Thursday 27 June 2013

Seven Deadly Sins - Common Novice Error 4

Trying too hard

In his long-running and outstanding Spey casting DVD, Michael Evans uses a phrase  - "if you're working hard, you're working too hard".  Simon Gawesworth calls it 'bashing'.  If things aren't going right we tend to apply more effort and energy in the sincere belief that if we work harder, they'll come right in the end.  I suppose it's a a man thing and the product of testosterone and our Anglo-Saxon work ethic: these are good things in many areas, but in salmon fishing excess effort and aggression usually leads to things getting worse, not better.  The salmon are unimpressed by our exertions and cannot be beaten into submission.  They take when they feel like it, not when we've earned it.

Please don't confuse effort and persistence.  We need persistence to overcome the inevitable disappointments and frustrations of salmon fishing.  It took me 4 season to catch my first Scottish fish - small, stale and weedy in the darkness of the last evening of the week in the 4th year.  There were many lonely times when I felt pretty despairing about the whole thing: when contemplating the results of yet another dire cast; when trudging back to the lodge empty handed; when celebrating my friends' successes; and when paying the bills (and justifying them).  But persistence is the foundation of experience, and if nothing else, in those early years I learned that muscular effort was a very poor substitute for sound technique and calm thought.  Low morale is bad enough, but it sinks further and faster when combined with physical exhaustion, aches and pains.  The purpose of this post is to help you avoid that condition.


This article is not a casting tutorial: the written word is no substitute for properly qualified practical instruction on a river.  I took lessons when I started and I still take them today in order to iron out bad habits and to improve.  However, it's in casting that trying too hard is immediately apparent, happens most often and generates the most frustration.  When casts persistently go wrong, your line is telling you to seek help and coaching.   When they go right it adds huge pleasure to your fishing.

Does your cast look something like this?  The mid-section hits the water too soon; the end-section runs out of steam; and the tip collapses in a heap.  I still do these, and it's usually as a result of trying too hard and applying undue physical effort.  Unfortunately our immediate reaction is to try even harder and to apply more power to the forward cast, which makes things even worse.  Before we do, let's stop for a moment's thought.  Did we feel resistance in the forward stroke or did it feel a bit like punching air with an audible swish as the rod went forward? 

If you felt proper resistance, then you're not far from success, but you must take the excess muscle out of the business.  You tried too hard and carried on applying power until the direction of movement of your rod tip was downwards rather than forwards.  Try the following simple trick, and you may be surprised by the results.  With your upper hand, hold the cork between forefinger and thumb only (if your rod is 15' I'll allow an extra finger).  Now you can't welly it.  Relax, look up and try a couple of casts.  Behold, you'll get 80+% of your maximum range, nice and straight, because the rod has done the work, just as it ought. (With grateful thanks and acknowledgement to Jim Curry who showed me this trick in last year's brush-up session).

If you were punching air, then the rods just wasn't loaded by the weight and resistance of the line.  It's most likely that you were putting too much effort into the back cast and swing, which mucks up the formation of a good D-loop and leads you to break the 180 degree rule.

 Viewed from above it probably looked something like this.  The main weight of the line is not aligned with the direction of the cast: most of it is offset by 45 degrees to the right.  As a result the energy you apply doesn't load the rod: indeed, half of your effort is wasted as it always will be when the line rod and cast are misaligned.  When you start the forward cast the line won't follow the movement of the rod tip towards the target.

By putting too much effort into the first stage of the back cast you throw the line upstream, leaving only about 10% to form the D-loop behind you.  This often happens if the fly is sunk and/or you are using a sink tip.  You give a good heave to get it out and you just keep on heaving.  You're in such a hurry that you cut the corner between back and forward movements, rather the correct circular track to bring the D-loop behind you.  Don't try so hard: just do a nice easy downstream roll cast to bring everything up to the surface and break the water's hold on the line.  Then you can make a nice smooth swing to create a well aligned D-loop.

What you're looking for is more like this.  You can see that the critical heavy section of the line is almost straight behind the cast direction, i.e. at 180 degrees.  All of the forward motion you put into the rod transfers directly to the line.  The job of the lighter bit out to the right is to stick lightly to the water when you start the forward cast, thus creating the tension that loads the rod and bends it to work like a spring.  When you stop your right hand, the rod carries on straightening, throwing the weight of the line straight ahead.

