Spin Fishing The River Tay
By Jock Monteith 22nd June 2020
While I've built my career on being successful at teaching the art of catching salmon on the fly I do on occasion like to go back to my boyhood River Tay days and have a proper go with a spinner. Spinning is just as much of an 'art form' as fly fishing and here's a few of the reasons why.
Spinning On The Scottish Salmon Rivers
On many of the shallower & narrower Scottish salmon rivers the fly is all you need for successful salmon pool coverage and to batter out a big flashy salmon lure would just not be good etiquette and would likely get you barred from the beat or river! The River Tay is of course a totally different 'beast' as its big wide deep and often slow moving pools opens spinning up to be your only real chance of effectively covering that kind of slower & deeper Tay water scenario.
Spin Fishing Riverbank Movement
All too many times I've seen anglers 'willie nillieing' down a pool having a flick here and a flick there with clearly no real battle or execution plan which is fine if you're just out for a day in the fresh air. If your objective is truly to catch a salmon or two on the Tay's vast salmon pools you need to be 100% focussed on the effectiveness of your water coverage throughout the entire fishing day. The next few paragraphs are my take on how to make sure you catch a salmon on a spinning lure on every visit to the Tay or at least grind out an offer or two.
Spacing Your Riverbank Movement Consistently
Before I get into the 'nitty gritty' of lure depth & retrieve options the basics of this commences with methodically thought out riverbank movement. Most spinning rods that are used on the River Tay are 10ft in length (give or take a foot). There is your very measure to make life easy for you and moving one rod length with every cast throughout the entire course of the fishing day will obviously allow you to effectively 'carpet bomb' a vast amount of water. It is this precise water coverage that will sooner or later on the 'law of averages' position your spinning lure in front of a 'taking' salmon.
River Tay Spin Fishing Casting Angles
I've seen anglers give a little flick of their lure and drop it 30 yards away where the Tay is 100 yards plus wide. Again this is fine if you're just out for a jolly but I'd personally be looking to maximise my casting range by getting some 'punch' into each cast and not mess about with a half cooked casting approach unless the river is in full flood where all you have to search is the margins. Thump each cast of your lure across the Tay at a 'slight' upstream angle as this 'curve ball' retrieve seems by far to be the one that works best of all. Remember at all times that your true goal leading up to the inevitable capture of a salmon is effective 'water coverage'.
The Above River Tay Spin Fishing Basics
Before I move on let's recap on the value of those above 2 points and why they are so important. Firstly I've never see anyone performing that precision cast spacing nor that consistent long range 'slightly' upstream casting angle. That means if you adopt these basic & proven spin fishing techniques to achieve maximum effective water coverage you will instantly be in the top 1% of 'effective' River Tay spin fishers. Nothing in salmon fishing is rocket science and it's all about common sense & logic which is probably one of the reasons why the sport is so popular and easy to grasp once shown properly.
The Depth & Speed Of Your Spinning Lure
When (and not before) the above key movement & cast angle points become 'automatic pilot' for you the next important part of success with spinning is to 'switch on' and not 'switch off' each time your lure hits the water. I agree that often a salmon will 'attack' a lure when your mind has drifted away as it can be difficult in a tranquil riverbank setting to stay 100% focussed at all times but you need to be aware of your lure's depth & speed even if you're fishing in auto pilot mode. It's important to adjust the retrieve depth of your lure to suit the varying water level and temperature ranges of each season and to match where salmon are likely to be holding in the water column and their eagerness to have a go. My take on this from experience is high and slow in the water column in freezing conditions and deeper and slightly faster in the water column in warmer water conditions.
Spinning Tactics When The Going Is Tough
If you've followed the above and you've not had success but you know for certain you've been covering salmon then you should retry as a psychologist! In other words you've covered the pool perfectly by working 'traditionally' downstream and separated each cast by 10ft with a consistently good casting distance and 'slight' upstream casting angle. Assuming you're on the salmon pool yourself with no other angler to consider then try an upstream approach as this time salmon will not see the lure coming like they did with your initial downstream approach. This new upstream approach will also have even more 'psychological impact' on a salmon if you switch your lure's colours to something completely different which doesn't necessarily mean changing the type or size of lure you're fishing with. A 'startled' salmon could easily become a reactive salmon!
Spin Fishing With A Tight Clutch
Unless you're fishing with a Vision Oneten bass lure with little needle point treble hooks that will achieve a shallow surface hook hold you'll need a reasonable degree of hook point pressure to set the bigger hook on a popular (& my opinion unbeatable) ABU 30gm Toby 'Salmo' or the regular (deeper swimming) ABU 28gm Toby. The hook on a Toby needs good pressure to be set correctly and you've got no more than 10 seconds to do this when a salmon takes which you'll be very lucky to achieve with a slack clutch. Remember a salmon is a real master at getting rid of unwanted foreign objects in its mouth and it will more than likely prove that to you if you can't set the hook properly due to a slack clutch setting.
Loosen Your Spinning Reel Clutch To Play The Fish
Once you've set the hook (after several seconds of solid contact) then loosen off your clutch to play the fish. God knows how many lost salmon I've seen over the decades by anglers fishing with a slack clutch with a Toby which got to the point where the lure was being blamed (even by tackle dealers) and a salmon all of a sudden was able to create 'leverage' on the hook hold which is absolute 'illogical' nonsense! Get the hook set properly with sufficient 'logical' early hook point pressure and capitalise on your perfect spinning water coverage technique. Don't become a 40 yard 'catch & release' specialist as it's always more satisfying to see your salmon in the landing net.
Salmon Spinning Reels
To close this article the picture above is of my own personal' weapon of choice' with is an absolute beauty of a spinning reel. This little Van Staal VS100 is widely regarded as one of the finest spinning reels in the world with no bail arm to go wrong, a sealed reel casing and an amazing drag system that has tamed salmon up to 27lbs for me. This is an indication as to how seriously I personally treat spinning when the occasion arises on the River Tay. There are many fine reels on the market these days and the Shimano Stradic 5000 is another beauty which can be purchased without breaking the bank. Personally I prefer a front drag to these rear drag reels as a front drag seems to be smoother & sturdier and easy to get at for exact instant adjustments when required!