Salmon Fight Behaviour
By Jock Monteith 6th December 2018
Here's a few paragraphs on how salmon react when they've been hooked based on 'practice' not 'theory'. Nothing beats professional time spent on a Scottish salmon river for observing the various aspects of this fine pursuit.
The Calm Before The Storm
Firstly I'd like to commence with something that is not commonly known or regarded but looses hundreds of salmon on the Tay each year which I'm convinced is due to angler's misconception that the split second a salmon takes their spinning lure it is going to 'take off' like a bohemian bonefish on some death defying down river charge and break their nylon unless anything but the 'lightest' of clutch settings is deployed. The powerful runs from a salmon don't start until the fish realises it's in danger and that can sometimes be many minutes into contact but very seldom within the first 15 seconds as at that point the fish doesn't know what's going on.
Tighten Up Your Spinning Reel Clutch To Set The Hook
This misconception has meant most of the Tay spinning anglers fish as slack a clutch setting on their spinning reels as they correctly do on their fly reels. When a salmon stops a hard fluttering metal lure or plastic plug it's not as likely going to hang onto it for any more than a few seconds (like it will do with a fly) before trying to eject it. As the majority of salmon will approach the lure from behind there's a good chance one of the spinning lure hooks is temporarily and lightly going to lodge in its mouth. It is then crucial that sufficient hook pressure is delivered to the hook point in the following seconds or the salmon will very likely be gone. All salmon are masters at getting rid of unwanted foreign objects from their mouths and not letting them prove that to you is important!
Loosen Off The Clutch To Play Your Salmon
Once you've truly felt the weight of the fish following contact and you've put a good bend in the rod and are satisfied that is the case then loosen your spinning reel clutch off a bit as it's highly unlikely at that point the hook is ever going to come out and I can't personally remember a fish coming off when I knew the hook was set properly. In the old days I recall my late mentor on the Tay picking up an already buckled 'harling' rod and giving it one almighty pull before handing over the rod and saying 'if it's getting off son it's getting off early! So when spinning on the Tay set your spinning reel clutch to a reasonably tight setting which doesn't have to be full lock but certainly enough for your drag not to negate the hook point pressure you're trying to achieve to set the hook.
Early In The Salmon Fight
After you've set the hook with a salmon regardless of how you've caught the fish all you're likely going to feel is a dead weight with some slow movement and a bit of head shaking. At this point the salmon will be unaware of the alien interview that lies ahead and unlikely to do anything too erratic. When any salmon finally realised it's in danger they'll usually firstly head to the bottom of the river for safety which is no doubt exactly how they'll react if a big predator turns up out at sea. A high rod tip with a good bend in the rod is important as if you give the fish too much control it will try to rub the hooks our on the riverbed or wrap your leader around a riverbed snag.
When A Salmon Does Wake Up And Run
When your salmon finally realises it's in danger that's the time to expect fireworks. I've seen even big salmon being brought virtually to an angler's feet minutes into the fight with no real signs of life and then all of a sudden the salmon see's the angler which kicks off the real battle! Don't be deceived or caught off guard just because a salmon comes towards you too easily early into any contact and be prepared for that power surge run that will in all cases commence. Here's a classic example of what I'm referring to from a 14 lbs salmon that was caught on the River Tummel.
Netting A Played Out Salmon
Once a salmon's big runs have stopped and you've got the fish under control in the deepish river margins away from the main current a salmon that's ready to be landed will be often tail up and frequently showing its flanks. When you see this you'll know that it's now the time to land the fish. Whether you're on your own or with a ghillie the net should be sunk and the fish should be near the surface and with one big 'smooth' actioned sweep of the rod the salmon should simply be drawn over the net before the net is lifted. In decades of salmon fishing I can honestly say it seldom happens that way as most anglers don't understand what's expected of them and the ghillie usually ends up having to take matters into his own hands!
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