Fishing with a fly rod during spring flood.
1st of June! All salmon fishermen and women eagerly await this date, throughout the whole winter we dream of the opening day fishing. Several things has to be planned, flies has to be tied up, sinking lines must be prepared, books and films are studied, casting practise and social evenings spent with fishing buddies. It is really true that fly fishing is a winter hobby too.
Fly fishing in early June on a high and cold river is a big challenge for most people, the salmon behaviour during these conditions demand the use of sinking lines and large tube flies. This early in the season the water will be very cool, and combined with a heavy and fast flow the salmon will negotiate the river in certain places in terms of both depth and currents. If we look at the river from a cross section view, the water is divided up in three layers from the surface to the bottom. The upper layer of water is the layer carrying the most speed and has the coolest temperature, as the cold water from snow melting is carrid off by the surface current, so this layer is too fast and cold for the salmon to swim in. The middle layer of water is a bit calmer and not as cold, salmon can often swim in this layer. If the flow is slow in a certain area of the river, it can be good to try out such places in the middle of the day.
The bottom layer of water is probably the best layer to fish, this deep the water current is slower, the flow goes a bit here and there, affected by rocks and holes, and the water is a bit warmer down here. This is also the layer that salmon will mostly use when running upriver, due to the temperature. But when it comes to the current and its heavy downstream flow, we will also have to look for other factors.
The upstream “route” of salmonn.
The terrain changes throughout the river valley, and this is what affects the river’s journey towards the ocean. In many places the river will curve and bend, and in these places the hardest current will always be at the outside bend. Salmon will not here whe the river is high! The current at the inside bend will be calmer, and from the resulting “seam” between the fast and the slower current in the middle of the river and towards the inside bend is where the salmon will most likely choose to swim and thus this is where the hot spots will be. This is why a sinking line will be the right choice, as you will have to cast the fly and line affair way out towards the outside bend of the river. If you then have chosen a suitable sinking line that has the correct sink rate this will help you bring the fly and line through the fast surface flow so that you will fish as deep and slowly as possible already at the seam. In other places, where the river is wide and slow with approximately the same flow across the width of the river it will be important to look for rocks and other signs signalling that these places could provide enough cover for salmon to take a rest there. In places where the river narrows, tailouts of pools and where runs enter the pools are usually good places to fish when the river is high. It is also easier to cover the whole river in these places in terms of required casting distances, which will increase confidence in that it is likely that salmon will see the fly and ultimately take it.
It is very important, regardess of which part of the season you fish, to know the beat on which you fish. This will enable you to know when the fishing will be at its best. During the spring flood there will always be more water per salmon, and also not that many salmon start running this early in the season. Later in the season, when the river is lower and salmon of all sizes run the river, salmon is much easier to observe. If you know the salmon run patterns of your river, and your beat’s function in terms of at which water levels it will stop the runs of salmon, your chances of success will increase drastically.
Deep and slow.
This theory is like gospel when it comes to fishing on a high and cold river during spring. This early in the season the salmon are not rushing, swimming upriver when the river is cold and flows fast is exhausting. The salmon behaviour during these conditions should determine our choice of gear; the biggest challenge for the fly fisher is to always use a fly line that will sink fast enough, enabling us to get through the fast surface current quickly enough. This will mean that the fly will get down deep as soon as possible for each cast, and as such we will fish slowly throughout the cast. Fishing to high up in the water will lead to the fly being brough towards the bank too quickly, so that salmon will not have time to see it. Many fly fishers ask me about how many sinking lines we actually need, I have a selection of lines ranging from intermediate to sink 7, and I use all of these during the season. Not only does the water level change, dictating a variety of sinking rates, but even when the water level is the same you will find that some places are best fished with one line and another place with another line. The terrain of the river valley is always changing, nd if you fish a beat of a certain length or if you fish several different beats throughout the season you will always need a good selection of sinking lines. Bait and spin fishermen never carry only lures or sinkers weighing the same either.
