Wednesday 29 May 2013

Walking to the Water Part 3 - Tricky Pools and New Tricks

I suspect that on every river there are pools that scream 'salmon' at the top of their voices, yet then refuse to part with any, no matter how hard we try.  We know they're present because periodically they roll, splash and deliver two-fingered fishy salutes in our direction.  The longer we go on without connecting, the lower our morale and fishing confidence sinks.  As Murphy enjoys kicking a man when he's down, our chances of catching a fish sink even faster, with a couple of missed takes to help us on our way.  These are the tricky pools.

Freeburn Pool, Tomatin House

I'll get the confession out early.  This is my personal nemesis, the bogey pool, photographed in perfect condition.  In 11 years I've never had so much as a take here, despite it holding large numbers of big fish.  To make matters worse, you can actually see some of them directly under your feet in the foreground when the sun's over your shoulder after lunch.  Guilty of incompetence as charged, I can only offer 3 pathetic pleas in mitigation.  First, we're on the outside of the right-hand bend, fishing from the left bank.  On the rare occasions that anyone turns up on the other side they seem to do quite well (they always do, don't they!).  Second, wading this section of the pool is impossible because the water in the foreground is around 6-8' deep: you may have spotted that the photo was taken from about 6' above the surface of the water (the concrete slab is visible on Google satellite view).  With a steep bank, trees and a labrador directly behind, casting and generating any kind of oblique angle is difficult.  And third, and worst of all, the water in the foreground is actually flowing back towards you, so the fish are facing 180 degrees the wrong way.  As I'm dragged to the gallows, I'll offer a fourth.  This is the outfall from the Tomatin Distillery: all the salmon are pissed; and anyway, it's a cunning plot by Suntory to get you to seek despairing solace in their products (the single malt is great).

So how do we solve this awful conundrum?  Certainly I've got no concrete answers supported by evidence, so let's go back to basics.  The first step is to separate the resident fish in the foreground from all the others: they're different, deep and are looking the wrong way, so they need a unique solution.  You cannot present a conventional oblique fly to them and you don't have the room or the flow to riffle a hitched fly, so do something completely different (courtesy of the Silverleapers Newfoundland School of Fishing Tricks).  Before you fish the main body of the pool, go downstream to the third rock (with a small one sat on top).  Put on a long leader and something light like a Sunray Shadow with a small double or a floating Bomber.  Cast gently short of the fish and let the flow take the fly beyond them.  Then bring it back - strip, pause, wiggle, pause, strip and pause again.  Allow it to drift back and repeat; and repeat.  Don't give up too soon: dogged persistence is the Newfie secret (and it works).  Prevent the onset of boredom by inserting some variations like loops and left mends.  Don't worry about the fish: they're almost bomb-proof (Falkus has a neat paragraph on the subect).  Just stay awake and alert, because one might just drift gently upwards and do an idle head and tail take.  If you don't believe me, have a look at this clip from Newfoundland.  You didn't think salmon did that?  Nor did I, so give it a shot.

After you've caught all the resident monsters with this revolutionary new approach,  go back to the main body of the pool and apply the MCX formula and depth analysis.   The usual way of fishing this pool is first from directly upstream by wading along a shingle bar to a large rock just out of the shot to the right.  I don't like doing this if there is a risk of a rise, because there's only one way out, back the way you came, into the current.  Things can happen very fast on spate rivers like the Findhorn: I've experienced a 12" lift in under 3 minutes and so observe a golden rule of never wading without a downstream exit.

Your focus is now on the mid-blue 3-5' zone, where there is a succession of lies down the central flow line.  You're looking at a middle height (2), medium flow (2), and clearing water (2) at around 13C (2).  Taking off 1 for the bright day leads you to a score around 7, which suggests a smaller fly - #10 - and no more than an intermediate tip at most.  The fishing from the rocky bank is challenging.  There is the risk of falling into very deep water; you have to move from one boulder to the next; and you can't  cast a wide angle.  To balance those factors the prevailing breeze comes up the pool, which allows you to use single Spey, Snap-T or Jump Roll casts.  Nor do you have to cast far: do not cast into the shallow slow moving water as this will hold your fly back, create a big bow in the line and ruin your presentation in the critical zone, which is a classic novice mistake.  Avoid it and you more than double your chances.

Frodle Dub, Bolton Castle

This is where I recover my confidence.  A lot of people find fishing the top half of this pool very difficult: perversely it's one of my favourites and where I caught my best-ever salmon.  Like so many pools with a right angle bend, a fast entry and a slow broad exit, Frodle Dub has a tricky back eddy.  The flow at the head of the pool is very fast, which demands a heavy tip and weighted tube to get quickly down through the surface turbulence; and casts at a shallow angle to control the sideways speed of the fly.  At the bend it reduces to medium pace, and completes the last half of the length at a leisurely slow rate.  The key to success here is re-rigging 3 times as you fish down.

This shot shows the depth shading for the middle and tail with the river running at +16-18".  The river is high (3), clearing (2) (note that the head and middle of this pool are turbid and the water clears the further you go down), flowing fast (3) and at 50F/10C (2), total 10.  For the section marked 1 you will need a tube and a fast sinking tip.  The back-eddy poses a challenge for casting and presentation: as the fly swings down and left, the belly of the line is moving in the opposite direction, so you must be thinking continuously of the effects of this on fly presentation and the need for stripping to counteract the stalling effect of the eddy.  The Snap-T is the ideal cast for digging the tube and tip up out of the eddy and lining them up to fly the distance to the outside of the bend

Once you get to 2 the flow rate reduces to slow and the water is clearer and shallower (=8).  This means re-rigging for the third time.  At this level it will probably require a short slow sink or intermediate tip.  The back-eddy has petered out.  You need a long cast to cover the quiet lies on the far side, but must avoid treading on fish running up the light blue strip.

Frodle Dub Tail 31/8/2012
15lbs on Ally Shrimp #12
The reason so many people find this pool difficult is their reluctance to re-rig to match the changing conditions as they progress down its considerable length.  It takes me about 45 minutes to cover, so a couple of 5 minute breaks are easily absorbed.  And sometimes you have to wait the full 45 minutes for your fish if she's waiting for you right down at the tail of the mid-blue zone.

You will have noted that a couple of times I raised the issue of common novice mistakes.  In my next post I'll expand on them; why they dramatically reduce the chances of connecting with a fish; and how to avoid falling into their traps.

1 comment:

  1. I think though the definition of expert now has to be seen in the light of far fewer salmon in our rivers, falkus, oglesby, graeser, etc had catches in the thousands probably because in ideal conditions they would catch ten fish, when today we may only get one, therefore I think in today's environment anyone with several hundred salmon to their rod is worth listening to.

    As for myself, I might be up to a hundred salmon since 2001, which isn't bad for two weeks in Scotland a year and a handful from the Welsh Dee and Dovey especially as we caught nothing for two years!

    Luckily I can probably boast three hundred seatrout, so I've not totally wasted my youth.

    Seriously I've not seen a better explanation of lines/ lies rods etc for a long while, and the modern salmon angler has to have a few tricks up their sleves in these frugal times, not sure falkus caught a salmon on a rifle hitch, but I have.....if you see what I'm driving at.

    Best regards,