Everything you need to know to get set up for great lakes salmon from a top salmon fishing guide. All the best gear for great lakes salmon fishing plus some tips to get you catching more Salmon.
I have been guiding for 20 years and fishing for great lakes salmon in rivers all around Lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Lake Erie for over 35 years. This is the advice and recommendations that I give to all my clients that want the best gear for great lakes river salmon.
Get Set-Up Right For More Salmon
Some guys catch the occasional salmon if they are lucky, and some guys catch a sh!t load of salmon and they do it easily and regularly. Why is it that some guys just don’t catch many?
Knowing when, where, and how to catch salmon is important, but I assure you that the guys that are catching all the salmon also use the best gear for great lakes river salmon and if you want to start catching salmon like they do you should be using the best gear too.
I’ve said it many times that you could probably build an entire house using only a hand held screw driver and a saw, but why would you when it’s so much better if you had a hammer and a drill. Sounds pretty dumb to think you could get away with using just a screw driver right?
So why do guys think catching salmon on their 7 foot multipurpose rod is a good idea? Or why are they using a 13 foot surf casting rods as thick as a baseball bat, with a dumbell sized chunk of lead and a float that’s as big as my foot and a giant treble hook? These are the guys that rarely catch fish and struggle for just 1 salmon!
The right gear is like the right tool for the job and it can significantly help you catch more salmon.
For information on the when, where and how to fish for great lakes salmon in rivers check out our Fishing For Salmon Page
Table Of Contents
- 1 Get Set-Up Right For More Salmon
- 2 The 4 Best Spinning Rods For River Salmon
- 3 4 Best Spinning Reels For River Salmon
- 4 Best Line For River Salmon
- 5 Best Terminal Tackle For River Salmon
- 6 Other Gear For River Fishing - Waders, Vests, Jackets and More
- 7 Best Leader For Salmon
- 8 Best Hooks For River Salmon
- 9 Best Lures For Salmon In Rivers
- 10 Best Nets For River Salmon Fishing
The 4 Best Spinning Rods For River Salmon
When it comes to spinning rods for great lakes salmon in the rivers there are rods for throwing lures and rods for using floats. There are also rods that are suitable for both methods.
Rods in the 8’6″ and 9’6″ range are best for casting lures and can also be used for float fishing or for bottom bouncing.
Rods in the 10 foot to 11 foot range are my preferred choice for an all around rod that is best for both casting lures and for float fishing. This is also a great size for pier and shore casting into the great lakes.
Rods in the 11 to 13 foot range are best for guys that just want to float fish for salmon.
I recommend rods rated between 10lb to 20lb line. Going heavier is not recommended because even though many of the salmon may be over 30 pounds the leader at the bait may need to be as low as 8lb or 10lb test when float fishing to get those skittish salmon in gin-clear water to bite.
Having a super heavy rod rated for 30 or 40 lbs is useless, especially considering many reel drags will only go up to 30lbs anyways and almost never will you need 20 or 30lb test.
St. Croix Avid Salmon & Steelhead Spinning Rod
BEST ROD – This is one of the best all around high end salmon spinning rods on the market and one I use myself for both casting and for float fishing for salmon.
The 10’6″ Medium 8 – 12lb, would be great for both casting lures or using floats. Model # AVS106MF2
Get It At These Great Retailers
Fenwick HMX Salmon & Steelhead Spinning Rod
MOST POPULAR – If you want a rod with a slightly higher line rating this is it. I know a lot of guys that use this rod and I have used it myself. This is a favorite for casting lures, bottom bouncing and for float fishing for salmon.
Get the Medium 10’6″ long 8-15lbs model # HMX106M-MFS-2
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St. Croix Wild River Salmon & Steelhead Bait Cast Rod
BEST BAIT-CAST ROD – Some anglers prefer to cast lures and run their floats using bait-cast reels. This is a great rod for casting lures, bottom bouncing or it could double as a short float rod.
The 10’6″ Med-Heavy would be great for both casting lures or using floats. Model # WRC106MHM2
The 8’6″ Heavy rod would be great for casting lures. model #WRC86HF2
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4 Best Spinning Reels For River Salmon
The right spinning reel can make all the difference. A bad drag will loose you fish. A smooth drag can make all the difference.
