Catching a Spring Salmon on the Fly – the Ultimate Prize!

Catching a Spring Salmon on the Fly – the Ultimate Prize!

2014 catch a salmon guide

Catching a salmon is one of the finest experiences you can have with a fly rod and your first salmon is an important landmark in your fishing career. We hope this 2014 guide, packed full of facts and handy tips, will give you enough information to whet your appetite to get out there and catch your very own salmon and at the same time stay safe, dry and comfortable on the river.

Most anglers are starting to get itchy feet after a winter of reading books, watching YouTube and tying flies, this makes us understandably keen to get out and start fishing as early as possible. The changing seasons make different demands upon our tackle and clothing selection. Before we get into the kit, let’s first consider our quarry and the conditions we are likely to face.

So how do we choose where and when to fish? Water levels play a huge part in the movement of salmon (and sea trout) throughout their time in the river. In high water conditions salmon can run far up the river in a very short time making the upper beats a good place to try. The reverse can be said of lower water where salmon cannot gain access to the river or they come to a feature such as a weir or waterfall and can go no further. Barriers such as this are worth exploring in all conditions, even high water as they form natural resting places for running fish. Early in the season when it’s cold the salmon’s metabolism will slow down preventing them from traveling past obstacles like rapids and waterfalls – these are referred to as temperature barriers.

Before you book your fishing for the season it’s very important to do your research and look at previous seasons catches. These figures will be based on an average catch over five years and this gives a reasonable idea of when to plan your trips. This method is not without its flaws because the records are directly related to prevailing conditions, angling pressure and the accuracy of catch returns.

Fred with Spring Salmon
Our own Fred with a Tay salmon caught on opening day!


Early and late season fishing often goes hand in hand with high water conditions. Aquifer fed rivers are likely to be full after the winter and there may still be snow melt and rain runoff keeping spate rivers high. All this results is larger, deeper rivers with water pumping though. To fish this best you would benefit from a longer rod to help control you fly, mend your line and efficiently keep repositioning a fast moving fly which will quickly be fished out. The average fish an angler will encounter can also be above average size so this combined with a strong current can make a salmon difficult to handle on light gear – the moral of the story is to step everything up at this time of year. These conditions tend to cause anglers to reach for heavy sinking lines but this may sometimes be a mistake. Fresh fish are known to sit higher than the previous season’s kelts and if we are to avoid kelts it can be worth fishing shallower.

Summer fishing demands a much more delicate and stealthy approach. If we get a good summer, the river is likely to be low or ‘on its knees’ so if we go thrashing around with heavy lines the fish will be upset and less likely to take a fly. This is the time to reach for your small double-hander or a single-hander of around 10 feet in length. And yes, don’t forget you can do the full range of spey casts with a single handed rod. Our team of in-house instructors would be delighted to teach you how, view our hourly lessons schedule here »


Modern fishing clothing like modern tackle is a marvelous thing, the light weight, warmth and durability of the material is incredible. Gone are the days of big heavy jackets. The modern approach for cold weather fishing is to layer-up with several light layers. The bottom layer is going to wick perspiration and water away from the body keeping your skin dry. On top of this is a fleece layer which will absorb water molecules but trap in warm air near to your body. On top of these two layers you will need a shell, something to keep the rain and wind off. Many of the new jackets and over trousers are fully water proof but still able to allow our bodies to breath by letting water vapour escape. They also come with any number of pockets and you may no longer need a tackle bag.

The beauty of the layering method of keeping warm is when the weather improves you can shed layers very easily and carry on fishing in comfort – you are after all there to enjoy yourselves! Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun in the summer as water doubles the intensity of harmful UV light.

2014 Spring Salmon Wading
Let’s get wading!

Waders & Boots

Waders generally fall into two categories; boot-foot (with a boot permanently attached) or stocking-foot (the angler can choose any boot to go on the wader and these boots offer superior support). Like clothing, modern waders are a revelation. Having owned one to two sets of waders in my time for fishing and also wildfowling, my suggestion would be to go for chest waders with zips as you never know when the call of nature is going to strike! Many people still choose neoprene for winter fishing but with the quality of undergarments available, I would rather have a light weight wader combined with good quality thermals.

When choosing your boot-foot wader or boots it’s important to pay attention to the soles. The two commonly seen options are felt or streamtread (similar to vibram). Felt offers excellent grip on rock but can be slippery on grass, whilst Streamtread is great on grass but doesn’t offer much grip on slippery wet rock. Both of these materials benefit hugely from the addition of studs and these can be fitted very easily as after-market products and replaced when they wear out.

Other important items to consider for wading include a wading stick and a life-jacket. Wading sticks are important for improving stability and balance and also for feeling your way as you move around the river. Ensure you only wade where you can see the bottom and make sure you pay attention to the rivers current and potential changes in water levels due to rain. Foam and bubbles floating down stream is a sure sign that rain has fallen upstream. Whilst life-jackets may look undesirable they are something that could well save your life one day. Here at Sportfish we recommend that our customers choose automatic models so if you bang your head, or get caught in a current the life-jacket will keep you buoyant and very importantly, turn you the right way up.

Eye Protection

As with all fishing you must wear eye protection to guard against fast flying hooks. They will also enable the angler to spot far more fish. For poor light conditions such as early or late season, or early and late in the day sunrise/yellow lenses are unbeatable. For general day time salmon fishing copper lenses work effectively for most conditions and are a great go to lens for most UK angling.

Salmon terms you might not have known or understood!

  • Salmon – A fish which has been to sea for more than one winter!
  • Kelt – a fish which has spawned and is starting its return to the sea. Generally caught at the beginning of the season it is likely to be lean, have gill maggots, a distended vent and have some damage to the bottom of the tail (from cutting redds). A well mended kelt is likely to look like a lean fresh fish.
  • Grilse – a fish which has been at sea for one winter (single sea winter), early season it will be smaller than a salmon at around 2 -3lb in May but by October it could be 12 – 15lb in weight. Scales readings are the only true way to tell.
  • Baggot – a female fish which hasn’t spawned and has remained in the river. It will have a soft belly and be a slightly off-silver colour. Baggots are usually caught in the spring.
  • Rawner – a male salmon which hasn’t spawned and has remained in the river. Rawners are usually caught in the spring.
  • Springer – a salmon that has entered the river early in the year to spawn in the autumn. These are very beautiful and highly prized fish.
  • Stale fish – a fish which has been in the river for some time and has lost its silver colour. It will get darker in colour the longer it remains in the river and the closer it gets to spawning.
  • Anadromous – the word used to describe any species of fish which lives at sea but enters fresh water to reproduce.

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If you’ve any top tips for spring salmon fishing of your own, or wish to ask a question, please leave your comments below – it’s great to share & chat! You can also share with all your friends via our social sharing buttons below.


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