The whole thing of not trying too hard becomes even more important if you are using a modern short-headed line or a shooting head.  Too much muscle or hurry and it flies all over the place - everywhere except into your D-loop.  Just slow down, relax and look up.

Why do I say 'look up'?  When we're trying too hard we tend to lean forward, tense the muscles and look down at the water surface.  This will always make us follow through beyond the stop point by which stage our upper/right hand is following an increasingly steep downwards curve.  Try the forward cast motion using just your right hand, without a rod, and watch the track that it naturally follows past your ear.  Look down and repeat; and then up and repeat.  Any downward motion of the top hand in the forward cast will make the near end of the line hits the water first.  Just like shooting the shot/line goes where we're looking, so if we raise our line of sight our shoulders are further back, and we'll find it easier to hold the stop on the forward cast and project the line in the desired upward trajectory.  This gives it the time in the air to turn over to its full length and straighten before it reaches the water.

Above all, remind yourself that the line you're trying to throw only weighs a couple of ounces, so only apply forces that are proportional to that load, and let the rod do the work. It's simple: your forward cast bends the rod by accelerating the mass of the line; you stop; and then the rod throws the line (not you!).  

If you're getting really frustrated and explosive, take a break: chocolate's wonderfully soothing; avoid coffee (you get even more twitchy); and remember that more than 2 units of booze will start to degrade your timing (or in my case, puts me to sleep).

Contemplation and reflect - antidotes to excess force

Salmon fishing is a rare and often expensive privilege.  As a result we want to have a fly in the water every minute of the day.  However, it's difficult to combine focusing on improving your casting with fishing well.  Instead there is huge value in going off to a quiet stretch, early or late, where no one's watching.  You're not there to fish, but to explore and learn how you, your rod and your line interact with each other.  It's the same lonely solace that golfers endure to get better, but you must learn the basic principles first.  Practice without principles leads to deeply embedded bad habits, whereas practice of principles leads to excellence.  By the way, it's got to be on water because grass just doesn't provide the right type or level of drag.

Because a fly line is not rigid it behaves in ways that don't always make sense to us (I'll spare you the maths).  The Snap T or Circle Spey cast is a case in point.  When we accelerate the top of the rod downstream, downwards and inwards to the bank, why does the tip of the line fly upstream in precisely the opposite direction?  Why can you cast a lot of line off the water with a Double Spey, when even half that amount will kill a Single Spey stone dead?  If getting the line up and moving back can be such a heave in a Single Spey, why does it lift so easily with a Snake Roll?  With your rod and line combination, what is the critical amount of line you need behind you for a Roll cast to go airborne?  

So once you've found your secluded spot, explore and experiment to gain understanding of how and why the line behaves in response to different movements of the rod.  Without the pressure of fishing or spectators you can break your cast down into sections, stop, look and start again.  Above all, you can confirm and embed the basics: you won't be a good Spey caster until you've understood the dynamics and mastered the Roll and the Jump Roll.  And whatever else you may try, don't step into the river with people watching and attempt a Snake Roll unless you've perfected it in lonely isolation.


Having got in a bother with the casting we tend to transfer the same excess of force and energy to the fishing.  We speed everything up.  We're so keen to cast again that we strip in too quickly.  We're so busy being busy and cursing ourselves that we don't look at the water and and adjust our angles, actions and tactics.  How many fish do we unknowingly miss as a result?  And worst of all, we commit another sin, forgetting about the fly, which is the subject of next week's sinful post.

Friday 21 June 2013

Seven Deadly Sins - Common Novice Error 3

Anthropomorphosis - or failing to make the effort to understand salmon

From the outset, let's be clear on one thing: we don't know what salmon think.  I certainly don't know, because none of the fish I've caught have given interviews, written their memoirs or done anything else to help our understanding.  Faced with this void of information we slip unconsciously into the sin of Anthropomorphism  or setting natural behaviour in a human context.  It started with the ancient Greeks, who in the absence of science attributed human forms, behaviours and thoughts to natural phenomena and animals.  Several clever early authors took profitable advantage of this by writing best-selling stories of half-human gods, god-like humans and their travels and travails.  But myth and history aside, this sin is still alive and well on the riverbank, and leads us into all manner of mistaken assumptions on how the salmon behaves that reduce the number of fish we might otherwise catch.

