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Salmon made simple - a duffer's guide - Lesson 1

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by Bill Drew

I don't know what caused it. Perhaps it was that hell of a season last year. I wandered Scotland to try and keep fishing and I have become a little disorientated. I began to want more and that was what led me to my current predicament. So how did it begin, this strange metamorphosis into a salmon fisher?

Those of you who have read my offerings over the last few years will have noticed a creeping confidence sneaking into my tales of river trout and grayling. This is not because I catch many fish but rather that, over time, there are days when I do not blank.

Having accumulated a minimal knowledge of trout fishing I was badgered by John and Brendan the Chesterfield Chapter of Fishers Anonymous to join them on their annual pilgrimage to the Tweed. Rodger was added to the posse and was " excited " by the project; a week in pursuit of the salmon on the Tweed. Fish, drink, bull, a bull and much more was before us, and above all the experience of gillies. We had a lot to learn.

What follows is a genuine attempt to describe the kit, cost, etiquette and overall experience of salmon fishing on the Tweed for the uninitiated. I will make mistakes because I am no expert, 6 days does not an expert make, but above all my message is clear

• you can start from a basic trouting background and get by at fishing for salmon within 1 day.
• you can afford it, £100 buys you 2 good guided days in the spring, £200 buys
• you the kit for a number of years as a semi novice
• you will be able to Spey cast and improve your trout casting in return.
• you don't need to be able to Spey cast if it scares the hell out of you.
• you will have a 10% chance of a fish at the above prices, 10 times the ticket cost buys you prime autumn fishing and a 40% + chance of a fish.

Now all of the above is controversial so some meat on these bones.

A decent gillie will give you the basics of Spey casting. You can pay many bucks for superb tuition. You pays your money and you takes your choice, but if you can chuck a trout line you can fish on most of the Tweed without a Spey cast. If all else fails remember that despite the rash of articles on salmon fishing and the wonders of the fly most salmon anglers spin. Now not on all beats and not at all times and indeed some will be spinning for the first time in their graves at my crass comments but read the records and the angling press and check out the catches and the fly to spin average. I rest my case.

I find salmon spinning tedious. I also found it difficult for the first two days as I have not used a spinning rod in 35 years. Eventually it is boring but very effective. In some waters spinning is the only feasible way to deal with a torrent of water.

More often it is simply more efficient. Efficiency and fishing are not my real source of pleasure. My inefficiency is also an excuse for inability but let me turn longingly to the joys of fly fishing for salmon.

Salmon fly-fishing is delightful. I was blessed with a superb Spey casting 15-foot beauty of a rod courtesy of the late and lamented blind gillie Malcolm. I did use other rods and the ability to rip out a cast across a 50 ft wide current is a moment of pure pleasure. To be able to play a fresh run " bar of silver " on such a rod would be bliss. More later.

My costs are for 2002 and May. April can be cheaper and September to November will usually be considerably more expensive. £30- £40 buys you a reasonable rod day in May. £10 tip to the gillie is courtesy. Multiply by 5 for a discount on 6 days with Sunday a Scottish holiday for the fish and a weekly tip of £25-£30 for the gillie. This amounts to £180 - £230 or so for a week (6 days). £600 a day in October is not uncommon with related multipliers or call it £3000ish for the week.

Rods line etc. second hand or fishing mag specials will see you equipped for £175-£200. A new rod and a revered name such as Bruce and Walker will sting you £400-£500 including reel and line/ lines. It will be worth it if you have the mullah.

You will need a sink tip intermediate and probably a floating line in case of low water. You will want a 15-foot rod for the middle to lower Tweed. A 13 foot will do higher up. You can pick up a cheapie spinning kit for £40. More likely you will have a mate who will lend you the basics be it originally intended for pike or perch. Compare it all with trout and it is not frightening. Now I know that I once paid £1 for a day's fishing 10 years ago and the rod was free when I started for trout but let's get real. If you want to salmon fish reasonably badly you can afford it.

Of course it is unlikely that you will bump into many celebrity fishers in April or May. The ability to drop a couple of grand + in the autumn does boost the chances of a fish and if the lottery comes up I will be joining them. Some dedicated " names " will spend as big a part proportionately of their vast income on salmon fishing as I do from my modest wage. Good luck to them. Some may fish for 5 days a year at the best beats at the best time and be quoted as experts. Read their articles and work it out for yourselves.

Expect the beats to be well kept and also full of excellent trout. In some cases the trout are left unbothered for most of the season. Similarly sea trout and grilse in July are priced at near May rates but often seen as poorer fare. A select few say it is the best fishing of all.

We had 2 beats and 2 gillies. One was cheerfulness personified. Confidence oozed from his every pore. The beat was idyllic and 2 of the pools were completely away from the prying eyes of Johnnie public. When you are a novice such things are important. Failed casting is best done in private. The 3rd pool was in an area open to walkers and trout anglers. In letting me through the trout fishers usually cast a scornful eye at me as a salmon toff. I may well have done the same myself in the past and will not sin again. I felt like shouting, " I am only an ordinary bloke and have saved for months for this". The reality is that game fishing is a two-class system with the high paying salmon fisher at the top of the pecking order.

Talking of shouting a passer by approached me on this popular part. " Get yersel to the Yellow Rock laddie. What are ye playin' at. Get stuck in. There is always a salmon waiting there." Burbling apologies I stumbled fumbled and made a fool of myself. The waiting salmon did not oblige. Because salmon usually return to set lies everybody is an expert. " When you see the black stone cast to the right of the ripple ", total strangers shout. "Downstream", "upstream", eventually you look for a beat free from plodders.

Back in the glory of the isolated beat a new presence gradually made itself felt. A large black Aberdeen Angus bull had an impact on the week. More later.

Next I will concentrate on the rest of the tackle; flies, spinners and line together with the differences between the middle stretches and the broad final miles to the sea. The timing of fishing and the pattern of the day will give a flavour of the Tweed. The gillie where all was doomed and the odd glorious salmon drifting in off the tide and the bars of silver careering like a band of startled ponies through a pool are to follow but as Roger would say," That's enough excitement for one day".

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

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