The Vulnerable Prey Image (Part 2)

The Vulnerable Prey Image (Part 2)

In part one we looked at what predators are instinctively programmed to recognise as not only prey, but easy to capture prey. The most gain for the least effort, banking on the sure thing, minimising wasted effort, are the cornerstones on which pike, salmon, and trout approach obtaining food. With the evidence in the photograph of the trout with the fry imitating fly in its mouth, it is not too hard to agree with the Vulnerable Prey Image theory, as it is easy to imagine our predatory trout launching the attack on our fly as we jink, stutter, or maybe wobble it during our retrieve. The application of the theory gets a little harder to visualise, and more complex, when we try to apply it to trout feeding on insects.


It’s not so much what this trout saw, as what it thought it saw
The fly is bait fish imitation called a Minky

  In the Vulnerable Prey Image (Part 1) we have looked primarily at predatory behaviour, when fish such as trout and salmon target bait fish, or fry. This involves the predator in actively chasing, and aggressively capturing the prey, but trout are not only aggressive chasers, as their survival demands they be flexible enough to adapt, and maximise their feeding opportunities to include a wide variety of food items.
Trout feeding in rivers often hold their position, and allow the current to bring their food to them. This type of feeding behaviour can probably be best described as static harvesting, or interception. The principals of predatory behaviour are still being adhered to by the trout in this situation, as they are using the energy of the current to bring food to themselves, and are obtaining food for little effort. It is a little harder however, to accept the concepts of predatory behaviour, and the vulnerable prey image, when we try to apply other principals, such as-banking on the sure thing?, easy to capture prey?, why is this food item/nymph/ insect a sure thing?, what is it about this insect that makes it look vulnerable, and easy to capture?, what triggers the trout to target certain flies as they swim over them?, why do small trout seem to target everything that passes over them, but larger trout seem to be more selective? . In trying to come up with answers to these questions, we must take into account that when we present our dry flies to rising trout, we must as a rule try and achieve a drag free float, in other words our fly must swim totally naturally downstream at the same pace as the water current. (The exceptions to this rule would be when imitating some species like caddis/sedges which can often skitter across the current flow) We are now unable to add any physical techniques to enhance the Vulnerable Prey Image of our fly, so we must rely heavily on fly design, and any properties that we can incorporate into that design, to enhance the image of vulnerability.

Frederic Halford, “The Father of Modern Dry Fly Fishing”

Dry flies in all the various styles we have at our disposal today are the product of many years of observations on trout feeding, analysis of trout stomach contents, and the inventiveness of clued in, observant anglers translating all this into new fly designs at the fly tying bench. Frederick Halford was born into a wealthy Jewish family of German ancestry in 1844 in Birmingham, England. He is generally recognised as the father of modern dry fly fishing, and was part of the upper class elite which had privileged access to the best trout fishing on the famous English chalk streams. Halford along with this privileged elite encouraged a very narrow view on what they thought fly fishing should be about, and especially dry fly fishing. The dry fly fished only upstream, and only to trout that were actually rising was the order of the day. This dogmatic, so called purist approach was also held to be the most sporting way to fish for trout and to a certain extent lives on to the present day. Even today we occasionally hear statements like- the dry fly is the pinnacle of sportsmanship, or that it takes more skill to fish dry fly. Mr Halford may have been a little too dogmatic, and elitist, but he did help to start a much more sophisticated approach to tying artificial dry flies, and was one of the first to try and tie exact imitations of the natural insects hatching on the chalk streams. This exact imitation school of dry fly angling eventually widened its scope in later generations to become what is now known as-Matching the Hatch.

 A fully hatched upwing fly also called a fully hatched Dun

The insects Halford was trying to imitate were mostly upwing flies, and it was the fully hatched dun resting on the surface that received all the attention. The almost total disregard for the different stages of emergence of these upwing flies prior to the fully hatched dun stage, was probably the greatest failing of the Halford era, and because this total focus on the fully hatched dun was reinforced in Halfords own books, it became the gospel to follow for other writers, and anglers, even many years after Mr Halford’s death.
Before we continue in our study of the history, development, application, and importance of fly design, as it applies to, and enhances The Vulnerable Prey Image, we might just take a quick look at the reality of why all this stuff is so important. One of the first things that a beginner has to get to grips with is which fly to use, and why.
As our knowledge and experience grows, we start to become more observant about what is really occurring as trout feed in front of us. We start to become aware, and interested in all the various stages in the life cycle of the insects that trout feed on. This study of the life cycles of insects is very interesting in its own right, and we don’t have to get too wrapped up in all the Latin names and terminology, we just need to acquire a reasonable working knowledge of the insects where we fish.
There are many variables involved, with even the most experienced anglers occasionally reading the signals incorrectly, and choose the wrong fly design to match the specific stage of emergence of the natural. You see I have emphasized the term – wrong fly design-, as opposed to saying the wrong fly, because I believe it is the design of the fly and where sits in relation to the water surface film that often makes the difference between success, and failure.

A selection of dry flies for the loughs-but how do we chose which one to use?

Down the years as strict adherence to Halfords doctrine of only concentrating on the exact imitation of the fully hatched dun floating on the water surface started to wane, and observant, thoughtful, anglers became fully aware of the importance of the emerging insect as it struggles to break free of its shuck. They also observed that some of these hatching flies actually died, or were injured during the process, and the term-stillborn emerger was invented along with other various descriptive names, such as, the crippled emerger, or drowned dun. People like Ward, Mottram, Tinbergen, Marinaro, Richards, Swisher, Caucci, Lawrie, and La Fontaine to name just a few, all added to the overall knowledge that we have at our disposal today. The main thrust of which points us in the direction of the importance of the emerging fly/crippled fly/ being at least, if not more important than the dun


Dibbling the top dropper fly in the waves of an Irish Lough imitating an insect struggling to hatch or one that has begin battered into the surface by the wind and rain


Before we try and answer some of the questions asked earlier in this article. It might be good to have a look at some relevant aspects of trout feeding behavior. Small hungry trout have to learn what is edible and will have a go at almost anything that floats over them. This trial and error feeding routine becomes less prominent as our young trout gradually learns and becomes more competent. Our trout also learn to use their energy wisely when harvesting this food, so as to maintain a positive balance in favor of the energy gained from the food, versus the energy expended in obtaining it. Trout feeding behavior is partly learned along with being partly genetically imprinted from previous generations of successful members of the species. Large trout don’t get large by chasing, or harvesting prey items which are too small, or which are available in insufficient quantities.  They hone in on insects that they know are in trouble, crippled, stuck in the surface film, drowned, struggling to emerge , or are being battered into the water surface through wind ,and rain. All these unfortunate insects will create a particular image of vulnerability, depending on each situation, and it is up to us to provide the correct illusion with our flies/presentation, which might incorporate such triggers as, attached shucks, jumble of tangled legs, wings horizontal in the surface film, among others. Also the flies position on, in, under, or penetrating the surface film is very important.

The artificial fly above is a Klinkhammer invented by Hans van Klinken .  It is one of the best flies ever invented as it suspends the abdomen and thorax of an emerging insect just under the surface film.  A vulnerable time for most insects and in fact we could if we wished, add a shuck or trailing legs to the fly above to make it look even more Vulnerable

Even if we wanted to, we cannot tie an artificial fly that is a perfect copy of a natural fly. Even if we could it would not be a major advantage to us because then our perfect imitation would just look like all the other natural flies when we fish and our perfect imitation would be just one in the crowd. Big trout are often looking for flies that are showing signs of Vulnerability and that means flies that are less than perfect. If you go to any river or lake on any given day during a big hatch you will meet many successful fly fishers who were actually using quite different flies. The reason they were successful was not because they were fishing with perfect imitations of the natural fly, but because they were fishing with imperfect copies of the real insect, but their flies must have had a few good trigger points that portrayed the illusion of Prey that was Vulnerable in some way.

We all have heard of the local fly fisher that catches lots of trout but sometimes the flies they tie don’t look great or as some might say – look scruffy!- well take my advice, and if possible,  politely ask these successful fly fishers for second look into their fly boxes!


One of the greatest dry flies ever invented The Grey Duster seen here on the left.