It's not my purpose to make you an expert on salmon behaviour, nor do I make any such claim for myself: I am not a fish biologist.  Consistent with the theme of this blog, the aim of this mid-season low-water article (sorry, but I'd rather be fishing than writing) is not to provide doctrine for adherence, but rather to provide some materials to equip and stimulate you to think more deeply and draw your own conclusions in the avoidance of sin.  I apologise in advance for this post's length, detail and lack of pictures.

A framework for thought

If we do not know what the salmon thinks we can fill some of the void through a simple logical process comprising two stages.  Underlying both is a critical assumption: modern man is the only animal on this planet gifted with free will and knowledge of his own mortality; and the conscience and sense of humour to compensate for that wilfulness and knowledge.

With that human exception, the behaviours of animals are determined by 3 universal forces that are directly aligned to securing the imperative of the survival of their species, known collectively as the '3 Fs' - food, fear and reproduction.  Their actions in responding to those forces are mostly reflexive (otherwise known as System 1 or 'front brain' processes) rather than reason-based.  The individual salmon has limited need for near-term recollection because its reflexes draw on the accumulated experience of a million previous generations printed in the genetic material within its cells (a form of ROM - or 'read-only' memory if you like).  Its default mode is therefore risk averse unless one of the Fs makes an overpowering demand for action.  As an example, while spring fish are generally tentative and quite hesitant runners, those that run closer to spawning time are more driven and determined by hormonal demands.  Only humans actively seek risk (reindeer don't ride motorbikes) and we must not allow that peculiarity to influence our perceptions of fish behaviour because theirs is a frightening world full of hazards and horrid death, even if some threats are long-extinct in the UK, such as bears.

In their turn survival and the 3 Fs have driven the salmon's evolution into the fish we observe today.  The salmon is a very old species (at least 3 million years and probably older) and therefore both highly refined and proven to be very adaptable (salmon survived the Ice Ages).  By looking closely at the salmon's physical characteristics and capabilities we can form a better idea of how its reflexive actions are triggered and hence gain a more informed view of its behaviour.   Most of those characteristics are multi-purpose, mutually reinforcing and complementary - sight, smell, sensitivity to vibration, speed etc - so it would be unwise to draw absolute deductions.  They are also directly linked to genetic programming, so stimuli linked to known information may trigger a full or partial response, whereas the unfamiliar may be disregarded.  The best example I can offer of this phenomenon is the roe deer's reaction to tobacco smoke: the roe has lived with us for long enough (about half a million years) for man's scent to be a powerful flight trigger, but a hundred years of random exposure to cigarette smoke has not yet embedded a hazard signal to be handed on to future generations.  Bearing in mind that we've only been fishing with rod and line for a couple of hundred years, it's therefore likely that most of our activities just don't register on the salmon's threat scale.  Some may even induce curiosity, whilst other seemingly innocuous things will make it run a mile.

In the interests of brevity (and the lack of fishing will make this a longer than normal post) I shall concentrate on the characteristics relevant to the salmon's behaviour in fresh water.  I shall also not be discussing migration, which will be the subject of another post in the close season. 


Evolution has given the salmon one of the most sensitive noses on the planet, with the capacity to discern at the level of parts per billion.  Put in a familiar context, that equates to detecting and identifying one pub measure of whisky in 25 tons of water.  This amazing nose is connected to the brain via high capacity channels (clearly visible when you section the head), which tells us that a lot of brain capacity is devoted to processing smell information.  While this capability contributes to the final stages of migratory navigation we now know that it is not its predominant purpose (when Norwegian researchers blocked the noses of a sample of salmon, 95% found their way back successfully - see Journal of Fish Biology).  Instead, the salmon's nose provides:

