Thursday 24 October 2013

Autumn Glory - October on the Ure

Flesh Dub, River Ure
17th October 2013
October is often one of the most beautiful months of the year in North Yorkshire.  Of course we get the full variety of English weather across the span from crystal blue skies to snow and everything in between, but that's part of the beauty.  But views like this will always lift your spirits, especially when you know that the pool in front of you is filling up with fish running up from the estuary, and the water conditions are becoming absolutely perfect for fishing.

Flesh Dub
10th October 2013
It's been an unusual year, with the longest dry spell that I can remember since 1976 or before.  We had a good lift in the Ure in mid-May - sadly not big or sustained enough to pull many spring fish all the way up to Thoresby - and then nothing significant for almost 5 months.  By early October I was becoming truly desperate - writing is a poor substitute for fishing - so even a very small lift of 6" was enough to prompt an escape from the office.  In good fishing conditions the rocks in the foreground are completely submerged, but you can't always have the optimum in anything.

Dick Dub
10th October 2013
Undeterred we drove up into Wensleydale and opted to start on Dick Dub at the bottom of the Thoresby beat.  This is a first class holding pool but tricky to fish for several reasons.  First, wading is impossible for much of its length owing to the depth under the near bank.  Second, that depth extends right across the upper half of the pool, which often requires weighted tips and flies to overcome.  Most fish lie between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way across.  Third, the big back-eddy evidenced by the scum-line presents all manner of line management challenges whilst also gathering all the autumn leaves for you to collect with your back-cast.  With vegetation behind you and a swirling wind, Dick Dub is a test of your casting adaptability and invention. 

John with resident hen fish
John opted to start half way down with a conventional floating line set-up and hooked this hen fish shortly after I took the photo above.  Her behaviour and colour indicated that she had been in the river since the summer, so we went for an early netting to get her away as soon as possible.  John fished on into the run below, where he lost another after a brief connection.  Having done my net and photo duties I went up to the top of the pool to work the deep water with a weighted Ally Conehead and sink tip.

Cheerful MCX with Mr Grumpy
It wasn't long before this cock fish took a swipe at the fly before setting off down the pool.  After a brisk fight and some aerobatics in the comparatively rock-free middle I led him down to the beach at the bottom where John was waiting to return the honours.  Many novices are surprised by the distance you can lead an active fish.  Provided you maintain a firm and consistent tension in the line and modest rate of movement down the bank, the fish will come along with you.  This chap came nearly 60 yards to give a much better place for landing, unhooking and releasing than anywhere available on a steep bank with boulders at its foot.  As a result he staged an ill-tempered and speedy departure.

We then made our way up to the top of the beat for a bite of lunch in preparation for fishing Frodle, Flesh and Willow in the afternoon.

It was clearly John's day: he took 2 more fish, including a thumping 22 pounder, whilst all I could manage were a couple of misses.  Sadly I was not in range with the camera for the big one, and remained a distant spectator of his antics on the ledge between the 2 oak trees at the bottom of Frodle Dub.  As I've previously noted, Murphy's Law says that when fighting a fish you will always be on the wrong side of a tree, so John was really tempting fate by working between 2 trees.

A week later we were back on a pre-booked expedition, with part of the team staying overnight at the Bolton Arms at Redmire, and others coming and going between the Thursday and Friday.  The Bolton is an outstandingly good pub, with nice rooms, great food (a truly heroic breakfast), real beer and genuine atmosphere.  Its 5 star rating on Trip Advisor and means that lots of people agree with us.  I joined John and Patrick for breakfast on Thursday morning before heading out full of food and optimism.

Flesh Dub at +24"
1015 am 17th October 2013
The river was well up but falling and clearing nicely.  You can see the difference between this photo of Flesh Dub and the one above.  Applying the MCXFisher Quick Calculator outlined last May, this rated a score of almost 12, so it was on with a sink tip and a 1.5" Copper Conehead Cascade, and then into the water with extreme caution.  The reason for the extra care is simple.  After months of low water, sunshine and high temperatures, every rock in the river is coated with slippery green stuff that will remain in place to the end of the season and beyond.