This one has had its hackle clipped underneath to let it fish flush in the surface film, imitating a trapped insect. If the hackle is left as normal (fully wound), then it will fish more on the surface. The fly at the top is a Mc Carthy Buzzer. Extra turns of hackle in this pattern allow it to be fished right on the surface, imitating a female buzzer laying her eggs, and any light breeze will make it tickle about a little, mimicking the swirling action of the female. In calm conditions a gentle stutter of the rod tip will move it just enough to draw attention. The Shipmans Buzzer is our third fly. This fly was designed to represent a buzzer hatching, right in the surface film, a position, and period of emergence that screams vulnerability. If this fly is being fished correctly (well sunk in the film), it should be difficult to see. Some anglers find this inability to see their fly as a handicap, but don’t worry; you just need to sight down along your floating line and imagine approximately where you think your fly should be and you will be right most of the time. Even if you are not exactly accurate in your calculations you will always see the rise! .

 Two great dry fly patterns from my English reservoir days

The top fly is a pattern called Bobs Bits, invented by Bob Worts, and once again it is meant to be fished well sunk in the surface film. The second fly, with its knotted pheasant tail legs trailing back, and down is a Bristol Hopper. A super fly that can represent hatching buzzers, terrestrials, or olives, all we have to do is vary the size, and colour. The simplicity of these hugely successful patterns goes a long way in proving the theory that trout are only looking for 2-3 triggers when targeting insects near the surface. Some of the triggers incorporated into these simple to tie flies are-translucency by using seals fur in the bodies, sparse insect like profile, sparse undercut hackle to let them fish flush in the surface film, knotted legs representing either emergence,, crippled emergence, or pupal shuck, colour matching the hemoglobin that the natural buzzers pump into their wings as they hatch, but most of all it is the design of the fly which allows it to be fished in the insect trap that is the surface film, and creating that Vulnerable Prey Image.

Some of the fly designs that catch more than their fair share of big trout annually

On the right we have a mayfly dun incorporating cdc, and without any hackle underneath, especially good in calm conditions, where delicacy of presentation is crucial. The sedge fly on the left is well hackled, and has a substantial cdc wing, making it a specialised weapon when we want to create the fish attracting vee wake that large natural sedges make as they scurry around, or when swimming strongly for the safety of shore. The design for function being probably more important than, say colour. There are few Vulnerable Prey Images which advertise their presence so openly as sedges furrocking around in the fading light of evening time.
Our last fly is a spent mayfly pattern, with its outstretched wings tied in a final delta shape of total submission. The ultimate in vulnerable design, a fly that the trout knows is dead or dying, and will never escape Trout Heaven !.

The fully hatched dun is of course taken by trout, and it is always wise to have some in your box, but often it takes a heavy hatch before the trout will become totally locked onto them. Most trout that will take a dun imitation will also take an emerger pattern, but trout that are zoned in on pre dun stages, will very often totally ignore the fully hatched fly. There have being many elements on the history of fly design, trout behavior, and general dry fly technique that I have had to omit in this article, but then the main focus was on trying to emphasize the importance of , and the application of the concept that is vulnerability.
All successful dry fly anglers have the same attributes in common, and they are, correct choice of fly design to match what the trout are actually feeding on, delicate, and accurate presentation, along with the ability to accurately gauge what amount of movement to impart to the fly if any .

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All the best


The Vulnerable Prey Image (Part 1)

The Vulnerable Prey Image (Part 1)
The big question that I often get asked is – What is the most important thing of all in fly fishing?. In my opinion it’s a close call between fly casting ability and the ability to create a Vulnerable Prey Image. Some anglers maintain that salmon fishing is completely different to trout fishing, and that pike fishing is even further removed again. While I can agree that we may use different flies, lures, rods, reels, lines, when targeting any one particular species, it is the ultimate goal of our fly presentations that we induce a fish to take. All things been equal, and without undermining the importance of all the many variables involved, I believe the single most important thing of all when we present our flies to Salmon, Trout, and Pike is creating a Vulnerable Prey Image

Mother lion had been yawning as she rested in the shade of a tree, watching her half grown cubs unsuccessfully chasing everything that moved until they exhausted themselves, but as soon as this unfortunate Vulnerable Prey Image limped past dragging an injured leg, she was in for the kill immediately. The most gain for the least effort, banking on the sure thing, minimizing wasted effort, that’s the name of the game if you are a predator. When we look at this picture of a lion swooping in for the kill most anglers would have no difficulty imagining a Pike in a similar attack scenario in some weed fringed lake or river. It is when we try to put trout and salmon into this picture that some fly fishers have difficulty in accepting that both trout and salmon are just as voracious, aggressive, and efficient as the lioness in the picture.

This bird is pretending to be injured by dragging its wing along the ground and is successfully enticing a predator (Fox) away from her nest. This just shows how strong an impact that creating an image of vulnerability can have on a predator.

Why is it that Game anglers find difficulty in accepting that salmon and trout are voracious, aggressive killers? One explanation could be that many angling writers down through the years have depicted trout as a highly educated, intelligent species only daintily nibbling down a succession of perfectly formed floating natural dry flies. Added to this we have some salmon angling writers offering no plausible explanation about salmon taking/feeding behaviour in freshwater except to seemingly through their arms up in despair at the mere thought that there could be any real logical explanation . The common reason given for their frustration is that because salmon are scientifically know not to feed in fresh water, and it all must be some huge mystery why salmon ever take our flies at all! . This must be very frustrating and confusing for beginner salmon anglers because depending on where they investigate to obtain a good basic understanding of the sport, they are offered either good sound advice at one end of the scale or some form of mystical wishy washy drivel at the other end, and everything in between. There is a logical reason why salmon, trout and pike take our flies and most of it concerns presenting a Vulnerable Prey Image.


The two main types of flies that we use when fly fishing for salmon or trout are small bait fish imitations and insect imitations. When we look at a famous salmon fly like the Gold Willie Gunn and imagine it under water in our favorite pool darting in short spurts as we strip it over the lies we realize that we are really imitating a little fish trying to evade capture. At the same time somewhere in the USA you will have a trout fly fisher fishing a very similar fly called a Mickey Finn in his favorite pool. In fact there is quite a lot of interchanging of bait fish imitating fly patterns between trout and salmon anglers. Many originally trout based imitations such as the zonker/minkie style flies have now been adopted fully into the salmon scene. I remember years ago fishing a falling flood on the river Easkey managing to land four nice fresh fish on a rainbow trout style minky fly. As I was unhooking my fourth fish a man approached me for a chat. As it turned out it was a client who I was going to be guiding the next day. He seemed to be very interested in the fly that I was using and when I showed it to him —well lets just say he nearly fell into the river!. “But it’s a rainbow trout fly” he said, “why would you dream of using such a fly”. His reaction to my choice of fly really brought it home to me that we salmon anglers are often too constrained by tradition and peer pressure to logically asses the prevailing river conditions and fish whatever fly we have at our disposal that gives us the best chance of a fish. That day on the Easkey the water conditions were more suitable for spinning than fly fishing and the only fly in my box that came close to imitating a yellow flying c spinner was a 75mm yellow Minky .

Can you replace the pike in the photo above and imagine a salmon taking a fly in the same situation and for the same reasons.  If you can then you are well on the way to understanding the major part of  salmon taking behavior

Getting back to the Vulnerable Prey Image – what’s the difference between what normal prey look like and what vulnerable prey might look like? . I would think that normal prey try to look as inconspicuous as possible using their camouflage and any available cover when possible. Normal prey likes to blend into the background of their underwater world, and not draw any attention in any way from the local predators. Vulnerable prey are just normal prey that stand out from the crowd. This standing out from the crowd, or if you like, looking different from the norm, is a strong trigger for predators like salmon, trout, and pike to attack. Our poor unfortunate prey may be injured, may have been washed away in a strong current, may have been separated from its shoal and be alone, may be diseased, may be diseased and this may have changed its coloration making it more conspicuous, may have been feeding on insects at the surface over deep water leaving itself vulnerable to an unseen attacker launching from below and I am sure you can think of more. Salmon , trout, and pike all feed on both normal prey and vulnerable prey from a young age but as they grow and their bodies need proportionally more return in nutrition than they are expending in energy accessing this food, then they gradually develop the vital ability to spot weakness and take advantage at every opportunity. In fact salmon, trout, and pike are hot wired to instantly react and attack prey that is displaying symptoms of vulnerability. I suppose you could call it an automatic natural reflex action. Salmon lose their sea teeth before entering fresh water on their homeward journey. If you were to see a salmon with their sea teeth then you would fully realize that they are supreme predators and the next time one comes to your fly you can admire one of natures most lethal and efficient killing machines.

