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Success with Salmon - a Duffer brags

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by Bill Drew

I described costs, kit and basic casting for salmon in my last article. I write from the viewpoint of a trout angler who was edged into salmon fishing a little reluctantly and over 2-3 years. I am now a convert. In this article I will cover timing, gillies and varying waters as well as flies. Spinning I will leave to others.

Timing is everything in salmon fishing. If there are no fish you will not catch any. This frighteningly obvious statement is a slight shock to trout types. Even on the worst of days we know that some of the brownies are lurking. With salmon they are there but " resident" black or red , untakeable and frequently uncatchable ; not there; there and " in the mood". Unless you own the water or live by it there is always an element of lottery. High cost best times of year can be wiped out by a day of flood. Conversely poorer weeks can be transformed by a sudden downpour a couple of days earlier upstream, into a veritable paradise.

Roger wishes to point
out for scale puposes
in judging the size
of this fish that he
is 8 foot 3inches tall
Time of day is confusing for the trout turned salmon fisher. Unlike the relative predictability of trout timetables salmon are more mercurial. Salmon can be taking at any time. This is because they are not feeding but acting through aggression. Like some folks I know salmon have their individual moods as well as sudden group behaviour. If my wife were a salmon ( fishing does get to you doesn't it) she would be best approached with a fly at approximately 7.00am. I on the other hand would snap at a Black Stoat any time after 10.30 pm. You get my drift.

Some waters retain evening fishing for the owner and everyone else is off by 6pm. On others the owner allows fishing until dark. On one beat I fished on with Roger into the dusk. Returning to our car we were appalled to find a black Aberdeen Angus Bull chomping grass 6 feet from the passenger door. I decided on a cowardly continuation of fishing until the brute wandered off. Wearily Roger asked whether I would prefer to dodge a black bull in the twilight or in total darkness. Logic prevailed and in the long run I believe we could have struck a match off the animal's flank, leaned against him and smoked a Havana, such was his indifference, but on another night!!

In my mini career I have encountered a variety of gillies. The best show the water, advise on flies, give a little casting tuition, enjoy a chat and then leave you to get on with it and make your howlers in privacy. Give them dosh.

The over eager stick to you like a leech, wincing when you garrotte yourself with a failed double Spey cast and gasp whenever you make a plonker of yourself. Tell them to go or there will be no tip.

The worst drench you with a downpour of doom. They curse the water, the gods, the Labour government, foreigners and (under their breaths) your bloody incompetence. Never go back.

The superb gillie conveys a quiet confidence that this will be your day. In salmon fishing this is essential as blanking is the norm not the exception. Patient but not patronising, helpful but not subservient they make all the difference. The best take the Mickey but not the confidence out of you. The worst think they are the best so if any gillies are reading this…

Salmon flies are either dark or light. Salmon flies are either big or small. Varying sizes of 2 flies would probably do you but would it be fun? I delighted in entering fly used " Genie", in the lodge log book just so that some sad git like myself would look it up and tie/order it for the future. Bright fly bright day and the reverse is probably meaningless as well. Right time right place is more like it.

Now the fact that some more skilled fellows can write four hundred pages on salmon flies and their works may just reveal how much I have to learn. Either way it will be interesting and part of the appeal of any form of fishing.

I like fly water for salmon. Fly water has a life, a vitality of its own and reads like a good novel. There is a twist here, a bit of depth there and lots of sub plots and mystery. Spinning water is like a party political broadcast. You know what is coming, stick with it and you will get the message but don't expect any real surprises. BUT I suspect that spinning water gives the best returns and in this relatively high cost form of angling there may well come a time when you simply must have a fish. Spinning will be your best bet.

So to the results of fishing on 4 beats, and 2 rivers, the Tweed and one Northern beauty. Roger bagged one 7lb violet sided spring beauty and a clean 3lb grilse. John of course refuses to catch anything under 10lbs. Steve the brother in law and expert took 6 in two days. We hate him, but in a nice way. I blanked for the first 4 days. I mean a total, nothing touched my line, came within 20 feet of me, 8 hours a day non stop fishing which is part of the hunt for salmon (John and Steve don't know what I am writing about here others will). On another day resident salmon leaped over my line, swam past me, around me and nearly asked me for a pint but as for my fly, it was invisible to them for another 8 hours. In football terms they call this a " hard shift". At least the scenery was stunning.

On the last day on another beat it was absolutely superb. The water level, the river itself, the number of fresh fish, the gillie and even the carpeted and palatial fishing hut could not have been beaten. I lost one.

It was on. It boiled the surface in a frenzy. It was gone. I said drat or something similar. A few hours later beneath the yellow flower at the tail of a pool just where the gillie had counselled me a fish took pity on this duffer. It made any trout or grayling I have played seem like a feeble invalid. I did not see it for 10 minutes as it zipped and dived deep. When I finally walked it ashore (the beat had handy shingle designed for the purpose) I had hunted and caught my first salmon. It was silver and a thing of beauty and I felt a little humble and a lot happy.

I guess that is salmon fishing for you and as Roger would say, "I was a little excited".

Bill Drew offers a full guiding service on the Tweed www.tweedguide.com

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