When targeting Atlantic salmon, I often get asked, when is the best time of day to catch salmon. Firstly it’s important to understand that the answer to this questions varies throughout the season. Secondly it very depends on weather conditions and water levels. Lastly, let’s start by breaking down the season into three key periods, Spring, Summer and Fall (Autumn)
Best tactics and time of day to catch Spring Atlantic Salmon in Scotland
Spring salmon fishing in Scotland is challenging and delivers the ultimate game angling prize, a bright clean Scottish Spring salmon. These fish are called Springers here in Scotland. These salmon are in prime condition. They are silver, powerful and fresh in the river from a period of heavy feeding in the Atlantic Ocean. But when is the best time of day to catch them? Throughout my 20 years of salmon guiding experience in Scotland, patterns emerge.
The best time of day in spring is the middle of the day roughly 12 – 3pm. This is when the sun is elevated to it highest point and delivers a temperature rise of a few degrees. We often start the day at 9am with post breakfast bacon rolls and coffee. Also, it pays to skip lunch till later in the day in spring. Equally best to keep fishing and scoff a sandwich down while casting.
Interestingly and old ghillie on the Tweed Jack Melrose used to say, in Spring fish black and yellow, if that doesn’t work try yellow and black. It’s true, yellow banana flies, monkey patterns and black and yellow tubes are highly effective in spring. Naturally, fishing at the right depth is critical and your guide will keep you keyed in, according to water levels and temperature.
When and how to catch Atlantic salmon in low water and summer conditions
In the last few years, Scotland has experienced low water conditions on rivers. Indeed, this can make the fishing challenging. Many salmon preferring to linger in the estuary in anticipation of a spate and a chance to run upstream. In fact the salmon that do venture upstream are catchable with the right tactics.
Start by looking for It deep oxygenated runs. Firstly because the depth will offer cooler temperatures and cover from predators, and the flow will offer oxygen. The salmon text books will tell you to fish a full floating line and smaller flies. In fact quite the opposite, it pays to get down to these fish in deeper pockets of water. Crucially depth of fly presentation is the key issue here, and the use of a sinking poly leader and or weighted fly will help. Nymphing techniques are highly effective too. I cannot tell you how many times I have hooked summer salmon whilst nymphng for trout. It’s staggering.
Finally, in Scotland we are blessed with a lot of sunlight in the summer. It really pays dividends to fish for salmon before and during dawn and before the sunset and into the fading light. This means you can often fish at 4am and 11pm at night in mid summer.
Nymphing for summer salmon in Scotland
Interestingly, a tactic that has been devastatingly effective is a modified nymphing technique for salmon. I know of many salmon anglers on the Dee, Spey and Thurso using this technique. Success depend son striking the right balance between not fishing a rod that’s too too heavy and detached, and not too light a rod, that a fish will take you to the cleaners.
I use a 10ft 5-7 weight and fish a high quality 4x tippet for summer salmon. Rio Fluoroflex strong 3X offers 8.8lb breaking strain for only 0.203mm diameter tippet and if fishing smaller nymphs, I go to 4X which is 7.3lb and 0.178mm diameter. Naturally fishing this light you ‘ll have to be careful playing a fish and we de-barb all nymphs so that if broken the fish has a better chance of ridding itself on the nymph.
When and how to catch Fall/ Autumn salmon in Scotland
Autumn in Scotland brings rain, wind and the rivers fill up again. Spates, are common and flush out the moss and weed growth from summer, giving the rivers a good scour and freshening them up. This allows salmon to progress upstream, and in the Autumn there are large numbers of salmon present throughout the river systems of Scotland.
In rivers like the Tay and Tweed, salmon are more commonly found in the middle and upper reaches of the river. If you have the luxury of being selective and hitting the river just after a spate and the river dropping back and clearing, you are looking at near perfect conditions. Similarly to spring the middle part of the day can be best, when temperatures rise slightly.
Sinking lines and tube flies are highly effective in Autumn. Salmon fly patterns like the Red Francis and Willie Gunn tubes are highly effective. The Snaelda versions of these flies work well too, and the added weight of the tungsten head and tantalising vibration of the feelers can be deadly.
On days when the wind is strong and there being a lot of leaves in the river, it pays to switch to a single hook. This will catch less debris than a double or treble.
To summarise, understanding the season and tactics is vital to successful salmon fishing. Also, reading the river and factoring in weather conditions is something your profession Alba Salmon Fishing Guide can assist with to maximise your chances of success. Tight lines to everyone for the forthcoming season which start son January 15th on the River Tay.