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While king salmon get tons of attention for their size and strength, many anglers forget that fishing for their smaller cousin – the coho salmon – can be just as much fun.
They also cost almost as much at the store. Coho salmon (also called ‘silver salmon’ or ‘silvers’) live in many of the same habitats as king salmon, but don’t grow as large. They also tend to school more than king salmon, which makes them a blast to catch when you hit a school. But what are the best lures for fishing for coho salmon?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you. Finn spent a large portion of his childhood fishing for coho salmon off the Oregon coast and has perfected each technique and lure choice depending on the time of year.
In this article, we’ll cover the best coho lures for trolling, jigging, mooching, and more! We’ll also go into a little more detail as to the differences between coho and king salmon, as well as where you can catch them.
Best Coho Lures for Trolling
Best Coho Lures for Back Trolling
Best Coho Lures for Jigging
Best Coho Lures for Spinning
The Differences Between Coho and King Salmon
Before we get into details of the best lures and techniques for coho salmon, we thought it made sense to cover the differences between coho and king salmon. Both fish often live in the same habitat as one another, and it can be hard to tell the difference if you don’t know what to look for.
As we covered in our best king salmon lures article, king salmon usually live 2 to 8 years long and reach about 25 lbs at maturity. Coho salmon are smaller – they usually live 2 to 5 years and reach a top size of only 7 to 11 lbs.
Size, however, is not a good indicator of which species you’ve caught. Some king salmon only reach 10 lbs and some coho can grow up to 20 lbs. The best way to identify the difference between the two is to look at the color of their gums.
King salmon have black gums on the inside of their mouths. Look at the flesh surrounding their teeth. Coho, on the other hand, have white gums. There are other slight differences in outside color/spot patterns, but these indicators are too unreliable. Both coho and king salmon’s body color changes frequently throughout the stages of their maturation.
Always check the gums to know for sure.
Where Can I Catch Coho Salmon?
Coho salmon live all across the western seaboard of North America, from California all the way up to Alaska. They are most often caught in the open ocean or in bays and rivers that feed into the ocean. Coho salmon follow a similar spawning cycle as king salmon; they spend the late spring and summer months feeding in the open ocean, then head into the bays and rivers in the fall to spawn.
Coho salmon also have very large populations in the Great Lakes due to stocking programs over the course of decades, and as a result, the Great Lakes are now one of the top destinations to catch Coho salmon, with massive fishing industries in the form of charter guide services found in states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
The best times to fish for salmon on the west coast are also the best times to fish for salmon in the Great Lakes for the most part, so keep that in mind when planning any fishing trips.
Top Tip: We recommend chatting with your local boathouse or tackle shop on the best times to go. You can also check your state’s coho salmon report for regulations and what the season totals are at.
In general, the best time for fish for coho salmon in the ocean is from July to early September. The fish then begin to congregate in bays and inlets close to where their spawning river is. Once the first big rainstorm hits in September or October, they’ll begin to swim upstream to spawn. You’ll need a decently large salmon fishing boat to hit all the best spots.
What Tackle Should I use for Coho Salmon?
We recommend using a similar setup as to what you would use for king salmon. This is because you have a decent chance of accidentally catching a bigger king salmon. The last thing you want is to be underpowered and end up losing the bigger fish!
For rods, we like to apply the same rules for coho salmon as we did for king salmon: rods should be long, have a flexible tip, and work for both spinning and trolling. For reels, either get a medium-sized saltwater spinning reel or traditional saltwater trolling reel. The Penn Squall LevelWind is a great entry-level coho salmon reel.
Coho Salmon Fishing Techniques
As with most salmon species, the best techniques for catching coho salmon change depending on the stage in their spawning cycle they’re in. When they’re actively feeding in the open ocean, trolling and jigging are usually the most effective. Once they migrate inshore to bays and inlets, shallow trolling and spinning are your best bet. Then when the begin to swim upstream, we recommend back trolling or spinning.
Best Coho Salmon Lures for Trolling
Trolling is probably the most common fishing technique for coho salmon on the Great Lakes and in saltwater. Trolling works well in almost every stage of the salmon spawning cycle, from trolling quickly in the open ocean to back trolling upriver.
