Anticipation, a word synonymous with salmon fishing. The journey to the river, pulling on your waders, setting up the rod and tying on that favourite fly. Cast after cast, could this be the one? That heart stopping moment when you feel that delicate tug, to resist the urge to lift until that line goes tight. What could be worse than the void between seasons. Reading old and new articles. Watching videos of seasons gone by. Tying flies, waiting out the winter for the rivers to open again and offer up the delights of that most sought after salmon of all. The spring salmon!
So what is it that makes these fish so special? To some the spring salmon is undoubtedly the ultimate salmon catch, the pursuit of which becomes more akin to a hunt than simply fishing. In cold conditions, Spring salmon are considerably strong and fast creatures, running in small numbers but determined to reach there mark. There are certainly correlations to spring run fish being larger than their summer run counterparts. They are nature’s assurance, entering the river early, powering their way up to the highest reaches of the rivers to spawn in the autumn.
SPRING SALMON ACROSS THE WORLD
The same can be said for other Atlantic salmon rivers around the world that experience the same migration but in a short intense season no longer than 3-4 months at most. A May – June fish in the north of Norway/Sweden/Russia could be directly comparable to Scottish spring salmon. In fact many of the same techniques and approaches can be used to great success.
SPRING SALMON TACKLE TACTICS
The start of a new season with cold water and weather conditions calls for a different and more heavy-duty approach to our tackle and clothing selection. LOOP Tackle Design Team have been developing and refining ways of handling these situations for years. The latest offering in rod design comes in the form of the “Cross SX” & from the new Evotec Cast series “Fast”. The very best result of fine tuning spey rods with a fast action and quick tip recovery to handle heavy sinking line and large fly with ease. Delivering perfect casts to the target zone quickly and efficiently. Allowing more time with the fly in the water.
For large rivers we recommend 14 – 15’ rods. Paired with GDC shooting heads in all sink rates. Our runner intermediate running line. Fluorocarbon leader and long bright mobile flies on our strong black nickel hooks. With these in hand you will be best equipped to entice and tackle these legendary fish. We would highly recommend the highest capacity reels and preferably with a fast retrieve rate to battle those fish with the intent on heading back to sea. The Opti MegaLOOP is as good as it gets in these situations.
For medium size rivers Switch and Double Handed rods from 11-13’ are an excellent choice. However, larger rods can still help with controlling the fly speed especially when upstream mending. You can Slow down and dangle flies deep and slow through hard currents. or tight to the shore where many fish like to run, especially in high water.
For smaller rivers single hand and Switch rods 9-11’ can be a lot of fun and certainly help when used with a lower line rating. This causes less commotion on the water surface. Smaller slimmer flies can also work wonders in these situations. The fish tend to see the fly much quicker than on the larger rivers. In any case it may be worth bringing 2 rods with different set ups. This way you can change tactics quickly and keep on fishing.
SPRING SALMON CLOTHING TIPS
Spring fishing can greet us with the coldest to warmest conditions overnight. Planning ahead for all possible scenarios would be a wise investment. Staying warm and comfortable, with plenty of manoeuvrability without restriction to your casting, will make for a much more enjoyable days fishing during harsh conditions. A 3 – 4 layered system will help achieve the best results.
Start with a breathable Merino wool base layer. This removes moisture from the skin. It is very important for maintaining comfort and/or warmth for the entire body. Hot wool socks combined with neoprene waders are excellent for long periods wading in cold water. The next or alternative layer can be a wool sweater/zippered pullover. For the third layer a Primaloft jacket like our Lepik Liner Jacket to maintain warmth on the upper body. Finally for the legs, fleece in various weights or your standard fishing wear depending on river water temperature and weather. This layer provides additional insulating warmth for the entire body.
These first few layers will remove moisture from the skin. This keeps the warmth generated by your body within. staying warm and dry, even when facing sub zero or wet conditions. Finally an outer waterproof and breathable layer of rain jackets and waders. Hooded rain/wading jackets made of high quality Gore-Tex and robust construction is needed to perform correctly. Our Lainio or Rautas wading/hiking jackets are the perfect solution. Even when combined with the Lepik Liner Jacket. They are specifically designed for none constrictive fly fishing.
SPRING SALMON FISHING TIPS
Low water temperatures provide a significantly less oxygenated environment for the salmon. This can make the fish slow down and lie in deeper pockets of the river. In any situation we would recommend a longer rod for the ease of controlling fly speed as speed is the key. The aim of the game is low and slow. Casting 90 degrees and reserving a little line to feed out with an up stream mend. A couple of steps downstream and positioning the rod 90 degrees out to the river. By the time your line goes tight and the fly starts fishing, it should have had some time to sink down.