Make one cast, take a couple of steps.
Then cast again, then take a couple of steps downstream, etc. This is a good rule enabling us all to fish effectively for the big salmon, following this rule will get you into a pattern so that after each cast you’ll take a step or two downstream. When the river is high and the flow is fast, this is not always so good for us fly fishers. Imagine the following: You cast the fly line into the river at an angle of around 45-55 degrees, the line lands on the water, the current grans the line instantly, making the fly line rise in the water as tension is created so that the fly line is tightened up between the water and the rod. This prevents the fly from getting down deep enough. It is then actually better to take that step downstream right after we have made the cast, and not when the cast has been fished all the way into the bank again. If you do this, and at the same time throw in a powerful aerial mend creating an angle of around 50-70 degrees, a large amount of slack in the line will be created. This ensures that your fly line will get much deeper much quicker. Using thi technique you will still follow the rules in addition to increase your chances.
Traditionally, double-handed rods of around 14-15 feet in length are the norm at this time of the season; I personally believe these rods are the most suitable ones. A long rod gives several advantages when fishing a sinking line on a river in flood. It is better to lift the line off the water with a long rod with a flexible rod action. Additionally, it is easier to keep the line high so that you can lift the fly line and the fly over currents in order to delay the speed of the fly as it passes the best lies. It is quite possible to experience exciting fishing using other rods as well. Many people today choose shorter double-handed rods of around 12,5 and 13 feet, sinking lines of today are so comfortable to use, making sinking line fishing easier regardless of your choice of rods. I often use a 10 feet 9 weight single-handed rod for fishing sinking lines, this is the most exciting fishing I can do. See my article on rods like this in the menu “equipment”. I have fished for many years using the Guide Line double dencity lines, these lines are very easy to lift off the water. You will not find fishing with these lines difficult, this is a total concept containing everything you need for efficient salmon fishing. The leader plays an important role when using sinking lines, and it will be important to use short leaders and tippets as the fly then can get down as deep as the line itself. Fishing on a river in flood using the heaviest sinking lines and the largest tube flies I recommend using fluorocarbon, trey the ones from Egor or Frog Hair from Guide Line, this will turn over even the biggest flies when casting far, and it is very strong. I caught my biggest ever salmon, weighing 17,2 kilos, using this tippet, and I managed to turn it twice at the tailout of the pool. The water in the River Gaula was flowing at 550 m3/s, cracking noices came from the rod as I turned it the second time, I was fighting this salmon so hard that onlookers covered their ears, expecting something to break.
This is a very exciting topic within this type of fishing, most people choose tube flies for their sinking line fishing. It is easier to tie the tubes the way we want them for fishing high and cold rivers than it is tying hook flies. This advantage is provided by the tube itself, I use plastic tubes, these are light and fairly large in diameter. Combined with soft and long wing materials this will give the fly a beautiful, swimming movment in the water. There is also a large selection of synthetic materials available tha helps us create large and shiny tube flies. Many fishermen use heavy tubes in order to get down to the fish moe quickly, this works well too, but I rather choose a light and “swimming” fly combined with a heavier sinking line. What should the flies look like, and what bilities should they possess in orde to catch the attention of the salmon? Salmon behaviour tells us that it will swim slowly in deep upriver, the lines helps us get the flies down to the salmon, but the fly itself must catch its attention. I prefer to use large tube flies during this part of the season, using wing lengths as long as 12-15 cm, and by using a fair bit of synthetic materials in the wing and some flash in the body we can tie flies that will be highly visible in high and cold rivers, leading to the salmon being able to see the fly more easily. I have also experienced that a large and neutral fly can be the right medicine, this is why I always tie my flies in different versions. The choice of fly will always be guided by faith to some extent, when you tie on a fly that you think looks great the likelihood of you catching a salmon on it is high. This is why so many established fly tiers tie their own versions of estblished patterns, just look at how many great variations of Green Highlander are around today.
