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Low water salmon fishing techniques on the Kola and elsewhere

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Many fishers approach the idea of low water with something less than enthusiasm in the belief that intolerable difficulties await and fish become fiendishly difficult to catch.

Nothing could be further from the truth and within the environment of the Northern Rivers low water is something to be looked forward to as a rewarding and fascinating time.

The reason for this is simple, none of the rivers are spate dependant and all are lake fed with the consequence that they are never too low for fish to run. As the rivers naturally drop back to summer levels more and more water opens up for fishing and every lie can be accessed with relative ease. The swift drop and naturally highly oxygenated nature of the water means that active and aggressive fish are lying wherever conditions appeal to them and many a monster has materialized from the front of a rock or in the middle of a little pot or run.

To successfully capitalize on low water anglers need an open-minded approach and an understanding of the methods outlined below as well as a willingness to use stealth and guile in getting up close and personal. Remember salmon are no more or less wary than the most highly tuned chalk stream or spring creek trout and approaching them in the same way will reap great benefits for the careful angler.


This method involves hitching a small fly behind the head so that it retrieves at an angle to the current creating a wake on the surface. The same effect can also be achieved by boring a hole in the side of a small tube fly. This method is at its best in glides and V's where a strong current begins or ends. Polaroid glasses often enable the angler to see fish following the fly and can lead to some highly intensive and emotional experiences!

Successful fly patterns include anything small and dark such as the Black Bear Red/Green Butt, Stoats Tail, Jeannie or lighter flies like the Green Highlander, Hairy Mary and Blue Charm. Hitching a Bomber or Muddler Minnow can also be very productive albeit that many more fish will show to the Bomber than will actually grab hold however in these circumstances it then pays to skate a small fly over the same fish. Greasing the leader to within a few inches of the fly when skating can improve presentation and the use of fine diameter high b.s fluorocarbon means that large fish can be fought with confidence.


Big Bomber dry flies in sizes 2 -6 can be tremendous fish attractors with all sorts of antics being displayed from fish jumping out the water and grabbing the fly on re-entry to tail slapping and other attempts to drown the fly. The bomber can be fished dead drift, skating, dibbling or swinging in a regular manner and all methods have their day. Remember a fish moving to the Bomber is on the alert and as mentioned above a small fly pulled over the same fish will often result in a firm take.

As the fly is so big and visible it can be used in any water although classic bomber water is the fast tail glides prevailing in our waterfall pools.

Green, brown and white are favourite colours for the Bomber


This is probably the single most successful method on the Rynda and Zolotya and can also be used to great effect on the Kharlovka and Eastern Litza. A good dibbler will without doubt always out fish other rods. A key factor in dibbling is the ability to read and develop a feel for the water. It also demands an open mind to the fact that salmon will often lie in unlikely places and therefore concentration is a must as a salmon moving to the fly in fast broken water can be tough to see even if it moves several times. Dibbling is the method of dapping or skating a fly on a very short line and lends itself to extracting fish from small lies and otherwise impossible spots. The essence of dibbling is getting close to the fish whilst using background or cover and hanging a bouncing, bobbling fly over their nose. Takes are usually explosive and every fin can be seen as the fish slashes and lunges at the fly. To achieve maximum benefit a 12-13ft rod is usually the best with a 10ft level leader of 20lb fluorocarbon. The fly line is immaterial as one is very rarely utilizing more than a few yards and it is one of the few occasions where a double taper line with a nice feel has a place in modern salmon fishing.

On the rivers of Sutherland where the method was developed a dropper is often used however experience in Russia shows that one is much better fishing with a single fly as otherwise a broken leader is the likely outcome.

A good set up is a small light tube such as a Silver Stoat or Hairy Mary or alternatively a small 10/12 Muddler. There is no need to hitch the fly although it can help in some pools. It is better to use the currents to create tension with the fly and literally paint the pool moving a high rod around like a magician's wand. Keep a very close eye out as fish can move several times to the fly sometimes more than once on the same cast. Once located stick on them until they are hooked or touched never leave an interested fish to find fish as they say. Another factor about this type of fishing is that a strike is not misplaced particularly when a fish performs the classic head and tail rise over the fly and the angler lifts as the fish goes down dare I suggest one of the great moments in salmon fly fishing.

Another method that appeals to certain of the cognoscenti is dibbling a big Sunray Shadow or Collie Dog in likely spots. This method is best described as 'Shock and Awe ' and can bring up huge fish particularly in August and September. It is not recommended for those with dickey hearts or less than full control of their faculties!

Clear Intermediate

The use of a slow sink clear intermediate (slime line) or sinking line can be deadly when fishing pools where a reasonable cast is required. A key to this method is fishing small and keeping the flies moving through judicious hand-lining dependent on the currents. Many of the largest fish on our rivers have been hooked and landed on flies as small as size 12 and on a bright day keeping the flies down a few inches can be very successful. Small flies with a bit of action in their dressing work well including conehead tube flies, small Collie Dogs and Sunrays as well as Ally Shrimps and similar patterns. Always let the fly fish right around to the dangle as this is where many fish will grab the fly having followed it around.

Fast sinking line/Big Tube

On days of brassy sunlight when fish are reluctant to move close to the surface it can pay to run a big plastic tube fly on a fast sinking head through any pool with sufficient depth. When using this method hand-lining is again a pre-requisite and stripping the fly fast can also excite the predatory instinct of the fish. It is recommended that a minimum of 25lbs breaking strain is used for this technique as takes can be aggressive and at short range. The Willie Gunn is the undoubted king of flies for this method but a big Collie Dog and Sunray can also do very well.

Nymph Fishing

This method can be deadly in the waterfall and canyon sections of the rivers. It requires deep-water close in and optimally under the tip of the rod. We have developed a method of fishing a big stonefly nymph (size 6 long shank) on a long 16-18 ft leader. The essence of this method is keeping control of the fly and striking at any hesitation in its progress as it drifts along just above the bottom. In the waterfall pools look for a steady deep flow under your stance and pitch the heavy nymph upstream bringing it under control beneath your feet. Ideally you have a straight down connection with the fly and the tip of the fly line is just at the surface. You can then walk the fly down the pool for several yards feeling it's progress and striking hard if it hesitates. This can be a devastating method in hot weather and several fish over 30 pounds have been caught in this way. It is truly amazing to see this trout tactic producing salmon and many people are frozen in disbelief the first time the line draws away and a salmon hits the fly.

In our experience the method is not suitable in the Foss (Whitewater) parts of the waterfall pools as one cannot control the fly and the only likely outcome is a foul hooked fish, which nobody wants.

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