  • An acute, 24 hour, long-range early warning system, because fish-eating predators discharge trigger scent chemicals, especially in their excrement.  The salmon can detect both upstream threats in the river (across the range from herons, via otters to bears) and the general area of operations of estuarine threats such as seals and dolphins.  Fish that are physically ruptured by attack also discharge signal chemicals. Lying on or near the flow line will give a salmon the best information more rapidly than in a backwater.  A dollop of heron poop entering a pool will be quickly detected by every fish.  Although its effect on their behaviour is unknown, we may surmise that it will raise their alert levels.
  • A means of detecting other salmon upstream and deriving important information from their urinary excretions, including their sex, stress levels and their genetic-family groupings.  They are more likely to be alert and run confidently if the information coming downstream indicates a secure and friendly environment above.   Conversely the lonely springer is afforded no such comfort.  My earlier 'Morning Glory' post recorded the effect of testosterone stimuli on cock behaviours.
  • Familial information that is very important to a social schooling fish.  They were born together, migrated to sea together, hunted sand eels together, and the survivors will return together.  Although smolt to salmon survival rates are statistically quite low (around 3.5% - University of Maine 1988 included UK data) this is an average across the population as a whole: some family groups will do better, others worse.  Lying and running with your siblings or relatives reduces stress and increases confidence.  It is therefore possible that fish in a pool will seek out and congregate with any 'relatives' from the same family group or spawning tributary (with small DNA variations) that they detect.  If you take 2 fish from the same lie in quick succession, do they appear similar in most respects?  The research confirms this ability to discern relationships in fine detail, and suggests that it is significant in the final pre-spawning period.  Conversely, mixtures of diverse family groupings may induce competition and friction, especially if a pool is densely populated (either with a lot of fish, or as a confined space in low water).  Eventually the survival imperative will suppress the frictional wastage of energy, give or take the occasional cock fish outburst.
  • A means for the exploration of curiosity in relation to the unknown or unfamiliar (worm fishing?).  While there is good evidence that salmon have high aversion to smells that jam or otherwise disrupt their sensory system, I have found none to suggest that minor traces such as human scent on a fly have any effect whatsoever.  Owing to the brevity of our relationship with the salmon, we're firmly in the 'unknown' category.
  • Scope for delay and confusion, because the sensitivity covers a very broad spectrum of smells that the salmon must differentiate and classify.  Inevitably any sample of river water will include plenty of scents the salmon has never previously encountered, including tributaries other than the one in which it was born and raised.  It may also include contaminants (simple biological materials more than man-made, but think about road-drain and cow pasture run-offs as a complex and confusing scents) that make the differentiation even more difficult.  In such circumstances the salmon will be cautious and circumspect, taking its time to achieve a clearer idea of what lies ahead.  In other words, it's a fully alert fish in a holding lie, and therefore eminently catchable.

Sound and Vibration

I have deliberately not used the term 'hearing', because as water-borne animals salmon do not 'hear' in the same way as we do in air.  For them vibration, range and direction appear more important than our focus on volume and pitch.  They have auditory sensors in their heads but no external ears because they don't need them: not only does sound travel 4.4 times faster in water than air, but also the energy density is about 800 times greater.  This allows direct transfer of pressure and vibration to the auditory sensors without an intermediate stage.  Because the sound is contained within the body of water the attenuation losses are much lower than air, and so transmission distances are much greater.  However, the downside is that water can be a very noisy environment.  The effects include mechanical interactions such as rapids, falls and waves (and consequent air expulsion); falling rain and surface wind; flow harmonics; animal generated sound (prawns and mackerel are noisy, but whales and dolphins must be deafening); and of course our activities as well (for example, at Tomatin, the vibration of every car passing over the expansion joint on the A9 viaduct is faithfully transmitted into Dalnahoyn pool via the concrete and steel pier foundations).  This gives some insight into why salmon generally don't like to lie in bubbly turbulent water (a sort of Radio GaGa effect of continuous noise).

In addition salmon have acutely sensitive vibration detection arrays in their lateral lines on each flank that deliver vital functions, not all of which are fully understood.  It would take a substantial book to cover the known capabilities, so what follows is massively condensed, with due apologies to the knowledgeable and scientifically minded readers.  However, for most of us the long towed array sonars used in anti-submarine warfare provide a handy analogy.
  • The large number of nerve sensors gives exceptional sensitivity to pressure and vibration over extended ranges.  This is the main component of a 360 degree, 24 hour early warning and situational awareness system that provides information on enemies, friends and food. 
  • It sensitivity and importance does, however, make extended stays in high vibration turbulent environments uncomfortable physically and mentally (the effect of teenage Radio GaGa on their parents), not least because the salmon will feel vulnerable.
  • The length of the lateral line gives a directional capability.  The signal is maximised when it's at 90 degrees to the body and the direction of arrival is easily sensed.  A 24 inch lateral line gives a 12 lbs salmon good discrimination of direction.
  • When the salmon is moving incoming signals can be oriented to the direction of travel owing to the connections with the lateral line's navigational and spatial awareness functions.  It therefore works well even when the salmon is moving quickly.


