Salmon Fishing Advice

Hooking A Salmon With A Fly Rod

Hooking A Salmon With A Fly Rod

 

Having been involved in Scottish salmon fishing since 1970 one of the most important parts for success is knowing how to set the hook when a salmon takes your fly. As a former professional salmon beat head ghillie on the Tay in charge of several fishers on a regular daily basis I've witnessed great opportunities to catch salmon lost by fishers who fail in this very important discipline which is seldom properly discussed and in many cases left for the salmon to hook itself when it's objective soon into the contact will be to get rid of the fly.

My own advice when a salmon takes is never to lift into the take with a soft actioned rod and slack reel clutch setting as logically there's little or no hook point pressure applied from doing so. After ignoring the initial tugs at the start of the take and after several seconds of the fly line being drawn consistently off the fly reel simply clamp the fly reel face with your hand to stop the line flow dead and briefly feel the weight of the fish for a further few seconds.

Make sure the rod is pointing down in the direction of the fish when you do this in order to maximise direct hook point pressure from the reel to the hook. After feeling everything tighten up and the weight of the fish then release the reel and lift the rod. If this is done correctly and as detailed here your fish will be hooked properly regardless of where the initial micro hold of the hook points were positioned in the soft or tougher tissue within the salmon's mouth as it turned on your fly.

This effective hook setting method will allow the salmon's forward momentum & bodyweight to set the hook for you. In warmer Summer water the take will usually develop much quicker than colder early Spring water. In colder water conditions allow a few more seconds before clamping the reel as the lower temperatures usually mean a much slower initial take and draw.

Hooking A Salmon With A Spinning Rod

Hooking A Salmon With A Spinning Rod

 

When spinning for salmon on rivers (or water conditions) that allow this salmon fishing method fish with a tightish clutch setting and don't slacken the clutch off to play a salmon until you're sure that you've applied enough early pressure to the hook points to set the hooks properly. Normally I'm about 10 seconds into the fight before I'll loosen off the clutch to play a salmon after applying early pressure as soon as the salmon takes. You'll know when to loosen off as the salmon will start pulling away.

When a salmon takes a spinning lure it won't necessarily hold onto it the same as it would with a soft & lightweight salmon fly so good early hook point pressure is a must to set the hooks properly. I've spent many years as a professional ghillie & boatman on the River Tay and I've witnessed so many salmon hooking opportunities wasted by anglers spinning from the riverbank with their spinning reel cluthes far too loosly set for effective hooking when a salmon takes.

All hook points require sufficient 'hook point pressure' to be set effectively and 'logic' should confirm this fact. If you don't set the hooks properly a salmon is a master at shaking them out and most of the time a fish will prove this point.

One of the worst feelings in the world is a slack line after the excitement of contact with a salmon. These hooking method tips are the ones I personally use and and have a 90% hooking ratio with as opposed to the normal 'non clamping' fly rod lifting & slack spinning reel clutch procedures which have a much lesser effective hooking ratio.

Riverbank Movement Fly Fishing

Riverbank Movement Fly Fishing

 

When you're fly fishing through a salmon pool it is good etiquette to take at least one good sized step between each cast and especially if there are other fishers present on either riverbank. Personally I move 3 feet between each cast to separate each swing of the fly by a yard. Less than that shows the salmon too much of the fly and any more may miss a hot spot in the pool. The less you show a fish of the approaching fly to my mind works better than training a fish to accept the presence of the fly in the pool.

What you're looking for is a reaction from a salmon and startling a fish that hasn't had the opportunity to get used to an approaching fly is more likely to have the desired effect. Adopt a sense for what speed and depth your fly is fishing at and don't just cast and hope. Adopting this mindset of how your fly is fishing coupled with good fly swing spacings will catch you more salmon.

If you're fishing a sink tip and wish it to work optimally apply your downstream movement on the forward delivery as the fly lands on the water and simultaneously throw a big upstream mend. By the time your line tightens and the fly starts fishing you'll have got your fly down to the desired swim depth.

In addition to these fly swim tactics keeping the rod tip extended out and high for the first third of the swing and gradually bringing the rod angle round as the fly fishes toward the riverbank will give you that added fly swim control for the first third of the swim. This little adjustment can often be the difference between a take or not especially when you want to slow up a fly out in a faster stream and at distance.