Hen fish - Flesh Dub
17th October 2013

After a dozen casts came that delirious sensation of the strong turn away of a good fish aided by heavy water.  On completing the turn she delivered a marvellous sea trout imitation with a perfect vertical take off completely clear of the water before going down and across the flow at top speed.  As you can see from her steel-grey colour and shine, she was straight up from the estuary in perfect condition and fighting fit.  As a guide my wading boot is 13" long and positioned to stop everything slipping back down the steep bank after a solo netting (there was no better option).  The hook was lodged in the back of the scissors of her right jaw (opposite to my fishing bank) and would not have yielded to anything short of dynamite.

Willow Bush Run

I fished on down to Willow, which was running at high speed (no, that's a leaf, not the take that I missed shortly after putting the camera away).  This run fishes better with the water somewhat lower and slower, which allows good oblique presentation of the fly across the tail and entrance.  This run is a classic example of the pointlessness of chasing the far bank.  The flow there is much slower and in seconds you have a giant belly in the line and a fly travelling at warp speed.

I trudged back up to Frodle to have lunch, taking in the delightful view in the opening picture of this post.  Patrick had caught a fish there earlier, but we agreed that we should be doing better in such conditions.  In retrospect I reckon that we were perhaps being a mite hard on ourselves because the river needed to shed another foot before attaining perfection. 

Spurred on to try even harder, despite the digestive demands of a truly enormous Scotch egg, I dully went back to Flesh Dub.  By now the water had dropped and cleared, the low October sun was quite strong and moving towards shining straight down the pool.  There was pronounced scattering of light in the water and a high level of sub-surface brightness.  Taken together these factors were causing a significant loss of horizontal underwater visibility.  These were not easy conditions for salmon, who lacking an iris in the eye to adjust to awkward light, rely on a slower-acting pigment that works like a form of biological dark glasses (there's a fuller explanation in 'Here's Looking at You').   Although the water level and speed (and the MCX Calculator) still suggested using a well-sunk tube, the unusual light conditions led me to select a lighter tip and a #8 Cascade in order to give the fish the best chance of seeing the fly in the clearer regions of Windows 2 and 3.  Of course this was taking a risk that the fly might be too far above them and moving too fast, but it was worth a try.  As an aside, the coloured bits of a Cascade are irrelevant in these conditions and presentation.  The dark body gives a clear-cut silhouette against the bright surface: everything else is just supporting extras.

About a third of the way down I missed a light take about half way round the swing.  It might have been a leaf, but nothing ventured, I repeated the cast on the same length and line.  At exactly the same point, bang, thump and fish on.  After 10 minutes of non-stop aggression, Mr Angry, resplendent in his fighting pyjamas and a growing kype, came into the net.  He was clearly a long-term resident, so at 35 inches on the tape measure, minus a couple for his kype and a hefty discount for dieting, I scored him at 11 lbs and sent him on his way (he's almost upright in the poor photo - I try not to waste time on positioning the pose).  Was he the fish that took and missed?  We'll never know, but it's possible.

Duly elated I chopped off the last 6" of tippet (a life-long habit); checked the hook points and re-tied the battered but serviceable cascade; glued the knot; and carried on down the pool to no effect whatsoever.  By the time I reached the bottom the light was starting to fade (as were my companions - fishing with the angling equivalent of an elderly Duracell Rabbit can be very tiring).  I made my way up to Frodle for a chat, essential chocolate and some coffee, while we agreed the plan for the last half hour. 

Frodle Dub Tail
17th October 2013
I drew the bottom part of Frodle; Patrick the top; and John took Flesh.  By now the water and light levels were significantly lower than when I took the photo that morning.  The shallower water in Frodle's tail meant that I didn't need to change my existing rig of short sink tip, 9' leader and #8 Dishevelled Cascade.

