Trolling for Salmon: All You Need to Know

Dec 6, 2021 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Salmon has a special place in the hearts of anglers all across the world. It’s fully woven into the fabric of many North American cultures, thanks to its popularity as a food fish. But it’s also made a name for itself further afield, inhabiting Scottish lochs, Russian rivers, Japanese bays, and beyond. And no matter where your angling adventure is taking place, trolling for Salmon remains one of the most popular and successful ways to come face-to-gills with this species.

An angler holding a sizeable Chinook Salmon, caught fishing in Ontario.

Looking to cover plenty of ground as you cruise your chosen fishery? Want to maximize the depths and distances your lines can reach? Trolling offers this in spades. It’s the perfect way for Salmon enthusiasts and newbies alike to increase their chances of hooking anything from big, feisty Chinook to lean, mean Coho. Below, we’ve covered the types of Salmon you can target, our top trolling spots, and what you can expect from this technique. Let’s dive in!

What Salmon species can I troll for?

The answer to this question? All of them! Trolling is a technique that allows for plenty of versatility. If you’re fishing somewhere that houses more than one Salmon variety, there’s no reason why you can’t target them all. Your location will play a big part in determining what fish you can target. You can check out our complete Salmon guide to get to grips with each unique variety and see what’s on offer near you.

Most anglers generally focus their attention on targeting Chinook and Coho varieties. They inhabit a whopping number of fisheries, have healthy and stable populations, and fight the hardest. Chinook grow to impressive sizes and, while Coho are smaller, pound-for-pound they’re ferocious opponents!

Why should I go trolling for Salmon?

If you’ve never been trolling before, then let us paint you a quick picture. This technique involves dragging a hooked lure or bait through the water from a moving boat. You can have as many lines in the water as you’d like. The main aim is to lure in your target fish by tricking them into thinking that your bait is moving prey.

A happy angler holding a Chinook Salmon on a boat.

Salmon inhabit a whole host of diverse fisheries. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to these guys, which is why trolling is the perfect way to target them. This technique is seriously versatile. You’ll be able to drop multiple lines and target different water depths of your chosen fishery using downriggers. This means there’s a greater chance of potentially filling the boat with fish and getting hookup after hookup.

Salmon tend to be solitary creatures except for when they’re schooling in the ocean. Trolling lets you target all of their hidey-holes, especially if you’re fishing in deep, vast waters. You can also mix up your bait on each line – so if one hooked lure or bait fish isn’t attracting them, chances are the others might!

How can I go trolling for Salmon?

As trolling involves the use of a boat, the easiest way to test out this technique is hopping aboard a local charter that offers this type of fishing. The benefits of trolling with an experienced guide are numerous. Firstly, you won’t have to worry about purchasing or bringing along your own gear – or setting it up! You can rely on their expert knowledge to take you to the hot spots while you sit back and relax, watching the lines until something bites – then it’s all hands on deck.

An angler looking out of a moving boat with trolling rods set up on the sides of the boat.

However, if you’re an experienced angler with your own boat, chances are you’re thinking about heading out solo. Not quite sure where to start? We’ve got you covered!

Salmon Trolling Gear 101

Rods, Reels, and Tackle

Depending on how many rod holders your boat has, you’ll usually be able to set up anywhere from 2–6 trolling rods. You can find your rod holders on your vessel’s gunwales. Most Salmon trolling enthusiasts recommend opting for specific trolling rods that are on the longer side, as this lets you spread your lines as far from the boat as possible. We’re talking anywhere from 9–12 feet long.

You can adjust your fishing gear depending on where you’re fishing, of course, and chances are as you get more familiar with trolling, you’ll want to make some changes. Generally, though, it’s good to have a mix of different length medium-light, medium-heavy, and heavy medium-to-fast action rods on board. Line weightings should be between the 20–30 pound mark.

Trolling rods on the stern of a moving boat.

When it comes to choosing your reel, it’s simple – trolling reels are the way to go! Opt for a size 300 or higher. If you’re not sure, ask your bait or tackle shop for advice and see if they have any suggestions for rod and reel pairings.