Large salmon can make long fast runs that can burn-out the bearing and drags of cheap reels. Getting an mid-range to high-end reels is the best idea.
You also need to consider how the line comes off the reel if you plan to float fish a lot. I have had many clients bring out reels that they struggle with all day either because it’s not a great reel or because they have the wrong line. Some reels are just not as good as others for this but these ones I have tried and liked.
Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel
Another Great reel with great drag system capable of handling the big salmon.
The SUPXTSP35X model holds up to 155 yards of 10lb test so it may be best to get the SUPXTSP40X model which will give you 195 yards of 12 pound test. The 40x model holds more line and may be best if you do any casting from shore into the lake.
Pflueger President Spinning Reel
Best Economy Reel – A very popular and well rated reel that can still handle great lakes salmon. This reel comes in under $100 at some retailers.
For smaller rivers the
PRESSP35X model will be good and for bigger rivers or for shore casting into the lake go for the PRESSP40X
Best Line For River Salmon
When it comes to the best gear for great lakes river salmon it really doesn’t matter if you have a great rod and a great reel if you have crappy line or the wrong size of line. The best all-around line for river salmon is 12 lb test unless you are using a braided line.
If you plan on float fishing sometimes or most of the time the thinner diameter 12lb line will come off the reel better and wont be to heavy to sag the line when you hold the rod up high.
If you are going to be throwing just lures and not doing any float fishing then you can go up to 14lb. I recommend braided lines 20 to 30lbs if you are just going to throw lures.
Braided Lines For Salmon and Steelhead
Some guys love braid and some guys hate it! It does take some getting used to but it has a lot of benefits.
- No stretch gives you better hook sets at longer distances and better hook sets in general.
- More sensitive so you may feel every rock and bump on your lure.
- No line twist.
- Thinner diameter for a heavier line so you can get more on the spool.
- Many braids will float which is better for line mending with floats
- Super strong and tough.
- Somewhat abrasion resistant
- More line tip wrap issues.
- No stretch to cushion hard hook sets on light leaders – PRO TIP – Adding a mono leader when casting lures or float fishing can help with shock absorption on the hook set.
- May freeze into a solid block if you get it wet below freezing
- Some braids may absorb water and sink or are more likely to freeze.
- May expand and slip around reel spool if gets wet and then dries – PRO TIP – Add 20 feet of mono at the base of the reel before adding the braid and use and mono-to-braid knot to connect the lines.
Best Terminal Tackle For River Salmon
Other Gear For River Fishing - Waders, Vests, Jackets and More
There is a lot of river fishing gear that is not salmon specific, like waders, boots, vest, packs etc.
Raven FM Floats
The FM Model is my go to float in almost all water conditions for salmon and steelhead and I have been using it for about 10 years. You can not go wrong with this float.
- 4.2g for smaller shallower rivers.
- 5g for small to medium sized rivers with shallow to 8 feet foot depths.
- 6.2g is my go-to size for most rivers and with a slightly bigger profile it can be easier to see at longer distances
- 11g (FD Model) for faster deeper and bigger rivers.
Best Leader For Salmon
This is one of the most popular leaders in my area. For most salmon I use the 6lb – Don’t let the pound test fool you, this line is not properly rated, I can lift a 10lb dumbell with this, it;s closer to 12lb test and used by most of the people I fish with and has been my go-to for steelhead and salmon for many years.
6lb for most salmon rivers.
5lbs for gin clear water for nervous salmon.
4lb for most steelhead conditions.
3lb for gin clear steelhead water.
Best Hooks For River Salmon
Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks
Gamakatsu hooks are some of the strongest and sharpest hooks and are known around the world for performance, durability and reliability.
Use them for roe, worm, and plastics.
Color: Black Nickel
- size 10 for low and clear and small roe bags
- size 8 and 6 for bigger water and most conditions.
Blackbird Sabretooth Premium Hooks
Blackbird Sabretooth Premium Hooks by Redwing Tackle are the hooks of choice for salmon, steelhead and trout anglers around the world. These chemically sharpened are manufactured from the finest quality high carbon steel, producing unparalleled strength. These hooks are great for use with egg sacs and skein.