As I got right to the bottom hope was fading.  At this point you are casting a long line at 45 degrees towards the round tree in the centre of the photo: tips, AFS and about 30-40 feet of runner to get a broad but slow coverage of a series of quite shallow lies in which fish hold having ascended the shallow haul from Flesh.  About a quarter of the way round, bang!  A fish was on and heading determinedly back to the Humber.  Faced with the imminent risk of it getting into the fast water below, losing control and probably a good salmon,  I got out onto the bank as fast as possible, detached my wading stick, and set of in pursuit as fast as the multitude of leg-breaking rabbit holes allowed.  By now it was 60 yards away and still intent on going south, so it was time to gain the initiative.  After due application of drag and left palm the fish turned, before deciding to explore the alternative of a trip up to Hawes via Aysgarth.  As it passed I could see that it wasn't huge - about a yard long - but beautifully proportioned and fighting fit.  After another 10 minutes it got its first sight of Patrick's net, which prompted a combination of high speed run and aerobatics.  About 3 minutes later I got her head up for the first time and drew 15lbs of shiny steel grey, deep-bodied hen fish towards the net.  In dark water and failing light this was tricky.  Up on the bank looking down I had a good view.  Down at water level Patrick could barely see the leader and nothing below the opaque surface.  In the final moment something went disastrously wrong in the net: the fish somersaulted in a shower of spray; in the melee it seems that the loop between tip and leader caught on something; and the 15lbs leader snapped just below the loop.  It was a beautifully proportioned fish in prime condition, a great fight and a sad loss.  Even if she couldn't go in my book she was a valid score for the estate's records.  You can't expect to win them all, and you've got to take the hits.  As John drives a 4x4 I didn't have to walk all the way back to the car at High Thoresby Farm with the added burden of disappointment.  And there's still next week to come.

We are indeed most lucky people to fish in a beautiful place for wonderful fish.  The Ure's late runners are large, strong and in lovely condition.  You couldn't ask for more.


A view of heaven
Frodle Rapids upstream with Bishopdale Beck Junction
17th October 2013

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Crash! Bang! Pluck! The dynamics of a take

I apologise for the delay to this post, which is long overdue.  Unfortunately 10 days ago our 93 year old neighbour fell and broke her right leg very badly.  As a result I've spent much of the intervening period visiting the hospital rather than thinking and writing.  In between visits I did manage to fit in a successful day on the Ure last week, which will form part of a future post.

Iceland film - the instant of a take
Last January in 'Revelation' I looked at an example of a salmon taking a fly live on a film made in Iceland.   If you haven't viewed it before I strongly recommend doing so, not least for its remarkable insights and excellent underwater resolution.  Of course this is only a small sample of one group of fish, in one river, on one day, so we have to be careful not to draw too many inferences.  Nevertheless it is the best illustration of sub-surface taking behaviour that I have seen.  It also provides some confirmation of my own observations of the angle at which salmon approach flies; the sort of distances they can cover in moving to the fly; and the lack of indication to the angler of the fish taking the fly into its mouth.

There is a lot of good footage of salmon taking a variety of flies fished on the surface - bombers, hitched tubes and giant caddis - with especially good examples from Newfoundland and Labrador where dry fishing is a widely used tactic.  However, all of the film I have seen is taken from or near the angler's perspective: I haven't found any underwater sequences of surface takes showing approach angle and so forth.  In addition, the small number of salmon that I have caught in the UK either on the surface or in the surface layer does not give me adequate evidence for analysis and discussion.

Equally, I haven't equalled Hugh Falkus' endless hours of observation from elevated points of fish behaviour in clear water responding to a variety of baits and lures.  Nor is my armoury as broad as his: worms and prawns are not part of my repertoire.  Accordingly, this post only examines the dynamics of sub-surface takes whilst fishing with sunk flies.  

In thinking about takes there are 2 cardinal points we must bear in mind.  

