Glyn Freeman looks at how sink-tips of various types can be used to cover salmon lies from late spring and onwards
In the May 2011 issue of FF&FT, I wrote about early spring salmon fishing, where we needed to fish the fly slowly close to the bottom, and looked at the plethora of lines on offer in order to achieve this. Let us now look at fishing depth from the salmon fisher’s perspective during the remainder of the season, and investigate the methods and corresponding lines, which he or she can utilise to the best advantage.
As the water warms, so the salmon is more inclined to move to intercept our fly. The critical temperature is 10°C: when fishing in water temperatures of 10°C or above we know that the salmon will actually ‘rise’ from the bottom of the river to take the fly, which is probably best fished about 18in under the surface. On average, much of our fishing will be done over streamy water of between 3-5ft in depth. To achieve this fishing depth is important, and the sooner the better after the fly has landed. In bigger rivers this can be achieved with a floating line coupled with one of today’s polyleaders quite easily.
As explained previously, these come in many different lengths and sink-rates. To be practical, I carry intermediate poly tips of 7ft and 10ft and fast-sinking tips of the same length. One needs to ensure that the floating line used can 'handle' the polyleader (i.e. cast and turn it over easily). Some floating lines with long, fine front tapers do not turn over polyleaders well, especially if one also has a bulky size 6 or larger fly tied on at the business end. For this reason, it's important to check this out, if possible, before one embarks on a week's salmon fishing. If the line does not turn over easily it may need some of the fly line's front taper to be removed to facilitate better turnover of the polyleader and fly. If you embark on this procedure it is best to remove the fly line's front taper a foot at a time, and attach the heaviest polyleader you are likely to use with a bulky fly attached to it. Cast until you feel that you are in total control of the leader’s turnover.
One should also note when buying fly lines that many shooting-head lines of different configurations have been introduced in the last few years. Some of these actually cast better with a polyleader by slowing down the turnover of the tip – whilst others react more conventionally.
One should, again, glean an understanding of the way the line and polyleader coupling works before your fishing trip.
Choosing the correct tip
It is important not to be too dogmatic about your approach, that your tactics for fishing remain versatile and are adapted to the fishing conditions that your day might bring. Here's a river-side example. I have arrived at the river on a pleasant day for fishing, there is a little upstream breeze and scudding clouds. I note the water temperature is at 12°C and the river is high - above a normal summer flow. The gillie has told me the fish lie in front of the rocks in mid-stream all the way down this pool, which is 40 yards wide and about 120 yards long. The flow is fast, but certainly not a torrent, and I can recognise the potential of such a pool.
My best set-up would probably be a full floater or shooting head with maybe a 7ft fast-sinking polyleader with a 5-6ft tippet of 15lb BS. I will cast probably at about 60˚ towards the other bank. Ideally, I will need to cast about 35 yards to cover effectively those rocks in the middle of the pool. If I mend either aerially or on the water this will not gain much depth from the polyleader, but it will slow (or speed up) the fly's swimming speed across the river, depending on whether my mend is upstream (for slower travel) or downstream (for a faster speed). What also can help here is the angler taking their obligatory one pace downstream after the cast is made, rather than before the cast.
Why do I make this choice? And why do I do this? What exactly is happening here? When the fly lands there is inevitably a little slack line (even from a seemingly 'perfect' cast) which allows the polyleader and fly to sink rapidly before the drag of the current on the line tightens the line and starts pulling the fly across the stream. How deep is the fly? Probably a foot or a little more, but the slack in the system and the sinking polyleader is enough to take the fly down to the ‘magic’ level, where a taking fish is likely to intercept during the swing of the fly.
What would happen if we used only the full floater (without the polyleader)? To gain sufficient depth – any depth! – it is likely that we would need to employ a very long leader – at least 15ft long, and this would only work in certain speeds of water. Of course, a longer leader brings in associated difficulties of casting, especially when we have a wind to cope with. It is also unlikely that the fly would have sunk before covering the lies in mid-stream; this could only be overcome by casting further to allow a longer swing, or by continuous mending.
In a gentle current, the full floater can be useful, although my personal preference in this situation would still be to use a 7ft to 10ft intermediate polyleader with, again, a 6ft tippet. In such situations we should always be aware that the fly can be ‘chased’ by the fish and is often taken quite confidently as long as it is swinging across the stream at the right depth.
Fishing in higher water from late spring to early autumn
The next day, after a spell of heavy overnight rain, we are faced with higher water, which is now slightly coloured and the temperature has dropped to 10°C. Fortunately, the rain fell early in the evening, the water level peaked during the night, and although it is still running nearly a foot above yesterday’s level it is now dropping. A falling river is crucial to our success. Of course, the rise in water level may also bring in some fresh fish too, but tackling the river will require a slightly different approach.
Firstly, fresh-running fish might run closer into the bank to avoid the heaviest current, but I will need the fly to be somewhat deeper to ignite their interest. This is where the multi-tip sink-tip line comes into its own. A typical set-up might be a 15ft fast-sinking tip (Type 3 or 4) with a short – 6ft – leader with a bigger fly: either a big double or single, or even a tube fly.
Although the river is bigger, our casts can now can be shorter. A cast of about 30 yards, to reach the current in the middle of the pool is all that is required to work the fly across the best holding zone, which is now between the mid-current and our bank – salmon like to be comfortable at rest, if the current in the middle of the river is too powerful, they will move closer to the bank. Mending here will gain depth with the fly and will slow down the fly’s swimming speed, and is to be encouraged where the water is rapid. How deep are we likely to be fishing the fly? Probably at between one and two-and-a-half feet, which is deeper than we could achieve with the floater, even if it had a very heavy fly attached – and a sink-tip is always much easier to cast than a floater with a big heavy fly on a long leader! A short leader on the floater would, of course, not allow the fly to sink and hold at the required depth.
Multi-tip lines are very versatile, well balanced and easily managed, the lengths and densities of the tips can be changed as we fish down the pool, or even joined together to get the effect you require for any given situation produced by different flows. With polyurethane fly line manufacture, these fly lines will last the average angler many seasons.
One important fishing point: many, many anglers are too eager to get the next cast out into the stream, long before they have even fished anywhere near onto ‘the dangle’ (i.e. directly downstream of the angler). The amount of potential salmon that – having followed the fly with interest – have been given a 'suspended sentence' due to the fly being whipped away for the next cast must be astronomical.
It is vitally important, especially in this situation, and essential that as the swing is about to reach ‘the dangle’ and you begin to feel the pressure from the flow on the line reduce, that we make some form of retrieve. If left unchecked, the fly that was swimming quite happily and attractively in the current, will suddenly become lifeless, droop in the water, and any fish that had shown an interest will invariably turn away. Salmon, like all predatory fish, sometimes cannot help themselves, your fly has got its attention, the fish has followed your offering for some distance, and it is locked on. The thought that the fly (prey) they were shadowing is now about to accelerate and escape is too much to bear ... if you can keep the fly moving, then you’re in!