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Published Jul 21, 2023 11:05 AM
Growing up as I did in mid-Ohio, I didn’t have much reason to think about what might constitute the best salmon lures. Walleyes? Yes. Crappies? Absolutely. Smallmouth? From time to time; but never salmon. Fast forward to 2015 when my move from the Midwest took me to the Pacific Northwest—Washington state specifically—and now my life revolves around salmon. Spring chinook. September silvers. Fall kings.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great fishing lures for salmon to choose from, which, to be honest, might prove to some a catch-22. Which ones are worth buying—and will actually land you a catch? These here make for my top five best salmon lures year in and year out, including spoons and spinners.
How We Picked the Best Salmon Lures
Let’s face it. A lot of fishing lures are intended to catch fishermen more effectively than they are, well, salmon. And so you’ll find a flat ton of lures hanging on the rack. However, there are a handful that genuinely do ‘cut the mustard’ as being the best any angler can have in his or her tackle box. These criteria include:
Does the lure have the reputation of being able to put fish in the boat? There are hundreds of pretty and incredibly eye-catching lures out there meant to mesmerize kings and silvers, humpies (pinks) and dogs (chum), but at the end of the day, the true test of a lure’s effectiveness lies in the bottom of the livewell.
This is why I’m partial to spoons. You can troll a spoon. Cast a spoon. Jig a spoon. They catch salmon in big rivers, small rivers, lakes, and the open ocean. They’re available in myriad weights and configurations, and generally speaking, they have one moving part: the hook at the bottom. So ask yourself if this lure is a one-trick pony or if you can use it across the board and the calendar.
User-friendliness rating (UFR)
I’m a huge fan of simplicity. That is, I want whatever I’m using—be it a salmon lure or a set of fishing waders—to rank high on what I call the user-friendliness scale. Spoons are simple. Spinners are simple. Cast a Spin-N-Glo and let it work its magic. Simple. Here, I’m looking for a lure with few, if any moving parts. No batteries to change. No non-fastened parts. Simple.
Best Salmon Lures: Reviews and Recommendations
- Five sizes/weights
- 17 color patterns
- Available in a saltwater/single hook
- Made in the U.S.A. in Antigo, Wisconsin
- Incredibly versatile
- Casts like a bullet
- Scores a solid 10/10 on the user-friendliness scale
- Larger sizes a little heavy for trolling
If someone told me I was limited to a single salmon lure for both kings and silvers for the rest of my fishing days, I’d stock up on Mepps Syclops #3 (1-ounce) spoons. To get even more specific, the pattern would be what the company calls Rainbow Trout, a fish-kilin’ color scheme combining silver, pinkish-red, and speckled blue. While it tends to be best on sunny days—at least in my experience—this teardrop-shaped hunk of metal just flat catches fish. Period. Cast it. Jig it. Quick troll it. Work it shallow. Work it deep. It comes in five sizes ranging from #00 (1/8-ounce) to the aforementioned #3 weighing in at a full ounce and a smaller Bantam version. More than that, it’s an excellent multi-species lure, not just for salmon.
- Four salmon-friendly sizes
- 46 color patterns
- Two-part bell-shaped body
- Super sharp treble hook
- Painted/printed and UV-bright finishes
- Stainless steel shaft
- Great for open water or rivers/streams
- Casts easy and far
- Can be trolled or cast
- Low/no line twist
- Stainless steel components hold up in the salt
- Not a fan of the treble hook; replace with split ring and Siwash
Say the words ‘steelhead’ and ‘spinner’ out here in the Pacific Northwest, and the conversation is almost guaranteed to come around to the Blue Fox Vibrax. In case you didn’t know, Blue Fox is a subsidiary of Rapala, the well-known and respected legendary lure maker. But the Vibrax isn’t only for river steelhead; oh, no! She’s a fantastic salmon spinner, especially for fall silvers or, as we use them, for fish at the mouth of the Columbia River off the North Jetty.
The 5/8-ounce version throws a country mile, sinks fast, and starts turning with just a quick snap of the rod tip. And vibration? There’s a ton of it, which is likely why the Vibrax works so incredibly well. And she does.
- 10 sizes
- Hundreds of colors
- Multi-species design
- Ridiculously inexpensive
- Provides flash and vibration
- Extraordinarily user-friendly
- Once you start buying Spin-N-Glos, it’s almost impossible to stop
Plunking is a salmon fishing technique used by bank-bound river anglers in which the mainline goes to a three-way swivel, which then goes to a short monofilament dropper on the bottom with a weight/sinker. A 24” to 30” leader is tied to the remaining eye, that culminates in a Spin-N-Glo above a self-snelled #3/0 or 4/0 Daiichi blood-red barbless hook. Deployment is simple—toss it out, tighten it up, put an ‘alarm bell’ on the rod, rod in the holder, and take a seat in your chair, letting the current do all the work turning the Spin-N-Glo. Maybe…just maybe…you’re slipping a dyed coon shrimp on the hook. It’s as easy as it gets, and salmon can’t seem to resist these small flashing bits of plastic and Mylar.