  • First, there are plenty of theories but we don't know what prompts a salmon to take a fly: every take is aberrant behaviour that currently defies explanation.  I have difficulty accepting the 'induced take' as anything other than good fortune based on getting the fish's attention.
  • Second, the way in which an adult salmon takes a fly is markedly different from how it takes prey at sea, even though the fly may emulate a marine species.  Like other predators the salmon attacks at high speed - 3-4 m/sec is typical - as it scythes through a shoal of sand eels.  I've watched salmon feeding in the surface layer and there is an audible hiss as the dorsal fin cleaves the water.  If salmon hit our flies at that speed sprained wrists and broken rods would be commonplace.  In addition, the salmon's mouth and throat is designed to trap and swallow prey fast enough to make room for the next sand eel, yet I have never hooked a salmon in the gullet.  In sum, it's doing something abnormal prompted by factors other than hunger.

Thus every take is different and unique to the fish and the circumstances.  Nevertheless they appear divisible into some 'classic' groups.  This post looks at 3 broad types - 'Against the Fly''With the Fly'and 'Minimum Shift' - that have been the commonest in my experience and are therefore most easily described.  Beyond those is the realm of  the random, usually involving later-season cock fish, which includes extreme cases such as the  'Headlong Charge' and 'Surface Slash'  While these make for amusing anecdotes they are not amenable to analysis beyond noting the power of testosterone.

Crash!  Against the Fly

Take - Against the Fly
You're fishing from the right bank with your fly tracking from left to right.  The diagram shows in 3-D the track the salmon might follow from its lie at A to a take at T, before turning away at D to return to A.  Whether the fish takes by interception as shown here (a likely scenario with a slow moving fly) or follows it (the converse case) matters little.  The key factor is the direction of turn after the take, which is opposite to the movement of the fly.  This increases the relative speed of fish and fly and so makes it harder for the fish to eject the fly.  The tension on the line L comes immediately into play, usually causing a good hook-hold towards the rear of the salmon's jaw.  You probably won't feel anything at T, but as the fish turns D-E, feels the drag of the line and reacts, its acceleration will leave you in no doubt.  The 'crashing take' is at E not T, when your fish is usually well hooked.

In this scenario you have to do precious little, beyond smoothly lifting the rod and leaning back to get the hook all the way home.  Never do anything hasty or violent, and as always, ensure your drag is on a sensible setting.  Barring bad luck you will land the majority of fish that take like this.  You'll be able to identify them by virtue of the hook often being in the side of the jaw opposite your bank - i.e. right bank, left jaw.

Bang!  With the Fly

Take - With the Fly
You're still on the right bank.  The next fish comes up from A and takes at T.  At D it turns with the fly and swims parallel to X.  You are even less likely to feel the take.  In this case the relative speed of salmon and fly is much lower, so the fish has more time to eject it, largely untroubled by the line tension.  Three options follow: you don't hook the fish at all and feel nothing; or you get a weak hook-hold near the front of the right jaw which soon comes undone (bang-bang, gone); or if you're lucky the fish turns and dives sharply at E, giving you a strong take and a good hold in the upper right jaw. 

The simple fact is that if the fish turns with the fly the mechanics are much less favourable, but there are no sure fire ways of changing the odds.  Just observe the basics.  Keep a good working tension between you and the fly.  Use the rod as your first shock absorber by holding it upstream of the line.   Keep couple of feet of slack line as a back up to the rod (which reacts far faster than you ever can).  And again, don't strike or do anything hasty.  If you've missed, you've missed, and only one per thousand comes back for a second try.

Over the years I've heard a lot of advice such as giving the fish slack to run back to its lie before setting the hook.  This is probably more about stopping inexperienced anglers doing hasty and violent things than anything to do with hooking fish.  The salmon will only take the fly back to its lie if it has failed to eject the foreign object from its mouth; and the fly will only stay in there by virtue of the hook.  In any event the drag on a salmon fly line alone is more than enough to start the process of setting the hook.  I therefore suggest that the hook hold does not improve  much with delay.

