Salmon River Observations
By Jock Monteith 5th February 2023
You can often learn plenty about a salmon river when you're not fishing it than you can do with a rod in your hand. On a personal basis I always used to love walking up a salmon beat at dusk observing the river and all its wildlife.
Watching The Salmon Pool
When you're salmon fishing don't just rush onto a pool as a 10 or 15 minute observation especially if you're new to the beat could easily give you the 'heads up' as to exactly where salmon are holding should one pops its head or tail up. Even if a fish doesn't show a little bit of prior pool observation from a salmon holding perspective will soon tell you where the likely taking areas will be. Sometimes salmon will surprise you on how close to the riverbank they are holding before a deep wading fisher pushes them out or to the opposite side of the river and effectively ruins their chance of an easy fish.
Try Different Areas Of A Salmon Pool
Once salmon fishers fish robotically through a salmon pool a few times without thinking about their approach or wade depth look to other areas of the pool as this type of rod pressure will either have switched these fish off or moved them about to different temp holding areas of the pool. The best thing is to try a completely different approach even if it means getting over to the far bank and even if it's a more difficult bank to fish. Going deeper with a bigger or smaller fly to what these spooked salmon have been seeing so far that day will also stand you a better chance of a rattle!
Salmon Movement At Dusk
On one of the beats I used to work on there was a beautiful big pool with a reasonably shallow tail and even during daylight hours in normal of low water conditions you could often see the water displacement of salmon as they pushed upstream through this thin water. In the evenings during late Spring and Summer when many salmon move through the night it was fairly easy to see the bow waves of running salmon at this particular lovely wide thin water salmon pool tail and I often used to sit with a flask of tea or something much more 'health giving' in anticipation of this visual brilliance.
An Evening Bow Wave Surprise
One evening while watching the river at dusk I saw a few salmon coming right up through the centre seam of the river as they pushed on up the Tay. I then noticed this much bigger bow wave which was aligned more to my side of the river than where I was seeing these other bow waves. This bigger bow wave veered over towards me and when it got 20ft away a big dog otter's head appeared before it instantly vanished out of fright! I really thought for a moment that a Tay 40 pounder was coming to say hello!
Ghillie River Observations
As a full time career ghillie random visits to the salmon beat outside regular operating hours would on occasion catch a poacher red handed or flag up evidence that would identify the presence of poachers. A cigarette butt different from the brand your guest was smoking or a different boot print in the sand or silt would usually be the initial subtle signs. More often than not a different lure snagged on the riverbed from what your guests were fishing with would be the main sign and telling by the condition of the lure as to how recently it had been lost.
Sunday Morning Salmon Poachers
While looking after the beats I was in charge of I used to take a run down to the river at 6am on a Sunday morning as that was the time most poachers would figure was safest due to the rivers being legally closed on Sundays and most ghillies would be 'out for the count' due to a heavy Saturday night in the pub with their fishing guests! Catching a poacher requires careful thought too just the same way salmon often do!
Let It Be And See The Funny Side
One evening while walking home up the river I recall bumping into 5 young blonde haired boys who were clearly brothers (as they looked like a set of Russian dolls!) aged from approx 5 to 12 years old. They were all well spaced out on the riverbank and armed with spinning rods and all of them could cast their lures well. They were on holiday and staying at the local caravan park and they didn't see me approaching to ask them what they thought they were doing! I was impressed by their abilities and consistency of cast so after startling them I directed them to a safer pool on the beat where they stood a better chance of a fish!