Probing rivers for salmon

Brigadoon! – the only place you’ll find a ‘typical’ Scottish salmon river. Pity it doesn’t exist – except as a mythical land in the Lerner and Loewe musical.

In reality you never get a typical salmon river. They are too varied in character to fit a rigid formula. Some are fast, rocky torrents, others are extremely slow and canallike – and there is every variation in between.

Nevertheless there is a sort of overall skeletal pattern to salmon rivers – many have a series of pools, with fast water at the head, a steady flow in the middle and slacker water towards the tail.

This neat formula is correct as far as it goes, but it is too simple a pattern to be useful when applying water craft skills to spot all the likely salmon lies in a river. In practice boulders, rocks, islands, deep holes and various other features complicate the picture a great deal.

You must consider each variable feature along a stretch of river in order to get a complete picture of the water. This helps you to fine-tune your tactics and focus your efforts in the places most likely to furnish you with a salmon.

Short stay or settled in

Salmon return to the rivers of their birth throughout the year, but the main runs occur in spring, summer and autumn. Some rivers have all three runs, a very few may have only one run, but most have at least two distinct runs of fish.

As the fish make their way up-river, they stop from time to time to rest, to wait until river conditions are right, or for other reasons known only to salmon. Some of the stops may be for a few minutes only, while other stays may last for weeks. Running fish A fish that stops for short periods is classed as a running fish. You’d be hard pushed to catch one when it’s actually travelling, but it is eminently catchable during its rest stops.

Resident fish A fish that stops in one place for a long period of time is classed as a resident and is a very difficult proposition. In a nutshell What you need to do to fish a salmon river successfully is read the water, locate the ‘taking lies’ and present a lure in an acceptable fashion to a receptive tenant. It’s no use wasting valuable fishing time in unproductive water.

Turbulent twaddle

There is a popular misconception that salmon are always found in ‘white water’ -that is, the very fast, turbulent areas at the heads of pools. It is rarely true. Salmon don’t feed when they’re in the river, so they depend on the limited amount of nutrition already locked in their tissues. This means they have to conserve energy.

Therefore the fish have a tendency to inhabit water where there is adequate flow to allow their streamlined shape to hold position in the river with the minimum expenditure of energy.

As far as the salmon is concerned, suitability of water speed is directly related to its temperature. When the water is cold (below 10°C/50°F), fish prefer medium to slow flowing water. When it is warm (above 10°C/50°F) fish will hold in fast and sometimes white water.

Spring torrents

In the spring, rivers are usually full and often overflowing. Even if there has been no rain, melted snow may add many inches to the water level. Spring salmon tend to move slowly and steadily upstream because the low water temperatures at this time of year dampen more vigorous behaviour. They are prone to frequent pauses in their migration – and resting fish are usually taking fish.

Since they dislike vigorous activity, spring salmon avoid the strongest currents. So it makes sense to look for spring fish in the steady flow of the pools, in deepish water, and where rocks or other obstructions give respite from the full force of the current.

Features of the riverbed which slacken the current and allow comfortable resting areas are hard to spot in swollen rivers. Often the only indication of their existence is disturbance on the water surface. Turbulence in otherwise steadily flowing water, and smooth water in a turbulent flow, indicate likely holding spots or lies for spring and autumn fish.

Summer stealth In summer as the river shrinks, identifying salmon lies becomes easier. Rocks, holes. gullies and glides offering security and rest to fish are seen at a glance.

But the shallow water can also give you problems. If you can see clearly what’s going on in the water you can bet the fish also have a fine view out. A clumsy approach to the riverbank warns every fish in the pool of danger. Water temperatures fluctuate wildly in low water conditions — sc even the freshest fish are reluctant to take.

Summer fish tend to lie in the deep cool water during the heat of the day, but move into well-oxygenated streamier water during the cool of the night. Fast water in anc out of pools in the late evening or earlj morning provides the best chance of a fisr. when the water is low and warm. But in s summer spate forget the nocturnal regime and spend every possible daylight houi beside the water. As long as an adequate flow of fresh water is coming down the rivei the chances of fine sport are high.

Past the sell-by date

In autumn, the most difficult task is ofter distinguishing between stale, unwantec salmon, and fresh fish new off the tide There’s no easy answer, but if you concentrate your efforts over water which attracts running fish, you won’t go far wrong.

Temperature is the important factor ir autumn. If the water is warm, expect fish tc use summer lies. If it’s cold, fish generalb use lies in the steadier flows.