Salmon fishing bait has to attract a fish that isn't hungry and may be tired and sluggish, depending on where they are in they spawning run. Ordinary lures and rigs may not work. When thinking of what will draw the finicky river salmon, think in extremes for the best result.
Salmon intuitively return the to place of their birth. They navigate strictly through their sense of smell—they follow the scent. It's the most dominant sense during runs, and the fisherman must work with it.
So the best salmon fishing bait during spawn runs up a river are the ones that have strong scents. Sparkling lures and spinners can get their attention, but bait that has a very strong scent that will keep it long enough to gain a strike.
Precisely what strongly scented salmon fishing bait works depends on the time of year, the kind of salmon being targeted and how early in the run you fish.
Fishermen in the Great Lakes region swear by skein, especially cut skein, that salmon practically sit up and beg to get. Whether in used in pouches or on spoons, Wobble glo, or hooks, salmon love skein. Using fresh spawn right out of fish may work well enough, but allowing it to age a few hours or overnight toughens it and aids it in staying where you put it. Skein also works well in Alaskan waters.
Herring is popular in the Pacific Northwest. Frozen herring, whether whole or cut, works well in trolling, specially if it rolls in the water, a bait technique called cut plug or plug cut herring. It takes a bit more effort than a head cut, but both bait cuts work well enough to catch strikes. Saltwater salmon will strike at just about any attractive bait, but those in the inland rivers are much more finicky. Herring works well in the Great Lakes area if skein isn't popular with the salmon on any given day.
Tuna—oily, high-octane, odoriferous tuna—rolled into balls and cast on a jig extends a central to south Pacific coast strike zone that can reach inland several hundred miles during the early spring or late autumn runs, depending on the type of salmon running.
Any colorful, shiny spinner, spoon or draw assembly has a chance to work. Because salmon don't actually eat on their runs but live off stored body fat, it's the attraction that counts. What salmon fishing bait is used will 'seal the deal' on a strike, but anything that presents a bright contrast to the salmon's environment will entice the aggressive side out. The scent of the bait takes over from that point.
Salmon are scent-oriented. Bait casting, regardless of location, type of water or type of fish, some of the most effective salmon fishing bait are the ones that have bold and pungent scents.