Finally it’s that time of the year when it’s only a matter of weeks or days when Atlantic salmon season is about to start. Sure, some lucky ones might have already made a few casts in Scotland, but the majority of the Scandinavian rivers will open in June. Fly boxes are filled with old trusty patterns and perhaps some new ones. Leaking waders are fixed and brand new shooting heads taken out from the boxes and put on to the greased reels.
After having had countless of hours discussions with some great anglers, here’s some key advice you might consider reading before your next adventure.
The salmon tend to hold in different places depending on their activity mode and different time of the season. It’s no secret that many times for the early season fish you need to get fly deep and close to their faces to get a bite. When the water temperature rises the salmon are more eager to take fly swimming closer to the surface.
Most of fish during mid-season when there are good number of fish in the rivers. After locating the fish the key is to find the right depth for them to eat a fly. Active fish take flies swimming close to the surface but there are situations when you just need go down. If your fishing in fast or medium fast current, using a intermediate-sink2-sink4 line (for example) doesn’t get you very deep. It’s time to dig out the heavy grain lines from the gear box or use a skagit line with a T-tip. A skagit body with a T-tip anywhere from 10 to 20 feet is an versatile tool that allows you to fish deep. With a floating body you’ll be able to control the speed of the fly through the whole swing by mending the line upstream or downstream. You can also use relatively light rods such as #6 or #7 double-handers since the skagit body has all the power to turn even bigger flies.
If you want to go really deep and make the most passive fish to eat your fly or escape from the pool, the best option is to use a floating line – long leader – heavy fly setup. You can fish this setup with a double-hander but I prefer a single-hander for the increased control in the casting and mending. Try to figure out the lines in the current where the salmon might be holding and sling your heavy fly far enough upstream so it can sink deep enough. Strip the line in with the same pace of the current to maintain control to your fly and to feel the takes.
You can also fish in the surface. When the water temperatures are above 10-12 (celsius) you have a good chance to catch a salmon with hitch flies or dries. In the right conditions hitches and dry flies are much more effective than regular hair wing flies fished with the standard swing.
The standard 45-degree angle cast is an good option when you need to cover lot of water and the fish are on active mode. A fly swinging relatively slowly past a salmon can result in a take if the fish is on active mode. But if the fish are slightly passive or they have seen dozens of flies it’s time to mix thing up. In pools with steady currents, try casting straight across. If you want your fly to move even faster, make a downstream mend or strip the line with long steady pulls. Atlantic salmon are fast and furious and if they want to hit your fly they will get it. Sometimes dead-drifting your fly makes the most passive salmon loose their mind and hit your fly. You don’t necessarily have to go extra deep. You can use regular hair wing patterns or weighted flies such as Red Frances.
I’ve seen many times angler hesitating to use flies larger than size 4 (double or single) or smaller than size 8. During their lifecycle, salmon eat the tiniest insects during their parr stage and after entering the oceans they feed on larger prey such as mackerel or herring (Baltic salmon). So they are not afraid to eat a large fly. And they have good enough vision to see a tiny size 16 micro-fly in clear water.
Large flies don’t necessarily mean big fish. Grilse seem to like long winged Sunday Shadows and sometimes the late season colored resident fish decides to eat a fly smaller than an ant.
Sure the water temperature plays a major role in fly sizes. In early season cold water, larger and more colorful flies seem to produce more takes. When the water gets warmer, smaller flies and more natural colors start to work. If you fishing in crowded public water pay attention what the other guys are doing. If everyone is using a size 6 Cascade it might be a good idea to surprise the salmon with a large Scandi-style tube or a small size 14 Icelandic Haugur.
Size of the fly doesn’t only mean the length of the fly. You can play around with the bulkiness and silhouette of the fly by using different materials. A slim and long Sunray is visible but still subtle. A 10cm zonker-tube with a big disc makes much more disturbance in the water compared to regular hair winged double hook.
It's not often that salmon anglers are faced with high, warm water conditions in the latter part of the season.
I have experienced this twice now in Norway, and this situation is most common on rivers with a lake above their system that has a big enough catchment to collect localized rainfall, and or rivers that are fed via glacial melt water.