The Best Lures for Bank Fishing Salmon: Our Top Picks for Shore Salmon Success

Written by: John Baltes
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I’ve always had an affinity for river fishing. There are a few moments from my younger years that could contribute to that but none more so than salmon fishing. The idea of catching trophy fish without the need for a boat, in rivers that were practically right in my backyard, fascinated me. The more time I spent chasing salmon, the more my love grew for them.

As my knowledge of these fish grew, so did the ways in which I targeted them, but having caught salmon with every possible technique, there's one that I always go back to: casting lures. Casting lures from the river bank or from a pier has caught me more salmon than any other technique combined, and to this day is my favorite way to catch them, not just because it’s extremely effective, but also because it is by far the most exciting.

If you’re looking to start casting lures from shore for big salmon, or if you’re looking for some new options to add to your lineup, look no further. We’ve got you covered with our the top recommendations for lures to catch salmon from the bank.

Quick glance at the best lures for bank fishing salmon:

Related:

Best Lures For Bank Fishing Salmon

Acme Little Cleo

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: ⅓ oz, ⅔ oz, ¼, oz

Recommended Colors: Nickel/Neon Blue, Glow Green, Glow Orange

When it comes to salmon fishing, it’s hard to beat a good spoon. Open water anglers know it and bank anglers know it. The spoons used in the two applications can be completely different, but when it comes to bank fishing, Acme’s Little Cleo is one of the most popular. 

The Little Cleo is one of those lures that I always go back to, no matter how many other spoons I try. The humpback design creates a wobbling action like no other, and that action combined with the thump it produces drives salmon crazy.

Little Cleos are also heavy - even in the smaller sizes - and aerodynamic, making them easy to cast long distances. Whether you’re trying to get out to staging fish from a pier, or you’re fishing wide stretches of river, the castability of this lure will get you places not many other lures will.

For most situations, I prefer the ¼-ounce version. It’s heavy enough that it can be cast a mile, but is still easy to fish in smaller rivers. Salmon are aggressive and territorial fish, especially in the rivers, so lure size is rarely an issue, provided you can work it properly.

There really isn’t a color of Little Cleo that doesn’t work for salmon, but I’ve had some of my best luck with a simple Nickel/Blue. Glow colors are widely popular in the Great Lakes region when salmon are staging, and some of the best fishing can be had during low light or even at night when fish are using the cover of darkness to push upstream.

Pros

  • Unique hump-backed shape produces irresistible wobble and thump
  • Available in a wide variety of colors
  • Suitable for any bank fishing situation
  • Easy to cast

Cons

  • Takes some practice to present the lure properly

Mepps Aglia

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: ⅓ oz (#4), ½ oz (#5)

Recommended Colors: Silver, Gold, Firetiger, Hot Orange

Fishing a spinner could possibly be one of the easiest ways to catch salmon from the bank. Not only do they drive salmon bonkers, but they’re also simple to use, and with a good spinner like the Mepps Aglia, there isn’t a wrong way to work it.

Whether I was fishing big, wide rivers or smaller streams, a spinner was always the first thing I started with and to this day almost always is. More often than not, the spinner of choice is a Mepps Aglia. These lures come in a variety of different configurations, colors and sizes, more than enough to cover any condition or scenario you come across when salmon fishing.

The Aglia is precisely engineered and balanced so that the blade starts spinning the second it hits the water, and continues to do so at any speed, making it perfect for both fast and slow water. That balance and the ‘french’ blade construction creates a combination of flash and vibration that both attracts and infuriates territorial salmon. They love to hate it.

There are plenty of options available as far as size is concerned, but my go-tos are size 4 and size 5. Between these two, you can cover any water type that salmon might be holding in, and they are strong enough to withstand the punishment salmon are known to dish out. With that being said, in smaller rivers I have also caught plenty on a #3, but downsizing will mean that salmon are going to damage the lure much easier.

Like I mentioned with the Little Cleo, I don’t think there is necessarily a wrong color of Mepps, but there are a couple that I favor over others. In water that is crystal clear, or when fish are staging, I like silver or gold. As the water gets dirtier, or the fish are starting to push further upstream, I’ll go with brighter, more aggravating colors like FireTiger or Hot Orange. Of course, this can change day to day and river to river, so it’s always important to have a few choices on hand to experiment with.