Riverbank Movement Spin Fishing

Riverbank Movement Spin Fishing

 

When spinning fan the direction of your cast out slightly upstream, directly across and slightly down stream as you move. Personally I'll move downstream 10ft between each cast and keep the above unpredictability of the angle and pace of the spinning lure going throughout the fishing day. Normally even in tough conditions when there's not many salmon about this technique coupled with consistent downstream 10ft casting poisition movements will find a taking salmon at some point during the day.

Sometimes this method can & also should be used in an upstream directional movement which won't allow the salmon to see the lure coming. Often I'd fish downstream with one proven salmon lure and switch lures and fish all the way back upstream (if no other anglers are present on the pool) and get a result.

In deeper pools if you think the salmon are holding deep adopt a lure countdown for a few seconds before commencing the retrieve. In early cold Spring water salmon hold much higher in the water column where the warmer thermals 'logically' are. In the late Autumn when the river is running much warmer than early Spring salmon are usually found down deep in the pools in the cooler water.

You must treat your water coverage and your gut instincts about where in the water column salmon are likely to be holding as seriously with a spinner as you would when fishing the fly for the best results. Become the lure (or fly) and stay focussed on its swim speed, retrieve angle and depth.

Playing A Salmon

Playing A Salmon

 

When playing a salmon it is important to keep the rod tip as high as possible and maintain reasonable rod pressure on the salmon throughout the fight. The high rod position will also act as a shock absorber and safeguard against any sudden movements from the salmon and it will also keep the line away from any sub surface obstacles.

The best position to take on the riverbank while playing a salmon is from a side on position. Don't allow the fish to get too far below you and if a salmon takes off down river then walk down the riverbank after it. When playing a salmon always be looking for an appropiate landing area for the final stages of the fight where there's deep snag free water which is out of the main current.

Never attempt to play a salmon in fast heavy water as it will use the water pressure to its advantage and kite about and take forever to land. Never attempt to rush a salmon to the landing net and always wait until the fish starts to tire and shows signs of fatique which are indicated by slower movements at close range and showing its flanks and tail.

Hold back with the landing net until the time is right and place the net down in the water and draw the salmon over it and lift the net. Don't try to snatch at the fish as usually even a fatigued salmon will get startled and bolt quickly in that instance. Unhook your salmon in the landing net and in the water to avoid injury to the fish prior to release.

Take A Picture Of Your Salmon

Take A Picture Of Your Salmon

 

Most mobile phones these days have an excellent HD camera built into them so if you land a salmon please take a good shot of it. A photograph is always a nice memento of the encounter so a mobile phone (or camera) should be carried at all times. Make sure your device is kept in a waterproof pouch to keep it safe from water penetration.

If photographing a salmon while fishing alone make sure the fish is lying flat in the bag of the landing net with the salmon perfectly in frame on or close to the water line. Take a few shots to make sure you get a good one. Try to avoid contact with the salmon at all times.

If you're fishing with a colleague briefly lift the salmon to the water line in the landing net with the salmon's flanks as square to the camera as possible and have your colleague take a few shots. Sometimes tilting the belly of the fish up slightly by liftting the net's mesh will capture the beauty of the salmon's flanks more effectively. Again try to avoid contact with the salmon at all times.

Sunlight is always best behind the camera and ideally with the pool where it was hooked behind you and a big smile which should be easily achieved!

Unhooking & Releasing Your Salmon

Unhooking & Releasing Your Salmon

 

Always carry a pair of artery forceps which is the best tool for unhooking salmon quickly & efficiently with. These should be kept on a spring loaded retractable lanyard and clipped onto your fishing jacket for ease of access when required. Ideally unhooking a salmon should be done while the salmon is still in the landing net and in the water.

When releasing your salmon find an area of the pool that has a nice steady flow in a foot or two of water and hold the salmon with its nose to the stream for as long as it takes for you to feel the fish trying to pull away. This can sometimes take a few minutes but there's a great sense of satisfaction from seeing your fish swimming away strongly after the excitement of the capture.

Tipping Your Ghillie

Tipping Your Ghillie

 

It is customary in Scotland and good salmon fisher etiquette to tip the head ghillie at the end of each fishing day regardless of whether you've been successful at catching salmon or not.

There's a lot of hard 'life consuming' work involved in maintaining a salmon beat and professionally hosting salmon fishing clients which these 'special men' have comitted their lives to.

The professional approach from the career ghillies of Scotland is essential for the overall enjoyment of Scottish salmon fishing and the magic that surrounds this wonderful pursuit.

The daily tip should be between £10 & £20 per fisher however if you feel a larger tip is deserved for whatever reasons feel free to act accordingly.