Those Summer Days – Hints and Tips for Low Water Conditions

Text & Photo: Kieran Conlon, Guideline Power Team Ireland

Low water, bright sunshine and the mercury rising. I think these are the most challenging conditions we tend to face during the season. These conditions have implications for the flyfisher with regards to their approach in the pursuit of Atlantc Salmon.

Firstly we need to look at how these conditions will effect the Salmon. The largest impact will be on the numbers of fish entering the rivers with each tide. Lower levels of warmer water will not intice large numbers of fish to enter the systems so we are looking at smaller runs of fish.


Low water & bright sunshine, but a nice fast run just above the tidal limit gives us good possibilities.

What fish do enter will tend to hold up in the lower sections & pools just above the tidal limit and these areas will offer the best chance of catching a fish or two. Some fish will continue to travel upstream particularly smaller Grilse though this will tend to be done early morning and late evening and indeed under the cover of darkness when they feel more secure.

Straightaway we have established that our best chances are going to be in the lower sections of the river and most likely early in the morning and late in the evening. Especially if bright sunshine is predominant during the daylight hours. Outside of these limitations there are several areas we can focus on to help improve our chances.

The equipment should be fit for purpose. Generally speaking this will be to present smaller flies in low water. This requires the use of light double handed or switch rods. However its not just the conditions that will dictate the rod but also the type of Salmon present. Fishing a small spate river that is predominantly a Grilse fishery the switch rod is often the best choice. If your fishing on a river where there is also a good chance of meeting larger MSW fish then a light doublehander   in the 8/9 class will make for a more capable tool especially with C&R in mind.

One of my favourite outfits for low water and subtle presentation. A full length 3D 8/9SH F/H/I may be a couple of grams below the rods gram window but gives a delicate presentaion and is great fun to cast.

My go to line in these conditions is the Triple Density F/H/I. A great line that will present the fly a little deeper than a full floater when paired with a tapered Egor leader. (Long tapered leaders can be a great advantage anything from 1.5 times the rod length and up to twice the rod length if you can handle it. This puts distance between the flyline and fly offering a very subtle and stealthy presentation.) Often an advantage in low clear water & bright conditions as we don’t want the Salmon to have to come right to the surface to take the fly. I always try to avoid a situation where the fly will be between the Salmon and the sun. In other words with the sun behind me shining down the pool. Save this pool for the evening or fish the fly much deeper if the pool allows which is why I’ll always have a line such as a F/S2/S4 with me.

The taper on the F/H/I also makes for great presentation. The intermediate section really tapers down to a nice point offering a stealthy approach which can be vital when the water is low. Don’t forget a hitched fly fished of a full floater can be quite successful when there are numbers of fish in the pools. But when actively searching for fish I find the subsurface presentation to be the better option.

When it comes to selecting the leader I find it pays to err a little on the side of caution and not fish too light a tippet normally at least 0.33mm diameter. Remember attaching the fly via a rapala/loop knot we can still fish a small fly off a relatively large diameter tippet and retain great movement in the fly.

low water flies

Fly choice tends to be small and sparsely tied anything down to size 15 salars and below. Be sure to have a few discreet patterns tied in sombre colours as these will often fish far better than brightly coloured flies. A Silver Grey is one of my favourites for low clear waters.

I always carry a few sunrays or samurais in darker hues for the last hour as the light is fading, fished square and fast just under the surface can be very productive as the fish start to become more active.

Equipment and flies sorted we can look at where in the pool to concentrate our efforts. I alway tend to favour the fast water in the neck of the pools. The white water often provides cover for fish and also offers good oxygen levels in the warmer water. Even the resident fish from the dubs and deep pools will often venture up into the pool necks in the evening and early mornings where they are far more likely to take a fly than when they drop back down into the deep water during the hotter hours of the day.

During the lower light periods of morning and eveing the tails of the pool can be productive if there are fish runing though stealthy presentation is vital here as the water is often very glassy and smooth and any splashy casting or poor wading will soon spook any fish in these areas.

This brings me onto another important point wading and casting. Wading should be kept to a minimum – cast further and wade less if you can. Try to avoid casting of high banks , keep your profile out of the skyline. Many an angler has assumed the pool to be empty when in fact he has spooked the fish that were in the tail or neck of the pool, these fish having retreated into the deeper water.

Poor casting choices will also have a negative effect, A waterborne anchor cast executed of a glassy tail out will not help your chances nor will false casting or laying the line onto the pool prior to the delivery stroke. Try for touch and go casts such as the single spey and snakeroll where possible.

Another aspect than can be vital or success in these conditions is an awareness of tide times. This is even more important if your fishing the lower sections of a river or indeed the tidal beats. I will always insure that I have this knowledge, again its a time when concentration levels should be at their highest with the possibility of fresh fish entering the river.



The last hour, often the best time after a long hot day

Lastly there is the human element to deal with. Looking at a river thats very low, with seemingly few fish can naturally have a negative effect on the angler’s confidence. This in turn leads to poor concentration when fishing and often a missed opportunity when a fish does decide to take the fly.

Fishing dawn till dusk makes for avery long day particularly when coupled with high daytime temperatures. My advice would be to fish the morning and evening sessions hard and take a break during the day. Be sure to be on the water for first light and fish well into the darkness. You may get a bonus Seatrout by fishing a little later than most. Be the first onto the water and the last off.

As a guide and instructor I often get asked the question “what are my chances of catching a Salmon today ? “ I find that with a little skill and experience at the very least you’ll nearly always get a chance or two, but its about maintaining a good concentration level to be able to maximise those chances. This is often the difference between a blank and successful days Salmon fishing.



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