Catch An Early Spring Salmon
By Jock Monteith 20th February 2023
The Spring run of salmon that enter the Scottish rivers are the most reliable of all the seasonal salmon runs these days. The physical condition and cold water fighting ability of a fresh run Spring salmon is superior to that of a Summer or Autumn fish. There's added excitement too in being back out on the salmon river after the Winter shut down.
Catching A Spring Salmon
This is no doubt another added component of what makes a Spring salmon so special as there's always a deep satisfaction and thought involved in making sure your fly box is back in order when January & February arrive each year. In the very early often freezing months of the Scottish salmon fishing season it's unlikely that you'll see Spring salmon showing in the rivers so there's a definite mind set required of absolute faith that needs to be implemented for success during the early Spring months.
The Early Salmon Fishing Months
In January and February on the salmon rivers of Scotland there are always early Spring salmon present even if very few anglers are there to catch them. You really need to grasp this concept before it's proven to you by another fisher and solid faith is vital if you're going to be in with a chance. It's so easy to make the wrong assumption due to our largely illogical 'catch stat' driven industry (that relies on rod pressure to function) that it's not worth fishing but I can assure you early running Spring salmon care not a jot about our computer screen digits or seriously flawed river stock assessments.
Salmon Fishing Off Your Senses
Fish off your senses and stay focussed with faith on the precision of your water coverage. Look for the deeper slow moving areas of the pools and be careful with your approach as often in the higher water levels of early Spring these salmon holding areas can often be no more than a rod's length out from the riverbank. An early running cold water Spring salmon will be holding approx 2ft to 3ft under the surface of the river and often very close to the riverbank which makes them easily spooked following a clumsy pool approach. Don't be fooled by the generalised misinformation that very cold water conditions means you need to fishing your fly way down deep as logic should tell you salmon will be holding higher in the water column where the slightly warmer water is located.
The Cold Water Salmon Fishing Approach
As already mentioned early Spring cold water salmon position themselves high in the water column during due to that holding position being 'logically' where the warmer water thermals are to be found. To prove this point if you go and look into any of the Scottish fish ladder viewing chamber tanks during early Spring you'll see the kelts from last season holding in this very 2ft to 3ft under the surface position and not down deep in the really cold freezing water. A salmon's dark back draws heat from the sun during freezing water conditions in addition to acting as camouflage against being too easily seen from above. A slowly fished inch and a half aluminium bodied black and yellow, willie gunn or cascade with a 3 to 4 inch wing (all with a couple of strands of wing bling) fished off a 15ft type 3 sink tip on a floating headed line with a long enough fly rod where mending to the fly for fly speed control is all you need. An aluminium bodied fly will 'wiggle & waggle' far better in the current than a heavier bodied tube fly so let the sink tip do it's job and let the current 'activate' your lighter bodied tube fly.
The High & Slow Salmon Fly
Forget the 'slow and deep' advice we are all brainwashed with in books that are written by 'would be' ghillies and let good old logic and professional experience be your guide. A slow and high fished lure or fly will be right onto a Spring salmon's nose in the cold water of early Spring and make no mistake about that fact. A deeper presentation is only sometimes necessary when the river starts to warm up after March through to early June which often pushes holding salmon down in the water column to the cooler deeper areas of the pools. Just because you're fishing a long type 3, 6, or 10 sink tip doesn't mean you're fishing your fly down deep either as the river current has a significant 'jacking up' effect that needs to be taken into consideration. Your fly's target zone in very cold water conditions should be a foot and a half to 2 feet under so you be the judge in making sure you're there or thereabouts with your fly's depth of swim positioning.
Willie 'the ghillie' Laird
My late mentor Willie Laird proved this high water column slow fly point to the new owners of his River Tay beat when he took 4 salmon before lunch on a high fished 'harled' aluminium tube fly while their deeper swimming harling lures touched nothing. When Willie put up the fly rod that day on the Tay's opening day he was questioned by the new owners as to what he was doing and why! By lunch time his lesson to his new bosses was over and they no longer dared question his professional salmon fishing experience or tactical decisions. When fishing through the early Spring months maintain inner confidence and fish consistently as one thing for sure is that you'll certainly see a Spring salmon once you hook one even if they are not showing in the cold water conditions up to that point. A big sub surface flash of silver commotion is an addictive drug and especially if there's any sunlight present and the briefest glimpse of this will stay in your mind indefinitely. Nothing beats the cold water scrap of a fresh run Spring Atlantean so stay focussed and don't kid yourself on if your riverbank movement isn't precise and consistent. If you stick at it you'll earn your hooking opportunity or that has certainly always been my experience.