Catching Big Salmon





Bigsalmon are generally found in the larger rivers since they have genetically evolved to adapt to the large flow and obstructions of these rivers. Notable examples for Pacific Salmon are the Fraser and Skeena in British Columbia the Kenai in Alaska. In respect of Atlantic Salmon the Alta, Tana, Lakselv in Norway, the Humber river in Newfoundland, and the Tay in Scotland.



These larger salmon are more likely to be caught in the lower reaches of these rivers and often at specific lays which in stable river beds will remain the same year after year. It is wise to know exactly where these lays are since a bigsalmon will defend this territory from smaller salmon. Often local knowledge will find experienced fly fishermen, fishing deeper and more slowly so that their fly sinks below the 'snappy' grilse to present itself infront of the nose of the larger salmon resting near the bottom. In some river systems as those found in Newfoundland these have been marked with white visible rocks at exactly the top of the lay. These large salmon rarely show themselves on the surface unlike smaller salmon , with the exception of the early morning and evenings and occasionally when a fresh run of salmon enter the pool and compete for the lay.

Multi-sea winter fish will enter rivers at specific times often early in the season as ‘springers’ or late in the season. Most of these are caught in early morning or late evening. The highest tides of the month will be associated with larger salmon runs.

Larger salmon migrate very slowly up a river, sometimes returning a few times to the ocean, before they migrate upstream. Casting to this location involves military precision at the correct speed and site to induce a take. These large salmon move and take slowly, this is especially important on rising a salmon on a dry-fly/ Bomber. Here the fly has to be cast well infront own the lay and the speed controlled. A fast moving fly will be ignored. When fishing with sunken flies/ lures, fish slow and deep, for this reason sinking lines will therefore more productive for bigger salmon.

Lays   'Some are merely currents meeting in the middle of the river, some are in the out wash of a cold feeder brook, others are pocket lays behind a series of upwells which lessen the flow rate along a migration route, others are alcoves along drop-offs, some are behind or in front of shoals or points, etc.  Major obstacles often have lays below them that hold very large salmon.  The best locations allow you to present to multiple lays for trophy fish from a single point. Our Humber river has many spots like this.  Next you have to read the water and figure out if a dry fly or wet fly will work best. Then you can adjust the fly line to suit the lay and fly being presented.' ( Bill Brydon Newfoundland )

Flies / Lures. Large flies will often attract large salmon, but this is not always so. What is essential is good quality hooks.

Joakim Haugen with a 37.7lb-17.1kg female salmon caught on the Dry-fly opposite in Northern Norway. Patchy sunlight and warmer temperatures optimise the Dry fly for salmon

Hooks Large single hooks with a wide gape and thick shaft are probably actually stronger that the smaller double or treble hooks, but on occasions a single hook may not hook so well if taken horizontally. The doubles and trebles both have their advocates, but the most essential thing is investing in the very best hook available/ terminal tackle. Many thin wired hooks will bend open on big salmon. Hooking clears plays a factor so a deeply hooked fish is likely to stay fast, which re-enforces the importance of only tightening on a fish when it it is firmly felt on the rod. Clearly a fish hooked on a single treble is very likely to bend open whereas, one hooked with tow or three hooks is reasonable secure. Having lost too many large fish I have tested the various hooks against a spring balance to see when the open up. The best trebles appear short shanked tubes hooks ( less likely to lever ) these are produced by Owner and Ken Sawada, which out perform Kamisan. Ken Sawada are only available in the UK from .The loop short tube doubles also excellent doubles.

In July 2010 I returned from Norway with memories of another epic battle with a leviathan salmon which took a small Red Francis Conehead. The salmon left the pool and was lost after over a mile dowstream seventy minutes later. The salmon was eventually lost around a rock but the 20lb Maxima held along with the fine Ken Sawada hooks....Keep them in the pool at all cost, large salmon can often be landed more rapidly if they are not spooked and frightened but this the advantage is lost when they leave the sanctuary of their pool!

Poor hooks is the only reminder of a 20lbs salmon heading downstream


Lines. The advent of synthetic climbing ropes, reduced the inherent risk of breakage if there was a sudden fall. The traditional nylon monofilament similarly offer this elasticity which is outperforms the fluorocarbon lines. Maxima is used extensively and almost exclusively throughout North America for a reason is rarely breaks. If you test maxima as compared with a fluocarbon Maxima will usually break above it’s actually breaking strain. Fish caught with Maxima are exclude from IGFA which says it all. In Newfoundland bigsalmon of 20-30lbs are caught every year on 8-10 Maxima. Clear Maxima over 15lb is un-available in the UK. I use 20lb for Norway obtainable from

Dieter with a 42lb Atlantic Salmon

Backing The thinner 30lb gel spun backing of at least 300 yards will reduce the bow in the water created when a big fish turns. This is especially important with the thicker spey lines. Clearly large arbour reels are therefore essential


Colin Leslie Tay’s ghillie renowned for the highest number of Scottish big salmon, recommends Sink-tips lines with 20-25lbs Maxima and to turn a salmon running out of the pool, ‘lower the rod tip and point it hard into the bank’. The Norwegians use very strong leaders and control the salmon with extreme pressure which is referred to as ‘walking the dog’, which means forcing the salmon away from the tail of the pool

A salmon is played out when it lies on it’s side, but for ‘catch-and return’ the early this can be achieved the better to ensure a survival rate after release. Larger salmon can either be tailed, beached if there is a smooth shingle shore or gaffed which is now a rarity except in Scandinavia where fish are caught for the pot.

Recommended Salmon Conservation organisations