Pluck!  Minimum Shift

Take - Minimum Shift
We now enter the realm of the gentler take, or more accurately, turn away.  Indeed, the salmon may not have to turn at all.  The minimum shift take occurs most often when the lateral movement of the fly is very slow and close to the fish.  This is the case at the dangle: lateral  movement has stopped and the fly may be sinking. Hence in this diagram the fly is shown as a point rather than a track.  The Minimum Shift take is also common in ambush fishing and when working a fly deep and slow in response to cold or dirty water, when the salmon reacts to something almost directly ahead at short range.  You get the same condition when a curious salmon has followed a fly over a considerable distance in quiet water, only taking it into its mouth when it starts to move directly away.

Minimum Shift Take
Hen fish from low slow water
Blue Charm #14 front centre of jaw
Dalnahoyn Pool Tomatin
 13 September 2010
Here the fish merely inclines its pectoral fins to rise gently to B, applying the minimum lateral movement.  It takes the fly into its mouth at T before reversing the pectorals and sinking back towards C.  Clearly without lateral movement there's not a lot of force in play.  As a result hook holds tend to be towards the front of the jaw and inadequately sunk.  The salmon gives a couple of shakes of its head to get rid of the fly; you feel the consequent pluck, but it's already gone.  All too often it stays on for 5-10 seconds before the hook hold gives way.  But if Murphy's looking elsewhere, sometimes they stay on.


It may seem strange that you will detect the merest fragment of leaf, weed or grass upon your fly, yet incredibly you feel nothing when a salmon takes it into her mouth.  It's simply because in most cases the first stage of the take is towards you and slackens the leader.  Which way the salmon turns from the take is the determining factor in what you feel thereafter and how soon.  Only then do you become an active participant.  There's no magic or tricks, just a few basics to observe.  Most salmon hook themselves without your help, so all you have to do is avoid upsetting that happy situation through haste and violence.

Hopefully by the next post some more salmon will have hooked themselves for you and me.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Ambush Tactics - close, personal and a little dirty

Following last week's post in which I talked about ambushing a cock fish for the Friday's supper, some readers asked me to expand on ambush tactics and their application.

Critical Factors

Ambush tactics are not universally applicable and their success depends on a combination of factors coming together.   You are more likely to find suitable ambush sites on medium and small rivers like the Upper Findhorn and the Ettrick Water.

They work best in the autumn, because the increasing urgency of the salmon's reproductive urge will lead fish to run in daylight through water that they would only ascend at night earlier in the year.  There are more fish present in the river and the running groups are consequently larger.  Taken together those influences can make the fish edgier, more excitable and more likely to take.

Wade's Pool  +18"
16th September 2013
The water needs to be low enough to create narrow defiles that concentrate the fish onto a single tight line.  This picture shows a pool at full running height, at which the fish can deviate widely from the primary running line across a broad front.  There is only a faint possibility of your fly crossing the 22m width every 90 seconds intercepting a fish moving upstream at 1m/sec and with a forward look of 1.5m at most.  Actually, given those assumptions it's theoretically 1 : 720.  However, that's before you apply a probability of a take, which at say 5%, makes your odds about 15,000 : 1, which explains why fishing the short halt lies is more productive in those conditions.

Wade's Pool +10"
17th September 2013
Now come forward 24 hours with falling water, albeit there's still ample for autumn fish to run in daylight.  You can see how the viable running space has reduced by around 75%.  In addition, owing to the ease of the wading from the near bank, HMCX was able to fish it at a much narrower angle than was feasible the day before.  This meant that not only did his fly spend longer in the red zone, but also small mends more than doubled its dwell time.  This would have cut his odds to about 150:1, but for the fact that there were not yet any fresh runners coming past him.

