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Wednesday - the perfect salmon fishing evening

Wednesday evening saw perfect light and temperature for a salmon to take - the question is: would it oblige?

With the river temperature still relatively warm, a size 12 Cascade – and a perfect evening – did the job.
With the river temperature still relatively warm, a size 12 Cascade – and a perfect evening – did the job.

Wednesday night was a perfect evening for a salmon. The air had been surprisingly warm after the first signs of autumn had been felt earlier in the week, and high pressure was pushing in. However, this wasn’t one of those classic, clear sky September evenings when the air temperature falls like a stone to a numbing chill. Cloud abounded, pushed on by a playful, but still warm, westerlie breeze.

At this time of year, I can leave work, get to the river, and have about an hour’s fishing before darkness. On Monday, I’d been surprised by the height of the river - pushing well onto the summer’s grass. The air was much cooler, but the water still surprisingly warm, so I opted for a small, size 12 Cascade double on an intermediate tip.

After months of drought and low flows, wading down the edge of the bank, it was good to feel the flow on the back of my legs and the powerful current on the fly and, in the middle of the pool, as the current slowed and evened out in flow, I got ‘that feeling’. If you’ve caught a lot of salmon on fly, you’ll know what I mean; I’ve decided that ‘feeling’ is when the fly is tracking around at the perfect speed for a salmon to take. There’s tension on the line – but not too much – it’s swinging round, the line is in a shallow curve. The brain expects a salmon to take. Often I’ve said aloud to myself, or anyone else in the vicinity, “That’s fishing well!”

Bang! An electrifying jolt of a take just as the fly comes round below me, on the dangle. Thump, thump, thump, the rod became alive, but I waited, waited, waited for the fish to draw line, and then lifted. The rod bucked over and kicked as the fish shook its head, juddering rod and line in an alarming and disconcerting lack of solidity and weight. But it was still on, jabbing and shaking directly downstream of me in a disjointed tug-of-war. I clambered out of the river, to get an angle on the fish, but, as I reeled in to tighten down that heart-breaking nothingness of a loose, slack fly line and a straightened rod signalled that the fish had shaken itself free. Curses! I fished on, tried a complete change of fly over the same lie, but now the river was dead.

So, come Wednesday, I went back. The river was still high, even rising a tad. Must’ve been raining hard in the west. Perfect overhead conditions. And this time I would not wade, I wanted my fly to fish an arc right into my bank, indeed I was focusing on fishing the fly right into my bank. No deep wading tonight. I didn’t want to hook – and lose – another fish on the dangle. Soon after I started casting, I saw a good fish head-and-tail three-quarters of the way down the pool. Definitely not a trout. That’s a sign all salmon fishers love. Don’t panic. Just keep on moving down towards it - fish and fly will have to meet at some stage.

As I moved down the pool, so more cloud built. The sky darkened, as if it was going to rain, but still the low sun poked through, throwing a coppery, dark, low light onto the pool. If I wanted optimum light and air conditions to catch a salmon, then this is what I’d go for. I’d have to put up with the slowly rising river. Otherwise, perfect.

Three-quarters of the way down. The line’s tracking across the flow perfectly. I get ‘the feeling’. Whack! Zzzzz, Zzzzz. Zzzzz, let it go, let it go, let it go… and lift. This time the take is more textbook and the rod tip slams down like I’ve lifted into a bucket of concrete. There’s head-shaking initially, which is a bit of a worry, but this develops into a strong, deep fight with multiple runs towards the tail of the pool. I crank down the drag to stop any idea of that occurring. If it does, than I’ll lose this one, too. Ten minutes later, in the shallows, lies a pewtery tinged hen with a little red on the head, deeply bodied, in perfect condition and not a mark on her, which I estimate at fifteen pounds. Firmly hooked in the bottom jaw, the hook tweaks out in seconds. I right her, she steadies herself, flares her gills, and swims off powerfully into the current.

A beautiful evening, a beautiful fish, a beautiful moment.


Mark Bowler will be at FF&FT's residential Salmon Schools on the Annan from October 28 to November 4. Details: www.SalmonSchool.co.uk

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