In the interests of reduced time and volume, if you haven't previously read them, please study my earlier posts, Windows on the World and Here's Looking at You, which cover how the salmon's vision works in the underwater environment.

Water is a poor visual medium and rapidly becomes much worse as soon as the river rises or the angle of elevation of the sun falls below 5-6 degrees.  As a result the salmon is inherently short sighted because it doesn't need to see a long way, even if it could.  Nor does its eyesight give discrimination of fine detail: kestrel levels of capability are superfluous in its world.  Unlike Jack, all the salmon needs to catch a sprat is shape, movement and contrast.  The salmon's colour integration and discrimination is currently unknown, whilst its UV capacity is subject to further research.  On the plus side, the salmon's eyesight is a near 360x360 sphere, and provides its only means for detecting above water threats such as avian predators.

In effect eyesight is the inner ring of a suite of complementary sensors that contribute to the salmon's spatial and situational awareness.  It is highly geared to reflexive action - feeding on fast moving prey species; fleeing from peripherally detected threats (especially above and below and behind); sexual attraction and competition; and of course swimming at speed between obstacles in fast moving water.

However, from the angler's perspective it's the limitations of the salmon's eyesight that are most important, because they contribute to creating the preconditions for a catch.  Unfortunately, when we arrive at a pool, we scan it with superb eyes that are capable of instantaneously focusing on objects from 20 cm to 20 km, adjusting for changing light levels and resolving light and dark objects in the same field (think about the limitations of your camera in that regard).  We confidently predict running lines based on above surface visual clues and fish accordingly.   Because we don't use the other senses we completely disregard the smell and vibration that dominate the salmon's decision making and thereby fail to appreciate how it might act.  We are indeed sinful anthropomorphists!

The salmon's world - an integrated multi-sensor view

So let's don a salmon's character and start again.  As a reminder, the key behavioural determinants are:
  • I must survive to breed: I will not take chances or vicarious risks (except when my silly male hormones get the better of me).
  • I shall position myself so that I am best protected against predators, can move or hold position with minimum effort and do not handicap the operation of my sensors (excess noise, bubbles and turbulence).
  • I'm a social fish and a team player: I'm more confident in company.
  • I will heed what my sensor systems tell me: this may take time to process and I think better when I'm sitting still.  After all, my brain is only the size of a broad bean.
  • Once I have reasonable confidence I shall go forward to have a look at the next obstacle: if in doubt, I'll wait (unless it's getting late in the year).  If the obstacle is very complicated I'll do it in daylight provided there's enough water to make me feel secure, even if that means a long wait.  If it's simple but shallow I'll wait until the ospreys have gone to bed.
Let's now put that into a narrative for a fish proceeding up a pool, starting immediately after entry and the 'phew, made it' moment.
  • Move clear of the noise and vibrations of the fast water behind so I can hear and feel what's around me.  How close is the next obstacle ahead?  Any threat indicators?  Do I need to stop to think?
  • Get into the main flow to maximise scent information and stop: what's ahead?  Any threat smells?  Happy salmon? Mother in law?  Confusing smells?  Bushmills or Tomatin?
  • Move forward a bit until I can sense the next obstacle quite clearly: big or small?  complex or simple?  New smells?  Bit of confusion here as I'm picking up two different stream taints (ever wondered why 'junction' pools are so productive? Salmon indecision is the angler's friend).
  • Move forward a bit more: problem, I'm running out of water depth and flow as this isn't the main stream line.  Drop back and try again further left.
  • Move forward again, now closer to the obstacle.  My sensors tell me that it's relatively simple (no roar), but from what my eyes tell me I'm not happy with the water depth in these light conditions.  I'll drop back and wait.
If you can  only see 10 feet and you're building your spatial and situational awareness with long wavelength sensors it all takes time and thought, and often plenty of stops.  Try walking to the pub wearing welding goggles as an experiment (take them off before you get there, otherwise the bar tab will be heroic).  So look at the water again and ask yourself, "given what I now know about how a salmon behaves, where are the obstacles and the running line between them, and where is it likely to stop to gather information, process it and make a decision?" 

