If you have ever been fishing in Iceland I'm sure you've heard of the hitch technique for salmon fishing. I get asked a lot about this method for salmon fishing in Iceland and I also tell me trout fishing clients about it. The reason of course being that I love it myself. Also I sometimes hear the stereotypical views on salmon fishing as being something you do with a double handed rod (preferably a heavy one) with big tube flies on huge rivers, casting square, swing and then take two steps and cast again.
Don't get me wrong I love that style of salmon fishing as well but as my trout fishing friends and clients often tell me - they want that surface excitement and sight fishing they get in dry fly fishing for trout. Well that's when I tell them about the hitch technique for salmon fishing in Iceland.
What is hitching?
To be honest I'm not sure where that word comes from but basically the method requires the fly or tube fly to skate on the surface of the water, creating a "V" shape riffle on the surface that irritates the salmon (or whatever it does to it) and makes it either take it or splash it's tail to it. Either way it gets your heart going and you've located the fish.
So I believe you need to get the hitching fly or tube pretty close to the fish to entice a reaction. An example on why I believe that:
In early August 2011 I was guiding an American on the Huseyjarkvisl River. We'd started fishing a pool with a hitch tube and about halfway down a fish splashes it's tail to my client's fly. I told him to stop, stand still and make that same exact cast with the same amount of line and he did and the salmon splashed it again. We did that one more time and the salmon did the same again so with the fear of "putting it down", so to speak, we switched to a smaller hitch tube. That did not work so we tried several flies without luck before I told him to put on the original hitch tube and try one more time. As a joke I told him "the first cast nothing will happen, second cast the fish will splash the fly and the third cast it will take". My client turned to me with a grin on his face and said "guaranteed?" - My reply - "guaranteed".
So the first cast nothing happened. Second cast nothing happened and so I said to him (again as a joke) "we shortened the leader so much with all that fly changing so you have to take one step forward". The client going along with my joke took two steps forward so I made him take one step back. "Now the fish will take your fly" I said and again the client asked "guaranteed?" My reply was the same as before. And it came true - the hitch tube skated across the current and right where that fish had been coming up before it finally came up and hammered the fly. Sadly after a short fight the fish came off but we were left with that experience and a good story.
I've seen similar things countless of times and so based on my experience with fishing in Iceland that is my theory. I also believe you have to work the fly the right way, meaning you have to have your left (or right if you are a lefty) hand to work the fly in the water. You have to speed it up or slow it down depending on the speed of current you are fishing in. Chances are that you'll have different rates of current in even the smallest pools so even every cast you might have to work the fly with your free hand to fish it properly.
This is why I prefer to use a single handed rod for the hitch method of salmon fishing. A floating line is also crucial to keep the fly on the surface rather than underneath. So if the current is too slow the fly sinks and then your free hand comes in use to strip the line, increase the speed of the fly and keep it on the surface. If the current is fast you risk having the water "frizz" behind the fly and we don't want that either.
You can cast the hitch tube square, 45° down or however you want as long as you can work it properly. I've even caught fish by casting the hitch tube upstream and make it skate downstream. A tricky thing to do but the pool I did it on, The Rettarhylur pool in Huseyjarkvisl, is slow and so it can be done there.
I prefer to use hitch tubes as I feel it makes things easier and less complicated. I keep a range of sizes of these tubes from what we call a "microhitch" up to about an inch in size with a long black hairwing - a Sun Ray Shadow tied as a hitch tube. I adapt sizes to size and speed of water but I have also caught salmon on a microhitch on a big river in fast current. I have also caught a salmon on a big hitch tube in slow moving water on a small river so perhaps the message is - be creative.
Sight fishing for salmon
To quote a great angler, Craig Rist, from the movie The Source - Iceland - you can't beat sight fishing for any fish but when you can do it for Atlantic salmon you can't beat that. And he is right. Imagine this: you get to a small pool on a rocky river and you spot a salmon in a pool below. You get in position behind a rock with the salmon in clear view. You get the line length right and set up for the shot. As soon as the hitching tube or fly hits the water you make it skate across the pool with your eyes peeled on the salmon and then when the hitch skates on top of it you see the flash of silver, a splash and then when the fish turns around and starts to dive again you lift your rod tip. That is amazing fishing.
Which reminds me - never ever strike on the splash! Always give the fish time to turn and dive again before lifting your rod and setting the hook.
Below you'll find a video we shot on the Nordura in June 2011. It shows how a hitch tube skates across the pool and then the salmon slam it with it's tail. It did not take it that time but we did catch some on the hitch on that trip. In 2012 it will be our mission to capture as many of these moments on film as we possibly can so subscribe to our Youtube channel ASAP. www.youtube.com/icelandanglingtravel
Fishing in Iceland - Hitching for Atlantic Salmon
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