It’s often a challenging time of year to be salmon fishing - the sun is high in the sky, air and water temperatures are rising and rivers can be running low and slow. However, fish will still be running and numbers of grilse should be starting to arrive. Get your tactics right and you might just have a real bonanza so put away the spring fishing multiple-density fly lines and big, gaudy flies and adapt your approach if you want to succeed
Summer Salmon Fishing Guide
With rivers running low and your favourite pools moving with less pace, casting presentation is crucial. Turning over your fly and getting it to fish straight away is key here as there may not be a friendly current to ‘sort out’ a cast that lands in a heap. Fishing the whole swing is vital and if your fly isn’t fishing as soon as it lands, you might be missing fish.
For small and medium–sized rivers, now is the ideal time to reach for a ‘Spey’ taper fly line. The delicate presentation and precise turnover that comes with these lines is great when you’re trying to stay quiet, reducing splashy sounds that come from heavy shooting heads.
Those of you fishing larger rivers might still need the distance that comes with a shooting head, and a full floating line such as the RIO Scandi Shooting Head is ideal.
Whichever line you’re using, make sure you have a good selection of tips at your disposal. These will help to cut your fly into the water quickly and get it swimming right away.
I’m a huge fan of the RIO Spey VersiLeaders and the set of six comes with a very useful full floating tip. I experimented with this tip last summer, attached to the end of my RIO Scandi Shooting Head, and the improvement in turnover was exceptional - helping to dissipate the energy of the cast and land a fly quietly even at long range. Another useful summer tip for both Spey lines and shooting heads is the 6ft 1.5ips RIO VersiLeader.
This is probably the one I have tied to the end of my line most often in July and August. It’s just the right tip to stop your fly skating, but doesn’t drag the fly down too much, keeping it moving enticingly in the top few inches.
Keep noise to a minimum! Enter pools stealthily, avoiding splashy footsteps. If you’re starting to fish in the neck of a pool, don’t go wading right in, start a few steps back and fish the shallows first - you can often pick up a fish in these spots early in the morning before the sun pushes them back into the deeper areas. Keep your wading and casting quiet too as you move down the pool.
Snap-Ts look cool, but they’re not a low water cast! Focus on lifting your line off the water as quietly as possible, using simple, clean casts like the classic single Spey. If you’re fishing off your ‘wrong’ shoulder, get practicing your wrong-hand single Spey rather than using a double-Spey, which can also be quite loud. Better still, learn the snake roll!
Stock your box up with salmon fly patterns that will continue to move and look lifelike even in low, slow-moving water. This often means downsizing quite a bit, so don’t be afraid to fish really small. We carry salmon flies right down to a size 18 and these micro patterns can often do the trick when all else fails. You should also have a selection of micro tubes, as well as surface flies like hitches and Sunray Shadows in your pocket.
Don’t forget to fish your mini tubes with a quality hook though - even the biggest summer salmon can take the smallest fly and you don’t want to lose a big fish to bendy hooks! For the smallest tube flies and hitches, the Kamasan B990 Tube Fly Treble Hooks are strong, reliable and available down to a size 14. For other applications I’ve been impressed with the new Ahrex HR440 Tube Double Hooks.
By casting with a more ‘square’ angle across the river, you can enable your fly to fish quicker across the pool, as the belly of the fly line is caught in the main current, exerting a greater force on the end of the line. This can be a great technique for summer fishing when rivers are moving slower. You can also help to speed-up your swing with a downstream mend.
Don’t let your fly die! Try to be aware of exactly how your fly is moving at all times and keep it swimming at the right pace - you never know when a fish is following it, just waiting for that next little twitch before having a grab. Don’t just cast out and let your line swing all the way round, mend your line when required and employ long, slow draws or a steady figure-of-eight retrieve to bring a little bit of movement to your fly.
Early and Late
The early bird catches the worm, but so does the late one! A 9 to 5 fishing day may be great for a family picnic on the riverbank, but you’re certainly not giving yourself the best chance of catching fish. I’ve had most of my summer success fishing between 6am - 9am and 8pm - 11pm. If you’re serious about making the most of your fishing these critical times should not be missed. It’s often better to focus your energy on fishing these sessions well and resting your pools during the heat of the day when the sun is high in the sky. You might just be surprised at how the river comes alive at dusk, or during that first run down the pool before breakfast.
At this time of year it’s more important than ever to be conscious of the effects of catch-and-release on salmon. Play fish quickly and keep fish wet! Air exposure is especially harmful to fish when temperatures rise, so keep your fish in the water at all times and never handle a fish with dry hands. If water temperatures exceed 20C, consider giving the fishing a break and enjoy some time in the sun instead. You can always head out at night when the temperature drops a few degrees.