Use size #8 or #6 for most situations.
Best Lures For Salmon In Rivers
Salmon Like flashy erratic moving lures. These lures below are some of my most productive lures. Read the description for tips on how to best use them.
Kwikfish X-Treme lures
One of my Favorite salmon and Steelhead lures.
Cast straight across the river and retrieve super slow. The current will make this lure wiggle like crazy enticing some seriously hard hits.
My Best Colors:
- MJ-Black-Holo Glitter
- Blazin’ Green UV
- Gold Digger
- Silver-Blue Scale
- 2 3/4 in. – Small to Medium sized rivers
- 3 13/16 in. – Small to large sized rivers
- 4 1/14 in. – large sized rivers and Pier fishing
My Favorite spinner for salmon and steelhead.
Good for shallow to medium depths of up to 8 feet.
Cast straight across the river and retrieve super slow. The current will make this lure spin. keep the rod tip up for shallower water and lower the tip for deeper water. Try to get this 1 or 2 feet off the bottom.
My Best Colors:
- Silver Shiner
- Fluorescent Red-Fluorescent Yellow-Silver UV
- Hot Pepper
- Gold Shiner
- Rainbow Trout
- #3 – Small to Medium sized rivers
- #3&4 in. – Small to large sized rivers
- #4. – large sized rivers and Pier fishing
Little Cleo Spoons
In slower moving water spoons can be a great bait for salmon and steelhead.
Slow retrieve these just off the bottom the same way you would with a Vibrax Spinner.
Size: 2/5oz and 3/4oz
- Hammered Nickel Blue
- Hammered Nickel Green
- Glow Green Splatter
- Glow Blue Anchovy
- Glow Green Anchovy
Jigs For Salmon
Some anglers are using jigs to fish for salmon. You can use them under a float or just cast it with no float and fish them with an up a down jigging motion across the pool as it slowly drifts down the river. I have used both these methods with success on both salmon and steelhead.
Use 1/2oz or 1/4 jigs for casting and retrieving and use 1/16oz , 1/32oz and 1/64oz for below your float.
I have done well with Olive, Black, White and chartreuse but other colors might work for you.
Jigs for Floats – HERE
Jigs for casting –HERE
Best Nets For River Salmon Fishing
Here’s the ting with salmon nets when you are walking and wading the rivers.
If your net is really big and is perfect fro netting, lifting the huge salmon out of the water and onto the bank it’s going to be big, bulky and heavy. Too heavy to hang on the back of your jacket or fishing vest so you’re going to have to carry it by hand and then leave it on shore while you wade out into the water.
There problem is that once you get that huge 3o or 40 pound salmon on the line and it decides to run a half mile down the river your net isn’t with you, it on the bank way up the river. And even if you managed to walk back to the bank while you were fighting the fish you would need to carry it in one hand and fight the fish in the other, but, how do you reel? This is a big problem sometimes!
The other option is a much smaller and lighter net that you can hang off your back so it goes where you go. The problem with these nets is that they are much smaller and often you can’t fit the entire salmon in the net and drag it out of the water.
So what do do?
I have chosen to go with the smaller net.
I get the fish as close to shore as I can and I use the net to just get the head and some or most of the body in the net . The salmon can’t swim away if his head is pushing straight into the net which allows me to subdue the salmon along or on the bank until I can get the hooks out and a quick picture.
Also, with big Chinook salmon they can be tailed. Meaning they can be picked up by the tail due to the hard tail bone so if i need to get the fish to shore once I get it’s head in the net I grab it by the tail.
I never lift the salmon up and out of the water with the smaller nets, I drag them. This has always worked for me and is what I recommend and you may be a little clumsy with it a first but you will get the hang of it.
Frabill Wading Net 19 X15"
I have been using this net for many years for steelhead and salmon when wading. This is my go-to net.
Truthfully it’s not the best net for putting 30lb salmon in, but it’s one of the only nets suitable for salmon and is still small enough that you can hook it to the back of your jacket without it weighing you down.
Get the 19″ x 25″ net for steelhead and salmon.
Best Waders, Boots, Vests and MORE . . . . .
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