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  • how to fish from the bank for Salmon on coastal rivers

  • bank fishing for Salmon

There are three primary techniques for catching salmon from the bank on many rivers. While there are variations, these techniques are basically plunking, casting and flipping.


Plunking is simply a term used for still fishing, usually with bait on the bottom. The main bait of choice is cured salmon eggs, otherwise known as roe.

Depending on where you fish & the regulations, you can either fish one, two or even three rigs. Thread a spin-n-glo on the bottom leader about 30", tie an egg snelled tie on the hook. This will be your bottom leader to the bait. You can then either use just the spin-n-glo alone or with eggs. You can attach this leader to either a 2 or a 3 way swivel, depending on your preference as to how to attach the sinker. If you want the sinker as a slider use the 2 way & put the slider on the line above the swivel. If however you want to run the sinker on a dropper, then use the 3 way. Droppers should be 8-12”, & of a lighter leader material.

If you are to use a double rig then go up the line about 36” & put in another 3 way swivel, which you will attach another leader rig of about 24”, crimp a plastic sleeve about 1 ½ - 2" long on the side eye (this shorter leader & plastic, helps to keep it from tangling in the lower rig).

Depending on the fish you are targeting, the hook sizes can vary from a 1/0 to a 4/0 +.

Use the smallest possible floating device that will allow the bait to move in the current. Preferred colors for the spin-n-glos seem to be chartreuse & or orange.
If you are in an area where you can run 3 rigs, then some fishermen snap a Flatfish attached to a short leader onto the mainline after you have cast out, this will slide down to an upper stop swivel. The line angle has to be steep enough to allow the flatfish lip to dig in & engage the water. You might then have to bump the butt of the rod to jiggle it down. Use a large plastic bead as a bumper/stop for the sinker.

You probably should make up complete spare setups, as usually it is easier to tie these up at home than on the river.

The fish tend to concentrate near the shore. A cast of 30 feet or so is a long cast, more like 12 to 20 feet is the best distance. Plunking works best in pools of slower moving water. The Chinook will come up and mouth a plain spin-n-glo, so you have to be ever watchful of the rod tip.

Most plunkers use a rod holder set into the river bank. You should then consider getting a little bell to attach to your rod tip as a signaling device.

It’s an extremely easy way to fish, and of course you can fish all day since you don’t need to be casting or flipping the rod at all. Here are a few hints. When tying your hooks, use the egg loop snell. The advantage is that you can put egg roe into the loop leaving the hook completely exposed. This insures better hook ups once the fish hits. When the fish are hitting but not taking the bait completely, there is a trick that you can use. Either use a large corky, or tear the wings off of an old large spin-n-glo. Reverse the spin-n-glo body so the thin end is pointed toward your rod. Now place this body up from the hook about 6 inches and pin it there using a tooth pick. Then place your eggs on the hooks. This allows for the eggs to be held off the bottom, but when the fish hits, it only feels the roe and not the hard plastic body. It helps in the hook up ratio, especially when the water is clear enough that an attractor is not needed.

The spin-n-glo does a multitude of things. It is buoyant & helps hold the roe up off the bottom. It has a bright color, which can help attract the fish. But most important it has the rotating spinner blades, that give off a vibration, which the fish can feel, thereby attracting them to a possible wounded baitfish.

Then there is the question of scent. Do I use it or not? Well, salmon & steelhead have a very good sense of smell. In my mind it sure does not hurt to add some egg scent, maybe on a freshly cast out egg roe, there is enough scent, but after it has soaked for a while you have lost part of your attractant.

For plunking, the places are the slower moving water directly upstream from faster flowing waters seem to be the best. You will find that fish seem to be the most aggressive after just entering a pool. This observance is after years of watching fish in clear water streams. So always fish the tail end of a pool if given a choice.

The easiest way to learn is to watch others around you. It’s not rocket science. It is a game of perseverance. These fish migrate upstream, a hole that was ultra hot this morning may hold nothing in the evening. On the other hand, it works the opposite way as well. If you are in the lower river stretches, ask the locals if the tides do make a difference. Usually where there is a tidal movement the better fishing occurs on the incoming tide, starting about half way in to about half way out is a good rule of thumb. This gives a flushing effect of pushing new fish upriver.