- Three sizes
- Wide variety of color schemes
- Two quality treble hooks
- Dives to 15’
- Versatile; can be trolled or fished stationary on anchor
- Irresistible side-to-side ‘rolling’ action
- User-friendly tunable motion
No self-respecting salmon fisherman in the Pacific Northwest—or on the Great Lakes, for that matter—would ever be caught on the water without at least one Kwikfish. Another child company of Rapala, Luhr Jensen, sells hundreds, if not thousands of Kwikfish every year, and for good reason. They catch fish. While I’m sure silvers (coho) fall victim to anglers working Kwikfish, the hard baits are traditionally known as a killer king/chinook lure. These billed diving plugs are often fished as is. However, some will sweeten the lure by wrapping it in a sardine, anchovy, herring, or tuna belly fillet.
- Three sizes: ½-, ¾-, and 1-ounce
- 24 colors
- Genuine silver, brass, or copper blades
- UV finishes on some models
- Lifelike hackle tail with unique spinning action
- High on the user-friendliness scale
- Good hooks
- Excellent price point ($5) for a quality spinner
- Cheap swivels will result in hella-line twist, guaranteed
Salmon. Steelhead. Walleyes. Crappies. Trout. The occasional really hungry flathead or channel ‘cat. It just doesn’t matter. If you’re looking for one lure that does it all, look no further than an in-line spinner. And few names are as traditional nor as well-known as the Original (OG) Rooster Tail. It’s a versatile lure, with many trolling a tail behind a downrigger ball or on a lead-core flatline. However, I prefer to throw either the ¾- or 1-ounce blades with an 8’6” Okuma SST spinning rod and Pflueger President reel spooled with #30 braid. For silvers? A silver blade, and either a pink (PK), white/red (WHR), or chrome whitetail (CHWT) body.
What to Consider When Choosing a Salmon Lure
It’s impossible to have too many salmon lures. Or fishing lures in general, if you really want to get particular about it. However, where you’re fishing and the method you’re using can certainly dictate what type of salmon lure—spoon, spinner, wobbling plug, trolling, casting, or plunking—might be most effective.
How do you intend to use the lure? If you’re casting from shore, a spoon or spinner would get the nod. Anchored up, and a Kwikfish might be the ticket. Trolling? Any of the above would be a good choice, although the Kwikfish or a light spinner/spoon would be best.
Water depth or where the fish are in the water column is certainly a variable. A 1-ounce Rooster Tail or Mepps Syclops spoon can, if desired, get your presentation down deep, while a K15 Kwikfish by itself will take you to 15 feet or so.
Time of Year
March and April usually means cooler water, thus the fish are often shallower. Fall kings in the Columbia, though, will run deeper (about 30 to 50 feet) where the water is cooler, despite the ambient temperatures at the surface. This all said, it’s important to match the lure’s optimal operating depth with where the fish are at any given time of year.
Q: What color lures are best for salmon?
Like all fish, salmon can be awfully fickle in terms color. Usually, however, brighter colors—like chartreuse, hot pink, fire tiger, rainbow trout, or red/white—seem to attract the most consistent attention. That’s not to say that yellow, orange, or ‘Electric Banana,’ whatever that might be, isn’t the color du jour.
Q: What is the best time to catch salmon?
The easy answer is ‘any time you can get out and fish.’ Here in Washington state, I’d say September is the best time for silver salmon, while late April and early May (regulations permitting) might be hot for spring kings. Every region in the U.S. is going to be a bit different in terms of timing and salmon, so if you’re new to it, it’s best to do your homework via your state’s fish and wildlife agency’s website.
Q: What’s the best spinner for salmon?
Q: What is the best depth to catch salmon?
Here is where you’re going to have to rely on your electronics, like a fish finder, to tell you precisely where in the water column the fish are lying. Generally speaking, kings/chinook can be found hugging the bottom, while silvers/coho will be much color to the surface, even as close as 6 to 8 feet deep, if not shallower. No electronics? Look around and see what others are doing, or just start experimenting.
Best Salmon Lures: Final Thoughts
When it comes right down to it, nothing works all the time. It doesn’t matter how bright, flashy, wobbly, or expensive your lure may be. The key to salmon fishing success often lies in the willingness to experiment with different styles of lures, as well as different colors and sizes. Water depth and how the lures are presented—i.e. tuned, wrapped with natural bait, scented—are also significant factors in angling success or lack thereof. If you have it in the box, throw it! While we’ve rounded up some of the best salmon lures above, when it comes down to it, you never know what’s going to trip that king’s trigger on any given day.
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