On large bodies of water like the ocean and the Great Lakes, trolling allows you to cover large areas of deep water, making your fishing more efficient by putting your lures in the strike zones of large numbers of fish.
Open Ocean Trolling
When trolling for coho salmon in the open ocean, we start with pink and green hoochie squids then switch to cut plug herring and spoons if the squids don’t work (links to our favorites are above). We also like using a meat rig every once and a while to mix things up.
The hoochie squids have given us the most success over the years, but sometimes only a real fish will get coho to bite.
Downriggers are essential for deep open water trolling, and without them you will fail to get your lures deep enough to put them in the strike zone depth of where the fish are. Coho salmon will not always be at the same depth, so you need to be able to adapt on the water from one day to the next.
Drop your lure down to 20 or 30 feet or where you see fish on your fishfinder. When the coho bite is especially hot, you can also try a top-level hoochie squid for exciting surface strikes.
For cut plug herring, the shape and quality of the herring will degrade as you drag it through the water. Use a guide like the one we listed at the beginning of the article so you cut it correctly every time. You’ll need to check it every 20 minutes or so and change it out if the spinning action gets too messed up.
Author Note: You can also use medium/large silver flasher to increase your range across all lure types while trolling. The flasher will attract salmon who see it from a distance as it imitates a wounded baitfish or another salmon feeding. Our favorite is a large silver/green flasher (listed above).
For all presentations, be sure to coat your coho lures in fish scent or anise oil. This will hide your foreign human smells from the silvers. be sure to also check the local laws on using barbed hooks. You may need to only use barbless hooks.
Bays and Inlet Trolling
The same techniques that work in the open ocean will work well in bays and inlets. Just make sure to adjust the depth of your lures to an appropriate level. We like to drop our trolling lures down to around 15 or 20 feet when fishing for coho in bays.
Since it’s not nearly as deep as the open ocean, you can get away with using a large diver or simple lead weights if you don’t have a downrigger. We also often go crabbing (especially in Newport) while trolling for salmon inland.
Back Trolling in Rivers
Once the coho salmon run has started in September and October, back trolling in rivers can be the most productive. Back trolling is similar to normal trolling except that you anchor your boat and allow the flow of the river or tide “troll” your lure. We like to use cured salmon roe as bait when back trolling, or a green and silver colored Kwikfish lure (see above).
Author Note: You can also use a salmon bead rig if you don’t want to mess with roe. Since rivers are usually much shallower than bays, a simple pencil lead weight or small diver will work to get your lure in front of them
At this stage of their migration when the coho are swimming upstream, the coho salmon are no longer feeding. You can still catch them, however, because they’re extra aggressive. Spawning changes their body chemistry and causes them to get agitated easily. Your goal with the brightly colored lures and roe is to annoy them into lashing out at your lure.
Best Coho Salmon Lures for Jigging
Jigging is another technique that works well for coho in the open ocean and bays/sounds where it’s deep enough. We like to use medium/large Buzz Bombs and Candlefish lures when jigging for coho salmon. If you’re in the open ocean, drop your lure down to approximately 40 feet. If you’re in a bay, let your lure drop to the bottom then reel up 6 to 7 turns.
Jig your lure by pulling the rod up swiftly 6 feet, then let the lure drift back down to your resting position. Do this every 2 seconds or so, and change your cadence sporadically to imitate a wounded fish. If you feel anything weird going on with your lure, reel it in quickly. You either hit bottom or got a bite!
Best Coho Salmon Lures for Spinning
Our favorite lures for spinning for silver salmon are Blue Fox Vibrax spinners and Kastmaster spoons. Buy them in chartreuse, pink, or silver in the medium to large sizes. Cast your spinning lures in front of where you think the salmon are swimming and retrieve steadily or with small jerks every couple seconds. Adding a few small jerks can entice a hesitant coho salmon that is curious about your lure.
Coho salmon may be smaller than their king salmon cousins, but they put up just as strong a fight and can often be caught in large numbers. They’re easily one of our favorite fish species to fish for. We hope after reading this article you’ve gained a new appreciation for coho salmon and understand which lures to use depending on your fishing strategy. And if you do catch a fish, check out our guide on how to clean salmon.
Hit us up in the comments below if you have any other techniques you want to share with us!