Free at last from the sin and purgatory of anthropomorphosis you may even catch more fish. It may all be a fluke, just like dice, but a little mercury and some wax polish can help.  Tight lines.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Seven Deadly Sins - Common Novice Error 2

Far Bank Fixation - or Standing on Fish

As novices our attention is magnetically drawn to the far bank.  The water there unfailingly looks darker, deeper and more promising.  If the far bank is lined with interesting rocks and features, the attraction grows even stronger.  For men, the fact that it's a long way away makes it almost irresistible: why commit just one sin when you can do two?  Or even more?  So off we go, happy sinners, casting to our maximum and beyond, tempted to wade ever deeper to reach the salmon nirvana under the far bank.  But despite our best efforts and the expenditure of enough testosterone to make every hen fish in the river have a hot flush, we don't get so much as a take.  Our failures spur us on to even greater efforts: if we try harder, put on a stranger fly and cast more often, we shall surely succeed.  Sadly, we don't.  Why not?

Here's a good example of a magnetic far bank, the highly productive Garden Pool at Tomatin House.  The main flow runs down the far bank for most of its length, past an array of interesting boulders until it reaches the shade of the wood on the left.  The water under the far bank is deeper, darker and far more attractive than the shallower clearer foreground.  The middle is just plain boring.  For years I assiduously cast my fly to land as close as possible to the attractions on the far side, whilst wading down a line 1/4 to 1/3 of the way across.

Now let's look at the results.

Here are the locations of 20 salmon taken from this pool during my regular week over the period 2007-11.  Just one, or 5%, was taken close to the far bank, and she was a special case.  Note the 2 fish taken from under the near bank.  The majority were in mid-stream lies on the near edge of the flow.  The upstream group is significant for 2 reasons: first, it is in a triangle of quieter water in which salmon seem to muster before running the fast water at the head; and second, it is on the line that one would wade when casting to the far bank further downstream!  In 2007 I took 2 fish out of this triangle with consecutive casts of less than 15 yards.

Dalnahoyn Pool
Tomatin House
Two other pools at Tomatin - Dalnahoyn (under the A9 road viaduct) and Churan (below the house) - have very magnetic far banks with deep water, strong flow and lots of attractive rocks.  On Dalnahoyn the weighting of take distribution towards the near bank (top side) is more marked than in Garden, even allowing for the smaller sample of 10 fish.  The 2 outliers in the fast water, both cocks, snatched flies on the surface whilst running.  The cluster of 3 fish comprised hens of above average weight for the water holding in a triangle of easier water between the main and subsidiary streams.

Churan is the most popular and heavily fished pool on the Tomatin House water on account of its productivity and easy casting and wading.  The fast water up against the rocks on the far bank is literally bombarded with flies from every angle throughout our week.  The number of fly presentations is so huge that probability should yield more far side fish, but it doesn't.  The proportion of far bank fish to middle and near remains around 5%, within a sample size of over 100 salmon taken by various rods.

None of this says that there are no fish at the far bank, but rather that there are fewer than you imagine; and that they are much harder to catch than the others owing to the difficulty of presenting the fly well.  After all, if the salmon is close to the bank it sees less than half as much of the fly as a fish lying in the mid-stream (which benefits from the full extent of the lateral movement).   Furthermore, that 'half view' largely comprises a fly that is going further away, rather than approaching, crossing and then receding.  Then there is the question of depth: a fly that spends a relatively short time in the target zone is less likely to get down to fish depth before departing.  Putting all those factors together, you probably have less than half the chance of catching a fish lying up against the far bank compared to one in the middle; and let's remember that even for those in the middle the odds are pretty wide. 

