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 some of these forums looking for advice will usually get some very good advice from one or more of the really experienced members, but he or she may also get many other replies from novice anglers, so which advice should be taken? .  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 is also very important.

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 to hook 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 hooking the fish and eventually lands it.  The experienced angler was fully aware that his line had landed in a mess or 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 in 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  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 take 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 then 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 full body movement to this killing action the tugs get stronger eventually culminating in the salmon trying to return to its lie.

Dropping the rod tip to a taking fish

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 during the take, 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 progresively stronger pulls, I hope you will feel the subtle difference between tugs and progressively stronger pulls.

All the best






Take Command Of The Wind


 Take Command Of The Wind

Just imagine the scene, there is a lovely soft breeze nudging your boat along the reservoir dam and you are occasionally connecting with some quality rainbows as you tease your team of flies back and up into that tantalizing hang position before recasting. What could possibly interfere to spoil your day?  Maybe you are drifting some wild rocky Irish or Scottish shoreline searching for an Atlantic bar of silver, or a wild brownie that will call for a celebratory dram or three in the local, come nightfall. The big spoiler for many fly fishers is strengthening wind conditions that may take them outside their normal casting comfort zone.

Any increase in wind speed makes it incrementally more difficult for us to fully straighten our fly lines behind our drifting boat and when we also factor in the long leaders that are often employed nowadays, then we can be in for some very interesting tangles! .   All these frustrating tangles can spoil our day but worse still is sticking one or more flies into ones person.  Fishing buddies often have a little chuckle when sharing anecdotes about the fly impailing boat partner from hell, secretly known as Vlad! ,  whose fishing technique takes a bit of a nose dive in efficiency anytime the wind gets up.   It’s always good to have a laugh but we need to be fully aware that there is always the danger of errant flies penetrating exposed flesh or gods forbid an unprotected eye.

The stronger the wind becomes the harder we have to work.  Even the resistance of the fly rod blank itself against a stronger wind will lead to extra physical strain not to mention the extra mental concentration needed to maintain the good technique that is required to straighten our line fully behind.  As the wind increases in strength our margin for error reduces dramatically, and this will affect us all, to a lesser or greater degree depending on our experience. Thoughtfully  readjusting our tackle and our fly casting technique will allow us all cope very well indeed with stronger winds and in fact if we get the right balance between tackle and technique we will actually use much less energy casting as the wind increases in strength.

Before we delve into the strategies we can employ on windy days it might be helpful to have a very brief look back at how previous generations of anglers actually fished and how tackle and techniques have evolved to where they are today. When I started traditional wet fly fishing on the Irish Loughs over forty five years ago there were many anglers still fishing the original short line style.  The short line style simply meant that the angler just cast a relatively short length of level fly line and the retrieve was executed by raising the fly rod back up into the vertical position and recast.  Skilled exponents would add wrist flickering and stuttering movements of the rod tip to make their flies come alive, but there was very little or no shooting or retrieving line.  It was very noticeable that some of these fly fishers changed over to roll casting when it got windy.

All through the 70’s and 80’s  fly rods and fly lines were continually being improved and this accelerated the already growing movement towards casting ever longer distances, longer retrieves, different sinking lines, longer leaders, and a whole new array of techniques that became possible because of these advances in tackle.  Compared to forty or fifty years ago we now have a bewildering array of techniques and different fly lines that are normally employed to be used at much further distances from the drifting boat .  Long casting seems to be the norm and when you add in occasional testosterone fuelled competitiveness it can lead to fishing our flies at needlessly excessive distance’s where the actual hooking up on the takes we get, can then prove very difficult indeed.

Why do you almost never see anglers using a basic roll cast anymore as their main delivery system when boat fishing?

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly many of the longer heads on our modern weight forward fly lines when combined with long leaders will have an overall length that makes roll casting difficult because of all the extra water surface tension involved. Because longer fly line heads and leaders make roll casting more difficult, anglers do not believe that roll casting could possibly be an equally efficient and effective alternative to what they see everyone else doing which is always overhead casting.  Most experienced fly casting instructors will tell you that the majority of their fly casting students will fail to have any real interest in practicing their basic roll casting technique but are very enthusiastic to practice normal overhead casting where achieving distance is easier and where they believe that they are making real progress.


Is roll casting as equally effective and efficient as standard overhead casting?

When we use our normal fly lines and leader set ups in calm or light breeze conditions , overhead casting is the most efficient and effective approach to take for many anglers.  I believe good roll casting technique when allied to a well-balanced outfit that is designed to make roll casting easy is equally effective and efficient, and when the wind blows up stronger out on the reservoir or lake, roll casting is then by far the best option.  Roll casting on a windy day allows you (if required?) to cast a long distance with absolute minimum effort and with the very important added bonus of never being in any danger from flies swishing past your ears.   As the wind increases in strength it should become easier and easier to present our flies, not more difficult.