Colour combinations (patterns) of the fly.
This topic is not easily covered in a few sentences, today we have many good and old pattern that have been modernised, such as for example Green Highlander and Silver Doctor. We also have many new and modern patterns that one just has to tie up. Just look at Frødin’s new Salar range. Obviously we must have a couple of these in our fly box, flies such as Sierra Gorva and Grey & Green have kept me up for many a winter night. The flies are important to us fly fishers, we put our heart and soul into tying them a beautifully and durable as possible. Each time we open the fly box to make a choice we proudly admire the contents of the box, and when we have made a fly choice we really think the salmon will take that fly. But does anything give us as many ups and downs as the flies? Not likely. What did I do wrong this time – are the salmon in the mood to take anything, what will it really take today? I want to derail a bit from the original topic here, as I want to share my innermost thoughts and experiences. This might seem both provocative and destructive in many ways in terms of the basic belief that exists when it comes to fly patterns and fishing theories. But this is all in god faith on my part, and perhaps my theories can expand your horizon when it comes to fly patterns too, perhaps we can become more relaxed and think; this is maybe not so difficult after all?
In terms of the actual reason for the salmon to be in the river at all, I strongly oppose that salmon, with all its instincts, ever is “in the mood” to take a fly created by humans. For example – if we imagine that salmon has around 10 different behavioural patterns controlled by the river conditions, such as water level, temperature, water colour, and light conditions. Additionally, “hunting” and spawning instincts will affect its behaviour. Within these 10 points many of them will be pure survival instincts in terms of extreme conditions with massive floods or low and warm river conditions. The salmon will obey all these 10 imaginary items in order to be as comfortable as possible during its stay in the river. We humans are supposedly more intelligent than salmon in terms of its few behaviours compared to the multitude we possess, but even so salmon usually beat our intelligens. This is explained by the amount of fishless trips we have throughout the season, where we blame the river; “the river is too low, the river is too high” etc. Therefore I believe that not one of these 10 behavioural patterns makes for the salmon to be “in the mood” to take a fly or anything else we use, otherwise we would have caught a lot more fish. Believing this would be to totally unerestiate the salmon as an opponent.
Still there are certain times of the day, or at certain water levels, and other good conditions in which we fish where salmon are more likely to gran a fly than at other times, and this is then referred to as the salmon being “in the mood” to bite. One example could be when we get into the later parts of the season, he river is becoming low and warm, now most people would fish at dusk as this, theorietically, is a better time to catch salmon than during the height of the day. But when we look closer at what actually happen with salmon around dusk we will see why it is easier to fool salmon now. This is when the salmon will move, it uses the night to swim upriver as it feels safer in the dark when the river is low, this is when it will emerge from the deep pools and swift currents. In the period just before dusk and just before the salmon are about to continue their upstream run, their adrenaline levels increase, as this is when it will happen, this is when they will finally get further upstream. Just then you cast a fly into the pool, and at this stage the salmon will often take your fly, as it is already stressed and affected by the change of light and by what is supposed to happen later.
There are several totally natural reasons as to why some river conditions affect the “bite instinct” of the salmon better than other conditions, referred to by salmon fishers as “bite time” or the salmon being in the mood to take the fly. I have over several years fished in periods when salmon are supposedly not in the mood, bad bite time in other words, such as during the day when the river is low and warm. I can tell you that salmon will take a fly just as well during daylight hours, you just have to fish other parts of the river, and with different gear from what is normally used. This is why I ask: is it really possible that salmon has a behaviour that can be described as a “bite time”? I also don’t like the theory of “ well, if it will take, it will take”. It is not that easy! We can always provoke the salmon behaviour called “aggression”. What do you think the reaction of a salmon is like when it lies deep in a pool during the day waiting for a change in conditions before changing its behaviour? And then, suddenly, a nymph fished on a sinking line comes drifting past right in front of it. Do you think it will wait for the so-called “bite time” before taking this fly?
