Summer – high water.
I find it exciting to fish when the river is really high and dirty, it is really exciting to fish the “new” hot spots that emerge, I have actually caught salmon behind the rocks in our outdoor fireplace. It surprises me every time when a salmon grabs the fly one meter from shore, and this is why it is so important to fish the fly all the way in to the bank. During the season the river has been low in periods, and this is when salmon fishers await rain and higher water levels. Fresh water is a welcome occurrence for both salmon and salmon fishers, and the river valley re-awakes when this happens. The run patterns of salmon starts again, and fishing is often after the peak of the flood.
Summer floods are always a result of rain, and this is why the size of each flood will vary, however every drop of rain is still very welcome even if it does not create massive floods every time. When the rain is heavy enough to make the river high, water levels will rise quickly. When the rain starts and the river starts increasing the fishing can be very good for the first few hours, but if the river rises too quickly the fishing can get tough. It’s best with a steady supply of water, salmon love the feeling of fresh water and it will continue its upstream run. When the flood reaches its peak the river will contain a lot of debris, trees and bushes, this is not the best time at which to do your fishing, due to both practical and safety reasons. It is better to wait until the river has cleared up a bit. From the point when the debris has disappeared, a few exciting days await us. For salmon fishers the most important difference between a spring flood and a summer flood is the water temperature, the river is always warmer during a summer flood than during a spring flood as it is the rain water creating the summer floods. Snow melting creates spring floods, thus the water is colder. The fishing theories for summer floods are similar to early seson fishing theories, as again we have to use sinking lines in many places, not due to the temperature but due to the speed of the current. The river becomes as swift now, so that the surface current will be as swift as during a spring flood, so in the swift currents we have to penetrate the top layers of the surface by using sinking lines. We often have to cast the line out into the main current in order to get the right drift in the calmer areas. Summer floods can occur several times during a season, the first one can happen as early as the end of June, and I have fished during flood conditions as late as at the end of August. It is then fairly self-explanatory that the salmon will go through several different behavioural changes during a season. Therefore one must always see the area and the beat on which one is fishing in relation to what to expect in terms of the next behavioural change of the salmon. If you’re fishing the lower or middle parts of the river, the salmon will react very differently compared to salmon in the upper parts, depending on when in the season the floods are occurring. I have several times experienced salmon reacting aggressively long before the rain arrives, I have seen this in the period before the barometer drops and the weather changes occur. You can see this by increased activity in the pools, firstly it is aggressive rises and then it will grab the fly with lots of anger without the river having gotten even a drop of extra water.
Lower parts of the river.
Later in the summer, when the river periodically becomes low, many salmon will wait in the fjords, awaiting more water. When the high water finally arrives the salmon speeds upstream. This behaviour is something we have to adapt our fishing gear and tactics to. The salmon will run upstream in a very focused manner, it has lost a lot of time and is in a hurry. I choose to use a slow sinking line and medium sized flies for fast-running salmon. Big flies are important, as it is important to catch the attention of the salmon. A summer flood occurring mid-summer will positively affect the whole river, at this time salmon will swim slower even in the lower parts of the river. When a flood occurs later in the summer the fishing in these areas can be fantastic. Salmon that will spawn here are finding their places, and the fishing can be good both for salmon and sea trout, it is also exciting that you can hook into fish of all sizes at this time. Several times I have caught silvery and completely fresh salmon at the end of the season. It is not unusual that really big salmon are caught at this time; many stories of gigantic salmon confirm this.
Middle parts of the river.
If the flood occurs early in the season (June) not many salmon will reside in this area yet. Most salmon run past this part of the river during an early summer flood, thus I would fish these areas in the same way I fish the lower parts. But this far up the river the salmon will occasionally stop to rest, as the river is often more difficult for the salmon to negotiate further up. At these resting spots a floating line and normal salmon flies can be good combination during fishing in summer flood conditions. If the rain comes later, i.e. July/August, many salmon will have reached their “childhood pools” in the middle parts of the river. When fresh salmon arrive from the ocean, delayed due to low water conditions, they will not take long to get to their spawning grounds. This is when situations arise that we can take advantage of, in combination with the summer flood. The “old” fish will now change its behaviour and will use the increased water levels to find better resting places. When the fresh fish arrive, the fight for the best resting spots begins. These are great conditions for fishing as several senses within the salmon are happening at once, adrenaline levels are peaking and now the salmon will take the fly. Find out how long it takes for the salmon to reach this part of the river after the river has started to rise, it often happens faster than you’ll think, and if you are on the river when the first salmon reaches the part you’re fishing, you may get to experience the fishing of your life.
Upper parts of the river.
