High Water Salmon Fishing Tactics
By Jock Monteith 20th March 2021
Even in normal water conditions never underestimate just how close to the riverbank salmon will run & hold. This becomes even more relevant during high water conditions where the only break from the higher water pressure for a salmon is often right in tight to the riverbank.
Salmon Fishing Brains Not Brawn!
It's like some sort of testosterone driven psychological affliction that we look at a salmon river and assume the fly or lure needs to be right out in the middle or near the far bank as that is where salmon are always to be found. Salmon always take the 'course of least resistance' when running up a river and often that route in higher water conditions will be within only a few yards of the riverbank. These close to the riverbank pockets of slacker water also double up as holding areas for resident fish when the river rises giving them a double importance to your salmon fishing approach if you can identify them as you're fishing.
The High Water Salmon Running Strip
I vividly recall watching & following a run of Spring salmon from a high bank on one of the Tay beats I used to work on during high water conditions as they pushed on upstream at a slow walking pace about a foot under the surface of the river. There was approx a dozen fish in the pod of perfect Springers and none of them broke the surface at any point and none were any further out from the riverbank than 10ft. It was at that moment I truly realised exactly why the inside short lined 'harling' lure fished tight into the riverbank from the boat had always worked well during high water conditions but the closeness to the riverbank of that run of fish really needed to be seen to believed especially on that area of the Tay which was at least 100 yards in width.
Identify The Salmon Taking Areas
Looking at a salmon pool in any height of water to work our whether you're targeting briefly pausing running fish or resident fish (or sometimes both) will often give you a tactical fishing advantage. A clear and defined battle plan of where and at what distance salmon will be present should be constantly calculated and frequently reviewed while fishing. Let the flow pace and sometimes any water level fluctuations dictate these areas as you fish down through the pools and remember it's only one well enough thought out cast in the correct area of a salmon pool that'll make your fishing day complete!
Stay Well Back From The Salmon Lies
When you've seen enough and have complete faith in the type of water salmon love to hold in along with exactly how close to the riverbank their flight path can often be it can easily change your thoughts on salmon fly distance and how far you even need to wade into the river. Many times over the years I've advised anglers to stay at ankle depth and fish a short line on certain pools at certain water heights for my advice to be ignored for a fish to then 'head & tail' between the angler and the riverbank. I used to like seeing that as nothing further needed to be said and the next time I offered valuable salmon fishing advice I knew there was a better chance they'd listen!
Chest Waders Or Welly Boots In High Water
Salmon will sense any disturbance to salmon pool as 'awareness' plays a big part in their survival defence mechanism. A salmon angler who's waded too quickly or too deeply into the neck of a salmon pool (and especially a pool that has an inside meander in it) would be as well to have launched in half a dozen fair sized rocks. The salmon's nose for sensing water pressure changes and lateral line for picking up vibrations will already be on 'red alert' the split second the fish feels the sudden water pressure changes from an angler who's displaced the river flow upstream. The 'mysterious' thing I've noticed when salmon fly fishing is that my own salmon take rate usually increases significantly when I've got my wellie boots on!