Again, the tackle you’ll be using depends on where you’ll be fishing, but a good starter option is running 40 to 50 lb braided line as your main line, and then either a 20–30 lb leader of monofilament or fluorocarbon. A leader acts as a “shock absorber” for your braided line, which has little-to-no stretch, so it’s an important addition.

Lures and Bait

Because Salmon feed on a variety of bait fish, we recommend having a mix of bait and lures in your angling tool kit. Herring, minnows, and sand shrimp are popular live bait choices, whereas hoochies, spoons, plugs, and large salmon spinners are good “starter” lures. Basically, you’re looking for anything that gives off a lot of vibration and flash.

You can pair your bait or lure with a trolling flasher, a long shaped piece of plastic that is trolled in front of your lure or bait. This tricks your Salmon into thinking that another Salmon is attacking their bait, and they’ll want in on the action! Flashers work by emitting a lot of vibration and flash as they spin through the water. The color of your flasher isn’t important – just make sure it vibrates and flashes strongly.


Trolling for Salmon with downriggers, which lower your bait deeper underwater using a heavy weight, is perhaps one of the most popular ways to target these fish, especially when they’re holding deep. It’s a hassle-free way of getting your lures down to the correct depth without having to do lots of guesswork.

A couple of trolling downriggers on a fishing boat.

You can choose a downrigger that you have to crank yourself or one that automatically does the work. The latter are pricier. Anglers recommend dropping your downrigger around 15–20 feet for the best results. If you’re fishing in saltwater, opt for a 10 lb downrigger. In freshwater, anything between 6–8 pounds will do the job.

The Basics of Trolling

Now your gear is set up, it’s time to actually troll. One of the most important aspects of this technique is speed. It’s crucial when it comes to making your bait look realistic. You’ll want to match the general speed of your chosen bait, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this! Most anglers recommend speeds that lie between 1.5–3.5 mph, so prepare to adapt and change it up.

If you’re trolling in the ocean or a large body of water, chances are you’ll have currents to contend with. This can affect the speed you’ll want to travel at. A good rule of thumb in all trolling situations is to keep an eye on the bait you’re fishing with. You want it to look natural, so if it’s spinning wildly or hardly moving, you’ll want to either slow things down or speed them up. Once your bait is swimming naturally, you’ve hit the right speed.

Then, it’s a case of watching your rod tips for any movement. Once one starts wobbling, it’s time to grab your rod and get ready to reel your fish in!

Where can I troll for Salmon?

A view of the Columbia River at sunset with mountains and trees.
The Columbia River

It goes without saying that there’s a wealth of incredible Salmon trolling spots across the globe. If you’re in the US, chances are you have a good Salmon fishery nearby, making it possible to stay local. Looking to hit up some of the most highly-regarded locations? The Pacific Northwest is home to the Columbia River, Willamette River, and Oregon’s Buoy 10. Further south in California, you have the California Delta. Further east there are the Great Lakes, which can all be trolled. Lakes Michigan and Superior in particular are famous for their thriving number of Salmon species.

Canada also boasts strong Salmon trolling opportunities. There’s the mighty Kenai River, for one. You can also visit the “Salmon Capital of the World,” British Columbia, which is home to the Fraser River and other incredible Salmon hotspots.

Outside of North America, there are plenty of options. Russia’s Kola Peninsula is one of the highlights. In the UK, Scotland’s many vast lochs make for perfect trolling, especially the further north you go. Head to Scandinavia, especially Sweden, and you can target ocean Salmon. Just wrap up warm!

Trolling for Salmon: the Ultimate Fishing Experience

Two men and a child hold a large Chinook Salmon in front of Oregon's coastal waters

Whether you’re a brand new angler or want to become a master of this technique, trolling for Salmon is the perfect way to spend a day out on the water. There’s the chance of multiple hook-ups and, depending on where you’re fishing, chances are you could have a whole host of Salmon at your fingertips. It’s also incredibly fun, so get out there and see what’s waiting for you!

Have you ever been trolling for Salmon? Where did you go? Any tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!

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