Smaller Flies For Salmon In Low Water

Around this time of year, rivers will be experiencing pushes of summer salmon, grilse and sea trout.  Conditions associated with this time of year are low and clear water, and fish will be eager to enter rivers in big tides and force their way upstream under cover of darkness or cloudy days. Although not the best conditions, you can still expect to catch fish if you use the 'appropriate' flies in the 'appropriate' manner.

Salmon can see better in clear water than dirty water, except perhaps on bright sunny days, when they may move into deeper or shaded water. Or even better, fast runs or the tails of pools where rippled water protects their eyes from the sun. Here they feel comfortable and safe.

In clear water, it's better to show the fish a small fly, which can be anything from a size 12 hook and downwards. Unlike a small fly, a big fly can be seen from a distance, and the fish might lose interest in it by the time it's close enough for them to take - usually five or six casts later as you move down the pool.

Have you ever watched a pod of salmon react as an angler fishes a fly over them? The first time, one fish may be interested in following the fly, quivering or snapping its mouth at the fly. But the more often the fly swings past the pod, the less interest they will show, even moving away to one side if the fly gets too close.

In clear, low water, you have a better chance of presenting a small fly close to a fish without it realising, basically bumping it on the nose and provoking an aggressive response.

Bear in mind, the well-known saying, "dull day, dull fly; bright day, bright fly," which is as true today as it has ever been, so choose your fly colour accordingly. Don't imagine that by using small flies you may be missing the chance of a fish - they have much better eyesight than we give them credit.

When it comes to smaller flies for salmon on low clear water, there are various categories to consider:

Hackled Flies
It's amazing how flies fall out of favour. Years ago, most folks would have a Black Pennell in their fly box for difficult, sunny days. It remains popular in the spate rivers of Scotland and Ireland. Many anglers prefer to tie them with cock hackles so that the stiff fibres can dance and kick as you work the fly back through the slower pools. Also, try them through the necks and tails. The extra movement of the hackle as it swings through faster water can make the difference. Another excellent hackled fly to use is a Lady
Edna (variant).

Standard Hook Flies
Possibly the most common fly style for salmon in summer, accounting for thousands of fish over the years. They look like little jewels as they dance in the water of swift pools. If the water you are fishing is fast, cast at a more downstream angle. This allows the fly to stay in the target zone longer, giving a salmon more time to take. As you move downstream, cast more squarely as the water starts to lose pace. Then begin to work the fly by tweaking or handling the fly line. Many salmon anglers think this quickens the fly's swing, but it also raises it through the water column, before it sinks a little, before being tweaked again. This three-dimensional movement can make all the difference. Small trebles are popular and can secure good hook-holds, digging deeply into a fish's jaw. But not everyone is a fan of fishing trebles in the UK. You may catch lots of parr with these techniques, and they are challenging to unhook.

There are many fans of single-hook flies tied in the old low water style. This allows you to tie your fly on a slightly larger hook with a wider gape (better for hooking fish) but keep the dressing on the small side. It's a great way to hook salmon when they're coming short or slashing at the fly, a sign of fast-moving, excitable fish.
Great examples of standard hook flies include Blue Charm, Executioner, Munro Killer, and March Brown.

Tube Flies
It's always useful to have a few small tube flies in your box. Many anglers tie them on plastic, aluminium and copper tubes in very small sizes. The advantage of a small tube is that you can use a short-shank hook behind it, which are better "hookers" and create less leverage for an energetic fish. Great examples of small tube flies include a Silver Stoat or an Alistair.

On spate rivers, where allowed, many anglers use a small copper tube-fly on the point with a hackled fly, such as a Black Pennell, on the dropper. The heavy tube-fly will sink and dig into the faster water, which helps to stop the flies from swinging too quickly. It's incredible how many times a fish come towards the movement of the Pennell but turn away at the last second, only to take the little tube on the way back to its lie.
Mini Monkey
The Mini Monkey is surprisingly useful when you are struggling to catch fish. Its success is due to its versatility because you can fish it as slowly as you like because its wing is so mobile, but it still has enough presence in faster water. You can even catch fish by casting it upstream into a waterfall and stripping it back as quickly as possible.

Mini Monkey
It is a fly well worth having in your fly box and using it any time of the year in bright, clear conditions.

Tackle for Fishing Smaller Flies In most situations, choose a rod to cover the river you are fishing, then select a line for that salmon rod to fish at a certain depth, and then select the fly to cover the pool you are fishing. If you were to use the same reasoning and add a small fly to the usual 14ft–15ft rods (10- or 11-weights), you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. Big rods and small hooks usually result in straightened hooks or pulled hook-holds. The rods are too powerful and stiff to protect and cushion during the take or the fight. That's why it is essential to choose your tackle from the fly "backwards"...

Small Fly As discussed, a smaller fly helps us to cover a fish without spooking it. Salmon also become more "trout-like" in rising water temperatures and are more aggressive towards smaller flies, perhaps a throwback to their time as parr.

Fly Rod To balance the outfit, use a light line rod. Depending on the river and conditions, Choose anything from a six or seven weight (10ft single-hander, 10ft-11ft switch or 11ft-12ft double-hander on spate rivers) to an eight or nine-weight (12ft-14ft double-hander) on larger rivers. Generally, these light rods are more forgiving and will protect a hook-hold if you get lucky. They also make it easier to present the fly without spooking fish.
Greys GR60 Switch
Floating Line
A lighter line will help to turn over a small fly, but not too much. It will create less splash when casting, less disturbance when mending, and less shadow on the river. Use floating lines in the summer but use different-density polyleaders to help with depth control.

Mackenzie DTX G3 Spey
Lighter Leader
A lighter breaking-strain leader will improve fly mobility. You could use Seaguar depending on water conditions and the size of fish expected. The thinner leader material will help the presentation and be less conspicuous.

Seaguar Ace Fluorocarbon

This article was brought to you in association with Trout and Salmon Magazine.