A benefit of using short line, is that you can get more repetitive casts into prime area. If your hook isn’t in the water in front of the fish, your chance of catching will go down. If you watch people that are "ALWAYS" catching fish within sight of you, take a look. Are they making more casts, using scent, using a different color, concentrating harder, using sharper hooks, etc. Keep your eyes open, watch and learn. You may have caught lots of fish in your day, but I think we can all learn something from someone else. In the school of hard knocks no one ever graduates. Nobody has the monopoly on good ideas when it comes to fishing!


In casting you have the choice of a multitude of lures, spoons, spinners, plugs, or roe. Each will have it’s own retrieve speed. Depending on the water flow, depth, & fish targeted the methods will vary to some degree. You will have to decide whether you want to fish the hole, run or the tail-out of the pools. Cast out to your targeted spot & then reel it back. You will have to experiment as to whether you start reeling immediately or wait until the lure has sunk to a desire depth. Also you will have to determine just how fast you reel back in. Remember that all reels are not using the same gear ratios, so if one reel retrieves at a proper speed, another may be faster or slower.

The thing about this type of fishing is that when the fish hit the lure, they hit it hard enough that you are fully aware of what is going on.

Casting will probably be best accomplished by a spinning outfit with a rod of 8’ 6’ or 9’ plus. Here is one area that the rod & reel should be matched as you will be flailing it quite a bit.

A variation of casting & flipping would be Bobber fishing. Here you use a bobber that holds you lure, (eggs, jig, etc.) just up off the bottom. You may have to adjust the bobber height from the bait, until you find the right depth of the water for the particular drift you are doing. You can cast a little farther with this type of fishing than the flipping & allow your line to pay out on the lower end of your drift, to cover slightly more water if conditions exist. On this type of fishing you want the line to the bobber as straight a possible, so you may have to “meld” your line to take the slack out of the line


In most situations, flipping is the more productive of the three methods as long as there is sufficient current to allow a good drift. Flipping is a great technique to learn because it works on any stream that holds any salmon or steelhead.

In almost all of the cases, one of the most effective set ups used is a red glass bead on top of a 1/0 to 3/0 gamakatsu with a piece of chartreuse yarn on the egg loop of the hook. This simple rig has accounted for more salmon of all species than probably any other set used by effective fisherpersons.

Another variation used for Chinook salmon is to rig using two single hooks. Once again in size 1/0 to 3/0 tie an egg snell with the two gamakatsu octopus style hooks about 2 to 3 inches apart. In between the two hooks place two of the smallest size little corkies with flo chartreuse and flo. Orange or red being the favorite colors. Once again, always use a piece of florescent chartreuse yarn.

Some fishermen use coho flies for this technique.

The above setup is then attached using about 4 to 6 inches of a lighter leader running up to a sinker. This then acts as a breakaway if you get hung up. Also some fishermen prefer the surgical rubber tube lead on a three-way swivel. The longest leader you can handle seems to result in more hook ups. But you need to be able to control the flip.

The technique is a little more complicated then just throwing the hook upstream and letting it bounce downstream. You don’t use the reel at all when using this technique. For a right handed person, hold the rod in your right hand. Strip off enough line so the lure doesn’t hit the ground when you hold the rod pointing straight up with your right hand. Now with the left hand strip off more line so when you extend your left arm while holding onto the line, you can still hold the lure off the ground. Now just flip the lure out, lower the rod tip and let go of the line. The lure should flick about 10 to 20 feet in front of you depending on your rod length. You don’t need to cast very far at all. Usually a 45 degree cast upstream is a good starting point. Salmon run up river along the edges for the most part. 10 to 20 feet from shore is usually plenty far. FISH NEAR THE SHORE LINE.

