fighting a baltic salmon

Ultimate Guide For Fly Fishing Baltic Salmon

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Text by: Jussi Jurvelin & Miika Viitasalo

Baltic salmon fishing can be considered as a hard-core genre of salmon fishing. Huge rivers with heavy currents, heavy duty tools and big locomotive-like salmons support this claim. If you are up to some new challenges in your fishing game this just could be it. Scrimmage with a Byske Express or tug of war with mighty Torne Salmon will definitely shake every salmon anglers’ legs even if you don’t survive the fight as a winner.

fishing baltic salmon in byske

Rivers flowing into the Bay of Bothnia are on many occasions huge and the first impression when standing in the shoreline of a river wider than 500 meters can be crushing. Pools are often deep and running strong. Always remember to be cautious when wading, especially when you are fishing alone.

The amount of the fish entering the river system per season can be astonishing. Let’s take Torne for example. Last year 67.000 Salmon passed the fish counter, year before the corresponding amount was 66.000. The best year in 2014 produced over 100.000 Salmons and these figures don’t consider grilse and fish that will stay in the lower part (first 90km) of the river system. 

Season

In some of the baltic rivers you can take an early start for the season and go for a “majlax” hunt, which is like a unicorn of the anadromous fish. Usually, the first fishes entering the river system in late spring are enormous and the fight with the early season chromers can be something that you will not never forget. Fishing during may is definitely the most challenging due to the high and murky water conditions and the weather as well can be anything from warm summer-like days to freezing cold sleet. One must remember that this is a high risk-high reward type of fishing, you might fish whole week without a single tug but the very next day you might hit the pot of gold.

In Northern rivers prime season usually starts in the early weeks of June and lasts until the water temperatures rise above 15-17 degree. Many people claim that Baltic Salmon is rather sensitive with the water temperature compared to its Atlantic cousin. As a basic rule you can say that all water temperatures above 15°C make things a bit frustrating or sometimes just impossible. You might see big schools of fresh fish passing the pool without a single tug, whatever combination you are swinging at it. At this point it’s good to wait for the better conditions or head to Norway.

baltic salmon fly fishing

Loads of snow in the mountains and moderate temperatures during May and June seems to produce the overall best conditions for the Baltic Salmon fishing. 

Later, in the season in August, when the waters start to cool down and the evenings get dark again, Baltic Salmons start to look for a final spot for their breeding. If the conditions are right, you can find aggressive coloured salmons that will pretty much hit anything you cast to them. Also run of fresh grilse is at its best during August.

Gear

Early season on Baltic rivers is a synonym for heavy duty gear. Heavy lines, strong currents and fresh big fish calls for 15-footer or longer 10/11/12 rods. In some cases, it is not exaggerated to use elephant rifle -tier 12/13 rods. Later, in the season lighter gear and shorter rod lengths might come in handy.

Match the rod with a quality reel with sufficient brake and loads of backing and you are good to go. Backing should be strong enough, at least 50 to 80 lbs and there should be enough of it (200-300m). 

Usually, the Baltic Salmon fishing requires rather long casts, so one crucial part in the puzzle is a good running line that you’re familiar with. There are plenty of good options in the market with a fair price, Asso, Froghair and Ultima to name a few.

As fishing is done mostly using sinking lines, a short not tapered leader is the best option. Usually, a fly has some weight so it will straighten up nicely without a tapered leader. Level tippet is also strong since it doesn’t hold any additional knots and it’s easy to replace if it’s worn out. Using light sinking or floating lines with light fly, a long (15-18ft) tapered leader is still the best option to choose from.

Since Baltic Salmon fishing is rather hard-core form of salmon fishing, your gear might take a hit. Broken rods, reels and lines are not exceptional so make sure that you have appropriate spare gear in your trunk. You really don’t want to continue your special high-water week with a too light set or with a broken reel.

Lines

The lines are the most important part of the set, period. It seems that Baltic salmon is rather picky how the fly is presented and usually you need to choose the line accordingly to get desired speed and depth for the fly. Use heavy sinking lines in heavy currents to slow down the swing. In slow moving but deep pools intermediate or floating belly with a sink tip might do the trick.

So, what is the correct line to a certain place with certain conditions? Unfortunately there are no shortcuts or tricks here. It helps if you are familiar with the place, but still you might have to test a bag of lines before finding the right one and the very next day it can be totally different.

Black, blacker, blackest… It’s hard to name any favorite fly lines because conditions can change dramatically between the pools and days but here are some lines that stand out;

  • SA UST Express sink series from 750 grain to 950 grain
  • Guideline old DD series, especially the blackest ones
  • Guideline Scandi series
  • Guideline 3D series
  • Guideline 3D+ series
  • Airflo F.I.S.T F/I/S3 equipped with T-tip or ready-made sinking tips
  • Floating or float/intermediate body with light sinking tips (Guideline 4D, Rio Gamechanger or similar)

In early seasons high and cold water 850, 750 and S2/S4/6 are must haves. As the season goes further you can choose a lighter shooting head like I/S2/S4, which is a great line for average summer water. In late season floating and float/intermediate bellies equipped with light sinking tips or even a floating tip seems to produce most of the takes. 

