Salmon fishing with dry flies offers maybe some of the greatest moments that angler can achieve. The visual aspect, actually seeing the take, is something you will never forget. When to fish with dries, what kind of flies work and what gear to use?
When and where
I hardly ever measure the water temperature but I do check what’s posted on the lodges or river keepers books. I claim to feel when it’s really cold and when it’s getting warmer. My personal experiences are that dry flies start to work when the water temp is around 10 degrees (celsius) and getting warmer. Sure, you might catch a fish or two in colder water as well but you will find more productive ways than fishing with dries. Dry flies work better in clear water so that the fish can actually see the fly.
You can find fish willing to take a dry fly in all kinds of pools. My personal favorites are fairly deep pools that hold salmon trough whole season. It helps if you can spot a fish and target your fishing to a spotted fish. Blind fishing isn’t a bad option if you know or suspect that the pool holds salmon. You can get salmon with dry flies from running pools also. Just fish the outer edges or tailwater. There might be some glassy patches in the middle of fast riffles and sometimes you can make a salmon rise to a dry fly from those also. I don’t know and can’t explain why, but generally speaking salmon in some rivers are more willing to rise to a dry fly than in another. Maybe it’s the water color or maybe it’s something else?
If your blind fishing I prefer to start at the bottom of the pool and working my way up, casting slightly across. Usually I let the fly make 2 drifts of all the good looking parts of the pool. I want to fish the dry without any drag, so you might only get a few meter passes before the fly starts to skate on sink. If you have located a fish, take a position where you are located on the side and little below of the fish. It easier to estimate the relative position of your fly to the fish when looking at from the side. You can hammer the fish with the same fly for an hour (and might get a take), but I usually change the fly if I don’t get any reaction. As soon as you get any reaction from the salmon, this meaning the slightest elevation in water column, your likely to get a hook-up. If the fish show some interest to your fly, but doesn’t come all the way, try changing to a different size of the same pattern you were using.
Setting the hook
Set the hook as soon as the salmon has wrapped its lips around it. Simple. Well, kind of. Sometimes especially grilse rise and take the dry fly quickly, which should be responded by a quick setting of the hook. Sometimes, especially large salmon take their time and slowly rise and inspect the fly before opening their mouth and inhaling it. In these scenarios I suggest that wait until you feel the fish before setting the hook. You need to be concentrating in your fishing all the time, so that you can see and feel the take and do the appropriate hook-set.
Single hand rod is the best option. You will need to do a lot of accurate casting and double-handers are just too clumsy for the job. I would pick anything from #5 weight to #8 weight, length from 9 to 10 feet. If you want to have a fun, you can fish with short 6 to 7 feet rods. They are great to cast, but if you need to occasionally do dome spey casting, they are not the best tool for that job. If I had to pick one rod, I would go with my #7 weight 9’6” Vision GTFour. Maybe a six weight if I’m sure that there isn’t any big fish around. There’s always lot of casting when fishing with dries, and that’s why I don’t like to use especially long rods (10 feet and over).
Leader is at least as important as the fly. The fly line (and the leader) cast a shadow on to the water. Most of the time fish don’t like anything harassing or spooking them, so try to avoid any shadows. Minimum leader length that I use is 12 feet and I go all the way up to 16-17 feet. I use the long leader in situation where I fish fairly shallow and slick pools. Also if I can’t present the fly without the fish seeing my fly line first, I lengthen the leader. Salmon isn’t shy about the thickness of the leader so go with 0,28-0,45mm depending on the situation. I don’t wan to have any extra knots, so I use factory made tapered leaders and add some tippet if needed. Tapered leaders also cast great in windy conditions with big flies.
I use three type of dry flies. I have the regular Bomber tied in a hook or a tube, then a low-floating Caddis fly and Klinkhåmer for subtle presentations.
I have some color options for Bomber and Caddis, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference in catches. So most of the time I use the plain gray deer hair version with brown saddle hackle. Same deal with the Caddis fly. I have bombers ranging from sizes 4 to 10. The few larger ones are tied on tubes.
“Salmon Klinkhåmer” is a cool pattern which has proved it’s worth in difficult conditions. Sometimes the salmon don’t want to take flies floating high on the surface and that’s when parachute hackled flies such as Klinkhåmer can do their magic. I’ve had most luck with a black-bodied version with some chartreuse or pink in dot. I’m sure regular shades of green, grey and olive would work as well.