Summer - low water - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3.
This is considered the most difficult conditions for fishing. The river gets low and warm and the water clarity increases, resulting in the salmon becoming spooky and hard to fool. The salmon run patterns gets disrupted, and most salmon fishermen feel that “the river is just to small now”. However, the river does not decline like this until later in the season, and by then a lot of salmon has already entered the river. The first salmon enter the River Gaula in early May, meaning that if the water levels drop like this after July 1st salmon has already entered the river for two months. This is why there would normally be salmon in the pools even when the water levels drop. Obviously the fishing slows down somewhat, and it’s easier for the salmon to see and hear us. The salmon’s behavioural pattern changes, and it seems to enter some sort of trance, as it’s just that much more difficult to fool. The salmon has no behavioural habits created to cater for us fishing for it, however it knows for sure how to make it’s life in a river in drought as pleasant as possible for itself, thinking otherwise would be underestimating salmon completely. It seeks out different lies than it otherwise would if the river was higher, salmon has a survival system for these conditions, and as such a river never becomes “too small” for a salmon. I have spent a lot of time fishing in conditions like these, I enjoy fishing when the fishing is slow, as the feeling of accomplishment is much bigger when conditions are tough. Additionally, behavioural changes are much esier to spot when the river is low, you learn a lot more about salmon behavioural patterns than when the river is higher. I use lighter fishing equipment, and flies that are totally different compared to the “normal” salmon flies, but most importantly; I also change my own behavioural pattern.
Salmon run patterns.
During summer a lot of salmon often congregate around the river mouth when the river gets too low, but the salmon already in the river the run pattern will continue although somewhat disturbed. Most people don’t think salmon continue running upriver when the river is low, howver let me tell you; it does. At this stage it is more normal that salmon continue upriver individually, thus the behaviour where salmon swim up in groups is altered. I am so impressed by these salmon’s urge to get to their “childhood pool”. I have seen salmon at dusk negotiate runs so shallow that they slam into rocks on their way upriver. I have caught salmon with sea lice up to 80 kilometers upriver, during a period where the river just kept dropping for 3-4 weeks. I spoke to fishing buddies fishing 40 kilometers further down, and they claimed that the river was so low that no salmon would even enter the river. That urge to get moving upriver is so strong, it’s beyond our imagination. And it’s not just in the evenings or at night that salmon runs upstream and becomes very active in the pools, even at overcast days with a low cloud cover it will negotiate the river in stages.
The slowest salmon run pattern is evident if the river becomes very small in the early parts of the season, when proper night-time darkness still is not occurring. We can notice the salmon behaving differently before the river starts declining, thus predicting a decline in water level. I have a couple of good fishing spots for summer river levels. Earlier I used to start fishing these spots after the river had dropped. One day I noticed some unusual behaviour from the salmon, this began two days before the river dropped. In one pool I noticed a level of activity I had never seen before at this water level, so I had to look closer at this. I normally don’t fish this particular pool when the river is as high as it was at that time, as the current then is very swift. Thus this pool isn’t fishable until the river drops, and I was very surprised when I realised that a lot of salmon had already positioned themselves I this pool, it was as if they wanted to secure a good spot in anticipation of the drought, it took four weeks until it rained again after this. I have observed this several times afterwards.
Salmon behavioural patterns.
One of the most exciting things I can do on the river during conditions like this is to observe the salmon’s behaviour. It is much easier to see what different slmon are doing now than when the river is high, thus we learn more about the salmon. I have spent many days studying one individual salmon, and also studying the same pool over a long period of time. The behavioural pattern of salmon is completely controlled by the conditions of the river and the weather, which means that we have to look closer at the challenges met by the salmon in order to succeed catching it, when the river is low and warm and the water is clear. The salmon’s behaviour is controlled by its survival instinct in connection with water temperature, and it also needs good spots providing good cover during these conditions. In other words, it seeks out the best spots in the river, the best places to be, for these conditions. Thus these spots also become hot-spots in terms of fishing.
When the river is small there’s less room for the salmon, so a power-struggle will occur between slmon in order to claim the best lies. A pool can be quiet for a long time, but suddenly, without warning, situations arise when salmon will eagerly take a fly. Salmon can be found in places with a faster current, areas covered in shade, and of course in the deep pools. Areas with fast current; as the oxygen levels in the water is higher here, and the swift surface current provides cover, making the salmon feel more safe.
You will also find salmon in areas covered in shade; here salmon seeks the shade offered by trees and large rocks/mountain areas, this is cooling and safer. I have several times seen salmon move around in pools as the sun gets ever higher.
