Cold Water Salmon Fishing Tactics

Salmon fishing is never a science, but history and experience dictates that ‘deep and slow’ is the way to go. As the salmon’s metabolism slows in icy-cold water, fish are less likely to chase a fly across a pool as they might do in summer.

It might be cold in there, but the ‘Keep em Wet’ rule for good fish handling still applies

They’re also less likely to venture out of the layer of water they find themselves in, less likely to want to move out from their comfortable lie, and will be reluctant to rise up to the surface to take a fly from the wind-chilled top layer.

Spring is one of the most exciting times of the year to fish for salmon and Jonny Muir has some top salmon fishing tactics to help you connect with your dream fish.

Early season salmon fishing can be one of the most exciting times of the year to fish. In the months of January, February and March, expectations are low as fish have not yet begun to build in our rivers in great numbers.

However the potential rewards are huge, and the fish can be too. This is the time of year when some of our biggest, and best-conditioned multi-sea winter ‘springers’ enter freshwater – the holy grail of Atlantic salmon fishers.

When the days are short and temperatures low, it’s vital to maximise your fishing efficiency and keep your fly in the taking zone for as long as possible. This is where specialist lines and tips are essential.

Jonny’s Spring Salmon Fishing Tactics

Here are some ways in which you can control your line swing and ensure your fly is swimming right past the nose of a fresh bar of silver:


For medium and large-sized salmon rivers, multiple density fly lines have changed the game. Gone are the days of single-sink rate long-belly Spey lines. Multiple density lines, most frequently available in the ‘Scandi’ style shooting head profile, are designed so that different sections of the line sink at a different rate. This ensures that your link sinks at a steady angle through the water, maintaining a direct, straight line with you and your rod as you wait for the take. They also offer the benefit of easier casting and better line control.

Check out our offerings such as the RIO InTouch Scandi 3D, Guideline Power Taper 3D+, and Mackenzie G3 Phased Density 5. These lines come in a multitude of staggered sink rates to suit the flow rate and depth of your pool. Remember that a heavier line will swing through the current more slowly.

If you want to fish a Skagit line in order to throw large, heavy flies and superheavy tips, the RIO InTouch Skagit Max Gamechanger Shooting Head is the line for you.


Sink tips, also known as polyleaders, offer an additional method of fishing different depths and speeds. Add them to a multiple density shooting head to get a bit more depth, or use them on their own with a floating line if you’re fishing a narrow river.

RIO Spey Versileaders and Airflo Polyleaders are both great options and you should never go salmon fishing without a few in your pocket.

For Skagit lines, RIO InTouch Skagit MOW Tips will help you get super deep, with T11, T14, and T17 options.


Early spring fish are not known to shy away from a large fly, so present something that’s worth their effort to attack. Tube flies will function as an extra bit of weight too, helping to keep them swinging deep. Brass and copper tubes, as well as tungsten coneheads, should be present in your fly box. Consider picking up some long-winged Mikael Frodin patterns, and early-season classics such as the Fulling Mill Cascade TD Tungsten Conehead Tube.

12lb springer in cold weather

Line Control and Casting Angle

The upstream ‘mend’ is an important technique at this time of year. It will allow you to slow your line swing and give your line, tip and fly time to sink properly. You may want to use several upstream mends during your swing to keep your fly in the taking zone for as long as possible. A long rod will assist you in hanging your line out in the current too, so don’t be afraid to reach for the 15-footer, even on smaller rivers. Using a more downstream casting angle will also help you create a slower, deeper swing.

We hope those salmon fishing tactics were useful – by using the right tackle and line control, you’ll stand a better chance of connecting with your dream fish this spring!

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