Being able to comfortably cope and actually fully enjoy our fishing whenever the wind blows up a little really boils down to getting two main factors successfully sorted out. Number one is using a fly line that really suits roll casting and the second is sharpening up our roll casting technique so that it incorporates a smooth acceleration to a very crisp stop that is aimed in the correct direction.

As a full time guide and fly casting instructor I have had the opportunity to cast with almost every decent rod and fly line that has come onto the market over the years.  As Mr Eastwood might say, some were good, some bad, and some were ugly, but even though I might often have seen some advancements, these were gradual until I tested the Commando Heads from OPST.  It takes something really special about a new product to get experienced fishing guides raving about it.  For me and my guide friends it was the remarkable efficiency and amazingly versatile adaptability of these OPST lines that really caught our full attention.  When clued in fishing guides come across fishing gear that is genuinely innovative and effective their first thoughts are how it will help their clients be more effective, and catch more fish. I initially tested these new Commando heads on a variety of small to medium size salmon rivers and they proved more than capable of handling every possible fishing scenario and performed equally well when used to spey, skagit, or overhead cast. I used them for pike fishing and again they were a revelation, making the fishing so enjoyable and easy.  I just knew that they were also going to perform brilliantly out on the reservoirs and lakes, and so they did.

The OPST Commando is by far the best all round line I have ever used for Lough or reservoir fishing. Depending on line class, these heads are between 12 and 18 feet long and will comfortably cope with the addition of various sinking poly leaders up to 16 feet in length.  The Commando line is a shooting head that can be attached to whatever running line the angler prefers.  I would advise that when Lough or Reservoir fishing it might be best to use normal coated running line (pvc coated like a normal fly line)  because lightweight mono running lines are too adversely affected by being blown around the boat by the wind. Don’t go for a running line that is too thin, running lines that are at the larger diameter end of the scale are easier to handle, easier to strip, easier on the stripping fingers, and slightly heavier which stops them being flapped around in a wind.  Don’t believe advisors that tell you larger diameter running lines will adversely affect the distance you can cast. Remember we are not trying to break the world distance record at the CLA, we are equipping ourselves to fish really effortlessly and effectively while out on the Reservoir or Lough.

Let’s have a look at some possible fishing scenarios. You are out on your favourite reservoir and after trying a few tactics you determine that a team of various nymphs and mini lures fished with a full floating line on a 20 ft+ leader is the best approach to adopt as you drift into a big shallow bay. You start to get a few takes and you are enjoying yourself.  Gradually the wind starts to increase in strength and straightening your fly line fully on the back cast starts to become a struggle and you have already being tapped on your shoulder a few times by your flies as they whiz by you out of control.  You brace yourself to physically put more effort into your back cast but all this is no longer feeling enjoyable.

How can I cope and get back to effortlessly enjoying my day?

Enter the Commando with its substantially shorter head length and its remarkable efficiency when roll casting.  You can still continue to use your 20ft+ leader regardless of wind because you will now be roll casting.  Regardless of wind strength just smoothly bring your rod up into the roll cast position and accelerate smoothly to a crisp stop and release. A few tips, aim your forward roll cast at a much higher angle than normal and by this I mean at least 60 degrees.  The very last part of your forward roll cast just leading into the crisp stop should be a sword like stabbing motion because this will help combat over rotation of your wrist, and really help maintain the high trajectory that is required. If we execute our roll cast effectively then the Commando head will comfortably cast any leader or sinking poly leader that we could wish to employ. By the way, the roll casting tips outlined above will also help experienced anglers to roll cast more effectively with their normal weight forward fly lines, but using the Commando just makes it all so much easier. The photo sequence below shows good roll cast technique incorporating a forward delevery aimed high and a crisp stop.



We might be enjoying our annual salmon or sea trout fishing holiday somewhere in Ireland or Scotland and find ourselves afloat casting traditional wet flies over rocky shallows.  The ghillie or fishing guide might well have us using a fast intermediate or other faster sinking lines to search the rocky shorelines and all is well until a stronger wind starts to blow down the valley. Why not swop over to a Commando head and maybe a 14 ft fast or superfast poly leader while still retaining the same 12 ft mono leader and team of flies.

Basic roll casting with our Commando head can start out with us just sweeping back and up to either shoulder to facilitate quite a respectable change of direction on the forward delivery if required.  As we practice and gain confidence we can then start to experiment with little single or double spey casts to gives us even wider angle changes. We might even start to use casts like the Perry Poke, to help when fishing our flies really deep. All these different casts can be done in front or slightly to the side of our drifting boat without having to put our flies into the air behind us at all.

We got Vlad a Commando line last season and now he is out fishing everyone!!

