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‘Off the reel’ or ‘hold a loop’ for salmon?

Another perfect Wednesday evening offers the chance for an experiment in hooking salmon

Hooked (finally) on the 'hold a loop' method.
Hooked (finally) on the 'hold a loop' method.

It’s not often you get two Wednesdays in a row that offer perfect salmon fishing conditions, but having experienced excellent conditions on the evening of October 3, when I arrived at the bankside after work on Wednesday, October 10, I had to say I felt pretty confident. A deeply overcast sky, an unseasonal warmth, little wind, and the river, which certainly wasn’t cold, was just a fraction lower than last week, probably being fed by rains falling far, far over the the west, on the fringe of the watershed.

Same conditions as last week, same set-up as last week, no change necessary. This was soon confirmed by a hesitant but pretty positive take off the reel as the fly began to swing into the deeper part of the pool, off the current at the neck. As soon I lifted the rod I was disconcerted by a juddering of the line and an intermittent snatched run of a ‘head shaker’. It’s generally accepted that a head-shaker is a lightly hooked fish, and will come off during the fight at some point, but I don’t concur. Sometimes you can land them, especially the longer the battle goes on, perhaps when the hook gets a better hold. The fish was on, albeit precariously, and I’d already waded ashore, my spaniel had already begun its customary launch into the water dog-paddling around the anticipated fish-landing zone, and so, becoming slightly more confident, I decided to ride my luck, lean on the fish slightly, and let it know who was boss. This was a mistake. The rod twanged straight, the fly flew out past my shoulder, and I cursed. The fish was the boss, and perhaps I should’ve let it have its way – if I’d played it lightly would I have landed it? We’ll never know. Isn’t salmon fishing great?

Still, plenty of pool to have a go at. Perhaps there might be another taker? There was, another 30 yards down the pool. This was one of those solid, double tugs which makes your mind say “Yes!”… but the line says “No.” Nothing else happens. No line is drawn off the reel. The fish has taken the fly hard and positively, but avoided being hooked. How does that happen? It’s one of those instances that you wish you could see underwater, just to understand it.

OK, back up two paces, change the fly for a smaller, darker fly - a Black Stoat’s Tail. Now cast and make two paces down and cover the lie with exactly the same amount of line. I hold my breath as the fly swims directly over where I imagine the fish is (presumably) still lying. Nothing.

OK, back up two paces. Change the fly back to the previous fly, the size 12 Cascade. Cast, take two paces down, and let it swing over its head again. Nothing.

Ok, I mark exactly where I’m standing. I’ll come back and make a cast from here later. I continue down the pool and, to be honest, I think I’ve fluffed my lines tonight. However, I’ve decided to do something different – just in case, you understand – and this time I hold a metre of slack line from the reel in a loop through my index finger on the rod-grip. For years, I used to hold a loop like this, but changed to fish ‘off the reel’ a long time ago. I didn’t feel it made a difference. However, tonight I just felt that if the fish weren’t taking properly then feeding slack at the moment I felt something pull on the line might help me hook one.

I didn’t really deserve another take, but one came towards the tail of the pool. All the line slid through my fingers as the take came, two-thirds of the fly’s track across the river. I let everything tighten up and only then did I lift. A solid hook-up resulted. “This one’s not getting off”, I said to my dog.

And it didn’t come off. It fought hard in the current, leapt with a gigantic and frothy sideways head-shake, made one bid to get out of the pool-tail, and I eventually lead it upstream and netted it high up in the pool. An estimated 16lb, thick and broad, like a tuna, spade-tailed, pristine but reddened fish with the double in the lower jaw which came out easily with a tweak of the forceps.

A nice fish, and a large plus for the ‘hold a loop’ argument.

Join Mark Bowler at FF&FT’s Salmon Schools on the Annan from October 28, 2018. Details here

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