Gear Up For Salmon: Best Fishing Line For Every Situation

Sport fishing for salmon is as popular as ever but opportunities to catch these amazing fish are hard to come by for most anglers.  When you put in the time and money that salmon fishing demands, don’t blow your chances by using the wrong fishing line.  

The only thing separating you from a giant chinook or a chrome-bright coho pegged on your lure is a single strand of fishing line.  Using unsuitable line for the situation almost always ends in a lost fish.  Don’t let this be you.  

Certainly, picking the best brand and type of fishing line for salmon is a challenge.  Dozens of brands all compete for your attention.  As you gain experience targeting salmon in various situations, your preferences toward line selection will evolve.

For those looking for the quick answer, here it is.  

The best fishing line for salmon depends on your technique.  For trolling, 20-30 pound test monofilament or 40-65 pound test braid in certain situations is best.  Drift fishing, plunking and float fishing in rivers for salmon demands more subtlety so 10-20 pound test copolymer or braided mainline with appropriate leaders is ideal.

Obviously, that answer is hardly the final say on the matter.  If you’re ready to gear up right for salmon this season, continue reading for a truly in-depth fishing line guide that will help you catch more fish. You’ll find all the different lines in this article at BassPro Shops.

Best fishing line for salmon by technique

We all have our preferred methods for chasing down salmon and each requires a slightly different setup.  Let’s take a look at seven of the most common salmon fishing tactics to see which fishing line should be your first pick.


One of the most popular ways to catch salmon in saltwater is by trolling.  Most anglers use some sort of dodger or flasher in combination with cut herring, plugs, hoochies or spoons.  In most cases, you’ll be trolling with downriggers or divers in an attempt to reach deeper water.  

Saltwater salmon trolling is a demanding environment and not just any line will cut it.

Our first choice for salmon trolling line is 20-30 pound test Maxima Ultragreen monofilament.  The reason for this?  Monofilament has stretch that acts as a shock absorber during crushing strikes and powerful runs.  Mono also holds better in downrigger clips while braid tends to slip free.  

A potential draw back with mono is line thickness.  Thick line adds resistance when trolling which means getting down deep using divers is tough.  In this case, 50 pound test Power Pro braid is nearly half the diameter so it will cut through water with ease and push deeper with the same size diver.  Of course, line thickness is a moot point when using downriggers.

More and more anglers prefer trolling with braid for its long life, strength, abrasion resistance and thin diameter.  If you too like the idea of using braid to troll for salmon, keep the following in mind.

  • It does not stretch so consider adding 50-100 feet of mono as a leader for shock absorbance.  Mono will also stay better in downrigger clips.
  • Don’t go too light with braid.  The thin line not only won’t stay clipped on a downrigger, it also tends to bite into your reel spool and bind.  Use 50 pound test braid or higher for trolling.
  • Braid will cost significantly more to fill your reel than monofilament.  For that reason, some anglers under spool the reel and their retrieval speed takes a hit.  That’s a problem when fighting salmon that rocket straight at you and you can’t reel fast enough to keep tension.


While we enjoy trolling, mooching is how we get back to the basics.  Not to mention, it is an exceptionally successful method of targeting big, hungry kings that stalk schools of baitfish.  

Mooching is primarily a vertical fishing method where you drift with the current while jigging a plug cut herring right in the strike zone of feeding fish.  In the world of saltwater salmon fishing, mooching is as finesse as it gets. 

That’s why we prefer lighter line than for trolling.  For mooching, a 15-20 pound test hi-vis monofilament main line with a 20-30 pound clear mono leader fits the bill for most situations.  

We step up the leader size because salmon have sharp abrasive teeth and a heavy leader will resist nicks and cuts better.  Actively feeding chinook and coho also are not very line shy.

A hi-vis main line like Berkley Big Game Hi-Vis Green is intended to help you see the angle of your line to gauge drift and depth.  A lighter weight line helps reduce resistance in the water and therefore keeps your bait deeper even in heavy current.  

Skip the braid when mooching unless you are going especially deep.  Moochers often get their main line and leader tangled when their gear gets perfectly vertical.  This occurs on the days without wind or current.  Monofilament is much easier to untangle than braid. 

You also don’t need the sensitivity of braid for mooching.  In fact, you’re better off letting salmon chew on the herring for a few seconds more before setting the hook, so feeling the first bite isn’t essential.  At most mooching depths, around 60-120 feet, line stretch won’t effect your hook sets too much.  Assuming you have the right rod and reel setup.


Jigging is similar to mooching except you are substituting cut herring for lead or steel jigs.  Saltwater jigging is a highly productive technique for fishing specific depths and covering lots of water fast.  

Most salmon anglers use 2-6 ounce white or chrome jigs.  Jigging while drifting with the current or wind as you would with mooching is very effective.  Casting and letting the jig sink to a desired depth and working it back is also a great way to cover water when salmon are on the move.  

Jigging is fast paced and salmon hit with a vengeance.  Therefore, a 15 or 20 pound test Power Pro Spectra mainline is key.  Braid helps your jig get deep faster than mono.  It also results in better hookups from slashing strikes common on jigs.  