The deep pools; are always good spots, salmon will move here first as this is the best place to be. But such pools are difficult to fish, the flow disappears so that the traditional way of fishing (by letting the current do the job for us) is useless. “The river is too small” is a saying often used by salmon fishers. Salmon has established procedures for what it has got to do, as this would not be the first time the river is this low. Rather, it is the fishermen and women that should look at their behaviour during conditions.
Looking more closely at water temperatures and what it means for the salmon, we see that there is a certain increase in mortility rates when temperatures exceed 20 °C. A small amount of salmon cannot handle the increased temperature due to various reason, but the majority of salmon, “thinking ahed”, a low and warm river is not a problem.
Salmon fishers behavioural patterns.
A low river equals clear water; clear water equals spooky fish; and spooky fish equals tough fishing. It is far from simple to make the salmon eat the fly during conditions such as these. I will now offer a few tips on fishing strategy; I have knowingly fished a lot in these conditions, which has taught me a lot about the salmon as an adversary.
There is a lot of focus on flies, casting and equipment, and these issues are naturally important, but having knowledge about the salmon itself will help your catch rate too. I feel that us salmon fishers are too “urban” in terms of our behaviour on the river. We would benefit from planning our bahaviour in a more “camouflaged” fashion, the differences between a salmon fisher and a trout fisher are vast. The nymph and dry fly fisherman hunting for trout look for the fish, they observe what the trout eats, they plan how to cast for it, and often two fishing buddies can concentrate on the same fish. Imagine how exciting this style of fishing is. Meanwhile, we salmon fishers wade out to above the knee, water splashing, and queing down the river. It’s not always our own fault, as sometimes there are so many people on the river that queing is the only alternative, as we have to stick to the rule of getting into the river at the top of the pool, and then move a few steps downstream after each cast. In many ways this is a good rule, as everyone gets a go at the pool. And if salmon are running the river this works just fine in terms of catches. However, I feel that this rule contributes to that “urban” style of fishing mentioned earlier, and we employ that style way too often, almost all the time in fact. Even when we have a whole pool to ourselves, we will begin at the top of the pool and fih trough the pool using lots of casts. To me this is a “machine-like” way of fishing, not employing any kind of fishing strategy, regardless of salmon being stationary or running in the current conditions.
When the river is high I often start fishing at the top of the pool, and I spend a lot of time fishing through it, using lots of casts if I see salmon running the river, this mostly works well. But when the river becomes medium or smalles in size, a different fishing strategy is more exciting. Imagine the following: you’re finally on the river again, you’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, it’s holidays and it’s salmon fishing. But oh no!, the water level in the river is not at all good. The gear is rigged, you chat with other fishermen, and a salmon jumps in the current. What happens too often now is that we start at the top of the pool, wading in and cast as many casts as we can through the pool, we have to make sure that the salmon sees the fly, right? Tension is increasing. You’re getting close to where the salmon jumped, now it’ll happen, it’ll take the fly! To be safe you cast a few extra casts over the lie, change flies a couple of times, but no luck; it’s not “biting” today obviously. Is it possible that this kind of behaviour is a bit “overkill” in this situation?
So what went wrong? The salmon is there. In my experience this would be to underestimate the salmon as a challenger, this is “machine-fishing strategy”. Fishing in this fashion gives the salmon the best possible option to make the right choice, in terms of its future. The salmon is down there in the current, you began fishing some meters upstream, but as the river is low and the water is clear the salmon will see your fly from far away. It will react to it somewhat initially, but after having seen this “threat” several times before it finally passes by the salmon will have lost interest, it realises that this “thing” is not a threat. The feeling of excitement is through the roof when we finally get the fly in front of the salmon, but think about the alternatives. Don’t start at the top of the pool, but find a camouflaged position and throw the fly “right at the target”, this I can promise you is exciting! Or what about an upstream cast in this situation?
Salmon or trout fishing?