Pros

  • Precisely engineered for the perfect spin
  • Consistent flash and vibration at any speed
  • All brass components for perfect balance
  • Wide range of configurations, sizes, and colors

Cons

  • Wire can bend easily

Rapala Shad Rap

Rapala Shad Rap 07 Fishing lure, 2.75-Inch, Baby Bass

Amazon  | Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: 2 ¾” (SR07) and 3 ⅛” (SR08)

Recommended Colors: Firetiger, Hot Tiger, Black Wonder Bread

Crankbaits did not hold a spot in my salmon box for a lot of years, and now I look back and think about the fish that I potentially missed out on by not fishing with them. 

West coast salmon anglers have been capitalizing on the effectiveness of crankbaits for a long time now, but when I first tied one on, casting them from the bank was relatively new in the Great Lakes, and to this day they are highly underutilized.

The Rapala Shad Rap is one of my favorites for catching both staging fish and early running fish. As salmon push further up stream and the spawn looms closer, they stop feeding and start focusing on the task at hand. This is when the Shad Rap can start to lose its luster. But in those first few days to a couple of weeks of the run, salmon hold onto that instinct to feed and it’s during that period when the Shad Rap is one of the best lures to be tossing at them.

Some would argue that even then, it’s nothing more than a reactionary bite, and that may very well be true, but there is no denying that the more subtle swimming action of the Shad Rap when compared to the wide wobble of traditional salmon cranks appeals more to salmon that have yet to start spawning.

There are two sizes that I would recommend using in the Great Lakes region; the SR07 and the SR08. Both closely resemble the size of bait fish that salmon feed on in the open water and are large enough to effectively cast out into the further reaches of the big water these lures are most effective in.

The list of colors that will catch salmon could be a lengthy one, but no color is as consistent as Firetiger. Like with any lure that can change day to day, but no matter the water or weather conditions, Firetiger works and works very well.

Pros

  • Proven fish catching action closely mimics bait fish
  • Easy to use with a simple cast and retrieve
  • Deep-diving to get down to salmon holding in deeper water
  • Sharp and strong treble hooks for good penetration and holding power

Cons

  • Balsa wood construction does not hold up well to big aggressive salmon

Blue Fox Vibrax

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: ¼ oz (#3), ⅜ oz (#4), 7/16 oz (#5)

Recommended Colors: Silver, Copper, Firetiger, Silver/Chrome Blue

While there are numerous options as far as spinners for salmon are concerned, there are only two that take up space in my box: the Mepps Aglia that I talked about earlier, and the Blue Fox Vibrax.

You really can’t go wrong with either one, but the Vibrax is a spinner that adds extra low-frequency vibration with its patented two piece body. The flash and vibration of regular spinners can trigger salmon in any situation, but when you’re looking to get that reactionary strike, or water conditions are less than ideal, a Vibrax spinner is the way to go.

Another excellent feature of the Vibrax is the 30 degree angled blade that not only spins freely but virtually eliminates the line twist that inline spinners are famous for. Without the headache of twisted line, this spinner can be fished with ease all day long.

Even in the smaller sizes the Vibrax is heavy and easy to cast, but that weight can make it harder to use in smaller rivers as it will sink quickly and can get hung up easily. That’s a problem that can be solved by running the smaller #3 size and paying close attention to lure control. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend using smaller lures for powerful, aggressive salmon, but the solid construction and strong treble hook of the Vibrax has no problem holding up.

You may have noticed a common theme as far as color is concerned with alot of these lures, but again Firetiger is often a go to in any water condition. It’s simply a color that salmon, especially chinook, go crazy for. The appeal of the Vibrax however is the flash and vibration, so any color combination will work. Experiment with a few until you find one that you’re most confident in.

Pros

  • Two piece body creates a unique low frequency vibration
  • 30 degree blade greatly reduces line twist
  • Heavy and easy to cast
  • Blade spins with little effort and continues to do so at any speed

Cons

  • Larger sizes can sink quickly and get hung up easily

Rapala Jointed Minnow

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: 4 ⅜” (J11)

Recommended Colors: Gold Fluorescent Red, Firetiger, Blue

The Rapala Jointed Minnow is a Great Lakes salmon killer. Anyone fishing the rivers for salmon should have a couple of these on hand at all times. More common for anglers that are fishing piers for staging fish, the Jointed Minnow is just as effective as salmon push upstream and are holding in slower water pools.

