Fishing the Seasons: Autumn Edition – A Guide to Autumn Salmon Fishing

Sep 13, 2023 | Best Practice, Blog, Featured

Welcome back to our series on fishing the seasons. In our previous articles, we explored the joys and challenges of pursuing Atlantic salmon in spring and summer. Now, as the leaves start to change and the air turns crisp, we enter the autumn season, bringing a whole new set of opportunities for anglers looking to hook the mighty Atlantic salmon.

The changing seasons

In the transition from summer to autumn, the environment undergoes a noticeable transformation. The warm embrace of summer gradually gives way to cooler temperatures and shorter days. Leaves burst into vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold, painting a picturesque backdrop to your fishing adventures. Similarly, some of our beloved salmon turn into these colours too this time of year, but still, some fresh fish power through. 

But as the season changes, so too must your approach to Atlantic salmon fishing. In this guide, we’ll delve into the strategies and considerations that will help you make the most of autumn fishing.

Fishing in Autumn: Author Craig and a late season salmon
Author Craig and a late season salmon

Planning for autumn salmon fishing

One characteristic of autumn in Scotland is the lack of a clear transition from summer. Unpredictable weather patterns can bring extended periods of drought followed by sudden, torrential downpours. As an angler, adapting to these changing conditions is essential.

Water temperature plays a crucial role in autumn fishing. While air temperatures start to cool down, water temperatures can lag behind, and it is said (by some) that if there’s mist on the water, the fish won’t take, thus reducing your optimal window. Understanding the correlation between these temperatures is vital, as it influences salmon behaviour. Many experienced anglers find that late morning and early afternoon are prime times for salmon activity during this season, and a territorial fish in cold water can be a very aggressive one.

The role of air pressure

Autumn fishing brings its own nuances when it comes to air pressure. A changing barometer, rather than a steady one, is often more favourable for successful angling through spring and summer, but in autumn this seems to matter less, and what’s more important is light, air, water temp and depth.

Conservation in autumn

With autumn, generally comes the rain, however, during dry and warm spells, it’s crucial to continue prioritising the welfare of the fish in oxygen-deprived water. It’s best to refrain from fishing altogether when the summer heat and drought continue into the season. Stressing the fish in these extreme conditions can lead to their demise, even after catch and release. Investing in a fishing thermometer and monitoring air and water temperatures regularly is a responsible practice.

Here’s a quick recap guide on temperatures for salmon fishing:

  • Up to 7°C: Fish are lethargic; avoid fishing in these conditions.
  • 7-16°C: Ideal fishing conditions; practice catch and release responsibly.
  • 17-19°C: Focus on early mornings and evenings; handle fish carefully.
  • Anything over 19°C: Stop fishing to protect fish health

A territorial autumn cock salmon in the net.
A territorial autumn cock salmon in the net.

Adapting to changing migration patterns

Many rivers across the country are known for being ‘Spring, summer or back-end (autumn) rivers’. These vary as the years unfold, but with climate change, migration patterns of salmon seem to shift further. Some rivers might see earlier runs, while others may experience delayed arrivals. It’s essential for anglers to observe these patterns closely and stay informed about the latest scientific research on salmon behaviour, for both the fishing and our love for these iconic fish.

Understanding depth and water speed

As autumn progresses, salmon tend to descend in the water column, with the odd crashing leap. Understanding the fish’s depth preference and using the right gear is essential. Different sections of the river may have varying water speeds, and identifying resting spots where salmon gather their strength to move further upstream, or station-up is crucial. When a few resident salmon start to hold in a pool, they inevitably interact with newer fish in that pool which slows them down as they meet. Often, a resident fish will splash more regularly when fresh fish move into the pool and sometimes chase territorially. This is an exciting time for us anglers because we know our chances have just got significantly better. For those that prefer to fish for fresh fish, as opposed to autumn-coloured fish, observe the pool and wait for this moment – it’s the time to get in and cast your line. 

Keep in mind that changes in water height and temperature can alter the location of these resting spots. But the staunch territorial fish will inevitably make their presence known.

Full tartan on a late season salmon
Full tartan on a late-season salmon

Exploring salmon life stages

Autumn offers another glimpse into the diverse life stages of salmon. You may encounter multi-sea winter (MSW) salmon or the energetic single-sea winter grilse. Observations suggest that grilse runs coincide with the blooming of dog roses through to the fruiting of the rose hips, making it a good time to target them with lighter tackle in June through August, and later in some rivers. The MSW salmon run all season, and it is said that some fish run through winter too, albeit out of the fishing season. 

Selecting the right tackle and techniques

Choosing the right equipment can be challenging. Ghillies often recommend bringing a variety of gear to adapt to changing conditions. For travelling anglers trying to pack light, consider locations that offer equipment rentals or local tackle shops for convenience. A general rule of thumb in winter is fish deeper and bigger, so bring your sink tips and weighted flies/slightly heavier lures.

In terms of fly selection, autumn still allows for the use of surface flies, but only when the air is warm. Heavy flies for autumn when water levels rise, and temperatures drop are key, and colour plays a strong part in many an angler’s selection process. The deeper the red or purple, often the better, igniting a response of aggressive nature. 

The Tweedswood is a fantastic autumn beat
The Tweedswood is a fantastic autumn beat

Embracing the autumn challenge

Autumn fishing for Atlantic salmon presents a thrilling chapter in your angling journey, be you a novice or a seasoned pro. The changing dynamics of the river and conditions require adaptation and exploration of different techniques again. Embrace the challenges, try new approaches, and savour the joy of hooking the mighty Atlantic salmon in nature’s symphony of autumn.

Don’t hesitate to book your autumn fishing trip now; there are still a few months left in the season, and the waters are beckoning for these big aggressive fish to make their appearance, and grab hold of the end of your line. You can find available bookings on FishPal.

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