|Tomatin House Pool
To help us identify good lies we need to understand 2 things: first, what the salmon needs; and second, how moving water behaves in the river's environment (but you don't require a master's degree in fluid dynamics).
What the Salmon NeedsBack in November 2012 I wrote a post titled "Where are They", which described the survival imperative that drives a salmon's behaviour. The greatest threat to its fulfilment of its life mission to reproduce is exhaustion. However, there are very few rivers in the UK that pose much sustained energy challenge to a salmon during its migration. The fish to the left was caught a very long way from the North Sea in August 2011, and it certainly doesn't look even remotely depleted by the journey.
When it's swimming the salmon is extremely efficient and powerful. The reserves of fat and protein layered in its muscles during the time at sea are huge in relation to the demands of its journey. The energy challenge starts in earnest with the creation of eggs or milt; continues during the long periods waiting for spawning; and ends with the act of spawning. If it is to survive this epic, the salmon cannot afford to waste energy holding its position in a lie. Ideally it wants to be as close to motionless as possible, and it can only achieve this objective in a lie with a smooth low-speed flow of water of consistent density. To that end the salmon will avoid turbulence - which demands effort to maintain stability and position - and excessive aeration - which changes density, causing unpredictable vertical shifts. Turbulence and aeration are exactly what you often get in the 'tail' behind obvious 'lies', which explains the absence of salmon. They also prefer to have a reasonable amount of water above them when they're static in daylight as protection against avian predators like ospreys. I generally reckon around 30"/70 cm is a respectable assumption. Salmon will tolerate shallow water and adverse conditions for short periods whilst running, but may not hang around long enough for you to catch them.
Here's an example of a good lie from a salmon's eye view 4 feet down. The pale area ahead and right in Window 1 is aeration and turbulence - you will note the adjacent ragged edge to Window 2 indicating larger waves. In the foreground the ridge of boulders is diverting the flow upwards into the wave forms at the top of the picture. Down at salmon level, things are pleasantly smooth but well oxygenated in the pocket of slack water behind the ridge.
You don't always need rocks and ridges. One of the best salmon lies I ever knew was no more than a depression in a bed of small pebbles and gravel about 4 inches deep, with a few medium-sized stones, perhaps 6 inches high, upstream. It helps to remember that even a very big salmon is only 8-9 inches deep. A salmon could hold its position in the lie by the simply expedient of rotating its pectoral fins to a shallow dive angle, which placed the main part of its body in almost slack water adjacent to the bottom. As a result they were almost completely motionless and correspondingly hard to spot. It was an educational treat to watch them through polaroids with the sun over your shoulder. Sadly it won't be there when I return to Tomatin next month, owing to the immense volumes of stone and gravel shifted by storms FRANK and BERTHA in the years since 2013. Nevertheless there will be others elsewhere in the beat for me to discover.
The other point to grasp is that apart from late season, testosterone-dosed territorial cock fish, salmon are very comfortable in close company. Mostly they don't mind sharing a good lie. One day I noted a large fish showing below the tail of Dalnahoyn pool near the Wade's Road Bailey bridge and resolved to catch it. I found a place between the bushes to get down the bank and was about to descend into some slack water behind a large rock adjacent to the side, when I saw that I was about to put my foot into the midst of a group of perhaps 8-10 mature salmon in an area no more than 3 feet by 4, taking a pause before ascending the fast water. In fascination I spent the next 10 minutes observing them from no more than 6-8 feet distant, by which time my target was long gone. I didn't mind. But if a lie's good and you catch a fish from it, unless there's another angler coming down the pool, fish it again, quickly!
How Water Behaves
|Dalnahoyn Pool, Tomatin
Running at +36"
Remember that the water near the surface is travelling much faster than that near the bottom. The slower water piles up against the obstacle, forming a static wedge of water upstream and above (I've exaggerated the dimensions/proportions for illustration purposes). The faster water above can't push it downwards or sideways and is thus forced upwards, appearing as a wave form at the surface. If the current isn't too fast there may also be a quiet volume at the back, but this breaks down rapidly with increasing flow speed or reducing depth, especially if the obstacle is isolated or blunt-faced (a too-abrupt upward movement generates unwelcome turbulence). You also need to think in plan view, with the near bottom flow being deflected outwards by the wedge. In many cases the fish will lie in the front envelope; between the boulders; or by the sides.
GFF Water, River Gaula
The clue as to why the fish is lying on the far side of the boulder is in the photo - my shadow in the foreground. Given an option, salmon will generally favour the shadier side.
GFF Water, River Gaula
GFF Water, River Gaula
Running +4' 6"
|Upper Netherdale beat
|Upper Kirk pool
Waterside & Ferrar beat River Dee
|Between the Caulds pool
running at +16" March 2017
|Garden Pool, Tomatin
running at +24" September 2011
|The advantage of height
Flesh Dub Thoresby beat
running at +18"
|Anne's Bank, Rutherford beat
River Tweed at +12", May 2016
- Scan the pool from the height of the bank to spot possible lies
- Make an outline mental plan of how to fish them
- Think ahead by 50 yards as you go down the pool
- Remember how far the lie may be upstream from the standing wave
- Don't be snared by the downstream swirl!
- Fish the edges of lies from a narrower angle to keep your fly in play
- If you catch a fish, cover the lie again as soon as possible