We as salmon anglers are creatures of habit. We like to stick to the tried and tested when it comes to tactics and are often unwilling to change. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this because in salmon fishing a lot has to do with confidence. If you have confidence in a particular fly or method, you will stick to it. This because it has worked in the past. What happens though if the tried and tested is not working? Say for example, there are plenty of fish in a pool and you have tried all the regular flies coupled with the standard tactics, what should you do next? This is where some lateral thinking can often be the difference between success and failure.

Think outside the box when the going gets tough

Recently, I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine and a well-known ghillie about his day’s fishing on the River Tweed. He had explained to me that the water was very low (lower than summer level) on the day that he was fishing in early November. It was very cold; indeed, there was an overnight frost. The beat he was fishing had plenty of salmon showing. These were a mixture of both clean and coloured fish. He tried almost every standard tactic in the morning which you would normally use in November. These included a sink tip line with various sizes of copper and brass tubes and cone heads. The patterns that he was using were all standard autumnal patterns like Willie Gunns, Black & Yellows and Cascades. He also changed the line several times so the fly would fish at different depths in the water.

The standard autumn style of fly

My friend knew that he was covering plenty of fish as many of the salmon were jumping next to his fly line and the water was gin clear. It is not unusual for stale coloured fish to be difficult to catch but you would expect the fresh salmon in the pool to maybe have a go at the fly. My friend then decided to experiment further. He thought, as the water is very low and clear; why not try a very small black fly? Now, this would be normal tactics during the summer months in low clear water. The only difference in this occasion was that it was much colder, and it was early November. He therefore used a floating line coupled with a very fast sinking tip to get the fly well down in the water column and teamed it up with a plain black micro tube.

Surely too small in November?

 On his second cast, as the fly was swinging around in the current, he felt a short sharp pull as the fly line tightened. The fish was on for a brief second before the line went slack. Around five casts later, the fly line tightened once again and this time the fish was hooked. After a terrific battle a lovely fish was landed. Although the rest of the afternoon was uneventful, he had saved a blank day.
When you reflect on his change in tactics, it was quite logical really. If the water was at summer level and clear, why not try a smaller dark fly? The fish would have been seeing large tube flies on almost a daily basis and probably got bored. So, by thinking out of the box and changing the profile of the fly probably did make all the difference. The reason why we use bigger brighter flies during the autumn, when the water is cold, is because that’s common practice and what we have done for years. More often than not, it works. If, however, you can get the fly down deep enough and the fish sees a tiny darker fly, why should it not take it? When salmon fishing is tough the rulebook can be thrown out of the window. Many of the salmon in the pool would have probably not seen a fly with such a different profile for weeks, maybe even months but they were regularly seeing the bog-standard autumn fare of Willie Gunns and Cascade tubes floating past their nose on a daily basis.
In essence, the lateral thinking my friend demonstrated made sense really. If the water is low and clear and the fish can see the fly on almost every cast why opt for something big and gaudy? This is not what you would do during the summer months, so what is different? Obviously, the water temperature is much lower, but this does not impact on the fish seeing the fly. He was able to combine standard tactics during the summer months (a small black fly) with a fly line (which had a very fast sinking tip) which would usually be used when the water temperature is low and came up trumps.

The reward for some lateral thinking!

To have confidence when salmon fishing is a great thing and is probably the key ingredient for success. When the going gets tough and you are brave enough to try different techniques which prove to be successful then your confidence will only grow. So, if you are covering plenty of fish using standard tactics and not having success, sit back, relax and just think outside the box!