The articulating body of the Jointed Minnow provides an action that is second to none, and it’s often a lure that will trigger a salmon when no other lure can. Because of the incredible action right out of the box, it’s a lure that doesn’t need any extra work to entice fish and a simple, slow retrieve will get the job done.

As with any lure on this list, the size you use is going to be dependent on the water you’re fishing but the J11 is the most universal of the bunch. It’s big enough that it can fish well in open water close to the lake, but isn’t so big that it can’t effectively be fished in the smaller pools further upstream. The only downside would be that the lure doesn’t dive too deep and while that's not a problem in the shallower pools, it may not dive deep enough to get down in the strike zone when water is more than 10 feet deep. That can easily be solved, however, with the addition of a couple of split shot added to the line.

The color I turn to most is Gold Fluorescent Red, and it’s possibly the most popular color amongst Great Lakes salmon anglers for the simple reason that it works in any condition, day or night. That doesn't mean that other colors won’t produce just as many fish, and colors like Firetiger and Blue are also great options.

Pros

  • Articulated “broken back” design creates irresistible action
  • Ultra-strong and sharp nickel treble hooks
  • Perfectly suited for the slow water salmon often hold in
  • Each lure is hand tuned and tank tested for perfect action right out of the box

Cons

  • Balsa wood construction does not hold up well to multiple salmon

Aerojig Salmon Twitching Jig

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: ⅜ oz, ½ oz

Recommended Colors: Cerise, Chartreuse, Purple/Black

Of all the lures on this list, twitching jigs are the newcomer to the salmon game, and while they’re wildly popular for coho salmon on the west coast, they’re rarely, if ever seen in the Great Lakes.

Over the past few years I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with twitching jigs and I’ve discovered that not only do they work for coho, but chinook will crush them as well. Because they’re hitting the jig out of pure aggravation, strikes are hard and fast, and the jig not only has to hold up to that, but needs to be strong enough to hold onto that fish after the hook is set.

Aerojig’s Salmon Twitching Jig combines enticing action with high quality materials and super strong and sharp Gamakatsu hooks that won’t straighten under the load of even the heaviest salmon. I’ve tried more than a few different twitching jigs and the Aerojig’s quality is a cut above the rest.

Twitching jigs can take a little practice to get the perfect retrieve, especially when fishing from the bank, but that practice will pay off with some of the most heart pounding salmon action around. Even when fishing slower water, the heavier the jig the better. Not only does the weight help with long accurate casts, but the jig drops quickly on slack line giving salmon very little time to decide whether or not to strike.

If you’re chasing river coho salmon ,it’s hard to beat a purple/black combination. Coho love purple, and it’s a color that works well in both clear and dirty water.

If you’re after chinook on the other hand, bright obnoxious colors are the way to go. With a twitching jig you’re not trying to replicate anything salmon perceive as food, but instead you’re doing what you can to anger them so much they can’t help but attack.

Pros

  • Every jig uses the highest quality material
  • 4X Gamakatsu hook provides excellent holding power and will not straighten
  • Jig head is powder coated and chip resistant
  • Surprisingly durable

Cons

  • The technique can take some practice to get right

Reef Runner Deep Diver 800

Bass Pro

Recommended Sizes: 4 ½”, 4 ¾”

Recommended Colors: Firetiger, Confetti, Blue Wonderbread

Well known in the walleye community as one of the best trolling crankbaits on the market, the Reef Runner Deep Diver 800 is a lure rarely used to catch salmon from shore. While not a lure suitable for small river applications, this lure works wonders when fishing for deeper water staging fishing in the late summer. 

A lure that floats on rest, but can dive to depths over 20 feet on retrieve, the Reef Runner is perfect for casting off piers and works just as well at night as it does during the day thanks to the fish attracting power of its aggressive ‘kicking’ action and loud rattle. With two sharp and strong Eagle Claw hooks, even the biggest, strongest salmon will have a hard time shaking free once hooked.

