Hardy Fin & Fly

Autumn Tactics on a Medium Salmon River by Ian Gordon

As the heady days of summer draw to a close and the first air frosts descend on the water of the river so the behaviour of Salmon in those beautiful pools begin to change. Gone are the ten minute - half hour forays into the neck of the fast flowing stream by fish in search of oxygen rich water. Gone too are my early morning and late evening trips armed with light tackle trying to entice one of those fish trapped in pools with low warm water. Now by late September and early October new tactics are what's required.

Lower water temperatures are often accompanied with slightly higher water levels too. Add to this a movement of fish between pools and the river becomes a very different place to that of six weeks earlier.

With the water and air temperature back in the 50's Salmon become more active again - a plummeting temperature after a night frost is often the catalyst for a frenzy of activity with Salmon especially in those pools where they are lying in good numbers. Tactics I would use and have been successful with in such conditions are that of the full sinking line and bigger fly. It would seem fish suddenly become more aggressive and although they won't move much for the fly if placed close to them and fished at the correct angle and speed it is often irresistible to fish which the day before were interested in nothing. Successful flies for this tactic would include Willie Gunn Tosh and Ally's Shrimp to name a few traditionals. Swallow Snelda and Francis to name a few of the more modern varieties. If using this tactic it's important to know exactly where in the pool and at what depth fish are lying. The wrong choice of line and failure to read the water properly I have seen many times can be the difference between one or two fish and none.

Another thing to think about when fishing at this time of the year is the movement of fish between pools. Very often you can find fish in shallow resting spots off the main current at the tail of a pool during those conditions. As with the above such places require intimate knowledge of the beat - a place where the help of a ghillie will prove invaluable.

Generally speaking if your plan is to actively target fish in such a spot then you will not be fishing deep as those places are often only half to one metre deep. Line of wade is important so as the fly swims at the correct speed through this area of the pool. When targeting such fish I tend to start with a small sparkly dressed fly. If we know there is a fish there and proved difficult then moving to a slow sink tip and fishing a larger fly a little faster often pays dividends. Flies for such tactics will be small Slum Dog and Copper Stinchar tied on a size 8 - 10 do well for such fish. When going slightly bigger I would fish the Durris Shrimp or in slightly coloured water Rosey or Red Munro size 6 - 8.

Autumn provides us with so many different Salmon fishing scenarios to explore. It's the time where I constantly change tactics be it fly size length of line speed and depth of fly. I have caught fish one day on a size 12 hook with nothing but a piece of jungle cock to a 3 inch copper tube fished on a fast sinking line to annoy the fish which we know become more aggressive in the quickly cooling water.

Another scenario is fresh fish running between the others. A big holding pool with already plenty residents provides little space for those new fish. In such scenarios I have always found the best place to look for fresh fish are in those same places you would look for a Springer; this is assuming of course you have a good stock of residents. If not then fresh fish tend to be a little more difficult to catch as they stop off in deeper pools. Those can be enticed by fishing a streamer such as a sun ray fished quickly over them and not necessarily with a floating line. I have had much success with those fished on a sink tip or intermediate. However half the fun in fishing this is seeing the fish take. Streamers come in all shapes and sizes and again don't need to be huge. Anything from a total length of 40 - 120mm is good. I have an original Sunray Shadow which measures 170mm.

Fast sinking line can also be very effective for autumn fish although if water is low then care must be taken not to foul hook fish; keeping a good tight line when casting will help as will fishing with a single hook and at the correct angle for that particular pool. I have had much success with the Francis fly - a small version in cold clear water and slightly larger if there is any colour.

One of the main things for autumn fishing is to know where fish may lie or stop between pools thus local knowledge will be a huge help when searching for a fish at this time of the year. If fishing association or club water look out to what the locals are up to.


World-leading Salmon fishing expert and Hardy Consultant Ian Gordon is also a member of the Hardy ProTeam. Regarded as one of the world's leading experts with a double handed rod Ian Gordon has worked in Salmon fishing for nearly 30 years. A World Speycasting Champion he holds STANIC and AAPGAI instructor's qualifications and through his company speyonline.com runs one of the country's premier fishing/casting schools also organising and hosting Salmon fishing holidays on various Scottish as well as Norwegian rivers. Ian has also held fly casting schools in Japan Korea and the US as well as in almost every European and Scandinavian country. Find out more about Ian Gordon