What influences fly selection?

Does fly choice matter when fishing for salmon? This question comes up time and time again. Some say yes and others think it makes very little difference if the salmon are in the right mood.

Personally I believe both theories are correct, but we can’t just rely on the salmon being in a good taking mood all the time, therefore our fly selection, size and presentation, at times, can be the key to success.

Selecting ones fly on the day is a personal choice. Our selection process will indeed come from experience and knowing what works and when and also having confidence in the fly we have selected. We all fish more diligently when we think we have the “right” fly on. However we should also consider some key factors before we decide on what fly will work or not. Here are some basic tips on what to think about before making your selection for the day.

Weather – overheads, temperature – this may determine fly colour i.e. a bigger and bolder fly may work better on a cloudy day as it creates less of a silhouette against the sky line. Something smaller and more subtle may work better on a bright day. On very bright days a small fly presented deeper may work better than the same fly presented nearer the surface.

Time of year – water temperature – this may determine fly size and depth. Below 48deg F, a bigger fly fished deeper may work better than a smaller fly fished near the surface, however we all know how successful a large SUNRAY SHADOW can be fished HIGH and FAST in cold as well as warmer temps.

Water height and clarity – Normally we associate higher water with a coloured river but the Lochy can run high and relatively clear. However during increased flows we should increase fly size and possibly weight. Weighted tube fly variants can help steady our presentation by getting beneath the turbulent top layers. Flies with a bigger presence and brighter colours can also pay-off in coloured water.

Type of water your are fishing – The lochy has glides, fast riffles and even paced pools. The general rule is to go up a size or two when fishing riffles and faster turbulent water. When fishing a glide or smoother water you may want to do the opposite and go down a size or two.

We are fortunate on the Lochy that the number of variables are possibly less than on some other rivers. The Lochy runs clear for most of the time, even in higher water flows. It’s a relatively shallow river, so the need for fast sunk lines and very heavy flies are limited, but maybe not to be ignored.   The water temp, during the season, doesn’t fluctuate too much, particularly at the lower end of the scale (less than 48degF) so this simplifies our selection process.

Early season - May and June

GarrabudhieThis is when see the main run of MSW salmon. Weather and water can vary from warm and low to higher and colder so be prepared for both.

The MSW salmon travel through the main beats relatively quickly at this time of year so I’d be inclined to fish something that will instantly attract them.

My simple recommendations would be:

  1. Shrimp style flies or similar, sizes 6-10 or tube fly/conehead variants or small Templedog styles. Vary presentation.
  2. Sunray Shadow – 4-6inch wing. Fish is square and fast close to surface or deeper and slower in cold temps or very bright days.

With long daylight hours, pay attention to tides and overhead conditions. If you have hot sunny weather and morning and evening tides, then fishing during the middle of the day could be counterproductive. Also, if you have night-time tides, take great care on your first run through your selected pool in the morning.

Mid season – July and August

Lochy_Shrimp_flyAt this point of the season we should be starting to see the grilse run appear with the peak of the run happening in August. July can still provide a few big MSW fish so always be prepared for this.

Grilse fishing is usually associated with small flies and fine leaders. This can be true, but as mentioned above, conditions will dictate what size of fly, not the fish itself.

In low warm water, which can happen at this time of year, come prepared to use small and very small flies. Riffle hitch or dibbling can also be effective under these conditions.

My simple recommendations here are :

  1. Shrimp style patterns – sizes 8-14
  2. Tubes and/or micro tubes/coneheads 0.25-0.5inch
  3. Sunray Shadow – 3-6inch wings – normally fished Square and Fast

As above, always pay close attention to overhead conditions and tides.

Personally I have found that grilse like a fly fished fast so don’t let in meander round…..keep it moving. They will chase it! Add movement by tweaking it or hand-lining.

Late season - Sept and October

This period of the season usually sees the pools starting to hold residents as well as some fresh fish continuing to enter the river. It can be quite frustrating to see fish in a pool and not get an offer. Resident fish can often switch off, especially in stable water and weather conditions. Sometimes a change of temp or barometric pressure, a rise in water or a change in light conditions can change their mood. Always look for these signs at any time of year! However if you see a pod of fresh fish enter your pool immediately start fishing. Not only will you have a chance of picking up a fresh fish but the residents will be disturbed and often react to a well presented fly.

September is a change-over month. It can be warm and sunny one year and cold and wet the next. October is typically colder and wetter. Come prepared for all conditions.

My simple recommendations for these months would be:

  1. Shrimp style patterns, maybe with orange as a more predominant colour – sizes 8-12s. Fish these mainly for fresher fish.
  2. Tubes/Coneheads – Templedog style, typically with a black wing – tube sizes 0.5-1inch with various wing lengths depending on water flow and colour.
  3. Sunray Shadow – as above. If you strip a sunray through a pool full of resident fish and it gets ignored, don’t try it again and again. Change fly. In my experience this fly is at its best when fresh fish are in your pool.
  4. Red Francis – 0.25in-1inch tubes or 8-10 doubles/trebles.   Try fishing it deeper and slower….even cast upstream and dead drift with a lifting/jerking action.
  5. Stoats tail – micro tubes or 10-14 doubles/trebles. Can be fished in the glassier water near the surface. Again a J-curve presentation can be effective.