Radencich Salmon Flies Salmon Fly How to Fish a Salmon Fly Below the Surface

How to Fish a Salmon Fly Below the Surface

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Fishing a salmon fly below the surface is a technique that often yields great results, especially when surface fishing isn’t producing strikes. This method requires specific gear, techniques, and an understanding of salmon behavior in deeper water. Here’s a detailed guide to help you master subsurface salmon fly fishing.

How to Fish a Salmon Fly Below the Surface

How to Fish a Salmon Fly Below the Surface

Select the Right Gear

Proper equipment is essential for effective subsurface fly fishing.

  • Rod and Reel: Use a 9 to 10-foot fly rod rated for 8-10 weight lines, similar to surface fishing. Ensure the reel has a strong drag system for handling powerful runs.
  • Fly Line: A weight-forward sinking line or a sink-tip line is ideal for getting the fly to the desired depth.
  • Leader and Tippet: Use a shorter leader, typically 4-6 feet, with a 10-15 lb test tippet. This setup allows better control and direct contact with the fly.

Choose the Right Fly

Subsurface flies need to imitate the natural prey salmon find below the surface.

  • Popular Flies: Patterns like the Woolly Bugger, Zonker, and Egg Sucking Leech are effective for subsurface fishing. These flies imitate various aquatic organisms that salmon feed on.
  • Color and Size: Adjust the fly’s color based on water clarity. Darker flies for murky water and lighter, natural colors for clear water. The size should match the prevalent prey and the salmon species.

Identify Productive Water

Knowing where to cast and fish below the surface is crucial.

  • Deep Pools and Runs: Salmon often rest and feed in deeper pools and runs. Target these areas for the best results.
  • Drop-offs and Ledges: These underwater structures provide cover and feeding opportunities for salmon.
  • Riffles and Undercuts: These areas create natural feeding lanes and provide cover for salmon.

Presenting the Fly

Proper presentation is key to enticing subsurface strikes.

  • Casting: Make accurate casts to place the fly in front of holding or moving salmon. Avoid casting directly on top of them to prevent spooking.
  • Drift and Swing: Let the fly drift naturally with the current or swing it across the current. Mend your line to control the speed and depth of the fly.
  • Retrieve: Use varied retrieves to imitate the natural movement of prey. Short, quick strips or slow, steady pulls can both be effective.

Adjusting Depth

Getting the fly to the right depth increases your chances of success.

  • Weighted Flies: Use flies with built-in weight to reach deeper water quickly.
  • Sink-Tip Lines: These lines help get the fly down while maintaining a natural drift.
  • Split Shot: Add split shot to the leader if additional weight is needed to get the fly to the desired depth.

Reading the Water

Understanding water conditions and salmon behavior improves your strategy.

  • Water Temperature: Cooler water often means salmon are more active and willing to feed below the surface.
  • Current Speed: Faster currents may require heavier flies or lines to get the fly down. Slower currents allow for a more natural drift.
  • Visibility: Clear water requires more subtle presentations and natural-colored flies, while murky water allows for bolder colors and patterns.

Setting the Hook

Proper hook-setting technique is crucial for successful subsurface fishing.

  • Feel the Weight: Wait until you feel the weight of the fish before setting the hook. This ensures the salmon has taken the fly properly.
  • Firm Hook Set: Use a firm, upward motion to set the hook securely. This helps penetrate the salmon’s mouth effectively.

Playing the Fish

Managing the fish once hooked is essential for a successful catch.

  • Maintain Tension: Keep steady pressure on the fish and maintain a tight line to prevent it from shaking the hook.
  • Use the Drag: Let the reel’s drag system manage the fish’s runs. Apply pressure as needed to tire out the salmon without risking a break-off.
  • Guide the Fish: Use the rod to steer the fish away from obstacles and towards you for a safe landing.


Fishing a salmon fly below the surface combines skill, patience, and knowledge of salmon behavior. By selecting the right gear, choosing effective flies, and mastering presentation techniques, you can increase your chances of success. Respect the fish and their environment, and enjoy the rewarding experience of subsurface fly fishing for salmon. Happy fishing!

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