Both the 4 ½ inch and the 4 ¾ inch versions are perfect for staging salmon, and while the size difference may not seem like that big of a deal, its a good idea to carry a couple of each as that ¼ inch difference can sometimes be the deciding factor in whether or not you catch fish. I’ve seen days where fish won’t give the smaller size a second glance, but switch it up and they go crazy.

Once again, Firetiger is my go to color in any condition, but if salmon are a little more selective on what they’re going after, Confetti is a very close second and a color that can attract more finicky fish. The Reef Runner 800 comes in a wide range of colors, so it’s a good idea to experiment, but those are the two colors I would recommend starting with, branching out from there.

Pros

  • Deep-diving to quickly get down to the strike zone of staging fish
  • Unique banana shape produces an aggressive kicking action
  • Loud rattles attract fish in any water condition
  • Durable hard body construction

Cons

  • Doesn’t always run true out of the box and may require some tuning

What To Consider When Selecting The Best Lures For Salmon Fishing

It isn’t always going to be easy to try and figure out what lure is going to be best for salmon on any given day. There will be days when it seems like it doesn’t matter what you throw, you’re catching fish, but there are also going to be those days where it seems like you just can’t get it right. Regardless of how good or bad the fishing is, there are always a couple of things to consider when choosing the best lure.

Run Timing

Nothing is more important when bank fishing for salmon than run timing. Too early and fish won’t be within bank fishing range. Too late and they could be pushed way up stream, or worse yet gone entirely. 

Run timing also plays a huge role in what lure is going to work best. In most Great Lakes tributaries, the salmon run peaks somewhere between mid-September and early October, but there are rivers, especially spring fed ones with some natural reproduction, that will see salmon starting to stage and even run in July.

It’s those staging, or early run fish that are going to be more apt to hit a crankbait, and during those early weeks of the run, I’ll use crankbaits almost exclusively.

As the season progresses and salmon are more focused on the spawn, crankbaits will lose their appeal, and many salmon anglers are under the impression that most lures do. It’s true that salmon are no longer feeding at this point, so instead you’re focusing on taking advantage of their aggressive and territorial spawning behavior. Lures with lots of attracting power like spinners or spoons are going to be ideal for fish that have been in the river longer. The flash, vibration, and thump of a good spinner or spoon will infuriate them to the point where they have no choice but to attack.

Water Conditions

Whether fishing the west coast or the Great Lakes, one of the most frustrating things for river salmon anglers is how quickly water conditions can change. And that doesn't always mean drastic changes, but even a subtle change can affect the way salmon behave and a lure that worked great one day, may not work at all the next.

Salmon aren’t always as selective as other river fish when it comes to lure color, and a lure that would normally be reserved for dirty water conditions can often work just as well in clear water. 

Even in dirty water, while color can play a role, noise and vibration are more of a factor than anything else. Use a lure that calls out to salmon and they will find it, no matter what color it is.

Day vs. Night

Staging salmon like to use the cover of darkness to start their push upstream, especially during the low water periods of late summer and early fall. Many Great Lakes pier anglers prefer to fish at night as it can be some of the most productive fishing of the season. 

Glowing lures like Little Cleo spoons are amongst the top choices for fishing at night, but lures that have a little extra attraction like a rattle or lots of vibration can work just as well.

During the day, salmon in the rivers seek out deep, slow moving water to both rest and take advantage of the extra cover that deeper water provides. While there often isn’t a wrong lure choice during the day, lures that can produce a good amount of flash like a spinner or spoon are often good choices to entice slumbering daytime fish.

Final Thoughts

Every river salmon angler is going to have their preferred method for catching these incredible fish. For me, and many like me, that method is casting lures. Whether you agree or not, there's no disputing the fact that fishing lures is one of the most exciting, fast-paced, and effective ways to entice fish that otherwise have bigger and better things on their mind than what their next meal is going to be.

Maybe you’re looking to get into salmon fishing from the bank, or maybe you’re looking to add some more to your lineup. Whatever the case may be, we hope we were able to help narrow things down for you. Leave us a comment and let us know!

About The Author
John Baltes
Chief Editor & Contributor
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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