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How to prepare for a successful day salmon fishing in the springtime

Today’s guest post comes from Stewart Collingswood, an Orvis Endorsed Guide and MD at Alba Game Fishing.

As we emerge from winter into spring, salmon anglers begin to cast their aspirations toward landing an elusive Springer. In fact, a spring salmon, (Springer) is thought of by many, as the ultimate prize in game angling. In addition to the bright silver appearance of these fish, they are formed like athletes. If you were to close your eyes and imagine Atlantic Salmon perfection, you'd see a Springer. 

To begin with, this article will help you prepare and adopt the correct tactics when fishing Scottish rivers for salmon. Moreover, it is important to understand, that a lot is going against you. River levels can vary, weather can be brutal and fish can be indifferent to what you try to sell them. 

Lastly, your mindset needs to be right. You are, after all, pitting your wits against an ancient creature with finely tuned survival instincts. Respecting and understanding this is a nod to the epic journey the salmon must make. 

Clothing, Waders, PFD - staying warm, safe and dry

Firstly, understand this, the weather in Scotland in February, March, and April can be brutal. However, it can also be very pleasant. North winds drop the temperature significantly, whereas the south wind or westerlies are warmer. 

Despite the wind direction, the middle part of the day is when the fishing is likely to be best. In other words, when the sun reaches its highest point.

You should be dressed for the worst, then all will be good. 

20 years as an Orvis Endorsed Guide have taught me many lessons, and the first one is, invest in good waders. The Orvis PRO Waders are our choice. This is a comfortable, warm and durable wader, with brilliant performance. Furthermore, the waders have built in removable knee pads. 

Being a fishing guide can put a strain on waders - sometimes you can clock up 10,000 steps in a day. My current Pro Guides are in their 3rd season and haven't missed a beat. 

The Pro Guide Waders in Action - Salmon Fishing on the River Tweed at Floors Castle

The PRO Waders in Action - Salmon Fishing on the River Tweed at Floors Castle

A PFD will save your life

In addition, spring water levels can be high. You should always wear a good Personal Floatation Device (PFD). Moreover, it should be compact and not restrict your casting stroke. 

Additionally, you need to stay warm. Firstly wear two layers of thermal leggings under waders. Secondly, wear good merino wool socks. We love these Midweight OTC Wader Socks however, buy a size up and wear a thinner pair underneath. Equally, I always wear a size up on wading boots in spring and winter to accommodate the extra bulk. 

Thirdly, wear good thermal layers on your top half. Clothing should be breathable and not too bulky. The Orvis PRO Fishing Jacket will cope with the worst wet weather conditions!

The Orvis Pro wading jacket, coping easily with a typical Scottish summer day!
The Orvis Pro wading jacket, coping easily with a typical Scottish summer day! 

Finally, wear fingerless gloves, these are an excellent choice and allow you to stay warm without compromising your ability to tie knots or change flies. 

Tactics and Tackle for Spring Fishing on Scottish Rivers

To begin, most of the best spring fishing is on the bigger rivers like the Tay, Tweed, Dee and Spey

Therefore a 14ft or 15ft Spey rod is the ideal length of Spey rod. The Orvis Mission Fly Rod is an excellent casting tool and comes highly recommended. Furthermore, marry this with a short head spey line or Skagit for casting tube heavier flies.

The 14ft Orvis Mission in action on the River Tay in January
The 14ft Orvis Mission in action on the River Tay in January

As I mentioned before, the best fishing is likely to happen in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. Therefore, it pays to fish through lunchtime and eat later in the day. Often, fish are caught when other anglers are chatting in the hut between 1 pm and 2 pm. 

Equally, fly choice is critical. In spring time larger, weighted tube flies work best. Black and Yellow patterns are particularly successful. Monkey flies and Banana tubes are lethal. Also, weighted pink patterns like the excellent RS Pink UV Tomic SuperSquid by the Helmsdale company are brilliant flies in the spring. Especially if harling from a Tay boat. Always speak to the resident ghillie about fly choice, they, more than anyone, want guests to catch fish. 

Scottish spring salmon tube flies in a Plan D box
Scottish spring salmon tube flies in a Plan D box

Poly leaders and sink rate

Lastly, you should carry a good selection of sinking poly leaders. Without getting too technical, the resident ghillie will always know the best tip to use. However, don't be afraid to experiment and go with your gut instinct at times. You'll need to get the flies down to the fish in colder water, therefore what poly leader to use, depends on the depth and flow rate of the pool you are fishing. 

Mindset when fishing for Spring Salmon

Scottish salmon fishing requires patience, married with strategic water coverage. When approaching a pool, spend a moment studying the best approach. However always start with short casts, before throwing longer lines. Wade carefully, and be the heron. Stealth is required to avoid spooking fish. 

Furthermore, a good mindset when Scottish salmon fishing, is to switch off the urgency to catch thoughts. Relax and settle into a focused rhythm. Soak up the scenery. Often when you are relaxed and focused, this is when a salmon takes. It's as if they can sense desperation pulsating down a fly line if you get too anxious. 

A 27lb Springer from the River Tay in March 2023
A 27lb Springer from the River Tay in March 2023


I hope these few tips have helped you plan the escape from the warmth of your house to break out to the glorious outdoors to enjoy hunting elusive spring salmon. The ultimate prize! Tight lines and good luck.

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