Pursuing Atlantic Salmon in the Warmth
Following on from our spring article here, summer fishing for these magnificent creatures brings its own set of challenges and rewards, as the rivers should transform into havens of life and abundance. The journey to encounter the ultimate salmon continues, and anglers must, as always, adapt their strategies to the changing conditions. Craig Somerville writes:
Unlike the early months of the salmon fishing season, summer is meant to greet us with milder temperatures and longer days. The climate shift often brings forth a teasing sense of angler anticipation, to then really shift after a summer false start or two. Fly life explodes as do the leaves in the trees and off we go into a fun-filled summer ahead. However, as we explore the possibilities that lie ahead, the new season demands a fresh approach to fishing for Atlantic salmon.
What we never seem to have now, in Scotland especially, is a clear transition from spring to summer. This year 2023, we had a cold and dry easterly wind that slowed the progress of spring growth – the trees were still bare in early May; even the smolt run in some places was delayed by a month it seems, from my understanding. This cold wind wasn’t accompanied by much rain, then no rain came as the wind shifted, so we had yet again another very dry start to the summer season. Now, finally, after what was maybe three months of absolutely no rain across the country, we have torrential downpours. The weather is becoming more extreme, from drought to spates, from cold to hot, to cold again in mid-July! So, as anglers, how do we plan and how do we adapt?
One aspect that demands attention during summer fishing is the water temperature. As the air temperature rises, the water follows suit, albeit with a slight delay. Understanding the correlation between air and water temperature becomes crucial, as it influences the behaviour and movement of the fish, and how we fish for them. I like 11am, it’s when I notice most fish in late spring and early summer are most active, and then 3pm-ish is an interesting time too, which I concentrate on. In some rivers, temperature barriers, such as waterfalls, can impede the salmon’s journey upstream. However, not all rivers are constrained by these barriers, and less so as the summer warms up. The absence of such obstacles in the River Tay, for instance, allows fish to venture further up the system, with regular reports of catches as early as January. Yes, select your fishing destination based on water conditions, but if the river is low, fish the lower end of the river generally for more water and holding up fish, and a healthier chance of the fish recovering after a catch and release fight.
Extremes – June and July 2023, Images: SEPA
This is an in-depth and nuanced subject for salmon fishing in Scotland, and across the globe for all fish species, it seems. Maybe an article on air pressure is what FishPal should put out next?… One thing I’d like to mention is that a changing barometer has always been more favourable than a steady one. An overly simple statement, but in summer it’s a winner and essentially what comes first before the weather arrives, the rivers rise or fall, and the fish start taking more readily too.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that when the rivers become too low and too warm for fishing, we should stop fishing altogether in the best interests of the welfare of all fish. A salmon, whose needs are simple – cold, clean water – has very little oxygen flowing through its gills because of these extreme conditions. It will likely be stressed and when you hook and play it, you’re potentially exhausting that last bit of energy it has to sustain the drought conditions, and it’s doomed to die after release. Many anglers and fisheries choose to avoid fishing in these hot conditions, and focus on the temperature times of days, or even not at all until conditions improve. Get yourself a fishing thermometer and read the air and water temperature regularly.
A rough guide on temperatures for fishing for salmon and salmonids:
|Up to 7C||The fish are lethargic and it’s not ideal to fish for them in this condition as they potentially won’t recover.|
|7-16C||Get out there and fish your socks off. Remember that rubberised net and don’t handle the fish too much. And for goodness sake, don’t take them out of the water onto the bank – if you remove the slime on an early summer fish, they can likely catch a disease and won’t last through November/December to spawn (their one purpose in life). The future of the river and its ecosystem relies on the salmon spawning, not to forget our beloved sport.|
|Is when the evenings and mornings would be advised to fish, and try to avoid the hottest times of the day. Practice a quick fight and a quick release to avoid exhausting the fish.|
|Anything over 19C||STOP.|
With a changing climate, there is a possibility that fish may begin their migration earlier than expected. However, the absence of a noticeable increase in early season numbers challenges this assumption. It is plausible that the remaining salmon population is adapting to climate change, altering their runs and timing, and quite possibly having to travel further at sea to find food, hence their late arrival. As anglers, we must remain vigilant and observe these patterns closely, and maybe learn from some of the science at sea.
Understanding the water column becomes paramount during summer fishing expeditions. Generally, as the season progresses and temperatures rise, the fish ascend in the water column. In the coldest waters of early summer, the salmon dwell in the depths, necessitating the angler’s presence at their level. Each river possesses its unique characteristics, and comprehending the dynamics of the water is vital for success. It’s an intricate dance of depth, choosing the right gear, and deciphering the fish’s behaviour to maximise our chances of a successful catch.
This is another critical factor during summer fishing for Atlantic salmon. High water levels result in faster currents. The fish tend to seek out resting places, preferring the path of least resistance. Identifying gentle currents to the side, smooth glides in the mid-sections of pools, tail sections following faster stretches, or upsurging boils of water can prove advantageous. These resting spots act as waypoints for the salmon, where they gather their strength before resuming their journey. Patience is key, as anglers should position their flies or lures strategically in these areas and allow the salmon ample time to react.
While the resting places remain consistent throughout the season, changes in water height and temperature may mean adjusting the target locations. Significant drops in water levels can halt the fish’s progress, forcing them to seek oxygenated sections. Conversely, rising water temperatures can deplete the oxygen levels, compelling the fish to migrate to more favourable conditions. Understanding these nuances ensures that anglers remain in sync with the river’s ebb and flow.
Summer also introduces us to more of the diverse life stages of salmon that we may encounter. While spring is synonymous with the elusive Springers, Kelts and Baggots, Rawners etc, summer angling brings encounters with obviously summer multi-sea winter (MSW) big, solid and boisterous salmon, or the exciting and energetic single-sea winter ‘grilse’, which averages 2-4lb and are generally ready takers.
My observations have led me to believe that grilse turn up when the dog rose flowers. I have been laughed off the riverbank, not literally, mentioning this before, but it’s a good time to think grilse runs and lighter tackle.
We often get bogged down in what equipment to bring fishing. The answer of all ghillies when asked nowadays, is “bring everything”, that way if there’s low water, fish light, and if there’s a spate, get the big guns out. For travelling anglers, it’s worth maybe selecting locations that can provide the right equipment on a loan, rent or local tackle shop purchase. Whatever you do, consider fish welfare in summer conditions, these fish still have months before they spawn.
In regards to flies to use, the summer brings my favourite styles to life in the way of surface flies like Sunray Shadows, wee Hiches, Bombers, and micro flies. Your traditional wets are never to be dismissed either, and never stop moving them is my one piece of advice. Gone are the heavy flies, until autumn when the water levels rise and the temperatures drop.
The summer season ushers in a thrilling new chapter in the pursuit of Atlantic salmon. It presents an opportunity for anglers to adapt their tactics, explore new approaches, and immerse themselves in the ever-changing dynamics of the river and conditions. As the warm sun hits the cool waters, casting a line and enticing a take becomes a serenade to the summer season. Embrace the challenges, try new techniques, and savour the joy of hooking the mighty Atlantic salmon amidst nature’s summer symphony.
Get booking your summer fishing trip now, there’s a few months of this season to go at the time of writing, and the water has arrived as if on cue for the grilse to start pouring into the country hopefully! Book on FishPal here.