Mr Dave Anglis putting it all together on the Ridge Pool, river Moy

We can incorporate mobile materials such as rabbit or mink fur strips into our salmon flies along with many other modern synthetics to help us make our flies look more alive in the water. Is this necessary? — well in some situations it will be important but lets not forget our Gold Willie Gunn mentioned earlier . Our Gold Willie Gunn is not tied with very mobile materials but still continues to fool salmon every season. This is because it’s what a salmon thinks it sees that really matters and its up to us to manipulate our flies and offer up a Vulnerable Prey Image.

Skilfully presenting a fly that drops back erratically as it enters, and swims across a strong current gives the strong impression of a creature unable to hold its place, and is struggling to survive. This impression of weakness makes the fly look like an easy target for a trout, or salmon. When we fish artificial flies that are supposed to represent prey fish over trout, salmon, and pike there are a variety of things we can do to help create the required illusion of vulnerability. We can incorporate weight in the fly tying process that if positioned near the head of the fly will help to give it an undulating swimming action mimicking the action of a distressed fish. Another way to achieve the same action without adding the weight in the tying process is to add a heavy split shot to the leader just up from the fly. There a variety of plastic lips, discs, vanes, and cones etc that can be added to our flies to make them dive, wobble, pulse, stutter, and if combined with various floating/sinking fly lines, we can then add different styles of retrieve, varying from short strips to full hand over hand, and all the variations in between, helping us to adapt to any given situation. Remember we can also make use of various river currents to control the angle and speed of our flies along with various presentation casts to help mimic the action of Vulnerable Prey.


How does the Vulnerable Prey Image apply in this situation?

In the second part of this study we will take a close look at the Vulnerable Prey Image and its relevance to fish feeding on insects.

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All the best



not sure–OR–Knot Sure

not sure– OR– KNOT SURE

The most popular knot used by game anglers to tie their flies to their leaders has to be the half blood knot or as most American anglers call it, the Clinch Knot. With a knot strength of 90% along with being easy to tie, it has gained almost universal acceptance as the knot for tying on our flies so it must be the best knot??.  If we observe experienced, clued in trout or salmon anglers it will be noticeable how often they check their flies to make sure they are ok, and it is not to check for weed on the hook point or wind knots in the leader. It is to make sure the problem depicted in the picture below has not occurred

As we can see the half blood knot has pulled around to the side of the hook eye and this can happen no matter how tightly we pull the knot when it is first formed. This fly will not swim properly and the problem also happens with trout wet flies, dries, nymphs and streamers. Experienced anglers are aware of this problem and just resign themselves to the knots shortcomings but there are two better knots that we can use!


In the picture above we have a salmon fly with an upturned eye but it doesn’t matter which way the eye is turned this knot will work. Pass the tippet through the eye and around under the shank.



Pass the tippet back out through the eye making sure you leave 2-3 inches of tippet outside to finish the knot.



Now all we have to do is make a half blood knot as normal and draw it up tight




When we draw the knot tight the bulk of the knot fits neatly into the eye of the hook. Some anglers use a Turle knot or a double turle knot to replace the half blood knot and cure the problem of hinging but this knot is neater and easier to tie as we are still using a half blood to finish the knot



Here we have a view looking down at the top of the fly and you can see how neat the finished knot is. As an experiment hold the fly and pull strongly on the tippet from different angles and you will find that the knot stays put, maintaining a perfectly straight joining between fly and tippet. I believe this knot was invented by a ghillie called Gordon Lesinger and the great Art Lee christened it the Tweed Clinch

So now we have a truly effective replacement for the half blood knot especially for trout or salmon flies with a pronounced down turned or upturned eye and it will ensure our flies will always swim straight.

I came up with another knot many years ago as a replacement for the rapala knot when fishing small plugs for salmon or trout as it is very quick and easy to tie. It gradually dawned on me that my new knot might also be useful for salmon and trout flies as it would allow a lot more lifelike movement in my flies while still allowing them to track straight in line with my tippet. This knot,shown below, is basically a modified double overhand loop knot with the fly inserted in before we start. I have never given this knot a name so to save confusion with the overhand loop knot lets call it The Moy Loop.

Put the tippet through the eye of the fly and make sure to leave 4-6 inches of tag end to make our double overhand loop


Just pass the fly through the big loop twice



The fly has been put through the big loop twice

 Trap the loop behind the hook eye with your index finger and holding the two loose ends together evenly then pull in the direction of the arrow to close the loop


Pull the knot until it closes gently around the hook eye, don’t pull to tightly at this stage



Gently ease the semi closed knot from the side of the hook eye to the front and holding both lose ends evenly then tighten the knot fully


Clip off the waste tag and there we have it, The Moy Loop

 A buzzer tied on with the Moy Loop

When we fish very rocky rivers we may have to use tippets that are much larger in diameter than what we would normally like to use so as to combat against the likelihood of abrasion against these hazards. Flies tied to heavy tippets with half blood knots lose most of their lifelike movement but now we can employ the Moy Loop which will allow our flies have maximum lifelike movement while still swimming straight and true.  Nymph fishing for wild stillwater/river trout is all about presenting our flies at the correct depth and allowing them to fish as naturally as possible and the Moy Loop knot with its ability to provide the maximum possible free movement of our flies, will also match these requirements perfectly.

When dry fly fishing for trout on heavily fished rivers the trout can become very spooky as regards to our flies dragging on the water surface . Even the tiniest hint of drag (sometimes called micro drag) can put them off rising to to our dry flies. Here once again the Moy Loop knot with its free movement capabilities would be a good knot option to use.

As fly fishers, we do not need to know how to tie dozens of different knots.  If we know how to tie 5 or 6 good ones for various applications/situations then we should be well equipped to tackle the vast majority of fishing scenarios, and now you have two more to add to your arsenal !!

All the best,


Salmon Lies (Part 4)

Salmon Lies: Part 4
The picture above is the same as the one we looked at in part 3 of this series. A rock (yellow arrow) causes a fairly evenly divided break in the current flow with an area of turbulence immediately behind it. When the braids of current rejoin there is an area of smooth evenly flowing current formed that creates and is a salmon lie (red arrow). In this case the current broke evenly and the salmon lie is created directly downstream from the rock. These breaks in the river current caused by rocks don’t normally break so evenly and there is usually only one braid of current created downstream of a rock that will possibly provide a moderate even flow of water.
This term moderate flow is difficult to describe, but if we wade out into some shallow streamy water and stand facing downstream with both legs close together we can then bend down placing our hand in the water to gauge the effect our submerged feet have on the current flow. If we place our hand in the water immediately downstream from our legs we should feel fairly slack/dead current and as we move our hand outwards to either side we will feel fast water. Somewhere between the two extremes we should be able to feel a moderate flow of current, and this will give us a basic understanding about the effect that rocks might have on current flow/speed. Salmon rely on obstructions such as rocks to provide this break in the current and insert themselves into the moderate flow which they prefer.



This diagram shows a large rock and its effect on current flow. The big curving red arrow shows the path of the main current in this pool and the other red arrows diminish in size indicating a gradual reduction in current flow across the pool. It is more than likely that a salmon will lie along the current break on the main current side of the rock as opposed to the slower flow on the other break line. The current flow that meets the rock head on is fairly moderate, and in situations like this salmon will sometimes lie in front of a rock.

 In this diagram a combination of rocks can create the right conditions for even more potential lies. Depending on the size of the rocks involved (especially a combination of large rocks) there is more of a chance that moderate flows will be created. The black arrows show the deep main current, with the three small red arrows indicating a weak secondary flow. The large red arrow indicates an area of weak current over water that is too shallow to provide ideal lies. These break lines (black dotted lines) can be either evenly flowing or swirling/turbulent/eddying. Salmon will not lie in swirling/turbulent/eddying water.

