Angling Tips: Tackle for Salmon Fishing
Fly Tackle (Spring)
The long, heavy salmon rods of Victorian Britain have now given way to smaller, lighter rods. Few anglers today use a rod longer than 4.2 m (14 ft) and many prefer one of 3.6 m (12 ft). This latter is a trifle light for spring fishing with a sunk line, although of course much depends on the size of the river and the amount of wading possible. A well-made 3.6 m (12 ft) rod has the advantage of being light enough to use single-handed, once one’s wrist becomes conditioned, while one 4.2 m (14 ft) needs both hands.
Choice of rod material is a personal matter which depends on the size of one’s purse, the amount the rod is going to be used, and other factors. Tubular steel makes a powerful and efficient rod; split-cane is most commonly used; glass competes heavily with both on the score of price and toughness.
A self-sinking line of suitable weight for the rod in use is essential for spring fishing. Ungreased silk — the classic line material — is now being ousted by Terylene. A 10 or 12 cm (4 or 5 ins) reel with a strong adjustable check will be adequate for the casting-line and the 135 m (150 yds) of 6.75 kg (15 lb) Terylene backing. Stout nylon leaders tapering down to about 3.5 kg (8 lb) b.s. Should be adequate for all medium ranges of flies. Some anglers use 4.5 or 5 kg (10 or 121b) material and this is certainly advisable in heavy water. Spring is no time to experiment with very fine tackle.
It is useful to carry a supply of single-hook salmon flies from size 2/0 downwards, supplemented with a few big hairwings dressed to the Waddington system; personally, I prefer Waddington flies to tubes. For most spring fishing a black-and-silver fly dressed on a 1/0 single is as good as anything. The ritual salmon-killing flies of the tackle-dealer’s shop window are for the angler who wants to enjoy his fishing in the aesthetic sense. Complicated salmon flies give a great deal of pleasure and interest to many anglers, but in the strictly practical sense they are unnecessary. If you can afford it by all means order a good stock of Durham Rangers, Jock Scotts, and Dunkelds from a professional craftsman. You may be tempted to spoil a few by fishing with them but you will wisely keep the rest in moth-proof cases to show to friends. A whole century of salmon fly skill and tradition are enshrined in these flies so they are well worth studying if only as objets d’art.
Most salmon on our water are caught on home-made flies dressed from teal, mallard, and turkey together with assorted wools, hairs, and furs. These concoctions look shaggy and dingy as they drip wetly in the palm; their effectiveness is their only virtue.
Spinning Tackle (Spring)
Artificials such as devon minnows some 7.5-10 cm (3-4 ins) long are standard items for spring fishing. A strongrod, 2.4 or 2.7 m (8 or 9 ft) long, and a large or a multiplying reel are the usual supporting tackle. A ball-bearing is tied into the line, three feet above the minnow to minimize line-twist. One or two small drilled lead bullets are suspended on a bit of line from the topmost eye of the swivel. These help to prevent kink, but they also serve another purpose. The idea in salmon spinning is to fish so that the leads knock on the bottom. When a light minnow is used it will be found that this fishes several inches higher than the leads. It is certainly easier to free a rounded piece of lead from a snag than it is to shake free the multiple points of a treble hook. Moreover, with practice, it is possible to feel the leads tapping on the gravel and thus be sure that the minnow is fishing at maximum depth.
Some anglers use bottled sprats and others preserved baits, but I find that a small herring, with head and tail removed, fished on the usual dead-bait spinning mount is quite as effective. Eel-tails are said to be good although they are leathery, lifeless objects. The smell of a fresh herring is better than either eels or sprats. Colour seems to me to be immaterial, although some anglers insist on dying their baits.
Prawn is almost a dirty word on many waters, being regarded as hempseed used to be regarded in. In spring, fresh prawns are expensive and hard to procure. Bottled or artificial prawn is the usual compromise, but it has always seemed to me a weak compromise since the peculiar properties of this bait lie in its strong odour.
Natural prawns, of course, are almost colourless. Therefore perhaps it is no wonder that salmon are often alarmed when a brilliant scarlet artificial prawn is hauled through their lies. They seem either to attack in desperation or to flee to the farthest ends of the pool. It is this that has given prawn-fishing a bad name. But if the angler can obtain natural fresh prawns, or big shrimps, there seems to be no valid reason why these killing baits should not be used in moderation.
Tackle for Greased-line Fishing
The rod depends on the size and general character of the river being fished; a big Scottish river, for example, requires a 3.6 m (12 ft) rod. Personally, I use a 2.85 m (9-1/2 ft) rod for the much more modest English streams, although it is sometimes necessary to supplement this with a rod measuring 3.3 m (11 ft).
Self-floating lines have already been described. Alternatively, one can use dressed silk line which has been given a rub-down with silicone line-grease.
The leader should be tapered down to 3 kg (6 lb). There will be occasions when this looks too thick for the crystal water and strong sunlight. If the water is open and snag-free and you can, if necessary, chase your fish, then a 2 kg (4 lb) point may be a worthwhile risk. This is especially true when nymphing.
Sincefishing was first evolved, a good deal of attention has been paid to light, sparsely dressed flies for this work. Greased-line flies should be short in the body and light in the wing. None of the materials should extend much beyond the bend of the hook. A series of light salmon irons are available for these flies. Teal, mallard, and hen pheasant are the commonest dressing-materials, although many anglers now prefer hair.