The final choice of fly.
So, how are my theories supposed to help you choose a fly? Yes, the salmon does not have either this or htat fly on the menu this afternoon. It is more important when and where you fish, if you find the salmon when it is aggressive, influenced by the conditions in the river, it can take a variety of flies. I have seen fishermen catch salmon under stable conditions using many different flies. I, as with many of us, have grown up with the notion that certain colour combinations will fish beter than others during certain light conditions. How about a Green Highlander when the sun rises and the river is covered by sunlight? This is such a magical moment, you just know that salmon will take the fly on a morning like this. But what really happens to the salmon’s behaviour during the morning in terms of the light changing? Remember that often we do not catch anything during the se beautiful mornings, even with a Green Highlander at the end of our line, we will normally blame either the fly or the river for this, and again we will have doubts with regards to the choice of fly. This is why I start writing about my theories by saying that these theories may provoke old theories. I believe that local knowledge of the river and the area in which you fish, and the ability of your beat to stop or slow down salmon runs, are the most important factors. Then there is the choice of fly line, and then the choice of fly. Many people have hundreds of flies, but often only 2-3 fly lines, this will not be very effective, it is the line that brings your fly to where the fish are. I don’t mean to be negative towards the flies, they are very important to us fly fishers. Tie your flies while dreaming of big salmon, place your newly tied flies in the fly box with trembling hands, this is important for the overall experience.
Do not despair if you don’t catch fish every time, but rather look at other factors. Did I fish deep enough, or should I have fished the pool further up the beat? When fishing a high, cold river in early June we should use large flies that will capture the salmon’s attention when it is swimming upriver. As the salmon is very concentrated on its tasks it is very hard to fool in any other ways. Good flies to use when the river is clear and there is good daylight are flies using strong colours, preferably with some flash as well, you can use Green Highlander, Teal and Silver, Sillen, and variations of these.
If the water is coloured following a flood, good flies include Phatagorva, Flomflua, Gary, Sierra Gorva, and variations of these. I sometimes also use flies with black wings when the water is coloured. Salmon fishers spend a lot of time blind fishing, we’ll start at the top of the beat and fish every inch of the stretch. Instead, you should try to look for places where slmon would slow down or where it might stop to take a break, and fish through these areas several times. You will soon realise that you’ll catch salmon from the same spots, making your fishing more effective. Keep an eye on the menu “Fishing”, I will write a lot during this winter about my fishing theories for various conditions on the river.
Fly casting using sinking lines.
Too many fly fishers never fish deep enough, many people find it difficult to cast heavy sinking lines and therefore choose not to use these. Of course it is a bit heavier to cast sinking lines compared to a floating or intermediate line, but it is not too difficult, it is absolutelt possible to learn. I arrange specialised cating lessons for sinking line fishing, these are very popular and many people actually start using sinking lines with their single handers after attending these classes. Here are a couple of useful hints that will make it easier for you to master this fishing: The roll cast are often used in combination with overhead or spey cast for fishing, and here lies the secret. If you perform the roll cast in an efficient way it is not hard to use even the heaviest sinking lines.
1) When you start the backwards movement in order to lift the line off the water you have to make sure that the leader and the front part of the fly line hits the water again before moving the rod forwards. In other words you have to have a marked stop before you start the foreward cast, as the leader will not lift off the water, creating that force needed for lifting the line off the water, without this stop. When you then turn and move the rod forewards again the line will sturn over behind you so that you will not be able to stretch the line in the right position in front of you.
2) When you are nearing the foreward cast it is important to stop the rod early. If you move the rod too close to the water you will open the loop too much, and the line will not stretch properly in front of you. Stopping esrlier in the cast will give the rod more flex and in a higher position. This will increase the line speed and provide enough time for the line to straighten out completely. Now you will be in a good position in terms of finishing the cast using whatever technique you want to use in order to get the fly out.
I hope this article will help you to try salmon fishing using a fly rod when the river is high early in the season too.