Focus In On Your Salmon Fly
By Jock Monteith 8th August 2022
If you want to become fine tuned in the art of Scottish salmon fishing the process extends way past being able to 'look the part' on a riverbank by throwing a nice long tight looped salmon line. A wild Atlantic salmon cares not a jot about the arial performance of a fly line nor about the feel good factor a 'caster' has about the distance they can present a salmon fly at.
Speyline Distance Casting
As a head ghillie on the River Tay I lived & worked through the era where 'world record' distance casts started to drive the entire industry. Don't pick me up wrong here as some of these Scottish salmon men are true legends in the their own right and are brilliant ambassadors for the sport. Their amazing abilities with a 100ft plus headed Speyline & 18ft purpose built competition Spey rod truly needed to be seen to be believed even if the physical strain of optimising the equipment was definitely not sustainable for any reasonable length of time on a riverbank.
Specialist Salmon Fishing Equipment
With every game fair fight for added distance a new long bellied Spey line product would hit the shelves and the tackle dealers were selling many of these distance Spey lines like hot cakes. I recall an angler turning up on my River Tay salmon beat and handing me a boxed brand new Spey line & his existing fly reel for fitting. Even after taking the backing off the reel the new 100ft headed Spey line wouldn't fit so I had to lend him one of my reels to try his new line out and it was no wonder the Hardy Marquis No 3 salmon fly reel became so popular again through that era! Once he started fishing he could get the line out but only if he worked with half of its colossal head length!
Salmon Fly Control Is The Key
At 60 or 70 yards the only thing you're in control of is the terror and fear you're inflicting upon the wildlife on the other side of the river so forget the distance theme unless you're skilled enough to be able to control your fly at long distance. The angling community at large couldn't 'cast a shadow' when it came to these monster lines and in came the easier to use shooting head concept. These thick little short headed things are the furthest thing away from arial elegance you could ever imagine in a salmon fly line yet they could be effortlessly delivered at reasonable distance my most anglers so they quickly caught on. The shooting head theme was developed into these 'washing line' Skagit monstrosities that you see today and one of my ghillie colleagues refers to these new breed fly lines as 'talent compensators' which just about sums them up perfectly.
Salmon Fly Control Is What Really Matters
The problem with both of the above is at what point does the angler realise that from a salmon's point of view it's only the fly that matters and how it's swimming & waggling in and across the stream. An un-mendable distance cast with a shooting head (if your running line management is even good enough!) or a huge Spey cast at 70 yards puts your fly in 'no man's land' as far as fly control goes until it's back within 40 yards of your own riverbank. If you need distance like that it would be far more sensible to have the ghillie take you over in the boat to the far bank where you can fish a short controlled fly or find the nearest bridge!
The Reality Of Salmon Fly Fishing
The reality of Scottish salmon fly fishing is that most salmon will take a fly at between 10 & 20 yards from 'your' side of the river where the fly is swimming optimally. Save your energy and the need to impress other salmon fishers as the only thing you need to impress is that big silver beast who's looking for something to attack from its lie at the bottom of the river. Get your thoughts sub surface as quickly as you can if you want success in this game. Look for the fisher who throws 3 flies away after testing them on a piece of nylon before tying 'one' on to his leader that's passed the movement test. Look for the fisher who's come through a pool that 2 or 3 others have fished before him yet still hooks and lands the only 2 salmon of the day. That man will sometimes be an angler but more often than not he will be a 'professional' ghillie.
The Power Of Salmon Fishing Association
Talent spotting on the rivers of Scotland is easy as social media & fishing hut chat will give you a few clues but if you want to learn how to be a true 'sub surface' salmon fishing technician and have your catch results soar then you need to find a mentor who's got the correct approach and forget the distance casting masses. It's often only a split second decision for a salmon to be impressed enough to take a controlled evenly spaced salmon fly as it glides and waggles its way down through a pool. The only thoughts you should be focussed on are your fly's depth, speed and most importantly of all its natural movement so forget our 'above the waterline' fishing values as salmon don't really care about any of that stuff!