Take Command of the wind and enjoy your fishing

All the best













One of the most highly prized achievements in angling is to land a fresh spring salmon, and to accomplish this in the cold water conditions of early season is probably one of the most gratifying achievements of all. Some anglers associate early spring salmon fishing in cold water with the months of January, February, and the first half of March, but quiet often we can get severe cold snaps right through April also.

Spring Salmon fishing on the Owenduff

Mr Willie Behr fights the cold as it starts to snow on the Owenduff, April 2010

You must fish a big fly slow and deep when the water is cold in springtime.This statement has been handed down from father to son/daughter over many generations and is part of the lore of salmon fishing. Thousands of anglers over the generations have found this is the best approach, are they right? Today we have many advantages in terms of better fishing tackle etc, so are there any modern tactic’s that can replace the advice given above? How deep is deep? How slow is slow? and what size is a big fly?.

When an experienced angler or ghillie passes on some advice to help solve a particular fishing problem the recipient must trust that it is based on personal practical experience. Better still if the advice can be supported in some way by any relevant scientific studies, then the angler can fish with the extra confidence, and persistence that is so vital when searching for that elusive early Springer in cold water conditions.

Luckily for us the effects of water temperature on salmon behaviour have been studied by MH Beach in the early 1980s, and some of the results were published in the early 1990s by the Scottish Fisheries Department in their document – Notes for Guidance on the Provision of fish passes and screens for the safe passage of salmon.

When constructing fish passes it is important to understand the swimming, and leaping ability of salmon so as to provide safe passage for them through the system. There were two types of speed noted in the study ‘cruising’ which can be maintained easily for long periods, and ‘burst’ which gives the salmon the extra thrust to swim at high speed when needed, and can be only maintained for short periods of time. The study showed that large salmon could swim faster than small salmon, and that water temperature affected swimming speed. Colder water = slower maximum speed.  A graph was produced to show maximum swimming speeds in relation to fish size over temperatures ranging from 2-25 degrees Centigrade At 5 degrees C a 6lb salmon had a predicted maximum speed of 2.6 meters per second, the same fish swimming in water at 10 degrees C had a maximum speed of 3.7 meters per second, and when swimming in water at 15 degrees C its maximum speed increased further to 4.7 meters per second.  The graph for a 20lb salmon was 3.3 meters per second at 5C, 4.7 meters per second at 10C, and a staggering 6 meters per second maximum speed at 15Centigrade.

Through trial, error, and practical experience (when all is said and done there is no substitute for practical experience) our forefathers had it right about fishing slow and deep in cold water for salmon. The study also supported the observations made by previous generations about the reluctance of salmon to negotiate stretches of rapids or waterfalls in cold water conditions, with the fish normally waiting to run until the water temperature reached at least 5-6 degrees C. With their maximum swimming speed severely restricted in water of 4 degrees C or less the salmon have little choice but to wait. These rapids or waterfalls became known as temperature barriers, and the pools where the salmon rested waiting for the water to warm up became known as temperature pools.

When choosing which salmon fly to use in any given situation we must consider what it is we are trying to achieve. The first objective is to create a reasonable impression of a living, vulnerable prey item which will have an impact on the fish. The second consideration might be the profile of the fly, slim tubes, and hair wings suit fast currents whereas Irish shrimps are best used in moderate to slow currents. In fast water the salmon gets less time to see the fly so you might choose a bigger fly, and conversely in slower water a smaller fly might be enough to create the illusion of life, and guard against creating too strong of an impression, or impact thus maintaining the holy grail which in my opinion is a fly that is visible, and vague at the same time!. There are other considerations also, such as in coloured water we might use more colourful flies, in slow currents we might consider flies tied with extra soft mobile materials, as they will be hovering close to the fish for longer, and this may help in the deception. The main reason big(and sometimes colourful) flies are successful for salmon in cold water is the strong impact they have on the fish whose metabolism has slowed way down with their senses dulled slightly and this is what it sometimes takes to wake them up. Yellow (especially fluorescent yellow) is a great colour in cold water, and is the dominant colour in many of the great traditional, and modern cold water salmon flies. One of my favourites is the gold Willie Gunn, tied with proportionally extra yellow hair for coloured water, equal amounts of yellow, orange, and black hair for normal conditions. For clear water I like a standard Willie Gunn (black body, gold rib) tied with more black hair than yellow, and orange.

Every spring salmon river system has its own local favourite flies, and it is usually wise to include them in your armoury, just make sure you have them in large enough sizes for cold water fishing. Big flies in my opinion start at about 2inches overall measurement up to about 6inches with 3-4inchs being the most commonly used sizes, and there are some anglers who occasionally use flies (usually sunray shadow’s) of 8-10inches long. Three or four favourite patterns in different sizes tied on plastic, aluminium, and brass tubes are usually enough to take with you as cold water spring salmon fishing is not the place to be experimenting with variants of established patterns, because when the going gets tough doubts creep in, confidence flags, much better to stick with proven original patterns that have stood the test of time.

