Atlantics in salt/estuaries
I am here on the east coast but in my experience most innovations in fly fishing seem to be coming from the west. So my question for you is:
Any ideas on how to catch Atlantics in estuaries, the brackish water, or perhaps the first pool above the salt? Here on the east coast I do not know of estuary fishing for Atlantics and the first pool on the river is usually far from the most productive. Regulations in some areas forbid it, but it also a possibility in others.
Thanks for any insights,
Some of the pros may have more insight than me and hopefully they will jump on your thread. Atlantics are a bit different than west coast Salmon (Coho, Kings, Pink and Chum). When the first British explorers came through here, they tried to toss Atlantic flies at them with poor results. They figured west coast Salmon were retarded or something and wrote them off.
I seem to have the best luck with bait fish patterns. I think it much easier to catch them while they are still in the salt. When they first come into a river, they shut down and concentrate getting up stream. Last year on the Stilly, I watched herd after herd of Coho cruise past this bottle neck, about a mile or so past the mouth and could not get them to take a fly. Ten or twenty miles upstream, near their natal beds, they seem a bit more eager to take something.
Excluding the Pink Salmon, I have caught more Coho in Puget Sound. Puget Sound is an enormous body of water here, surrounded by mountains and well protected from the open ocean. It makes it an ideal place to use a small boat to fish the beaches. Salmon have to migrate by several prominent points on their way to their rivers and these are the spots I like to concentrate on. Usually, they are so close to the beach that most takes occur within twenty feet of shore. Nothing like stripping a bait fish pattern through the salt and BAM!
Les Johnson is the Puget Sound master with several books under his belt. These may not translate well to the east coast. There are a few self proclaimed masters out of California, but again their books may not translate well.
I like to fly fish the salt because not a lot of people do. There isn't a library of knowledge like you might find on lake fishing for trout so it requires one to be innovative and willing to explore techniques that are different and untried. Or you can buy all of Les's books and get way ahead of the game.
I would google the heck out of the east coast fly sites and search for Atlantics in the Salt.
Dan- I have looked into it quite a bit and found that almost no one has done much to try for them. What i did find was people in Labrador had tried it with limited success. The atlantics seem to stream into teh rivers fast and shoot up. The lower pools are never very good where as with the pacific salmon they can be very good.
When tha cohos start to stage a the mouths of estuaries I throw a Kaufmanns spider at them in Chartuse. They seem to hit that pretty well.
If you could find a smalller estuary i think it would improve your chances as the estuaries for most of the big atlantic salmon rivers would seem too big to effectively fish.
Let us know if you find anything else.
Matt and D3, thanks for your insights. I think you are right that to concentrate on small estuaries would be the right thing. I know that Atlantics near river mouths stick close to shore because most of the commercial drift nets used to set them there in the 70s when there were commercial fisheries for Atlantics in Canada. I have seen people casting around Tide-head at the Restigouche and the river is 100s of metres wide there. Never have I seen anyone catch anything and they may simply be doing it because the Restigouche is pretty well all private water above that so that is their only chance.
Atlantics do tend to come up in waves with the rain and don't usually hang around the lower river if they don't have to. So I suppose they wont be looking around much if they are on the move. I have heard people say that Atlantics will come up into the fresh into the first pool on high tide and then drop back if conditions don't seem right. I somehow doubt it though as that transition between salt and fresh is likely to be too hard on them to repeatedly subject themselves to it.
In the Swedish Baltic I think most of the Atlantics are caught by trolling close to rivers but I am not sure if those fish are resident there all year or are on the move and have the urge to get up the river.
My guess is that a big gaudy fly that may imitate their most recent food is probably the best bet. It seems to me that the productive flies for Atlantics get smaller as the season progresses.
Please keep posting anyone with ideas.
I know what I would do if I were there. I would fish my "Miyawaki Beach Popper." I fish it as if it were a wounded baitfish. I personally have caught searun cutthroat, coho and chinook salmon, bull trout, and winter steelhead – all on saltwater beaches and near enough to estuaries to count. I have had email from fellow popper tossers who have also caught redfish, snook, tarpon, roosterfish, ling cod and barracuda.
Because it is a surface fly, it is a great searching pattern. If you don't get any rises or follows, there aren't any predators around. It's as simple as that.
If you'd like the tying recipe, you can find it at: pugetsoundflyfishing.com and search through the fly pattern archives for "beach popper."
If you are still interested, I can email revisions I have made to the fly since it was published and can also email fishing instructions.
Yes it can be done! Many summers ago as a teenager I spent the month of July at my grandparents small farm on Belle Isle Bay in New Brunswick near the little town of Hatfeild.
