The Fish of Ten Thousand Casts - Breaking the Myth
Note: As I've only been fishing for Atlantics for about
15 years, I am far from what you might call a Pro at this. Each
river has its special characteristics, tricks and secrets. I
just want to share with you some of the techniques that we use
here on the Ste-Marguerite River.
By Chris Chin, Jonquiere, Quebec
We've probably all been through it,...You come bursting into the shop,...
all excited and sweaty palmed. Your fishing buddies see that something
"Dudes!...I scored a trip for some Atlantic salmon fishing next season
in Eastern Canada."
A silence falls over the Shop. Instead of envious looks and
congratulations, the gang looks at you with smirks and grins.
One of the gang takes you by the shoulders and sits you down
in a comfy chair by the coffee maker and recounts some of the
horror stories (all of them myths) about fishing for Salmo
salar. You'll need to (according to your "Buddy"), be ready
to put up with:
So if this Buddy is right, how come the very reputable fly shop
owner in the other town (who helped you to set up your trip)
said that this year, he bagged two salmon in 30 minutes than
released 5-6 the afternoon of the first day. The whole week
was like that?
- Black flies stacked up like Boeings at Pearson.
- Waking up at 03h00 in the morning and getting to bed at 23h30 at night.
- Casting giant hat ripping, back stabbing, trailing loop loving 00 flies.
- Pools empty of salmon ("You should have been here yesterday Sport").
- Other pools FULL of salmon, none of which would move towards a fly.
- 10,000 cast with a long heavy rod to catch one fish!
Back to a bit of fish biology to start explaining some of this.
Atlantic Salmon are anadromous fish which are born in a river,
spend a couple years there, go to the ocean for a few years,
then come back to spawn. Same scenario as their Pacific
"cousins," except that these Salmon do not expire in the
spawning beds, rather they return to the salt and can return
to spawn more than a few times.
This ability to return over and over again is a bonus for
anglers as they can grow to considerable size (the World
Record being something like 79 lbs). This same behaviour
is also the bane of Salmo salar enthusiasts, as they come
into the rivers to spawn, not to eat. In fact, the adult
salmon will not eat for months, starting their fast in June
when they arrive, ending it only after spawning in October
So, if these beasts don't EAT, why would they take a fly?
Sorry, if I knew that:
1) I wouldn't be sitting here writing about it...and
Seriously, in my opinion, there are three reasons that the
Salmon take a fly. Each is different and therefore merit
discussion and different tactics.
2) I'd be rich!
First reason. (this is just my theory)
Salmon which have recently arrived from the salt haven't yet
completely shut off the "feeding instinct." They will still
move to a target and take it into their mouth (but not swallow).
These are the salmon, which gave rise to the "legends" as well
as many a fishing journal entry of magical days on the river.
How does one "hit" prime time when the Salmon have just arrived?
One needs to do good research before booking. Get honest and
accurate river reports from shops and Guides. If possible, be
flexible, ready to change rivers or sections, depending on water
levels, returns and other conditions.
Second reason. Curious Salmon
During the summer, I've noticed Salmon which will move towards
a fly. Who knows why? In my opinion, they see movement and
drift over to "check it out." They will also sometimes take
the fly into their mouth in a lazy manner.
Third reason. Aggression.
Again, just my opinion, but it is possible that we can incite
a Salmon to take a fly that it just wants "to get out of it's
Regardless of the "reason" why the Salmon takes a fly, the
techniques to get a fly to them are mostly the same.
Traditionally, there are two presentations. Across and down
streamer swings as well as upstream dries.
Swinging a wet fly or streamer on a down and across cast is
a classic Atlantic salmon tactic. The difference perhaps
between Salmon fishing and Trout fishing is the drag that
we put on the line. I cast more "across" than down so that
the line forms a "J." The fly will therefore cut back
towards the near bank with more speed than a tight lined
swing. In my opinion, the speed at which the fly cuts
through the run is key to getting the salmon to move
and or take the fly.
On many occasions, a salmon will move for a fly. That is,
it'll show interest and come to "inspect" a fly. Traditional
trout anglers will often change flies (for a smaller one),
thinking that this was a refusal. When this happens to me,
I'll usually keep the same fly, but induce more speed into
the swing by either casting farther upstream to get a more
pronounced "J," or by pointing the rod to accelerate the fly.
Line and rod control, in my opinion, are crucial elements
of fly fishing on the swing for Atlantics. Speeding up or
slowing down the swing of the fly can induce strikes. A
good spotter is helpful too, as they can tell you exactly
when the fly is in the kill zone of a Salmon.
Contrary to popular tactics, I'll also use wets in Salmon
patterns down to #12 and #14's. (an example of two Black
Bears on the left).
Completely different tactic than for the sea run brook trout
on my home waters, dry fly presentations are made with a bit
of bravado, landing the #4 - #8 Bomber or Brown Bird INSIDE
the cone of vision of the Salmon. Not a gentle affaire, I'll
plop the dry down just inside the edge of the zone visible
by the Salmon.
The fly will dead drift through the "kill zone" and I'll
repeat this same cast over and over again. On occasions,
that Salmon has taken the fly on the 20th cast. Other times
on the very first.
I like to try a variation that I call "precision bombing."
A run and gun exercise in fast moving runs.
Ever notice that in a nice run, there are patches of water,
say a square foot or two of smooth, unriffled water? I like
to hold a fly up in the air, false casting, watching for a
nice "window of opportunity" to drift by, then drop my dry
fly (say a #6 Bomber) right in the centre of it. I cast
then mend appropriately to get keep the fly dead drifting
"in" this moving patch of smooth water.
In my opinion, the fly is nicely framed by this unbroken
surface and has produced some heart stopping results.
Dry flies for Atlantics Salmon are not used to "match the hatch."
The same goes for wets. Classic Atlantic Salmon flies with
feather wings are works of art. I tend to use more accessible
materials and recipes.
For both wets and dries, traditional wisdom says clear sunny
days, use light coloured flies and the opposite for cloudy or
As for equipment, rod weights are dictated by the size of
the flies being cast, the size of the river as well as the
average Salmon one hopes to find there. On my home waters,
where Salmon are rarely over 25 pounds, my work horse Salmon
rod is an 8 wt loaded with a DT floating line. I prefer long
leaders with a 12 lb tippet, but for those starting out, a
level 8 foot long 20 lb leader will turn over most flies.
Fly fishing for Atlantic salmon is considered by many as the
pinnacle of fresh water angling. Unfortunately, this has also
led to a myth that the sport is extremely technical and for
the elite. In my experience, this is simply not so.
No one can really say why a Salmon will take a fly on a
particular presentation. This adds to the excitement of
fishing these waters as any one cast may lead to a connection
with the fish of a lifetime.
~ Christopher Chin, Jonquiere Quebec
Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops,
British Columbia. He has been fly fishing
on and off ever since he was 10 years old.
Chris became serious about the sport within
the last 10 years.
"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time
guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in
central Quebec. I've been fishing this river
for about 10 years now and started guiding
about 5 years ago when the local guide's
association sort of stopped functioning."
Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout
and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon.
"I often don't even charge service fees, as
I'm more interested in promoting the river
than making cash. I like to get new comers
to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for
anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around
here makes some of the old clan see Salmon
fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our
shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich
side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack
Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He
is of Chinese origin although his parents were
born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend,
Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent
started fly fishing with me in October 2002."
To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River,
~ Christopher Chin
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