 This diagram depicts a tributary stream where it enters the main river. The orange arrow shows the main river flow and the blue arrow shows the tributary stream. Where the two currents meet (two red Xs centre river) once again may provide moderate evenly flowing water and the fish can insert themselves along this break line, with the added bonus that all fish travelling up either river will pause at least momentarily so they can decide which one to ascend. The black dotted line is another break line along the inflow of the tributary stream, where slack water meets faster water, and the angler must be careful not to spook any fish lying here as they will often be quiet close to the river bank. The red x just downstream from the rock is another salmon lie along the break line created by the rock.

When faced with a smooth surfaced pool with few clues at the surface to help the angler to figure out where the lies might be or where the main current is concentrated the angler needs a little extra help and this comes in the form of wind

 With a breeze to ruffle the surface of a normally flat surfaced pool, we now start to see some smooth areas among the ripple. These smooth areas are strips of evenly flowing current that the wind is unable to ruffle because the current is stronger there than the rest of the pool and usually pinpoints the main current seam through the pool. An upstream wind is best but as you can see in this photo even a downstream wind can work its magic also. This is a super tool for the angler trying to decipher featureless/slow current pools as the wind reveals not only where the main current is located , but it will also reveal the location of possible individual salmon lies just off the main current flow.

 In this photo the red lines indicate where salmon may pause momentarily when entering this pool , with the red line on the left showing the location in low water flows and the other red lines showing the pausing positions progressing across the pool tail at medium and then high water levels. The most important thing about this photo is actually the positioning of the angler as he fishes down the pool. He could have easily worked down the pool from on top of the bank (yellow arrow) but he wisely decided on the stealthy option and waded quietly down along the edge. Being able to work out where salmon might be lying is a great weapon in our arsenal, but it is often so easy to spoil all the good detective work by showing ourselves to the fish.
All the best, Paddy

Salmon Lies (Part 3)



In part one we looked at why a salmon might chose to lie at a particular place in a river. The main requirements of a good lie at normal water levels as far as the salmon is concerned are, an evenly flowing steady current that allows the fish to minimize its expenditure of energy, the required depth of water so the salmons natural camouflage is effective, and that the rate of current flow provides just the right amount of oxygen.  There is a trade off between the comfort level of any given lie and the oxygen availability its current flow rate provides to the salmon. The amount of oxygen that salmon require varies with their level of activity and when we factor in the changes in the dissolved oxygen content of water that occurs as it warms up we realise why it is sometimes difficult to precisely pinpoint salmon lies. During periods of moderate air and water temperature all the salmon has to do to regulate its intake of oxygen is to move slightly into or out of the flow. If the required slight movement to regulate oxygen intake happens to be into a stronger flow then this is where the trade off is decided. When the extra energy needed to stay in the slightly stronger flow is not excessive, or the period of time spent there is likely to be short then the fish maybe content to stay in its lie. Sometimes it just takes too much energy for the fish to access the required oxygen and it is forced to seek out a more suitable lie where this fine balance between energy conservation and oxygen intake is once again restored. This movement of resident salmon within pools to regulate their oxygen intake should be a very important factor to take into consideration in our overall analysis of potential lies in any salmon pool. An example of this is when there maybe an oversupply of oxygen, then all a salmon has to do in this situation is find a nice gentle flow to match its respiration rate. It is no wonder that the competent anglers of past generations often targeted early spring salmon in the slower deeper sections of pools.

All these variables of water height, water clarity, water depth, water temperature, time of year, time of day, various other weather conditions, oxygen content of the water, type of river, can be an overload of data for the beginner salmon angler to have to contend with all at once, so let us try and look at things as simply as possible from a few different perspectives. The first thing we might try to confirm is the actual water level and whether it is rising, falling, or holding steady.


Try to get in the habit of viewing new pools from downstream as they will reveal all their various nuances of current deflection much better from this vantage point.


If you are a newcomer to the river and are not sure whether the water level is low, medium or high, then this photo might help. The water is at grass level and there are no small rocks or shingle showing. It would be a fairly accurate guess that the water level of the river in this situation is high.


When the shingle banks start to show prominently we can then start to say the river is running at a medium flow or level



This angler is fishing in low water; in fact he has been able to walk three quarter way across the river! The long grass growing on the rock at center river tells us that the river has been low for quiet a while.



In the photo above Jurgen Van den Hout is about to release a grilse that he has caught in low water conditions on the river Owenduff.  We can see from all the exposed stones and gravel that the water level is low. The weather is bright and sunny and there is good drying. If we look at the two red arrows pointing at the two small stones we can see by the dark damp look of the bottom two inches(50mm) of these stones that there has been a slight rise in the river level about 1 or 2 hours earlier and the water level has dropped back down again.  This is a spate river which rises and falls very quickly and it does not take much rain to bring up its water level a few inches.  Experienced salmon anglers will always be watching for visual clues like this but beginners maybe unaware of the critical impact that missing these clues may have on their chances of success. The lessons to be learned from this actual situation is that a small rise in water levels on an already low salmon spate river will bring some resident salmon back into a taking mood, but this taking period may not last very long, so we must concentrate our efforts on only the very best know taking lies in each pool and try to fish as many pools as possible in the limited valuable time available to us.



If we can determine that the river is running high then we can zero in on certain sections of the pools we are about to fish. The areas that we should closely scrutinise are the sections of easier current flow at the sides of the pool, the insides of river bends, areas of the pool that may have been too shallow at medium height, or the tail of the pool. Goran Andersson the famous caster and salmon angler once said at the end of a casting demonstration “When the water is high the salmon come close to me and I don’t need to cast a long line, it has taken fifty years for me to learn this and today I give it to you free!”. If we heed Goran’s advice then it is certain that we will catch more salmon in high water.


With the river running at medium height the salmon start to migrate from the sides of the river and enter the main flow in the middle of the pool. At this height there will be salmon running and we may find them in the head or tail of the pool also. The resident salmon will probably favour the main belly of the pool while any new arrivals could well be located in the tail or neck. Productive salmon lies in medium water height can be difficult to read, but look out for pool tails of sufficient depth immediately above turbulent rapids and pool necks/heads with a nice even flow. In some pools the neck will seem to offer the best lies while in others the belly or tail may be more attractive. The best bet is to concentrate your main effort in the area of the pool where you think that you have spotted some potential lies and then give the rest of the pool a run through.


Good low water pools on any salmon river are a precious commodity, as they must have sufficient depth/flow, and this is something that the majority of other pools lack in these conditions. The middle and tail sections of most pools in low water usually lack any real flow and this causes problems for the salmon such as oxygen accessibility, camouflage/safety. Salmon (especially grilse) will run the river in low water and some low water pool tails are always worth a search, especially early in the morning. We won’t go too far wrong if we concentrate the majority of our effort at the head of the pool in low water.


At the risk of oversimplifying all the variables involved, an abbreviated version of the three previous paragraphs might read like this – In high water salmon will generally move to the edges and tails of pools-In medium water we should take care as we may find a salmon lying in the head, main body, or tail of the pool- In low water the head of the pool is the place to concentrate on, with the tail been worth a cast in the mornings or evenings.


The red arrow points to a salmon lie in a slick evenly flowing pocket of water that is created by the rock (yellow arrow) providing a break in the current flow. As is usually the case, salmon will not lie in the turbulent water immediately behind the rock, but downstream from it where the current starts to flow evenly again.


The most successful salmon anglers on any river system are the ones that have studied and learned how different water levels affect where salmon will lie.

All the best


Salmon Lies (Part 2)


All anglers can remember various influences during their fishing careers that have helped them in obtaining a better understanding of the complexities and little nuances that are involved in the jigsaw like puzzle that salmon fishing sometimes seems to be.  Every new piece of knowledge that we add helps us to form a more complete picture and also helps us to approach our fishing in a logical, confident manner. One of my own early influences was a book on salmon fishing by R.V. Righyni which was kindly given to me by my first mentor Ned Gallagher(now sadly passed on).   Righyni’s book (Salmon Taking Times-published in 1965) was a mine of valuable information  for a fanatical young salmon angler! . In the book there is a chapter on the behavior of water in rivers.  The first three diagrams in this article are based on the content of this chapter in Righyni’s book, and will really help us to have a better understanding of the salmons environment.  Reg Righyni was one of the best salmon angling writers of all time and probably never got the full recognition that the brilliance of his work deserved.