Of course, it may be that some fish from the far bank follow the fly some distance before taking it nearer the centre, thereby adding to the size of the middle group.  This is certainly a viable hypothesis, albeit one that is impossible to prove or disprove.  While I have seen cock salmon follow or attack a fly from considerable distances - up to 6 metres in one case - in my experience the energy conserving hens appear to have a smaller radius of action.  Moreover, as most of the fish in both the Garden and Dalnahoyn samples were hens; and the distance from the far bank to the taking clusters was between 8 and 15 metres, it is arguable that the 'follow and take' cohort is probably quite limited.


Succumbing to the magnetic attraction of the far bank will cause you to catch fewer fish whilst wasting time and casting effort.  Where the salmon lie is determined by the running line, not the banks, so spend time working out where it is and the location of the adjacent short halt lies that contain the most alert and catchable fish.  Use the width of the river to get your fly fishing well by the time it passes through the running line.


There are pools where the fish most definitely are along the far bank.  Here is a classic case, Wade's Pool at Tomatin in mid-height water, in perfect conditions, with fish lying along the running line within 3-4 metres of the far side. 

The water in the foreground is much too shallow to hold fish.  You can therefore wade through it to position yourself best to cover the holding lies under the far bank without the risk of treading on otherwise catchable fish.  The trick here is to cast downstream at a much shallower angle than normal, say 20 degrees, and then apply 2-3 upstream mends.  This keeps the fly in the narrow fish-holding channel for as long as possible and thus gives the fish the best chance of seeing and being stimulated to take.  Even so you will be quite close to fish, so wade carefully and don't go too far downstream as the holding area widens as you approach the lower croy.  The important point is that you should choose your casting angle on the basis of what you want the fly to do in terms of placement, motion, speed of traverse and sink rate relative to the fish, and not some set formula.

The next post in this series involves a very long sin - anthropomorphosis - which might come in handy in a pub quiz about 100 years hence.  Until then, tight lines.

Monday 3 June 2013

Seven Deadly Sins - Common Novice Error 1

Dumb Distance - or Casting without Thinking

When we first start we are keen to cast as far and as well as possible.  For most men the emphasis is on the far before the well.  The problem is that we are so focused on the casting that we forget that its purpose is to put the fly in front of the salmon, at the right depth and moving realistically.  There's a full explanation in the Fast Food and Broad Beans post, but to recap briefly, realistic means;
  • In the right direction - generally obliquely across the flow, with the fly facing somewhere in the range 10 - 70 degrees to the current.  Salmon are less likely to be stimulated by objects coming straight at them or heading directly away.
  • At a sensible speed - the things the salmon's brain recognises as food - nymphs, flies on the surface and small fish - do not travel at warp speed.
But if we cast without thinking, then realism goes out the window and our chances of catching a fish head the same way.  Let's look at a practical example of this sin.

This is the House Pool at Tomatin at +12" on a perfect day in mid-September.  There are plenty of fish in the river and at this level they run freely (indeed they were when this photo was taken - we caught nearly 30 that week).  They enter through rough fast water at the far left.  Just out of shot to the right is shallow water that will cause them to check, pause and think, which is just what you want - nice alert fish in short halt lies.  You're fishing from the bank in a grass meadow.  Your natural urge is to fish all the water in front of you: after all, covering more water creates more chances, doesn't it?  So off you go, determined to reach 30 yards and more, as marked by the red line.
Then what happens?  You put out a lovely cast to A and feel really pleased with yourself.  Oh dear!  The line swings round nicely until it checks in the dead water around the big rock in the middle.  The nearer half of your line carries on downstream.  Your fly (1) now starts to accelerate upstream, wasting the far 10 yards of the cast completely.  You put in an upstream mend to compensate, but as the fly passes below the rock it starts to accelerate downstream (2), wasting the middle 10 yards.  By the time it's sorted itself out and you've regained control, you're almost at the dangle.  Out of a 30 yard cast you've had no more than 6-8 yards of effective fly movement.
Let's start again.  Look at the surface of the water.  You will see more movement and standing waves suggesting lies this side of the rock than beyond.  Indeed, the majority of the salmon are right in front of you: I've marked 2 good lies in yellow.  A series of 12-15 yard casts will cover over 60% of the fish in this picture, with your fly under control and working effectively throughout.  Mathematically that gives you 8 times greater chance of catching a fish than casting 30 yards.
The bottom line is that the biggest fish taken in this pool in recent years was lying about 6-8 yards out, so please engage brain and read the water before casting!