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Fishing Your Salmon Fly

By 6th October 2022

If you want to become fine tuned in the art of Scottish salmon fishing the process extends way past being able to 'look the part' on a riverbank by throwing a nice long tight looped salmon line. A wild Atlantic salmon cares not a jot about the arial performance of a fly line nor about the feel good factor a 'caster' achieves about the distance they think they're presenting their fly at.

Is Spey Casting Distance Important

As a Head Ghillie on the River Tay I lived & worked through the era where 'world record' distance casts were driving the entire industry. Don't pick me up wrongly here as our Scottish Speycasting team are all 100% professional 'time served' legends in the their own right and have been true ambassadors for the sport and still are to this day. Their amazing abilities with a 100ft headed Speyline & 18ft competition Spey rod truly needs to be seen to be believed! In reality very few salmon are ever caught with a cast like that unless a downstream swimming fly is what's needed for the first half of the swing until the river flow finally straightens things. 

Long Headed Spey Lines Are Not For Everyone

With every UK game fair fight for added distance a new product would hit the shelves and the tackle dealers were 'loving it' selling thousand of these distance Spey lines like hot cakes. I recall an angler turning up on my beat and handing me one of these boxed brand new Speylines & his existing fly reel for fitting. Even after taking the backing off the reel the new 100ft headed Speyline wouldn't fit so I had to lend him one of my reels to try his new line out. He could get a line out but only if he worked with half of the head section! No wonder the old Hardy Marquis No 3 salmon fly reels became so popular once again during that time! The hard reality for actual fishing purposes is that a Spey line head optimal head length range should really fall in between 55ft and 75ft and anything longer than that is a specialist line or a distance casting line and not for the vast majority of salmon fishers including myself.

Salmon Fly Control Is Important

At 60 or 70 yards the only thing you're in control of is the terror and fear you're inflicting upon the wildlife on the other side of the river so forget the distance theme that I personally feel has significantly hindered this business. The angling community at large couldn't 'cast a shadow' when it came to these monster lines and in came the easier to use shooting head concept. These convenient little Scandinavian things are the furthest thing away from arial elegance you could ever imagine in a salmon fly line yet they could be effortlessly delivered at reasonable distance my most anglers so they obviously quickly caught on. The shooting head theme was developed into these 'washing line' Skagit monstrosities that you also see today. One of my ghillie friends refers to these new breed fly lines as 'talent compensators' which just about sums them up perfectly.

What Really Matters In Salmon Fishing

The problem with both of the above is at what point does the angler realise that from a salmon's point of view its only the fly that matters and how it's swimming & waggling in and across the stream. An un-mendable distance cast with a shooting head (if your running line management is good enough) or a huge Spey cast at 70 yards puts your fly into 'no man's land' as far as fly control goes until it's back within 30 to 40 yards of your own riverbank. If you need distance like that it would be far more sensible to have the ghillie take you over in the boat to the far bank where you can fish a shorter lined 'controlled' fly or go to the nearest bridge! In high water salmon are found closer to the riverbank so no real need for distance casting or deep wading and in low water salmon will be holding in the central seam of the river and wading will be easier so it would really be a rare fishing application requirement where a 50+ yard cast could ever be required from a functional salmon fly fishing presentation point of view.

The Facts Of Salmon Fly Fishing Distance

The reality of Scottish salmon fly fishing is that most salmon will take a fly at between 10 & 20 yards from your side of the river where the fly is swimming and being 'controlled' optimally. Save your energy and the need to impress other salmon fishers as the only thing you need to impress is that big silvery beast who's looking for something to attack from its lie at the bottom of the river. Get your thoughts sub surface as quickly as you can if you want success in this game. Look for the fisher who throws 3 flies away after testing them at the side of the river on a piece of nylon before tying the 'chosen one' on to his leader that's passed their strict in-stream natural movement test. Look for the fisher who's come through a pool that 2 or 3 others have fished before yet still hooks and lands the only 2 salmon of the day. That fisher will sometimes be an angler but more often than not he will be a 'professional' ghillie.

Acquire A Fly Fishing Mentor

Talent spotting on the rivers of Scotland is easy as social media & fishing hut chat will give you a few clues but if you want to learn how to be a true 'sub surface' salmon fishing technician and have your catch results soar then you need to find a mentor who's got the correct approach and forget the distance casting theme and all of the other mumbo jumbo. It's often only a split second decision for a salmon to be impressed enough to take a controlled and optimally spaced salmon fly as it glides and waggles its way down across a pool. The only thoughts you should be focussed on are your fly's depth, speed and most importantly of all its natural movement in the stream as what happens above the waterline is of zero significance to a salmon. When you encounter a 'sub surface' specialist with a higher than average batting average study their form carefully and you'll learn more than anything the books or their authors will likely divulge or know.