many anglers use downriggers. But what are downriggers exactly, and should you have them in your fishing gear? 

What Are Downriggers?

Scotty #1106 Depthpower Electric Downrigger w/ 60-Inch Telescopic Boom & Swivel Base, Rod Holder,Black,Large

Downriggers have a weighted line which you can retrieve by an electric motor or a manual crank. Their job is to sink your trolling rig and bait the fish to a particular depth by joining it to a big weighted line.

Expert Tip: We suggest using downriggers on aluminum salmon fishing boats with offshore brackets.

The weighted line is made of wire on end, and there’s a clip that’ll help you grab your fishing line and exert enough pressure to push it down the weight. Anytime a fish bites the lure, the clip gets released from the weighted line.

That’s the signal that it’s your turn to fight the fish.

Why Use Downriggers

Thanks to advancements in tech, angling is now easier when you use downriggers to troll for salmon. So what are the benefits of using a downrigger to troll?

  • Consistently Accurate and Precise: You don’t have to guess where your bait is. They’ll give you the exact measurements, and all you need is to expect the signal from the device that there’s a salmon around.
  • Give Extra Flexibility: They allow you to get your baits in front of salmon. And this is practically impossible when you use divers or any other weight setups. For instance, if you’re trolling for King salmon at 90 feet down, you won’t worry about getting your lure to such depth. Plus, downriggers are also effective for lake trout, kokanee, and yellowfin tuna. 

Trolling for Salmon Without Downriggers

What happens if you don’t have downriggers? That’s not a problem; You can still troll for salmon using divers and weights. 

With Divers

Luhr Jensen 20' Jet Diver Red Magic/Metallic Red, Yellow/White, 5540-020-0943

This is probably the most widely-used method of trolling salmon without downriggers. Even if you’re hearing this for the first time, it can be inferred that divers “dive” into the deepest parts of the waters while fishing.

If you’ve never used diver for angling before, here’s how you should use it for trolling salmon: 

  1. Position the boat upstream of a salmon’s run.
  2. Hit the button on the reel and ensure your thumb is on the spool.
  3. Easily set the rig into the waters with the bait entering first.
  4. Let the diver follow.
  5. Monitor the number of lines you have out through the outfitted reels.
  6. You can use a bobber stop to tie the line at a measured distance.
  7. Slide the reel into gear and let the boat start slipping downstream at about 2/4.
  8. Focus on where the lines enter the water
  9. Make sure the boat is coming downstream in a straight line.

With Weights

If you are indifferent about getting a diver for your next fishing adventure, you can also use lead weights to troll salmon. You can also use the two most common weights – snap weights and keel weights.

Keel Weights

This fishing device ensures the weights are located in the right direction as you troll them. If you want to troll at 30 feet deep or probably less, a 6 to 8oz keel is perfect.

To use keel weights: 

  1. Ensure you knot the keel weight directly with a bead above your line.
  2. Reel the rod’s pointed end and make sure there’s a swivel below the reel (within 6 feet).

Snap Weights

Bimini Lures Pro Snap Weights for trolling - Red Clip (Red- 25 Clips per Pack)

The swift “on and off” feature of snap weights makes it easier to detach them anytime you catch a fish. The ideal setup is to release 50 feet of line, add your snap weight, and release another 50 feet.

Although it depends on your speed and weight, we’ve worked on some depths you can follow while using snap weights.

WeightDepth at 1mphDepth at 1.5mphDepth at 2mph
½ oz10-15 feet deep5-10 feet deep1-5 feet deep
1oz15-20 feet deep10-15 feet deep5-10 feet deep
2oz25-30 feet deep20-25 feet deep15-20 feet deep
3oz30-35 feet deep25-30 feet deep 20-25 feet deep

Trolling for Salmon FAQs

What Depth Do You Troll for Salmon

The depth for trolling salmon depends on your location and your fishing gear. When you’re trolling for salmon with downriggers, it’s recommended that your depth is between 10 to 20 feet for maximum results. If you are saltwater fishing, it’ll be better to go for a 10lb downrigger. For freshwater, anything around 6 to 8 pounds will do the perfect job.

Where to Fish for Salmon

If you’re in the US, you have a lot of options. You can head to the Pacific Northwest, which covers the Columbia River, Oregon’s Buoy 10, and the Willamette River. Alternatively, you can go to the south and go to California Delta or drive east and troll at the Great Lakes. 

What Is the Best Trolling Speed for Salmon?

The best trolling speed for salmon should be around 1.5 to 3.5 mph. But it all depends on your setup. You can release the lure for a couple of feet and check how well it swims to adjust the speed.

It would help if you got this adjustment right, especially when you use bait like a Rapala, which must be tuned to run at a specific speed. On the other hand, dodgers are built to hurl from side to side without much whirling. You might make the dodger whirl if you start running above 2.5 mph.

Final Thoughts on Trolling for Salmon

Whether you’re an amateur or skilled angler, trolling for salmon is your best chance at spending a perfect day on the water. So, prepare your fishing gear and get some salmon! Now that you have an expert guide to lean on, this is your chance to put all you’ve learned into action to hook and land lots of salmon.