Salmon Drift Fishing Setup: A Comprehensive Guide

  • Updated September 3rd, 2023

When it comes to angling for salmon, one of the most effective and exciting techniques is drift fishing. This method allows anglers to present their bait or lures in a natural and enticing manner, increasing the chances of enticing a strike from these powerful and prized fish. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of salmon drift fishing, covering everything from gear selection to rigging techniques and essential tips for success.

Drift fishing involves presenting bait or lures to fish as they naturally swim downstream. This technique is particularly effective for salmon, as it simulates their natural behavior of targeting prey moving with the current. Drift fishing offers anglers the opportunity to cover a wide area and increase the chances of a successful hookset.

Salmon Drift Fishing Setup

Gear Selection for Salmon Drift Fishing


Choose a medium to heavy action rod that is capable of handling the weight and power of salmon. A rod with a length of 8 to 10 feet is ideal for drift fishing, as it provides the necessary leverage to control and play these strong fish.


Opt for a spinning or baitcasting reel with a smooth drag system. The reel should have enough line capacity to handle the potential long runs that salmon are known for. Look for a reel that balances well with your chosen rod.


Use a mainline with a pound test that matches the size of salmon you’re targeting and the conditions you’ll be fishing in. Monofilament, fluorocarbon, or braided line are all suitable options, but keep in mind that low visibility lines like fluorocarbon can be advantageous in clear water.

Terminal Tackle:

  • Swivels: Attach a quality swivel to prevent line twist.
  • Weights: Depending on the current and water depth, use split shot or pencil lead weights to get your bait down to the desired depth.
  • Hooks: Choose hooks that match the size of your bait and the species of salmon you’re targeting. Circle hooks are often used in drift fishing as they tend to hook fish in the corner of the mouth, minimizing harm.

Choosing the Right Bait and Lures For Salmon

Natural Baits:

Salmon are known to be enticed by a variety of natural baits, including cured salmon roe (eggs), sand shrimp, prawns, and even small fish like herring or anchovies. Experiment with different baits to see what the salmon in your area prefer.

Artificial Lures:

Artificial lures like spinners, spoons, and soft plastic jigs can also be effective in drift fishing for salmon. Bright colors and realistic movements can trigger strikes from aggressive fish.


Setting Up Your Salmon Drift Fishing Rig

Basic Rig Components:

  • Mainline: The main fishing line spooled on your reel.
  • Swivel: Prevents line twist and serves as a connection point.
  • Leader: A section of line that connects the swivel to the bait or lure.
  • Weight: Adds weight to the rig to keep it down in the water.
  • Bait or Lure: The enticing element that attracts the salmon.

Assembling the Rig:

  1. Tie the swivel to the end of your mainline using a reliable knot.
  2. Attach a pre-tied leader to the other end of the swivel.
  3. Depending on the rig’s complexity, attach a weight to the bottom of the leader using a loop knot or a snap.
  4. Attach your chosen bait or lure to the end of the leader using an appropriate knot.

Leader Length and Weight Placement:

The length of the leader and the placement of the weight depend on the water depth and the behavior of the salmon. In general, use a longer leader when fishing in clear water and a shorter leader in murky water. Adjust the weight’s position to ensure your bait or lure is drifting near the bottom, where salmon are likely to be.


Techniques for Drift Fishing Success

Drift Presentation:

Cast upstream and allow your rig to drift naturally downstream with the current. Keep your line taut but not overly tight to maintain sensitivity and detect strikes.

Reading Water and Identifying Salmon Holding Areas:

Look for areas where salmon are likely to congregate, such as eddies, seams, and pockets behind rocks or structures. These spots provide resting areas for salmon and are prime locations for drift fishing.

Proper Drift Speed:

Adjust your drift speed to match the natural current flow. Your bait or lure should move at a pace that resembles the movement of natural prey.

Detecting and Responding to Strikes:

Stay attentive to any changes in line tension or movement. When you feel a subtle tug or your line suddenly goes slack, it’s likely a salmon has taken the bait. Respond by setting the hook with a controlled upward motion of the rod.


Advanced Tips and Strategies

Adjusting for Water Conditions:

Modify your setup based on water clarity and current speed. In clear water, opt for lighter leaders and more natural-looking baits. In murky water, use brighter colors and scents to attract salmon.

Experimenting with Different Baits and Lures:

Salmon can be finicky, so don’t be afraid to switch up your offerings if you’re not getting bites. Keep a variety of baits and lures on hand to determine what the salmon are most responsive to on that particular day.

Utilizing Scent and Attractants:

Adding scent or attractants to your bait or lure can enhance its appeal and trigger more strikes. Commercially available scents mimic natural odors and can be a valuable addition to your arsenal.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the best time of year for salmon drift fishing?

The best time for salmon drift fishing varies depending on the species and the region. In general, salmon runs occur during the fall and spring months, but research the specific timing for your target species in your area.

2. Can I use a fly rod for drift fishing?

Yes, a fly rod can be used for drift fishing with the appropriate setup. However, traditional spinning or baitcasting rods are more commonly used due to their ability to handle heavier weights and larger baits.

3. What type of reel drag setting should I use?

Set your reel’s drag to a tension that allows the salmon to take some line without breaking it. A good rule of thumb is to set the drag at about one-third of the line’s breaking strength.

4. Do I need to use a leader when drift fishing for salmon?

Yes, using a leader is essential in drift fishing. It provides the necessary separation between your mainline and the bait or lure, reducing the risk of detection by cautious salmon.


Final Thoughts:

Salmon drift fishing offers anglers a dynamic and rewarding approach to catching these prized fish. By selecting the right gear, setting up a proper rig, and employing effective techniques, you can increase your chances of success on the water. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a novice, embracing the art of drift fishing opens up a world of opportunities to connect with nature, refine your skills, and create lasting memories along the way.