by Steven Neely


Spring can present some of the most challenging conditions of the salmon season and really put our angling skills to the test. This is especially true when dealing with high river levels and colder water temperatures. So high water spring salmon tactics usually involve dealing with two problems. These are slowing the fly down to a presentable speed and getting the fly deep enough to be in the salmon’s zone. To do this, we need a larger size and weight of fly. Typically 1- to 2-inch tube flies often tied with tungsten coneheads or on copper tubes, or incorporating both.

High Water Spring Salmon Tactics – Set up

Brighter colours are preferable for fishing deeper. Time-tested patterns such as gold-bodied Willie Guns, The Tosh and Ice Maidens are as good a starting point as any. In addition to heavy flies, fast sinking tips, often tungsten impregnated such as RIO Mow Tips or  RIO Intouch Level T tips, can help attain the correct depth. These tips range from T8 to T20, with sinks rates from 6ips to 10+ips. To facilitate turning over these larger flies and fast sinking tips, lines such as full sinking/multi-tip shooting heads and, more commonly now, Skagits are used.

Without any doubt, my go-to Skagit for Spring fishing these days is the RIO GamechangerThese are a multi-density series of Skagits that offer more potential for fishing at the required depth. Of equal importance is their Scandi-like taper, offering a much more stable flight compared to the almost taper-less Skagits of old. In addition to the fly, line system and sink-tip, it’s important to select the correct length and diameter of leader.

A range of flies perfect for high water spring salmon tactics

Generally speaking, the larger/heavier the fly, the shorter and thicker the leader should be. It’s harder to turn over a heavy fly on a longer leader, and it’s counter-productive to use really fast sinking tips with a long leader anyway. A thicker diameter of leader material, as well as helping turnover, will be of a higher breaking strain. Heavy flies can put more strain on a leader, as can fighting a strong fish in heavy water. So I use 4 to 6ft of 20lb or 25lb in RIO Fluoroflex Strong or RIO Salmon and Stealhead 20lb tippet. These are great choices in terms of length, diameter and breaking strain for Spring fishing.

Spring Fishing – Best Approach

In really heavy water, it’s unlikely we will need to cast far and will probably be casting from the bank. We are hoping to cover fish resting or running tight to the near bank, in the softer water away from the main flow. There will inevitably be situations where there is very little room behind to make a cast, and here, again, Skagits can be very effective. They are shorter than most shooting heads making them ideal for casting and achieving big angles in tight spaces. The multi-density option of the RIO Gamechanger, in conjunction with a fast sinking tip, will attain greater depth than floating Skagits . This also helps slow down the speed of the fly in heavy water.

An angler demonstrating the best high water spring salmon tactics

We may not be casting far in some high water spring salmon fishing situations. But we still need a powerful rod to facilitate the easy lifting and rolling out of fast sinking tips/heads from the depths. And in medium to heavy water, or even in just a bit more flow than would be considered perfect, the ability to deliver a fly at range is often required. This is especially true on the big four rivers. Casting the combinations mentioned above 90ft (from toe to target) may often be necessary to keep us in the game.

Spring Fishing – Going the Distance

Consistently hitting the necessary distance will test fly-casting skills to the limit. So every ounce of a good rod will be needed. And in these situations, fast-actioned rods reign supreme! That said, overly stiff rods can be fatiguing and lack feel, which can negatively affect timing and overall control. The Sage R8’DH’s sublime action offers a supreme advantage in covering water effectively. And it can effortlessly lever up fast sinking tips and heavy tubes from the depths. Overly bendy, soft action rods can feel like they will buckle in these situations. They often require more roll casts to get the line positioned on the surface before re-casting. This is more tiring and wastes valuable fishing time.

Fishing for Spring salmon in high water can be a challenging experience. But with the right set up and approach it can be hugely enjoyable and rewarding. The prize, after all, is as good as it gets


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