There are two different types of flow in rivers that are important to us anglers as we try to figure out the location of potential salmon lies, and in the diagram above which is a waterfall we can study water flow caused by suction.  In the diagram the water current at A is very fast but that is not due to the immediate gravitational pull at that point because there the pull is vertical and prevented from operating on the flow, other than to keep the water compact, by the flat rocky bed of the river beneath it.  At point B the force of gravity is able to assert itself and the water drops, and as it will not allow the formation of a vacuum, suction draws the water from A to replace it.  The impetus of the falling water is largely lost when it reaches the bottom of the falls, and what remains is deflected in all sorts of directions.  At the bottom in the falls pool the water has no inherent forward pressure to make it flow away.  Consequently, a slight dome of water tends to collect, but gravity will not allow this to build up.  The strong vertical pull on this extra surface water is deflected by the water beneath it (which cannot be compressed) into a much weaker, almost horizontal pull which causes the top layer of water to flow gently away.  The subsequent behavior of that water flow depends on the changes in capacity and character of the channel through which it must pass until ultimately the water is again taken over by the influence of suction.

 In this diagram above the more inclined fall results in a more gradual deflection of the movement of the water, and it loses considerably less of its impetus by impact with solid matter or other water than in our first diagram.  Consequently the falls- pool does not get washed out as deeply, and is more elongated.  Nevertheless, the back washes, and undercurrents still arise and the residual forward pressure is compelled to exert itself mainly on the surface layers.

 This diagram is a vertical section of an average sort of pool that is to be found on many rivers.  It includes all the same features of a waterfall, but everything is elongated even further with the head being a rapid rather than an actual fall.  Pools which are less well defined than the one depicted above are simply the same thing over again, but elongated still further, and the proportionate size of the component sections(Head,Neck,Main Body,Tail) can vary infinitely.  Gravity is, of course, responsible for all the inherent flow of the river, but the effects of it are modified by other factors which deflect or transform the vertical pull into horizontal flow.  When the gravitational pull can exercise itself forcefully on the water and is deflected by the slope of the river bed into horizontal or forward pressure, it is hardly possible in natural conditions for it to occur smoothly and evenly. Backwashes in all planes from vertical to horizontal are set up,and quickly,if not all together, the forward flow becomes concentrated in the level near and on the surface.  The movement of this layer is resisted by the pockets of slack and swirling water beneath it.  Unless some additional impetus is given to the forward pressure by a further drop in the bed of the river, it is quickly divested of its power, and the movement is reduced to no more than that required to equalize the level of the surface. It is necessary to try and visualize the essential differences between the two basic types of flow.  Runs through the necks of pools and the streamy water in the wider shallow stretches have a rough or popply surface.  The smooth surface water in glides and pool tails behave entirely differently.  Here the water moves along en masse owing to the pull of the suction created immediately below, where a drop in the bed of the river enables gravity to take hold forcefully.  As the smooth surface of the glide indicates, there is a minimum of turbulence at all levels, with the flow being nearly even from the bed of the river up to the surface                                                                                                                     The reason why we need to understand these different types of flow is because salmon will lie in both of them to varying degrees,but this will depend on many variables such as, time of year,time of day, light intensity, water temperature,oxygen availability,safety,water clarity, whether the salmon is a long or short term resident or just stopping for a short little breather as it runs upriver.                                                                                           Let us try and look at these two different types of flow in an even less complicated way and give them simple names such as  SMOOTH GLIDEY FLOW                                                                                                                  RIPPLED EVEN FLOW                                                   We can now add a third equally important type of water flow and lets call it                                    CHAOTIC TURBULENT FLOW    

 The first two we need to spend our valuable fishing time in and the third we need to avoid as there will be generally no salmon lying in Chaotic Turbulent Flow.  The vast majority of fly caught salmon are taken in water that is 6ft/2 mts or less in depth, so even if the flow type that we happen to be fishing in at any given time seems to be ideal it is also  important that it is not too deep.  Fly fishing for salmon in water that is 9ft,10ft+ deep is usually very unproductive when using normal fly fishing techniques.

With the aid of some photographs we can now have a look at these three types of flow

CHAOTIC TURBULENT FLOW – The red arrows points towards a very strong water current with its white tipped waves jostling for position!-too fast, too turbulent.  The yellow arrows point to swirling,boiling and up-welling water.  No salmon will lie in this type of water either. Fly fishing our way down through water like this is a complete waste of our valuable fishing time, and during the course of a weeks fishing holiday, it is a sobering thought to realize that we may have been fishing completely barren water for a substantial part of each day.

 This is an interesting pool.  The salmon run upstream from the pool below along the yellow line.  From the point of the yellow arrow you will notice a smooth area and this is the tail of a mini pool (Smooth Glidey Flow) that lies between the yellow pointer and the downstream point of the red line on the left.  This mini pool is fairly easy to spot in this instance, but other so called pools within pools are more difficult to spot, especially if the overall current is moving slowly.  The smooth appearance of the water surface in this tail is easy to see at distance and would be even easier to see if we were looking upstream from further downriver.  In fact all types of current flows along with all their varied little nuances reveal themselves much better to us when viewed from downstream looking upstream.  The first red line on the left marks two salmon lies in the tail of the main pool and at this point the suction from the drop off below is really beginning to take effect –Smooth Glidey Flow.  In low to moderate water flows running salmon will pause and hold here(along the red line), with some resting longer than they normally would in a pool tail because the overall speed of the river flow is moderate.  When the river level is higher and the current stronger some larger fish still pause here, but smaller fish start to find this lie too uncomfortable, and start to lie along the red line to the right where the depth and flow rate suits them better.  The purple arrow points at a whorl on the water surface caused by a large rock on the river bed.  The black arrow pinpoints where the rock is actually situated, and you can see that it takes a little time for the effects of the turbulence around this rock on the river bed to actually reach the water surface downstream from its actual location.

 The red line indicates the position of three lies in a Rippled Even Flow.  The yellow line is also in a current flow that is caused by forward pressure, but in this case it is too turbulent.  When the water level in the river drops down a little more, and the pace of the main current along the yellow line decreases, then there may be some places along this area that may become more evenly flowing and steady where a fish might possibly lie. Running salmon will occasionally lie in this type of turbulent,fast water, but only when a large rock, group of rocks, or something like a ledge of some sort set at a fortuitous angle happens to buffer the current to produce a relatively even, slower, pocket of current flow. These potential lies in turbulent stretches of salmon rivers can be very difficult to spot, but if we remember to look out for evenly flowing, or better still, smooth evenly flowing, areas in among all the chaos, then we may discover some valuable new lies that we might have previously walked by.  Not many of these fishy looking potential lies in turbulent water will actually hold salmon, because there are just to many things that have to come together perfectly to make a suitable lie in this hostile type of current, but enough of them will produce a bonus fish to make the effort of trying to discover them both enjoyable and worthwhile.                                                                                                               There is still more to cover on this subject of where salmon lie in rivers, and in the next article we will try to click a few more pieces of the jigsaw into place.  Until then, enjoy the spring salmon fishing, and remember don’t lift into those takers too soon!!

All the best




 The comfort factor of smooth evenly flowing currents to a salmon is best described with this analogy-lets imagine we are out for a leisurely walk and there is steady, evenly blowing wind in our face.  The only adjustment we might have to make is to maybe lean slightly into the wind as we walk.  Now imagine we have to walk in a strong swirling wind that is buffeting us from all directions and the road is littered with unavoidable deep potholes.  Which of these scenarios would you chose if you wanted to return home aching, and tired?

  One of the most frequently asked questions in salmon angling is- what is a salmon lie?, and this is usually followed up by other questions such as-why do salmon rest here?, and how do I go about spotting possible lies for myself.  These are just some of the questions we must answer if we are going to become consistently successful salmon fly anglers.  Beginners especially find this aspect of salmon fishing technique very daunting, so over these next articles we will have a look at some of the variables that we may have to contend with.

