Salmon fly fishing for the novice angler
- catch your first salmon

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Your first (oh so elusive) salmon (article and pictures by Ally Gowans)

salmon fishing
First salmon

A few anglers cut their teeth with salmon but for most of us trying to catch a salmon becomes an ambition during the later years of our apprenticeship, having started our careers with rather easier species, perhaps with coarse fish or trout. Trout are the usual steppingstones to the "king of fish". Especially river trout since they behave a like miniature salmon in so far as the locations of the lies that they occupy within trout streams. Fishing for river trout also educates the angler in important matters like reading the water and the approach to a wild quarry, something that must never be forgotten nor can its importance ever be underestimated. Salmon are noble creatures, masters within their environment and unlikely to take flight at the intrusion of a fleeting shadow in the same way that trout may react to a passer. Do not let that fool you, they are every bit as aware of danger and may well be disinclined to take any interest in your fly as a consequence of detecting your presence. When I started fishing my father imparted various bits of advice one of which was to treat fish like rabbits or deer and approach where they might be with extreme caution. Trout anglers appreciate this well enough but salmon anglers sometimes completely ruin their chances of success by wading too deep, appearing on the skyline or by being just being too clumsy in other ways.

So my first rule is be cautious, try to figure out where salmon might be lying and get yourself into a suitable position to cover them as discretely as possible. Discovering where they might be residing is of course another learning curve for the beginner. Salmon have a fairly simple strategy in fresh water and that is to reach the spawning grounds safely and without expending any energy unnecessarily. They seek out sheltered eases in the current and by balancing and trimming their bodies against the flow they can maintain position with little or no effort. This does not mean that they will be found in dead water. They may well be in fast streams, particularly when the water is warm but they are always in comfort. They may be in front or behind a rock, in a depression in the riverbed, against a bank, in fact anywhere that allows them to save their energy for upstream migration. Whilst they are "running" they can be caught as they are passing through, and usually in water that is too shallow to hold them at normal heights.

Salmon do not feed in freshwater. Their stomach atrophies and it is physically impossible for them to digest. If they did feed they would probably be easy to catch, instead the fly angler is faced with the proposition of fishing for a fish that cannot eat with something that it could not eat even if it were capable. It has been said that it is not surprising that salmon are difficult to catch, it is amazing that they can be caught at all! What this means to the angler is that instead of imitating food items as he might for trout, he must provide a stimulus that causes salmon to react by taking the fly. This he does by studying temperature, water height, river size and the flow to come up with a likely solution. Fish are cold blooded. At low temperatures they are slow moving and require large attractions to turn them on, at higher temperatures they can expend more energy and they become more sensitive, therefore small flies are attractive. If the temperature gets too high the dissolved oxygen content of the water is reduced and the fish become lethargic. At water temperatures of mid seventies Fahrenheit or higher adult salmon become very uncomfortable and are easily stressed. Any increase in temperature may cause fatalities. From the angler's point of view therefore a range of temperatures between 32 degrees F and 70 degrees F is acceptable. Peak fishing action can be expected when the water temperature is between 47 degrees and 60 degrees.

At low temperatures it is necessary to fish large flies as close to the fish as possible and since they will be near the bottom, in deep pools the fly must therefore be fished on a sunk line. Perhaps even more importantly the fly must be fished on a fairly slow swing, almost hanging it over the lies if possible. Flies designs can be chosen to help to achieve the desired presentation. For cold water, heavy flies may be useful and in warm water tiny plastic tubes are probably the lightest and most active type.

The most basic difference between salmon fly-fishing and other quarry species is therefore the special mindset that relies on causing the fish to react to take the fly almost involuntarily, because the combination of fly size, presentation and conditions hit the hot spot in the salmon's brain.

Perhaps the most practical means of learning to fish for salmon with a better than average chance of success is to accompany accomplished anglers and study their methods. Alternatively book some lessons from an expert. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.