*this article was published in Chasing Silver 3/2020
The psychology of salmon fishing is interesting. A sport where you can master only some parts, and never the environment or your opponent, requires a lot from the angler. Never having exact answers is mentally exhausting for many. Others might enjoy it and just keep grinding without too much thinking.
I have often compared salmon fishing to fishing for permit in salt waters. Lots of waiting, long days and when you finally get the shot there are no guarantees. But when you do get the shot, you know that you need to be performing on a high level to even have the smallest chance to tease the fish into eating the fly. Sure, sometimes you just get shit lucky. But most of the times not. We all have been there and experienced when salmon fishing is slow. Then it’s about mental tough-ness and other psychological and material issues. Having great fishing buddies, good food or a scenery to die for often helps. I haven’t met a machine-fisher who can grind on for weeks without having any thoughts of desperation and maybe giving up. And what about the anxiety when fighting the fish of a lifetime? Devastation does not describe in full the feelings when you lose the fight with your record fish. Probably the worst part is that you don’t know if you ever will hook anything like that, ever again…
On a recent late season trip, the fishing was mostly slow for the group I was with. It started out hot, but died of as quickly as the runs of fresh salmon passed further up into the river system. We grinded on for days and kept a steady pace in switching flies, lines and presentations. No signs of new fish and the resident salmon just did not want to play. Nothing uncommon really, but after four days you really start feeling doubts.
At the same time, the eternal optimism of a salmon angler makes you go for the next cast, the next run though the pool. Especially, the first session in the morning is always exciting even though your shoulders and back hurts and you have not felt a fish for several days. Maybe some fresh fish have entered the pool during the night, and the game will change back to hot?
The best part of writing a few salmon fly books is receiving a lot of flies for your personal collec-tions. If I have forgot to thank any of you for the flies, I’m thanking you now! They are probably the most precious pieces of fly fishing gear that I own. I have fished happily with the original patterns from the Top Salmon Flies books for few season now and all the patterns have secured a special place in m boxes. They look so much better than my sloppy tied ”fishing” flies. I open up my wooden hand-made fly box and have a look on the classic flies that I have in the box. I have fished the regular Sunrays, the Olive Frances and some hitches.
Time to figure out something new. I pick a Yellow Ally’s Shrimp from the box tied by talented Nor-wegian angler Helge Dahlen. I explain myself how the resident fish have to hate this bright yellow pattern especially during midday. I trust the theory and am confident in my choice. I start the fishing from the top of the zone. It is a section where three different streams unite to one, followed by a run with waves. Not a likely place to have monsters holding, but maybe with some luck, a run where you can meet the occasional grilse running upstream. The fast current makes the fly swing with a steady speed even when casting in a low angle.
Cast and few meters down and af-ter a few minutes I’m almost done with the run. I’m gazing at the river bend few hundred meters down to see if there would be any fresh fish jumping. The pool below the river bend is the next spot where I plan to fish, but something struck in my eye. It is a kind of a small neck on my side of the current halfway to the next pool. Does not seem to be much of a pool, but I’m in no hurry, so I complete this run, reel in, wade out off the water and fight my way through the bushes to have a closer look at this small, novel pool. I’m standing deep in the bushes and gaze the neck and the tailout. It looks much deeper than I suspected. On higher water this must be a great spot but I figure that the big rocks and gravel might be spawning grounds and this far in the backend season some hen-fish might be guarding the grounds. I walk a bit more upstream so I can start the fishing from a spot that looks good. There’s a huge eddy on my side of the current pushing the line upstream and making the casting and swing of the fly real tricky. There’s no point starting with a short line, so I peel off the shooting head with some running line from the reel to make sure I can cast over the eddy and have the fly swinging through the main current. Even though the fly and leader drop past the main current, the fly line wiggles like a snake on the surface. Not feeling really confident for the presentation. The same things happen again on the next cast and I’m close to reeling in the line and move downstream to the next pool. I am held back by the feeling that this might require some extra effort. I take a few steps down, pull a few more meters of running line off the reel and toss it out there. The fly lands well past the main current and I make a small upstream mend. In two seconds I feel the steady pull from the current and the floating body accompanied with the sink3 - sink5 tip pushes through water with a magnificent swing. Now I fish it right - as I admire the perfect swing, I feel a strong and heavy pull just as supposed to. After a second, and after realizing what has happened, I start to wonder why the line isn’t being pulled from the reel and shockingly realize that the running line has looped itself behind the leg of the reel. I free it instantly and as soon as the line gets free, my reel starts screaming. I slowly lift the rod and feel the heavy weight at the end of the line. In a few seconds I’m almost on my backing and I see a monster salmon jumping on the other side of the current. It’s a big salmon, one of the biggest that I have ever hooked. Not the longest salmon, but a really thick hen. Not a shining silver any more, but the grey-brown colors on the sides look beautiful among the surrounding fall colors. The first jump is accompanied by many others, with steady runs into the main current. I’m the underdog in this fight and I’m only hanging in and enjoying every second. After about five minutes the salmon takes a long determined run far down and I’m following it from the bank. Just as I’m starting to make a run for it, the salmon makes a u-turn and start slowly swimming towards me. I’m reeling in and keeping tight. She’s pretty close, I have my shooting head out but not more. I put some more pressure to the rod to see what she wants to do and in a split second she is gone. Just like that. I’m so starstruck that even the bitter loss doesn’t make my idiotic chuckle and grin go away. Now, I am sure the monsters I saw a few pools down will eat the Yellow Ally’s Shrimp without any hesitations like she did. I reel in and with shaky hand pull the leader behind the reel and attach the fly to the line guide. I start walking with a wide grin on my face and thinking about the next fight….