I have fished the upper River Gaula for several years, and I never stop being amazed by all the different ways in which salmon behave, and it is always hard to predict what will happen when river conditions change. There is an established theory among salmon fishers that the river destined for the top part of the river will run the river first. They use the spring flood to move as far upriver as possible before the river drops, low river levels disturb the salmon run pattern as the upstream move will stop. Summer floods will affect the fishing possibilities in various ways in the upper parts of the river too, depending on when the rain arrives during the season. An early summer flood will help more salmon reaching the upper parts faster. If we get rain in July/August, we will have a greater likelihood of catching salmon. This goes especially for the salmon already in place in the pools, it will now be able to use other resting places in the river. As always during a late summer flood this will create movements in the pools which leads to fights for the new resting lies, and this is why salmon are easier to fool now. I observe that during this period it is the “new” salmon that are the most aggressive and are most likely to take the fly, it is rare to fool the “old” salmon. During a late summer flood a lot of salmon are often to be found at their spawning grounds. The fishing is affected by how long the river is low; If this persists over time the fishing becomes more difficult, but when the river finally gets a top-up of water the fishing becomes very good.
A good advice: try to be on the river when the rain starts and the water level increases! During the first initial hours with fresh water the salmon are very active, so this period can give you many exciting moments before you have to take a break during the peak of the flood.
The fishing equipment..
Lots of things happen in a short period of time when the summer flood arrives, the river rises quickly and it does not take many days before the river is once again normal. Coupled with favourable water temperatures and the fact that fishing mostly happens close to the bank, the choice of rod will not be too important. You can use all kinds of rods, both single and double handed ones. A shorter rod combined with downstream aerial mends will help you speed up the fly close to the bank, and this is important at this time of the year. If you’re fishing faster currents, upstream mends will be useful to slow down the speed of the fly, then a longer rod holding the line up will be more useful. The lines I use include everything from floating and sinking lines to intermediate and sink 3. And never forget the float/sink 3 line from Guideline, this line is perfect for these conditions, it helps you to fish both deep and fast. The leader should as usual be adjusted according to current speed and the type of sinking line being used, the fish are not spooky when the river is high and coloured, so you can use shorter tippets when fishing heavy sinking lines in fast currents. Increase the leader length as you fish higher in the water, and where the current is slower.
The choice of fly is fairly straightforward when the river is high and coloured, I don’t have a doubt about which fly to use during summer floods. The old, established colour theories are spot on during these conditions; if you have three different patterns in two different sizes you’ve got what you need. I use tube flies, good patterns include typical coloured water variants in orange colours combined with brown, yellow or black wings and with a copper or gold body. When the river is still high and the sky is still dark I use completely orange “flood tubes” containing a lot of flash, and when the sky clears and the river is still coloured I like to use flies such as Phatagorva, Thunder & Lightning, and variants of these flies. But often I have drawn the longest straw using a large Red Butt with a wing length of around 6-10 cm. I also use this fly during the stage when the river has just started rising following rain, but then in smaller sizes. Keep an eye on the “Flies” menu, where I will post pictures and tying instructions of summer flood flies.
Casting and fishing pointers.
Good local knowledge and practical fishing experience is always the most important aspect of fish catching. Under conditions such as the ones described above, it is time to fish through the pool slowly, using many casts is now important. Lots of things happen in the pools, and new situations will constantly arise. The water clarity is poor, and this is why you have to offer several opportunities for the salmon to notice your flies. Remember that it is important to fish the fly with some speed towards the bank, you control this by using powerful downstream air mends or several mends when the line is on the surface. Sometimes it can be effective to pull the line towards the bank at different speeds just before the line straightens out and lies motionless along the bank, giving some speed and movement to the fly at this stage can be the difference between a good and a bad fishing trip. Often I use a special technique where I know salmon to be holding; just before the fly drifts over the salmon I will pull a meter of fly line off the reel and let this go, making the fly sinking and fishing deeper. When the current again takes the fly line away the fly lifts at the same time as its speed increases. We rarely need the heavy sinking lines we use during the spring flood, as the behavioural pattern of the salmon is a bit different now from what it was earlier in the season. The water is warmer now, and often we will find the hot spots to be located in different places too.
It is more normal to find the salmon even closer to the bank during summer floods, as the river is coloured. This makes the salmon feel safer than during floods from snow melting, when the water is clear. This is why a light sinking line or sometimes even a floating line can often be the right thing to use. Look for the typical clear, glassy areas in the current, and fish behind submerged rocks too; this is where the salmon will be now. Leave the fly hanging in the edges of the currents, salmon will move along here. Spend lots of time fishing the lower part of the pools, salmon can be holding in all the calmer areas and when the floods come these spots become dream spots for us salmon fishers. Avoid the fastest runs, don’t blind fish, you will normally catch the salmon from the same spots. I like to test out different areas of the river depending on when a summer flood occurs, many salmon fishers are too stationary I think. It is both effective and exciting to fish different areas, this will increase your local knowledge, and again, this is very important in order to improve your salmon fishing.
Good luck with memorable fights with salmon on high summer water!