This unique shot shows a hen salmon of about 8lbs a fraction of a second before it took the fly. The points worth noting include:
· The water is about 4’ 6” / 1.5m deep, and fast flowing at the surface.
· The fly is a 1”/2.5 cm Sunray Shadow (dressed length about 6-7cm) fished quickly with a floating line, near the surface, crossing obliquely from right to left.
· The fish in the field of view (actually there are 8 in the full frame) are active and running, but taking a short halt before going up a minor obstacle. Despite the fast water above them, they are in a lie close to the bottom that requires the minimum effort to hold their position.
· The taking fish is approaching the fly at 45 degrees from below and behind. It has moved about 6’ / 2m from its lie.
The shot is taken from a remarkable 8 minute underwater film made in Iceland. While it may only be a single instance at one place and time, it does merit study for its insights.
· The first is that there’s a lot more going on below than the angler notices, despite using a light single-handed rod. There are several actual takes that involve no pull whatsoever, some of which are quite violent. One wonders how many part takes we may never notice!
· The first that he knows of the take is when the salmon turns away and hooks itelf. The angler did nothing to contribute to the process. This accords with my experience: the take that you feel is actually the turn away against the hook and line tension. Put simply, the faster the turn, the harder the ‘take’.
· If you look closely at the film you will observe that the fish that turn to the right, i.e. against the direction of travel of the fly, get hooked. Those that turn left with the fly, thereby removing tension, do not. When you think about the dynamics involved, a turn against the fly travel leads to a higher relative speed of hook to fish and a higher probability of a secure hold towards the back of the jaw. In contrast, turning with the direction of travel leads to low hooking speed, a less secure hold near the front of the mouth and greater risk of subsequent loss. Obviously we can’t predict which way a taking fish will turn away, but this does help to understand how and why salmon hook themselves (cases of cock fish male daftness excepted). It also explains why takes at or near the ‘dangle’ tend to be less forceful; more concentrated towards the front of the jaw; and thereby more prone to loss later in the fight.
· The salmon are visibly close together in the lie, but appear unflustered by their fellows’ distress. Other than moving aside to let the fighting fish pass by, they remain in place, even after 2 of their number have been caught. Just because you have caught one fish out of a lie does not mean you will not take another immediately after. Indeed, the film indicates that the reverse may be the case.
· The first few passes with the Sunray Shadow were too far away from the lie at that crossing speed, visibility and depth for the fish to take. Their radius of action (‘taking window’) in that specific situation appeared to be around 6’/2m. That will certainly vary with conditions in the immediate vicinity of the lie and the visibility. But it does suggest that you need to think carefully about controlling your fly’s speed.
Finally, nothing marked out the fish that approached the fly from the others. Why did one go after it and not another? Who knows?