What fishing blog can be without a 'one that got away' story, here's mine from last week.
The river was fining down nicely, still quite high following the latest band of heavy summer rain, but the muddy spate river chocolate colour had drained away. I was fishing for summer peal, without success, I had fished the river down already with not even a sniff and I had dropped my landing net into the river whilst sliding / falling down a steep bank. So now I was heading home. But there is a pool on my way home which is often worth a look, I had hammered it at the start of the day, but with fish moving through the river on the spate I felt it could be worth another try.
I entered the river at the head of the pool and fished down the small pool with a large black fly cast square across the stream and retrieved quickly, a favourite peal technique in these conditions. I was using my standard peal setup, a 9ft 6 weight with a sinking line with 8lb breaking strain leader. Towards the tail of the pool I thought I moved a fish, a flash of silver and a small swirl in the stream but felt nothing. I continued to work my way downstream to the end of the pool, nothing. Encouraged by the brief encounter with a fish I decided to back up the pool with a more conventionally fished, smaller fly. Third cast as I worked back upstream came the steady draw on the line that I instantly recognised as a salmon. Now I have taken salmon here before, not for a while and I certainly wasn't geared up for one today. I was stood up to my waist in fast water, surrounded by lots more fast water, connected to a strong salmon, with light gear and no net. However, despite my misgivings the opening fight sequence went remarkably well. The fish stayed deep and seemed content to head upstream slightly, so far so good. I cursed losing the net.
Upon reflection (and believe me, I have reflected upon this encounter extensively) those first few minutes were the only time in the whole episode where I actually felt any modicum of control, the only time where I felt I had the upper hand. At that point the fish turned around and within a nanosecond was 20 yards downstream of me and into the fast water at the tail. He jumped ( I don't know if it was a 'he' but when I pleaded with it at various stages throughout the fight I referred to it in the masculine, eg - 'come on boy, please turn around') and I cursed losing my net.
Those of you that follow this blog know that I am prone to falling in from time to time, today though I ran / waded / floated downstream at breakneck speed in pursuit of this fish without so much as a stumble. Applying massive pressure on the fish, recovering line as I headed downstream I managed to get somewhere near the fish again but we were now in the stream immediately above the next pool. The next pool down was a mass of white water, not a waterfall, but not far off, if he was to get in there it would be all over (in fact if I had got in there it would probably be all over too). With maximum pressure on the fish I edged my way upstream, coaxing / begging the fish to follow. I managed to get perhaps 10 - 15 yards upstream and just started to feel a little more positive about things when the fish jumped and for the first time I saw the fish. Not for the first time I cursed losing my landing net.
We battled up and down this fast moving water between the two pools for perhaps 10 minutes, I would edge the fish back towards the original pool only for the fish to change his mind and power ever closer to the white water below. I was going to have to up the ante somewhat. Big sidestrain, recovering line as I ran yet again towards the fish, spray and expletives flying everywhere, I quickly closed the gap to the fish. At this stage the fish was relatively calm (more than can be said for me), facing downstream planning its next daring attempt to hit the white water below. I took the opportunity to reduce the gap further. So the scene looked like this; me thigh deep in water stood side on to the current that was threatening to lift me off my feet. 2 yards in towards the bank sat this stunning, silver, fresh run salmon of something between 15 and 18lbs in weight, 2 yards beyond that, the riverbank. 15 yards downstream was the pandemonium of the head of the next pool. At this point I tried to tail the fish, I got fingers around the wrist of the tail before all hell broke loose and I found myself cursing the fact that I had lost my landing net.
Hell remained loose for a good few minutes as the fish clearly demonstrated its objection to being grabbed by cartwheeling across the river and close, very close to the white water below and generally roughing me up. It must have been close to another 10 minutes before I could get on to something approaching equal terms with the fish again. This time I was a little further upstream, I had hatched a plan. The farmer drives his tractor across the river in the shallows between the two pools, only when there is considerably less water in the river than on this day, but just where the tractor leaves the river there was a shallowly sloping sandy bay. It was small, perhaps 2 yards long and 1 deep, but I thought if I could steer the fish in to there I could either try and tail him again or just basically trap him in there with my body and just flop on to him. It took a few goes to steer him in there, he was clearly tiring, but still far from obedient. Suddenly he was in there, the tailing, trapping, grabbing and flopping moment was upon me almost before I was ready. It didn't go as well as I hoped, I got a hand on him, briefly. And he was gone. I haven't really worked out how or where he went, I don't know if he went between my legs or back the way he came in, I just know that he suddenly wasn't there anymore.
And I cursed the fact I had lost my landing net.