But still, you might encounter conditions and pools where you get action with a floating body and light sink tip in the early days of June.

Flies

Baltic rivers are more or less humus coloured, so bright and warm colours seem to work best. The most popular colours for Baltic salmon flies are yellow, orange, brown, black and blue seasoned with copper or gold. Of course, there are numerous different patterns, but few classics seem to do well from year to year. Many patterns are variables from these classic baltic flies. This Baltic salmon “holy trinity” consists of Banana Fly, Vanliga (dark & light version) and Pahtakorva. Banana and Light Vanliga for bright/sunny conditions and Dark Vanliga or Pahtakorva for low light conditions.

Of course, it’s good to have patterns outside this group for those desperate moments, but you will get along just fine with these aforementioned flies. Note that small details like how many turns of ribbing or is the shade of silk right in the body really doesn’t make any difference. Keep it stupid simple or simple stupid

It’s way more important that you have variations in terms of size, profile and weight for different conditions. Usually warmer water and/or calmer current calls for smaller, low profile flies and cold water and/or heavy current requires bigger flies with a wide profile. 

Another variable in fly selections is the weight of the fly. You can use the weight of the fly to get deeper but keep in mind that the main sinker is your line, not the fly. The main idea behind weighting your fly is the fact that weighted fly starts fishing as soon as it hits the surface whereas unweighted fly requires some time to sink. This becomes crucial if the hot spot is in the limit of your casting range and you really cannot wait for the line to drag the fly down to the desired water column. 

Keeping in mind how conditions reflect your fly selection process there’s still a fly pattern that works in most situations. Sparsely tied tube fly Banana, Vanliga or Pahtakorva in wing length of 6cm with some weight on the body (brass tube or tungsten cone). So, make sure that you have some of these in the box when hitting the river next time. Another thing to consider is that when using heavy sinking lines you will probably lose a metric shit ton of flies and hooks. Make sure you have enough! It could be a good rule to tie always 5 similar flies (pattern + size + weight) so you won’t be suddenly out of ammunition after the first round.

Banana fly, Dark Vanliga, Light Vanliga and Pahtakorva are already mentioned above but also following fly patterns have proved themselves effective for Baltic Salmon; 

  • Willie Gun
  • Flood Bum
  • Rapala Fly
  • Tempel Hund
  • Orange Black
  • Sierrakorva
  • TP -Gull
  • Sunray Shadow (in warm water conditions fished with speed)
  • Red butt
  • Birdman’s fire beanie
  • Black Doctor
  • Black Sheep
  • Silver Sheep
  • Beiss Fly

Most of these are presented in Top Salmon Flies 1, Top Salmon Flies 2 or Spey Brothers Youtube channel with detailed instructions.

Some of the flies are available as tying kits in here.

Techniques

Of course, every fisherman has a trick or two in their back pocket, but in the end it all comes down to combination of speed and depth. In general, cold water requires slow swing whereas warm water requires more speed. Same principles apply with depth. In most cases in early season cold water conditions, you want to go deep and later in the season the water columns closer to the surface can be productive. Maybe one exception is rather high-water temperature (15-18°C) where fishing the deep pools with heavy lines and low speed can be a day saver. 

When fishing in early season, don’t let the amount of water and size of the river fool you. Especially in the high water conditions salmon might run only a couple meters away from you. Heavy current forces salmons to the shore so remember that high-water is your best friend. 

There are few variables on how to adjust the speed and depth.

  • Line: heavy sinking line – floating line
  • Angle: low angle (45°) will produce low speed and give less time to sink than casting for example 90° cast
  • Fly: Heavily weighted fly (tungsten body) to light fly (plastic tube)
  • Control over line: You can give the line some time to sink by taking few steps downstream after the cast or generally give some extra time before taking the control.

Heavy set combined with high speed can cause falsely hooked fish so please be responsible.

Fight

As mentioned earlier, Baltic salmon is a fierce fighter and only on rare occasions you will have a relaxed and easy fight. While (in general) the Atlantic salmon doesn’t want to leave the pool during the fight, the Baltic cousin definitely will try to take a long run back to the Baltic Sea. At some point of the fight fish will at least try to rush down the stream. It’s better to maintain heavy pressure all the time to prevent fish from making long runs. Of course, if the spot or pool is generally “easy” you can give the fish some slack for the first runs. 

As fighting the fish might be the second-best part of the salmon fishing after the tug, don’t enjoy it too long and don’t let the salmon rest during the fight. This will increase your chances of eventually landing the fish which is also a crucial thing when releasing the fish back for a spawn run.

Hard fighting fish combined to challenging river profiles makes every landed Baltic salmon special. 

Photo credits: Jussi Jurvelin, Miika Viitasalo, Kalaukko crew, Kimmo Välimaa (video). 

Baltic Salmon Fund is doing great conservation work for our precious fish. Read more about the work and join the movement as a Salmon Protector byclicking here