8 Clear Water Salmon Fishing Tips and Tactics

User these Clear water salmon fishing tips for big salmon like this.
Clear water fishing for salmon can result in large salmon if you consider these tips. Image provided by Healy Outdoors – New York

This article will give you tips and tactics for clear water salmon fishing, low water salmon fishing, and tips for fishing for spooked salmon.

I was recently asked a question from a reader about a problem he was having. This is not the first time I’ve been asked this same question.

He noticed that the salmon would move away from his bait and float as it passed them. I have seen this happen many times, and I know it’s nearly impossible to catch salmon that do this.

But, with a few adjustments and some knowledge of how to fish for spooked salmon, they can be caught.

I’ve also included a bonus tip at the end, and this tip has accounted for me and my clients catching fish when most anglers aren’t.

Why Do Salmon Move When Your Bait Approches Them?

Salmon moving away from the bait or setup often happens with salmon in gin-clear water when the fish are holding. Skinny water or shallow water salmon fishing on smaller streams is also tough when the water is very clear.

I would bet that it also happens when the water is deeper and dirtier, except that it’s just not noticed because the water doesn’t allow us anglers to see it.

For this reason, I follow some simple rules when I fish in almost all water clarity.

Low and clear water is tough to fish, and it provides even more challenges, so of the 9 tips, some are specific to low and clear water.

Pressure fish are also more likely to be on high-alert and very cautious about anything out of the ordinary. Your bait, float, line, and weight are ” out of the ordinary”.

Watching salmon move away from your setup as it approaches and passes them clearly indicates that they are seeing something they don’t like.

Salmon are not smart, but they are instinctually cautious. Therefore, you need to figure out what it is that they don’t like about your setup!

Catch More With These 8 Tips

In low, clear water, or when the salmon are pressured or spooked, this is what I would try. Keep in mind that tips 1, 3, and 5, are things I regularly do to ensure my clients are hooking the maximum amount of fish possible.

1. Your Leader Diameter Matters

Use the absolute lightest leader and shot line possible when fishing in slower water, clear water, and when the salmon are holding or are spooked.

Using a light leader is more important when using a slow presentation like float fishing, plunking, or drift fishing because the salmon have plenty of time to notice your leader.

Depending on the situation, the salmon could be okay with a 20-pound leader, or you may need a 10-pound leader just to get them to bite.

Too light of a leader means you will break off!

Too heavy of a leader means they will see it, so start something in between. If you see the salmon moving away from your presentation, the leader is the first thing I change. I prefer to go lighter and walk with a running fish if needed.

2. Use A Clear Float

Drennan Crystal Loafer Floats in 3 sizes
The Drennan Loafer float is my go to float for low clear water salmon fishing.

In low clear water salmon fishing, or when the salmon are pressured or spooked, I use a clear, low profile float like the Drennan float.

I will also use the smallest float possible.

Your float size will depend on how many weights are required to get into the strike zone at each spot. See the floats that I recommend.

3. Choose Your Weights Carefully

The salmon can see your weights, and those weights can spook fish. When it comes to the weights you use in low clear water or when the salmon are spooked, use the least amount of weight as possible, or the smallest weight possible.

Also, make sure you use weights that are not silver and shiny.

Using the least weights possible and non-shiny weights is something I do in all conditions, not just when the water is low and clear, and it rarely lets me down. Just be sure you use enough weights to do the job, and that job is to get the bait down into the strike zone and keep it there.

Honestly, I think most anglers often use too much weight.

4. Use Subtle Baits

Bait matters!! Here’s the thing, if you have already determined that the salmon are moving away from your presentation or are not eating your current bait, change it.

Even if you go with a smaller leader, a clear float, and less weights, they may remember that your bait was assassinated with danger.

Therefore, use a different bait. Go with a smaller bait and go as natural as possible in low clear water. stay away from big, bright, gaudy, or intrusive baits. This is when a small nymph might work better than a spawn bag, or a single light pink or range bead is better than a golf ball chuck of skein.

Also, I have found that if everyone in the spot is using the same bait, the salmon will become weary of it and start ignoring it. How do you know?

Well, if you see consistent hookups with the same bait, use that bait. If you see everyone using the same type of bait, like spawn bags, and the action is slow. Try something totally different, like a good salmon fly pattern.

5. Use A Smaller Hook

You should always be using a hook size that matches your bait size.

It is possible that the salmon are seeing your hook, or that your large hook is preventing the bait from drifting naturally, so use a smaller hook.

I personally think most angler’s hooks are way too big. In low clear conditions, go with a size 8 or 10 hook and fight them carefully so you don’t break or bend the hook. I have caught thousands of salmon between 20 and 40 pounds on size 8 and 10 hooks.

Also, don’t use gold hooks. Stick with bronze or black nickel hooks suitable for salmon.

6. Leader Length And Shot Line

If you are using a bright colored mainline, a thick line, or a braided line. Make sure there is plenty of distance between your bait and your mainline.

When I am using a high-viz line in low clear water when the salmon are spooked, I increase the length of my shot line and leader so the high-viz mainline is 3 to 6 feet off the water or at least 8 feet from the bait. If you are float fishing, it’s okay to put your float on the shot line.

7. Move Spots

A salmon that is moving out of the way is on high alert and is spooked. Once a salmon is spooked, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Even if you have tried all the above tips, your chances of catching them are still lower. Therefore, it might be best to move to another spot!

But, I suggest that when you move to another spot, you already have the above tips completed.

8. Slow, Low, And Behind

In low clear water, the salmon can be spooked easily. They can see you, or they can feel / hear you much easier in low, clear, or quiet water.

So, if you move to another spot, make sure when you get to the new spot that you are not heard or seen.

Wearing drab colors or clothing that blends into your background is a good way to not be seen.

Also, if possible, either stay behind the fish where they can’t see you or stay fro enough upriver that they can’t see you. Thye farther away you are and the lower you stay, (kneeling) the less likey they are to see you.

9. Bonus Tip

I will tell you a secret. Many anglers believe that going fishing with three or four of their buddies means more fish will be caught. It makes sense right? The more anglers, the more rods and lines in the water, and the more fish caught.

But, in my experience of guiding thousands of anglers, more anglers means more noise, and more commotion, and more spooked fish, equalling far less fish hooked.

Unless all the anglers are stealthy, I would say 90% of the time, 3 or 4 anglers in a pool means less fish.

So, if I have a choice of fishing a big pool with lots of fish and a bunch of noisy anglers or fishing ten small pockets with only one or two fish in it and no anglers, I’ll almost always choose the small pools and no anglers. And often, I’ll catch more fish than every guy in the pool.

Clear Water Salmon Fishing Q&A

If you have a question or want to share some advice about clear water salmon fishing, or fishing for spooked salmon, let us know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines


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