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Trolling for Salmon Without Downriggers: Beginners Guide

Trolling for salmon is one of the most effective ways to catch them. You can cover a ton of ground with your boat and get your lure or herring in front of deeper swimming salmon. Trolling for salmon with downriggers is the most common technique. But what about if you don’t have downriggers? Can you still troll for salmon? Of course, you can!

While downriggers will make your life easier, we’ve seen tons of success trolling for salmon without downriggers as well. In this article, we’ll cover the basics on how to troll for salmon using both divers and weights, as well as the different kinds of salmon you catch trolling without downriggers. We’ll also include several tactics for getting your salmon trolling lures even deeper without the use of downriggers. Let’s get to it!

How to Troll for Salmon With Divers

Probably the most common technique to troll for salmon without downriggers is to use a diver. Divers force your line and lure underwater by applying downforce when trolled through the water. Depending on the design and style of diver you use you can set the exact depth you want your salmon lures to be at. Here are some of the best divers to use when trolling for salmon without downriggers. Divers work great for both traditional salmon trolling rigs and meat rigs.

Luhr Jensen Deep Six Diver

The Luhr Jensen Deep Six Diver is our favorite diver when trolling for salmon without downriggers. We really like the Luhr Jensen Deep Six Diver because of its adjustable depth settings. Depending on where you attach your mainline and leader, the Luhr Jensen Deep Six Diver will dive to set depths. Out of all the divers we’ve used, it also dives the deepest. If you’re looking to get started trolling for salmon without downriggers, get the Luhr Jensen Deep Six Diver.

Luhr Jensen Jet Diver

Another really popular diver design for salmon fishing without downriggers is the Luhr Jensen Jet Diver. The Luhr Jensen Jet Diver is perfect for trolling in shallower waters such as bays and river inlets. They also work really well when back trolling for salmon. The added bonus of the design of the Luhr Jensen Jet Diver is that if it ends up getting snagged or stops moving, it will rise up to the surface for easy retrieval. This feature is an excellent safety measure if you’re worried about snagging or are trolling close to the bottom.

Luhr Jensen Dipsy Diver

The Luhr Jensen Dipsy Diver is another model of diver that falls in between the Deep Six and Jet Diver as far as diving capability. The Luhr Jensen Dipsy Diver has an adjustable trip mechanism that forces the diver to lay flat when a fish strikes your lure. This ensures that once you have a salmon on your line, you won’t have added resistance from the diver on your line. It can also dive further at lower speeds than the Jet Diver.

How to Troll for Salmon With Weights

If you would rather skip buying a diver you can also use traditional lead weights to troll for salmon without downriggers. The two most effective and common ways to use weights are in-line keel weights and snap weights

Keel Weights

Keel weights get their name for the keel they have built into their shape. The keel keeps the weights pointed in the correct direction while trolling them through the water. Keels weights are tied to your main fishing line 6 to 8 feet in front of your lure. 6 to 8-ounce keel weights are a great option if you plan on trolling at 30 feet deep or less. If you want to troll deeper, we recommend using a diver.

Snap Weights

Another great option for trolling for salmon without downriggers is to use snap weights. Snap weights “snap” onto your line which allows you to adjust where you add them for desired depth. The quick on and off ability also allows you to remove them once you have a fish on. The typical setup is to let out 50 feet of line, attach your snap weight, then let out another 50 feet of line. Here are the depths you can expect to reach depending on weight size and speed.

  • ½ oz weight: 10 to 15 feet deep at 1 mph, 5 to 10 feet deep at 1.5 mph, and 1 to 5 feet deep at 2 mph.
  • 1 oz weight: 15 to 20 feet deep at 1 mph, 10 to 15 feet deep at 1.5 mph, and 5 to 10 feet deep at 2 mph.
  • 1.5 oz weight: 20 to 25 feet deep at 1 mph, 15 to 20 feet deep at 1.5 mph, and 10 to 15 feet deep at 2 mph.
  • 2 oz weight: 25 to 30 feet deep at 1 mph, 20 to 25 feet deep at 1.5 mph, and 15 to 20 feet deep at 2 mph.
  • 3 oz weight: 30 to 35 feet deep at 1 mph, 25 to 30 feet deep at 1.5 mph, and 20 to 25 feet deep at 2 mph.

How to Troll for Salmon On the Surface

Of course, another option for trolling for salmon without downriggers is to troll your lures without any weights on the surface. This can actually work quite well for certain species of salmon depending on the season. We like to troll hoochie squids on the surface out in the open ocean early in the coho salmon season. The smaller aggressive coho salmon love attacking surface lures and can make for a ton of fun to catch on light tackle.

How Fast Should You Troll for Salmon?

One of the easiest mistakes to make when trolling for salmon is to troll too fast. Luckily if you aren’t using downriggers to troll for salmon, you usually can’t afford to troll very fast. We recommend trolling between 1 mph and 2 mph when trolling for salmon with and without downriggers. 

Tips for Trolling Even Deeper

Before we close, we wanted to list a few more tips and tricks for getting your salmon lures down even deeper without the use of downriggers.

  • Use the smallest diameter fishing line possible. This will minimize the amount of drag the line has when being trolled through the water. This might not seem like much, however, when you have 100 feet or more of line out the drag becomes substantial. We recommend using braided line as it has the smallest diameter to test strength.
  • Slow down your speed. It might seem obvious, but we’re always surprised how our boat tends to creep up in speed – especially in slightly rough waters. Get a kicker motor with an electronic speed controller to ensure your boat stays at slow speeds.
  • Use streamlined lures. Another factor in your overall drag is the type of salmon lure you use. Try to use lures that don’t have a ton of action and swim through the water smoothly to reduce drag. We also recommend skipping the use of a flasher.

General Trolling Tips

Lastly, here are a few more tips to consider when trolling in general. If you follow these you’ll avoid the most common mistakes.

  • Start with one pole, then add more. A quick way to get yourself tangled or in trouble is to have too many lures and poles in the water. Start with just one pole, and once you get the hang of trolling with it ramp up to multiple poles.
  • Make wide turns. This is especially important when trolling for salmon without downriggers and sharp turns will push your lure into shallower water and increase your chance of snagging. Plan ahead and start your turns early to avoid this.
  • Keep a close eye on your fishfinder. Try to know your depth at all times to avoid bouncing off the bottom and potentially losing or breaking expensive gear. We like using a side imaging fish finder when trolling without downriggers.


Many fishermen think that the only way to troll for salmon is with downriggers. We hope that after reading this article, you now know that not only can you troll for salmon without downriggers, but that in some situations it might be the better choice. 

Don’t forget to also get a large saltwater fishing net. You want to be extra prepared for when you catch that monster fish. End up catching a massive king or coho salmon trolling without a downrigger? First, check out our guide on cleaning salmon. Then let us know about it in the comments below. Also worth noting, you most likely won’t be able to use barbed hooks while fishing for salmon. Be sure to check your local laws.

Happy Hunting!


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