A recent trip to my old stomping ground at Knockando had me thinking about how things have changed in the world of salmon fishing over the past 15 – 20 years.
The middle of the three Knockando Beats was always the one best known for catching spring fish, the maim pool being the beautiful Slioch, a big, wide pool of similar depth (not overly deep) through its length, and even current. In the early days, when spinning was still permitted here, the middle pool, The Station, or as it was known in the past, The Rock pool, was where most “early” fish would come from. However, due to the nature of this pool, a fast, relatively wide neck running into a very deep middle characterised by a massive slap of rock on the left bank, creating a natural croy. As the pool begins on a slight right-hand bend, centuries of water erosion have left a deep, swirling hole in the middle, which then dissipates into a lovely tail as the pool gently shallows.
In the good old days of spinning in the spring time we spun here until the end of April, or if the river was at high level, later in the season too.
Due to the nature of this pool, spinning the end of the neck and deep part of the middle was the favoured option, and very often this was the place the first fish of the season would be caught, particularly with a heavy, well leaded Devon minnow. This was mainly because the tackle we had for fly fishing "at this time", just wasn't suitable to fish large heavy flies in the same manner one could fish with a spinning rod.
We didn’t have the method (casting ability to deliver the fly).
The lines we had would not deliver a fly at the sink rate required to emulate a bait.
A 27lb Trout Caught in Iceland, without a specific line, this would not have ever been hooked!
Turn the clock forward 15 years and the use of short head, heavy Skagit lines, makes fishing this place with a fly a distinct possibility and indeed, I've personally used this method successfully where line of yester-year, even in the hands of very good casters, would simply have not cut it.
As fish began to decline and "conservation" became the new "buzzword". It became "fashionable" to fish "fly-only", so "conserving" fish that would have been caught in such areas spinning. However, the example above is one of many of how modern tackle is changing the face of fly-fishing both practically, and, it has to be said, for both angler and river owner alike, from an economic stand point too....
But this is not the only area where what we have today is infinitely better than before. Methodology too, is so much better than before. Basically, the vast majority of fishermen and woman now gracing out salmon fishing beats, know a great deal more than say those in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. And the reason; well, those who pioneered salmon fishing at this time, took the time to write about what they did, so as others could learn from their knowledge, add to the boom of the internet in the late 1990s and we have information like never before. Add to this, methodology gleaned from other fly fishing cultures, particularly Scandinavians, and we have a far better understanding of how to catch salmon.
Personally, when I see people on the riverbank now and compare them to those who fished with me in the early years, there’s no comparison. In the early years two in every five people who fished with me had a good working knowledge of salmon fishing, now I’d say this is 3 or 4 in every five. Generally speaking, people ask many more questions and, somewhat paradoxically, this is because there are fewer fish than before. In the past, salmon fishing was much easier than it is today. However, that’s not to say it was always "easy", salmon fishing was never easy, it’s just that when everything was right and the fish decided to take, we caught more, or had bigger days, very similar to that of fishing in some Russian rivers now.
So how does it differ now? Well, we have so much more information across the board. How many times I’ve heard people say, “Those lines are a minefield”, I’m totally confused as to which to pick. Which line for which rod, which line for which pool, Which line for which part of the pool. We now have so much tackle compared to the past. The tools are in the box to pretty much do with a fly rod what, 20 years ago, we could only do with a spinning rod. However, as we see above, still not everyone understands the difference between Skagit, Shooting head and Spey lines. Multi tips from Scandi. Yes, a minefield indeed, however, when you do get to understand those lines and their different functions, they provide the angler with every tool he/she requires to catch those fewer, and more elusive salmon, especially given the restrictions of the 21st century.
The number of times I’ve heard, “Aye, I caught much more when I just had a simple floating line”! True, but that’s because the were many more there. Trying to catch what might be the only fish in a pool in 2018 requires the angler to adopt a hunting instinct, or, to be very lucky, or a bit of both.
In the past they would have fished the pool down with a fly, then if nothing was doing, this was followed by the spinner. On most Spey beats in 2018, We don’t have that luxury, however, knowing how to properly utilise modern tackle helps.
There is no doubt in my mind that we now catch a much higher percentage of fish in the river than before. Long gone are the days where rods took only 10% of the stock. We know that in some Atlantic Salmon rivers in Canada, the rods take as much as > 70% of the available fish. Logic would tell me, if there were only 2 fish in the river and the same number of rods fishing as today, then somewhere along the river, we would catch them both very quickly. There no doubt C&R came just in the nick of time, however, it has also distorted the catch returns of every beat in Scotland, leading to .
We are just better fisher-people with a greater knowledge and much better tools in the box, so of course we will catch more of what’s available, its inevitable.
I love the "hunting" of salmon, from how to cast in a difficult place, to choice of line to fish the fly in the way I want, at a "particular part" of the pool, so for me, although fewer fish, personally, in 2018, I love my salmon fishing more than ever and this has come through greater knowledge and understanding of tackle and methodology, It just makes the whole thing more interesting.
Some really nice Last Minute Fishing Cancellations -
RIver Spey -
Brae Water Beats 1 and 2 - Four rods 10th - 12th May [Thurs - Sat]
Gordon Castle Beat x 3 Rods 18th - 20th June [Mon - Wed]
Contact me for details