Like most of Western Alaska, we’re experiencing slightly lower than average water conditions on our home river at Alaska West. As is the case with most anadromous species, low and clear water can make for some challenging fishing conditions when swinging flies for deep holding fish like king salmon, and often requires a few adjustments to stay in the game.
Here are five tips to catch more king salmon in low water.
- Fish Smaller Flies. Conventional flies for king salmon are big, comically big. However, when the water is low and clear, it’s not uncommon for smaller patterns to out-fish larger patterns. Think sparse winter steelhead flies tied in classic king salmon colors.
- Fish Lighter Flies. While ‘getting down’ is often advantageous when swinging for kings, believe it or not, with less water we tend to find fish in many different water types (see tip number five). Therefore, we find heavier sink-tips coupled with lighter flies allows for more versatility across varying water depths, especially when more snags are in play.
- Watch Your Sun-Angle. Fish don’t have eyelids, thus many anglers agree that a tough sun angle (that in which the fish are forced to face directly into the sun) can make it difficult for the fish to see your fly. When the water is low and clear, light is able to penetrate deeper into holding lies, making it even more important to choose runs with a positive sun angle.
- Wait to Set the Hook. Under normal conditions, a typical king salmon take goes something like this – tap, tap tap, deep pull. Its critical to wait for the deep pull before setting the hook in order to ensure a solid hook hold in the corner of the mouth. However, more often than not, in clear water conditions, we find takes to be far more subtle, almost trout-like. Regardless, its still important to wait for the weight before setting the hook, even if it seems to last an eternity. Let ’em eat it, and then drive it home.
- Cover More Water. At the surface, conventional wisdom might suggest targeting only the deepest and darkest ‘bucket’ of the run when water levels are at their lowest. However, while the gut of the run should never be avoided, we’ve seen many fish hooked in low water on short casts on the inside bank, on the hang-down, in the tailouts, etc. We’re not sure, but we think it has something to do with a smaller cone of vision in less water. What does this mean? When the water is low, fish it all, you might be surprised.