A Fall Guide on How To Catch a Landlocked Salmon

Angler shows How To Catch a Landlocked Salmon in Fall with this impressive catch

How To Catch a Landlocked Salmon in Fall

The quality of the fall salmon fishing has improved over the last few years despite some challenges we have had, such as high water, or in some areas lack of water, over the past two seasons. There has been an influx of new anglers starting to fish for salmon and get in on the excitement, how wonder how to catch a landlocked salmon this time of year.

Salmon Fishing Techniques

Fishing for salmon in the fall is different than other times of year, and normal trout fishing techniques can often come up short.  What migratory fish are looking for is travel corridors and resting water. The primary concern of these fish is moving up river, not staying out of sight and feeding. The first thing a new salmon fisherman needs to learn is not to look at the river as a trout fisherman, but as a salmon fisherman. 

Identifying Migrating Salmon Travel Corridors

You learn how to catch a landlocked salmon by learning how to identify potential travel corridors through the river that salmon will use during spawning season.  Migrating salmon will take the route of least resistance where a fish can move up river easily. These routes will vary depending on water flows and other conditions. This will include sunlight, and for the Salmon river, fishing pressure.  Some excited fishermen or heavy fishing pressure can push moving salmon into the deeper, faster moving water.

Resting Waters

Resting water is a lot easier to identify.  All of the prime resting pools are obviously identified and have been given names.  The salmon will consistently use these pools in a wide range of water flows.  Once the runs start, we can count on finding at least a few fish in these locations.  However, this is also where we will find the most intense fishing pressure and the big pools are not the only resting spots that salmon will use.  Some of the best resting water to fish is what is referred to as pocket water.  

These spots can be some calm water behind a big rock, or a cut in the river bottom the size of a pickup truck.  What makes these spots ideal for us is that they are easy to fish, but often, the few fish in the spots can be very aggressive.  As the numbers of fish and fishing pressure increase, these spots become more productive.  

Salmon are Easily Scared

Identifying both travel corridors and holding water is just the first step to learning how to catch a landlocked salmon.  When fall salmon fishing we have to keep in mind that these fish are actually very spooky. Despite the fact that these fish are big, it does not take much to push them into deeper water and go off the bite. 

When spooked, salmon have two means of defense.  First, is to sit tight to the bottom and be perfectly still and try to blend into the river bottom using camouflage.  Obviously, the second line of defense is to bolt back down river into deep water.  Salmon are often as spooky as any spring creek trout.

Where to Look

One of my favorite locations for fall salmon fishing is the heads of the pools. There can be a hundred salmon sitting in a pool and only 10 fish in the head of that pool but the 10 fish in the head of the pool will bite best. It is always best to look for the few fish that are cooperative and concentrate on these fish.  Typically, evening is when salmon will concentrate at the heads of the pools, preparing to make the run up river.  Fishing these locations towards evening is always a good strategy to keep in mind, especially if you’re having a tough day. 

Fisherman posing with large salmon catch
Proper presentation of the fly is necessary to knowing how to catch a landlocked salmon in the tributaries.

Fall Salmon Fishing Challenges

Unfortunately, high water and fishing pressure can make it impossible for us to fish these locations. One of the biggest challenges we have to knowing how to catch a landlocked salmon during the fall fishing season is fishing pressure. 

Just because there are a lot of fishermen at this time it does not mean that we have to fish in a crowd.  Most of the time, both fall salmon fishing pressure and the salmon run peak at the same time. This is where identifying the salmon’s travel corridors becomes helpful. Salmon do not run nonstop from one piece of holding water to the next.  Normally the salmon will pick their way through the water, stopping temporarily to hold in any pocket water along the way. 

Presenting the Fly

After finding ideal locations for your fall salmon fishing efforts, the next step to knowing how to catch a landlocked salmon is to present the fly to the fish. This may sound simple, but this is where most fishermen struggle. You have to do more than cast it out and hope like hell a fish will bite.

Presenting the fly to salmon is more important than the fly itself.  On any given day a dozen different patterns will work equally as well as long as they are presented to the fish properly.  When it comes to fall salmon fishing, down and across presentation has proven to be the most productive method of presenting a fly. The down and across is intended to be a two-part presentation. The first part is intended to be a dead drift along the river bottom. The second part of the presentation is the slow swing. 

The Slow Swing

How is this presentation done? Cast up and across the river at 2:00 as the fly drifts down stream. Mend the line up stream to maintain a dead drift all the way to 

10: 00 while following the drift with the rod tip.

Once the fly reaches 10:00 the currents will start to work the fly. The first thing that will happen is the fly will lift off the bottom. Counteract this by first lowering the rod tip and letting line slide through your fingers, as needed. Doing one or both will normally do the job and of course, keep mending the line as needed to maintain the desired slow swing.

The advantage of this type of presentation is that the fish are given two different looks at the fly, with the first part being the dead drift. The fly is presented in profile and the fish gets the best look at the fly’s dressing. When the fly is allowed to start its swing (when most of the bites will occur) the river currents will bring the flies to life. Flies such as traditional wet flies, spey flies and streamers are made to order with this type of presentation.  

Fall salmon fishing can be fairly straight forward, however it is salmon fishing and there are no guarantees. Concentrate your efforts in good water and present the flies properly.  The salmon will do their part.

Original article By Jay Peck

About The Author

Jay Peck is a fishing guide on the Lake Ontario tributaries. With 40+ years of fly fishing experience including 30 years as a licensed New York State guide, Jay has been applying his knowledge of the sport and local waters to help anglers in their pursuit of migratory fish, inland trout, and a variety of warm water species. Jay is also an accomplished spey caster and fly tyer. He has developed several fishing techniques and fly patterns for fishing the tributaries and inland trout streams. To learn more, check out Jay’s youtube channel, and get in touch with Jay at jaypeckguidesflyfishing.com.

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