Updated: Oct 3, 2022
A special Salmon
We all dream about catching a 30 pounder, and let’s face it, for most fly fishers it’s dream to catch a 30lb salmon on a fly rod? For most people the only place they will now ever do this will be in Norway, Canada or Russia. However, those beasts are still around here in the UK and not just Scotland.
In the afternoon of the 5th of June this year I received a phone call from a very excited James Robbins. James, who heads up Cadence fishing, Is one of the best all round angers I know, had been fishing on the Wyesham beat of the river Wye and landed, not only his biggest salmon, but the biggest he’d seen, or, in recent years, had even heard of. This was a true monster, in all probability, a 3 sea winter maiden Cock fish.
Interestingly whilst fishing with clients at Tulchan on the river Spey only the day before, I was asked over lunch, what I thought happened to those big male fish when they came into the river? Where have they been when the suddenly appear in the autumn?
In my nearly 40 years on the Spey, I have only seen three such fish (Large 3-4 SW male fish caught in the spring, pre June). Most fish we see on the Spey and most other rivers at this time (May- June) are females of between 9 and 12lbs and are 2 SW Fish, some are slightly bigger, some smaller, but generally speaking this is the case. However, the big male fish are amongst them, but it would seem behave differently to that of their much more common 2SW fish.
What we have to remember is, all salmon are fasting in fresh water so their primary objective is to conserve energy. From what I’ve seen on the Spey those big males get into the safest and best resting areas, mainly in deeper pools and once there, they go quickly into a state of semi hibernation. It would seem they know they are safe and are happy to wait until a change in water, light, temperature, or a combination of all of those, wakens them from their slumber. One of my questions to James was - what type of pool did he find the fish in? The answer didn’t surprise. The fish was found in a pool with good depth and even with low water conditions, a decent running stream. However, what has now prompted the fish, which has been in the river for a few weeks, to awaken from its slumber move from the safety of its preferred lie? After all, his prime objective at this stage is to preserve energy.
Interestingly, James had fished the pool twice and his fishing pal once before. Third time down he would try a different approach. Having watched his pal fish the pool with a monkey type fly fished square and fast, he made the decision to take a different line of Wade, deeper than the previous two times, fish with a much smaller fly and at a shallower angle, thus slowing the swing of the fly right down. A great tactic for salmon. Fishing a short line under control is always better than offering a long, uncontrolled effort. The importance of the line of wade is often overlooked when salmon fishing A very clever angler once told me, its not the cast that hooks the fish that first interests it, it’s the one before! Thinking about this statement when fishing will increase your hook up rate.
So what prompted this massive fish to wake up, come out of its comfort zone and take the fly. Well, on this day there had been a change in weather, unseasonable rain was most definitely on the way and pressure was dropping to an extreme low. In all probability it will have been a combination of those things mentioned above. Any salmon angler will tell you that salmon seem to know/sense when change is coming and that this is the best time to be on the water, which is why in “normal” conditions the evening and “change” of light is one of the best times for catching resting salmon.
Knowing fish are likely to be on the move, is there anything “we” can do to induce a take? The answer to this will also be an emphatic yes. Being awoken from the slumber is dictated by the salmon themselves, we can do nothing about this, however, as explained above, we can preempt this and find ourselves in the right place at the right time, there’s no rocket science in this, just experience, keeping your fly in the water and a little luck.
All of this was played out last week, during what was a tough week at Lower Pitchroy. Wiley old campaigner and seasoned salmon angler, Peter Roberts found himself in the right place at the right time no less than 12 times, landing 8 in the week whilst the other three anglers managed 4 between them. Like a Heron waiting to pounce, with his fly in the water in the right place at the right time he’d happily watch others fish the pool whilst he waited till he felt the time was right and fish would move. Coincidence that he got significantly more than the others? Nope, not at all, just knowledge and giving himself the best chance. Three of his fish were caught around a small rise in the river whilst the other 5 were caught last thing before dark. With the exception of one sea liced fish, all were resident and had been there for a few weeks.
All of this can be said of James and his big fish on the Wye too. The weather on the day would set the foundation for the stars to begin to align, but what did James do to maximise his chances? Knowing which pool to fish and concentrate his efforts would increase the chances. Having faith in his fishing methodology I.e. Tackle set up; they will succumb to many different flies fished differently, we must have faith in what we are fishing. The main ingredient is keeping the fly in the water and prepare to ring the changes and try something different. Be it depth, speed, size or style, in this situation, Salmon love “Something Different”!
The fish which when landed measured 43 inches, or 110cm. James has the same attitude to weight as I do myself. What does it matter how big! The fish was in the “big” bracket and I think if returning them a measurement is fine.
From the moment it was hooked the fish played like a big fish that had been resident in the pool for a few weeks, “cruising” around but without making a significant run. James felt the fish could have taken control anytime he wanted, a strong downstream run would have posed much more problems, but fortunately for James, his instinct was to stay in the pool. How this contrasts to a fresh fish, newly into the river and slowly making their way upstream. Those fish behave totally differently. We have all had the fish that takes off downstream, here in the UK, most of them are 2SW Females. However, in Norway this is different. Because the number of large male fish is higher, hooking one of those when they simply stop for a rest during their maiden run up river is a more frequent occurrence than here in the UK. I have seen such fish on the Alta river take the angler for a 1.5 mile trip downstream, the speed at which they take off at can be mind boggling and without the aid of a boat to follow the angler has little no chance of landing such fish. Interestingly, during the week I have fished Alta (Last week of June) almost all the fish are over 10kg, the boatmen and experienced rods referring to them as “Alta normals”. Catching 24 - 28lb fish here is like catching 10 - 12lb fish back home. Amongst them however there are a few much bigger ones. Catching a 50pounder on Alta is like catching a 30pounder in the UK.
Thankfully fish here in the UK seem to act differently. One of the best examples of this would be Tiny Morrisons 61pound fish from the Deveron. Like James fish, this fish stayed in the pool, cruising around until it cruised to close to the bank and was gaffed by the Ghillie.
Which takes me back to my first question to James. What was the pool like? At this time of their upstream migration bigger fish tend to be found in deep pools with decent water flow. How you approach such pools and increase your chances will depend on your own experience. Reading the pool, fishing it differently, staying confident and enjoying your fishing. Although the first run through a pool offered the best chance, Ive seen so many good fish caught by those fishing second or third time down a pool whilst the others are in the hut lamenting over the past. This magnificent monster from the Wye will almost certainly be the result of fish brought to the river from the Rhine some years back, a time when fisheries management was all about fishing.