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Fishing Lures for Steelhead & Salmon

by Vic Carrao

Over the years I have learned many new or maybe I should say old techniques for fishing for steelhead and salmon. Here on the west coast we fish a unique style that is rarely seen anywhere else in the country. Although float fishing has been used in the east coast for years our style of fishing with a float is quite different. We fish bait, plastics and spinners under our floats which is very effective, in fact most anglers I fish with from out of town think that our method is far more controlled and effective than the methods they use.

If you where to go down south to Washington or Oregon, you would see a completely different style of fishing. The preferred method is bottom bouncing from shore or pulling plugs from a drift or jet boat. These methods are very effective in the right type of water. The down side to their methods is that the water they fish must be specific to the method. You can't pull plugs in fast shallow water or under an overhang or under a log lying in the river, you can't bottom bounce a boulder run or a run filled with trees, branches or large stones. Some of the best holding water for steelhead and salmon are being passed by because the method doesn't suite the water type. Float fishing opens up more fishable water to the angler. Could you image trying to bottom bounce the Tamahi?

Most of our steelhead and salmon rivers are fished from shore; the Vedder and Chehalis are the two most popular. Float fishing is really the best method for fishing these rivers, if we were to only bottom bounce baits and lures we would be limiting ourselves to fishing 10 % of the river. Having said that there is a time and a place for fishing lures. Lures are and can be very productive; in fact lures can out fish float fishing in specific types of water if you know where and how to use them.

Lures are best suited for ultra slow water, the type of water too slow for an effective float drift. Lures are also very good for fishing the deeper water where you can't reach the bottom with a float set up, it is also productive in some of the larger runs where it would take all day to cover every lie in the run. Before I go any further I would like to caution anyone planning on fishing lures on the Vedder or Chehalis. Lure and float fishing don't mix, what I mean is, if you were to begin casting a lure on a run that anglers are float fishing the chances of tangling lines is high. You might find yourself in an ugly situation and possibly swimming if you were to continually cross lines with other anglers.

This would be no different than if you were to go down south and try float fishing where all the other anglers were bottom bouncing, they just don't fish well together.

Fishing with lures is quite simple, cast across the current and allow your lure to sink, begin a slow retrieve as the lure is swept down river. This will limit the amount of snagging on the bottom. The Key is to try to get the slowest action possible on the lure while still keeping it above the river bottom but as close to the bottom as possible. Once you have snagged bottom a few times you should be able to determine the retrieve speed need to effectively fish the run. When we fish salmon we use the same technique, the slower the action the better the action!

There are many lures available on the market today that catch fish; many catch more anglers than fish. Over the years I have tried many lures for both salmon and steelhead, it seems as though no matter how many lures you have, you always go back to old faithful. The lure that catches fish time and time again, the one that Dad used and probably his Dad used are still the best lures today. Gibbs/ Nortac produces most of my favorite lures. A local company who produces lures from their Burnaby plant. Syd Pallister, owner of Gibbs, is the grandson of Len Thompson. Thompson Lures have been around since the 1930's and produce some of the best salt and freshwater spoons and lures available on the market today. The Kit-A-Mat and Koho spoons are just two of the spoons that have made Gibbs/ Nortac what they are today, the largest tackle manufactures in Canada.

My two favorite Steelhead spoons are the Koho spoon and Ironhead; the Ironhead has a special place in my box, as it has been my number one Steelhead spoon the past two years. I know this is beginning to sound like a commercial for Gibbs but the fact is they have a great product. For Coho the number one lure (don't leave home without it type) is the Gibbs Croc 3/8 hammered brass fire strip, (my best day this year 22 Coho) for Chinook salmon the Kit-A-Mat # 45 and # 55 for casting and # 55 and # 65 for trolling. Pink Salmon likes Gibbs as well; the Ultra Lure in Pink or Pink/ Chartreuse is deadly, in 1999 when we lasted had a Pink run the local tackle stores sold out of them, that tells you something. These are not the only lures that catch fish, Lure Jensen makes some good lures as well but I have found that Gibbs have a far better selection for our area, techniques and species.

Remember, if you plan on trying spoons for steelhead, be courteous to other anglers and give float fisher's the right of way.

Good luck and will see you on the river.

You can e-mail your comments to Vic @

Tight lines and hope to see on the water
Vic Carrao
STS Guiding Service

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