Casting upstream a little bit, starting at about 45 degrees, varying it as you go, you need enough weight that you can feel the weight bouncing along the bottom. As soon as the lure hits the water lower your rod tip to just above the water level by a foot or two. Not too much that it will hang up though. NOW THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART!! As the line swings in front of you, you want to slowly sweep the rod with the current, keeping the tip pointed low & toward your line entry point on the water. At the same time, with your left hand grasp the line at the rear guide, and as you allow the rod to follow the current, slowly pull the line in to take the slack out of your line to the lure, so you will have constant tension on the line. You may have to reach up with your left hand & get another grip on the line & pull it in as before. When you get to the bottom of the drift & you are about ready to pull it out, give it a slight jerk toward the bank. This jerk will at times set the hook if the fish has just picked up the line on the last of the drift, and has it running thru his open mouth, but has not actually hit the lure. This is the method of catching sockeye in or near his mouth.
The idea is to keep the line all the way to the lure as perpendicular as possible to the bank. This insures that when a fish hits, instead of momentary slack as the lead bounces past the fish and then you feel the bite, you feel the fish immediately. Imagine if you cast your lure and weight upstream and let it dead drift down without any "pull." The lure would be pulled downstream below the sinker as the sinker kept on grabbing the bottom. If a fish hits the lure, you wouldn’t know it until the sinker bounced 4 feet down to the fish, then four feet past the fish until the line tightened up. By then the fish will be long gone! KEEP LIGHT BUT CONSTANT TENSION ON THE LINE BY DRAGGING THE LURE SLOWLY TOWARDS THE BANK. Keeping a constant "pull" on the line is the key element in the flipping technique. As soon as you feel something different from the bottom you have bounced by for hours, set the hook! Better to look foolish, then to lose the fish you have been waiting all day for. Most of the time though, the fish will tear your arm off because you only have 15 feet of line out…if you keep some tension on the line.
You can vary where your drift is in footage from the bank by varying your spot you are casting to. It is advisable to cast closer to shore on the first casts, & move your casts farther out on your next casts. By using this method you will not be fishing OVER the closer fish & spook them. You will in this manner cover all the water starting from closer to farther out from one location.

By far the best is to use premium ultra sharp hooks like the gamakatsu, VMC, or Owner type hooks. Your hook up ratio will at least double by the use of ultra sharp premium hooks. They also punch a very small slit through the fish’s mouth that helps keep the hook from backing out. This technique can be used in about any river where the water is flowing at a fairly decent pace. It also it the exact same technique used to catch sockeye when they start running up the Kenai river in Alaska. It also has proven effective for silvers and pinks as well.

Any type of rod can be used for flipping. Some fisherpersons prefer a fly rod. The light well balanced fly rod allows you to fish much longer than my traditional king outfit with a spinning or baitcasting reel. The longer the rod, the more water you can cover effortlessly. Of course in crowded conditions a shorter rod is the way to go. A 9 to 12 foot rod would be the choice whenever possible.

Some final pieces of advice…

Use the best gear you can afford. Make sure the drags on the reels are good because these fish may well test your gear to the limit. When adjusting the drag, don’t just pull on the line above the spool. Have someone hold the line near the lure and pull with the rod. You’ll be surprised how much harder it is to pull line out with the rod bent.

Also always re-spool with fresh line every year. Its amazing how strong fresh line is. You could land a 20 pound Chinook on 10 pound test, maybe not easily, but it can be done. As an example, take your rod and tie the line to a hand scale. Pull on the rod so you have a good bend. You’ll be surprised how hard 5 to 10 pounds of pull will bend your rod if it doesn’t break it first. The main reason for fresh line is that line gets weaker when it is stored, exposed to sunlight and coiled tightly on the spool. It is the only thing connecting you and the fish. Also abrasions on a 20 pound line will quickly turn the line into a 2 lb rating! If you fish a lot, re-spool every 4th or 5th time out. Also cut off 4 to 5’ of line & retie every hour or two. There is nothing that will turn a person sour from fishing faster than waiting for hours and after finally getting a hit, your line breaks with a simple pull. Relatively speaking, it’s CHEAP! GET NEW LINE and CHECK YOUR LINE OFTEN

Also learn to tie good knots.

The above information was used with the permission LeeRoy Wisner of
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or
click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!