This is a piece on how to catch a salmon from FishTay reporter Bob White. We thought it may be helpful to people starting out or needing some help to secure that elusive Atlantic salmon. It’s Bob take on it as others may have a different approach. We hope it is of some benefit to you.
Prepare yourself first of all.
Before you enter the river you should have checked your tackle whether spinning or fly fishing. Your reel should be set at a reasonable tension, which should not be too tight, or too free running so that your fish will be properly hooked when it takes. If spinning, never strike a fish under any circumstances, as it will drive it crazy and make playing it even more difficult. If you strike a fish while fly fishing you will probably lose it straight away. The hook will have been pulled out of its mouth. Let the salmon turn and run. The salmon takes you and you do not take the salmon if you understand what I mean.
The appropriate breaking strain of your leader is important as well. When spinning your leader should be of a lesser strength than your main line so if you get snagged and have to break you will just lose your bait and not a great chunk of main line as well. The strength of cast may vary according to the time of year, clarity of water and size of river. Maybe 15 pounds in spring and autumn and down as low as 10 pounds in high summer.
Before you enter a pool you should understand a bit about its geography so you can be prepared in the eventuality of hooking a fish. Are there any visible snags, overhanging trees? Where are the possible landing sites? If you are fly fishing it is extremely difficult to net a fish on your own so it is important to locate a good place to hopefully beach a fish. If you have a net locate it at an appropriate place to land a fish. It is easier to have the net set up rather than struggle to take it off your back and get it organised during the fight.
Improving your chances of catching a fish as well is important. Everyone says catching one is down to luck but believe it or not you can increase your chances if you do the right things. Understanding the water and potential salmon lies is important and if there is a ghillie you should ask his or her advice. Fishing at the correct depth is also important. In low water you may have to work the bait if spinning to avoid being snagged. In summer with higher water temperatures spinning fast can be effective. To give a salmon just a glimpse of a bait will make it chase and take well. Too slow and the fish will not respond. In early and late season fishing the correct weight of bait is important, as you want it to fish throughout the whole cast right into the bank. Choose the correct line if fly fishing. This may be the appropriate sinking rate according to the pool depth and flow in spring and autumn. In warmer conditions floating lines and the correct sinking tip is vital. There are so many variations nowadays and it can be difficult and confusing for less experienced anglers. Advice from the ghillie or an experienced friend again is important. Cast within your capabilities. Don’t try to overcast as all you will achieve is a tangle or your fly will not be fishing properly! It is better to cast a good short line than a long bad line to increase your chances. The luck then is covering a taking fish.
Hooking the fish.
The pull of a fish on the end of the line is ultimately what we are after so it is vitally important to do this bit correctly! If you have followed the first points the fish should hook itself as it pulls the line away. You do not strike! All you have to do is raise your rod to about 2 o’clock to make the fish start to fight the rod and your tension on the reel that sets the hook. You should not have your tension too tight at this stage and you should allow the fish to take line if it wants as you can always increase the tension if need be later especially if it is a big fish. When fly fishing people have various methods and beliefs over the years. When I first started fly fishing I was told to hold a loop and when the fish pulled you were to let the loop go but every time I did that there was nothing at the end of the line when the loop went! Someone then told me to just let then pull against the tension of the reel and after that everyone was a coconut! I hold the line against my rod and when I feel a fish pull it let it go and raise the rod slowly and the fish is on. When salmon take they turn on the bait or fly so they will hook themselves straight away. You should notice with the fly especially that if you hook a fish on the fly on the left bank the fish will have the hook on the right hand side of its mouth as it turns out into the river in the take and visa versa on the other bank.
Playing the fish.
Once you have hooked the fish you do not want to loose it. If the river is at a settled height it is normal that salmon take well and you should land far more than you loose. When the river is unsettled, however, then loosing fish can happen more often as they do not take as well. I have all ready mentioned that it is important to let the fish run and not have your tension too tight. Do not panic if the fish takes a long run because it will stop and you will be able to get it back. Salmon are fairly predictable normally unless you foul hook one. They will not run out a pool unless you let them. If you are near the tail of a pool you should find they might go deep into the tail but should stop 9 times out of 10 and come back. If you are near the tail of a pool you should try to go back up stream and take them away from there when possible. If a fish goes to the tail do not start following them as they will not stop and keep going and going. I have seen people do that countless times and they have landed fish with great stress several pools down the river! Do not allow the fish to settle, in other words keep them on the move so you tire them out. You play the fish they don’t play you! In the case of very big fish they can often play you for a while until they are under control and you are at their mercy due to their size. When a fish has stopped running you need to get it back by raising the rod further up then dropping it slowly and winding in the slack. Try to do this as smoothly as possible and not jerk the line and drive the fish mad as you will make life more difficult for yourself. Early on in the fright you may find the fish will only come in a limited way then it will want to turn and run again. Be prepared for that as it can happen suddenly but do not be alarmed and let it run again before getting back and keeping it moving to tire it out. It is at this stage you may want to increase your tension if you feel the fish is taking line too easily and you are not making much headway. When fly fishing you can break runs by putting the palm of your hand on the reel rim and applying gentile pressure to increase tension. Stay out in the river until you have the fish well under control. I lower water if you come to the bank too early the line can get snagged especially if you have a lot of line out. Once the fish is on a shorter line then make your way to the bank.
Landing the fish.
Once the fish starts to tire it is nearly ready to land and you should now have the upper hand and be able to dictate to the fish what you want to do. If you are on your own then you should be taking the fish to the appropriate spot to land in a net or beach. Try not to do this too hastily as you will end up in trouble.
If you are with someone such as a ghillie you need to present the fish to the net and not have the netter trying to fish for the salmon under the water. When netting a fish the netsman should be standing downstream of the angler by a few yards. Once the fish is tired you should be able to bring the fish to the surface so the net can be put under the fish and safely raised to secure it. If you are going to release the fish do not take it out the water and touch it as little as possible.
Unhook it, take a picture if necessary in the net and release.
Bob White FishTay Reporter