Here are the basic strategies that have helped me catch Atlantic salmon. I am sure they will help you catch more as well.

  • Dark day, dark fly; bright day, bright fly is an important rule. I can recall few, if any, exceptions. The dividing line between bright or dark situations is whether the sun is visible. If the sun is not visible, then a dark pattern will be more effective. If the sun is faintly visible, then very likely a dark pattern with a little sparkle would be the best choice. Bright sunlight even with scattered clouds indicates a bright pattern.
  • The sun is crucial, whether positioned upstream or downstream or covered by clouds. Your first step when you arrive at poolside should be physically or mentally to stretch your arm perpendicularly across the river to the opposite bank; then extend this line from horizon to horizon. If the sun is downstream of this line, you are in highlight mode; if the sun is upstream, you are in silhouette mode; and if the sun is invisible, you are in invisible sun mode. The sun determines the best times to fish certain pools.

Highlight Mode is at least 3 to 5 times more productive than silhouette mode assuming normal surface presentation. Why? In my book Buck Bug Magic: Catch more Atlantic salmon pay close attention to page 62 which shows what the fish actually see in both highlight and silhouette modes. My “magic” go-to fly for highlight mode is the single hook down-eye green glitter bug (shown on this website). My current version is modified slightly. The tail is equal parts of mixed colors Krystal Flash™ topped by white Neer™ Hair (NH 19) Polar bear; the red and yellow spun deer hair butt is replaced by yellow and red floss.

Invisible Sun Mode is only slightly less productive than highlight mode. The patterns that work best are darker than the ones that work in highlight mode. I try to avoid the brighter patterns that work well in highlight mode because of the bright day- bright fly, dark day-dark fly rule. Just about any dark to intermediate brightness fly will work in this mode. I do like the Rusty Rat Muddler knock-off pattern shown on this web site. I plan to tie a traditional Rusty Rat wet fly on a down-eye single hook for next year.

Silhouette Mode is by far the least productive mode for surface presentations. Why? I think there are two reasons. Look at page 62 of Buck Bug Magic: a surface oriented Atlantic salmon when the sun is upstream would ask you for a pair of sunglasses to scan the surface in addition your fly has very little if any color because it is in photographic terms backlit or silhouetted. Salmon can be caught with a surface presentation in silhouette mode but this mode is difficult and relatively unproductive compared to the other two modes. Here’s a story of being placed involuntarily in a silhouette mode situation. In early September 2016 while staying at the Sutter Salmon Club on the Miramichi River, in Carrolls Crossing near Doaktown, NB, Canada, the bridge pool was our assigned pool from 4:00 PM until dark; in the morning this pool was in highlight mode and two fish were landed and released. The late afternoon featured a strong upstream sun perfectly silhouetting our presentations. Evaluating the situation, I knew that our likely box score would be no hits-no runs-no errors. Correct guess! This was not my first silhouette mode event and they all haunt me. Is there anything that could improve our chances in silhouette situations? Assuming a “Never try-never win attitude (Roger Babson): I think the answer may be yes! Here’s why. From my experience fishing for Steelhead and Pacific salmon in both Alaska and the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY, the position of the sun has little or no effect. Why? These fish are not surface oriented like Atlantic salmon; they hold close to the river bottom and seldom come to the surface. In Alaska full sinking or sink tip fly lines and weighted flies are the rule and for the Salmon River I like running line and pencil leads. For poaching reasons, on Atlantic Salmon Rivers weighted flies and sinkers are illegal. So what are the alternatives? Full sinking line would be unpleasant to use and result in many lost flies on the bottom; a floating line with a sink tip or only a sinking leader with a sink rate at least 6 inches per second might be adequate. Regardless, you must attach an additional clear tippet of no more than 3 feet so your fly is as close to the depth of the sinking portion of your sink tippet or sinking leader; this ensures that your fly will be at roughly the same dept as the sink tippet or sinking leader. The salmon will be near the bottom, so the right rig consisting of a floating with a sinking leader or a floating line with a sink tip cast at a 90 degree angle or even slightly upstream into the river that can ideally sink to at least 3 foot depth might work. I have discovered a RIO™ 350 grain sink tip line for 9 weight single handed rods that has a sink rate of 8 inches per second. Wow! This may be too much and guarantee hooking the bottom on every cast. Every pool is slightly different in terms of depth, configuration, and current so you may need more than one rig to be adequately prepared. Hopefully, whatever rig you use at the end of the cast your line will be sufficiently lifted by the current to the surface without bottom contact as naturally as possible to prepare for the next cast. This method is experimental and because of the proximity of our flies to the bottom there is a learning curve in effect. I suggest in the beginning be careful and experiment with different length sink tips, leaders, and sink rates (IPS) or inches per second. Please until you find a good combination, do not use any flies you are not prepared to lose, thus potentially spoiling a trip. Remember, never try-never win!

OK. Here’s my totally untested and not guaranteed plan to handle silhouette mode situations in late August and September where water levels are generally intermediate to low. There are many possible combinations because each pool may require custom variations depending on pool bottom configuration, depth, and current speed. I do not plan to change my basic floating line; in a silhouette situation but I will remove my standard Airflow™ 10 foot salmon poly floating leader with tippet and replace it with another Airflow™ salmon 10 foot leader either slow sink-2.6 ips, fast sink-3.9 ips, super fast sink-4.9 ips, or extra super fast sink-6.1 ips each with its own tippet no longer than 3 feet so the fly will not be allowed to rise above the sink tip by a long say 6 foot leader tippet. My casts across the river will be slightly upstream of 90 degrees so the leader and fly have more time to drop lower in the water column.

  • Atlantic salmon are strongly attracted to the wake left by a fly traveling on or very near the surface of the water.
  • Buck bug and muddler patterns have a greater diameter and are more buoyant than conventional wet fly patterns. Thus, patterns tied on down eye hooks are more likely to rise to the surface and make a wake as the line pulls them against the current.
  • Down eye hooks incline the underside of the fly against the current. Thus, there is more pressure on the underside and less pressure on the top surface of the fly. The pressure differential causes the fly to rise towards the surface and make a wake as the line pulls it against the current.
  • Single hooks weigh less than double hooks. The less a hook weighs, the better the chances the fly will rise to the surface and make a wake. Single hooks also increase the percent of hook-ups landed. In addition, single hooks cause less bleeding so fish released will survive.
  • Best fishing results will be obtained when the air temperature is warmer than the water temperature. This rule is not absolute but it often explains why the fishing turns on or turns off. This rule is an excellent planning tool for the best times to begin and end daily fishing during the Atlantic salmon fishing season.
  • There are special pools where a no drag or dead drift presentation is required. These pools are typically public, subject to constant continuous fishing pressure, and there are always significant numbers of resident salmon present. These salmon may be resident for several days, weeks, or months. The fish in these pools learn to associate a dragged fly with danger. Thus in these heavily fished pools a dry fly dead drifted and not a wet fly pulled against the current is the most productive presentation.
  • High water, large fly; low water, small fly is another important rule. Relative water level determines fly size. I suggest the fly patterns in your box should be organized with different sizes of each pattern grouped together so the correct size of a particular pattern is available for differing water levels.


Jerome Farnsworth's
Buck Bug Magic:
Catch More Atlantic Salmon

Jerome shares his tips & tricks for improving your fishing using Buck Bugs.


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