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Atlantic Salmon picture

How to fish for Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic salmon has established a range in Europe of between 40 degrees and 70 degrees latitude and in North America of 40 degrees to 60 degrees latitude. The Atlantic salmon spawns in freshwater streams, the adults return to sea and the young remain in fresh water for 2 or 3 years. Atlantic Salmon also reside permanently in freshwater but adults do not reach the size of their sea going relatives. Atlantic Salmon do not feed when spawning but when in open water they feed on other fish such as smelt, herring, alewives, mackerel, cod, and capelin. They will also feed on shrimp.
The more popular method of fishing for Atlantic Salmon would seem to be fly fishing for them when in their spawning rivers or at the river mouths as the salmon are about to enter the rivers to spawn. Atlantic Salmon like other salmon stop feeding as they enter the spawning rivers. I do not believe this is an immediate biological switching off of their feeding but rather a gradual decrease as they head toward and up the spawning rivers. I have observed bright silver sided salmon attack minnow like and egg pattern flies in the lower sections of a spawning river. Then as you make your way up the river less and less salmon are taken and a larger variety of flies are cast in trying to entice a strike. This would lead me to believe that fly fishing the lower sections of the river would be more productive.
Most of the Atlantic salmon caught on flies are taken on large wet flies, sizes 5/0 through 12. Where sizes 4 and 6 were considered to be the standard sizes for salmon, there is a growing tendency, especially in Iceland and North America, to use the smaller 10s, 12s, and even 14s. The larger flies are more effective in high, fast, or dirty water; the smaller sizes are used during midsummer or when the water is low and clear. To be most effective, the salmon should see a wet fly broadside, and the wet fly seems to be most effective when it's a foot or two under the surface.
In some rivers, especially those in northern Maritime Canada, most salmon are taken on dry flies. In others, notably Icelandic and European rivers, salmon never rise to dry flies in fact, salmon dry flies are almost unknown in Europe. Color seems to be of little importance with salmon dries, but shape and especially size are critical. Try various sizes. If a salmon rises to inspect your dry but doesn't take it, try a smaller size.
The following flies have worked for Atlantic Salmon Chamon, Christmas Tree, Dark Mackerel, Downeast, Downeaster, Dunkeld, Executioner, Fast Eddie, Fulkro, Garry Dog, Garry Dog Miramichi, and the Glitter Bug
For Atlantic Salmon a great general purpose rod like a 14' 9/10 weight Two-Handed Spey is good for most rivers and prevailing conditions. However, it's worth stepping up to a 15' rated for 10/11 weight lines for tackling powerful, wide rivers or during periods of high water when heavy sinking lines are required. This rod has the desired solidity to lift and cast such lines that are loaded with big, heavy flies. Possessing "backbone" it also handles big, angry salmon with ease and authority. On small to medium size rivers or when low water dominates, a 13' 8/9 weight or even 12' 7/8 weight warrants consideration. Delicate enough to present small flies to potentially wary fish, these two rods still have enough punch to deliver sink-tip and intermediate lines. As with all fishing, the rod, line and reel should all harmonize, making balanced tackle a pre-requisite. 
Large capacity fly reels that can carry at least 150 yards of backing plus the appropriate fly line. Backing should be at least 30 lb. test and of high visibility so the whereabouts of the fish is known following a long, hard run. The Spey WF type II Floating, Multi-tip Spey Fly line, Wonderline Density Compensated V and Salmon/Steelhead Wonderline in line weights to match the rod's rating are my choice. For that vital connection between fly line and fly the 9 foot Salmon and Steelhead tapered leaders are ideal.


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