Low water – huge size
I love to fish small salmon rivers because many times you can observe the fish and their behavior. Either from fishing or just observing from higher ground you can watch and see if and how fish react to your flies. This gives you lot of knowledge compared to the traditional method of casting blind downstream and hoping for the best. You can also use light gear, which is fun.
The summers in the north are unpredictable when it comes to water levels. For the past couple of seasons the early summers have been exceptionally warm which has made the snow melt fast from the mountains, causing heavy floods in June and low water conditions in July. July is considered to be the top month in most of rivers in Finnmark Norway, due to the fact that the most number of fish enter the river that time resulting in high number of fish on the catch reports.
During the past summer I did my annual pilgrimage to a couple of my favorite rivers. Located on the opposite sides of a mountain area, which divides the area in to two different sections, the other river had high water and the other was running out of water. Well, these water systems never run out of water but it was exceptionally low for early July. That hadn’t stopped the fish running into the river making it interesting for us. These low water conditions in small rivers makes the fish gather in the small and deep pools. There can be dozens of fish in these tiny slots. The problem is that these low water pools full of fish can drive you crazy, because they are not always easy to catch.
On the first evening we hiked up river and managed to catch two nice grilse, one with a regular bomber and one with a hitch fly. Both of the fish came from pools which were not packed with salmon. Regular low water tactic with small flies. On the second day the sun was high and warming up the air steadily after noon. We headed to some pools close to our tent, which I believed to hold some salmon in them. And sure they did. I counted ten grilse and medium sized salmon in a small and deep honey hole. The fish were easy to spot from a high riverbank keeping the fisherman covered in the bushes and not spooking the fish. We fished the pool with our standard selection including a hitch fly, small bomber and a tiny wet fly. And didn’t even get a slightest reaction from the fish. We decided to give the pools a good rest before trying some out-of-the-box tactics. While boiling water for our instant coffee I recalled the same scenario happening many years back on the famous Varzina River in Kola Peninsula in Russia. One of our Estonian friends had good success with monster size caddis flies, for both trout and Atlantic salmon so I dug one from my box and tied it on. The fly was huge with the long antennae and some flash in the tail. I lengthened my leader up to 6 meters and made a cast well above the fish and gave the fly a couple of good pulls. The huge caddis danced on the surface and when the fly came visible to the fish they couldn’t resist it. The takes were out of this world, unlike salmon behavior, hitting the fly so aggressively that I almost needed to change my waders. Not quite the way they teach you to do it in salmon fishing books in low water conditions, but it worked well. I missed most of the hook sets but I didn’t care, I was having so much fun. To be honest, most of the time in low water, smaller size flies work well. But make sure you break the pattern every once in a while.
Share your gear with your fishing buddies
That there is lot of fish in the river and they just don’t want to eat your fly is only half true. I tend to be fairly lazy with the gear set-up and usually gear up two sets of rods and lines for fishing. Depending of the time of season and the water level, usually I always carry a floating line on the other rod and something between intermediate and sink3 on the other. Having a fishing buddy with similar taste of equipment helps a lot. You can plan together what you need. For example if you both believe that you will fish mostly with floating lines, then you can both rig rods with floating lines. But for the rest of set-ups, you should do some higher variation and rig the spare rods with heavier sinking lines. There’s no point carrying two identical set-ups if you’re able to lend your rods to your fishing buddy.
Couple years back I was lucky enough to get to fish the famous river Alta for a few days. In Alta (as in many other rivers especially in Iceland) you can share the rod among other fishermen. A friend of mine was lucky with the license lottery and he took a couple of us along, tag team of three.
Fishing with a shared rod was a relaxing experience. Each morning we figured out a strategy about what gear each of would bring to the river. We all took two set-ups, ranging from a singlehanded dry fly rod to a fifteen-footer flagpole. The lines ranged from floating to Skagit lines with a variety of T-tips for them. For the first day and a half we mostly fished the lighter lines and less intrusive tactics. But getting next to none action, we started to go heavier on our line choices. It soon became apparent that a Skagit line with a T-16 tip on it, coupled with a heavy Frances fly was something the salmon couldn’t resist. I think it started out with a couple of fresh grilse and after that we were all using the same #7 Cult DH-rod with the Skagit line. To have some personal touch on the fishing, we all used a fly from our own fly box. My personal highlight came when a big male fish took my deep swinging tube fly and I landed him shortly after the take. What I can say for a fact is that I never would have carried a Skagit line and T-tip with me when fishing alone. So when fishing with friends, make a game plan together and it will help you increase everyone’s catches.
Pre-plan, execute and be prepared for everything
After going through my fishing memories and doing some analyzing, it has helped me to figure out a basic game plan for different situations facing me at the river. This isn’t too detailed, but at least I have something more than just the feel coming from my backbone when entering the river. But this is salmon fishing, so you will never get to know your opponent so well that you could control what happens. Stick with the ways you know best but be prepared for surprises.