The first problem in assessing where salmon lie, may arise for anglers coming to salmon fishing from other branches of angling in that salmon don’t feed in freshwater and have different requirements to other fish as regards to where they lie.  Brown trout, roach, and pike will sometimes lie in places where they have to use extra energy, but only if the food obtained from being there compensates them handsomely.  Salmon carry their food reserves with them in their bodily tissues, and their main concern is to conserve this energy, as it must sustain them during their stay in freshwater.

The main requirements of a salmon lie from the fish’s perspective are safety, a smooth evenly flowing current to help conserve energy, and a flow rate that provides the required amount of oxygen The safety part of this is an inbuilt genetic wariness about camouflage, blending into the environment, and although there are few birds of prey capable of taking salmon flying around nowadays, historically it was of major concern for all fish.  The ability to observe and pick out sections of smooth evenly flowing water on a salmon river,even among areas of seemingly wild rapid water is an important skill for the salmon angler to cultivate.  Salmon do not like to lie in turbulent, swirling water. Salmon will adjust their position in different current flow rates to access the level of oxygen that ideally meets their requirements at any given time and this can vary depending on the time of year, water temperature, or air temperature.  An example of this happens during times of low water levels and high air/water temperatures, when salmon get distressed because they are being forced to expend extra energy to lie in faster water to obtain the oxygen they need.


This simple diagram shows a sweeping bend on a salmon river. The water level is at summer low and whatever current remains is along the outside bend of the river.  The red dots are possible salmon lies and they are in the main flow.  Salmon will not be lying anywhere else in this pool but the main flow at this very low water level and it is a waste of valuable fishing time if one does not concentrate their efforts there.



This diagram is a cross section of the same pool depicted in diagram A1.  You will see that the deepest part of the pool is on the left and is the outside bend of the river. The two salmon depicted are lying right in the main current.  You will see that the river bed shallows up to the right (inside river bend) but there will be no salmon resting here in these reduced flows as it is to shallow (safety)and there is not enough current flow to provide sufficient oxygen for the fish.



Now the river level is at a medium height and as you can see the main current, depicted in darker blue, has expanded over a wider area of the river.  There are still some potential salmon lies shown along the outside bend but the higher water level has also now made available some new lies towards centre river.  If the current gets too strong at some points along the deeper outside bend then the salmon will move into the easier current towards the middle of the river.



This cross section of diagram B1 shows the potential salmon lies expanding towards the middle of the river, while still retaining some lies along the deep outside bend.




The water level is now high and the current is too strong for any salmon to lie along the outside bend or even at centre of the river.   Salmon will now take up residence close to the inside bend.  They will be lying in an area that may well have been high and dry when the water level was low.  This scenario causes many problems for salmon fly anglers as they may be using sinking fly lines to combat the strong current and when their fly approaches the shallower water near the inside bend it continually gets snagged on the river bed.  A better option is to use a floating fly line, as these fish are lying in only a few feet of water, and we can cover this well defined taking strip with much better control.  Sometimes salmon can actually be lying right in among the grass along the river bank, so if possible it is better not to wade, and keep bank side vibrations to a minimum.  Occasionally you will hear about the beginner who caught two or three salmon when more experienced anglers blanked. In this particular situation it is easy to see why.  Our beginner only owns a floating fly line and because he is new to the sport cannot cast very far, so it’s a case of the right man in the right place! .



This cross section of C1 shows how the salmon lies have moved right over to the inside bend of the river.  At this high water level we should concentrate our efforts along the inside bend, close to the edge of the river.




Here on the Glenamoy River we have the same scenario as depicted in diagram A1, and A2.-low water, with the fish lying in the main current in the outside bend.  This angler is fishing in the right place, but he is not being stealthy enough, and is showing himself to the fish.  He should be keeping back from the salmon lies, and possibly kneeling down to remain unseen.




Here on the The Wall Pool on the Rockhouse Fishery river Owenduff our angler is concentrating on the strip of water between the red lines.  In higher water levels this potential taking strip will move to the inside bend to the right.




In this pool the angler is adopting the correct approach by staying low and remaining unseen.  The salmon will be lying in the easier flow between the red line and the edge of the white foam line, as the current directly under the angler’s bank is too strong at this water level.  Upstream we can see a stretch of very shallow, fast water (see yellow lines) these turbulent shallow stretches rarely provide good taking lies and are best avoided.

In the next articles we will look at various types of salmon lies, the holding depth of salmon in different types of pools, the importance of choosing the right depth of water in which to fly fish among others, and going over some of the topics in this article in more detail.  The skill of being able to spot potential salmon lies takes a little time to master, but even a little effort and thoughtful observation will pay handsome dividends.

All the best




























































Hooking Salmon On The Fly (part 2)



In part one we looked at a hooking system that works very well, and can be used with confidence for the majority of our fishing.  This involves ensuring that we keep our rod tip well up(about 45 degrees) as our fly fishes around in the stream, and when we get a take the rod is lowered in gradual increments as the fish tugs on the line.  When these tugs increase in strength to become positive strong pulls, and we begin to really feel the weight of the fish we stop lowering the rod, clamp the line for a couple of seconds while smoothly raising the rod back up to make sure the hook is fully set.  This taking process can be over very quickly with the fish almost pulling the rod out of our hands immediately, but because we had been fishing with our rod tip well up we had a nice drooping curve of fly line from the rod tip to the water, and this buffer allowed the fish to turn with the fly.  It is the versatility to cope with, and accommodate a wide variety of salmon taking behavior that makes this hooking system so dependable.

Bernard Breslin fishing the tail of the Rock Pool on the river Easkey



A windy day on the Rockhouse Fishery river Owenduff and this fly fisher has wisely decided to keep his rod tip low and fish off his well adjusted reel drag in the fast water

There are certain conditions where we may have to modify our approach and hooking technique, and one might be during spells of windy weather when our high held rod tip may be a disadvantage as it allows our fly line to be flapped all over the place, with our selected angle of presentation being pulled out of line.  In this situation we need to keep our rod low and fish off the reel.  There are many experienced, successful anglers who use this technique of fishing off the reel, which also works very well when fishing in fast water pools.  The taking salmon is allowed to pull line freely from the reel during the taking process, and when the fish stops taking line off the reel, the rod is then smoothly raised to set the hook.  Obviously the drag setting on the reel is set relatively lightly, but we must be careful that the drag setting is not set too lightly or we may risk an overrun on our fly reel, with our fly line ending up in a bird’s nest of tangled loops, and everything jamming up.  A good way to guard against this problem lies in the initial adjustment of reel drag before we commence fishing, and all we have to do is grip the line near the reel and give it a sudden jerk, if the reel overruns then adjust the drag setting until the reel gives line without overrunning.  There is a subtle margin of error between having the reel drag set too strongly with the salmon feeling excessive resistance during the take, and a fly reel drag that is set too lightly with the possibility of an overrun, and a jammed reel


Hans Bender landed this lightly hooked grilse because he was using a progressive action 7 weight fly rod on the Junction Pool river Owenduff

Fresh grilse are notoriously soft in the mouth and many are lost during the taking process, or during the subsequent battle. The problem of lost fish may not always be to do with the angler’s technique, but might actually be the choice of hook that the fly is tied on.  Treble hooks in the mouths of fresh grilse sometimes allow one prong of the treble to lever against another, with the hook rolling around the mouth, and eventually working free. If fresh fish are been lost on standard trebles, then it may be wise to change to double hooks which are excellent for hooking, and staying well set in during playing fish.  Single hook salmon flies are also another good option, especially ones with a nice wide gape.

Another area of tackle and technique that sometimes gets overlooked is actually the line weight, plus the action of the fly rods we use when targeting these soft mouthed fresh fish.  Sometimes when we set the hook in these fresh fish the hook hold we achieve is barely holding in, and if we are not careful during play then it is very easy for the hook to pull out, especially if we are using stiff rods and heavy fly lines.  We should try to use as light a fly line as will get the job done effectively, and use nice progressive action rods as opposed to ultra fast action rods.  With a lightly hooked fresh grilse we stand a much better chance of landing the fish on a progressive action seven weight than a stiff action eleven weight rod, as the lighter outfit is much more forgiving, and absorbs the salmon’s lunges more smoothly and softly.

Jurgen Van Den Hout clamps the line tight for a few seconds to make sure the hook is set after he had already allowed this salmon enough time to properly take and turn away with the fly.