Showing the fish the side of the fly, that then springs into action, swinging round at the required depth is most effective. Keeping the rod out at 90 degrees helps keep the swing controlled and slow. Dangling in the stream over any known lies. Following the rod tip round with the line. Keeping tension through the final part of the swing. All will cover as much water as possible at the right depth.
FINE TUNING TECHNIQUES
Sink rates and times are at best an approximation. Depending on the flow rate of the river, tactically paying attention to just how deep your fly is actually fishing and adjusting to suit can make all the difference. As the water temperature increases, it can certainly pay off to follow the opposite rule. Generating speed by casting slightly downstream, no mend and pulling the rod towards the bank. This will increase the speed on the fly dramatically and trigger the take. We are fishing after a playful predator after all.
One key factor to consider is leader length. A long leader even with fluorocarbon will take longer to sink. and as crazy as it sounds, leaders at a length of 1 meter or 3 feet should not be ignored. Ultimately you are looking for the best casting and fishing set up. No one wants to cast the heaviest lines with the longest leaders and the heaviest flies. You will be exhausted after an hour. Shorter heavier leaders will also help turn over larger flies. Above all, think tactically and don’t be afraid to change your set up regularly to find the fish.
TOP TEN TIPS FOR SCOTTISH SPRING SALMON
Pay attention to the Ghillie’s and local advice. They understand the water better than anyone and the varying conditions you may face.
Focus fishing on the warmest and brightest times of day. Rises in temperature and clearer visibility are usually the most productive times to fish.
Fish through a pool quickly and quietly. We are hunting for a fish running in small numbers. We don’t want to spook the one fish in the pool with multiple cast corrections and loud noises in the water.
Change up your tactics. Try different depths, speed and flies each time you fish through the pool.
Try bright, light and long flowing winged flies with heavier lines and shorter heavier leaders. Great movement and striking colours rarely fail in these conditions. But don’t be afraid to stick to your heavy flies that get down deep if it works for you. Both can fish at the required depth when set up correctly.
Choose heavier tackle and longer rods to control the fly speed in the water and handle heavy fish in commonly fast flowing and high waters.
Try using a fast action rod capable of punching out sinking lines and big flies with less effort. Keeping the fly in the water and fishing for longer periods can’t be a bad thing. Multiple false casts only delays your fishing time and causes unwanted commotion on the water.
Keep yourself warm and dry with a good layered clothing system. Merino Wool, Primaloft and windbreaker shell jackets will do the job, whilst allowing good manoeuvrability whilst casting.
Pay attention to both water and air temperature. The lower the water temperature the deeper and bigger fly you should fish. As the water warms up, reduce sink rates and fly size. When the air temperature is lower than the water temperature you can often see a rising mist on the water. No matter what the circumstances here, don’t pack up for the day. Fish a little deeper than usual. The fish tend to sit lower in the water in these conditions.
After a long wait from your last fish or leading up to your first salmon ever, remember to tell yourself over and over to stay calm when a fish takes the fly. Resist the temptation to strike right away and wait until you feel the full weight of the fish. They will do most of the hooking themselves.
TOP TACKLE FOR SPRING FISHING
Cross SX – 14’ 9# / 15′ 10#
CAST Fast – 14’ 9# / 15’ 10#
OPTI Megaloop – WF10
GDC Shooting Heads – 9# / 10# – All sink rates
Runner – Intermediate Running Line – 40lbs
Fluorocarbon Tippet Material – 0.48mm 25lbs / 0.55mm 30lbs
Black Nickel Fly Hooks – #4 – 8 doubles
Lepik Liner Jacket
Lainio Wading Jacket
Hot Wool Socks
SALMON FISHING NAMES TO KNOW
Springer – a salmon that has entered the river early in the year to spawn in the autumn.
Kelt – a spawned fish that is returning to sea. Mostly caught at the start of the season, can be lean, possible gill maggots, a distended vent and damage to the bottom of the tail after cutting redds. Well mended Kelts often look like lean fresh fish.
Grilse – or SSW, a fish which has been to sea for one winter, early season they can be smaller than a salmon at around 2 – 3lb but towards late season can be 12 – 15lb+. Scale samples are the only real way to tell.
Baggot – a female fish that hasn’t spawned remaining in the river. Soft bellied and faded grey silver colour.
Rawner – a male fish that hasn’t spawned remaining in the river.
Stale fish – a fish that has entered the river and lost its silver colour over time. The fish will continue to darken gaining new colours during spawning before returning to silver as a kelt.