How & Why Salmon Fly Fishing Differs from Other Fly Fishing

Fishing in general ranges from just dropping bait to the bottom to catch a grouper all the way to reenacting the behavior of the prey of the fish, such as those fishing on the fly. Developing the skills that it takes to be a proficient fly fisherman will take time as well as patience. It can be easy to lose your cool when putting yet another line into the mangroves when fishing Red Snapper for example. Fishing with a salmon fly differs from other forms of fly fishing. Salmon fly fishing is considered among one of the more challenging for a variety of reasons. The following are how and why using a salmon fly differs from other forms of fly fishing.

Fly Fishing

Salmon Live in Saltwater but Spawn in Freshwater

Fly fishing for salmon is rather unique because they spend most of their life in saltwater environments enabling them to grow larger. As anadromous fish originally born in freshwater, they instinctively migrate upstream to spawn at their own birthplace. Interestingly, for most salmon species their journey ends there and they die after spawning, since they lack the energy to make the return trip. There are strict regulations on how salmon must be caught and which salmon can be kept to allow the natural spawning cycle to continue, helping ensure salmon populations can sustain and thrive. Check your local laws.

The tough part for those fishing with salmon fly patterns is not imitating the salmon’s food source, but instead having to appropriately attract or even disturb the fish. This is why a salmon fly is generally much larger than a standard fly-fishing fly.  Since they spend most of their life in saltwater, adult salmon develop a different food source than what’s in the tributaries and rivers.

The Flies Differ Immensely

Wet and dry flies are completely different when it comes to fly fishing salmon compared to other fish like trout. The salmon fly patterns need to be tied on larger hooks since many salmon are larger than most other freshwater fish.  Tying a salmon fly with deer hair is a great way to make it skate on the water better. And since you’re trying to disturb or attract the salmon, using a flashier fly with hues of purple and yellow improves the chances it becomes curious and takes a bite. Fly fishing with a spey line is also recommended since it is heavier at the end and thus can cover longer distances by casting further upstream. 

Fly Fishing Where Salmon Live in the Wild

For those looking to catch a monster salmon on a fly there are only a handful of places where you can fish wild salmon. Tributaries in the North Atlantic still have some wild salmon while most of the population are in the Pacific Northwest around Northern California, Oregon, Washington and most plentiful in Alaska. Areas across the middle of North America do not have natural wild salmon, only farmed salmon populations. The complex environmental consequences and health dangers of salmon farms have made it a highly-controversial topic over the last 20 or more years. So naturally you can really only fly fish for salmon in those regions with wild populations in the North Atlantic and Pacific Northwest.

This vastly differs from other popular fish such as trout which are widely available in rivers, streams and lakes across the United States and Canada. Trout are mostly limited to fresh water, though one exception is a coastal trout that can live in salt, brackish and freshwater environments. Fly fishing for Speckled Trout is popular in locations like Savannah and the mangroves in Florida. 

For most people, fishing for salmon on the fly will take a lot more planning, preparation and travel than seeking out other species to fish. Yet if you call yourself a fly fisherman it’s definitely worth your while. Aside from the picturesque scenery in the North Atlantic and Pacific Northwest regions, a salmon run is a thrilling spectacle to witness. If you haven’t gone yet, do some research on the most consistent and reliable salmon flies and stock up on an assortment before you embark on your first salmon fly fishing trip!

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