The other factor is gender: the great majority of the fish I've caught in ambush have been cocks.  Indeed, in one of the locations pictured I've taken 4 from the same defile in the past 3 years.  It's probably the testosterone-based aggression that makes them readier to make a snatch at an object entering their space.  However, the fly doesn't need to be especially large or bright to achieve the effect, just proportional to the depth, speed and clarity of the water.  That said, there are no hard and fast rules.  In 2011 experimenting with a Sunray Shadow in ambush mode I caught a cock on the first pass, then handed over to Tim who hooked (and lost) a good fish with the next cast.  The moral of the story is that if they're taking, they're taking.  The purpose of ambush tactics is to increase the chance of a fish seeing your fly.

There's one drawback with ambush tactics.  They need time and space.  You won't be popular if you try this on a river with a lot of other anglers who need you to be marching downstream at one pace per cast to avoid a serious traffic jam.

Finding the spot

Corybrough Run +12"
Some ambush sites, like the examples used in this post, are relatively easy to spot. Others are more subtle and take time to work out.  In this instance on Corybrough the defile is at the bottom, not the top, with a neck in the running line about 20m downstream, as shown in the zoom section below.  Although the width looks the same, the running section contracts from 14m where I was stood to no more than 6m on the outside of the flow curve.  By sheer chance I pressed the shutter at the instant a fish took in the defile.

Corybrough Zoom Detail

The fact that I lost the fish highlights one of the drawbacks of ambush fishing.  Because you are working at narrow angles in order to stay in the running zone, a lot of your takes will be head on with the hook lodged near the front of the jaw.  Compared to the take and turn away of a fish in a lie, the frontal take of a running fish is not a recipe for a good hook hold.

Smaller waters like the Ettrick provide a feast of ambush sites, but many of them are not immediately obvious.  You have to remain alert and read the water below you as you advance down the beat.  In October 2010, with the river at a comparatively low +6", I was fishing down a nice straight narrow section with a broad running line just over the centre of the flow.  However, at the bottom of the section the river took a 45 degree right turn.  When I was about 25m above the bend I paused to work out where the running line might be at the start of the curve, and concluded that it was in a narrow channel, no more than 2m wide, about 2m out from the far bank.  I needed the fly to get down quickly and stay down whilst keeping it in the run with small mends.  This meant a small weighted tube, and you can see the Ally Conehead that took the fish (it had to come out of the water as I was up to my knees with a steep bank directly behind me).

Ettrick Water - Bush Pool
But you sometimes have to look hard and think carefully to identify the best place to stage your ambush.  This is another example from the Ettrick on the same trip in October 2010.

The fish run up a broad section, but as they enter the bend the gravel spit at A pushes them towards the near bank, on their way to ascending the fast water at C.  The holding lie at B between the centre line and the far bank can be productive, but it's difficult to present the fly well owing to obstacles on both banks.  You arrive at this pool on a path from the road directly across from B, but it is essential to do a reconnaissance and make a plan to get the best out of this section rather than just starting at C and fishing mechanically downstream.

The really interesting point is at D where the gravel bank A squeezes the running fish into a narrow defile no more than 2m wide at exactly the point where they have to turn sharply across the flow to get to B.  This brings the great bonus of giving  the fish an oblique view of your fly, which is far better than end-on.  Unless you take time on first arrival you wouldn't spot this feature until you were standing on it and amongst the fish running through, where at point blank range on a raised bank you are painfully visible to all comers.  Watercraft is vital on small rivers.

After 5-10 minutes of thought the plan was to fish B from C (no result) and then D at a very shallow angle from opposite B.  After 2-3 minutes of swimming the fly in the narrow channel a large cock fish of 12-14 lbs followed the master plan, took and proceeded to charge all over the pool for the next 10 minutes.  Unfortunately I was in too much hurry to clear the pool to allow my fishing partner to repeat the trick, applied excess force and melted the knot at the eye whilst bringing him to the net (hence no photo).  At least I didn't lose the tube as it stuck on the blob of congealed nylon, but I should sooner have had the fish: lesson learnt.


