Landing A Salmon
By Jock Monteith 11th September 2021
One of the most important skills to master other than being able to get to the point where a salmon takes your fly is being able to play the fish successfully all the way to the landing net. This is always going to be a difficult skill to actually teach unless you're with a salmon guide who knows exactly how to demonstrate this skill by hooking a fish in the first instance.
The Skill In Playing A Salmon
There's just as much tact involved in taming a powerful salmon by positioning yourself optimally on the riverbank as there is in hooking the fish. Applying the correct amount of constant pressure from a 'side on' position will keep the salmon expending energy while it attempts to resist this unseen imbalancing force. A high rod tip position is very important to allow the action of the rod to do its job as rods are not just for casting with. A high rod position also keeps the line high in the water column and away from any sub surface snags and guards against sudden power surges from the fish which can easily end proceedings with a low rod position!
Play The Salmon Side On
Attempting to play a salmon that's positioned way down below you is a futile task as you're also tackling the weight of the river and not just the fish. With that in mind walk slowly downstream as you're keeping a high rod tip with a reasonable fighting curve on your rod until you're level with the fish. This side on rod position also maintains an 'in to mouth' side on strain on the hook hold which should make more 'logical' sense than an 'out of mouth' strain from being too far above the salmon's position as it inevitably shakes its head in an attempt to dislodge the hook!
Don't Rush The Salmon Netting Stage
If you're on your own while playing a salmon keep the landing net on your back until you're certain the fish is under control as deploying the net too soon puts an unnecessary strain on proceedings. Take your time as the salmon will give you clear indications that it's ready to be landed by showing its flanks and tail and the powerful long runs will have ceased when the fish is played out and ready to be landed.
Take Your Time Playing A Salmon
The management in our game recommend that playing a salmon hard is the best way to conduct the fight on the basis that a salmon will recover quicker with 'catch & release' in mind. Like anything in life there's 'theory & practice' and while their thoughts mean well a salmon will often fight to a point of total exhaustion if it's played too hard and take forever to recover and in some cases not recover from the shock of the fight at all. I've seen plenty of salmon being played in my life time & professional career so you can trust my judgement on this fact.
There's No Rush In Playing Salmon
Personally I like to take my time and enjoy the fight and not be too severe on a salmon. Playing a fish is a big part of the excitement & satisfaction of the capture so why not enjoy this part of proceedings and be kinder on the salmon too. Let the fish get used to the site of you over whatever time it takes to finally draw it over the landing net. This approach will stand you a far better chance of landing the salmon than lunging at a fish that's not ready to be netted way too soon after hooking it.
Control An Inexperienced Salmon Guide
If you're with an inexperienced salmon guide who's rushed into the river with the net extended within minutes of hooking a fish call him back out of the river. A salmon will go berserk if it sees a net and a ghillie too soon into the fight and I've seen many fish escape capture because a ghillie has gone for the net far too soon into proceedings. This also sub consciously puts pressure on the angler to steer the fish to the ghillie's position before the salmon is ready and this will more than likely end in disaster.
You'll Know When To Land Your Salmon
When a salmon has been properly played out to a point where it can be netted it should be a simple case of the angler drawing the salmon right over the waiting landing net in one smooth continuous rod movement before simply lifting the net. There should never be a scenario where the angler or the ghillie has to chase the fish about the riverbank as that's a sure sign the salmon isn't ready to be landed. Pick your moment to land your salmon after you've steered it to an area of the pool that's got reasonable snag free depth (out of any heavy current) and wait until you know your fish is ready then all you'll need is one 'effective' well timed attempt.