Best Salmon Lures for Rivers: A Primer on River Salmon Lures

By Ken Schultz

Apr 27, 2018

Learn why spinners, drift rigs, spoons, flies, and certain diving plugs are the best salmon lures for rivers, plus expert advice on how and where to use them.

In a broad categorical sense, the best salmon lures for rivers are spinners, buoyant drift rigs, casting spoons, flies, and wide-wobbling diving plugs. Silver or chrome are especially popular hard-lure finishes, and many river salmon lures are enhanced with a bright color, particularly orange or red/pink. These colors stand out in generally clear rivers and mimic naturally appearing salmon eggs. Preserved or imitation fish eggs, used singly or in clumps, can be fished simply with a weight and a bare hook, or as part of a drift rig.

Salmon Lure Specifics

The best salmon lures for rivers include two items that spin: standalone in-line spinners and winged drift bobber rigs. Among in-line spinners, versions with a single and generally broad revolving blade are best. Larger (and heavier) models are necessary in swift and deep water. Though not actually spinners, winged drift bobbers are buoyant floats with wings, and are a component of drift rigs. A weight or sinker gets the rig down. The float spins with the movement of the current and helps keep a trailing hook (baited with eggs) just off the bottom, while providing color and action.

Appropriate casting spoons are heavy-bodied, with large versions more suitable for big rivers, swift flows, and deep water. Like most river fishing lures, they shouldn’t be retrieved fast; a moderate wobble is preferred. As in other freshwater fishing, attach spoons and spinners to a quality snap-swivel to prevent line twist.

Flies vary widely in appearance and size. Streamers with a flashy dressing incorporating bright colors are popular in big water. Sparsely tied flies that are little more than colorful yarn on a small hook are effective in smaller and shallower rivers. Where legal, weighted flies help achieve depth. Usually a sinking line is necessary with flies. Learn more about fishing with lures and get ready for your next prime fishing time!

Aggressively wobbling diving plugs are river salmon lures used to scour deep holes and runs while fishing from an anchored or slowly drifting boat. Typified by the unique Kwikfish, these are not cast and retrieved, but are held in place downstream against the current.

Important Where-To/How-To Tips

We can’t discuss the best salmon lures for rivers without noting that river salmon migrate upstream to spawn and don’t actively feed. They still strike lures, but don’t chase them. Remember the following:
  • Whatever river salmon lures are used, you must get them deep and right in front of the fish, which strike out of habit, reflex, or annoyance, rather than hunger.
  • Salmon hug river bottoms, resting in pools and deep water. They’re seldom caught in fast water.
  • When casting, deliver lures slightly upstream and quartered, drifting with the current to the end of the swing
  • Offerings must bounce or swim along or near the bottom; the right weight of lure or sinker is important. Too little and the offering never reaches the bottom and is ineffective; too much and it drags unnaturally or snags repeatedly.
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Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is