I believe that on a low summer river we should alter our fishing methods. This goes for the gear, the flies and also the fishing strategy. Trout fishers use imitations of the current hatches. The salmon fisher doesn’t believe that salmon actually eat insects, but grab the flies due to aggression and to maintain its chosen spot. We’d do better if we use both traditional salmon fishing techniques and trout fishing techniques, and this should be varied depending on water levels. I have personally seen salmon eating insects, rising several times in one spot, if it does this in order to eat, or because it is boring to just stand in the pool awaiting more water, or whether it’s “childhood memories” fro the time it was a parr eating insects in the river. I don’t have the answer, but I know that it does eat insects, and that’s what matters. I am lucky enough to have the well-known trout fisher Bjørnar Skjevdal no more than a phone call away. I know nothing about entomology, so I give Bjørnar a call and explain what kind of rise form I see. When he gets what the salmon are eating, the shouts into the phone: “that is a large trout rise!”. Ok I say, but this is a 10 kg salmon. That’s why flies such as Streaking Caddis, Goddard Caddis, Madam X and not to forget Rakkelhanen are some of my most important flies for low summer rivers. Other flies often use are Riffling Hitch, Muddler Minnow and Bombers, I also have a special “salmon nymph” series that are very effective for fishing a warm river.
I had a very special experience when the river was low and warm a few years ago, it developed to become chaotic both in the pool and in my head. This was so strange I couldn’t stay calm, but I got to see this behaviour several times during the next years. After three years I managed to fool a salmon to take my fly during this period of rare behaviour, it just felt so good to “crack the code”. What happened the first night was that suddenly, without warning, the pool went from being completely quiet to completely chaotic. The first thing I saw was the “boss of the pool” quietly drifting up to the surface.
It swam slowly upstream, the top of its body broke the water surface, and the reaction in the pool was that salmon jumped desperately around the pool. Scared salmon as large as 8-10 kilos jumped around in the pool, completely desperate. I grabbed the fly rod, walked into position according to the route of the “boss”, and with trembling hands cast several times right in front of the salmon. But nothing happened, the whole thing lasted around 5 minutes. What an experience! But what had actually happened? Undoubtly, this was a demonstration of power from “the boss” in the pool. I was so taken by the sheer size of this fish I only focused on that one. The pool calmed down again and I could breathe again. I could not forget this experience, and thought about it constantly. I decided that next time I wouldn’t fish for “the boss”, but rather tempt the salmon jumping around the pool, “the boss” wasn’t interested in the fly, I guess it had enough to do just maintaing control of the pool.
The following year I was sitting down in the afternoon sun with a cup of coffee, waiting for the evening fishing. I was having a prett good time I reckoned. Then, in the same spot as last time, I saw a completely enormous salmon body silently breaking the water surface, and then the “neighbour’s” reactions started. Complete chaos ensued, but this time I was calmer, grabbed the rod, walked quietly down to the river, and started fishing the way I had previously planned. I covered the whole pool with casts after casts, aiming at the salmon jumping around in the pool, but I got no response whatsoever. Is it possible??!! Now I really had to think hard, there is a reason why the salmon isn’t biting. I thought about it from the viewpoints of both the “boss” and fro the other salmon, and after a while I realised what was going on, this was a completely natural situation with regards to a salmon protecting its territory. If only I could experience this once more, then…!!
At a fishing trip in early August the next year I had been on the river for several days, but I must admit I hadn’t spent too much time fishing. I was mostly waiting for this situation to arise again, so I could get my revenge for all those sleepless nights, I was ready for action. I had just sat down wit ha cup of coffee, life was good and it was exciting looking out over the pool. I didn’t believe my own eyes when I saw a salmon so big that when it broke the surface the ripples hit the banks on both sides of the river. This time I finished my coffee, albeit with shaky hands, while observing the situation. I could now predict what was going to happen, when “the boss” turned at the top of the pool and disappeared the pool calmed down. That’s when I grabbed the rod and slowly walked over to a hot-spot of mine, I had selected a big salmon, the last one I saw jumping. When everything had gone quiet I made a cast with the Riffling tube, the salmon took it straight away, the wight of this salmon didn’t mean anything, I don’t even remember if I weighed this salmon. What an experience this had been! I know that salmon took my fly in pure irritation, it had just started calming down when my fly came drifting towards it, and at this moment it just lost it; “now what?”, it thought, “can a salmon never get some peace and quiet around here??”. And then it angrily grabbed the fly. I am convinced this is exactly what happened. The reason I’m telling you about this incident is that this is an example proving that we can always provoke a take from a salmon, I don’t like the “well if it takes, it’ll take” mentality. I have experienced several similar situations, which helps me better understand the salmon way of living and its behaviour during different river conditions.
Watch out for the next part of this article, to be posted on Thursday March 1. Then I’ll tell you about my fishing strategy, including: “the opposite theory”, straight at the target, subdividing the pool, reading the river, frequent fly changes, flies and choice of fishing gear, and pictures of my flies including tying instructions.
|Teal & Silver