Fly fishing for salmon in summer
- a hot time

fly fishing for atlantic salmon in summer

Summer salmon fly fishing (article and pictures by Ally Gowans)

summer salmon fishing
Summer salmon fishing

Long, warm summer days are fine for touring and sun bathing but a hot, dry summer can be a nightmare for the angler. Rivers shrink to trickles, the water warms up and salmon become more uncooperative than usual. Salmon are a cold-water species; they do not enjoy high water temperature. If the water temperature exceeds 21 degrees C they are likely to be affected by stress due to the combined effect of low water and the heat, making them more susceptible to disease. In extreme conditions any disturbance can exacerbate the problem and it is better to leave the river well alone. Fortunately due to the vagaries of British weather such incidences seldom occur here however we must be aware that global warming could worsen the situation in future. Maritime provinces of eastern Canada are not so fortunate and there is it not unusual for angling to be stopped or limited to certain periods when conditions deteriorate.

Having got the bad news out of the way it's time to look at the opportunities that the summer angler can enjoy. When fish are confined to pools due to drought, instinct tells them to shelter and lie low to conserve energy and reduce the risk of attracting predators, especially during daylight. Whilst one can never be certain when a salmon might take a fly, in low, warm water the most reliable periods are when the sun is not on the water. Another influence upon their behaviour is air temperature. When the air is colder than the water their keenness to rise to the fly is suppressed, but the minute the air temperature rises is a well known taking time. It is easy to tell whether the water is warmer than the air without resorting to measuring temperatures. Cold air over water produces vapor and a low mist over the surface is a sure sign of it. When the air warms up, the mist disappears. Experienced anglers and ghillies are very much aware of this phenomenon and are quick to advise that fishing is no use when there is mist on the water.

Given the salmon's dislike for bright sunlight it is easy to predict that dull days are best during summer, as indeed they are. In fact even brief shade from a passing cloud is a better opportunity than blue sky. Thankfully there are at least two periods during the day when shade can be guaranteed, namely at dusk and dawn. These are the prime times for summer salmon fishing.

Dusk is by far the most convenient time to be out. Chances of success are determined by a number of factors, including the likelihood of disturbance to the pools during the day. My advice is to avoid if possible any pools that have been used by bathers, dogs, canoeists and the like, although in practice the latter cause little disturbance to salmon. Seek out places that have been left in peace during the day. Study your options carefully because most beats have of pools at different aspects and varying degrees of shade from trees, high banks and the like. Pools that are shaded earlier in the evening can be fished after the sun leaves them and fishing them in order of shading lengthens the period of good opportunity. Warm, balmy evenings are best and it is usually advisable to concentrate on streams and pocket water before tackling glides. Often a drop in air temperature that unfortunately can curtail prospects and bring about an early cessation accompanies the setting sun. This is not a problem at dawn however.

There can be few more magical experiences than the dawn of a summer morning. The short night means an early rise and little sleep, compensation is provided by countryside deserted by humans and populated by birds and animals rarely seen in the open by day. Occasionally mists hang over the water in which case my choice is to attempt to fish the pool that offers the best opportunity just at that special time as the mist lifts. Apart from that, the best plan is to fish pools in the order that the sun will strike them to take full advantage of shade and fish effectively for as long as possible until the full light of day appears.

Low clear water means that the angler has to adopt a very careful approach to the river and present his fly as softly as possible to avoid disturbance. These conditions call for small flies, #10, 12 or even smaller. Tiny plastic tubes provide more movement than dressed trebles or doubles and are very effective when fished close to the surface, especially in low water. Strong silhouettes, dark patterns like Stoats Tail, Blue Charm, Tosh and Arndilly Fancy do well on a floating line. Choosing a line weight as light as possible helps to give better presentation and more movement in the soft flows of a low river. Often a single-handed rod is the better choice where subtlety is desired and my personal favourite would be an AFTM 7 or 8 rod of around 10 feet in length. An alternative is to use a light double-handed rod with a long leader, say up to 15 feet to ensure delicate presentation. Leaders should be kept sensibly light. The minimum diameter that I use is 0.24mm, irrespective of breaking strain. I do this because I like to have enough stiffness in the leader to ensure turnover and provide a reasonable chance of landing a fish with a margin for error that copes with the odd rub on a stone or dare I say it, tangle round a branch.

Summer time is also sea trout time. Really keen anglers who can recuperate from overnight sleeplessness at their leisure may decide to fish right through between dusk and dawn in the hope of encountering sea trout in the dark hours. During June and July it is hardly worth doing anything else in the north of Scotland where darkness does not come until 11pm and pre-dawn fishing can start at 3am.

Summer fishing can be summed up very quickly, dusk, dawn, fine and far off. Softly, softly catch a salmon!

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