The idea came from Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador - where dry fly is one of the primary tactics. It lodged in my mind after watching some of the films posted by local guides on YouTube of salmon taking a dry fly on the surface and then going mad on the far end of a single handed rod. The take was exciting and nerve wracking - there are lots of near misses and you see it all happening. But the the fight was something else. Unconstrained by the drag of 40 yards of #9/10 line the salmon seemed to spend a large part of the affair doing aerobatics, demonstrating that their sea trout and steelhead cousins don't have a monopoly on adrenalin.
While the dry fly demonstrably works very well on Canada's east coast rivers, opinion is divided in the UK. Some say it won't or can't work. Others point to the success of riffle hitched light tubes and by extension think it might work. A very few are determined adherents of the dry fly, but mostly they accept that the range of situations in which it's a viable technique is quite narrow. Hugh Falkus wrote about taking fish on the surface, but he viewed it as an interesting but limited tactic to be exploited in specific conditions, which he illustrated with examples from rivers in the very north of Scotland. Indeed, one very experienced friend who's used every tactic in the book over the past 40 years considers that this is a phenomenon of the high northern latitudes, working well in Newfoundland, Iceland, North Norway and northernmost Scotland (yes, he's fished them all), but less well elsewhere.
With little or no clear evidence or guidance in the British literature, I sought the wisdom of Bill Bryden, a well known Canadian guide and proponent of the dry fly. What follows is his thinking, not mine, and I'm most grateful to him for his tolerance of my ignorant and persistent questions. In parallel I tested some of the assumptions and guidance on one of the days at Tomatin last September. I didn't catch anything but the experience gave me insights into some of the practical challenges I'll need to overcome.
Equipment Much as I love my 12' #7 DH Vision, I will get the best delivery and easiest casting with a single hander and a normal (i.e. non-Spey) profile line, albeit at a substantially reduced range. My middle-aged 9' 6" #7 Hardy Viscount will match the task rather better than my late father's positively geriatric #6 Daiwa Whisker Kevlar sea trout rod. It took 40 minutes to subdue a 10 pounder 31 years ago and like me certainly hasn't got any firmer since then. The standard Cortland #7 line projected the Bomber adequately in the September trial, but it's now old enough that I won't feel guilty replacing it if necessary (e.g. to achieve more range with a constrained back-cast). The leader will need thought and some experiment, but my opening bid will be 10 lbs Seaguar Fluorocarbon to avoid the surface effects that arise with floating tippet materials. Being denser than water fluorocarbon sits below the surface film, but at 10 lbs not so far below as to risk drowning the fly. Once below the surface fluorocarbon has the same refractive index as the water, so it does not appear as a shadow line when viewed from below.
Close Range Self evidently you have to get near enough to the salmon to spot its movement and inclination to take; cover it with a single handed rod; be able to see the take clearly in order to react effectively; and present the fly with the required accuracy and delicacy. In Newfoundland they often use a boat to get close to the salmon, an option that isn't available here, which also improves your ability to see where the fish is lying. You're standing on the water, not in it, so the look angle is more favourable. This means I have a planning range of around 20 yards, which will decline rapidly if I have to wade to any depth.
Post spate, low and clear
Secondary holding lie area
Flesh Dub is not viable because the lies are too far out. There are some options in the tail of Frodle Dub that can be approached from the shallows below without disturbing fish further up, but this will involve casting upstream rather than the optimal square presentation.
Air 21C, Water >16C
but not on a dry fly!
Inevitably a tremendous amount depends on the summer's weather.
The analysis above suggests that the best chance of fulfilling my resolution will occur in August or September, within a 2-4 day window of opportunity after a run-stimulating spate. There's no point block-booking a week because that will have dire repercussions for the weather (see The Countdown for an analysis of the meteorological effects of my eager anticipation). Opportunism is the order of the day. Work is quieter in August because everyone else is on holiday, and when they get back in September they need a full week to clear all the e-mails that accumulated in their absence and another week to process the work they requested other people to deliver by the first Monday (or others demanded of them). This means I have a period of around 5-6 weeks in which I can snatch the odd day's leave without the need for a long lead time or coordinating with anyone else.
If the right conditions arise I'll have quite a good warning period because:
- The weather system to bring the rain for the spate will show up on the forecast about 3 days ahead.
- The rain should persist for 24-48 hours, long enough to generate a rise of about 1 - 1.5 metres.
- Then the spate needs to run for long enough to pull fish through - generally 3 days.
- The river will then need about 24-36 hours to fall to the optimum level and clear. The Environment Agency levels are displayed on my phone and updated twice daily (yes, it's sad, I know). Once the reading at Kilgram goes back down through +80cm the next 2 days will be just right.
- And the average air temperature throughout needs to be between 16 and 21C, which Dales folk would regard as somewhat tropical.