Guide to Salmon Fly Fishing in the British Isles: By Allan Shephard AAPGAI

May 17, 2012 | River Reports, Tackle Box

Getting started in salmon fishing can seem a little daunting – but fear not when you catch your first salmon it’s a memory never to be forgotten in any angler’s career!

Tackle: There is no single set of gear that will cover every eventuality you will encounter during the season. Choice of tackle for a days fishing will depend on a number of factors – the type of water you are fishing, the depth you need to fish etc. If you fly fish a variety of waters in the UK you will need three sets of tackle to cover every possible situation.

  • 15’ Double-handed Rod – This outfit will be used on large rivers such as the Spey, Tweed, Tay and Dee and on smaller rivers early and late in the season when fishing deep with large flies. The length of the rod will help you cover the water and control the progress of the fly as it fishes across the river with the flow. To be truly adaptable you will need a set of fly lines to fish at every depth in the water column. This could be either a set of shooting heads that you can swap to suit conditions, a selection of lines in a range of densities or a multi tip fly line. You will also need a good quality reel – my preference is for a large arbour with a smooth powerful drag system. The reel must be big enough to carry the fly line and around 200 yards of 30lb backing. Some reels will have a line size on them – be careful with this as the size may relate to lines for single-handed rods. Lines for double-handed rods are generally much bulkier. The reel may be called a Spey model – they will have the correct amount of space on the spool. It is wise to have some spare spools for the reel to allow a variety of lines to be carried.
  • 13’-14’ Double-handed Rod – This rod will come in to its own on smaller rivers such as the Wear, Eden, Annan and Helmsdale and on larger rivers in summer when the flows are reduced. This rod will probably be an 8 or 9 weight so will allow for a more delicate presentation than the heavier 10 weight 15’ outfit. As the smaller rivers are generally shallower you will not need such fast sinking lines. A smaller reel will also be needed to balance the lighter rod.
  • 10’ Single-handed rod – It is essential to have a single-handed rod for fishing smaller rivers – eg those found in Devon and the spate rivers of North-West Scotland and loch fishing in Scotland and Ireland. This rod will also be used for sea-trout fishing. Match this rod with a 7 or 8 weight line and a suitable reel. Floating, intermediate and sink-tip lines will cover most situations.

Clothing : Warm and comfortable clothing is an essential part of enjoying a day’s salmon fishing. Modern fabrics offer lightweight, waterproof, breathable options for both waders and undergarments. You will need chest waders to fish most rivers effectively and most opt for a stocking foot wader matched with a separate wading boot with either felt or plastic soles.

Breathable waders are lightweight and comfortable to wear right through the season if matched with suitable under layers. This waterproof outer shell is completed with the addition of a short wading jacket. You will now be ready to face the worst the UK weather can throw at you! Layers of fleece materials will work with the outer shell to wick moisture away from your body – this is important for staying warm.

Hats, caps, polarising sunglasses and gloves are also useful depending on the prevailing weather conditions.

Safety: Sadly, every season there are a small number of fatalities involving salmon anglers running into problems when wading and in boating accidents. Many of these would have a happier outcome if the victim was wearing a lifejacket, a belt on their waders and was carrying a wading stick.

Modern collar style life jackets are easy to wear and will automatically inflate with C02 when submerged. They are designed to keep your head out of the water if you float off downstream and have saved many lives. The shock of falling into cold fast flowing water should not be underestimated.

A wading belt will prevent your waders filling with water and make it much easier to clamber ashore if you fall in. A wading stick can be used as a depth probe and as a third leg if you cross fast flowing water.

Caps and sunglasses also come into the safety category – they will protect your eyes from hooks as you cast and from eyestrain if its bright.

Techniques: The majority of river salmon fishing is done by casting downstream and across from the bank or by wading. The angle cast has a bearing on how fast the fly travels across the stream. Casting square across and letting the current form a belly in the line will make the fly swim quickly across possible salmon lies. A long cast at a shallow angle downstream will fish the fly more slowly. Mending the line (using the rod to throw a curve into the line) upstream will slow the fly down and allow it to reach a greater depth. A downstream mend will speed the fly up.

Tuition: Sportfish offer a range of casting lessons and residential fishing courses. Salmon fishing can be an expensive hobby and you will only begin to get the maximum enjoyment it can offer if you are properly equipped (both tackle and clothing) and have mastered basic casting skills.

For further information please call either Sportfish Reading on 0118 930 3860 or Sportfish Winforton on 01544 327111.To purchase online visit

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