When a salmon takes a fly into its mouth it will feel resistance from the rod and line but that is ok as salmon are used to capturing prey that resist.  The salmon rapidly opens and closes its mouth trying to crush and kill its prey, with the occasional fish actually swallowing the fly.  Successfully hooking, and landing salmon on the fly has many important factors, but the most important one is giving the fish time to go through its natural prey killing behaviour, whether that takes two seconds or ten seconds

All the best



Hooking Salmon On The Fly (part 1)

Marko Feltes playing a salmon on the river Moy


If there is one aspect of salmon fly fishing technique that causes frequent frustration, spoiled holidays, frayed tempers, and missed opportunities then it must be the inability to properly hook the fish that take our flies.  There are many reasons why this lack of what is basically a simple technique should be so prevalent, and one of the main culprits is conflicting information in angling books, or sources such as some internet fishing websites/forums.  Fishing forums are occasionally the source of confusion and unsound advice as some of the persons offering advice in their posts are inexperienced but this does not stop them offering their wisdom to all, even though they may have personally caught few salmon.  The inexperienced contributors to these forums don’t fully realise the inadequacy of their experience and to be fair they probably think that they are helping some other beginner along the way.  The new visitor posting on one of these forums looking for advice will usually get some very good advice from one of the really experienced members, but he may also get many other replies from novice anglers, so which advice should he take? .  Well the reality is that he or she will not usually know which advice is good and which is unsound as there will be so many conflicting opinions offered and the good advice often gets lost among all the various contributions.  The old boy’s years ago used to say that one shouldn’t be giving advice on salmon fishing to anyone until they had landed at least five hundred fish and better still to wait until after they had landed a few thousand. When an angler has landed about five hundred salmon you can say that he or she has acquired a reasonable or good level of experience and when that figure increases to a couple of thousand or more then one can be sure that a high level of skill and experience has been achieved.  The key word in all this is experience.  In an earlier article we looked at the creation of a vulnerable prey image as been the most important thing of all, but actual fishing experience built up over a number of years runs in a very close second.  A total beginner can cast his fly haphazardly across the stream and by pure chance actually create a good presentation, and if by chance there happens to be a taking fish near the fly it may rise and take.  Our beginner then strikes immediately, hooking his first salmon eventually landing it, and then fishes on for the rest of the day without another take.  In this case our beginner was lucky that his haphazard presentation still created an attractive image, and that luckily there was a taking fish in the vicinity, with the final bit of luck being that despite striking too soon he still managed hooked his fish.  Let’s put our experienced angler into the same scenario and look at what might happen.  Our experienced angler makes a cast that lands in a similar fashion to our beginners cast and immediately realizes that his line hasn’t lain out on the water as he had planned, but rather than cause extra disturbance through recasting he lets his fly fish around. The salmon rises and takes the fly while our experienced angler doesn’t strike immediately but allows adequate time for the fish to take properly hooks the fish and eventually lands it.  The experienced angler was fully aware that his line landed at a different angle across the stream than he had originally intended but he let his fly fish around as it was still fishing reasonably well.  After getting a take at that angle of presentation the experienced angler had a little review of the situation,and his strategy, maybe the current here is slightly slower/faster than first calculations suggested, and maybe it might be a good idea to continue with this angle of presentation.  He then proceeds to hook two other salmon lower down the pool landing both as his hooking technique had been perfected over many years.  For the beginner luck played a major role, but for the experienced angler it was his well practiced keen observation that allowed him to realize what had actually transpired and to take maximum advantage.

A lot of effort to get into position and hopefully a calm reaction when the fish takes


Luck is of course a factor in salmon fishing, but for experienced anglers the luck that is most important to them is to be in the right place at the right time, and when a salmon takes their fly they will successfully hook the majority of them.  Experienced anglers that hook a high percentage of the salmon that take their flies have either been taught a correct hooking procedure or through trial/error, and the heartache of many lost fish have developed a style that definitely does not include any form of rapid lifting or striking as the fish is in the process of taking.  I have used the word process as this is the best description of what may happen or develop when a salmon takes.  This process maybe over in a split second or it might take anything up to ten seconds to complete, and this is all very normal as salmon can come to our flies in many different ways.

A salmon may take our fly in a variety of ways such as, take in arcing movement and then continue to circle right or left back downriver from us, take and back directly downstream for a considerable distance before turning, take and then continue forward a little before either turning or just gradually tail back as it returns to the river bed, suck in the fly and hold station whilst shaking its head savagely eventually turning left or right back downriver, Bow wave directly to the fly from some distance and take with a dramatic swirl, among others. With such wide scope for individualistic taking behavior in certain situations it is obvious that no one hooking technique will be one hundred per cent successful all the time, even the correct application of two or three well adapted hooking techniques for various situations when used wisely still wont give us perfection, but why should it, salmon are wild creatures and we are after all only human.  The real question should be-what hooking technique works best most of the time?

A high rod tip provides a nice shock absorbing droop of fly line

The hooking technique that I use for the vast majority of my fishing is very straightforward and easy to execute.  I was shown this style by the late Tommy Byrne from Swinford when I was teenager and it has worked well for every angler I have passed it on to since.  While my fly is swimming across the river I keep the rod tip well up and by this I mean the rod should be held up at least at 45 degrees if possible.  This creates a drooping curve of fly line from the rod tip to the water acting as a shock absorber against sudden takes and also it acts as a visual indicator of a developing take as the fish pulls line starting to straighten this curve.   We will often see the take with this visual aid even before we start to feel the take at hand.  The actual initial feel of the take at hand can vary from the sensation of the fly line feeling almost imperceptibly slightly heavier right up to the slamming take that warps the rod around and the fish taking line off the reel immediately. The majority of takes start with a tap or a tug, this can follow a variety of sequences such as, tug tug, tug nothing for a couple of seconds then tug tug, three or four fairly evenly spaced tugs that develop into stronger pulls, the important thing is that if we give the fish enough time these tugs will get stronger and start to feel more like really positive pulls rather than taps or relatively gentle tugs. The taps or tugs are caused by the salmon shaking its head as it tries to crush and kill the prey it has captured and as the fish progressively starts to add more body movement to this killing action the tugs get stronger eventually culminating in the salmon trying to return to its lie.  When I get the first indication of a take whether it is the line starting to straighten or a tug I drop the rod a little and wait to see what develops.  I hold the rod completely still in this position until I get more tugs and then I drop my rod tip a little more. While these tugs continue to remain fairly gentle I gradually continue gradually dropping my rod tip and only stop dropping the rod when the tugs develop into really strong pulls.  When the fish starts to pull strongly I clamp the fly line while calmly and progressively raising the rod back up to about 45 degrees

At this stage I have the line clamped against the weight of the fish with the rod back up at or slightly above 45 degrees and I hold everything tight for a few seconds to make sure the hook is well embedded.  Our salmon is now hopefully well hooked and we unclamp the fly line, ease off the pressure and play the fish.

A shorter version of the strategy outlined above would be – as we get the first tug drop the rod tip a little, as the tugs gradually get stronger we keep dropping the rod tip in gradual increments, when the tugs change into strong pulls stop dropping the rod tip clamp the line tight for a few seconds as we smoothly raise the rod back up as this sets the hook, then ease off and play the fish.

David Anglis stayed calm and hooked this nice fish on the Ridge pool River Moy

The main points to remember are- try to keep the rod tip well up as the fly fishes around, drop the rod tip in gradual increments as the tugs get stronger, when the gradually strengthening tugs change to strong pulls where you are really starting to feel the weight of the fish then clamp the line and smoothly raise the rod to set the hook.  I get to see a lot of salmon hooked successfully or lost because of incorrect technique, but one of the most enjoyable hook-ups that I have witnessed in quiet a while happened as Andre Babik was fishing a pool on the Moy a few years ago.  A salmon took Andre’s fly with a tug tug, Andre dropped his rod tip a little in response, but he had to wait about five seconds before he got another single tug and he dropped his rod tip a little more in response, then there was a lapse of about three or four seconds before he started to get a series of gradually stronger tugs, he continued to drop his rod tip a little with each successive tug and when the transition from gradually stronger tugs to strong pulls came he clamped the line and set the hook.  The whole taking sequence took about eight to ten seconds, but Andre had the patience to remain calm and wait to claim his prize.  The real secret is waiting until the tugs change to strong pulls, and as an experiment just hold the sleeve of your shirt with two fingers and have a few tugs, then grasp a good clump of your sleeve with all your fingers clenched tightly and have a few pulls, I hope you will feel the subtle difference.