Triggers - why and when

At this time of the year fishing the short halt lies is generally productive, especially as the numbers and concentration of fish rise.  As the numbers of fish in a lie increase so the chances of a take improve more than proportionately.  But there will be times when, for whatever reason, the fish get on the move almost en masse.  One moment there are fish showing, lots of visible activity and you're catching.  The next it goes stone dead.  If there's enough water to run, it may just be that they've decided to take off.  We can't be certain of the stimuli or their combination. On the Friday at Tomatin this year there was a small lift - no more than 2" - of good fresh water that marked the transition from taking to running.  I'm not asserting that was the cause, just noting the coincidence of timing.  I was happily fishing the main lies in Dalnahoyn Pool: when I arrived around noon there were fish showing.  Shortly afterwards they stopped; the note of the water changed; and I could see the small rise on one of my marker stones.  I judged that they were doing something else, and put my money on that being running.  I'll never know whether I was right or wrong, but the decision did yield a fish.

Practical Application

Dalnahoyn Pool +8"
Noon Friday 20th September 2013
Here is the pool at noon that day.  The viable running area is very large: the near edge of the red zone is waist deep.  The primary running line is just beyond the middle and passes through 2 holding lies.  Lie A, identifiable by the 'Y' where the 2 flows meet, is large and consistently productive.  Lie B is smaller and tends to be occupied for very short halts by fish pausing briefly before entering the fast water, which at the exit is only 2 metres wide.

The first stage involved wading out close to the centre line just above '2' to fish the narrowest part of the defile.  This involved casting at a very narrow angle and applying frequent small upstream mends to keep the fly in play for the maximum proportion of the time.

Next I made my way back towards the home bank at about 45 degrees, covering Lie B. This involved a slightly wider casting angle and bigger mends.

And third, following a line parallel to the bank down to the large dark rock to cover Lie A.  At this stage the casting angle was closer to the conventional 45 degree norm, with no mends and a slow strip.  There was no sense in going much beyond A to chase widely dispersed running fish at odds around 20,000 : 1.

In an ideal world the 4th stage would have been to fish the entry points at the tail of the pool after the long shallow run up from Wade's. However, there are several, spread across a broad frontage, which expands the odds; it takes some deep and cold wading to cover them properly, which takes time; they are interspersed with some awkward rocks, with the consequent risk of snagging and more time lost; and time was not on my side.  I had 90 minutes left until beat rotation in which to deliver a fish to the cook, which focused the mind admirably.

Dalnahoyn 1pm 20 September 2013
So I went back to '2' for a second iteration.  Shortly after starting the oblique wade back inwards a fish took just upstream of Lie B.  Of course it was a fluke; they all are, but I flatter myself that my choice was vindicated by improving the odds, which is what ambush tactics are all about.


  • Try to remain alert and aware of even small changes in your environment such as water tone and level, light, temperature and weather, all or any of which may influence salmon behaviour.
  • Remember that by the autumn the salmon's reproductive alarm clocks are ringing loudly, which makes running a more urgent activity and the fish consequently bolder.
  • From birth the salmon is a social shoaling fish that prefers to run in company.
  • An abrupt change of behaviour or 'feel' in an otherwise benign environment may indicate a transition to running.
  • If the evidence suggests that is the case, the odds tell you to switch tactics from area coverage to point ambush.
  • Look closely at the water you are fishing to identify run lines, transitions and defiles that offer suitable ambush sites.  Even if you don't need the information today, store it for future use (see Reading Railway Maps for more detailed advice).
  • Don't rush: do a reconnaissance, think and make a plan for fishing each stretch, but be prepared to change the plan as better information emerges.
  • Don't fish mechanically with a preconception of casting angle: be flexible and ready to adapt to changing conditions and emerging opportunities.
  • Get the fly into your chosen defile and keep it there using small mends; turn your casting switch to the mute setting.
  • Add ambush tactics to your armoury: they may yet save your supper!