It’s a good idea to also use a 3-6 foot 25-30 pound test mono leader.  It provides some shock absorbance and a little more stealth than straight braid. 

Drift fishing

Once salmon leave the saltwater and make their way up river, your fishing tactics need to change.  As does the fishing line you gear up with.  

Drift fishing in rivers is by far the most widely used technique for salmon.  Whether we are chasing pinks, coho or chinook, the right line has helped us feel more bites and land bigger fish.  

Without question, copolymer lines have brought a huge advantage to salmon anglers in the river.  We specifically like P-Line CXX X-TRA Strong copolymer in 12-25 pound test.  

It handles the abuse of bouncing along rocky river beds and toothy salmon like a champ.  You can go all day without changing out a section of line and still confidently land a big salmon.  Copolymer also has enough stiffness to help track its drift and detect bites.  Unlike braid, it won’t wrap around your rod tip.  We also like the incredible knot strength of copolymer lines.

When you know pinks or coho are your intended target, use 10-15 pound test P-Line CXX for your main line.  Step it up to 20 or 25 pound test if larger chinook are a possibility.  If in doubt, error on the heavier side when picking your line.


I know plenty of anglers who are avid plunkers in large rivers in the Pacific Northwest.  They all have their favorite setup, favorite Kwikfish and, of course, their favorite line.  

With plunking, the goal is to cast and anchor your lure in the path of migrating salmon.  Any time you pin your line to a river bottom, snags and abrasion take their toll.  Consequently, heavy line is preferred. 

We recommend 40-50 pound test monofilament mainline such as Berkley Big Game or Maxima Ultragreen.  Add to that a 30-40 pound test mono leader and you’re all set.  You can avoid loosing lures and breaking off line by using 10-15 pound test line on your dropper weight.  That way the weight breaks free and you can retrieve your expensive gear.

Float fishing

One of the easiest and most effective ways to catch salmon from the river bank or a boat is float fishing.  Essentially, it is a glorified bobber setup for salmon.  Float fishing lets you cover water and keeps your bait drifting in the strike zone without snagging bottom.

Of all the types of fishing, float fishing garners the most diverse opinions for line choice.  Everyone has their favorites.  Copolymers and braid have their place and each have led to plenty of salmon on the bank.  However, no technique punishes anglers for improper line management more than float fishing.  So getting the best line pays off. 

If you want to get your float fishing skills dialed in on the first go around, try 15-30 pound test P-Line Hydrofloat.  It is designed specifically for float fishermen.  This zero stretch spectra line is plastic coated to enable perfect line mends and buoyancy in just about any river condition.  

Fly fishing

Fly fishing for salmon takes things to a whole new level.  If you thought finding the right line for trolling was tough, fly fishermen contend with even more choices and technique specific options.  

You can really go off the deep end here but let’s keep it simple.  Most salmon anglers working with fly fishing gear are casting streamers in rivers or presenting bucktail style flies in saltwater.  

For streamer fishing in rivers, versatility is paramount.  Fly fishermen constantly switch out flies and face ever changing river currents.  One line comes to mind that will tackle any situation salmon anglers face.  Our first choice for fly line is RIO InTouch Salmon/Steelhead Fly Line.  

RIO fly lines offer the best fly control at long distances and the right balance in weight and flexibility for mending, spey or roll casting.  Overall fly control is excellent for improved presentation.

For those interested in the challenge of catching salmon on the fly in saltwater, sinking line and weighted flies are common choices.  Some of the best salmon fishing on the fly occurs during pink runs.  Pink salmon often spend a great deal of time near the surface.  A sinking fly line keeps bucktail or weighted flies in the right zone.

Scientific Angler’s Sonar Titan Triple Density Sinking Line is an ideal choice for delivering your fly beneath the surface.  It casts easy yet provides an even sink rate for the best presentations.

What about fluorocarbon line

We have yet to mention fluorocarbon line in our discussion of salmon fishing.  The thing is, there is not always a good reason to use fluoro and salmon fishing is one such instance.  Unless you are fishing in the ultra-clear waters of Alaska, fluoro line just isn’t necessary.  

Salmon are really not that line shy so an invisible leader material, for which fluoro was made, is not needed.  Don’t get me wrong, using fluoro line is fine, just use it wisely.  Keep in mind that if you feel the need for fluoro, you can get away with a heavier leader since its diameter is smaller than comparable strength mono. 

Fluorocarbon is also prone to knot failure if not properly wetted before cinching down.  Fluoro has come a long ways and when the situation demands it, you should have some on hand.  

We recommend 15-20 pound test P-Line Fluorocarbon leader designed for salmon and steelhead.  

Final thoughts

It takes years of salmon fishing to refine your skills and find the best line that works in all situations.  In fact, it is a never ending journey that we still embark on.  Over time, we find what works and while you may not like some of the lines we use for salmon, that’s okay.  

Eventually, you too will learn what works and what doesn’t.  Use some of the advice in this article and you’ll be spared some of our hard learned lessons.  In the end, we hope these tips will you can catch more salmon this season.

Get more fishing line recommendations by checking out our guides to the best lines for trout and bass!