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King salmon (or Chinook salmon) have a special place in our hearts here at Finn’s Fishing Tips. Our founder, Finn, grew up in the northwest and fished for king salmon with his dad starting when he was 5 years old. King salmon have always been an exciting fish for him to catch, and one of the species he goes after most. That being said, we can’t wait to share everything we’ve learned about the best king salmon lures and how to fish for them!
King salmon are also one of the most desirable sports fish on the west coast. They taste delicious, put up a great fight, and can be caught regularly in both rivers and off the coast. This makes them one of the most fished for species on the west coast. Without further adieu, let’s dive into the best king salmon lures for various fishing techniques.
In a Hurry? Here’s a Quick Summary
King Salmon Trolling Lures
King Salmon Back Trolling Lures
King Salmon Spinning Lures
King Salmon Jigging Lures
What Are King Salmon?
King salmon are an anadromous fish (which means they spawn in freshwater and live in saltwater) that live primarily in the Pacific Ocean. They’ve been introduced to several other parts of the world, including New Zealand and Patagonia. King salmon can be identified by their silvery sides and dark green or blue backs. They also have many small black spots on their tails and the upper half of their bodies.
Chinook salmon live for one to eight years in the ocean before returning back to the river they were born in to spawn. Once the enter freshwater to begin the spawn migration, they stop eating and their bodies begin to transform. Their bodies turn red/brown and their meat begins to decompose. Once their spawning migration has started they won’t return to the ocean.
King salmon usually grow up to an average of 25 lbs. The king salmon sports fishing record is 97 lbs and was caught on the Kenai River in Alaska. Chinook salmon enjoy eating small crustaceans and amphipods as juveniles then transition to small baitfish (like herring) as adults. Since their meat is a prized food for humans, salmon fishing is heavily regulated to ensure we don’t overfish them. We’ll go over the specifics a little later in the article.
Where Can I Catch King Salmon?
As we mentioned above, king salmon live all across the west coast and can be caught from California all the way up into Alaska. Depending on the time of year, king salmon can be caught both from the ocean as well as inshore in rivers. This best time to fish for king salmon is in the late summer and early fall, as this is when they’re feeding in the ocean close to shore before getting ready to spawn.
As summer transitions to fall, they’ll congregate in bays close to the river they plan on spawning in. When the first big rains come in September and October, they’ll make the migration upriver to spawn. This can also be a great time to fish for king salmon as they’ll funnel in high numbers through small rivers and streams. You just have to be aware that their meat may not be as good as it would be in the ocean, and certain types of lures work better than others.
The Top Tackle for King Salmon
What constitutes a good king salmon rod and reel? Depending on the time of year and kind of salmon fishing you plan on doing, different salmon fishing tackle setups are most effective. For spinning, we recommend using a medium to large saltwater spinning rod paired with a medium saltwater spinning reel. For trolling, you should also use a medium to large saltwater rod paired with a medium-sized trolling reel. The Penn Squall LevelWind is a perfect entry-level king salmon reel. For jigging, the same setup you would use for trolling works great. When considering which fishing rod to get, there are a few other attributes that you should consider for king salmon.
- Long length. Using a long rod (8 ft and over) give you more leverage to fight a strong king salmon. It also adds to the flexibility of the rod so when a salmon bites your lure while trolling it gets hooked effectively.
- Flexibility. Salmon rods need to be more flexible than other rods. This allows the salmon to take the lure and get hooked without having the lure ripped out of their mouth.
- Smooth casting. If you plan on spin casting, make sure your rod is designed for it. Salmon are smart fish so casting far to get your lure in front of them is important.
King Salmon Fishing Techniques
Since king salmon have very different activities and eating habits depending on where they are in their spawning cycle, many different fishing techniques can work well for them. When they’re feeding in the open ocean, trolling with meat rigs and jigging are usually your best bet.
As they move to bays and estuaries before their spawn migration, spinning and trolling tend to be the most effective. Once their spawn run has started, we like to back troll or spin cast. We’ll cover our favorite lures for each technique below.
Best King Salmon Lures for Trolling
Trolling is probably the most common fishing technique for king salmon. It works well in the ocean, bays, and rivers (if you back troll). Here are the best lures for each situation. It’s worth noting you most likely will have to use barbless hooks when fishing for king salmon. If you’re planning on buying a salmon fishing boat, check out our best salmon fishing boat buying guide.
For open ocean king salmon trolling, we like to use plug cut herring, silver and blue spoons, and chartreuse or pink hoochie squids. We’ve seen even success with all three different options, so once you’re out on the water you’ll need to test them out to see which is working. Use a downrigger and try trolling them at 20 feet, 40 feet, and 60 feet. A few extra notes on each – for the hoochie squids, these are also a favorite of coho salmon. So you may hook into a few of the king salmon’s smaller cousins.
For plug cut herring, you have the added benefit of your lure smelling like an actual fish. But the shape and quality of the herring will degrade as you drag it through the water, so make sure to check it every 20 minutes or so and change it out if the spinning action gets too messed up.
For all presentations, be sure to coat your lures in fish scent or anise oil. This will hide your foreign human smells from the salmon. You can also use medium/large silver flasher to increase your range while trolling. The flasher will attract salmon who see it from a distance (it imitates a wounded baitfish).
The same techniques that work in the open ocean will work well in bays and estuaries. Just make sure to adjust your depth to however deep the bay is. We like to drop our trolling lures down to around 20 feet in bays/estuaries. You do this by using downriggers, divers, or weights. We prefer using divers instead of weights as they tend to do better when there is seaweed in the water. We also love going crabbing while trolling for salmon in bays. You’ll have the time so might as well go for both!
Once the salmon run has started in September and October, back trolling in rivers is usually most productive. Back trolling is similar to trolling except that you anchor your boat and allow the flow of the river or tide “troll” your lure. We like to use chartreuse Kwikfish with a piece of herring tied to them, salmon roe, or a bead fishing rig when back trolling.
At this stage of their migration when they are swimming upstream, the king salmon are no longer feeding – but they’re extra aggressive and will strike at anything that annoys them. Your goal with the brightly colored lures, roe, and Kwikfish is to do just that. Since rivers are usually much more shallow than bays or the ocean, we using a smaller diver that puts our lures down 6 to 8 feet.
Best King Salmon Lures for Jigging
Jigging is another technique that works well in the open ocean and bays/estuaries where it is deep enough. We like to use Buzz Bombs and large Candlefish lures when jigging. 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. When you feel a bite or your something weird on your lure, reel in quickly and set the hook. Fish on!
Best King Salmon Lures for Spinning
Our favorite lures for spinning for salmon are Blue Fox Vibrax spinners and Kastmaster spoons. Buy them in chartreuse, blue, or silver in the large sizes. Cast your spinning lures in front of where you think the salmon are swimming and retrieve at a steady pace. If you feel anything strange going on with the action of the lure, give is a quick jerk and reel in quickly. It might be a bite!
King salmon is one of our favorite sports fish to fish for. No matter where you fish for them – in the ocean, river, or bay, they’re a blast to catch. If you do catch a fish, be sure to check out our guide on how to clean salmon.
They also make some of the best home-cooked seafood dishes. Our favorites are smoked in our outdoor smoker or cajun style like our favorite redfish recipe. We hope after reading this article you know what lure to use next time your king salmon fishing. Catch a monster king salmon using one of our techniques? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. Here’s Finn with his brother after a solid day salmon fishing.