I have a habit of sneaking a look at rivers and streams when I cross highway bridges. Recently I was seeing more rocks than water as low rainfall resulted in very low water levels in most areas. The recent spell of fine weather lowered water levels in rivers in Pictou County and kept salmon out in the sea. We can only hope the rain we received this week will raise water levels and bring them into the rivers.
Now the big question is, which fly to use? Every salmon angler runs this question through their mind as they stand at the edge of the river and prepare for their first cast. While fly fishing is often considered to be a complicated method of fishing, the selection of which fly to use is also often viewed as equally difficult.
Actually fly fishing can be easily mastered with the correct equipment, and some practice, and fly selection doesn't have to be that mysterious. As anglers, we are always looking for a fly pattern which the fish will attack as soon as it hits the water. For that purpose we often carry half a dozen fly boxes jammed full of every conceivable fly pattern available. In reality, if you select a fly that is appropriate for the water conditions, and present it to the fish correctly, then any fly can be as effective as another. For fall fishing I carry a small selection of flies which I have caught fish on in the past and, hopefully, with some luck, will catch fish again.
During the fall season, salmon will often attack brightly coloured flies and, for that reason, most of my fall flies are red, yellow or orange, all popular colours for fall patterns. I also use a lot of synthetic materials such as krystal flash and flashabou in my flies to add some additional attraction. I don't know if I catch more fish than I would without it but I certainly fish with more confidence and that is a big part of the sport.
Most salmon flies are considered attractors as they resemble nothing a salmon would encounter in nature. Since Atlantic salmon do not feed once they have re-entered fresh water, most fly patterns do not resemble food items. This is a departure from most fly tying practices where we are attempting to imitate something that fish such as a trout might eat. An exception to this practice is flies designed to imitate young eels or shrimp. The theory is that salmon have been recently feeding on these items while in the sea – remember that shrimp and eels are good to eat, and will attack flies designed to imitate them.
If you are tying flies for fall salmon fishing, I would suggest tying a few patterns in several sizes ranging from #6 to 2/0. That selection should cover most of the water levels you are likely to encounter on Pictou County rivers. Don't forget that your flies must be barbless during the fall salmon season. Fly patterns are often a personal choice but you won't go wrong with a selection of Mickey Finns, General Practitioners, Ally's Shrimps and Cardinelles in your fly box.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.