Spring Salmon Flies

Some of my favourite cold water salmon flies, A 2 inch Gold Willie Gun, A 3 inch Silver Grey, A 4 inch Cascade, and a 6 inch Sunray Shadow, all on tubes

Lethargic cold water salmon need the fly to be put in their face to wake them up, and this means swimming it at1-2 ft from the river bed. Regardless of skill level when we fish this close to the bottom there are going to be flies hung up and lost, in fact if we fish the whole day without hanging up, and losing the occasional fly then we are probably not fishing deep enough. We use various sinking fly lines to get down, and swim our fly close to the fish with a balance to be struck between choosing a line that sinks too much constantly snagging bottom, a line that never snags at all presenting our fly too far above the fish, or the best compromise, a line that causes our fly to tick bottom regularly enough to make us feel confident that we are bumping them on the nose.  Nowadays we are spoilt for choice with the range of different sink rate fly lines available to us. There are full sinking lines, and wide choice of density compensated, or sink tip lines which should help us cope with most situations. Type 2, 3, and 4(inches per second) sinking lines are probably the most useful, but its no harm to have an even faster sinking line with you to cover all eventualities. I prefer to use lightweight flies with my sinking line as they retain their lifelike appearance even in slow currents, but if my fastest sinking line isn’t getting deep enough then I will use one of my brass tubes to reach the taking zone.  Leader lengths can vary from 3 ft for the deepest presentations, up to 6-8ft for clear water situations. Monofilament breaking strains of 20lb, or more should be the norm as our leaders will be in contact with the river bed and rocks many times during the day. Every time we snag up on rocks, or whatever, it would be wise to check for any signs of abrasion, and replace the leader if in any doubt.

Sink tip v Full sink line

Sometimes when fishing deep in very rocky pools a full sinking line can get hung up a lot, because it tracks relatively flat as depicted by the orange line in the diagram above. If we use a sink tip line instead as depicted by the blue/green line, we may dodge some of the snags as we work our way down the pool.


Aerial mend

In cold water the salmon’s metabolism slows down so we fish our flies as slowly as possible. The more of an angle we cast down and across the river the slower the fly will come around, however if we need to get extra depth (especially on the far side of the river) we can make a reach mend upstream after we make our cast, and as our fly line is unrolling out in the air over the river, as depicted in the diagram above. Another wrinkle to add to this is to have some spare loops of line retained after the reach mend so we can roll or shake out extra slack to achieve even more sink time before the current starts to tighten up, and fish our fly across. If that’s not enough we can always take a step downstream as well!!



Sunray Shadow                            The Sunray Shadow works its magic once again

Salmon taking the fly in cold water often take so gently that its as if they just slowly grow on the end of the line, and as the slow deep throbs grow stronger we immediately seem to forget all those fishless hours, and aching cold limbs. Some experienced anglers just clamp the line on the rod cork, and wait until everything tightens up before lifting into the fish; others set the drag on their fly reels on a light tension (just enough tension that it doesn’t overrun) and allow the fish to take a couple of yards of line of the reel before lifting to set the hook, either method is good.

In cold weather the middle part of the day is usually best as whatever sun maybe shining will have had time to hopefully raise the water temperature a little, and encourage the fish to take. Anglers who regularly catch spring salmon on the fly especially in cold water conditions, are not just lucky, they consistently present their flies accurately in difficult conditions, and persist when others have thrown in the towel.  Later on when the water warms up, and reaches temperatures of 6-12C, the salmon will be invigorated as this is the temperature band which suits them best, allowing them to once again reach maximum speed and reclaim their glorious title. Salmo salar -The leaper.

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 fly fishers 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 high knot strength and being easy to tie, it has gained almost universal acceptance as the go to 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 become noticeable how often they check their flies to make sure that they are ok, and it is not just 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, this 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. 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. However, 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 because this knot will work. Pass the tippet through the eye and around under the shank of the hook.

Pass the tippet back out through the eye making sure you leave 4 or 5 inches of tippet outside to finish the knot.

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

When we draw the knot tight the bulk of the knot fits very neatly into the eye of the hook. Some anglers use a Turle knot or a double turle knot to replace the half blood knot to cure the problem of hinging, but this knot is neater and easier to tie as we are still using a knot that we already know 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 Gordon Lesinger and the great Art Lee christened it the Tweed Clinch.

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 also ensure that 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.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 because of the likelihood of abrasion against these hazards. Flies tied to heavy tippets with half blood knots lose most of their lifelike movement but  we can now 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 here once again the Moy Loop knot with its ability to provide the maximum possible free movement  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 creating a wake  . Even the tiniest hint of drag (sometimes called micro drag) can put them off rising to take our dry flies. Here once again the Moy Loop knot with its maximum 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. 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