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Allan's Guide to Autumn Salmon Fly Fishing

Now the hot, sticky, dog days of summer are behind us we can at last look forward to cooler temperatures on the riverbank with improved water flows. Hopefully, a fresh batch of aggressive autumn fish will occupy the lies and give a new audience to offer our flies to.

Autumn Salmon Fishing Guide

Of course UK weather is notoriously unpredictable, and you will also need to be prepared for both low and high water. Your plan needs to include a strategy for all these eventualities to make the most of the prevailing river conditions.

Salmon Fly Fishing Tackle

Autumn Salmon Fishing TackleYour choice of salmon fishing tackle does need to be matched to the size of river you are fishing. Large rivers such as the Tweed and Tay require a 14’ – 15’ rod in normal water heights to give the control needed to swing the fly attractively across the lies and to pick greater lengths of line off the water when casting. A smaller stream will be better fished with a shorter rod of 12’ – 13’ or a switch rod in low water. I have no doubt that the lighter outfits catch more fish in low water simply because of the delicate touch they afford. Anglers also tend to fish the water that’s close with more precision and stealth when they are fishing with this gear. We stock a range of great salmon fly rods from Sage, Guideline and Redington that will cover any of the conditions you will encounter.

Reels are a personal choice but my preference is for a large arbour model with plenty of capacity to hold at least 150m of backing and the fly line without overfilling the spool. It’s quite unlikely you will ever need this much backing but comforting to know it’s there if the need arises. My salmon fly reels have sealed disc drag braking systems that I can rely on to supply line to running fish smoothly without any hesitation. The sealed drag allows me to use the same reels for my saltwater fly fishing as well. Like any bit of precision engineering they need a bit of TLC after each trip, don’t put them away for storage until they are cleaned in freshwater, dried thoroughly and lightly lubricated as required. The drag needs to be completely backed off too. That way they will function perfectly next time you use them.

Salmon fly lines are the most confusing part of the kit for anglers new to the sport (and old hands as well). There is so much to choose from in terms of what matches casting style, preferred fishing technique and ability. If you also factor in the action of the rod you will be using and how well it will cast a particular line you can see how potentially complicated this might be. I’m always happy to discuss this with customers and recommend what will work based on my knowledge and experience. On a larger river it’s hard to go wrong with a shooting line with a looped end that allows you to swap between shooting heads for low levels and fly presentations higher in the water and Skagit heads for fishing deeper and stronger flows. Skagit heads make light work of fast sinking tips – one great bit of advice I was given many years ago by a very experienced angler was to always carry a fast sinking fly line in your kit wherever you were travelling to. There have been several occasions where this advice has caught the only fish in tough conditions.

Autumn Salmon Fishing Catches

Leaders are a more important part of the set up than anglers generally give credit for – the best leader will ensure you can turn your fly over nicely on every cast. That way you don’t have to wait until the current straightens everything out before you are fishing, wasting a lot of the swing across the stream. There are a couple of golden rules that will help you achieve this.

  • The faster your line sinks – the shorter the leader should be (maybe as little as 18”-24”). You want the fly to fish at the depth the line goes down to. A shorter leader also makes it easier to turn over heavier flies provided the leader is thick enough and stiff enough.
  • For longer leaders used with floating and intermediate fly lines always use a tapered leader. This will help with turnover and presentation generally. I often use the sharply tapered butt section of a saltwater leader (saltwater leaders tend to be stiffer) then add a tippet to suit the size and weight of the fly I’m using.

Choice of salmon fly is as important as ever – cooler temperatures will dictate a return to larger tube patterns last used back in the spring. As the water cools down the fish will get more aggressive and fish that have refused flies for the past few months will now take flies that come annoyingly close to their lies. These fish are going to be coloured and must be treated with great care as they are the future of salmon fishing. Don’t forget it’s possible that you will encounter low water and warmer temperatures so small flies and lighter tackle may well be the order of the day. The fly that I have found works well in these conditions is a small black or red francis tube – it seems to catch when all else fails. Sometimes it’s better to hold the fly it a particular lie moving the rod to give it some life rather than swinging it across the lie. It also works well it you strip back slowly in pools with areas of dead water – I’ve found a smooth steady retrieve works best.

Salmon Fly Fishing Clothing

Autumn Salmon Fishing Clothing

As ever, there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. There’s no excuse for being anything other than warm and dry regardless of the conditions. We are lucky to be able to enjoy all the benefits that lightweight, breathable clothing bring to the sport. Have a look at our range of fishing waders and boots plus our jackets and other layering items along with important safety items such as fishing sunglasses and life jackets.

So please get out there and enjoy the final part of the salmon fishing season, I am here to help and advise you on the best tackle and techniques.

I sincerely hope you end your season in style!

Tight lines,


Allan Shephard
I've spent a big chunk of my life either fishing, talking about fishing, teaching fishing or working in the tackle trade. My hunger for ever more extreme and challenging fishing adventures continues to grow and can only be satisfied by a regular angling fix! I hold AAPGAI advanced instruction qualifications in single & double-handed fly-casting and have had articles published by some of the biggest UK fishing magazine titles. I consider myself very much an all-round angler. I have fished in over 20 countries worldwide for a variety of species in both fresh and saltwater. Advising people how to kit themselves out with tackle and clothing for their next fishing adventure is always a pleasure – please take advantage of my experience and knowledge.