Sunday 14 October 2012

Autumn Salmon Fishing on the Tyne - Return of the Pretender!

I really enjoy fly fishing.  I don't do enough of it, but when I get the chance to go, it's great fun.  When it comes to using double-handed fly rods and targeting the magnificent Salmo salar, that sentence is all the more true.  I'd only ever had one salmon fishing trip, which was a day and a half on the upper Tweed, almost a decade ago.  I had such a great time there I've been wanting a follow-up session ever since.

Incidentally on this trip, despite various calamities (including setting off my lifejacket inflator on a tangled cast!), I managed to land my first Atlantic Salmon, which was a very respectable 15lb in weight.  The full story, which I shall one day have to tell, will inform you that despite being a complete salmon novice, I managed to land this fish alone, without a net.  The angler I was fishing with had wandered a few hundred yards upstream from me and out of earshot.  He had the shared net, so I had to improvise and tire the fish before beaching it and scooping it up in my arms!
It was one of the proudest moments of my life!  The great pretender in the pink-lensed polaroids managed to outfish all the other experienced salmon fishers on the beat that day.  The score at the end of the day was: me 1-0 everyone else!

The salmon, a cock fish, had been in the river for a long time, which explains its brown colouration.  Despite the water being extremely cold on this November day, I was determined to release the fish and let it complete its life mission of spawning upriver.  It took me almost 15 minutes of getting numb fingers to revive the fish, but it had got this far so who was I to end its journey?  After the TLC I gave it, the fish swam away strongly.
To date, this was my only salmon session, so through complete inactivity I maintained my 100% for years!  I really wanted another crack at them, but knew the odds of me catching another on my second session were very much stacked against me.  I was due to go pike fishing last week, but then the opportunity presented itself to go after salmon and I couldn't pass it up.

This time I would be visiting the Tyne with another angler friend, who had a spare rod available on a productive beat.  The river had been quite low, with salmon apparently stacking up downstream waiting for the chance to migrate.  Rain had been forecast but didn't really materialise, so we knew it would be tough.

In the 9 years since I'd fished for salmon quite a bit had changed.  Returning salmon as I had done previously (much to the open-mouthed dismay of many around me), has become far more the norm, as anglers have reacted to the continuing decline in wild stocks by doing their bit to help the species successfully reach their spawning grounds.  According to the 2012 Scottish Salmon Fishery statistics, the overall number of rod-caught salmon that were returned was 74% this year, compared to just 8% as recently as 1994!

To assist with the easy and successful release of fish, the treble hooks that I used with my tube flies on the Tweed were now replaced with large single hooks, which many contemporary fly patterns are tied to work with.
The morning was fantastic; dull but crisp.  "Down South" in Derbyshire, we hadn't had a frost yet, but the grass and bushes had a crunchy coating in the Northumberland countryside.  It would be tough on the hands at first, to work a wet fly line in the cold air, but the physical effort involved in Spey casting is the perfect exercise to get the blood pumping to warm you up.
The fishing was indeed tough, but I was comfortable and after some ropey casting at the start, I gradually managed to improve my casting.  It felt like a real privilege to be stood waist deep, just fishing as nature went about its business regardless, all around me.
On the Tweed, the salmon had been running well.  I'd seen the best part of a hundred leap from the water that day.  The low water on the Tyne was preventing such a run, I saw perhaps ten salmon leap but that made it even more exciting when it happened, especially when it was just downstream of my fly. 

We fished hard until just before sunset, stopping only briefly for lunch.  We covered the short beat twice each from top to bottom, but apart from a couple of delicate plucks, we had no action.
As it turned out, my best mate since childhood, Matt, went pike fishing to the venue I was due to visit that day.  He landed his first twenty!  Of course, I'm really pleased for him; he was there when I caught my twenties and I wish I'd been there to see his.  Who knows, if I'd opted out of salmon fishing and gone piking that fish could have even fallen to my rod, but I don't regret having another go at salmon fishing.  It was all more experience for me, in a faction of fishing where I have scant little to draw upon.  Next time I'll be that little bit more prepared and practised, which could prove to be the difference between a blank and a fish.