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Catch a Spring Salmon on the Fly – the Ultimate Prize!

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A Tay salmon caught on opening day! A Tay salmon caught on opening day!

Catching a salmon is one of the finest experiences you can have with a fly rod and your first salmon is an important landmark in your fishing career.







Sportfish have produced a 2014 guide, packed full of facts and tips, to give you enough information to whet your appetite to get out there and catch your very own salmon, and at the same time to stay safe, dry and comfortable on the river.

The Sportfish Guide to Salmon

Most anglers are starting to get itchy feet after a winter of reading books, watching YouTube and tying flies, this makes us understandably keen to get out and start fishing as early as possible. The changing seasons make different demands upon our tackle and clothing selection but before we get into the kit, let’s first consider our quarry and the conditions we are likely to face.

So how do we choose where and when to fish?

Water levels play a huge part in the movement of salmon (and sea trout) throughout their time in the river. In high water conditions salmon can run far up the river in a very short time, making the upper beats a good place to try. The reverse can be said of lower water where salmon cannot gain access to the river, or they come to a feature such as a weir or waterfall and can go no further. Barriers such as this are worth exploring in all conditions, even high water as they form natural resting places for running fish. Early in the season when it’s cold the salmon’s metabolism will slow down preventing them from travelling past obstacles like rapids and waterfalls – these are referred to as temperature barriers.

Before you book your fishing for the season it’s very important to do your research and look at previous seasons’ catches. These figures will be based on an average catch over five years and this gives a reasonable idea of when to plan your trips. This method is not without its flaws because the records are directly related to prevailing conditions, angling pressure and the accuracy of catch returns.


Early and late season fishing often goes hand in hand with high water conditions. Aquifer-fed rivers are likely to be full after the winter and there may still be snow melt and rain runoff keeping spate rivers high. All this results is larger, deeper rivers with water pumping though. To fish this best you would benefit from a longer rod to help control you fly, mend your line and efficiently keep repositioning a fast moving fly, which will quickly be fished out.

The average fish an angler will encounter can also be above average size at this time of year and this, combined with a strong current, can make a salmon difficult to handle on light gear – the moral of the story is to step everything up! These conditions tend to cause anglers to reach for heavy sinking lines but this may sometimes be a mistake. Fresh fish are known to sit higher than the previous season’s kelts and if you are to avoid kelts it can be worth fishing shallower.

Summer fishing demands a much more delicate and stealthy approach. If we get a good summer, the river is likely to be low or ‘on its knees’ so if we go thrashing around with heavy lines the fish will be upset and less likely to take a fly. This is the time to reach for your small double-hander or a single-hander of around 10ft in length. And yes, don’t forget you can do the full range of Spey casts with a single handed rod and the Sportfish team of in-house instructors would be delighted to teach you how – just click HERE for details of lessons.


Modern fishing clothing, like modern tackle, is a marvellous thing; the lightweight, warmth and durability of the material is incredible and long gone are the days of big, heavy jackets. The modern approach for cold weather fishing is to layer-up with several light layers.

The bottom layer is to wick perspiration and water away from the body keeping your skin dry. On top of this a fleece layer absorbs water molecules but traps warm air near to your body. On top of these two layers you need a shell, to keep the rain and wind off.

Many of the new jackets and over trousers are fully waterproof but still able to allow bodies to breath by letting water vapour escape; they also come with any number of pockets and you may no longer need a tackle bag! The beauty of the layering method of keeping warm is that when the weather improves you can shed layers easily and carry on fishing in comfort – you are after all there to enjoy yourselves! Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun in the summer though, as water doubles the intensity of harmful UV light.

Waders and Boots

Waders generally fall into two categories; boot-foot (with a boot permanently attached) or stocking-foot (the angler can choose any boot to go on the wader) the latter offering superior support. Like clothing, modern waders are a revelation.

Having owned one to two sets of waders in my time for fishing and wildfowling, my suggestion is to go for chest waders with zips as you never know when the call of nature is going to strike! Many people still choose neoprene for winter fishing but with the quality of undergarments available, I would rather have a lightweight wader combined with good quality thermals.

When choosing your waders or boots it’s important to pay attention to the soles. The two commonly seen options are felt or StreamTread (similar to Vibram). Felt offers excellent grip on rock but can be slippery on grass, whilst StreamTread is great on grass but doesn’t offer much grip on slippery, wet rock. Both materials benefit hugely from the addition of studs and these can be fitted very easily as after-market products and replaced when they wear out.


Other important items to consider for wading include a wading stick and a lifejacket. Wading sticks are important for improving stability and balance and also for feeling your way as you move around the river. Ensure you only wade where you can see the bottom and make sure you pay attention to the river’s current and potential changes in water levels due to rain. Foam and bubbles floating downstream is a sure sign that rain has fallen upstream. Whilst lifejackets may look undesirable they are something that could well save your life one day. Sportfish recommend you choose an automatic model so if you bang your head, or get caught in a current, the jacket will keep you buoyant and, very importantly, turn you the right way up.

Eye Protection

As with all fishing you must wear eye protection to guard against fast-flying hooks. They will also enable you to spot far more fish. For poor light conditions, such as early or late season, or early and late in the day sunrise/yellow lenses are unbeatable. For general daytime salmon fishing copper lenses work effectively for most conditions and are a great lens for most UK angling.


Salmon terms you may not have known or understood!

OK, an easy one to start with! A fish which has been to sea for more than one winter.

A fish which has spawned and is starting its return to the sea. Generally caught at the beginning of the season it is likely to be lean, have gill maggots, a distended vent and have some damage to the bottom of the tail (from cutting redds). A well-mended kelt is likely to look like a lean fresh fish.

A fish which has been at sea for one winter (single sea winter), early season it will be smaller than a salmon at around 2 - 3lb in May but by October it could be 12 – 15lb in weight. Scales readings are the only true way to tell.

A female fish that hasn’t spawned and has remained in the river. It will have a soft belly and be a slightly off-silver colour. Baggots are usually caught in the spring.

A male salmon that hasn’t spawned and has remained in the river. Rawners are usually caught in the spring.

A salmon that has entered the river early in the year to spawn in the autumn. These are very beautiful and highly prized fish.

Stale fish
A fish which has been in the river for some time and has lost its silver colour. It will get darker in colour the longer it remains in the river and the closer it gets to spawning.

The word used to describe any species of fish which lives at sea but enters fresh water to reproduce.

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