All the best






A Guide To Wading In Salmon Rivers


Remo Schorno hooks a nice fish


The main purpose of wading when salmon fishing, is to allow us fish our flies in an effective, lifelike, and controlled way over the salmon lies.  There maybe other reasons why we wade out into rivers such as, crossing over to fish from the opposite bank, providing that we can find a suitably shallow section that allows us to achieve this safely. Trying to assess the water depth or flow rate of pools in rivers that are new to us can be occasionally frustrating, but if we can find the nearest shallow area where we can safely wade at least partially,if not completely across,then this will give us a much better appreciation of the rivers average depth, and water speed. With this information logged in- our brain will subconsciously help us to evaluate/calculate depth, and current speed in other pools on that river. This little exercise might seem very simplistic, and unscientific, but our brains are super computers and with a little practice you will find this invaluable. Other reasons for wading might include such necessities as, playing a fish on a shorter line or when trying to clear our fly/fly line from some obstruction/snag.

Jurgen Van den Hout decided to wade out a little more to get better control while playing a strong running grilse


One of the Golden Rules of successful salmon fishing is, never wade into a river unless absolutely necessary, as even stealthy wading causes some disturbance, and this can reduce our chances dramatically.  In most salmon pools it is very likely that there will be some salmon lying on the near side of the main current, and if we wade heedlessly, or unnecessarily down this inside edge, then we run the risk of scaring these fish.This is a very common mistake especially with beginners, as many anglers seem to believe all the fish will be resting on the far side of the river. On big, wide pools it often pays to fish the near side from the bank, and only then returning to the top of the pool to wade in, and cover the fish that maybe lying from mid stream to the far side.  We must try to get our fly to land beyond where the fish is lying, and sometimes it is better not to wade in, or wade in a short distance and cast a long line, rather than to wade deeply casting a shorter line.  Every pool is different, and to err on the side of being over cautious is much wiser, than plunging in straight away, lashing out a long line, especially on pools that we are unfamiliar with.

Lovely glidey fly water on the Moy with easy wading on a shingle bottomed pool. Total relaxation, no danger here, or is there?? see diagram below.


Some anglers really enjoy wading, but for many others it is a slow, tiring, and frustrating necessity, but most of all it can be dangerous for anyone who is unable to swim, and quiet often for those that can also.  Wading is a major part of our overall fishing technique; however there are some pitfalls that we must be aware of when working our way down a salmon pool. The first mistake some anglers make is to try and wade to fast leaving themselves very little margin for error.  One consequence of this is when they happen to kick a small boulder on the river bed with the tip of their wading boot losing balance, toppling over downstream; as their overly rapid momentum doesn’t allow them enough time to readjust their balance. Standing up on submerged, or partly submerged rocks is another common recipe for disaster, as often the river currents have gouged out deep holes on the downstream side of these rocks.  Never ever clamber up on rocks while wading as getting back down again especially in a strong current flow can often be a very unnerving experience, with possibly deep water awaiting your next step downstream. Just carefully go around the obstruction and take care if you decide to go around on the outside, as this can also be unexpectedly deep. Those of us who have a poor sense of balance should work our way downstream in a sideways type of fashion, as this ensures that we have our feet placed in a more stable platform against the current, and if we happen to step into a small depression, then it is easy to readjust.  Pools with shingle bottoms should be treated with great caution as it can easily happen that one can find themselves wading out on a shallow shingle spit with deep water all around until the miniature landslide of shelving shingle takes you into deep water with no way back unless you can swim.


The angler, unfamiliar with this deep pool, has waded out onto this seemingly shallow shingle spit, and if he continues to wade downstream along the orange line he is going to end up swimming as the steeply sloping shingle gives way underfoot

Deep wading takes a lot of weight off the legs, and so is less tiring, that is providing the current is not too strong. Wading waist deep allows the weight of the lower half of your body to be borne by the water, and one is less likely to fall in because of the extra support gained from the water all round from your waist down.  Most anglers when wading deep show more caution, moving more slowly, and this helps in reducing mishaps, in fact it is probably true to say that we get more tumbles in knee deep water, as the shallower water gives a false sense of security, and we start to speed up too much.  A good little trick that we can use having lost our balance when wading deep is to quickly slap our fly rod down horizontally onto the water surface, and this will give us vital extra support for the split second it takes to regain our balance and footing.

A cold spring day at Oldcastle on East Mayo Anglers Association Water river Moy. Very important to wear extra layers of warm clothes because numb legs and safe wading don’t mix.

Sometimes we can inadvertently wade too deep and because of the extra buoyancy, start to actually sort of bounce along, and this can be a nerve wrecking experience, with probable feelings of panic which we must keep under control, as our life may hang in the balance.  If you find yourself in this situation and cannot swim then, try to bounce in a vertical fashion, all the time aiming yourself towards shore, and hopefully each successive bounce will bring you into shallower water as you make your way diagonally towards shore.  If this fails and you find yourself under water don’t panic, keep your mouth firmly shut, there should be enough air in your lungs and trapped in your clothing to help you back to the surface.  Keep your arms by your side and kick with your feet until your head breaks through the surface, try to float on your back with your arms outstretched, and your feet pointing downstream.   Take a good deep breath to maximise your buoyancy, then relax and breathe as gently as possible to maintain this buoyancy, all the time looking out for a suitably shallow exit point, as you will not be able to get out along a high bank.  After paddling your way into the shallows, don’t be in too much of a hurry to stand up as you will be physically weakened from your ordeal, just get on all fours and carefully and slowly get out of the water. The single most important thing to do when wading in deep and possibly dangerous water is to always wear a life jacket, let this be your number one priority.  Another problem that crops up occasionally is cramp, especially for people who are susceptible to it and have been maybe wearing non breathable waders for a prolonged period during hot weather.  A good antidote to cramp is salt, so for these people it would be wise to carry a few salt tablets in their wading jackets.

 This young angler had a minor mishap, but was wisely wearing his life jacket and after a quick change of clothing was back enjoying his fishing once again

A wading stick is a great asset for those that are a little apprehensive about venturing out in a fast current, and by the way a little fear and respect for fast flowing streams is no bad thing. There are some super hero style waders out there that could do with a little fearfulness, but sooner, or later all these risk takers end up swimming, and hopefully they will survive to learn from their foolishness.  Most wading sticks have lead added at their ends to stabilise them in the water, just check that when purchasing one that there is sufficient lead incorporated, as many of the sticks that I have seen don’t have enough ballast and lay flat in the water instead of standing upright beside the angler.  Care must be taken when attaching cords to our wading sticks. The end of the cord must be attached to the wading stick using a quick release knot/system, because if the fly fisher falls in the cord must break away easily, otherwise there is the very real risk that the wading stick may anchor, or snare its unfortunate victim. Another thing to watch out for when attaching the cord to our body is that we don’t hinder in any way the proper inflation of our life jacket.

A really good way to learn about possible wading dangers in your favorite river is to go on a scouting mission in low water conditions.

 If you are wading in a strong current without a wading staff, and are a little worried, don’t be afraid to wind up your line and use your rod as a makeshift wading stick, this has saved many lives down through the years.  River beds can vary from fine pebbles all the way up to huge boulder strewn death traps, and when choosing wading boots it is important to get ones with felt soles, or felt in combination with metal studs, as these give us maximum grip, but be very aware because these very boots that give us such a good grip on slippery rocks while wading, are absolutely deadly dangerous on wet grass and muddy river side banks. Keep a backup change of clothes in your car along with some towels, and if possible a flask of hot drink. After a wetting in the river don’t be tempted to accept a drink of whisky or brandy from a well meaning friend, as all it will do is lower your body temperature further, leave it until later when all the boys are having a good laugh in the pub!!!

The most important thing to remember is, SAFETY FIRST, at all times. Our families and friends expect nothing less from us.

Tight lines

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