Plugging for Salmon: Unveiling the Art of Angling

Video plugging for salmon

Discover the Untapped Potential of Salmon Plugs

Salmon plugs have long been cherished by avid anglers, both in the commercial and sports fishing realms. Back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, if you were vying for supremacy in a salmon derby, you were likely wielding a trusty plug. While spoons with their vibrant hues, finishes, and enticing actions have gained popularity among skilled anglers, many fail to recognize the hidden advantages that plugs bring to the table.

The Advantages of Plugs

Plugs have evolved to offer the same diverse range of colors, UV enhancements, and flashy finishes as their spoon counterparts. This means that they possess the right tools to entice even the most elusive salmon.

Moreover, plugs are known for their ability to “match the hatch.” During the winter months, when salmon voraciously feed on spawning squid in Puget Sound, plugs effortlessly mimic the size and behavior of this essential bait source. In the peak of summer, when larger herring dominate the feeding grounds, the use of plugs ensures that you’re presenting a bait that perfectly mirrors the available prey, maximizing your chances of success.

Unlike spoons, plugs are best fished solo, without the hindrance of a flasher. By eliminating the drag caused by a flasher when a salmon bites, you’ll experience a far more enjoyable fight. And let’s not forget the best part – by opting for plugs, you’ll catch fewer but substantially larger salmon, while minimizing the number of undersized “shakers” that end up on your line.

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Mastering the Art of Plug Fishing

Now that you know the perks of using plugs, let’s dive into the most effective techniques for fishing them.

On my boat, the first line I cast into the water is equipped with a flasher, trailed by a Silver Horde spoon, a Gold Star Squid, or a Pro Troll E-Rotary Bait Holder – all adorned with a brined herring or herring filet. The combination of a flasher and the irresistible vibrations it produces is a surefire way to attract salmon. However, it’s crucial to note that plugs aren’t designed to be used in conjunction with flashers, except in specific situations.

On the opposite side of the boat, I recommend dropping a plug. If you’re fishing alone and have just one rod out, you can boost your chances by employing the “Ace in the Hole” or “False Flasher” method. This involves attaching a flasher directly to your downrigger ball, sans lure. Position your “False Flasher” approximately 6 to 10 feet behind your downrigger ball, then run your line release with the plug set 10 feet above the “False Flasher.” Lastly, drop your plug back 25 to 35 feet from your release.

When fishing with two rods, extend your flasher and lure 20 to 25 feet behind your release for the deeper rod. On the opposite side, drop your plug 10 feet higher and back it up 35 feet.


If a salmon doesn’t take the bait on your flasher, underwater videos reveal that they often turn away, giving the plug trailing further behind a prime opportunity to be in their striking range. This is when you can expect powerful strikes as the salmon lunges towards the receding plug.

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Here’s a pro tip: when you bring your lures up to inspect them, release the plug first and let it float to the surface. By doing so, it will retain its natural action and gradually ascend. Secure the plug rod back into a rod holder, and then bring up your flasher unit using the downrigger. This method prevents tangled lines. Interestingly, I manage to hook 5 or 6 Chinook each year during this process, as they strike while the plug gracefully floats upward.

To ensure optimal performance, I recommend fishing plugs on your reel’s line with a Sampo Ball Bearing Swivel, approximately 6 feet above the plug. Employ a 25 lb leader from the swivel to the plug. Due to barbless hook regulations, this setup minimizes the chances of a twisting, jumping salmon shaking free.

Choosing the Perfect Plug

Within the realm of plugs, my personal favorites are the Silver Horde 4 and 5-inch plugs, equipped with a cupped face. In the winter, I’ve had exceptional results using dark green shades, while lighter greens and whites have proven themselves as formidable options during the summer season. Additionally, always opt for a rattle plug, as the auditory appeal serves as an irresistible call to fish.

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