Our Man In Canada
April 3rd, 2006

The Fish of Ten Thousand Casts - Breaking the Myth
By Chris Chin, Jonquiere, Quebec

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.

We've probably all been through it,...You come bursting into the shop,... all excited and sweaty palmed. Your fishing buddies see that something is up.

"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:

    - 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!

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?

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 or November.

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
    2) I'd be rich!

Seriously, in my opinion, there are three reasons that the Salmon take a fly. Each is different and therefore merit discussion and different tactics.

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 face."

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.

Downstream swings.

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).

Dry flies.

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 darker conditions.

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

About Chris:

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 Daniel's."

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, visit Christopher's website http://pages.videotron.com/fcch/. ~ Christopher Chin

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