Each morning I would take their small skiff over to a long gravel bar near where the ferry crossed. I was fishing for stripers with the fly rod along this bar by drifting over the bar and casting in about 20 feet of water. I had great success for stripers this way and I was using a fly that looked like a smelt to me. I think this fly was used for landlocks in Maine a lot. Twice that July I hooked into an Atlantic by mistake. They were always in that area jumping strait out of the water as only an Atlantic can do. I boated the first one and the second one I lost at the boat. Both fish hit my stripped fly very hard and started to run instantly coming strait up and making great jumps. I can't remember the name of the river close by but I'm sure that's where they were headed for. As an excited young teenager I took that first fish I caught back to the farm. My grandfather had to show everyone in the area my catch so we went to the general store in Hatfeild to show it off. Just about everyone said they had never or hardly ever heard of anyone catching Atlantics in the bay. A couple days latter the warden showed up at the farm told my grandparents that they would be held responsible for my actions if I took another salmon and could loose their property. Most mornings after that I would see the warden sitting in his car on the side of the road watching me fish drinking away at his coffee or tea. We over time became good friends, I showed him how to catch stripers on a fly and he showed me his secret beaver ponds full of big brookies.
If it is legal to catch Atlantics in the salt I think with some diligent observation on your part you will figure out ways to do it.
Leland, that popper looks interesting. The only thing I have fished with poppers is smallmouth bass. It might be interesting to try some out on trout. I am not sure that they would be legal for Atlantics.
OC. Thanks for the great story. I see that Hatfield point is in the St. John river estuary above the reversing falls. You would be hard pressed to catch a salmon there now as the run is all but wiped out I do believe. The stripers are still there I believe. In fact I have been hearing a lot lately about stripers in the Bay of Fundy rivers, I guess they are on the rise because of some solid fisheries management in the US northeast.
Well, I will keep thinking about catching Atlantics in the lower rivers and estuaries.
I'm sorry to hear that there may not be any salmon left in such a beautiful place. The imagages of jumping Atlantics on perfectly still mornings will remain in my soul to the end of time.
Also you should try Lelands popper, it is one remarkable fly. If you ever get to fish for stripers in New Brunswick I think his popper will bring fish to the surface and that is a rare happening in those waters. Fish it and they will come!
I have fished in tidal estuaries in the Western Isles of Scotland / Lochmaddy. In one of the larger sea pools (Geireann), the salmon would come in on the tide. The river that discharges into the estuary was more of spate river, and the salmon would attempt to negotiate things on the tide.
After fishing several days of fishing, it was my impression that the salmon would enter on the tide, and if they couldn't negotiate an entry into the Loch, they would drop back down. No real proof here, just a judgement.
The estuary was such that while there was flow, it wasn't great holding water at low tide. The Ghillie certainly had a firm grasp where the fish would hold due to current and favorable rock formations. In this case it was a pinch point where the current was favorable.
As far as catching them once they had found a holding spot, it was a matter of presentation, same as always. I really sensed that if they ran up on tide, and where unsuccessful, they dropped back down & at that time they became quite agitated ; jumping more than normal - I was almost struck by a fish. They also where not interested in anything until they settled down a bit or dropped back down further.
In hindsight, I think it was more a function of the spate river. In Newfoundland, I fished a much larger river (Humber). The fish would run on the tide, and guides would almost time them coming upstream. It was my impression that they ran as far as they could until darkness, and then found a place to settle (gravel bar or what have you). This was particularly true of the grilse.There was really nothing to contain them as in the previous case, so they ran upstream. Fish do stay in the lower river / head of the ride, so obviously not true for all fish (particularly some larger ones).
Likely there are biologist that have done studies and might offer information. These are just some experiences / personnel observations and are presented as such.
I have a picture of the the Marker Pool on the River Spey. I have never fished it, but this looks like what you are looking for in terms of a larger river. Perhaps someone can offer insight on this pool and fishing it.
I've been fly fishing Atlantic salmon for 44 years (I'm 58 now). In my estimation, the tidal pool on a river can be one of the most productive place on the river to fish...most of my fishing is done in Labrador and I fish 90% or more of my time there in the tidal pools. I've just ordered a 15ft spey rod. It should be here on Monday...just in time for my annual trip to Labrador on July 4. I hope the old addage is wrong and that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Problem is, I have to teach myself...with the help of Mel Krieger's video, and the fishing is so good there that I probably won't want to put down my regular fly rod (11ft) to start learning something new.
I too have fished for atlantic salmon in tidal water. We fished at the last couple of hours of the falling tide, with very small sparse dark colored flies. You can do very well fishing these tidal pools since by definition the fish are fresh, and have not been pounded with a thousand flies. Let me tell you something, hooking a fish this fresh in tidal water is a blast!!!
Once the tide starts to turn, the salmon sense this and become very active, often darting around and putting on a show. It's a lot of fun to watch them then go up river in a few hours the when water keeps rising.
Oh yeah, I fished on the Humber as well, and my guide could tell me the time the fish would reach shellbird island pool...
well, off to Labrador July 25th, can't wait...
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